As may be apparent, 2013 has got off to a busy start for me. Summers in Hobart are jam-packed with things to do, I’ve struggled to find time to write and I’m not as on top of things as I’d like to be.
It can be challenging to maintain balance during busy times and so often I hear people say that they’d like to be more environmentally-sound in their choices but they lead busy lives and they just can’t find the time. And so we let unsustainable choices sneak into our busy lives. We go to the supermarket to do our shopping, instead of visiting the local grocer and the farmer’s market. We drive places instead of cycling or walking. We buy ready-made and processed foods to eat on the run. Gardens get neglected… In the name of convenience, of saving time, we make a thousand small choices that make our lives less sustainable, that lock us in to being busier and busier, that have negative consequences on our health and the health of our planet, our one and only home.
If we really want to make this world, our home, a better place, sustainability needs to be a priority in our lives at all times, especially when we’re tired and stressed. That’s when our bodies and minds are telling us we need to slow down, to rest and to focus on the things that are really important: taking proper care of ourselves and our loved ones. That’s when we really need to nurture ourselves, and we do that best by making sustainable choices, by feeding ourselves wholesome and nutritious food, by connecting with our communities, by ensuring we breathe fresh air and get some exercise, by remembering that living in tune with our beliefs and values actually lowers stress levels and makes us happier.
So stop a while, take a moment to just breathe and remember how it is that you really want to live your life.
Making sustainable choices:
For me, I get through these busy patches by making sustainable choices part of my day’s structure. Daily routines and habits are much easier to maintain than big new changes, so when sustainability is part of your every-day lifestyle, sustainable choices just flow along.
Of course, I don’t have access to an endless well of time so some things do fall by the way-side when I get really busy. It used to be the healthy choices that I let drop. No time for a swim or a bush walk, no energy to cook a proper dinner, and I’ll just finish this or that before I head to bed (oh look, another night of not enough sleep…). Now I’m learning to stay off the computer when I’m tired, that blogging can wait. That I’ll feel better in the morning for cooking a real meal tonight and not opening that bottle of wine. That heading to the pool will clear my head and lower my stress, while an evening on the couch will do the opposite and that no-one is really going to notice if I didn’t do the cleaning this week, but I’m going to feel it I don’t get to the market and stock my kitchen with the sort of food I should be eating.
It’s taken an concerted effort to break these habits and I’m still working on it, but work it does and I’m getting through the busy patches now without dropping the things that really matter to me, without winding up sick and miserable as I push myself too far.
Learning new habits:
- Walk - the daily walk to work is so ingrained into my routines I don’t even think about taking the bus, plus the time and activity help me clear my head for the day ahead. Driving to work or the local shop doesn’t even occur to me now.
- Nourish - it’s very easy when busy to give into the temptation of easy food: processed stuff that will give you a quick energy hit but in the long run is bad for you and the planet (packaging, farming practices, food miles and the rest of it) but preparing and eating real food makes me feel better. When I’m tired and lack the motivation to cook I wander into the garden and find inspiration in what I can harvest there. I also over-cook when I can and stock my freezer with home-made insta-meals to get me through the busy times.
- Prepare - have the little things that help you make the right choices near to hand. I keep fabric shopping bags in places that mean I’ve almost always got one on hand and don’t get caught out needing plastic. I keep my swimming bag packed and hanging my the door. I have raw nuts on hand for snacking. I order seeds so I know I’ll get the garden ready!
- Share - turn chores into a social event by inviting friends, thus helping you to keep the commitment as well as spreading sustainable choices. I make dates with friends to sow the new season’s seeds, to go on foraging missions or get our preserve on to store seasonal surpluses.
- Decide - a friend introduced me to the concept of mindfulness a while back and it’s an amazingly powerful tool I use to keep myself going and being the kind of person I want to be. When I’m tired, grumpy or feeling over it I ask myself who I’m choosing to be, what impact will that choice will have on me? It’s usually enough to get me out and working in the garden or researching sustainability things!
