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INTERESTING STUFF: Special Edition for 23 July 2011

Elder Time, Energy and Scheduling

category_bug_journal2.gif 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?


My method is I invite someone around for lunch. Even with advance notice I do nothing until the day. Then it’s racing around in a frenzy, cleaning, vacuuming, doing the dishes, tidying up, putting things away, preparing the meal. I rather resemble the Warner Brothers’ Tasmanian Tiger (not the real one).
Other days, nothing.

Heh, Peter...
That's part of my house cleaning method too. The place gets a lot cleaner when someone is expected than not.

I hadn't thought to invite someone deliberately to force myself to get it done. Good idea.

All said here applies as well to outside maintenance for those who must get that done. It just seems to become necessary to wind things down with age.

Three years ago I was mowing my son's lawn and ours each week. Two years ago, our son took over the job at his place. Last year, I started mowing half of ours one day and half the next (It's a pretty big area). In deference to COPD, I take frequent breaks, but still get the exercise in and the job gets done.

I see a riding mower in my future, followed sometime after that by hiring yard workers.

I've always made lists but now I do it even more avidly. I plan chores and errands so that my efforts are as efficient as possible.

It has only been in very recent years that the realization has really hit that I will never do some of the things I had always thought I would do "someday."

Now, when I contemplate possible recreational activities, some things get categorized as "not worth the exertion." So, I content myself with watching a video of that activity, or just thinking about it.

I am amused (sort of) by the universality of all my friends', my own, and now your plaints about slowing down, and comparing our lives to what they used to be. It's as if we never expected it to happen to US! And yet, I had an "in house" grandmother, who, when younger than I am now, literally sat in a chair her last 10 years, doing only chores like dishwashing, sewing, and peeling food while seated. You'd think I would have been prepared!

I think that Lyn used the correct term, universality, not only for the way we slow down but the way we deny it will ever happen to us. I have a hard time understanding my 85-year-old aunt's plaint that all she can do in a day is take care of her health - doing what the rehab people have told her to do and going to her three physicians every few weeks.

My standards of cleanliness are a lot more lax than in prior years and I "must" do my chores while my husband is absent (he's a wonderful man but commotion drives him nuts!) I clean his bathroom and/or clean the hard-surfaces flooring while he is out jogging. (He vacuums the carpeting - usually in my absence.)

Fortunately, I am taking the time to do some of the things I did not get to while working - seeing friends, reading books, yard work.

Ronni's schedule, pre- or post-retirement, has always tired me to read! I think it is wonderful what everyone is doing. (I nearly wrote "still doing"; but, I recall a posting by Ronni in which she found it disparaging that anyone would refer to an elder as "still" doing something. Besides, she's the younger.)

Nice post about the little things in life. Like some, I make lists, at least mentally. Just keeping up with the medical stuff is wearing. I don't do as much as I used to and like you and others, don't know how I did it then. Maybe that is why I am so tired now.

For several years I have tried to do one major thing each day. If I go grocery shopping that's my major thing for that day. I have a mental list of a planned item for the next day and when I wake up I remind myself of today's project.

Quite often the project does not get done because the day starts with a headache, or I have low energy. I do not feel guilty if I am unable to do the planned chore. I simply put it on tomorrow's list.

There comes a time when you do what you can and learn to ignore the rest. It's rather like the serenity prayer. I have the wisdom to do what I can and to not worry about the things I can't do.

I, too, can't imagine how I ran my life and worked 60+ hours, but six years into retirement, my days are full.

Someone once gave me a tiny puffy pillow with a magnet which reads "Make friends with clutter" which has center stage on my fridge. And living on a dusty road in the woods with a cozy wood stove which ne'ertheless coats every surface with a fine dust makes one patient...and I have lots of potluck parties which stimulate a blitzkreig of cleaning (almost the only time we bother anymore). Hooray for relaxed retiree-dom!!

Like Kathi, we have a stove that makes everything dusty. So it just stays dusty most of the time. What the heck? We sweep the floors (slate downstairs, wood upstairs) occasionally and every so often we vacuum the rugs. But as long as the food prep surfaces are clean we don't bother with much housework.
My energy levels fluctuate and I am learning to accept that and go with the flow. Some days I get things crossed off the To Do list, some days I don't. I dream of the day when the list is all crossed off but realistically I know it won't happen until I've stopped adding things to it (which will probably be a sign that I'm dead).

