Decluttering Our Calendars

Photo by Chris Lawton

Regardless of how much wealth we've amassed, how many material items we possess, or how much education we've acquired, not one of us has been able to stockpile time. Time is a commodity that many of us find ourselves short on.  


The trend in Western culture seems to run towards filling the limited time we do have to the brim. We create lives jam-packed full of time-consuming activities, often simply for the sake of being busy. We work long hours, join clubs and teams, and enroll our children (and ourselves) in every activity known to man. And while we critique others for doing it to themselves, we struggle to see it in our own schedules. A trivia team may have been traded out for an art appreciation course, but both take up space.   


I'd been certain that there must be a better way to tackle time, but like many before me, I didn’t find my answer until I was immersed in a new culture.


I've spent the past six years in Ecuador, where the attitude towards time is vastly different than what I was accustomed to back in the United States. The Ecuadorians I’ve come to know are hard workers, but few are consumed with money or climbing the corporate ladder in the way that my community back home was. Instead, their primary focus is on their family. Nearly all free time outside of school or work is spent together.


Families attend church together; they do chores together; they stroll through the parks and weekend markets together. Rarely do members of a family engage in activities that don't include others. While they’re certainly not sedentary, they maintain time together which adds value to their activities.


There are other differences in the attitude towards time as well. No one here is in a rush. Ever. If you need to wait in line at the bank, no worries. This is a great time to get to know the person next to you and engage in friendly banter until your turn arrives. If you're expecting a friend to meet you at a certain time, they may well be late because they've run into several other people they know and had a nice conversation with each before arriving at your home.


Time is perceived as a fluid, ever-evolving concept as opposed to a rigid, stress-causing taskmaster. My punctual-to-a-fault self has had difficulty adapting to the "whenever we get around to it" mentality, but I have to admit that the concept has merit. When I am able to drop my expectations about time management and timeliness, it results in less stress.


American culture isn't going to change overnight, but there's no reason that you can't take some of the best qualities of Latin life and apply them to your existence. Make room to examine how you can spend more of the time you have with the people you love.


Examine your schedule and take a hard look at where you’re stretched thinnest. Are you and your family struggling to keep up with activities? If so, what could you cut out in exchange for relaxing time together? Or, if you like days packed with extracurriculars, what can be swapped out for something the whole family enjoys? Taking martial arts courses or art classes together can be a great way to get out of the house while maintaining family time.


You can even take advantage of time spent waiting. Next time you're in line at the DMV, try striking up a conversation with the fellow in front of you and get to know someone new. According to various psychological studies, interaction with others can improve cognitive function, act as a mood booster, and increase confidence. So taking your time can actually improve your health and self-image.


The key in making these changes is to not care about appearances. Stop trying to impress your Instagram entourage or your colleagues at work. Don't worry if you get a funny look at first when you ask your grocery store clerk about their day. Know that your actions are best for your well-being, and enjoy the way that time begins working in your favor. You still won’t be able to accumulate or hoard time, but you’ll be making good use of the time that you do have.

Start Decluttering:

  1. Pull out your calendar (whether on paper or screen) and highlight the times you are overbooked, or change them to a different color, so you can visualize what needs to be decluttered.

  2. Look at what you are doing during those busy periods. If your family is spread out across different activities, swap the activities out for something you can do together. If you’re together during those busy times but too stressed to enjoy yourselves, consider wiping the slate clean. You may end up adding something else into that slot, but make sure it is an activity that is truly enjoyable: maybe weekly hikes, bike rides, or a family painting class.

  3. After you’ve addressed your calendar, you can start applying the same decluttering principles in your daily life. The point is to make more room for enjoyment, so if you are feeling hurried, pause and take a few deep breaths to center yourself. By incorporating more slowness into your life, you’ll have an easier time spotting when things are moving way too fast.


Background, Context & Reference


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