What's time for myself like?
May 29, 2012 12:08 PM   Subscribe

How do I know what I want? Everyone tells me to spend time on me, but I don't really know what that means?

I've spent my life being a caretaker (disabled mother, soon to be ex husband that had a lot of growing up to do) and over time, I think I've lost the ability to know what I want for myself. My standard answer is always "for others to be happy." However, as life has crept in, I find myself needing to find a way to take time for myself but having no clue what to do.

I don't do well with the standard "pampering" things as I start thinking about all the things that need to get done instead when I should be relaxing.

Has anyone else run into this? How do you know what you should do for "me time" when all the standard suggestions don't fit?
posted by skittlekicks to Human Relations (15 answers total) 57 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Everyone enjoys different things. For me my ideal leisure day is waking up late, talking to friends and playing some sort of game/reading. For my dad, it's gardening. For my mom, it's quilting. For other people it might be dinner with friends, volunteering, going hiking, fishing, etc.

Think about (or do) spend the day doing various things, like what I listed above or whatever you think you'd like, and the only important thing is do not feel guilty if you discover you don't want to do it or don't enjoy it as much as you think you "should".

Life is generally very long but not guaranteed. The world will usually keep functioning if you take time to enjoy it rather than check things off a list. Then again, if that anxiety just won't go away, maybe there's some other issues at play.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 12:16 PM on May 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I had the same issue. There was a time in my life when people kept telling me, "take care of yourself!" and I had no idea what that meant. For me, it started with very small steps: Buying the flavors of ice cream I prefer rather than what I thought my family members liked best (really! I had never done this). Taking baths with a book and a glass of wine. Going for walks by myself. Eventually I learned that having time to relax (and for me, this comes through regular exercise and plenty of reading time) is what "taking care of myself" means. You might find that the answer is different for you.

I would suggest starting by taking at least a 30 minute walk alone each day, though. It's easy, doesn't take much time or any money, and gives you time away from all of your life stressors without feeling that you're wasting time - because, if nothing else, you're getting a bit of exercise. And the quiet time alone might also help you figure out other things you might like to do.
posted by something something at 12:20 PM on May 29, 2012 [13 favorites]

I could have summed that up better as "Literally the only thing you can do incorrectly regarding leisure time is to feel guilty about having it or how you're using it."

Well, as long as you're not hurting puppies or destroying public property.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 12:21 PM on May 29, 2012 [2 favorites]

i have a hard time with this too. I find time to myself kind of stressful, because I feel like I should be doing one of the three hundred things on my list. So I can't just have "me time." Instead, I've worked out that "time for myself" means 1) sleeping in; 2) "girls night out" with my friends on a regular basis; 3) movies/musicals with friends; 4) working out.

I have to schedule #4 or it falls to the total bottom of the list. other things that fall to the bottom if I don't watch it: getting haircuts/pedicures; buying myself clothes (instead of clothes for my spouse/kid); watching TV I like (because I'm always deferring to others - see ice cream example above).

baby steps - you'll catch on!
posted by dpx.mfx at 12:22 PM on May 29, 2012

I have had a similar experience/challenge. What I did was think of all my happy moments during the previous years - on walks with my camera, listening to live music, people watching at a cafe while reading a book, eating farmer's market arugula, etc. and I did those small things - I did things that I knew I enjoyed that were not "traditional pampering." Slowly that led to my exploration of other things that I loved. But living and enjoying the little things is pampering in my book.
posted by anya32 at 12:26 PM on May 29, 2012 [3 favorites]

The one tip I heard on this exact subject (I've had mixed results so far) is to think back to the things, even long ago, that you used to like, and try doing them even if you you're not sure you'd enjoy them now (hopefully at least some of them don't involved huge investments to at least try).
posted by simongsmith at 12:28 PM on May 29, 2012

Best answer: In the late fall of 2009 I was called in for jury duty and brought only my laptop with me so that I could catch up on some work. As I sat in the holding pen waiting to be called I realized (a) there was no internet so I couldn't work (b) there were no magazines or books... only a few old newspapers and (c) it was an extremely slow day and I was most likely not going to be called.