- Stop - I’ve got into the habit now of giving myself a half-hour every evening to just sit and be quiet before bed; time I used to sacrifice in the name of productivity that now allows me to sift through my thoughts and feelings and work out where I’m heading each day. It’s keeping me grounded and has greatly improved the quality of my sleep.
How do you keep yourself on the right path?
I’d pretty much given up on my spring veg seeds sprouting. Well, except for the rocket and beans – they’re unkillable.
Instead of buying seedlings this year I’d decided to do my bit for crop diversity and source some rare and heirloom variety seeds: tomatoes, zucchini, eggplant and sunflowers, along with last season’s self-saved seed. I got all eco-experimental and planted most of my seeds in egg cartons, which it turns out don’t drain well and do dry out very easily. I was nervous about my prospects for success. Then the spring gales came and ripped my flimsy plastic greenhouse asunder and I came home last week to find all my seedling pots dust-dry and the few little shoots that had sprouted, withered and died.
Dispirited, I brought all the dirt-filled egg cartons and little pots inside, gave them a thorough soaking and ensconced them on the dining table under my lovely north-facing windows. Then I waited. I waited, I waited and I waited. Nothing.
So when I dropped by the hardware store to buy tape for greenhouse repairs (avoiding throwing the damn thing out like the disposable item it’s designed to be) I picked up a few tomato seedlings, determined to taste a home-grown summer again this year. And just this morning – as I checked again but found no signs of life – I thought I’d be throwing my egg carton experiments out as just so much expensive dust.
But this afternoon when I came home, there they were: pale green things.
Purple sprouting broccoli, Italian parsley, Caspar eggplant, chillies and all three types of tomato.
I’m going to take this one as a lesson to not give up on things so soon. To not be in such a rush to throw out and move on, but give fragile things a little bit more time to see if they can grow.
There will be sunflowers this year.
Do you have a happy place? Somewhere you can go when the world gets too much, a place to re-charge and reconnect?
I do, and I’m lucky that my very special place is practically on my doorstep. It’s one of the reasons I love Hobart so much and am loath to consider leaving. My happy place is Mt. Wellington, the dolerite peak that makes this little city so unmistakable. Hobart folds itself around the Mountain’s flanks, seeking shelter from the westerly gales that batter this latitude and drinking from the many creeks and rivulets that drip their way down the slopes and run through the gullies. The Mountain’s unmistakable silhouette can be seen from most every part of this little city, watching over the lives below.
Wellington is special, and not just because it’s an ecological treasure-trove (A Gondwanaland remnant, with wet and dry sclerophyll forest, temperate rainforest, stunted alpine woodlands and alpine heath-lands, it’s incredibly diverse). There’s a power to the place; a deep, quiet presence that sinks into you and reminds you that the world is so much bigger and older than your little griefs and anxieties.
I like nothing better than to lose myself in solitude for hours on one of the many trails that criss-cross the Mountain’s peaks and valleys. After a year of walking on the Mountain most weekends there are still dozens of new trails awaiting exploration, plus old favourites to re-visit and experience in different seasons. In autumn the rainforest is full of fungi in a riot of shapes and colours. In winter the summit may be dusted in snow and the woodlands wreathed in mists. In spring tiny wildflowers sprout unexpectedly from rocky crevasses, tiny jewels in a harsh landscape. In summer the views stretch out forever and every inch of Mountain hums with life… There are hidden waterfalls, arresting outlooks, vast alpine plains and craggy peaks to climb.
Wellington is the wilderness on my doorstep, and it calls to my soul. Every hour spent walking the slopes is time well spent, restoring my spirit and reminding me why these wild places matter. That’s what is so important about preserving pockets of wilderness: these spaces nourish us and help to keep us connected to the ecosystems we rely on. Wild places teach us how to be alone, how to reach the sacred inside ourselves and how to reconnect with our environments. My Mountain, it is love.
Where is your happy place? Where do you go to get away from it all? Does the wilderness call you, or are you refreshed by city life or the sea instead? What makes a place truly special to you?
