August 6, 2023

On Finding a Balance Between Work and Play

So much of my homesteading life revolves around the things I do: planting, gardening, critter care, milking, mulching, compost making, harvesting, preserving, cheesemaking, pasture improvement, fence repair, lifestyle documentation, and of course (my least favorite) housework. Then there is the long project list Dan and I are working on: swale digging, hugelkultur making, and building projects such as repairing and upgrading our 100-year-old home and our greenhouse. My days are very busy but at their end, I feel like I've been productive. I have no complaints; I love my life.

With finishing one more room to create my sewing room, however, I've rediscovered a dilemma I haven't felt in quite awhile. Currently, I'm still going through all the boxes of equipment and supplies that I'd stuffed into storage. They are getting unpacked now, and I'm trying to find permanent homes for everything. I feel good that I can finally do this, and it feels constructive to unpack boxes, sort, clean, and organize their contents. But now I find myself conflicted. Where am I going to find the time to reconnect with the activities I love? I have so much fun when I'm engaged in sewing, or spinning, or weaving, that it doesn't feel like work. And then I start to feel guilty because I have too much to do! How can I waste time having so much fun! 

 In his One-Straw Revolution, Masanobu Fukuoka says, 

"If natural farming were practiced, a farmer would also have plenty of time for leisure and social activities within the village community. I think this is the most direct path toward making this country a happy, pleasant land."

I contemplate this as I look around our homestead and add another item to our perpetual to-do list. 'I'm not there yet,' I tell myself. But then I have to ask, when, if ever, will I get there? I'm gradually coming to the conclusion that at some point, I'm just going to have to do it. But how do I do it without feeling guilty for neglecting "needful" things? I'm realizing that I have to address several things. One is how I define words, the other is how I spend my time.

Of words, I have to ask, how am I defining "successful" homesteading? And how am I defining "work" and "play"? Why do I think that play is fun and work isn't? Or that if something's fun, then it's a waste of time? It's odd that I should think that way, really, because I do enjoy working outdoors. I enjoy working in the garden, with the goats, and making and preserving lovely things to eat. I don't even mind cleaning out the barn because I know that each thing I do serves multiple purposes toward land stewardship. Equally incongruent in my thinking is the fact that my textile and fiber pursuits always produce something functional: clothing, socks, sweaters, hand towels, scarves, blankets, etc. I think part of my problem is that because I can source these things so cheaply (often the thrift store) that it's time indulgent to make them myself.

This train of thought led to analyzing how I spend my time, especially in summer, our busiest season. In summer, my mornings are for the garden, before it gets too hot. When I come in, I take a break because I'm hot and sticky myself. Then I make lunch and it's on to afternoon activities: canning, dehydrating, and cheese making. Yet, I have wait times with these activities. I need to stick around, but when the timer is on, I have a free bit of time. 

And that led to looking at how I spend that free time. Usually, I sit down at the computer. In analyzing my computer time I can identify much of it as constructive, but much of it is spent engaged in distractions. I say I feel guilty for doing something I really enjoy, yet how much time do I just piddle away? Isn't that time I could spend engaged in other ways?

I also spend a large chunk of my time writing. It's a time consuming task for me. Publishing all those books was a lot of work. Actually, so is blogging, because it takes me time to communicate clearly. On the one hand, my homestead blog is valuable as a journal. Dan and I refer to it often for things I've documented. But somehow, when my blog and my books became somewhat popular, I put an obligation on myself to produce X amount of content in X amount of time. Now, after fourteen years of homestead blogging, our lives follow a comfortable seasonal routine, which means I'm often repeating myself when it comes to blogging topics.

Another thing I'm realizing is that I'm not very good at "picking my battles." My example is our ongoing problem with bermuda grass in the garden and horse nettle in the pastures. Every summer I work hard to try and defeat the stuff, but every year it wins anyway. Perhaps I'm struggling with things that aren't in my power to change. And then I have to acknowledge that my argument for feeling productive is undermined because losing battles isn't productive, it's discouraging. 

Conclusion? I need a plan of action. There may be more but to start, I've hit on a couple of things that I think will help.

