The Idea of Doing Nothing

So I’ve been thinking…what if we spent five minutes per day doing nothing?  Nothing.  Not cooking, not cleaning, not exercising, not driving there and back again, not planning, not thinking.  Nothing. 

And then I thought…what would happen if we dedicated one hour per week with no plans whatsoever?  None.  No school, no work, no chores, no sports, no playdates, no errands.  Nothing. 

And what would happen if we left an entire day unplanned?  Yikes!  That sounds like taking it a bit too far, doesn’t it?  But how wonderful might that be for us?  For our family?  For our kids? 

Now, I have tried my hand at meditation and mindfulness over the past year, so I know first-hand the benefits of those five minutes per day (or more, if you can swing it) when you get to do absolutely nothing.  It’s wonderful!  But I can’t tell you from experience what would happen when you leave a block of time unscheduled because I am a serial planner and I love to know ahead of time what will be happening at any given moment.  In fact, Joe frequently encourages me to leave some time unplanned and to stop saying “yes” to everything that comes across my desk waiting to be written on our monthly whiteboard calendar. 

whiteboard calendar

But I can’t seem to do it.  It’s like a strange addiction.  I don’t want to miss out on anything that might be fun, enriching, educational, exciting, or that everyone else is doing with their kids.  “Did you sign your kids up for swim class yet?  How about that music class at the library? Oh, and don’t forget that soccer sign-ups are this weekend.  What do you think about the martial arts class at school?  I heard that it helps to build their self-esteem.  That would be good.  I think we might go check out that new exhibit at the zoo this weekend.  Want to come?”  Don’t get me wrong, all of these things individually could truly be a great experience and, as I mentioned, would be fun, enriching, educational, and exciting.  But are they really necessary for a 2-, 4-, or 6-year old to be doing right now?  What’s the urgency?  Would it be okay if they didn’t experience it until they were 10 or 12?  And do they really need to be doing all of those things at once?  Could we maybe just pick one thing per month to attend or visit together? 

I recently started reading a book titled “Simplicity Parenting: Using the Extraordinary Power of Less to Raise Calmer, Happier, and More Secure Kids”.  And I have encountered a lot of “truths” in this book…you know how you read or hear something that just feels TRUE to you?  And you say out loud to yourself, “That is SO true!”  And it feels a bit like being hit on the back of the head unexpectedly and you turn around to see who or what just hit you.  And then you realize that you knew this “truth” all along but you needed to see or hear it one more time before it really sunk in and you could make it a reality.  Well, maybe it’s just me, but that’s how I feel when I’m reading this book.  So here’s what I have learned so far that feels true for me – what I knew all along and now am excited and empowered to be making conscious changes and lowering the stress level of our household while hopefully raising calmer, happier, and more secure kids at the same time…

  • Our kids have too many toys and books – it is overwhelming to be constantly surrounded by so much stuff that is designed to entertain you and does not leave room for creativity and individual expression
  • Kids love repetition – they feel secure, not bored, when they are read (or told) the same story every night for a month or when you act out the same silly monster game over and over (and over and over) for a full hour
  • Kids feed off of our emotions – when I am stressed or anxious about getting out the door on time or because we have a really full schedule this week or because I have so many things to get done today and I have no idea how they will get done, the kids feel that too.
  • Childhood is about play and exploration – when we overschedule our days and our lives, there is no time left for leisure, free time – and even BOREDOM – to happen. When I think back to my childhood, my fondest memories are not about trips to the zoo or a class at the library with my mom. They are the summer days spent exploring in the woods behind our house, or playing “school” with my sisters and cousins in the basement, or playing catch with my brother in the backyard. None of these things were written on the calendar or scheduled ahead of time. And all of these things are at risk of being lost in our children’s generation.
  • And here’s one that I did not expect to find out while reading a parenting book – ALL of these things are true for ME as well. I am overwhelmed by the amount of “stuff” in my life. I feel safe and secure when we repeat the same things together, whether it’s the same favorite dinner recipe or knowing that Friday night is always movie night. I am affected by the emotions of those around me. If Joe is having a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day, I have a really hard time not being pulled down into that vortex with him. And I love being a kid again and splashing around in the mud or exploring in the woods with my little guys.

So, with all of this in mind, here’s what I imagine might happen if we started building in these five minutes a day or one hour per week – or maybe even a full day every week – to have no plans whatsoever…

  • There will be more space and time for childhood. More time for each other.
  • There will be more opportunities for connection and moments of inspiration and creativity.
  • The bonds that we are building with our kids in these early years will become stronger and deeper.
  • It will get easier to say no to the stress of too much, too fast, and too soon.
  • There will be a sense of calm and security that we associate with our home. A place where we can relax and just be ourselves. Our true selves.
  • We will create stories together that we will tell and retell for many years to come. “Remember the time when there was a tremendous thunderstorm outside and we decided to build a cave out of blankets and pillows and hide inside and read books by flashlight until the storm had passed?” or “Remember the day that we used dandelions and sawdust and sand and mud and water to create our own soup recipe?” (That one actually happened earlier this week when we had a free hour outside in between a scheduled activity and dinner time!)
the kids playing in the mud together

Mud Soup

 

The thing is, I can’t find a downside when I imagine this extra free time spent together as a family.  And the upside is so big that I can’t wait to get started!