After a very long absence due to family illnesses, I have returned. I hope to restart this blog and resume my place as a guide to creating a work-life balance now that my own life has settled down. I hope to see my readers back as well.

I do have something to report.  During my absence here my family radically altered our lives once again to find that elusive work-life balance.   My husband left his stressful, job with long hours as an engineer in the private sector and returned to his first place of employment – a state agency.    Three years ago, we were both lulled by the siren song of high pay opportunities and he left his job at the state agency for the private sector.   Three years later, he had seen the sun come up at his office more times than either of us care to think about, he worked six days a week and thought about work 24/7.   Our lives were unravelling. 

We looked around at friends who are also engineers and realized it would be years before he saw any relief, if he ever did.    We had to really focus on whether the money was worth him being an absentee father and husband in order to join the ranks of the upper middle class.    Our decision….the money wasn’t worth what we were having to give up. 

Today my husband is back at the state agency.  He will never earn six figures.  His job isn’t sexy or glamorous. But he goes to work at 7 am and comes home at 4 pm.   Without exception.  I have my husband back.  Our son has his father back.  And the state has a damn fine engineer. 

This means we will never be able to move into the tonier part of town…but we like our small home in our modest middle class neighborhood.  I will never have granite counter-tops or a pool in my back yard nor will I be able to quit my own job to devote my time to writing…but my question is…why should I be able to pursue my dreams at the expense of someone else, namely the man I love?   Everything requires sacrifice, who better for me to sacrifice my dreams for but the man I love and with whom I intend to spend my life?   And I still get to write, I just have to juggle it with my job. 

So there you are.. I put my money where my mouth is and you know what?  Life is sweet.

The third step in simplifying your life is to look at your obligations and prioritize them.   Once you have prioritized your list, eliminate anything that isn’t a required obligation.  For instance volunteering, book clubs, bunko groups, birthday parties, etc. etc.   You won’t have to eliminate these things forever, just long enough to regain control over your life. Once you have freed up time and money, you can bring back the things that are most important to you.

Below is a look at some of my obligations and the changes I made:

Most of us have to work in order to feed and cloth ourselves so obviously work goes to the top of the priority list.  But you will find that as you simplify your life, you need less money and you may be able to work less in the future.   However, there may be things you can do today to lessen the burden of a stressful job.  Can you work from home, eliminating a commute and possibly reclaiming two or more hours a day?   Can you work part time, freeing up more of the day to put toward the wants in your life?

Volunteering is important but it can be put off until you have achieved balance and simplicity in your life.   I have always volunteered.  In the past I was on a homeless feeding group, I was on the board of my son’s daycare center, I was on the board at church to establish a mobile homeless food canteen and I volunteered at my son’s elementary school.   In the end, I had to drop every single one of those until I had gotten my life where I felt I needed to be.   Today, I have a saner volunteer schedule.  I volunteer weekly in my son’s school on a program that early identifies and early intervenes in dyslexia and other learning disorders but don’t volunteer for things like parties.  I do try to make one class trip a year because it makes my son happy for me to be there.   I am slowly getting back into my homeless causes, something that is very important to me.  I will realign those and re-volunteer because now I have the time to devote to it without feeling overwhelmed and pushed.

Family and friends.  I used to be involved, along with  my crazy volunteering schedule, in many neighborhood activities like a book club and a bunko group as well as sitting on several committees for our neighborhood association.   Many women in my neighborhood enjoy this time out.  But I found it became mostly an opportunity to complain about their lives, their husbands and their children.  I wasn’t comfortable in that environment because my husband has always been my refuge so, after deciding I wasn’t getting anything out of it and spending money on hosting or providing entry fees, buying books and the obligatory holiday white elephant gift exchange, I dropped them all.   We try to spend more time on what really matters,  family members and close friends.   We have a standing Friday  night date with our son for dinner and a movie – we cook at home and watch a family movie from Netflix.   We reserve Sunday as a time for just us and our son because it is easier to do without interrupting his time with friends.   Most importantly, we remain flexible and if he has a Friday night sleepover with friends, my  husband and I lock the door, light candles and enjoy being together.