So there I was, stuck in a boring room with nothing to do. Slowly I became lost in thought and, finding myself outside the normal thinking patterns of a usually very hectic life I started to evaluate where things were at. I checked in with myself, much like you seem to be doing now. There were good and bad aspects about where I was at in life, and as I thought about all of the different things I was involved with from my spouse, my child, and my career I realized I was doing absolutely nothing for myself. Sure I occasionally got together with friends for drinks, or caught the random movie, but I had no hobbies, didn't do anything for fun, and certainly didn't do anything special for myself. My life was being spent for other people. I don't think there was anything wrong with that exactly but stuck in this dreary jury duty room I had the sudden realization there was probably a little bit more to life. But what the heck was I supposed to do?

I pulled out my laptop and made a blank numbered list of 10 items. Then, in a moment of ridiculous ambition, I upped it to 100. Next to each number I put in some simple thing I had always wanted to do, thought I might like to do, or might like to challenge myself to do. Take a ceramics class. Take a kayaking lesson. Run a 5k race. Read a book (I put this on there 10x times). See some live music. Start a blog. On and on. Some things were simple, and done in a few moments (buy an awesome new knife set! get a massage!). Others where much more ambitious, the race would easily take a few months to prepare for.

Anyway, 2010 became the year of the LIST. I printed it up and tacked it to my closet door and I did one thing on it every 4 days or so. For an entire year, through December. I made something in wood shop with my dad. I went camping. I learned how to make cobbler. Some of these things I hated and will never do again. Some of the things I really enjoyed. One of the items on the list, something I added as afterthought to fill in a blank space, fundamentally changed the course my life (career and otherwise) forever. That's a story for another time, but this is just how I dealt with the issue of finding some time for 'me'. Maybe you'll get some mileage out of it.

Good luck!
posted by joinks at 12:30 PM on May 29, 2012 [145 favorites]

Every person is different but FWIW my favourite thing to do is check into a hotel overnight. (And I mean, a hotel around the corner, not a pain in the ass trip somewhere.) I bathe in a tub I don't have to clean. I sleep in sheets someone else has laundered. I order room service I don't need to cook and watch a stupid movie nobody else would want to watch with me. I read myself to sleep and sleep like the dead. In the morning, I go down for breakfast and hey, read the paper! On a weekday!

Pools, swimming, spa treatments... all of that is optional. For me it's really about being somewhere where I am explicitly not in charge of anything and I can't actually be doing anything else, like working or laundry or whatever. It's nice and quite and it might give you some explicit space to think about things.

My sister goes on yoga retreats for the same reasons, just with salad and more bending.
posted by DarlingBri at 12:51 PM on May 29, 2012 [10 favorites]

My most helpful change has been an attitude of self-care. I know how to take care of others, so if I were taking care of me, what would I do? I usually have categories of body, mind, social, and home.

Examples include exercise, pedicures (1-2 times a year), reading something for fun, journaling, doing something to organize my own nest/stuff, and getting in touch with old friends. If journaling is something you're comfortable with, you might sit down and ask yourself questions about what you enjoy, what makes you feel good about yourself, and what you've envied other people doing. Listen to your answers, and you'll be on your way!
posted by ldthomps at 1:06 PM on May 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

I don't do well with the standard "pampering" things as I start thinking about all the things that need to get done instead when I should be relaxing.

Oh, me too. I feel like the standard lists of what women are supposed to consider "pampering" or "time for themselves" are activities like haircuts and pedicures, which I only do because I need to do them. They're about as pampering and fun as getting my car's oil changed.

