Monday, 3 November 2008

Where do you get the time for that?

Posted by Julie
Towards Sustainability

I couldn't count the number of times I am asked "Where do you get the time to do that?" in the course of a week. Ironically, invariably I am thinking the same thing of the other person! Other parents discussing their busy schedules and working lives at school pick-up time makes me feel quite exhausted just listening!

I never really know how to answer that question in just one sentence, because I didn't just magically click my fingers one day and create an extra 10 hours a week (although there are many times when I would like that ability!). Two or three years ago, I too would have asked the same question of a friend commenting on her soap-making adventures for example, because I was so busy looking after three little kids full time that I didn't have any 'spare' time to cook from scratch or mend clothes.

Actually it began even before that. When I was working full time I was far too busy too cook from scratch or mend clothes. When I stopped work to have my first baby, I was too busy with the baby to cook from scratch or mend clothes (although I did steam and puree fresh food to feed her when she grew old enough to eat solids). Then I had another baby, so I had a toddler and a baby to look after - no time for baking (but I did discover the joys of a slow cooker)! Finally, along came baby number three - I had a baby, a toddler and an almost four year old to care for; good Lord, you must know I have no time to cook or mend!

The old adage that "from little things, big things grow" is so very true though, and suddenly one day it dawned on me - I had had no extra time when I had one baby, so where did the extra time come from to enable me to look after three children? The short is answer is of course, it gets easier as time goes on. Things that seemed difficult and time consuming at first (gosh, I remember how difficult it seemed to get that first, brand new baby changed and dressed) but they gradually get easier and eventually become second nature.

It's the same with living simply. At first, changing the way we are used to doing things might seem difficult and time-consuming, but gradually we get used to it and eventually it becomes routine to do it that way.

Of course, it is all but impossible to change everything overnight. To even attempt to do so, I think, would be far too overwhelming and bound to end in disappointment. The method I found to be the easiest to begin with with, was to look at all the areas I wanted to change in my life and focus first on those that I felt were the most important, and of those, the ones I felt most capable of changing immediately (and those will be different for everyone I feel, as everyone has different abilities and likes). Baby-steps are the key.

For example, I felt that changing the type of food we ate was the most important issue we faced when we started on this journey. First on our list was to stop wasting the fresh food that we were already buying, such as throwing uneaten leftovers and limp or mouldy vegetables past their use-by dates into the compost bin. The simple solution to that was to start weekly meal planning (a subject Bel has already written about). That 10-minute investment of time not only saved us a significant amount of money - because we were only buying the amount of food we needed (and there were no more impulse purchases!) - it also saved me time, not only through getting the grocery shopping done faster, but also through the elimination of the 5pm what-are-we-going-to-eat-for-dinner dilemmas, that invariably ended in buying takeaway.

With the money we were saving on our weekly grocery shop, we were then able to switch to buying only organically-grown fruit and vegetables; our second food priority. The organic fruit and vegetables were purchased via a local delivery co-op, so the time I saved having them delivered I then used to shop once a month at a local bulk items warehouse, where I could get toilet paper and so forth in large quantities, therefore saving even more money on our groceries, as well as setting up the beginnings of a stockpile.

Having a stockpile on hand then meant that I could switch to shopping for everything else fortnightly instead of weekly - and that on those alternate weeks where I didn't need to grocery shop any more I could start learning to cook from scratch. Initially I just made healthy snacks for the kids (always making extra to freeze for later), but that allowed us to move on to priority number three - eliminating as many processed foods as possible from our diet.

Of course, eliminating processed foods from our diet meant even less time spent grocery shopping as I could now by-pass all but two or three aisles of the supermarket - which gave me more time to cook!

Do you see the positive feedback loop I had set up by making just one small initial investment of 10 minutes a week? Each small positive change allowed me the time or money to make another small positive change, with each building upon each other, so that in a relatively short period of time we could make significant improvements in our diet (and health and budget!) without trying to wave a magic wand and find an extra 3 hours in my week?

I have found that it has worked the same way for the other areas of our life where we wanted to make changes, and here we are, two years later, living a vastly different - but much simpler and more enriching - life. It didn't happen overnight and each baby step seemed quite small and sometimes trivial, but to look back at how each step has compounded with the ones before it, to make significant - and often profound - changes in our lives, is so incredibly rewarding and it provides me constant inspiration to continue in our journey.

Many people argue with me that as my children gain more independence, I am able to accrue more 'spare' time, and that's true to some extent, but I have found that as my kids get older, there are infinitely more events and activities they are involved with that use up that extra time - art classes, play-dates, swimming lessons, homework, school fund raisers; the list goes on. However, as my children get older I can see the numerous positive influences our lifestyle changes have enabled in them, and that provides me with even more inspiration to learn new skills. Where once upon a time I considered it essential to have some 'me' time to go shopping for 'retail therapy', I now consider it essential to have some time alone to make soap LOL.

So you see, I haven't 'got' any more time than the other parents, I just use the time I do have differently :-)