Washing clothes, doing the dishes, tidying away the toys, sweeping the balcony – just some of the many repetitive tasks that a stay-at-home mum finds herself occupied with on a daily basis. They are part of the never-ending cycle of jobs to be done. They are, by their very nature, depressing. No sooner are they completed than they need to be repeated. The image of a hamster running in its wheel comes to mind – so much effort and energy expended but no actual progress made. Another meal is consumed, another t-shirt is dirtied, and the toys have a nasty habit of never remaining in the drawer for long.
These types of job are not the sole domain of the housewife. When I was in publishing, we worked to a quarterly catalogue. Four times a year the same tasks had to be repeated – books selected, covers designed, blurbs written, catalogues proofread. But no matter how many times I repeated them, these were somehow not so mundane and tedious as the daily grind of housework.
One time I was multi-tasking whilst chatting to a young American friend who had come to dinner. She stared wide-eyed at the chore I was busying away at and asked, “What exactly are you doing?” Astonished, I replied, “Hanging up clothes to dry…” Coming from a land where everyone has a dryer, she thought that what I was doing seemed an utterly pointless task. I was quick to highlight that, in a country where clothes dried on the balcony in just a few hours, having a dryer seemed somewhat unnecessary. But lately, my mind goes back to that conversation as I hang wet clothes on the airer, and a nagging thought rubs away at me – this is such a waste of time…And once that thought is there, it is easy to imagine a whole set of tasks that would be more worthy of my energy, or even activities that I would much prefer to be doing (crocheting, reading, relaxing).
It was one such moment when I was descending rapidly down the spiral of self-pity about how much of my time gets wasted on pointless tasks when a still, small voice in my head said, ‘You’re not wasting time, you’re spending time.’
It may not be the greatest of revelations ever, but it was a profound realisation for me. It is all too easy for me to resent time that I consider wasted when actually I’m doing tasks that indicate my care for my family, my household, and my home. This is time well spent, especially when I change my attitude towards it.
There are many other moments in life when we resent wasted time – waiting at the doctor’s surgery, standing in line at the Mogamma, stationary in a traffic jam. Changing our attitude about these times can transform the way that we respond to them. Calm resignation can replace angry frustration if we allow it to. A friend and I were recently caught in bad traffic on the way to a meeting. Apologetic though we were for the lateness, we were delighted with time well spent as we had great fun chatting and catching up, something we rarely have the opportunity to do.
We’ve all seen those ‘statistics’ about how we use our time:
28.3 years sleeping
4 years eating and drinking
2.5 years shopping
1.5 years commuting
6 years doing chores etc
It’s easy to feel that this is all wasted time, what do we have to show for it? But these are the bare bones of life, they are necessities, part of human existence. Has this obsession for productivity, for achievement, for justifying everything we do always been there? Has it gradually crept up on society until it has taken over? Or is it something new? Something inherent in 21st century life? All I know is that it can’t be healthy. The guilt, the justification, the obsession cannot be good for obtaining contentment and balance. Accepting that doing the tasks set before us – including resting – is us spending time, spending it well, and as such, nothing is wasted.
There’s only one thing more precious than our time and that’s who we spend it on – Leo Christopher
Published November 2017 in the Maadi Messenger