Article by Sarah Williams.
Paradoxically, not being able to do anything has given me time to do whatever I want.
The absence of work and social commitments has left a yawning chasm of free time in my day. Zero plans to adhere to mean I can be impulsive in a way that my anxiety-addled brain rarely allows.
I believe that the pace of modern life is out of sync with most people’s natural rhythms. Anecdotally, I know some people work best before 11am, whereas people like me are most concentrated and creative in the late afternoons and early evenings. Some people need nine hours of sleep a night, others survive on five. Many people who’ve been on furlough for months will have been able to get up and go to bed at whatever time they want.
In my furlough freedom, I’d wake up at nine-ish every morning. I make a black coffee and retreat to my bed with a book in the company of my cat. Once I’ve absorbed a chapter or so, I ask myself what I feel like doing with my day.
It turns out that in the absence of work, what I want to do is work. I also want to cook good food, clean everything, make little crafts, tend to my plants, read books, watch all the movies I’ve been meaning to, and tick off the little tasks I’ve been putting off for months. I have no difficulty creating work around the house for myself, presumably in the way our grandparents survived retirement by ‘pottering about’ for years on end.
An advantage here is Parkinson’s Law: the idea that a task expands to fit the amount of time in which you have to do it. We work most efficiently under stress, but a minor DIY job can take weeks without a deadline. I’ve suddenly understood the plight of the nagged husband who takes three weeks to fix a door handle.
I bought a flat just before the country closed down, so I’m locked into a seemingly-endless journey of home-improvement by way of self-improvement. I’ve learned how to hardwire electrics, how to decorate whole rooms and how to fix broken things. I’ve become reasonably competent with a paintbrush, a drill, a hacksaw and a YouTube tutorial.
Sometimes I sit and notice something about the house that’s bugging me: a crack in the skirting, a light fitting that doesn’t suit, a door that creaks. My normal response would be, “I’ll fix that at some point.” However, with the weight of time upon me, “I’ll fix that now.” As trivial as that is, I’m enjoying acting on every impulse and getting done all the things that I want to do.
In another parody of my grandparents, my housemate and I became keen curtain-twitchers. With little else to occupy us, we’re aware of the comings-and-goings of neighbours, workmen and local felines in a way we’d previously have sniffed at. I feel acutely aware of everyone who’s visited my neighbour’s flat, the timings of our postman (who always wears a Venom Prison hat, which is a good excuse to chat to him), and the lackadaisical bin men.
As countries first started to batten down the hatches to the pandemic, there was talk online of finding productive uses for our newfound captive freedom. This is time to learn a language, become a fitness guru, write a novel. As the weeks stretched on and we collectively fell far short of those expectations, the initial boredom has turned into finding creative solutions, and deciding how busy we want to be.
The downside to acting on impulse is that I sometimes have no impulses. When pondering how to spend my day, there’s often a temptation to spend it staring into the existential void (or watching Netflix, as it’s otherwise known). Is watching Ru Paul’s Drag Race a productive use of my time? Clearly it is. I mitigate the urge to fester on the sofa by side-eyeing the TV while I sweep the floors or wash dishes. The weather’s nice? Best pop out for a walk. The weather’s grim? Best wrap up in a blanket.
The freedom to do whatever I want in that exact moment is a remarkable luxury. Enjoying being impulsive isn’t about deciding on a flight to Bruges at the weekend or buying a fancy afternoon tea at a restaurant you’ve just walked past … it’s about being able to decide what to do based on how you feel in that moment. Taking stock in the morning to decide what you’d like to do that day if freeing. When I’m working, I feel that I have to shoehorn as much into the weekend as I can, whether that’s chores, socialising, exercising or catching up on Drag Race. Without the constraints of work and societal norms, I can do more of what I feel I want to do in that moment. This is a great opportunity, and I hope I can take some of its spirit into the future, when things get busier.
What little impulsive choices have you enjoyed during lockdown? Let us know in the comments section.
While you’re here, read our other articles on The Upsides of Being Locked Down. You’ve got nothing better to do.