Taking Pictures of Butterflies: An Ode to Downtime

What is happening to downtime?

There used to be space. Space when stores were not open. Space when decent television shows were not on. Space when casual conversations with others meant intentionally picking up the phone with time to talk, or planning an evening out. We had space after putting the lasagna in the oven. Time away from work in the evenings. And uninterrupted Sundays when coaches didn’t schedule practice.

In communities across the country, our downtime is disappearing.

We “run to Target” at 9:30pm on a weekday, binge watch shows on a variety of devices, and “like,” comment, post, and scroll. We pop dinner in the microwave and cannot seem to coordinate crazy schedules in order to get together with friends. Our work email notifications are pushed “on” and sports teams (that we PAY for) require two hour drives to remote fields for the weekend (that we also pay for). We offer to volunteer with the click of a finger, then regret signing up when the event actually happens because we are overextended.

In communities across our country, our downtime is disappearing. We have all but eliminated the precious moments in between.

A few years ago, I read a helpful book by Bridgid Schulte entitled, Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play, When No one Has the Time. In it, she describes how she fell into doing research on downtime after being asked to keep track of her own schedule. What she discovered was that many people (herself included) were using time like confetti. All the little errands, notifications, and habits had evolved into a “new normal.” Longer stretches of downtime were disappearing.

Why does this matter?

From my experience working with professional organizing clients, I can tell you it is a slippery slope. My clients feel guilty about not doing enough. Then they are frustrated for not doing tasks well enough when they DO them. They blame themselves when often they just have way too much stuff and too many balls in the air that they cannot get control of when they come bouncing down. This scattered chaos leads to chronic stress and lowered feelings of self-worth, which can have long-term implications for their health.

So what can we do?

Go deep into downtime!

The Illinois State Prairie Path runs behind our subdivision. I take advantage of its proximity to grab quick walks amongst the trees. This past weekend, I realized I had not taken a longer walk for much of the summer – sure I had taken a few bike rides, but not a prolonged, restorative stroll. There was enough downtime before dinner plans, so off I went!

As I started along, I noticed I was not alone – a butterfly was keeping pace. Intrigued, I reached into my fanny pack of essentials for my cell phone. As I snapped a few photos, a bespectacled, white-haired man approached from the opposite direction. I muttered a greeting thinking I must look a bit foolish angled along the side of the path. “It’s ok,” he smiled. “Girls can take pictures of butterflies.”

That is what downtime is about. Respecting the moments in between activities. Allowing time to breathe, think – and take pictures of butterflies! You cannot do that if you are scattering time like bright red pieces confetti!

Be realistic about how many hours there are in a day. Not the digital hours. The hours between sunup and sundown. Consider your time confetti.

Become under-extended.

As I poked around on twitter a few days after my butterfly encounter, a post from a fellow twitter traveler caught my attention. It was a photo of a butterfly. I guess boys can take photos of butterflies too 🙂

Need help with YOUR time confetti habits? Contact me at!




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