…and if you ever want a walk on my Mountain, you only have to ask.
This week marks a major work deadline for me, with the final draft of a project due tomorrow that’s been the best part of a year in the making. Despite the long lead-time it’s now a sprint to the finish to get everything done and off to the publishers tomorrow. I’ve been working long days, then dealing with the house move on the weekends and it’s fair to say I’ve just about had it.
It’s late, I’m tired, grumpy and in serious need of a massage, and I still need to do the dishes before bed. Despite a valiant attempt at writing something thoughtful about electricity costs there is no finished blog post tonight. I’m accepting defeat and prioritising getting some sleep.
One more long day tomorrow and I should be done. This weekend I shall sleep and sleep until I am no longer a tired and grumpy little fish. Unlike the gruff old fellow above, the grumpy look doesn’t sit well with me.
Right, dishes, shower, bed!
Balance is an essential quality of living sustainably: prioritising activities and accepting limitations to reach your goals and avoid the pitfalls of over-commitment, burn-out and apathy. Balance is critical in managing our time, resources and health, maintaining momentum and juggling competing demands. It’s so damn important, and I’ve been so bad at it.
I may have the best of intentions, but I over-promise and under-deliver. I take on too many commitments, throwing myself into activities without allocating time to rest, relax and nourish myself. I lose sight of the big picture, expending too much energy on small stuff or prioritising things that really could wait. Depressingly, I still get sucked into the time-wasting void of the internet. I say yes too readily and I never, ever get enough sleep.
It’s a familiar pattern: procrastinate and fall behind then go into manic over-drive, or over-estimate what I can do in a given amount of time and run around like a mad thing trying to keep my promises until eventually the mind or body cracks under the pressure and I succumb to sickness or anxiety. It’s the habit of a lifetime but it has become a problem: it’s clearly unsustainable.
Experience and expert advice has taught me that I need structure and routine to help me find balance, though routine doesn’t come easily to me. The last six months have seen the routine I worked so hard to establish disintegrate completely due to housemate dramas, injuries, illness and a period of rapid change and uncertainty. It hasn’t been good for me!
Now I’m living on my own and starting to settle into the Cottage it’s time to work on establishing new routines and seeking that elusive balance.
I’ve been pushing so hard to get this place set up and the House of the Gumtrees ready for final inspection (not helped by my housework-shy and occasionally stupid ex-housemate) I haven’t been setting aside time for me, winding up tired, cranky and no fun to be around. After having a minor meltdown last week over a dodgy oven I realised I was long over-due for a break to re-charge and relax. Despite my seemingly endless to-do list I took some time out last weekend to look after myself, heading out to Mt. Field National Park with a good friend for some quality time in the forest.
It was just what I needed, helping me to clear my head and re-evaluate my priorities. I still have just as much to get done, but now I have a much better idea of how to do it. And the best part? We were lucky enough to find a protected pocket of fagus up there, still blazing with colour. *happy face*
Of course I’m going to keep struggling with balance. It’s going to take me a long time and a lot of conscious effort to learn to walk that fine line between effectiveness and burn-out, but establishing a basic routine and prioritising sleep and forest time is a positive first step. I have no doubt I’ll mess it up many more times, but the important thing is to keep learning and working towards finding that blissful state of equilibrium.
If I’m to build the life I want to live I need to find balance.
How do you maintain balance in your life?
Tamar River, Launceston, Tasmania.
Find time to stop, reflect and be amazed by where you find yourself.
(I need to take my own advice.)
P.S. I have home internet access again! Hopefully regular posting will resume next week.
You know what’s truly unsustainable? Pushing yourself until your body finally breaks.
Yeah, I’m sick. Proper, no fighting it, sleep all day sick. Instead of moving house I’m spending this weekend curled up in bed feeling pretty sorry for myself. A sustainable life is all about balance, and that includes giving myself enough time to sleep, rest and relax. I’m notoriously bad at that, always trying to squeeze a little more out of myself. I really, really must get better at looking after myself.
On that note, I’m heading back to bed.