It can be hard to find time to cook a decent meal or maintain a calendar amidst the pressures of everyday life. But renewal isn’t limited to your body and mind. It can also be applied to your house and time.
If you have the ability to do so, having someone else take care of these details can not only free up your time but lead to long-term peace of mind and better habits altogether. To explore this idea, we talked to people who specialize in managing high-maintenance areas of life for others what giving the reins over to someone else can look like.
More than ever, people are looking for ways to reconnect to nature. But tending a large garden can be exhausting and time consuming, especially at homes with lots of land. The demand for more outdoor spaces has skyrocketed in the last 10 years, says Dave DeJohn, who owns DeJohn Landscaping, LLC in Canterbury, though he does most of his work in Concord. These can be anything from a small bistro patio to full-blown outdoor kitchens and social spaces, often surrounded by plants. Those spaces aren’t your garden-variety spots, either. Dave says the trend has shifted toward more natural-style gardens that include native plants rather than your traditional sweeping lawns of grass.
One way these gardens can be less time consuming is by utilizing native plants. That term is relative, Dave says. For some people, that means plants that are native to the Merrimack Valley, but it can include the entire state or even New England. These gardens are much more efficient, Dave says. They require less water, and when designed properly, require much less upkeep. “We’re getting away from those prim and proper, high-maintenance landscapes,” he says.
Another trend is to incorporate plants that are attractive to wildlife, like pollinators and birds. “We’ve lost so much of that connection to nature, connection to insects,” Dave says. “Nowadays someone’s more likely to pull out a can of Raid rather than understand what [the bugs] are and what they’re doing there.”
Dave spends a lot of time educating people on the proper, most efficient way to care for their gardens, noting that most people don’t water their spaces correctly even if they have an irrigation system. If you want the beauty and minimal upkeep, hiring someone who utilizes nonchemical methods to care for your garden can give you peace of mind and more time to enjoy your space.
ORGANIZE YOUR HOME, ORGANIZE YOUR TIME
Paying the light bill. Scheduling your next doctor’s appointment. Picking up the dry cleaning. Too much of our time is taken up by menial tasks that don’t move you forward. While smartphone apps that remind you to do these things can help—more likely they remind you of what you aren’t doing that you promised yourself you would do—it can be worth it to give those tasks to someone else.
While delegating tasks to another person can seem like a luxury, freeing yourself of tedious tasks can improve your focus and give you more time for the things that matter, says Abbe Hardiman, founder of Your Abstract Assistant. “People are more successful, happier, and less stressed when they ask for help,” Abbe says. “Sometimes people feel guilty, like ‘Oh my God, what am I doing?’ But then they realize they are much happier now that they are able to spend more time with their family or focus on work.”
Eschewing the traditional desk-and-computer style of assisting, Abbe says she’s offered virtual assistance to all sorts of clients, from business people who need to get more work done to teenagers who need help scheduling their homework time. Some clients are able to schedule in-person updates, but checking in with a phone call or a video call is an option too.
If you want to do things yourself but just need a little more encouragement, accountability coaching is another service that is becoming more popular. “It’s like paying for a gym membership—having to pay for it makes you want to do it,” Abbe says.
Working with a personal assistant or an accountability coach doesn’t have to be a long-term commitment. Abbe has clients who she has worked with since she started her business. But the idea of her clients developing the skills to manage themselves doesn’t bother her. “I want people to learn how to change their habits,” she says. “It would make me happy if they feel like they are being successful on their own.”
And if the clutter on your schedule extends to your home, Abbe says home organization can lead to similar effects. With international organization expert Marie Kondo reaching new audiences with the release of her Netflix show, the idea of minimalistic living has become more popular than ever. But that’s not really what Kondo is about. Her methods encourage people to realize what items they really need in order to live happily, and then organize them accordingly.
TAKING DINNER OFF THE TO-DO LIST
With the proliferation of fad diets and clean-eating lifestyle promotions, it seems like there is more pressure than ever to make healthy food choices. Pile on the stress of having to navigate a busy grocery store, find the right ingredients, and actually prepare the food (and then face a mountain of dishes at the end of the meal), and it’s easy to understand why people forgo cooking altogether.
Using meal kits can be an option, but then you still have to go through cooking and cleanup. But if you employ the services of a personal chef, all you may be left with is a single pan and some containers left in your fridge or freezer, says Nancy McAveeney, owner of Daily Dish Personal Chef LLC. “My clients are generally people who are overbooked or for whatever reason don’t have the time or the desire to cook,” she says.
A big part of the stress around dinner can be traced to cultural expectations around food. “I think a lot of people think there are many rules to follow to do cooking right, and it’s a simpler than they think,” she says. “There’s a lot of, ‘I should be doing this,’ ‘I should be eating that,’ and it’s not that bad. I think they just lack the confidence to do this or make these plans or make a recipe.” And if a person grew up in a busy household where take-out or convenience meals were the only options, the idea of learning to cook can be daunting.
But a lack of time is perhaps the biggest barrier. Nancy says some of her clients include people preparing to undergo surgery, require a special diet, or are dealing with an illness in their family. To make it even easier, Nancy creates a menu for her clients and generally sticks to the same type of dishes. If a client wants to try something new—or doesn’t want to eat something ever again—she can accommodate that too. “Communication is really the key to any of this,” she says.
PUTTING YOUR PET AT EASE
It’s hard enough when your pet gives you a mournful look every time you walk out the door. But knowing they may be alone for hours on end can almost make leaving the house feel cruel. It can be even worse when your furry friend loves attention or, as they get older, needs more of it to continue to be comfortable and healthy. Having a pet sitter, even for 30 minutes a day, can give you peace of mind knowing that your critter is being cared for during the day.
If the thought of putting your pet in a kennel gives you and your pet hives, a pet sitter can make sure they never have to leave their comfortable environment. “I think it takes away the owners having to pack all of their pet’s belongings and then they have to get them to the facility. And then they have to get themselves ready. Keeping your pet at home gets rid of that whole level of prep,” says Kimberly Pease, owner of At Your Paws Pet Service. “As for the pets, it’s a familiar environment. They have their favorite comfortable chair to curl up in, their preferred sun spot, their dish is in the same location.”
Kimberly says her visits average around 30 minutes, which can include anything from dog walking to litter box cleaning, goat feeding, and horse grooming. She can give your pet its needed medication, or just some extra love and attention if that’s what it needs.
“I have some clients that request longer visits for dog walks if their dog is high energy and needs more of an outlet,” she says. “With cats, some cats really like to play and need some extra tender loving care every day. Other cats know that you’re here to feed them, but they’re like, ‘Don’t touch me.’”
There are benefits for owners, too. “It allows them to extend their workday if they need to, and they know the dog has been walked in the middle of the day,” Kimberly says. “They can go to the gym or run an errand and have that peace of mind.”