Over the last year, I’ve been learning a very important lesson – how to create space in my life.
You know the saying “if you want something done, give it to a busy person”?
That person is me.
I’ve been told many times that I have a high capacity and that I’m very productive.
It’s been really satisfying, to tell you the truth. I love variety, learning new things, completing things well and being able to help people. I’ve been often known to say ‘sure, I can do that. It can’t be that hard!’.
But, on a handful of occasions it really was that hard. And I started to unravel; overwhelmed, stressed and feeling emotionally out of control.
Not taking the hint, I’d soon be back to my busyness again, with relish.
I always likened myself to a duck who seemed to be gliding along calmly on the surface of the water, while paddling frantically underneath.
Conveniently, this approach continued to work well when I became a step mum. The kids were already teenagers and we all got along well, making the transition easier.
A new type of overload
It was the birth of my son that stopped my busy ways in their tracks.
Sleep deprivation, having no idea what I was doing and the gravity of keeping a small human alive and giving it the best start to life possible, made everything else seem so much more overwhelming.
I started working again when my son was about 18 months old. With the exception of attending some meetings, I mostly worked from home 2 days per week, during naps and at night. But I went too hard, too soon. Looming deadlines, late nights at the computer and my son’s separation anxiety were too much, on top of looking after my family and house. And me? I didn’t even make the to-do list.
As I tried to juggle everything and do it to the standard I deemed acceptable, I became constantly stressed, tired, short tempered, frustrated and impatient. My poor son received the brunt of it as he went about just being a toddler. I became more withdrawn from my husband and couldn’t shake the feeling that I just wanted to be alone for a while, to have nobody need me or want to talk to me for just a few moments.
Have you ever felt like this?
When every moment of your life is filled, you can become overwhelmed and your mind and body have no time to rest.
You end up short tempered and emotional. You sigh more, snap more, yell more, roll your eyes more, demand more and play less, cuddle less, encourage less, laugh less and connect less.
It’s not sustainable. And it’s not healthy. For you or for your relationships with your family.
So, now, I’m (slowly) learning to make space in my life and to be ok with doing less.
Reasons to make space
By making space, I’m noticing that I:
- Make better decisions and solve problems more effectively
- Feel better physically, emotionally and mentally
- Am more productive when I need to be
- Don’t put myself last so much
- Am more creative
- Have time to enjoy connecting with and helping others
- Open up opportunities for new experiences, people, perspectives and joy
- Am more present with my family
- Feel more at ease.
Would you like some of that?
Good news, lovely, you can totally make it happen.
10 ways to create space in your life
Here are 10 ways to make space in your life and save yourself from overwhelm:
1. Free up your calendar
What are you doing that you don’t enjoy, that doesn’t make you feel good or that you don’t really need to do?
Are you investing your previous time into any relationships that are draining and unhealthy? (If you need help identifying if you have any toxic friendships, read my post here.)
What can you drop out of your calendar? Even one thing is a great start!
2. Unsubscribe and unfollow
Cluttered inboxes and social media feeds make us feel like there’s so much to keep up to date with. Unsubscribe from emails that you no longer read, need or can’t even remember what they’re for. Unfollow social media pages and groups that aren’t relevant or interesting to you anymore.
3. Say no
Are you saying ‘yes’ to things out of guilt, or because you think you ‘should’? If they’re making you stressed and you don’t really have the time, get that monkey off you back (respectfully)! Start saying no!
4. Declutter your home
Let’s face it, the stuff in your home may be lovely, but it all requires maintenance (i.e. cleaning!). The less things you have, the less time you will spend tidying, cleaning and organising. What can you remove from your home to give you more physical space and also more time back?
Throw out things that you no longer need, or that are broken. Do you have clothes that you haven’t worn for 3 years (erm…yes) or things you thought might come in handy but never have? Get rid of them!
Physical space, creates mental space.
5. Outsource or stop
What tasks can you stop doing, or outsource?
Sometimes we do things out of habit or because we think we should. But when we examine it, it doesn’t really matter to us or another option is readily available.
For example, I no longer iron all our washing. I just put it all away straight from the washing line, and we iron as we need things. I also stopped ironing things like sheets. While this won’t work for everyone, it saves me lots of time.
Maybe you could hire someone to do your ironing or the cleaning jobs you hate. If cleaning takes up way too much of your time, check out my blog post on the six ways I’ve made it easier.
Could you share the kinder/school run with another mum, or hire someone to do the lawn?
Think creatively about this one!
6. Use less technology
When we’re using devices, our minds are not having downtime (depending on what you’re doing). Mindless use of technology for no particular reason is an excellent place to start. Eliminating devices from bedtime, family time and mealtimes is also beneficial. If you feel like you’re a little too attached to your phone, check out my post on 10 ways to overcome this.
7. Have no agenda
Allow yourself to have time with no agenda. It could be an hour or a whole day, whatever your life allows. Start small if it makes you uncomfortable. Just do whatever takes your fancy or follow the opportunities that arise. Say yes to the last minute suggestion of an afternoon tea picnic in the backyard, or spend the morning in your pyjamas.
Don’t give in to the need to feel productive and don’t do anything on your to-do list.
8. Reduce your to-do list
Instead of being constantly stressed by your ever growing to-do list of 35+ items, just identify one or two goals or tasks per day. Have laser focus on one task at a time until it’s done. You’ll be more focused, and will feel more productive as you actually complete them rather than bouncing around from task to task.
9. Schedule quiet time
This is time to think, reflect, journal, meditate, pray, relax, rest or just be. Do it alone, or with your kids if that works (you can either have them do the same thing as you, or set up a quiet activity for them to complete at the same time). It’s a great practice for them to learn also. Work it into your day, before bed or get up a little earlier to enjoy the peace and quiet before everyone else wakes.
Some people feel uncomfortable doing nothing.
Here’s some intriguing evidence. A 2014 study conducted by psychologists at the University of Virginia and Harvard required participants to sit in an empty room, doing nothing for 15 mins. They were given the option of jolting themselves with an electric shock during that time and nearly 45% of participants chose to shock themselves rather than just sitting with their thoughts! Even when the task is negative, some people will prefer doing that task over doing nothing.
If you feel uncomfortable with doing nothing, then find something that takes very little mental energy to occupy you, and let your mind wander. For example, go for a walk outside or do some ironing (if you haven’t outsourced it!). Just don’t multitask during this time, or you’ll deny your mind a rest.
10. Enjoy your meals slowly
We often rush through meals or eat on the go, but mealtimes are a great opportunity to connect, take a break and refresh ourselves. Plus, it’s better for our bodies if we eat our food intentionally and slowly. Enjoy nourishing your body and role model healthy practices for your children.
It’s not forever
Much like a river, life ebbs and flows, twists and turns, rushes and slows, and changes direction. You will have seasons when you feel like you have enough space in your life and then seasons when you might long to come up for air.
If we learn how to create space, then we can always return to these practices, even if we get derailed.
So lovely mum, are you craving more space in your life?
You might need to make a number of changes over time, but start now, while you’re feeling inspired.
What’s 1 thing you will start doing today to create space in your life and save yourself from the overwhelm?
Do you know another mum who would benefit from reading this? Please feel free to share it.