Is doing less indeed the recipe for a happier life?
"You have all the time in the world to do whatever you want. You're free now", a friend replied the other day, apologising for her long message on WhatsApp. I used the microphone icon to answer her. That's easier, and goes a lot quicker than typing it all up. Because, frankly, it's not like I'm feeling bored. I might as well be busier than ever, I let her know. That's about the only thing I've underestimated, really. I laugh at myself for having thought my days in the van would consist of almost nothing but idleness. Quite a cliché we've got going on there. And not even for the least part true. From cooking to washing up, from getting our laundry done to going out for groceries: these things don't stop. They actually take up more time than ever. My days are full. No way for doing nothing.
Taking my time
However, there's something that's changed. What I'll carry out in one day is far less than I would do before. Because it's all so much of a hassle, but also because I'd like to time my time for it. And because I do so little, the things that I actually do, get hugely magnified. I start doing things more and more consciously.
Like making coffee. I open the cupboard and grab the bag that holds my precious coffee beans. First I stick my nose in it. Smelling these fine aromas is already half the pleasure of getting a fresh cup. Then I'll grind a bunch of 'em with my mini coffee grinder, purchased right before we took off. At that moment I could already imagine these little rituals becoming more important and appreciated. There's not a lot things you can do in a van. But what you can do, you should do well.
Then I shove some tea boxes and cans with peas aside, looking for the paper coffee filters. I pull a crumpled one out of the cabinet and fold it into the small red funnel (keeping it all multifunctional is everything on such a small surface), which I then stick into a thermos cup. With my left hand I put the kettle on the stove while I light the gas with my right, using a cheery neon coloured lighter I had earlier bought in some French supermarket. Also: don't forget to hold the gas knob for a little while, because otherwise the fire will extinguish.
As the water starts to boil, I empty the contents of the grinder into the paper filter bag. Again I take a deep inhalation, enjoying the freshly ground coffee. Nice. The kettle starts to whistle and cautiously I grab it by its bakelite handle and pour the water. Because I now know that our enamel cups make your hot drinks cool off quicker than you'd like, I'm going to sit down with the cup of coffee in my hands - and do nothing else but wait until the liquid black gold has reached its perfect drinking temperature. Then I drink. I enjoy. Again, and again.
Not actually noticing my cappuccino at all
Previously, I would throw an aluminum cup in a machine and put on an automatic milk frother, while I once again checked my email on my mobile phone. In case I would need to answer someone, I would be doing that whilst sipping my freshly made cappuccino.
Things have definitely changed. I consider my every action. Not in the least because it's all so tiny and cramped and, well, before you know it you'll have knocked something over. Then there'd be even more I would have to do.
My mom told me the other day about a documentary she had seen. It was about 'blue zones': areas in the world where the average person gets older and happier than anyone else in the world. It had, how could it now, to do with the food they prepared as well as their cultural peculiarities. But also, these people really took their time to just do their little chores and also had a lot of social interactions going on at the same time, my mom told me. She continued (via a voice message on WhatsApp as well, because next it being very handy, it's also a much more personal alternative to a few lines of text): "Their days consist of some activities, but only those which are very necessary. And they don't stress about that either. Also family is important. But much more than that, they don't do. They lead such precious simple lives. We however want so much, all the time."
Good news. So my own simple life has everything in it to make me quite happy.
This article has previously been published in Dutch on 365dagensuccesvol.nl