Being old eats up a lot of time and energy and takes some careful scheduling.
This came up yesterday on a telephone call with my old friend, Rick Gillis. Compared to many of us here, he’s a young thing still, 57, but he is beginning to have similar experiences.
In the past, we’ve discussed how long it takes to clean house in our old age compared to our younger years. For most of my life, Saturday morning was cleaning day and I got it all done – top to bottom, floors washed, surfaces dusted, rugs vacuumed, bed changed, bathroom cleaned, etc. all before noon.
I always liked the feeling of having everything neat and tidy for the coming week and it wasn’t something I thought about or planned. It was just how I ordered my time.
A few years ago, I realized I couldn’t do it in one fell swoop anymore. I tried parceling it out; one room a day made sense. Except, no, I will not drag out the vacuum cleaner four or five times a week.
Aside from the bathrooms and kitchen, this apartment is covered in wall-to-wall carpeting. Not my choice, but I’m stuck with it until I can replace it with a real flooring – not anytime soon – that is much easier to keep clean than carpets.
The point is, there is way too much of it to vacuum in one day so I do the front half of the apartment one day and the back half another day.
The rest of the cleaning gets done eventually, but the timing is haphazard and sometimes I carry a chore on my to-do list from one day to the next to next or maybe next week.
How much I can get done in a day depends a lot on what else is scheduled. If there is shopping that involves driving, I know I won’t finish more than four stops and that can be a stretch.
That is probably related to my 40 years in New York City where I walked to all outside errands. Most were within a mile of home and if there got to be too many packages, I could drop them off at my apartment and keep going.
For some reason, I find suburban driving for most errands much more tiring.
Drive, park, shop. Drive, park, shop. Drive, park, shop. If it’s t’ai chi class day too or I want to explore a new area or walk in the nearby state forest, I won’t do much else while I’m out with the car.
From the vantage point of age 70, I’m amazed at how much I did each day during my working years. Besides the job itself, there was almost always a business lunch often across town, business dinners, movie screenings, PR parties or personal dinners with friends, entertaining at home on some weekends – dinners, brunches – and, of course, dates.
That was in addition to frequent work travel out of town and whatever level of community involvement that came and went over the years.
These were part of my normal days, nothing out of the ordinary. I couldn’t keep a schedule like that now for more than two days running. When I was in Michigan last month for three days – completely out of my daily routine – it took four days to recover.
What I have found now that pacing is everything. If something is added to a day, another item needs to be subtracted so that I don’t end up exhausted, staring into space from 2PM on.
Even pleasant activities I look forward to require rearranging other items. I wouldn’t have missed those afternoon visits with Jan Adams and Marcia Mayo for anything. But I planned well and ahead of time so I was relaxed during those hours I was with them and there was no pressure of anything left undone.
I was intrigued with what Rick Gillis told me about his mother in her eighties. She kept lists too and did only one major thing a day. If it was grocery shopping, she wouldn’t be cleaning the bathroom that day. That chore, if chosen, precluded other errands and so it went, Rick discovered, one item a day for his mother.
I suspect in the coming years, my daily lists, if I am to be realistic, will become shorter too.
People who have health problems that require special treatment or frequent visits to physicians or therapy have additional planning to do as do those who are caring for invalid spouses.
That conversation with Rick yesterday together with my own slower schedule are a forceful reminder that elders tire easily and we need to be aware of that with one another. Too much in one day steals future time from us.
Also, we shouldn’t be shy about telling our young friends and relatives when we can’t keep up with their level of activity. It’s all right to sit out some things so we’ll be able to function tomorrow.
At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Jackie Harrison: Who Are You?