Routine. Working with livestock, I've learned that routine is my best friend. They are so much more cooperative when they know what to expect, and I like not having to figure out when I'm going to do something. Routine sets the framework for my day. The next step was looking at how I was using the rest of my time. 

  • 5:00 am (at the latest) - rise
  • 5:30 - breakfast
  • Sunrise - morning critter chores
  • Then back to the house to strain the milk and do house chores
  • 7 - 7:30 - in the garden until the sun hits it and it gets too hot
  • 9:30 or so - "free" time until I start lunch
  • 11:00 - lunch
  • 12:00 - lunch dishes (I usually do this while Dan checks water buckets, but sometimes it's vice versa)
  • 12:15 - afternoon projects: indoors or in the shade: preserving, cheese making, winnowing, etc.
  • Late afternoon (if afternoon projects are finished) - free time
  • 3:30 - pick greens and herbs for the goats
  • 4:00 - afternoon critter chores
  • 4:30 - start on dinner
  • 5:00 pm - dinner and a movie
  • 7:00 pm at the latest - dinner dishes and kitchen clean-up
  • 7:15 - free time
  • Going on dark - evening critter check and chores
  • free until bedtime
I have to say that after I went through this thought process and I analyzed my schedule like this, I discovered that the time was already there. It's just a matter of developing new habits on how I use it.

Blogging. Blog when I have something to document, not according to a schedule. I'm not sure that I'll blog any less, but it will be freeing. I may even end up blogging more, because I've republished my fiber journal and am finding all kinds of things to blog about, now that I'm getting back into the textile arts groove.

Anybody still with me? I know I'm not the only one who struggles with finding balance in their lives. I think I'm fortunate that I can pretty much set my own schedule, but I suspect the process is similar for other schedules. So much of it is about habit. I'm finding that in rethinking my habits, I'm starting to find the balance I've been longing for. 


daisy g said...

I think a lot of it depends on the value you put on things. I value the time I spend reading, organizing or even napping, because I know it makes me function better with the work tasks that need doing.

Everything has its place, and I keep a loose schedule of what needs to be done. For instance, since I've been home as the household manager (I hate the term housewife), I do certain cleaning chores on particular days. I know that Monday is cleaning bathrooms, Tuesday the kitchen, etc. I don't even need to think about it, it's just automatic. Things change with the seasons as well, because I get gardening done early in summer and later in winter because of the weather. '

I've realized how much I love the ebb and flow of my days and every day there is so much to look forward to accomplishing. Some might think that napping is a waste of time, but I know it's necessary for me to maintain my health, so it's valuable to me.
Stop being so hard on yourself. You deserve some time to play!

Pioneer Woman at Heart said...

Right now I am struggling every day. I don't have goats to milk, but I have chickens, then I go pick from the garden, and everything I bring in the house needs to be dealt with. I also put laundry out on the line, and that is more work than the dryer. My husband works full time, and he does the mowing and trimming, so we are left with only weekends to do bigger projects, and those are all on hold due to other stuff going on. He is making fun of how many squash I have in my kitchen. My flower beds are weed beds, as I have had zero time to weed them. Heck, I struggle to get my books back to the library (most don't even get looked at, ha ha!), or even the store. With the garden goodies, comes dirty dishes too. Then the meals are all homemade, and more dishes. All indoor renovations are at a halt right now. I am finding more balance with a new morning routine, hence the lack of daily blog posts.

Leigh said...

Daisy, I agree with you about loving the ebb and flow of the days. See, and your routine is what helps with productivity. I think sometimes we find ourselves in ruts and just need to take the time to analyze how we can change the routine to feel better about it.

Kristina, good for you for developing a new routine! Sometimes something has to go. Your comment reinforces what I'm trying to say here. Then too, summer is the busiest time of the year, so accommodating the season is important too.

Toirdhealbheach Beucail said...

Leigh -I was with you through the whole post. It is a great deal better thought out than my thoughts in the same area. I like that writing down your schedule was an outcome! (It was mine too).

One of the interesting things I heard that the founder of IKEA was known for was breaking down time into 10 minute increments and then deciding how that would be spent. I am sure I would never be able to do that - most people, I suspect, take at least 1 minute to think - but the concept of making sure the time was spent productively is an overall good concept.

