The Collective

Life Hacks For The Hamster Wheel And Why Good Is Good Enough

surreal image of clockworkings inside a lightbulb with a person walking inside

Clearly you don’t need me reminding you there are only 28 something days left to Christmas, possibly fewer if you’ve been slow to click onto Gill’s December opus.

As we emerge hazy eyed (and far poorer) from the ashes of Black Friday, it’s easy to lose perspective in the demented, alcohol addled run up to Christmas. That ginormous schmaltzfest where standards of perfection (of the Richard Curtis, gently falling snow – the sort that never clogs up the M25 – variety) are nigh on impossible to ever live up to. The end of year is also a time of mass reflection. The sudden self-flagellation that we haven’t achieved quite as much as we’d set out to.

And yet, sometimes it feels even managing the everyday hamster wheel is ball-ache enough. Throw in a young family, ten loads of extra laundry, the endless sorting out of sports kit and midnight sessions foraging through the recycling bins for suitable cereal boxes from which to make a rocket out of, and it’s a wonder that any of us are actually still standing.

Now might not be the time to ponder whether you really can have it all (personally I think you can although how you define ‘”all” obviously has a lot to do it with). I shall focus instead on my children’s school’s current mantra of good being, well good enough. It’s a two fingers salute to the pursuit of perfectionism (as well as presumably managing the expectations of a legion of pushy middle class parents). Earlier this year, an assembly hall of parents were shown the attached YouTube video. There was plenty of tacit nodding, a few (silent) tears, as well as me getting the giggles. Especially when it came to the sex bit. Watch it and find out for yourself.

Good enough being good enough was an approach pioneered by a British psychoanalyst called Donald Winnicott in the 1950s. Winnicott specialised in relationships between parents and children and in his clinical practice, he often met with parents who felt like failures: perhaps because their children hadn’t go into the best schools, or because they argued at the dinner table or their house wasn’t always completely tidy (plus ca change).  No child he insisted needed an ideal parent. They needed an okay, pretty decent, usually well-intentioned, perhaps a little grumpy but basically reasonable father or mother.

Winnicott wasn’t saying this because he liked to settle for second best but because he had learnt first-hand the toll exacted by perfectionism and realised that in order to remain more or less sane (which is a pretty big ask anyway), we have to learn not to hate ourselves for failing to be what no ordinary human being ever really is anyway.

It takes a good deal of bravery and skill to keep even a very ordinary life going. To navigate the challenges of relationships, marriages, work and children is quietly heroic. The point is, most of us can’t get off the hamster wheel for a myriad of reasons which involves mortgages and putting food on the table but turning into the world’s busiest person or a moaning martyr isn’t the answer either. My hamster wheels life hacks to help me get to the end of the day smiling include the following in no particular order.

Reminding myself that tidying is for losers

It’s all very well having floors and surfaces that you could eat off (nope, definitely not in this house) but there’s no point in being the tidiest person in Britain if you are also the dullest, so overwhelmed are you by your endless to-clean list . Stop talking about how much drudge you have to do each day (have you noticed everyone’s eyes glazing over??) and start channelling that energy into convincing your partner to split things more equally if you don’t do so already or finding something interesting to talk about which leads me neatly onto my next point.

Your civic duty to be interested and interesting

Counter intuitive this may feel but bear with me. Even as someone with little ‘give’ in the work/mum juggling act, I try very hard to find time to do things that make me curious. That ray of escapism is never more important than when life is a never ending treadmill. Doing or seeing something that makes your soul soar, will refresh and energise you in ways you can’t imagine. You will return to the task in hand with Herculean amounts of vava-voomness. As someone wise once said, keeping the spark in your relationship is important but not nearly as important as keeping the spark in yourself.

The great outdoors, or even just stepping out your front door

Go outside, stop, really look and listen. Notice the colours, the sky, the stillness, the damp, the mist, the changing of seasons. Think about what it really means to be alive. I promise I am not going God-y on you but life really is there for the living and how we choose to live it is ENTIRELY up to us.  Days when I make the effort to do all of this just go so much better.

Zero inboxes

A zero inbox is such a fake metric. Accept that your to-do list is never really going to go away. Actually, now might be the time to be thankful that you have a to-do list.

My daily bath

Run a bath, the world looks so much better from the inside of my bath, preferably with Gill’s Atlantic Seaweed in it (fabulous for anyone who suffers from bouts of insomnia, dry skin or who just wants a bit of cocooning). There is always time to have a bath. Always.