A prominent Canadian psychiatrist once dished out some simple advice… if you want to fix the world, start by cleaning your room. His guidance was based on the observation that most of his clients could easily identify a few things in their lives that seemed little, but were fixable. The advice was considered radical because we sometimes avoid the obvious.
There is a reason for that. Up-close may simply be too doable for our liking. It requires some immediate action, which can be uncomfortably hard to put off. And yet, local can also be a realistic place to start.
Well, here we are sitting at home with our families during the Coronavirus lockdown, local as it gets. It finally dawned on me what a large list of things I had put on the side to do “someday” – the someday that never arrives. The list has many humble chores I promised to get to when I arrived home tired from work, but never did. On the weekends I procrastinated because I had more fun things planned. Each item seemed too inconsequential on its own to matter very much. Hence, the list continued to grow. Eventually you can end up like the troubled patient on the psychiatrist couch. You feel like you have a complicated life when in fact you have a host of little complaints that piled up.
Sample of a some things on my list – a board on our fence, missing for approximately two years after a wind storm. To install something behind the microwave so that it will not push into the wall cavity every time you push the buttons. Change the filters on the furnace. Clean the garage. Refinish a table top that has become stained and scratched. Deal with the weeds in the yard. Paint a room for my daughter. Give the shower we use every day a deep cleaning. Et cetera. My list might look a lot like your list. It’s the basic stewardship of everyday living.
It’s also the problem that gathers when people’s lives are eaten away by work and commuting. They feel jammed into barely available time slots, with never enough time to do anything well or completely, and so they don’t do the things at all. It seems that since having kids and owning a home, my life has been like this and I associate it with feeling harried, which makes me avoid things even more. It’s a problem that becomes worse over time.
And so I started to peck away at the list. It helped to write it down because it was a divide and conquer deal. Every time I got one thing done, I could strike it from the list, eliminating some of my pileup.
It also brought to my mind the famous parable by Russian sage Leo Tolstoy, about the three questions. What is the most important thing to do, when should you do it, and for whom? The answer is simple: the thing you should do is the most obvious. The time to do it is now. The person to serve is the one at hand, sometimes known as your neighbour, or family.
We seem to be fixated with globalism, to want the exotic elsewhere and yet be disconnected with the obvious at home. I wonder how our country has slipped into the kind of malaise where the fundamentals seem to be out of order. It affects things as basic as our food supply. Who knew that farmers were so important? Who knew that there is a long list of things we should have learned to do on our own so that we will not be so darned dependent on outsiders? I have news. Local can be beautiful. The most important things in your life, are the things at hand. The people in front of you, the time to do them, now.
Realistically, the list never gets done. Still, mine is coming under control, one item at a time. It helps to NOT have such a list hectoring the back of my brain. One simple suggestion. If you are home anyway, schedule an afternoon nap in here and there. Write it on your list and also make sure you get to it. It will make your list just a little more palatable.