For too many of us, making a living — or living frugally because we are not quite making a living — consumes far too huge a portion of our lives. For some of us, that means working longer hours at a faster pace to make up for the staff losses stemming from company downsizing. For others it may entail working a second job to keep the wolf from the door — or at least to keep the oil truck arriving there. For the unemployed, it can require undergoing a job hunt that can be as demanding as a desk job, with agendas packed with job counseling, training, resume writing and more.
Even the retired are not immune from this scourge of increased labor just to get by. Many of our senior citizens have to work harder to keep warm, as some turn off the oil furnace and take up the chore of stacking and lugging logs, in order to fuel wood stoves they’ve put back into use.
In a world where everything seems to cost more money, all of this effort to support ourselves increasingly causes us to spend on work the one commodity we still would like to believe is free: time. The fact is that many of us cannot recall when we last experienced a truly free day or afternoon. Even an hour of entirely free time is a thing so rare that is has become precious.
That’s why when a snow day arrives and stops many of us in our tracks, we need to think hard about how we spend the boon of free time. In order to keep those hours truly free, we have to learn how to protect them from the rest of our overscheduled lives. This will take recognizing how profoundly our skills at scrambling have affected the way we live.
While many of us will take a snow day to sleep in a bit later than usual, often that sort of luxury ends as soon as we get going in our house. Overworked the rest of the time, we have had to leave far too many household chores undone. That mudroom cluttered with dog toys and mismatched boots just cries out to be straightened up. Those pantry shelves you’ve been meaning to wipe down and line with fresh paper seem to whine for attention. And oh, how tempting it is to sort out those closets that have been in disarray forever. If only we could hurry up and give the day to these projects, just like we do in the rest of our lives, we will spend our time in fast-paced accomplishment.
Some would argue that undertaking these and similar projects will pay off with satisfaction in a job well done and ease in finding things for months to come. That may be true, but then where is the refreshment, the joy, the marvelous feeling of moving from minute to minute and hour to hour for one, full, free day? For my part, I would say the unaccustomed pleasures of an entirely free day surely outweigh walking into a tidy mudroom, putting canned goods into a neatly lined pantry, or swinging open the door of a perfectly organized closet. Don’t get me wrong. Those projects are valuable. But free time is priceless.
And so, here is how I will spend my next free snow day. I will sleep in a little bit. I will make a mug of coffee and just sit down with it in the living room rather than standing by the stove or seated at the computer. I will sip the drink slowly and just appreciate the quietness of my house. When I feel lively, I will go into the disor-ganized mudroom and smile at the mess. I will put on boots and a scarf and mittens and a hat and a jacket. I will wade into the snow and build a snowman. I will throw myself down and make angels in the snow. I will let the snowflakes fall onto my tongue. I will simply be here now.
I will bet that the results of protecting and enjoying the gift of free time will be surprisingly lasting. While a clean mudroom, pantry or closet might last for days, weeks or months, I’m convinced this island of free time may linger far longer. Like the memory of a lazy day in childhood, memories of a day of play in the snow may just bring smiles at unexpected moments for the rest of my life.