And "productive" can mean a great many things. You note that working in fiber seems almost "luxurious" as you can buy things cheaply at the thrift store. I suspect that for most of us, that is true - I can buy yogurt for what it takes in time for me to do it, but I like doing it. "Productive" in my world can be "productive to my well being".

Writing - Writing takes a ton of time. This is the area I keep looking at and reconsidering. At least for myself, I find value in writing and posting every day (for the discipline as well as the practice), but that can put too much pressure on one's self to "keep performing" - which itself is not necessarily conducive to good writing. There must be a balance - I just have not found it.

I do wonder if modern life simply entails a certain amount of busy-ness that we cannot escape. In that section you quote of One Straw Revolution, Fukuoka also notes poems on the walls of the temple written by farmers. In modern life there are simply things we "have" to do, things that pre-modern farmers did not (contrariwise, there are things they had to do that we do not). I wonder how much that plays into our sense of leisure time.

SmartAlex said...

Balance shifts year to year. There are things I just don't do anymore because I just don't want to. I may get back to it. I may not. That is the luxury we have in a prosperous world. We get to pick and choose what makes us feel productive and fulfilled.

Leigh said...

TB, I appreciate your comment, especially since you just recently blogged about this yourself. I think you are correct about busy-ness and the modern lifestyle. And I wonder if people recognize that there's a difference between being busy and being productive.

I think it would be an interesting research project to compare and contrast the industrialized mindset on time and productivity, versus the agrarian mindset on the same. So much of Fukuoka's writing rings so true to me because he's following a different rhythm. I think it makes a huge difference.

Alex, if only it wasn't such a challenge to recognize that the balance has shifted has occurred and figure out how to restore it.

Boud said...

I think it's important also to note the things that really don't need doing! Or that can be done well enough, not perfectly. And to realize that every moment doesn't have to be physically productive. Quiet time weaving for its own sake, or thinking or knitting has its own place. It's okay to have fallow times, just like the earth. That's what fuels the active times. My 2c.

Leigh said...

Boud, you bring up another good point. In permaculture, it's called stacking functions. Too often, we only look at the physical function, but there are mental, spiritual, and emotional functions that are just as important! I agree that the fiber and textile arts offer a wonderful opportunity for these things as well.

Michelle said...

I always admire how much you and Dan do, together and separately. I am the only one here who really likes/needs routine, and I, too, recognize that computer time eats into time available for other things. (But without computer time, I wouldn't get to read thought-provoking blogs like yours!) Your conundrum is why I love spindle-spinning so much; it can be done in small snatches or long swathes, and keeps my hands busy but my mind free when I am waiting, listening, watching, etc. All other artwork/handiwork is much harder to squeeze in! I try to remind myself that 'a woman's work is never done' and let go of some of the guilt, although I have a 'duty-driven' nature. I also try to remind myself to prioritize by thinking, "No one ever lays on their deathbed wishing they'd spent more time on _____ (fill in the blank)."

Mama Pea said...

You have written so eloquently of the struggle I have been having for a long time . . . attaining the "happy medium," as hubby and I call it. I can relate to every single thing you've said. I grew up with the (unwarranted) feeling I was an under-achiever which has lead me down a baaad track in my adult years, as you can imagine. So having a hard time being idle or "playing" (even to refresh my mind, spirit or over-all well-being) has kept me from gaining the balance I know I need. Your words convey my feelings to a "T" and I fully admit to that which is keeping me from a healthy balance. I know I'll reread this post of yours several times. It shows me I'm not alone in this dilemma. Thanks, Leigh.

Annie in Ocala said...

This is timely for me as well. I'm planning on resigning my position at the horse hospital at the end of Jan and just wing it on savings and odd jobs for a couple more years til SS and my retirement kicks in. I've gotten rather sloppy at routine having spent the last 10 years working nights. And lately seem to find excuses for not doing lots of things but know once I'm home full time ill have to become more regimented. I've attempted to keep a journal a few times in the past but never made it more than a year. Perhaps, for me, it'll be time to try again. Harder!

Leigh said...

