‘We don’t actually need that much in life to be comfortable’, I thought to myself as we settled into our relatively sparsely-furnished holiday chalet on Rottnest island. A short ferry ride from Fremantle, Rottnest is a little patch of paradise for local holiday-makers. The chalets are a few steps from the beach, private cars are not allowed, and neither are dogs or cats so the quokkas (cute cat-sized marsupials) can roam safely. After 24 hours, I feel like a different person. If I brought a computer or phone with me, it’s eventually forgotten and I slip into that state where I can just be - reading on the balcony while listening to the waves, taking a bike ride to pick up supplies or try out a different beach, and enjoying that distinctive Rottnest feeling of permanently salty skin and sandy toes.
The return to the busy-ness and clutter of real life can be quite a jolt. I wondered what it is about holidays like these that are so special - and how we can bring some of that holiday feeling back home to our everyday lives. Here’s what I came up with.
Clutter and chores
A holiday means taking with us only the bare essentials - our loved ones and a change of clothes. We leave behind all the other ‘stuff’ - books, documents, clothing, equipment, furniture, utensils, gadgets, decorative objects and memorabilia. We are no longer surrounded by the things we accumulate and store, nor are we reminded of the endless chores that need doing in our homes. No wonder the Marie Kondo method has been such a hit - it provides a simple approach to the daunting task of dealing with the stuff that can make our lives unnecessarily complicated. Decluttering in the physical world creates a calm space in our minds. What’s more, chores become less burdensome, because they can be more easily carried out.
This philosophy dovetails nicely with the ‘tiny house’ movement - a home about the size of a Rottnest chalet - where belongings must be pared down and the use of space carefully planned. Spaces are more multi-purpose and everything has its place. What’s more, it means that every thing you buy has to be carefully considered - having minimal space means you can have only so much stuff. For some, the appeal of a tiny house is financial - a tiny mortgage or rent means it’s possible to spend less time earning a living - and that means there’s more time to follow your passion or live in holiday mode.
These approaches sit well with the ‘Buy Nothing New’ movement (https://www.buynothingnew.com.au/why/), a commitment that’s taken for one month to buy only secondhand, borrow or rent (apart from food, hygiene and medicines). The aim is to prevent impulsive buys, encourage conscious buying, reduce waste and, at the same time, prevent your home from becoming cluttered again!
It seems to me that screen-free holidays are a lot harder to achieve than even 5 years ago, but when we have managed it, we’ve found ourselves playing cards or board games at night, lingering over dinner, and going for evening walks. It also seems harder these days, even on holiday, to resist the urge to check emails, use social media and be distracted by notifications. Most of us use technology for work and are increasingly dependent on it outside - to check facts, communicate and navigate. Apparently, up to 40% of Americans now spend more time socialising online than in real life. At night, many of us watch TV or Netflix or rent a movie. For most of us, the thought of going without screens for even 24 hours is a little bit scary.
We know that over-exposure to social media can, paradoxically, make us less social and reduce our self-esteem. Too much screen time can also increase our risk of sleep disorders, make us overweight, distract us from more important tasks and reduce our involvement with our local community. We know this, yet it’s difficult to maintain a healthy relationship with screens.
Taking a day a week to unplug from screens is something I’ve been drawn to recently. The idea is to be disciplined and switch off everything, and to use the 24 hours to do things like entertaining, cooking, gardening, meditating, reading, or just hanging out on a balcony. Years ago I read Susan Maushart’s very entertaining ‘The Winter of Our Disconnect’, where she banned herself and her family from using screens as an experiment. It makes an enlightening and thought-provoking read. Have you tried it? I’d love to hear how it went.
When we are released from the busy-ness of everyday life for a while, we have time to think. Holidays are often a time when something new appears - we have an interesting insight, we have the opportunity to talk to people outside our usual circle, and we notice our surroundings more. I guess this is our default state of mind once we remove stress - there is room for openness and creativity.
One way to help this state of mind become more part of our lives is to practice mindfulness. By taking a short time each day to actually practice it, we’re more likely to incorporate it into the rest of our day. A friend gave me a great technique to use on my daily walk. As you walk, spend time paying attention to each of your senses starting with sight, then move to hearing, smell, taste and touch and focus intensely on each sense in turn. Or try a mindfulness guided meditation - I like The Mindful Movement (https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCu_mPlZbomAgNzfAUElRL7w) but there are many to choose from.
Every day a holiday?
Is there something you do that makes your life simpler, calmer and more fulfilling, and more like a holiday? Is there an activity you have incorporated into your day that makes life less stressful? We’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences on this. But for now, I’m going to turn off my computer.