Are your hands full?
Without fail, when it’s time to go somewhere, even if it’s just to another room in the house, my son scrambles to find all of the toys he NEEDS to bring with him.
He needs the red Lego car with the yellow wheels (not the black wheels), the blue ball (not the green one), and the white rabbit (not the brown one). He’ll hunt for each specific item until he has them all, and he’ll try to carry them all at once.
It’s always a juggling act. He drops one, bends to pick it up, and then drops something else in the process. He doesn’t make it very far before he gets frustrated and asks me to carry about half of it.
I remind him that he can leave some of it behind, but he doesn’t believe me. The only possible solution he sees is to figure out how to carry all the things all at once.
I totally get it.
I can’t get to the kitchen for a glass of water without first cleaning up a spill, picking up dirty clothes strewn about, breaking up an argument over a toy, checking on the laundry, and ushering a 2-year-old back to the playroom.
And I can’t get myself started at work until I’ve checked 2 email accounts, Facebook, my Google calendar, and my bullet journal.
Then, of course, there’s that collection of thoughts and expectations I cart around wherever I go.
So I guess I do exactly the same thing.
I can’t remember the last time I gave myself permission to put something down, even just for the day.
There’s plenty I carry with me that I could leave behind, too.
This issue or worry. This frustration or pressure. This imagined conversation with people who don’t really get how it all works in my life.
Letting go of even just a little could free up your hands to collect more of the good stuff, like joy, lightness, perspective, and patience. It’s how we make room for more of what we actually want.
What could you leave behind and what would you like to carry more of?
In this balancing act of work and life and kids and marriage and staying healthy and growing up, it’s easy to forget that we don’t need to pick up every little thing.
(So we pick it all up.)
Day after day, those judgments cloaked as advice, those comparisons to every other parent, your own beliefs about “those people,” the little things you agree to do, and the little habits that seem to eat up all your spare minutes stick to you like jelly fingerprints on the mirror. Eventually, they burrow under your skin until it’s hard to distinguish where they end and you begin.
Sometimes even the good things get mixed up with the pressures you’ve been carrying around.
The effects can be subtle at first, but they add up.
The 10 minutes here, 15 minutes there add up.
The what if’s, what this says about me’s, and the what will everyone think’s add up, too.
It’s surprisingly easy to overlook that and keep piling more on. I guess your body stops alerting you to stress and exhaustion if you stop listening to it for long enough.
Soon you’re lucky if you have a minute in the day just collect your thoughts, and before long, you stop noticing how heavy it all is. Or maybe you do notice, but you don’t recognize the real reason why it feels that way: your hands are beyond full with everything you’ve collected.
I’ve learned that the times I’m making the most mistakes or dropping the most things are the times I’m trying to hold on to too much – but it always takes me a minute to realize that. I have to wade through the beliefs that all of this is happening because I’m not good enough, smart enough, coordinated enough, kind or caring enough to do it all before I get there.
When it feels like it’s your fault that all of this is hard to carry around is about the time that it gets tempting to push yourself even further to the bottom of the list.
Maybe we’re seduced by the idea of how much better everything would be if we got just a little more done every day.
Maybe we feel we haven’t earned that glass of water until we get everything else just right.
Or maybe we’re afraid of what others would think of our choice to walk by that laundry on the floor (again) or say no to their request (even if it would only take a minute).
So how do we stop all this?
I’ve decided that it’s time to be honest with myself about how all of this really plays out.
I need to be honest with myself and accept that things will be slower and messier (and far less perfect) than I think they should be.
And I need to be honest with myself that I can’t carry it all at once, but that’s okay because I’m allowed to put things down.
Just think of how different your day would be if you said, “I’m not taking this with me today.”
You’d be giving yourself the freedom to be selective about what you pick up in the first place and the awareness to catch yourself before you cut out even more sleep or work through another lunch.
Think of all the ways you could support yourself if you protected a block of time, small as it may be, that couldn’t be chipped away minute by minute.
Think of how much more quickly you could pick those little nuggets of wisdom pointing you to a clearer path out of the noise that surrounds us every day.
Sometimes it feels a little like cheating to do this, but let’s call it what it is: a reclamation of the heart and headspace that so many of us need.
Like 2-year-olds, we’ll inevitably carry around everything we can fit into our hands, and what we carry with us shapes our days. Our days shape our weeks, our weeks shape our months, months shape years, and years shape our lives.
So really, life is just a big collection of todays.
What do you want your todays to be about?
I want my todays to fill me up, not overwhelm me.
I want my todays to be filled with imagination, not imaginary conversations about what I’ve done wrong.
I want my todays to be about gratitude for what I have, not despair about what I don’t.
I want this for myself and for my family. They deserve to get the best parts of me, not the leftovers I scrape together after I’ve given everything away to everyone else.
So I’m beginning by taking a good, honest look at what I’m collecting.
If you’d like to do this too, join the Collected Challenge. Get off that hamster wheel of overthinking, overcomplicating, and overwhelm, and put the focus back on the things that matter most to you.
Join the challenge and get the journal page that goes with this post in the Year of Happy free library.