One of the missions of Small Life, Slow Life is to decrease the amount of time spent obligations and increase time spent on personal freedom.
Obligations include all the things you have to do that you may not love to do. Some examples: Going to work, brushing your teeth, running your kids’ carpool wagon, doing your quarterly taxes, twice-weekly trips to the grocery store, dusting the bookshelves, sitting in on conference calls, de-weeding the front yard.
Some of your obligations are non-negotiable. (Well, I mean, you could stop brushing your teeth, but I don’t think you want to.) The point isn’t to decrease the things you have to do – it’s to decrease the time spent doing them. Also, reframing your opinion about your obligations is a huge part of increasing your personal freedom. For example, taking immaculate care of your teeth may take more time than simply brushing twice a day, but brushing with a top-of-the-line toothbrush, flossing and swishing with mouthwash will decrease the amount of time and money spent at the dentist. We call that a win. (We’ll get into smart ways to decrease the time spent and increase the efficacy of your obligations in later posts.)
Today, we’ll focus on increasing your amount of personal freedom by utilizing a tool I love: Taking Vacation Saturday. (If you work on weekends, Vacation Wednesday or Friday will work just as well.)
I developed Vacation Saturday while I was living in Japan. My weekdays were full of teaching classes, staff meetings, and then I went home to plan lessons for the next day. I generally spent Fridays out in a neighboring city with friends. By Friday night, I was toast.
I stumbled upon Vacation Saturday by accident at first. I began by sleeping as late as I wanted to, never setting an alarm or scheduling time with friends – I left that for Sunday, when I was refreshed. On Saturday mornings, I woke up at my leisure and took a full 20 minutes to turn over in bed, sit up, reflect on any dreams I’d had, and stretch and yawn. From there, I made a cup of coffee or tea. Then, it was up to me.
Sometimes I decided to start my morning with a refreshing workout, using a DVD and a yoga mat and some light weights (I didn’t have a lot of room, so I worked out in my kitchen and saved hundreds of dollars a year by not belonging to a gym). Other times, I pulled my laptop into bed and chatted with my friends in the US. Sometimes, I went for a walk to the store to pick up ingredients for breakfast, or I took a bike-ride around town. Other times, I left my laptop closed and journaled in bed, or picked up a book I was reading from my nightstand.
The point is having no agenda. It’s a vacation day – you can do whatever you love to do while on vacation, from the comfort of your own bed/couch. Want to cut up old magazines and make a collage? Done. Feel like spending time emailing or calling friends you don’t get a chance to talk to during your busy week? Of course. Want to play with the dogs in the backyard, cloud-watch, photograph a sunset or sit in a lounge chair with a cup of cool iced coffee? All yours. Yearning to make a round of mimosas you can sip while you sun yourself on your patio? Go for it!
“But I have a family who expects me to do stuff with them!” you might be protesting. Ah, but Vacation Saturday is for everyone. My boyfriend knows about my long-standing Vacation Saturday habit, so after we share our first cup of coffee and gentle morning conversations, he leaves to do some work or exercise or whatever he may want to do. He knows I won’t be available until later in the day and he’s even come to appreciate having some time to do whatever he wants.
Everyone in your family can benefit from Vacation Saturday. If you normally share a big breakfast during the weekend, save it for Sunday. On Vacation Saturday, each person in your household is responsible for his/her own breakfast. If you have really little ones, you can prepare their breakfast the night before and simply heat it up for them in the morning, and then you’re done: they’re fed, and you’re vacationing. (Also, Vacation Saturday is a really great time to schedule playdates for your kids, or to have their babysitter pick them up and take them on outings. You need the break, and so do they.)
Kids take well to Vacation Saturday. After a week of school, homework and extracurricular activities, kids need a day where they can choose to play outside, read books, play video games, watch their favorite DVD, or play with their toys in their room. Children understand the rejuvenating power of free-form playtime a lot better than adults do. If you have a conversation with your family about why you need time to yourself and how they deserve the same thing, they’ll be right on board.
When I was a kid, my parents worked nights. During my time off in the summer, they slept well into the afternoon. I was an only child until I was a teenager, so I learned how to entertain myself from a young age. During the summer, I made myself breakfast, drew pictures, read tons of books, watched my favorite cartoons and even developed my passion: spending time writing stories. If my parents had spent every waking moment with me, I might have never developed the hobby that gives me my livelihood today. When your children learn to be comfortable in their own company, they will grow into strong, centered adults who know how to soothe themselves in times of crisis.
You might be thinking that Vacation Saturday is something people who are less busy have time for, but I will strongly argue against that. The busier you are, the more you need Vacation Saturday. When we’re constantly overwhelmed with daily activities, we are exhausted, short-tempered and less effective. I can tell right away when I’ve missed Vacation Saturday – I’m generally irritable and function poorly. I might be snappy with the people in my life or not feel available to really listening to them. My performance at work suffers and I can even experience symptoms of depression. Luckily, these signs let me know that I need some time to myself more than ever, and I take it without hesitation.
As a culture, we’re chronically overscheduled. If you’re hoping you’ll find pockets of time to yourself during the week, I’d like to ask you how that’s worked for you so far. Not great? Me either. Blocking out your Saturday mornings is a standing commitment you make and keep, and the people who love you will get it and respect it.
You might not need an entire Saturday to be a vacation day – I often find that by 4pm, I’m sufficiently refreshed and ready to go out and play. You might need more time, or less. Give yourself a few Saturdays to see what works for you.
Also, when you go back to your regular obligations after enjoying a vacation day, you’ll find that you can do them with greater enthusiasm in less time. There’s nothing better for productivity than taking a day off. After a long workweek, a vacation day can revitalize you so that mowing the lawn and mopping the floors will feel fulfilling instead of like more work to put on the to-do list.
If you work from home, Vacation Saturday is a perfect reason to get out of the house. Eat ice cream at the park, go for a run in your neighborhood, take a trip to the local aquarium. However you spend your vacation day, I can guarantee that it’ll help you live a smaller, slower life.
Today happens to be my Vacation Saturday. I got up late, enjoyed coffee with my boy, read a magazine in bed, and drove to my mom’s house to check on the dogs. Currently, I’m blogging with my feet up, sipping a glass of ice water, and Chopped is on Food Network in the background. I have nowhere to be until 8pm tonight, but I’ve chosen to take a yoga class at 3:30 to relax even more. And let me tell you: I am breathing so deep, and feeling so, so good. What about you?
Do you give yourself a day off each week? How does it work for you?