real life

A message for today: When the big is overwhelming, focus on the small.

I’ve been sitting in front of my laptop for a little while now, trying to come up with something to write about. I didn’t sleep very well, I have a headache, and I’m cold. I’m tempted to drag my blanket and hot water bottle to the couch and watch crappy TV all day.

It feels a bit odd, to just to sit here and write about the little things when so many big things are going on in the world. When two grown men have entered a pissing contest to see who can piss the furthest while seemingly forgetting this one minor detail of how their little game could end up wiping out part of the world. When in Sydney homeless people are considered a nuissance by the government and are having that which has brought them a sense of community and safety destroyed. When it’s not only our addiction to single-use plastic that is poisoning our oceans and therefore marine life and our bodies, but also the fibres in the clothes we wear without most of us ever having considered this.

Today, I am a five-year-old who wants a cuddle and someone to stroke my hair and tell me it’s all going to be OK

Listen: No, seriously, tell me it’s going to be OK. Mia Freedman and Amelia Lester talk white supremacy. Post continues after audio. 

Well, that was depressing. I actually felt my mood sink even lower as I wrote that paragraph. I’m tempted to delete it because I don’t want it to do the same to you.  At the same time, it also shows the powerful effects of thinking about big bad things on my sense of wellbeing. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t think about them – on the contrary! It’s so important to know what is going on in the world, and we can’t just hide and pretend everything is perfectly fine.


It should, however, not result in the kind of paralysis that makes us want to crawl under a blanket and never come out again. These are big issues, too big for anyone to fully comprehend, which can make us feel powerless. We can’t just pick up the phone and call one or two little boys and tell them to stop it. We can’t make every single person reconsider their buying habits and their love of cheap fast-fashion. We can’t conjure up an invisible protective wall around the Martin Place tent camp nor bring down Sydney housing prices and fix the deeply entrenched gender and other inequalities that are the root of the problem.

I’m not doing too well shifting the mood of this post to non-depressing, am I? Let’s try again…

What we can do, is craft a life that reflects our values.

A life that, on a very small-scale level, constitutes a protest against the big things that horrify us. A life that, in very minor ways, helps us to resist the paralysing effects of the ‘too big to comprehend’ and the ‘too messed up to be able to do something about’. It’s important to know and to be reminded that this is something we can do, even though it might feel pointless and self-absorbed. I’m not trying to preach here. I need reminding too, to be told not to drag my body, my blanket, and my hot water bottle to the couch and suffer the big things, but to focus on the everyday.

"What we can do, is craft a life that reflects our values. A life that, on a very small-scale level, constitutes a protest against the big things that horrify us." Image via iStock.

Shifting our focus doesn’t just happen. It requires conscious effort and intention. We need to identify what matters to us, and how we can live accordingly, each within our own contexts. I care about slow and about simple, about people and about caring, about creating and about learning. I know this, yet too often the things I do and say don’t reflect these values. I get swept away by fast and easy, by my own emotions at the expense of others who don’t deserve some of my responses, by laziness and complacency. It’s hard to resist sometimes, particularly in a culture like ours that values ‘fast’ and ‘more’ and ‘I’, but that doesn’t mean we can’t try.


A few years ago I taught myself to crochet. It’s only recently, though, that I’ve started to see it as much more than an occasional hobby. I noticed that the more I did it, the better I felt. There’s something meditative about it. You become part of the rhythm. But it’s more than that. A few weeks ago, for instance, I started crocheting a jumper. I didn’t have a pattern and I had no idea how to do it. The thought of the finished project terrified me because I wasn’t sure I would be able to pull it off, and I knew that if I wanted to make this happen, I would have to refocus my attention: it’s not about achievements or about the final product, it’s about the little things and enjoying the process. Stitch by stitch, row by row. Occasionally holding what I had up to my body to check if it the size was right or not, and then either continue or frog a few rows and start over. When that happened – and it did - it was not failure. This was creating. This was learning. This was challenging myself.

In this sense, crocheting a jumper does several things. Firstly, it gives you a sense of accomplishment and of purpose. It’s a challenging thing that requires dexterity, creativity, and commitment. To be able to wear an item of clothing that you’ve made with your own two hands from what is basically a metal stick and a piece of rope, well, that’s special. It won’t be perfect, but it doesn’t matter.


Secondly, crocheting a jumper is a strong reminder that making clothes requires time, effort, and resources. In a world of fast-fashion, we tend to forget about this. Clothes are valuable things, and we should treat them as such. They shouldn’t be bought or thrown out with little consideration.

"Crocheting a jumper is a strong reminder that making clothes requires time, effort, and resources." Image supplied.

Lastly, it’s a metaphor for our lives. Our lives consist of endless little moments and little things. It’s not about the big goals or the big plans, but about what we do on the way there. Occasionally pausing to evaluate whether what we’re doing on a day-to-day basis still reflects our values, or if we need to take a step back and adjust. Here as well, it’s not about failure, but about learning, creating, and growing.

There are other things I’ve started doing. On an environmental level, I’ve started making some of my own beauty products from raw and natural ingredients. I’ve ditched most chemical cleaning products and replaced them with vinegar, baking soda, tea tree oil, and a good scrubber. I now carry a small metal pencil case in my bag with cutlery and a cloth napkin so I can refuse single-use plastic when I need to get take-away food on a busy day.

I’ve also taken up some volunteering work. It only takes up a few hours a week, and I get so much in return. I’ve met some wonderful people, had stimulating conversations, and I feel like I’m making an impact on individual people’s lives.

There are other little rituals of self-care. Instead of rushing out the door without breakfast every morning or quickly getting something on the way to work, perhaps you could, like I did last week, bake a simple pound cake on Sunday night, and wake up fifteen minutes earlier on weekday mornings to enjoy a slice with your morning coffee? It immediately sets the tone for the rest of your day.


When it’s sunny outside, take a moment to lie in the sun. Feel the wind stroke your face and the grass tickle you fingers, and let the warmth fill your body. Instead of squinting to try and take in your surroundings, decide to just let it be, close your eyes, and drift off. All it takes is five minutes. It might mean the difference between smiling at a stranger on the street and shoulder bumping them.

What I’m trying to say here is that when I’m feeling down about the state of the world and struggle to see a way out, what helps is to refocus. It’s the little things we do, every day, that make up a life and a world. It’s the routines, the habits. The little acts of self-care and care for others. These, we can work on. Throw out the habits that don’t reflect our values and build new ones that do. Do things with intention, not because we’ve ‘always done them this way’.

In other words, I’m going to let the big boys piss. I have my own toilet to clean.

This post originally appeared on Little Matters, and has been republished here with full permission. You can read more from Saartje, here