Can Life be Busy and Simple?

I’m busy now.

Not can’t remember the last time I had a shower and only eating once a day busy. Things have to be pretty drastic for me to skip meals.

But my household is busier than we have been. My husband started a course late in the spring and now takes at least one exam every quarter that he needs to not only study for a lot but also go off-island to take.

The other new layer of busy is that a publisher approached me to write a book. I’m not sure what details I can share here yet but I am very excited about the project. It’s one of those pinch yourself dream opportunities but it also comes at a time when we I have a seven month old baby at home, a preschooler that goes to daycare part-time and a partner that already has a lot going on with work, education and the office basketball team. Oh, and we’re both really enjoying Crossfit and trying to make it to four or five sessions a week. Each.

This is a learning opportunity in many ways. Can we do the things we want while keeping some balance and peace in our lives?

Yes, you can have a simple life and be busy.

Some friends of ours schedule their weekends. They’re parents and both have demanding jobs so they schedule who’s primary care giver, who’s catching up on work and when they’re all having family time. We’ve taken a page from their book and done more scheduling than we normally would. That includes scheduling that we won’t leave the house until 10am on a Saturday morning and we’ll stay in our pajamas as long as we like.

Being busy is a chance to prioritize.

I had some eBay-ing plans for the fall but when this project came along I set them aside. There’s room in our closets for a few extra boxes and I’ll have time to get to them before the winter holidays. There are people I would like to have over for dinner right now but I’ll also be putting that off until the first draft of this book is in the hands of an editor (which is quite soon!). We still have leisure time but we’ve had to be much more structured in when we have it.

When I first heard about minimalism and all the lifestyle benefits I thought our new simple life would be one of no deadlines. I thought the goal was very little structure. But three years in I can see that the goal, and the process, is fluid and that letting go of material items and obligations is a long game. The book contract arrived after putting in a few years of diligent work. The diligent work was able to happen because of lowering our cost of living, getting out of debt and being thoughtful with what I gave my time to.

Busy can be a season. Even if it is a long season.

Supposedly the golden age to parent is 6 to 12 years old. Kids are self sufficient and capable without yet being teenagers. We’re quite a few years off of that age so for now, I write when I have moments, when our youngest who I am going to classify as an ‘easy baby’ is sleeping or nicely occupied army crawling around our living room. Often I write with him feeding or sleeping in the carrier while I sit on a physio ball and bounce (great for the abs and easy on the back). On the weekends my husband takes the kids out for at least one long afternoon adventure and I stay home, or find a coffee shop, and write. When he was studying for an exam I did the afternoon adventure and he stayed home to study. Our current balance of work vs. play time is sustainable but I know we’ll all be happy to have a weekend where one or both parents don’t need to work or study.

Recently I received an email from a mother of teenagers describing her busy life and asking if I had ideas for simplifying. There was band practice and many other activities and there was a lot of driving and very little sitting down for a family meal during the week. Ultimately I think the writer answered her own question: they really enjoyed their activities and where they lived and didn’t want to give any of it up. Too soon the teenagers would be out of the house and they would be in a much simpler season of life.

What do you think? Can life be busy and simple?

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  • We are warming up for busyness, and I’m not sure there’s a way to avoid it completely. My eldest started kindergarten and is in ballet once a week, my middle is in preschool, my husband just started graduate school (twice a week classes), and I’m in a class myself. Thankfully, we’ve managed to schedule most of our busyness on just a couple of days a week, so we can veg if necessary the other days after school (which, thankfully, is only half days for my kids!). I’m actually sore from yesterday’s activities and am so grateful today is quiet. Boring, almost. I need that quiet time, and so does the rest of the family.

    What’s funny is that I know people who thrive on being super busy. If you met me in real life, you might think that about me (I’m loud, energetic, talkative), but I get so tired from it all. I can’t imagine having my kids in competitive sports or other time-consuming activities. I can tell you they’ll be learning the art of mooching (I mean, trading) for rides or taking the bus if things were to get much busier than this!

    • I’m not sure there is a way to avoid it completely either. I hope that we stay mindful of creating downtime in between the peaks of busy.
      Oh yes, car pooling/walking/cycling will be a must if any of my kids are keen for competitive sports.

