Sunday, 16 August 2009


Posted by Bel
From Spiral Garden

I'm a person who likes to stay busy. I homeschool my six children, cook a lot from scratch, run a home-based business, write, grow food and animals, volunteer and generally just DO too much. Sometimes I need to take a conscious step back. I'm sure it's true for a lot of us that too many simple things can create a complicated life!

As described by Sarah Ban Breathnach in her bestseller, Simple Abundance… “It’s burnout when you go to bed exhausted every night and wake up tired every morning – when no amount of sleep refreshes you, month after weary month. It’s burnout when everything becomes too much effort: combing your hair, going out to dinner, visiting friends for the weekend, even going on vacation. It’s burnout when you find yourself cranky all the time, bursting into tears or going into fits of rage at the slightest provocation. It’s burnout when you dread the next phone call. It’s burnout when you feel trapped and hopeless, unable to dream, experience pleasure, or find contentment. It’s burnout when neither the big thrills nor the little moments have the power to move you – when nothing satisfies you because you haven’t a clue what’s wrong or how to fix it. Because everything’s wrong. Because something’s terribly out of whack: you.”

For me, it’s simple living burnout when take-away, or packaged food, or not recycling, or buying something rather than making it all seem like better options. When it’s not fun any more. When we are no longer excited by our journey… If you feel like this, it doesn’t necessarily mean that your simple living route has come to its end, but perhaps it’s time to change your habits, your plans, or your environment. Or perhaps take a break from routine and get back to basics (and ‘basics’ will mean different things to each person.)

Despite much preparation and forethought, there are some moments when I lose sight of our reasons for choosing this lifestyle for our family, and just crave a bit of so-called normality, some time on my own, and a nap! At times I have a few doubts about my commitment to living simply, and begin to wonder whether or not mainstream alternatives are so terrible after all… Then as soon as things run smoothly, I find joy in the cream turning into butter or the first blossoms on the stone fruit trees, or the perfect white egg warm in my hand.

Remaining focused can be a matter of re-reading your favourite self-sufficiency books. Sometimes I will steal an hour to read and pore over photos of chooks, trees and fences - to daydream and plan and be grateful and proud of our achievements. A few moments remembering our goals and taking stock can be enough to refuel the fire.

It’s worth taking steps to avoid burnout even if it seems like it couldn’t happen to you. Your children, partner, plants, animals, friends, colleagues and family all need you to be as healthy and contented as possible. I’m reminded of Covey’s idea of “sharpening the saw”. Taking the time to sharpen your saw will assist you in getting through the tough times – in our family it is illness, too little time at home or financial pressures – for you it may be something entirely different. It might even be the build up of many things that bother you. And if you’ve no time for the garden, unread books on the bedside table, a fitness regime abandoned, yoga classes have gone by the wayside or [fill in your own unfulfilled needs] then your saw will be dull. Eat well, exercise and don’t take on more than you can cope with. Take time for you…

I’ve always been an advocate in remaining as organised as one feels comfortable with. For me that includes the whole plethora of organisational tools – a diary, a calendar, homeschooling plans, menus, lists for household chores, shopping and errands. Along the way I've had to learn to delegate by encouraging our children to do their chores and help me with other work. Sharing jobs around the home makes more sense than having one person responsible for most of the work. At one stage I had to take delegating a bit further and use paid help. For some reason it still seems a bit luxurious, but at that time of our lives it was the perfect option for staying afloat in the midst of chaos.

Simple living folk are contenders for burnout due not only to the workload we take on compared to many other households, but the isolation we often find ourselves in – with no one to bounce ideas off, have a whinge to or share resources with… We soldier on because we’re meant to - it was our idea to do all this! After deciding to undertake something ourselves – despite often facing a lot of negative response from family, friends, institutions and sometimes even our partners – we can feel that we must not ask for help in order to save face. Do you find yourself in this situation? Are you afraid to ask for assistance when you need it because you feel as though others will think you’ve brought all your woes upon yourselves? I am. Though I’m discovering the benefits of accepting offers of help, and being realistic about how much I can comfortably manage alone. The adage “It takes a village to raise a child” springs to mind. I think it takes more than one person to run a household or keep a property too. Sharing work makes sense.

Another way I find support is by regular contact with others living similar lifestyles. Sometimes this involves going to meetings, but I also enjoy conversations via telephone, letters, e-mail and internet forums. I’m also uplifted by reading others’ stories in books, blogs and magazines.

How do you avoid burnout?

* adapted from a 2002 article written for homeschoolers

Simple Abundance
Stephen Covey