Michelle, I think you've found an excellent example of balance with your spindle spinning. Spinning is definitely like that, more meditative and leaves the mind freer for other activities. With the table loom, I have to keep track of where I am, and with tablet weaving I have to concentrate! As I unpack my boxes I'm discovering a lot of lovely fiber to spin. That needs to be next on my list of rediscovered activities.

Mama Pea, so where do we come up with the problem in the first place(!) Seems to be a common theme, yet we all agree it's not a healthy one. I've always admired your quilting as an outlet. I hope you're still finding time for it!

Annie, sounds like a big step! It's definitely harder to balance an income producing job, plus homestead, plus anything else. Then the job usually takes priority and everything else has to come second.

I find using a blog as a journal so helpful! As I republished my fiber journal (one post by one) it was like rediscovering myself. I am soooo glad I recorded everything I'd done. It's really helpful to me now as I strive to reconnect with that part of myself.

Ann said...

Oh my gosh, I could have written this (up to your routine anyway, ha ha). Our property and "things that need to happen" lists are not nearly as full as yours. If I try to do everything on my "chore" list before I do something "fun," I will never get to the fun. I try to just assign myself an amount of time to do chore things. Then once that has elapsed I allow some fun to peek in. But it's hard. I agree that routine helps but it seems to escape me. Sadly, a lot of the chore stuff is things I once considered fun and I have to remind myself of that. I don't have any answers but what you say really resonates.

Florida Farm Girl said...

Taking time to regenerate your energies is just as important as continuing with the daily "jobs". You get a tremendous amount done every day so take some time for yourself.

Leigh said...

Ann, that's often the problem. It took us awhile to learn to pick our commitments carefully, and one of the first questions we ask is, will it make chores quicker or longer? Learning how to live without is an invaluable skill as well. :)

Sue, agreed! That's why I'm so glad I restarted my fiber journal! It's helped a lot already. :)

Ed said...

I tend to take a more long term approach when it comes to free time. I have a lot more of it in the winter and early spring than I do right now in the thick of summer. In February, I might spend an entire day reading a book in front of a fire and napping but I certainly wouldn't do that right now with four different vessels of tomatoes on the stove reducing down. Here in the summer during my first tomato canning session about to start, I still have free time but as you said, it is in smaller measured chunks of time. I have a couple hours of reducing before I can start canning and then even then, I get 20 half hour chunks while things are under pressure or cooling down. Then at the end of the day, when I've got the last batch cooling and everything cleaned up, it is no guilt time to kick back with the legs up in the air for a couple hours before bed.

Rosalea said...

Yes, I was with you to the end Leigh. You are always interesting and thought provoking. I am having to learn to have lower expectations of myself as I get older, as it just is physically more difficult to maintain my "standards". It is frustrating, but really, in the grand scheme of things, Michelle says it best...what will be our regrets in the end?

Leigh said...

Ed, that's another important point, and one that I didn't address. But it has to be kept in mind, especially when the time of year is especially busy. Like now!

Rosalea, Dan and I were talking about expectations the other day. I think they tend to be more detrimental than helpful. It's helped to come to terms with my time and limitations too. And it's especially helpful to have another avenue to focus on!

Agent X, not said...

In my world (business & real estate) it is called Balance & Counter Balance. Your analysis is point on. The challenge is not unique to homesteading; just different time allotments and different tasks. A schedule, routine as befits your animals helps we humans too. Choices, discipline, grace, gratitude & grit help me best .... Love your posts, even when my garden is small and urban. Please do continue, and do it as best suits you. I will read whenever the posts show up. Stay cool - we are still broiling here in Texas!

Leigh said...

Agent X, it's a universal problem, isn't it? I know some people think a schedule is confining, but really, it's freeing. I like your 5 points! Choices, discipline, grace, gratitude, and grit. Well said.

Thank you for your kind words! I will definitely continue with my homestead blog. I'm guessing it will probably work out to be more like once a week or five times a month. Most of my blogging will be at my fiber journal, as it seems I have more to say over there. :)

R's Rue said...

I appreciate this post. Blessings my friend.

Leigh said...

Thank you, Regine!

Anonymous said...

I don’t know if these take less time, but I always appreciate the photo updates to see how things are going with the animals and with past projects, like the keyhole garden, hugelkultur, ollas, etc. Pattern weaving is similar to computer programming, so it’s a good mind exercise as well as a creative outlet. Thanks for your blog!