  • It’s funny–sometimes I think when my life is busiest is when it necessarily *becomes* more simple. When I have a season of few obligations, I tend to try to take on all sorts of new projects and goals and it’s hard for me to find my focus because I want to do all.the.things. Busy times force me to prioritize and to let go of the perfect in order to focus on the good. When we have a lot going on I have to let go of some things so I find myself on Pinterest less, finding fewer new ideas on how to make my life “perfect.” :)

    So excited for your book opportunity! I’m sure it will be on my must-read list…that is, if I’m not too busy. 😉

    • sometimes I think when my life is busiest is when it necessarily *becomes* more simple.

      So true. We’ve deliberately kept our down time as down time lately with no extra activities. I also notice I am cooking very simple meals and less variety each week. No one seems to mind yet.

    • This is so familiar to me. I can’t finish one project without thinking of three more that would be “perfect” for this or that. Then I get stressed about the projects. I am learning to let go of some of them, and not to start something until the first one (or six) are finished. It’s hard, but I am getting there.

  • Kids are self-sufficient from 6 – 12? Really? Hmm…

    I found this a very thought-provoking post. Yes, I think life can be busy and simple, but you have to be very intentional. My husband works at week-ends, and so he takes 2.5 hours off on a Wednesday afternoon. We walk the dog, and then go to a tea shop together. It always feels like we’ve been on a real outing. It happens because we plan it and it’s in the diary. It feels very time-efficient. We leave the house the minute he gets back. If we don’t, we start pottering around, and then the time fritters away and suddenly the walk is shorter than it might be, or there’s not enough time to relax over tea.

    I like unstructured time too, but I’m thinking that the thing to do is to plan the time when you are going to be unstructured! You mention that you stay in your pyjamas (English spelling!) on a Saturday morning, but you still have a plan for the day. That seems to be the way forward for “busy and simple”.

    • I like the sound of your leisure afternoon. Sounds familiar… our favorite leisure activity is to walk somewhere, have a coffee/tea/snack and chat while our eldest plays. Walking while chatting with my spouse and enjoying the outdoors is probably my favorite simple pleasure.

  • Yes, I think it can. I would describe our lives as busy and simple. Sometimes we are too busy and I seek to simplify even more. This can be difficult because right now I’m just doing the basics – cooking most meals from scratch, laundry, nursing the baby, napping the baby, teaching or directing learning, etc. We homeschool, so we choose how many out-of-the-home activities we do. I’m not sure how it will change as they get older. We take the approach that spending time together as a family takes priority over structured activity time and that’s working fine so far. I’m hopeful that the children will continue to be content with that. :)

    • We don’t homeschool but I find I learn a lot from families that do. I follow a few bloggers that homeschool and I love reading about how they create a fluid structure to the day around the rhythms of home life.
      Heading over to check out your website :)

  • I’m in the home stretch of ten months of a planned break from my career. It has been the busiest time of my life. Yet it’s been in the simplest way. It feels a bit chaotic with lots going on, my days are still planned from morning until night, but there is simplicity in the chaos. The minutia of unimportant things have gone away. The best example is I don’t have to worry about dressing professionally every morning, making sure my makeup and hair is perfect. There is a certain amount of glory in going make-up free, wearing jeans and a tee with a ponytail everyday.

  • You are describing my life, Rachel. My 6 year-old does not even remember life without both parents studying and working. Law school is hard, even without small kids and having to hold down a full time job and worry about the mortgage and finances at the same time. Equally for me to be a mom, work, study and then to do clinical practice was/is a challenge. Yet, prioritasion, simplicity and a set routine can conquer! :)

  • I really enjoyed this post. I am at a moment right now where I am considering making some choices that will make me, and us, busier. I have mixed feelings about it, and I also see that because we have simplified a lot of other things, there is more room now to let in the “good busy.”

    Congratulations on your book and I look forward to hearing more about it.

  • Oh Rachel, thanks so much for this post! I’m a mom of two (3 yrs & 19mths), and the most challening part about having kids for me is that I HATE planning. It’s the spontanaety that I miss. Your article has brought to light, how the planning makes way for more spontenaety…if that makes sense to you.

