We Are Creatures of Routine

150 150 Kristin
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Dear Frances,

I think you and I both know that we are creatures of routine. I thrive in a space where I know what I’m going to do and when I’m going to do it. This sounds excessively boring, I know, but I like to think that having some structure in place gives you the mental energy to be creative in other areas.

My problem right now is that once I get knocked out of routine (or habit), boy oh boy, do I have a heck of a time finding my way back! I’m well aware that it’s already mid-October, but ever since our vacation to Italy in early September, followed by taking Ben back to college, followed by a week-long business trip across the country – I am having trouble readjusting to “real” life again! Don’t get me wrong, it was all incredibly fun! (And the food and wine! Oh my!) But the readjustment period is tough!

I spend a lot of time imagining my “ideal” morning routine. It involves waking up and grabbing some coffee, then spending some devotional time, some journaling, and reading a chapter of an inspirational book. Maybe a quick check on the news. Then onto some movement: stretching, strength training, and a brisk walk. You will notice that there is no mention of Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, or doom-scrolling the news on that list! Of course, I currently do some of the above: coffee, news, and walk. But it could be better.

I work at my own business fairly part-time, so I feel like if I were just better organized I should be able to work in a solid homemaking routine into my weekdays. I already keep the house fairly neat and keep up on the laundry, but I’d like to tackle more decluttering and deep cleaning. I’ve long subscribed to the FlyLady method. Knock out the weekly chores that keep your house becoming a pit on a regular basis and then spend 15 minutes a day in a “zone” (e.g. kitchen, family room, bathroom, etc.). There is one zone assigned per week, so there is no pressure to do everything in that zone – you will be back to it next month. In my head this makes so much sense! But somehow, when 4 pm rolls around, making myself clean out a closet or drawer for even just 15 minutes is an incredible hurdle!

So what to do? I keep coming back to “start small”. Just add one thing a day towards the routine that I want to build. For me this week, it’s going to be to do at least one strength training workout (this is the program I’m using). And maybe, if I’m feeling inspired, I’ll carve out 15 minutes after my 4 o’clock cup of tea and tackle that pajama drawer that’s been driving me crazy.

Dear Kristin,

I absolutely agree that having structure in your life is a boon to one’s creativity! Flaubert wrote, ““Be regular and orderly in your life, so that you may be violent and original in your work.” (By “violent,” I think he meant acting with unfettered innovation as opposed to doing harm to property or persons.)

My mornings have always been anchored by routine. First there’s the coffee and email and Instagram (or, on my better days, a chapter of a good book), and then there’s the dog, who even at nearly fifteen years-old, desires nothing so much as his morning walk (and the treat he gets afterwards). Back in the day, we walked for a good forty minutes; now it’s closer to twenty-five. Still, that’s long enough to sniff out the neighborhood (Travis) and see how the various gardens are growing or fading away (me). 

For years, my walk with Travis has been followed by three to four hours of writing, moving between the couch where Travis naps snuggled against my legs and my walking desk (because too much sitting is not a good thing). But lately, my routine keeps getting disrupted, and it’s driving me crazy. I partly blame the children–or their absence. Now that my days are no longer bracketed by drop-offs and pick-ups, and my afternoons aren’t filled with ball games and doctor’s appointments, I have more time to fill, and because I can only write so many hours of the day (four seems to be the limit), I’ve started taking on new projects, both for work and fun. What kind of projects? Well, last week instead of sticking to my morning writing routine, my mornings–and sometimes entire days–were taken up by putting together a presentation about the Quilt Alliance for the Modern Quilt Guild’s Fall Sessions. I decided to record my presentation, given that it includes both audio and video clips, and there were learning curves galore (and much tearing of hair and rending of garments). 

On top of that, I had my writing students to contend with. Over the last few years, as time has allowed, I’ve taken on more and more individual students, something that started by accident but has become something of a part-time job. I recently started working with high school students on their college essays, and the last few weeks I’ve had multiple ad hoc sessions with Ethan as he diligently revises his common app essay in time to submit it early decision. 

And did I mention I’m now a contributing writer for Quiltfolk

Now, I’m not complaining, because I love having multiple projects (just look at my quilting WIP pile). And I do have a lot more time on my hands than I used to. But I keep waiting for some sort of rhythm to insert itself into my day. When fall rolled around and Will headed back to Clemson, I was sure I’d settle into a regular schedule, working on novels in the morning and then tackling my other work projects in the afternoon. But then Clifton and I got Covid, and that threw a wrench in my plans. I’m all better now, but as of yet no routine has emerged to give my days a regular shape.

It’s discombobulating, to be honest. 

For me, that might be the biggest payoff to having a routine in place–it wards off discombobulation. So many things are built into a routine, things you do without thinking because they’re so deeply ingrained. You wake up, brush your teeth, slip on the wedding ring, pull on the clothes, lumber down the stairs, pull the two coffee cups out of the dishwasher, pour coffee into one of them … All of this without thinking. I never wonder, ‘Should I walk Travis?” in the morning. After thirty minutes of reading, I put down my coffee cup, brush my teeth again, tug on my hiking boots and click the leash onto Travis’s collar. Zero thinking involved. 

The thing I hate most about not having a set routine is that I often find myself at the end of the day having forgotten all about the Paula B workout I’d meant to do or the quilt I was going to spend time on. I’ve also neglected to schedule the carpet-cleaning appointment for three weeks in a row now (though it’s on the list!). A routine is like scaffolding for the rest of your day, and without one, things fall through the cracks. If I’m going to stick to a schedule, I need a routine that keeps me on track without thinking about it.

My lack of routine at the moment makes me cranky and out of sorts, even though I remind myself that I love the work I do, from novel-writing and writing about quilts to teaching and doing guild presentations. And maybe I’ll settle into a routine once the MQG presentation is done and the Quiltfolk  articles are submitted. Of course, there will be other presentations, other articles, other disruptions that I have to admit aren’t really disruptions–they’re part of my life.  

And even if I do get into a new routine, November and December–those great disruptors of all schedules, routines and sanity–are just around the bend.  Am I destined to never have a routine again? Will no routine be my new routine? 

Thank goodness for those morning walks!

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  • Tricia

    Another routine-lover here! Even in retirement, I have a “normal” routine that I follow. Knowing that exercise and the basic chores are getting done around the house frees me to spend time in the sewing room or reading or knitting without guilt. (Yes, I am an Enneagram 1.)

  • Pat

    Totally off topic, but what type of dog is Travis? I’ve begun to think about the next dog and I want a dog about the size of Travis who can walk.

      • Gail in Washington State

        I love routine. My husband and I get up crazy early..so we are both at the gym at 5:30 am. Afterwards he goes home for breakfast and I go for a good long walk at the beach. That sets me up for a happy day.We are retired but have rental properties that we maintain…so that along with our large property keeps me outside for a good portion of the day. I wish I had a cute little dog to tag along with me!!!

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