Habit and routine. The unremarkable modus operandi of our days that, remarkably, remain mostly unchanged through a lifetime – decades, at our ages, of private custom and practice so mundane that we hardly notice.
For nearly 50 years, my weekday mornings never varied. I went from bed to the shower without passing go. Then to the kitchen to start the coffee, feed the cat and, when the coffee finished brewing, took a cup with me to the bedroom to have while I dressed moving smoothly with it back to the bathroom to sip during the makeup and hair ritual and then to making the bed.
Radio news which, in addition to announcing if the world had ended overnight, provided a time check every two minutes alerting me to the need to pick up the pace, or not, getting me out the door and to my job without being tardy.
Does anyone plan such routines? I don’t recall doing so and I don’t recall making a decision to change how I order my early mornings when I retired from the workforce. It just happened, although not as much I might have guessed – if I’d ever thought about it until now.
Without the time pressure of paid work, I’ve just spread out the same motions over a longer period of time. The cat and coffee come first now followed by a direct path to the computer to read the news and answer some overnight email. It can be two hours until I shower and dress.
My days in retirement are not ruled as closely by the clock or someone else’s call on my time but mostly, habits don’t change.
I began making daily to-do lists 45 years ago when I was first producing radio programs because if details slipped through the cracks, there wouldn’t be a show.
The number of those items only increased when I moved on to television production and then to the internet. There may not be as many now but still, my last act before I shut down the computer in the evening is to make a list for tomorrow. (I may not update the Elderblogger’s List as often as I should, but it would never, ever get done if it were not on the to-do list.)
The rest of my personal routines that have survived into retirement are related to the to-do list in that they all work to prevent a pile-up of boring chores that would overwhelm me.
I never go to bed without cleaning up the kitchen because it makes me feel defeated before the day has begun to face a pile of dirty dishes first thing in the morning.
The bed is made every morning not because I’m virtuous, but because I don’t like to crawl into a messy bed at night.
And while I probably should have dusted and/or vacuumed yesterday or the day before or even two or three days before that, books and papers are stacked neatly here and there, clothes are hung in the closet or put in the laundry basket and the desk is straightened when I’ve finished the to-do list so there is fresh space in the morning to spread stuff around.
I’m sure you see a pattern here – bringing order to what would otherwise become chaos: Where’s that book I am halfway through? Why can’t I find that shirt? How can I make coffee when I can’t find the pot in the sink?
It’s not that I think cleanliness is next to godliness (see dusting reference above). It’s that I learned decades ago that my mind won’t function when the space around me is in disorder.
On the other hand, lots of people I’ve known are capable of living and thinking successfully amid what to me looks like an insurmountable mountain of unrelated detritus. Their habit and routine is to leave it – a lot of it – wherever it is and for them, it works.
I don’t mean to concentrate on household habit – they are just the ones that came to mind.
Obviously, we adhere to our routines because they fill a need or suit us in some manner so they must grow from our nature. Or, perhaps we unconsciously copy our parents and incorporate their behavior into our lives. Or I could have forgotten that somewhere in the distant past I got fed up with misplaced books or a handbag or shoes and decided to live differently. But I don’t recall that.
What surprises me is how we carry these habits throughout our lives into old age. It’s not like the necessity of eating regularly. Or maybe it is – maybe our individual routines for getting through the day nourish us too.
At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Linda Carmi: New Inspiration