    • You are right Stephanie.. When you have a plan which you happily alter at times, it is spontaneity. When there are no plans whatsoever, that is more of a chaos. :)

      • ‘fail to plan, plan to fail’… yep sounds boring and I rebelled for many years. I’ve seen the light – having kids made me. Making 3 lives run smoothly (instead of 1) needed strategy!
        There’s various stats flying around but for every minute spent planning saves you between 4 minutes in execution and I’ve seen up to an hour quoted.

  • Firstly and most importantly I am so pleased to hear about your publishing news. Well done and very well deserved!
    Simple doesn’t mean convenient – not for me anyhow. In some ways the simpler my life becomes the busier I become – ironic! Cooking from scratch takes time, as does replicating take-out pizza rather than ordering in. Making gifts and cards takes more time and effort than picking one up in the supermarket when doing your grocery shop. Walking to your destination can take more time (but not always!) as can planning interesting outdoor activities for the kids rather than watching TV.
    But I wouldn’t change it for the world. It’s all about priorities, we all have different ones. Mine is about leading a more sustainable creative life with less consumption and reducing my waste. In all areas. I do not consider the time spent baking a birthday cake as a gift a waste of time, that’s how I prioritise my time. I could buy one, but I don’t want to.
    As for priorities I’m getting toward that stage where my kids are becoming more independent. But again new commitments and time-consuming things are arising as they grow. I’m ‘trying’ to make them more self-sufficient. This is where getting organised kicks in for me. And communication. House meetings between the hubby and I, meal planning and scheduling (oh yes scheduling) for the kids. They love it though. I posted yesterday about the idea I got from The Frugal Girl about framing lists for the kids. We now have a nicely framed before and after school routine. Day 2 and it’s going well. My 5-year-old pulled me up today as I got the running order wrong (and he can’t read properly yet!) and my 7-year-old shouted me I had ‘5 minutes’ whilst I was showering. Starting to wonder who the list is actually needed by 😉
    Will drop you a mail – long time no catch up. Take care and love to the boys x

    • During this busy back to school season (or at least busy compared to absolutely no busy over the summer) I have simplified thru structure as well. I meal plan – but not just dinner, breakfast and lunch too. I am on day three and loving it so far. The kids have visual schedules (for my second in K who can’t read) – they know what is happening the next day before bed, and know to check the list for what to do next. Simple and learning a life skill! So far it’s going really well.

  • I like the idea of seasons of busy. And, I think minimalism is essential to enjoy life in the midst of busy. Less stuff, mindful decisions and organization…Busy-ness is working its way into our fall and I really hope that it will work…

  • As I have four kids, 8-11-13-16, I AM, ALWAYS, busy. We just moved to CA a month ago, and this has definitively been a busy month, and a lot of adjustments, more than my usual busy. I don’t like being that busy. To the point of dreading enrolling my kids in sports and extracurricular activities, because at the end, as a single mom, I’m doing it all alone. So… enough ranting, I do not like busy it, if that sums it all.

  • This post was just what i needed to read today. I’m feeling overwhelmed and exhausted and wonder about our priorities sometimes. ( 3 kids, 4 years, 18 months and 9 days old. Hubby works 50 hours a week currently plus some on- call work and he would love to go back to school part time soon. Luckily i am a stay aat home mom and our 4 yr old is only in a once/ week dance class….we also rent out our downstairs bedrooms to 3 different young men who i cook for also ) i think you hit the nail on the head with having scheduled downtime. I really like what someone else mentioned about their walk and tea afternoon – scheduled time to relax and catch up together . That speaks to me!! Thanks for the encouraging post. Definitely need to think on this and work out a workable family schedule.

  • Yes, it so can! I think the difference is that (except for, say, family emergencies) you go into a busy season with your eyes open, you’ve made a choice, you put strategies in place (like your scheduling in the weekend), rather than just being in a constant, mindless state of busyness.
    My catchphrase is “slow not lazy” and sometimes I am busy. I make a real effort to always bring a slow mindset to what I am doing, even when I am busy. It has really paid dividends for me. Busy doesn’t derail and deplete me like it used to.
    I share my approach here –

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