Learning to Subtract


Every so often, I like to have a day where I stay in all day. I pick a Saturday or Sunday to wear my pajamas and putter around. I read. I drink lots of tea. I admire the view from my living room windows. I might tidy up a little. Sometimes I bake. Mostly, I just do whatever I want, whenever I feel like it.

Slow Down

Click for source.

Yesterday was one of those days. It felt wonderful. And yet, here I am, fighting off guilt.

I had a busy, productive week. I went to the office every day. I packed healthier lunches and took long walks over some of my lunch breaks. I took a restorative yoga class. I journaled every morning. I helped a friend edit a story.  My husband and I had dinner with another friend and finally saw her new house. I went grocery shopping. By the end of each day, I was so tired that I crawled in bed at 9 p.m. to read and drift off to sleep. Why am I feeling guilty?

Well, I didn’t do the one thing I set out to do. I tried to draw one night, but I was tired and impatient. I didn’t get far, and then didn’t pick up my supplies again all week. And I didn’t draw yesterday, even though I wrote it down on my “to do” list.

Lately, I’ve made an effort to add things to my life and it’s been undeniably positive. I’ve added more exercise, made more time for friends, gotten more involved at church, and started writing every day. My life has been improved by these things. I’ve also been impressed with my ability to juggle them all. But that’s where the dark side sometimes asserts itself. I start to get competitive with myself. I start to think that even though I’m doing better, it’s still not enough. I could be exercising more, after all. I could be eating better. I could give more time to friends and family. I should keep my apartment cleaner. And so on. My creeping sense of guilt comes from the belief that I’m not making the most of my time, not setting the right priorities, not living up to my own expectations. Why set goals if you’re not going to stick with them?

Yesterday, though, I think a deeper, wiser part of my brain understood that I needed to set all that aside. That my goals, while noble and fruitful, had to be ignored for a little while. That it was actually good for me to be unproductive for a day, after a long week that was indeed busy and productive, just not in all the ways I’d planned. After all, how do you stay balanced and sane if you only add and never subtract? I’m still learning to subtract because the art of paring down is difficult and delicate. It involves discerning your priorities, setting personal boundaries, and not measuring your sense of self worth against a set of check marks on your “to do” list. But I do know that, even though I failed to meet my goal this week, sitting in my favorite chair yesterday with a hot cup of tea and ignoring the clock as I read for as a long as I wanted was the right thing to do.

Today I’m grateful for: hours spent around a bonfire with friends, lots of laughter, and piping mugs of hot cider.

5 thoughts on “Learning to Subtract

  1. Sounds like a good new goal for next month might be “making time to relax.” 🙂 That’s a constant goal/struggle in my life too. I’m enjoying your blog! PS, this one has particularly delicious writing.

    1. Maybe that would be a good goal, especially with the holidays coming! I get so wrapped up in the hustle and bustle, I forget to take a little time to decompress here and there. And thanks for the compliment — I think my writing turns out best when I keep it simple and get right down to it. Again, paring down is hard but good in more ways than one …

  2. I totally understand! I never thought about it that way: “After all, how do you stay balanced and sane if you only add and never subtract?” I’m continually doing that as well, always thinking I am not accomplished even though I did a lot that week, or thinking, “I should be looking for jobs even though I need a day off to recuperate…,” but you have to make time for yourself. If you don’t, you just wear yourself out. Love the post – I should read them more! 🙂

    1. Taking “down time” is harder than you’d think, but much needed now and then. It can bring a certain clarity that busyness just doesn’t.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s