Catherine Gracey

Living Life, One Misadventure At A Time.

I Just Have To ____

on March 8, 2014

Years ago I heard a piece of financial advice that has stuck with me: understand the difference between wanting something and needing something. I do not need the latest version of the latest gadget on the market, even if I want it. I do need to pay for food. The simple question – do I need this or want this – has saved me tens of thousands of dollars in purchases that would have been regretted a week later.

Now that I am a mother, the way I spend my time has changed dramatically. I have a little person with very unpredictable needs. Caring for her is time consuming and, after weeks of being the parent who stays at home with her, my stress level was rising.

I decided to apply the financial question to my time: do I need to do this, or do I only want to do this? I need to care for my daughter, but what about the other activities that I fill my day with? Making this distinction was simple. Every time I hear myself start a sentence with “I just have to”, I pause and rephrase it. Do I need to do this thing, or just want to do it?

Within minutes of deciding that I did not need to turn my computer on one day, I discovered that I had hours of free time. This was not a shift away from productive work but rather a shift away from deleting the spam in my inbox and reading status updates on Facebook from people I don’t know. I was able to do an incredible amount of housework. I was able to photocopy exercises from a text book that was due back at the library. I finished a sewing project that had been sitting on the kitchen table for a month. Even with all of this activity, I was still able to spend hours caring for my daughter. The day suddenly felt longer and fuller.

Deciding that my computer activities could wait for a day forced me to do so something that I had not done in a long time: I had to relax. Since I did not “have to just check something” I was able to finish the other activities that weigh on my mind. The things that I need to do had room, cleared from something that I only wanted to do and, if I am being honest with myself, I didn’t particularly want to do anyway.

As my day progressed and I accomplished more, I noticed my sense of self shifting. With every minor accomplishment I saw myself changing from someone who has an insurmountable to do list to someone with a list that was quickly being surmounted. My focus moved from the things I don’t do to the things that I am capable of achieving. Instead of seeing weakness and inadequacy, I saw power and strength.

The emotional and mental high from a single day without the computer flowed into the rest of my week. I began the following day in a good mood, and it was easier to recognise the difference between activities that I needed to do and things that I only vaguely wanted.

Every day since that first decision to leave my computer turned off has become easier. I am no longer plagued with thoughts of my own inadequacy, because now I see all the hours where I am someone who gets things done. I no longer feel time pressure, because I can see all the free hours that are at my disposal. It feels like being handed an unexpected sum of money and being told to spend it on whatever I choose.

If the only positive changes were to the way I experience my life, the question of wanting versus needing to do things would be worth continuing to ask. But it is more than that, because I have a daughter now. I have a daughter who will learn what it means to be a woman from me. I have a daughter who will watch my activities and see how she should live her own life. I have a daughter who will know what it is like to have a mother who loves her while being plugged in. After all, I might want to giggle at funny pictures on the internet, but I need to raise my daughter. And, as it turns out, I have all the time in the world for that.

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