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Karthik Bala

Student at UT Austin. I like to write sometimes.

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The problem

Your alarm wakes you up at 9:00 a.m. You eat, make coffee, shower, shave, and are ready for work by ten. You have an average thirty minute commute to your office. It’s now ten thirty. You work an average eight hours, leave at six thirty, and get home at seven. You want to get into bed by 1:00 a.m, so you can hopefully get seven or eight hours of sleep (budgeting for thirty minutes of anxious pre-sleep tossing and turning). That leaves you with five and a half hours of precious free time– how should you sepnd it?

Well, you have to eat. Cooking tops any list of ways to save money and be healthy. You walk to your kitchen, but then remember the last time you tried to cook something. It was a one hour ordeal, you had to clean up afterwards, another ten minutes of mindless labor, and you’re currently all out of pepper and the only way to make your god-awful cooking palatable is copius amounts of pepper so if you’re going to embark on this cooking thing you’re going to have to trek to the grocery store first.

A grocery store excursion is another hour on top of cooking, cleaning– definitely not worth it. You sift through weeks of untouched groceries to get at your hidden stash of Soylent 1.6.

While choking down “dinner”, you scroll through Facebook. Look at all these shared news articles you haven’t the slightest clue about. Are you an informed member of the democracy? What are you going to say tomorrow when everyone’s talking about Trump’s latest tweet? You worry people will think you’re dumb if you don’t keep prepared opinions on popular issues. You attempt to research some recently approved healthcare legislation, but somehow get caught up in a Vice article about a man who “Did a Shit So Bad On a British Airways Plane That It Had To Turn Around and Come Back Again”. It is now seven thirty.

You eye the last few sips of Soylent sitting in your shaker. The powder floats at the top of the now heterogenous mixture. You feel like this probably isn’t the best health decision long term.

Dave from work somehow enters your wandering thoughts. Fucker is always way too happy to be there and is always talking about his dumb triathlons. You feel like working out. You know cardio is good for you, but you also want to look swole, so you have to lift too. You hit the gym and a quick shower and now its nine thirty. You decide to relax for a bit and flip through the fitness articles on your phone that started populating your Facebook feed after you accidently shared an embarassing quarter-mile jog through Strava.

“Daily 5 minute ab workout for the beach body of your dreams”

You never work abs, and you’ve been looking a little fat recently. You think about your ex. What’s 5 minutes anyway? You’ll try it before bed.

“25 Reasons you NEED to foam roll for 30 minutes a day”

What the fuck is a foam roll? 30 minutes a day? But apparently not foam rolling leads to an immobile fascia, which sounds important. You don’t want to exacerbate the pain in your increasingly stiff joints. You remember you’re scheduled for a doctors appointment tomorrow, so you’ll be losing an hour and a half of your evening. You frown and bookmark the foam rolling article for later study.

“A guide to Transcendental Meditation: change your life in just 40 minutes a day”

You’ve been meaning to try meditation. Your parents think it’ll be good for you. Stress relief and what not. Oh shit, you forgot to call your parents yesterday. You said you would. You call them. It’s now 11:00 p.m. Fuck, when’d it get so late? You check up on your stocks, browse Bloomberg for a bit, and then r/wallstreetbets for an embarassingly long time. You’re inspired to buy some calls. It’s now 12:00am. Time to get some reading in. You’ve been trying really hard to make it a habit in an effort to model your life after people more successful than you. You begin reading whatever you downloaded on your Kindle last night. It’s not very good, but you feel a sense of accomplishment. It’s 12:40 a.m. You get ready for bed and try to sleep.

24 Hours in a day

Being a normal, healthy, person is so time consuming. There are endless things to keep track of and bodily necessities to satiate. I feel like a Sim sometimes, struggling to get all my mood meters into the green before I have to go to sleep for the day. When, amidst all this, do people have time for hobbies, to invest significant time into things they love? The hypothetical dude above didn’t even cook that day, meet up with his girlfriend or friends, play an instrument he enjoyed, or watch TV. When would he have time to do so? Only on weekends?

