In my work as a Strategic Designer and Sustainability Specialist, I help companies and individuals find harmony between people, planet and profit. My two worlds (Design and Sustainability) have recently come together in a new and unexpected way since the Coronavirus pandemic. Since lockdown, many of us have more time to think about the world and are starting to see it in a new light. The future is uncertain, so we are forced to evaluate our present situations and do as much as we can to create the best possible environment for ourselves. This includes being mindful of our resources, how and where we spend our time, and how we care for our minds and bodies.
Whether it be creating a garden, bringing plants and other natural objects indoors, or just conducting some of their daily tasks outside, I’ve stressed to my clients that if they spend more time in nature, their lives will be better for it. They will feel better physically and mentally, sleep better, and will learn to be more in tune with themselves and with the planet. However, in the last week or so I found that I haven’t practiced what I preach as much as I’d like. I haven’t spent much time outside, and instead find myself indoors on my computer, at my sewing machine or on my phone. It occurred to me the other day that this might be partly why I haven’t been feeling the greatest lately. I’ve had very low energy, felt a bit down, and haven’t been sleeping well. The weather has gotten hotter than I’m typically comfortable with (in the 90s and 100s), so to prevent myself from getting overheated, I’ve largely stayed inside. I’ve tried waking up earlier to get my outdoor time in before it gets too hot, but I haven’t been able to stick with it.
It occurred to me today that the reason I wasn’t spending much time outside was because I didn’t want to feel uncomfortable. The heat is hotter than I’m used to so I stay inside my temperature-controlled house. I started thinking about how when we’re indoors, we have so much control over our environment. Those of us fortunate enough to have heating and air conditioning can set the temperature to whatever we’d like it to be so we never have to feel too hot or cold. We fill our rooms with comfortable furniture, soft pillows, cushions and warm blankets. We decorate the rooms with things that bring us joy, relax us and make us feel good. We can light a candle to create ambiance and pleasurable aromas. We can close the windows and doors so we aren’t disturbed by unwanted noise. We can adjust the lights, sounds, colors and just about anything else we want indoors.
However, the outdoors is a different story. When we are outside, we have a lot less control over the environment. We cannot put on the A/C when it gets too hot, nor can we stop a rainstorm. We have little control over the birds, insects and other creatures roaming around. We can’t control the sounds or smells of the outdoors, and we have only some control over what we see and even taste. We must accept our environment as it is, even when we’re uncomfortable in it.
This discomfort we sometimes feel in nature is precisely why we need it. Sometimes sitting outside to peacefully read a book can be interrupted by barking dogs, calling birds or neighbor kids playing. It’s good for us to expose ourselves to these elements that are out of our control. Yes, they can be annoying, but they also help build resiliency, patience, and adaptability. They get us out of our comfort zone, our comfy little box called home where everything is just the way we like it. We learn to expand our horizons, find new things to love and appreciate about life, and grow beyond the confines of our own normalcy.
I remember talking to a friend once about camping. I love camping and he hates it. I asked him why and he said “I have everything I need right here. Why would I want to go somewhere where I’m purposely removing things from my life that I enjoy, like my TV, my phone, my computer and my microwave?” While he makes a good point, I suggested to him that sometimes when you take away those things for a while, you learn to notice and love other things in life (like a campfire, the smell of evergreen trees, starry skies and s’mores). Yes, you may love your TV and computer, but you may also discover that you love waterfalls, your neighbor’s 3-legged dog, or your cherry tomato plant. Life is a balancing act, and sometimes you don’t realize how out of balance you are until the scales tip to the other side.
The scales are tipping in a different direction for many of us right now, and perhaps that’s not such a bad thing. We have lived in a very cushy world for a long time, and it’s made us a bit soft. We’re so used to having exactly what we want at our fingertips that when the virus hit and life suddenly became more difficult, we’ve struggled to keep up. It’s hot and we’re stuck in the house. It feels stuffy and we’re tired of seeing the same things day after day. We’re unable to go to our normal indoor haunts (bars, coffee shops, malls, etc.) so we often just stay inside. We feel lost, claustrophobic and have cabin fever.
The cure for this lies largely in getting outside and struggling a bit. Struggle with the heat, struggle through a difficult hike, struggle with the noise or with the dirt and bugs. We need the resiliency we build when we spend time outdoors because it helps us out in other aspects of our lives. If we can successfully read a chapter of a book while the neighbor’s dog is barking his head off, maybe that will help us learn to sleep through the night despite our significant other’s incessant snoring.
For far too long we’ve focused almost exclusively on what we can do to make our indoor spaces more suitable to our wants and needs. This has made us resistant to and less tolerant of anything that is outside our norm. It’s time to re-balance the scales and adapt ourselves to the world around us. We will only be stronger and happier for it.