Beyond Self-care

“What do you do for fun?”

My brother asked me this question the other day. He wasn’t asking what I do with the kids or with Luke (both easily answerable), he was asking what I do for fun – hobbies.

I was caught completely off-guard and, as I rambled through a response, I realized most of the things I listed either don’t really qualify as “hobbies” (watching YouTube, scrolling through Facebook, school work, house cleaning), or came with several caveats (“well, I love anything that involves painting, but I never make time for it, and I like baking, but I don’t do that very often either…I do some gardening, literally three minutes each evening, does that count?…cross stitching is fun, though I haven’t touched mine since before Finn was born…”).

This was an absolute revelation to me. I pride myself in my ability to prioritize self-care, how could I not think of a single thing that I regularly do for fun??? Luke enjoys woodworking and video games, and he carves out (pun absolutely intended) at least a few hours every month for those pursuits. But when was the last time I drew something just for me, and not at Thea’s request? I profess to love painting, but I’ve only done so twice in the past 12 months, and both those times involved someone else making the arrangements and me just showing up. It takes me at least a month to read one novel, and even this blog often reads more like a calendar of events than a truly personal creative writing space. AHHHH!!!

Okay, deep breath…

So that’s been on my mind for a few days now, and here’s what I’ve since figured out:

  1. I’ve been treating self-care as almost exclusively relating to my body. I very rarely miss a shower, I prioritize my sleep over chores and other obligations, I go to regular acupuncture appointments, and I make a point of painting my nails weekly because I enjoy doing it, I like the way they look, and I chew them less when painted.
  2. I am at my most peaceful when my house is clean, so I make time for chores. Though I am a notoriously messy cook, and I can easily and quickly make any room look like a tornado recently passed through, I’m also neurotically organized. Every file on my computer is categorized and labelled with consistent naming conventions, I have cleaning checklists and menu plans that are updated weekly, and you will not find anything resembling a “junk drawer” in my house. Maintaining all of this organization requires time, so my evenings regularly read something like this: “I’ll review one chapter of my textbook, then wash the dishes, then plan out our meals for next week, then go to bed and, if it’s not yet 11 pm, I’ll read a bit of a novel before going to sleep.”
  3. I am rarely in the “right” creative mood that I think of as necessary for painting or sketching. That said, when scheduling such creative ventures is done for me, the right creative mood comes immediately when the brush is picked up. For example, when I show up at a friend’s house for a pre-planned Paint Afternoon, or Luke surprises me with a canvas and watercolours in a park (as pictured at the top of this post), I never find myself halfway through the event thinking I’d rather be doing something else.

You’ll notice I’ve avoided saying, up to this point, that I “don’t have time” for hobbies. This careful language stems from a Ted Talk I watched a year or so ago by Laura Vanderkam, “How to gain control of your free time”. The impact it left on me is summarized by an example she gives early on – you may claim you are so busy that you don’t even have an hour to spare in the day, but if your water heater broke and flooded your basement, you can be sure you would find the immediate time needed to deal with such an urgent matter. Thus, it is not that you “don’t have time” for certain things, but that other things are taking priority. (She says it better than me, I recommend watching the linked video. I think I’ll re-watch it for extra tips after this post is published.)

So, all things considered, I think it’s pretty clear – I have no one to blame but myself for my lack of time invested into hobbies. I’ve been prioritizing all other things ahead of any creative pursuits. That saddens me, as I truly do get joy from anything creative – baking, painting, sketching, cross stitching, cooking, gardening, the list goes on. 

Now that I’m aware of it, what do I do about it? …Here’s where my writer’s block has been kicking in. I’m not really sure. How do you do it? How do you make time for your favourite things, if you do? If you don’t, how could you make time? What would you be willing to move down on the priority list in order to fit in more time for yourself?

I think a first step for me is to carve out two hours each week for something creative, just for me. Finn is at an age now where it is viable for me to hide in the basement for a morning and sketch, or go to a coffee shop with a cross stitch for a couple hours. I’ll try to document and report back here on anything I accomplish. I think what is most clear is I need to force myself to start by putting it in the calendar (neurotically organized, remember) and asking Luke to push me out the door as needed. Because if I keep waiting for the “right mood” to strike while I’m lounging on the couch with a phone in my face, I’ll never again have a brush in my hand.

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