TL; DR: By giving designated homes to objects, you reduce the number of decisions you need to make. Fewer decisions means more time and more freedom!
The Perfect Gift: A thought experiment
In my house, we talk a lot about gifts. My boys, at four and five years old, are quite passionate about the receiving of gifts.
Around Christmastime, I decided to sit down for a little thought experiment. I knew that I was about to embark on a new phase of my journey towards minimalism, and the question of what I “wanted for Christmas” had come up with just about all of my family members.
What does a minimalist want for a gift? What did I really want as a gift? I started by imagining a pretty box, then started considering what it might contain.
I decided that it couldn’t be an item of clothing. My relationship with clothing is too dependent on weather and circumstances and people and my thoughts about my body for clothing to be in that box. However, whatever was in the box would be stretchy, whether or not it was clothes. It would be a perfect fit.
It wasn’t going to be something breakable. I spend enough time worrying about things breaking to hope that my perfect gift would be something to stir up concerns about its quality or usefulness deteriorating over time with wear and tear. Whatever was in the box was unbreakable and immutable.
It was going to be something tremendously useful. Something I would use every day and think about how much the person who gave me the gift loved me and wanted to make me happy.
As I thought about all these things, the possibilities for the contents of the box were becoming more and more abstract. The options were quite limited!
The Ultimate Gift
In a moving number called Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story at the end of the musical Hamilton, in the section just before a fantastic key change, Eliza sings,
I ask myself, what would you do if you had more time
The Lord, in his kindness
He gives me what you always wanted
He gives me more timeElizabeth Schuyler
As I was considering the contents of the beautiful box, this moment in the musical came to mind, replete with the key change which gives me chills every single time I hear it.
These kinds of thoughts, when they arrive fully formed in my brain are usually pretty important. So I stopped to consider it.
Here is how it went: (Me singing) He gives me what you always wanted. He gives me more (chilling key change) time.
I let myself open the gift in my mind. Indeed. It contained a shimmering, exquisite, silky, stretchy, immutable, unbreakable unlimited quantity of time.
Time was not a gift I could ask my husband to give me for Christmas. Already, he and I have a firm arrangement for one of us always to be available for the boys, which is by far the most time-consuming activity either of us can do, and he pulls his weight in that agreement.
Time, like space, is a limited commodity which can be best appreciated when it is not packed with extranea and knicknacks.
If I desired the gift of time, needed to cultivate it for myself. Efficiency on one hand: making better use of the free time I do have, and on the other, freeing myself of time-consuming, oft repeated activities.
There are tons of things I do throughout the day that are time-consuming but that don’t bother me. I am never impatient when I do the dishes or hang up laundry. These are necessary evils. I don’t love them, but I can’t complain.
One hard decision to rule them all
What activities was I doing repeatedly that angered me? Putting away Playmobil toys in the million different storage areas throughout the apartment. Honestly, this was a big one. Looking for the boys’ baseball caps or that other shoe. Also major irritants.
So I made a decision: I gave up my undersink storage. We put all the Playmobil toys under the sink, because the kitchen is where they play the most. Putting Playmobil toys meant now that the boys knew where everything went and, on a day when they were being particularly helpful, could put everything away on their own.
I gave them a designated place to put their caps. If they didn’t put it there, anyone who found a cap could put it there because it had a place. Shoes got permanent homes.
With fewer decisions to make, I had more time. Now that the boys knew where things went and could access them without my help, they could be wrangled more easily into putting things away.
How to get started
Time is not a gift to be given or received, but it is one that can be cultivated by reducing decisions. You don’t have to make big changes. Just look at your daily routine. Where does it catch? What are you constantly looking for but can never find? These small snags can be solved with small tweaks. Those small tweaks can save time.
Start small. Start by choosing a place for your keys or your purse or your wallet. Say out loud (no matter if anyone is listening. This is for you!) “From now on I am putting my keys here in this basket by the door.” Whether or not your remember to put it there right away isn’t crucial at first. The most important thing is if you find it somewhere it shouldn’t be, you take it there right away so that it will be there when you go to look for it.
Little tweaks add up to minutes saved. You won’t feel it right away. But regular, repeated efforts pay off to more free time, less decision fatigue, less irritation and less mess!
Who knows. You might even finish that novel you’ve been working on!