Incessant child parties, and adult parties for that matter…We completely eliminated these.  We don’t even go anymore.  With 22 kids in our son’s class, we could be having at least two parties a month (and sometimes we did).   This costs money for gifts that the kid probably doesn’t need and won’t play with more than once, money that you could be saving for something far more worthwhile.   It also takes time and lets face it, with a large, rambunctious party the kids aren’t really attending to developing meaningful relationships.   We usually RSVP with regrets that we have a conflict that cannot be avoided.   That conflict may be us staying home and riding bikes together, the host doesn’t have to know and I don’t feel I have to explain.  I haven’t seen where this as unduly affected our son’s friendships.  We make sure to organize meaningful time together with friends so he  can build relationships and spend meaningful time on friendships that are very important to him.

Grocery shopping.  Many of us live in areas that have grocery delivery.   If you do, take advantage.  Shop on the internet and let the groceries come to you.   If you can’t, plan well in advance what you need and minimize your stress level by going at an ‘off peak’ shopping time – I used to leave my husband and son home and shop at 9 pm because I knew the crowds would be at home getting ready for bed.

Kids activities.  These need to go right now.  Yes, extracurricular activities are important but in America we have over scheduled our kids to the point they need their own daily planners.   Our child actually did this for us when he broke his arm so spectacularly that he couldn’t participate in anything for three months, it was during this time we realized how crazy his life had gotten.   Once he was able to rejoin extracurricular activities we decided to limit it to one a semester.  Instead of robot club and chess club after school, music lesson and baseball – most of which he didn’t care about, we now focus on one activity.  If he really wants to join a second we probably wouldn’t stop him but we encourage him to rationally choose what he wants to join, keeping a balance between activities and school work as well as prioritizing free play.   He chose to drop everything except music lessons.  We have one music lesson weekly — for 1/2 hour plus his daily practice sessions.  The rest of the time he spends time with friends and free play activities like riding his bike or scooter around the neighborhood or playing legos or games indoors.   There is nothing quite like the shock on your drum instructors face when he shamefully asks if we can accommodate a schedule change and we happily say “Dave, we are at your disposal, you are our only obligation on Saturdays….”   There is also nothing quite like the beauty of waking up and knowing we don’t have anywhere to be on any given Saturday or Sunday with the exception of our one half hour commitment.  Again, we have freed up more money by not being involved in many organizations that each require a fee and support throughout the season.  Kids don’t need a host of activities to be happy and healthy or have strong sense of self and accomplishment.  That is an adult creation and a fairly modern one at that.  I believe kids need far more free time, down time and opportunities for free play than they need soccer three times a week.

pink ribbonOctober is breast cancer awareness month.  This month is important to me.  It was the month that my mother was first diagnosed with simple DCIS (ductal carcinoma in situ) at stage 0 just three years ago.  October was the month her newest doctor, the oncologist, said “don’t worry, we don’t consider this cancer.”  October was also the month that she was diagnosed with stage IV metastatic breast cancer exactly one year after her initial diagnosis of “it isn’t really considered cancer.”

Stage IV is technically terminal. 

It is October again and my mother now has breast cancer cells in her ribs, her spine, her spinal fluid, her brain, adrenal gland, thyroid, and various other places.  She doesn’t have much time left.  It is her illness that made me take stock of my  life and realize that *I* wanted to be in control and not some company, some bill or some house. 

So check your boobs, check them monthly, have your mammograms and most importantly if you are diagnosed with this disease research.  Every day new therapies are approved for earlier and earlier stages of breast cancer leading to longer and longer survival rates. 

Don’t wait for a terminal illness to remind you what is important in life.  Jobs will come and go but your experiences are yours to keep.  Make time in your life for you, for your family, for your friends.  Everything else can wait.