A Life Less Busy

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courtesy of tyboynewsletter.blogspot.com

‘How are you – busy?’ people would say when they rang me at the office. Because busy was how I always said I was. They knew it was a barely concealed plea not to take up too much of my precious time.

I groaned if a friend or family member rang me in the evening.

I had very little time to spend with friends, or with my parents. I enjoyed the camaraderie and company of the office, but I yearned for a deeper communication; for sharing lives with others in a more meaningful way. I just didn’t have time.

I didn’t much like the person I was becoming.

With Easter upon us, I have done the first stint of life without the day job, so how have things changed?

I love spending time with my parents and with friends, having proper, unhurried chats and being able to help out when needed.

I love looking after my friend’s two-year-old, spending hours in the garden watching him exploring the possibilities of bottles, watering cans, water and, most joyfully, gravel. This week he noticed that I talk to the cat in a high voice, and made his own so hilariously shrill that surely only dogs could hear it. ‘Wake up!’ he squeaked to the sunbathing Misty.

Volunteering in the community café, I have worked with a man with learning difficulties who gets more unbridled joy from wiping tables than most people get from life’s biggest treats.

I have had time to listen to friends who are going through hard times, instead of just catching up with the headlines and having to rush off. With time for proper, prolonged talks, you can move beyond the difficulty of a situation and end up just chatting, relaxing and laughing.

I don’t hurry past when someone says ‘Hello’ to me now; I have time for the people I meet. When the woman in the charity shop messed up the till; I reassured her that that happens to me all the time at the community café.

When Jon comes home tired and stressed, I listen and sympathise. I’m not too tired and stressed myself to do so.

Horrified by the attacks in Brussels this week, I felt a strange need to reach out to our local muslim community. I looked up the details and found the email address of the imam. It took me a long time to compose that email: I was very aware of the risk of sounding like a nutcase. It was a message of peace and love, from one person of faith to another. It felt like all I could do. A couple of days later, I had the most lovely reply. The imam said my message gave him hope.

Freelance Sophie is different from Sophie-with-a-day-job. I think I might prefer her.

And of course, it’s being able to live on less that makes this new lifestyle possible, so here are latest frugality headlines:

I went to a jumble sale

I got two jackets, a jumper and a trifle bowl, all excellent quality, for next to nothing! Even charity shops look pricey to me now.

I have bought next to nothing for our up-coming holiday…

… instead fishing out suntan cream and insect repellent from the back of the cupboard and making do with some VERY old summer clothes.

I FINALLY got the message about switching energy companies

I have known for ages that I should do it but I am allergic to form-filling and fuss. However, when I’m having lunch at home, money-saving expert Martin Lewis is on the radio, and he says things like, ‘This is so easy now, you’d have to be brain-dead not to do it!’ So I asked a much cleverer friend who does these things, and she recommended http://www.uswitch.com. Seriously, this is incredibly easy now. I just typed in a very few details about our current supplier and tariff and the site came up with 80 deals that would be cheaper. The new company let your old company know you’re moving, and pretty much everything is done for you.

I saved us £479 in a few clicks of the keyboard.

I’ll have to change again in 13 months, but it was so easy, I don’t care. I feel just as epic as that bloke in the adverts. I may walk round London wiggling my booty.

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courtesy of http://www.createfilmproductions.co.uk

And now I’m going to ruin everything and look like the most enormous frugality fraud, because we are off to Vietnam to celebrate Jon’s 50th birthday – on the proceeds of the two-salaried life we have left behind!

If it makes you feel any better, we are going on one of the busiest days of the year, one of those storms with a name is forecast and the terrorist threat is at ‘Severe’, which officially means, ‘one down from there’s actually someone with a gun to your head’.

Still outraged? OK, I’m going to slink off now and come back to you in a couple of weeks…

The real source of work stress

It has been five weeks since I left my editor’s red pen in the office and headed home.

It has been a revelation. For the first few weeks, I castigated for not doing the right thing at the right time and not doing anything well. When I was writing, I thought I ought to be working, and vice versa. My aim was for every minute of the day to be productive. I feared failure at every turn.

I was baffled. I had assumed that I would leave work stress in the office. Here I am in my own home, I thought. I feel judged, undervalued and criticized. But hang on a minute – I’m the only one here!

It was a huge lesson for me to discover that a significant source of stress is not in the office, but in the space between our ears.

I don’t mean to imply that work is not stressful in itself. In tough times, both private business and public sector organisations are under enormous pressure, and this gets transferred to employees. My own husband suffered nine months of severe anxiety and depression because of his previous role as deputy head of a school.

But I am fascinated to discover how much pressure comes from the negative voices inside our own heads.

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Last week, I started volunteering in a community café. On my first morning, I got confused by a multiple order while a queue was forming, and the till emitted a high-pitched shriek to let everyone know that I had messed up. I was mortified, and apologised again and again. The owner was lovely and kept saying it didn’t matter. Hours later it dawned on me that I had never worked in a café before. I had had only a few short hours to learn the job. I am not superhuman. And that’s OK.

In many workplaces, there are external pressures and critical voices. The trick – and here’s the difficult part – is not to join in with them. Let the boss between your ears be a good boss: encouraging, accepting, challenging but kind.

Things have changed in my workplace now. I have been enjoying my writing as my first baby – sorry, novel! – has come home with encouraging and hugely useful notes from my writing mentor. I have spent lovely time with my parents and with friends, from the youngest (just under 2) to the oldest (just turned 80). I have volunteered at the Winter Shelter for the homeless and at the community café – both enormously inspiring. I have been for walks and runs in the woods.  I have worked, invoiced and even been paid. I have written a talk for church. I have been sprucing up the house and only today forced an admission from Jon that he is thrilled with the tidiness of the cupboards.

Moneysaving tip for today: buy big and eke it out

We have leftover casserole from Jon’s party, frozen in batches, which makes a gorgeous meal every couple of weeks or so. This was made from chuck steak, which is not expensive at all – ask your butcher. We are also still eating the leftovers from the enormous whole salmon (price about £10) that I stuffed with herbs and lemon and baked on Boxing Day (http://www.jamieoliver.com/recipes/fish-recipes/whole-roasted-salmon-stuffed-with-lemon-and-herbs/). The frozen leftovers are lovely with risotto – put the fish in at the last minute as you don’t want to cook it again, just heat it through.

Whole chickens and even turkeys might seem expensive, but if you buy big to allow for leftovers, it is much more economical than buying individual breasts, legs or slices, and you can also make stock and soup.

Finally – marinate your own olives

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The ones sold in plastic pots are really expensive. Buy a big jar of olives in brine from Lidl or your best low-cost supermarket and keep it in the fridge. Put a bit of olive oil (again, Lidl and there’s no need to buy extra-virgin) in a smaller jar and add whatever flavouring you like: finely chopped garlic, lemon zest and fresh herbs are all lovely. Rinse a few olives at a time to get rid of the salty water and keep them in the oil until they’re needed. You can keep the same oil in the fridge for a month or so and replace the olives. The oil itself is lovely with bread or couscous.

Life can still be tasty when you’re mean!

Please share your own money-saving tips, or your work stress wisdom – I’d love to hear from you.

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