Doing Nothing and Letting Go of the Guilt

Doing Nothing and Letting Go of the Guilt

photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

When it comes to minimalism most people assume it’s all about decluttering and living with little. But what if I told you that it’s also about doing little?

In today’s world it seems as if everyone is busy and rushed. So many times when I’ve asked colleagues what their plans are for the weekend, it’s about fulfilling a jam-packed schedule. Even the ones who say they plan to relax tell me the next week that they’ve actually ‘been really busy’, and there’s a knowing smile, a ‘me too’, and ‘it never stops does it?’, from others nearby.

And this culture of busyness, hustling, and productivity is everywhere. Being productive is such prized trait that there’s a whole industry around coaching and teaching you how to be more efficient so that you can be even more productive.

In fact, society’s message seems to be that if you’re not busy somehow then what the hell are you doing with your life? A few times I’ve answered the question ‘what have you been up to?’ with ’Intentionally doing the bare minimum all weekend and watching Netflix ’.

Expressions ranged from stunned confusion, to sad sighs as they said ‘I wish I could do that!”

But here’s the thing – you can do that! And I’m here to tell you that intentionally doing nothing is actually one of the most important acts of self-care you can do for yourself. The key word is ‘intentionally’. And it’s this word I use when I tell people how little I’ve done some weekends.

Intentionally doing nothing is different from doing nothing out of laziness. It’s also different from doing nothing out of being unmotivated and depressed.

Taking intentional time out isn’t being lazy or selfish, but taking care of yourself to prevent burn out from happening. To help heal from the chaos of modern life. To help you to be, to feel, and to give your best.

I’m a full-time working mother of 2 children, and despite being minimalist, there’s still a to-do list of laundry, cooking, cleaning, health appointments, and trying to keep relationships alive. As an autistic parent, that’s challenging at the best of times, and is also why minimalism is so invaluable to me. Those of you reading this may have completely different circumstances and challenges, but the feelings and effects of burnout are universal and can be devastating.

Last month I found myself completely and utterly de-motivated, unable to bring myself to write or to even play a videogame. Cooking was out of the question most days and my husband and I started ordering more takeouts than usual. I felt ashamed but had no energy to do anything else. It was pure survival mode. When the kids were in bed for the night, I’d just lay there watching a rabbithole of videos on Youtube and excessively twizzling my hair, only to repeat the same pattern the next evening. I was oversensitive to everything, exhausted, and snappy with my kids.

I was suffering from burnout. Specifically, autistic burnout, which I’ll probably write a separate post about.

One thing I did do (which has helped me to recover somewhat over the past few weeks) is recognise the signs and intentionally schedule several days of doing the bare minimum. Days where I’d work out what was priority on my list of to-do’s, and what could safely be ignored for a few days or even cut completely. The rest of the time in between was spent doing, well, nothing.

Sometimes I’d intentionally play my PS5 for most of the day (between child care and basic hygiene duties – hooray for pause buttons!), and other times I’d happily sit outside and listen to the birds as my youngest played with her sand.

I can’t emphasis enough how minimalism has been a sanity saver here, as it’s so much quicker and easier to clear up after the kids have been loose cannons, and I don’t have to move and pick up endless tchoktes and furniture when it’s time to whip out the hoover. It also helps to create a relaxing environment rather than one that’s constantly reminding me what needs to be done next or what should have been done last week.

And do you know what happened as a result of my time off doing nothing? Precisely that. Nothing. Even the kids were calmer.

It was as if because I was calm and doing my own thing, it was easier for my kids to do the same. That makes sense when you realise that kids learn by imitation.

Surely, in today’s modern world of burnout and poor mental health, that can’t be a bad thing? In fact, I’d say it’s pretty damn crucial. Not just for children, but for us adults.

If you’re one of those whose idea of relaxation involves ticking off yet another thing on your list, I urge you now to make one of those things a ‘do nothing’ day. Or a ‘do nothing hour’.

Just like with decluttering a house when you’re deciding what to keep and what to let go of, the same thing applies to our personal lives.

Is there a responsibility or task that can be let go of? What’s there just to appease others? What can be tweaked? How could you make space in your calendar? What do you spend most of your free time doing?(unintentionally scrolling through pages and pages of social media doesn’t count as self-care or relaxation). Do you need to learn to say ‘no’?

Only when you slow down long enough to ask yourself these kinds of questions can you take steps to recharge and reclaim a sense of self. The self behind all the to-do’s and the accepted chaos of modern life. A healed self.

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