Here’s a quick, non-exhaustive, list of common, upkeep related, tasks the average person has to deal with:

  • health problems to research (cracks, discomforts, etc)
  • doctor appointments
  • eating
  • cooking
  • bills and bank related activities (have to use disgustingly slow and bloated online services or a lengthy call or go to the bank in person or some shit)
  • government administrative stuff (your license expiring, passport expiring)
  • budgeting
  • investing
  • cleaning (dishes, bathroom, living room, making your bed (probably not though))
  • car upkeep
  • birthday presents
  • presents for holidays
  • dating
  • stretching
  • excercise
  • FUCKING FOAM ROLLING
  • shaving
  • trimming
  • haircuts
  • showering
  • laundry
  • meditating
  • pet upkeep
  • trips to plan
  • relationships to upkeep with periodic hangouts
  • family to keep in touch with
  • general repairs and replacements for things breaking or going obsolete
  • religious activities (my deeply religious relatives implore me to do an hour of various rituals and breathing excercises every day)
  • home upkeep/renovations/gardening

Yeah, it’s not like your license expires every week, but the one week you may finally catch a break from random errands, that’s the week your license expires. Alone and isolated, the tasks seem manageable, but they join forces and scheme and build strength in numbers and pile on top of each other until you’re spending weekend after weekend climbing this hill of never-ending errands.

A few weeks ago, my friend and I were having a discussion about Pop-Tarts. I told him I microwave my Pop-Tarts, since I don’t want a sticky toaster. My friend responded with “dude, do you not clean your toaster?” Naturally, I broke down. I’ve never cleaned my toaster in my entire life. My family’s toaster probably still has bread crumbs lurking around from the 1990s. It never occurred to us that toasters required cleaning. I just assumed the charred debris and dust particles magically dissolved into the air or melted and absorbed into the toaster itself, maybe making it stronger, and here my friend was, casually mentioning how it was essential to regularly clean your toaster, as if my list of random, mundane, housework wasn’t long enough. Needless to say, my toaster remains a valuable incubator for bread-dwelling bacteria. How do you even clean a toaster? Do you have to take that shit apart with a screwdriver or something? That’s a good thirty minute investment. Fourty-five, if you count the fifteen minutes it’d take me to find a screwdriver.

A few weeks later, I went to a sleep doctor regarding my insomnia and he told me to walk for 45 minutes facing the sun right after I wake up, each morning of every day. I spend hours awake in bed each night unable to fall asleep (another huge time sink), so this is a fairly important task, but 45 minutes a day??? Just walking around?? He even explicitly mentioned not to run, so I can’t even combine excercise and light therapy to free up some time.

All this shit not only robs you of time, but it also zaps your mental energy. You have to think about cleaning your toaster. You have to keep track of the task, put it in your calendar, plan around it, organize it, make to-do lists filled with menial but necessary grunt work you don’t want to deal with. It tires you out.

I have this theory that time starts going by a lot quicker as these adult responsibilities pile up because there reaches a point in a lot of people’s lives where they feel like they’ve had an amazingly productive day for getting groceries, working out, cleaning the bathroom, reading for a bit, and taking their dog to the vet. What have they really done? Are they going to remember any of that? Aside from maybe reading, these are all just sustenance tasks. I don’t want to live for my job. I want my time outside work to be memorable and exciting, but as I find myself congratulating myself for working out or meditating or meal prepping or filling out an application or making a todo list, I realize how low my standards of meaningful free-time use have fallen. Ten years down the line, my fascia will be in tip-top shape, my apartment will be squeaky clean, I will have read countless books, I will be nearing enlightenment through daily meditation, most of my health problems will be in check, but when I look back at my life, am I going to think I spent my time well? Will I even remember what I did outside of work? I know for a fact I don’t want to live that kind of routine life, but where do I cut corners? The testicular cancer checks? The showering? The light therapy? Investing? Everything– ok, everything besides foam rolling– seems so necessary. It seems the only solution is to work less hours.