I think instead of thinking of "me time" or pampering or taking care of yourself or relaxing, or anything like that, you should try to think of the things you do that make you feel most like yourself. These aren't always relaxing or stress-reducing in the traditional sense. It might be pedicures or massages for some people; for me it's walking in a beautiful natural setting, or traveling alone to a non-touristy place, or researching/investigating/exploring something or somewhere that interests me. I like wine and chocolate and buying shoes as much as the next girl, but I don't really consider that "me time."
posted by DestinationUnknown at 2:02 PM on May 29, 2012 [4 favorites]

There's something to be said for not having heels that'll tear out a brand new sock in half an hour, and for things like proper sleep, healthy eating, and exercise. But aside from basic maintenance I think a far better use of that time is skill/information acquisition, not just for the skills/knowledge themselves, but the experience of learning is probably even more valuable after years of operating in "necessity only" mode. It's literally exercising your brain.

So spend some time taking a class, learning a skill, trying out something you've always been interested in. And feel free to plan these things on a "proof of concept" type of scale - go take a free class at Home Depot on basic carpentry before diving into a massive woodworking hobby, for example. Borrow a friend's bike for a few weeks before you decide whether you want to step up to a garage sale model, before you go the Bike Shop route.

Just go try things, without thinking you must be committed to them for the rest of your life and without doing it to please/serve/suit anyone else but you. It'll make you interesting, and it'll make you interested, and it will help you figure out what directions are most compelling to you in your life right now.
posted by Lyn Never at 2:22 PM on May 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

This took a long time for me to figure out, as well! I've always been a caretaker and my naturally inclination is to make sure that others are happy, often to my detriment.

I started paying more attention and being more attuned to when something was making me happy. It sounds silly, but I never really thought much about what made me happy and whether or not I was going to keep doing it or do it again, because I had so much tied up in other people. I found that I really love baking. I love trying different kinds of beer. I love running errands by myself and grocery shopping by myself. I love afternoon naps on the weekends (here I thought I hated them).

Once you get used to being attuned to what makes you happy, finding things to do that are "taking care of you" is a lot easier. Try out different things. You'll find the things that make you happy.
posted by anotheraccount at 2:42 PM on May 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

Take a couple of hours to yourself and do nothing necessary. Go for a walk, if you like, or don't. Sit on the couch and daydream. Put on a movie you like and feel free to ignore it utterly while you do other things. Masturbate. Mindlessly surf the web. Spend 20 minutes doing your makeup and taking self portraits of yourself for a Facebook profile pic. Try on different outfits. Read a couple of dumb fashion magazines. Paint your toenails. Practice styling your hair or makeup a different way. Lie down in a room you don't normally lie down in. Lie down on the floor. Take a bath, even if it's the middle of the day. Put on an album you like and just listen to it, with your eyes closed. Test a recipe for a dish you really like.

If you are feeling stir-crazy, just go do something. It doesn't have to be skydiving or even scrapbooking. Go buy a coffee and drink it in the park with a book or magazine. If you space out, fine. If it's not pleasant after a few minutes, leave. It's OK. You don't have to maximize your leisure time. But maybe after you do this a few times (or a lot of times) you'll start to get some ideas about more concrete personal goals.
posted by elizeh at 7:56 PM on May 29, 2012 [2 favorites]

You might get something out of Gretchen Rubin's Happiness Project site. I wouldn't necessarily follow it religiously, but she has some posts that could give you good ideas (look at the sidebar for Best Of and Manifesto.
posted by crocomancer at 3:41 AM on May 30, 2012

The Woman's Book of Comfort

Umm. Yes. It's a whole book. And it even has an index thing, listed by 'vague sense of disatisfaction' eg lonely, tired, don't even know what I want, frustrated by my surroundings, need more social time, need more quiet time. This is in my own words, I think she put it better.

A lot of is is ways to brainstorm what would be truly comforting to you.
I got it for a couple of dollars, second hand, it is worth more than that to me. I pull it out often, especially when I'm down. Sometimes just reading ideas makes me feel better.
posted by Elysum at 11:54 PM on May 31, 2012 [2 favorites]

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