Your post and comments really hit home today. After a morning of "homework" exercises assigned by therapists for my stroke recovery, hubby had mowed our lawn and I had done a few indoor chores. We were already tired. Then I got a phone call that my 92-year-old mother had been hospitalized.

As my husband did the dring for the 90 mile trip to the hodpital in my former hometown, I came to accept the reality of my current physical limitations. I could not at this time stay with my mother as I have in her past hospitalizations.

By the time we had arrived, I had the names and contact information of several sitters highly recommended by a family friend. A wonderful cousin had already volunteered to stay the night. Multiple calls and a sitter that my mother knew and trusted was available for the next night. Today I will be working on the rest of the schedule, whatever that may be.

In addtion to acceptance of the slowing down, is the necessity changes in the way we elders help care for our own belovrd elders.

Since I really don't like house cleaning, I've been using your method since far younger days so I've had no big shift there. Although I like a nice neat, clean house, one room at a time is fine and since visitors are usually family I don't apologize for the messy areas. As others mention, acceptance of changes is the secret to serenity.

So glad to read all these and know that it not just me. Thank you all.

So much of this rings true, Ronni. In my early 60s when we started created the garden, I could work all day out there - shovelling barrow loads of gravel and raking it. Housework got fitted in somewhere and like Marian, as long as the kitchen and bathroom essential areas were clean, dust was fine.

We've learned to assign ourselves one job per day and the To Do list is hiding behind the kitchen door, instead of silently reproaching us in full view.

I make no apology, the Parliamentary Select Committees into the phone hacking scandals have had us glued to our seats, watching the t.v.....very little else got done.

We have definitely slowed down and I reckon it takes us four times as long to do ordinary things. But that's o.k. It will be still be there tomorrow, dust and all.

Oops, that should have been Tasmanian Devil. The Tasmanian Tiger is, alas, extinct.

If I am having company, it all gets done much more quickly than if we are alone at home. I have also learned that a bit of dust doesn't make me a bad person.

Some slowing down is true for me at 74, as well. However, I still operate on the use-it-or-lose-it principle, which means using the abilities I still have to the max and fitting as much as I can into my days (most of the time). There's my part time job-job, my part time volunteer job, our 3 cats to care for, housecleaning, laundry, bill paying, the usual. . .plus dealing with technology and reading/responding to blogs (which I truly enjoy).

Not everything always gets done, but most days it does. Like another responder, I used to work 60+ hours/week. I KNOW I'm not as crazy-busy now as I was then, although sometimes it doesn't seem all that different. What IS different, though, is that I have more control over what I do with my time--and that's a huge plus after many years of 10+-hour days and bumper-to-bumper commutes.

I used to feel guilty for not doing more like I used to. Now, I've gotten beyond the guilt and do what is only essential and parcel out the remaining time for what's doable within about a two hour frame.

Energy is the biggest factor now and try not to pretend I have more than I really do.

Are you married? If not, have you ever thought about marrying again? This is going to make life much easier. You can divide the work. And you can have much fun. ;) Thank you for this great article. :)

Your post triggered me into calling another elder who has had blood problems and his energy has plummetted. I kept putting it off (fear, looking in the mirror thing) and now I am so glad I did as he was almost in tears at my concern and so grateful so maybe others can think of an elder who might need a friendly phonecall? We tend to be pushed aside, especially of we are not visible and have no children or relatives to drop in/call.

I've slid all the way from workaholic to a task or two a day. I have to remind myself to do one thing at a time as I was the superwoman multi-tasker (in my mind, at least)and nowadays this is beyond me completely.

Curious this journey. I am enjoying it.


Having never been a whirlwind of cleanlyness, it has been easy to let housekeeping things go a little longer. I entertain myself looking for an image of Jesus in the mildew that can no longer be denied. It keeps me going and hey...I could maybe sell it on ebay. I get the front lawn mowed so small children won't be afraid to walk past my house, and I cancelled the newpaper so rescue workers won't have to wind their way through ceiling high tunnels to pull me out from under twenty years of the local rag. I think maybe I like dog hair, cat hair and cobwebs.

Ronni - I worry now about what will happen when I slow down, as I already ignore or neglect a lot of those chores as not worth the energy....

That said, have you considered a Roomba for the vacuuming? They do not run wholly unattended (they need the bin emptied and brushes cleaned, sometimes right in the middle of a room), but it is nice to be able to put your feet up and watch them do most of the work. Or go do another chore while they are doing most of the work.

i like writing lists of chores to do. now i just need to remember where i put it!
i also like visits/ visitors as a reason to find the floors again.

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