The Joy of Life Admin
Elizabeth Bennett tells us why she loves this underrated form of self care
‘It’s nice to go away but it’s nice to come home,’ my mum would always say as we dragged our suitcases into the house after a childhood family holiday. Two decades later, I relish that day at home after a trip away. The unpacking, laundry, tidying, slipping into fresh pyjamas and crawling into clean sheets. After the excitement of a time spent away, there’s something comforting about a much-practised normal routine.
However, these banal chores get a bad rep in 2019 with Internet culture suggesting that life admin is one of the worst elements of ‘adulting’. With a trend for working longer hours (73% of millennials work more than 40 hours a week) and pressure to optimise every waking minute amidst a self-improvement culture, many of us forgo domesticity. In fact, millennials outsource menial tasks more than ever with four in ten 25-34 year olds employing a cleaner. However, I’d argue that this mundanity is grounding and these boring everyday tasks are a valuable element of self-care.
When you consider the booming wellness industry and a greater awareness of mental health alongside anxiety-inducing politics and the looming fear of climate change, it’s no wonder the notion of self-care has soared in popularity in recent times. Like any other health and wellbeing trend born under capitalism, it’s also hardly surprising that it’s been commodified. It’s an industry worth a whopping $11 billion. 50,000 results appear when you type the words ‘self-care’ into Amazon while 20 million pretty pictures are revealed when you search the hashtag on Instagram. Somewhere though, amongst the self-help books, £50 candles and cashmere blankets, the real meaning has got lost.
When you strip it back to basics, the definition of self-care is simple: to care for oneself. But this idea, one that’s old as time, is increasingly misrepresented. Despite what you see online, real self-care is neither glossy, photogenic or expensive. Nor is it escaping to a spa hotel or flying across the world for a yoga retreat (although those things are lovely), self-care is hard work and a constant work in progress. It’s packing the Tupperware of leftover chilli for lunch, booking that train ticket to see your family or finally getting round to going to that smear test appointment. It’s the to-do list of chores that can’t be avoided: the personal maintenance, paperwork cleaning and tidying that make up a life. Self-care really equates to self-respect, and looking after yourself like you would a respected friend or family member is a good way to think about it.
It’s what Nick Davies, a leading psychotherapist and hypnotherapist, likens to maintaining a car. “If you drive it hard and fast, don’t service it, clean it or fill it up with fuel before long it’s going to look shabby and break down. As human beings, we need regular refuelling, cleaning and servicing to so we can keep functioning efficiently.” He calls it essential and the opposite of selfish: “You can’t pour from an empty cup, so it’s important to look after yourself first so you can serve others better.”
The standards promoted by Marie Kondo-inspired minimalism and the raft of cleaning influencers who have risen to fame of late can feel a little extreme, but the idea of tidy house tidy mind’ certainly rings true for me. Finding order in a physical space when my mental one feels overwhelming messy can’t be underestimated. “Our desks and houses represent our unconscious mind, how we store and present our things is normally how we organise our thoughts too,” Davies notes. It’s the equivalent of putting on your favourite lipstick and heading out the door when what you really want to do is hide under the duvet for the foreseeable.
Similarly, the action of ticking off a to-do list of simple tasks when other areas of your life feel in chaos is satisfying in that moment. It’s relinquishing control when everything feels like it’s spinning. Tidying your knicker or paying a gas bill draw won’t solve life’s problems but it sure helps make the ride that bit easier.