Leigh said...

Thank you! Interesting you should compare weaving to computer programming. I would add music theory and composition to that list as well. Those are all things I've dabbled with, (well, not actual software development but web design), but for some reason, fiber wins out. :)

I've been thinking about utilizing more "around the homestead" updates with photos, myself. It remains important to continue documenting our life here. I looked into one of those blog-to-book services, and discovered it would cost thousands of dollars to do my entire blog as a print book!

Anonymous said...

I remember reading that about weaving and computers a while ago-- it was the Jacquard loom. It's funny how innovations in one area can lead to even bigger ones in another.

As a follower, I like to see to the updates!

Leigh said...

Anonymous, and you shall have them! Updates, I mean. :)

Jacquard weaving is a whole 'nother world. It's so amazing what those looms can do. Probably just as well this kind of weaving has never tempted me. :)

Seeking Serenity said...

Fantasy Self - the person who uses and does all the things.
I am going through all my yarn, cross stich,crochet drawing painting hobby items I used to do and donating them.
Yes i spent money on them but now they are just inventory weighing guilt on my mind that i am not utilizing them.
Good luck and blessings for your decision making. have a beautiful life!

Leigh said...

Serenity, when something is a burden, it's definitely time to let it go. I think sometimes we have to experiment, and it's okay to decide it isn't for us. I'm sure whoever receives your donations will be thrilled with them!

Debby Riddle said...

I divide my time similarly. I'm always moving, just sometimes faster than others. I'm not very good at sitting still so I have some handwork prepared. I've found a lot of pleasure in piecing and quilting by hand which started when I found one I left unfinished and just kept going. I'm mending rag rugs at the moment. They do not have the same visual satisfaction, but I'm in a clean-organize-repair mode which that task fits into. The process never seems finished... the moths got into the walnuts and the next thing I know I'd turned the whole pantry upside down and put it back together. I hadn't planned that, but it's done and the losses were minimal.
I use the cool of the day for the strenuous things and the rest of it for hand work.
Regarding weaving ... it's a big commitment. My looms are idle at the moment while I finish an ambitious goal of repairing a rattan furniture set. The process of finishing the things I think up tempers me a bit. I don't think I'll be optimistically considering my next rattan repair piece.

Yes, the internet. I'm off for the most part. still journaling and taking photos, but life is short and I want to offer the Lord my original work, and keep my mind clear for His inspiration. I'm far more productive without it.

Goatldi said...

I don't know how I missed this post! I just didn't have enough time to look I guess ;-)

I am the voice of wisdom to four granddaughters. We had discussions about how the problem isn't time the problem is if we want to do it we will. If we don't we tend to not do it. It really has nothing to do with time but importance or desire. And boy do I have a large helping of each.

Those years after Geoffrey passed I wasn't so busy I couldn't have sent at a post or three in a week. The caveat was I just didn't want to. Oh yes I posted publishing issues, photo issues and "I can't do that." I have finally decided that the phrase "I can't do that " is an excuse, not reason , to not do something I really didn't want to do. It has nothing to do with my ability to do it rather it is an excuse.

I too have turned my schedule inside out as you have Leigh. We haven't changed our days or magically found more hours in the day we have simply rearranged the task and the hours. Takes a bit of coming out of one's comfort zone. I have found that changing things up often results in (bubble over my head) I can't believe I didn't do this before it works so much better. Or more simply said triage your schedule as you would rearrange your budget.

Try it sometime you will probably be pleased and surprised.

Leigh said...

Debby, that's an interesting take on the internet. It was hard for me though, with everything packed away and no space or light for doing things. Mending is a great way to be productive, though, especially now that I've discovered visible mending, boro, and sashiko. Keeps things creative!

Goatldi, I agree, we find time for what we want to do. I found so much of my routine to be a habit I'd fallen into and couldn't get motivated to get out of. Dan finishing the sewing room for me was just what I needed. When I started painting the walls, ideas fell into place and motivation was easy after that. Now I'm not so interested in the internet anymore! Except I'm using my fiber blog to keep track of things and post pictures. That's mostly for me, but it's also a way to share with others.