It was supposed to be a magical two-week holiday in Cape Town. You know, the kind that you dream about for months beforehand – sitting on sandy beaches while watching sun-bronzed children frolic in the waves; hours spent reading and playing games; delicious lazy meals without a single thought of calories and low-carb diets. You know, the dream holiday that looks good on Facebook.
And to be fair, it WAS a magical holiday. I just didn’t expect it to be life-changing. Or that I would come face to face with a part of myself that I actually didn’t like.
It all started on the second or third morning of our two-week Christmas holiday. Stephen had let me sleep late and had kept the children busy in the lounge of our holiday rental. The sky was that shade of brilliant blue that just seemed to scream “Get outside”, we had absolutely NO plans for the day other than a late breakfast and a few hours on the beach, and everyone was just happy to be together. Stephen had brought me a cup of coffee in bed, the children were jumping on the bed demanding to know what our plans were for the day, and I… well, I was annoyed. I was trying to balance my coffee cup in one hand while scrolling through Facebook with the other – and no-one was letting me CONCENTRATE. The more they bounced on the bed and chatted in excitement about the day ahead, the more angry I felt – I mean, couldn’t they see I was BUSY trying to catch up on what the rest of the world was doing while I had been sleeping? It had been a full ten hours since I had last checked Facebook. Something important could have happened that I didn’t yet know about.
And then I saw it. An expression on Stephen’s face that I don’t see very often. Slightly confused and not very happy. Kayla, (10) was looking close to tears, and Bella (3) was trying desperately to lean over my phone to get me to look at her. To notice her. To pay attention to her.
To an outsider, it probably wouldn’t have looked like much. But to me, it was devastating. There I was, with three people who were so happy to see me, and I was choosing to spend time looking at my phone. And it wasn’t just on holiday – it was pretty much all the time. I would pick up my phone at every red robot and quickly scroll through WhatsApp, emails or Facebook. My phone was always with me – while I bathed the children, or watched TV or had coffee with friends. It was like a 5th member of our family.
I quickly put down my phone and concentrated on what everyone was saying, but that feeling of disquiet stayed with me throughout the day. I left my phone in the car while we were at the beach, and noticed how uncomfortable I felt spending so much time doing “nothing” while the children swam. I built sandcastles with Bella for a while, watched the waves for a few minutes, read my book for a few more – but just couldn’t seem to relax. It was like I had somehow lost the ability to be fully “present”. That my phone had somehow allowed me to multi-task and be in two places at once – so much so that I had grown unaccustomed to being in just ONE moment, and enjoying it.
It was an uncomfortable realisation. And quite fascinating.
And then I got to thinking. There I was on holiday, with one suitcase of clothing for two weeks. Each time I opened the cupboard at our rented house, I was faced with two dresses, two pairs of jeans, four or five tops, three pairs of shoes and a few items of underwear. That’s it. They were items that I had brought with me because I felt good in them and they fit perfectly. My makeup bag contained only those items that I used frequently, as did my small bag of jewellery. I had brought two books with me – ones I planned on leaving at the rental for the next guests – and that was all I really wanted or needed while on holiday. So why on earth did I have a cupboard bulging with clothes back home? Why did I go through a myriad of feelings each time I opened the cupboard – too much choice, too many items of clothing that no longer fit because I wasn’t as thin as I used to be when I bought them, too many shoes piled on top of each other, a feeling that I “should clean this” or “why is this such a mess?” And then the chaos of my makeup drawer – rummaging around trying to find the one mascara that wasn’t dry, or the one eyeliner that was vaguely sharp enough to use. The bookshelves that were groaning with books that I was never going to read again – but that I was saving because “someone” might like to borrow them.
And above all, why was I feeling that the key to managing my full, busy life was to ADD to it – start yoga, buy Pinterest-worthy storage solutions to contain the clutter, have more friends round, take more courses, commit to doing more things, say “yes” to everything, try to DO more and BE more? More. More. More. Always more.
Not to mention Facebook – filling my time and my head with people’s “stuff”. I began to take a mental thermometer reading each time I went on Facebook. How I felt before going on Facebook, and again afterwards. And let me tell you – not ONCE did I feel better off than before. Not once. Instead, I would feel upset on behalf of a friend whose post had sounded sad, I had felt annoyed with another who had made a vague reference to feeling angry but yet refused to specify what was wrong, and a vague sense of disquiet after seeing images of mothers and daughters out on “dates” when I hadn’t really connected with my own child that day. And so instead of focussing on what was right there in front of me – my family, my task list for the day, my goals and dreams – I was reacting to what I had just read. I was prioritising people (many of whom I hadn’t seen in decades) over the people that mattered the most.
It was time for a change.
The first step for me was to delete Facebook off my phone and avoid it for a full month (easier said than done). That was it. That was the start, and in many ways, the turning point for me. I suddenly had all this headspace to THINK, I found myself slowly feeling more present when I was spending time with my children, and I began to notice ways in which I could make very different choices and make my life a lot simpler. Yet fuller too.
That was the beginning of my journey towards a simpler life. I’m still learning and growing and making mistakes and trying again. But I can honestly say that it has been one of the most rewarding and eye-opening journeys I have been on. The creation of this blog was simply to act as a record of my thought-processes – you might find some things that resonate with you, and others that don’t. And that’s okay. But if there’s one thing I can leave you with today, it’s this – what is the ONE thing you you can subtract in your life right now? One thing that has very little value and yet takes up so much time or headspace? Subtract that one thing (for me, it was Facebook) and see what happens. I can’t wait to hear all about it!