In Celebration of the Mundane

“Be regular and orderly in your life, so that you may be violent and original in your work.”

–Gustave Flaubert


Photo Credit: juques via Compfight cc

I can’t find anything.

We’re in a new house. With new light switches. And no place for my keys. And different cupboards. And a microwave with strange new buttons. And unmapped nooks and crannies. And boxes still taped up, holding answers, I’m sure, to many of the questions I’m asking. And all things are slightly different, which taken separately are pretty insignificant but when taken together amount to standing in the middle of the room, bewildered.

And for crying out loud, where is the toilet paper?

We’re in a new town. I’ve lived here before, but two decades will change anything, and where is the ATM, and which stores contain which groceries, and who provides phone service around here, and what time does the Walmart close because those screws I thought weren’t very important turn out to have been really important, and what are the rhythms of this place and how do we fall into them as quickly as possible?

We’re in a new routine. Actually, we’re in no routine. And, I think, only four days in, I’m ready for a routine again. I’m ready for regularity and order. I’m ready for normal and typical and mundane and boring. Not because I’m tired of adventure.

Because routine is the birthplace for adventure.

Is constant adventure possible?

We’ve romanticized adventure.

Of course we have.

Adventure is a good thing, even a great thing. It holds endless possibility. It stirs our hopes and dreams. It gives us room to be transformed. It gives us space to work out our redemption. It brings new things and some of them may be painful, but many of them are likely to be brilliant, too. Adventure is gutsy, and courage makes us feel a little more alive. Adventure can reveal to us who we are and who we want to be. It can point us back to the best things inside of us and around us.

Adventure is worth romanticizing.

But continuous, relentless adventure is ultimately unsustainable for limited, finite human beings. Our nervous system can handle only so much excitement before a constant state of fight-or-flight makes us sick. Adventure as a lifestyle is Hollywood sexy, but it just doesn’t work very well in real life.

And we romanticize adventure at the risk of devaluing that which makes healthy adventure possible: routine. All those boring little things we do over and over again, the same way every time. All those parts of life that feel a little dull, like a steady and stable marriage or the same route to the grocery store or the friend who always shows up or paying the bills at the first of every month.

Adventure isn’t a way of life; adventures are the moments made possible by the way we live.

Adventure is made possible by the boring.

Is routine as bad as we make it out to be?

Three days into our big move, a million loose ends still dangling from the edges of our life, and I spend a whole day setting up my home office. With so much spiraling and chaotic around us, I’m not sure if it’s the wisest use of time.

But something inside of me is hungering for a space I can count on.

And the next morning, when the alarm goes off at 5:30am, as it does every morning I write, and I get up and pour myself a cup of coffee with the same amount of cream and sugar as any other morning, and I sit down to write my first blog post in two weeks at a desk that has been replanted from the home where I wrote for the last four years, I realize it’s the best decision I’ve made all week. I realize the regularity and order of the space make it possible to jump headlong into the adventure of words.

I want to be violent and original in my art, which means the rest of my life around that adventure needs to be a little boring, a little routine. I need to know where to hang my keys and where to find the toilet paper, and I need to know that Walmart is open around the clock and that the rhythm of this place is simple to find as long as you’re willing to stop and breathe and look around for a little while.

What looks boring is what makes possible all the wild words I want to write.

What if we quit lamenting the repetitive routines in our lives and began to embrace them, not as a barrier to the adventure we want to live, but as the container for the adventure we are dying to live?

Is there an adventure waiting inside of your routines?

The truth is, every single one of us is an adventurer—we have unmapped territories within ourselves to explore. Every single one of us is an artist—we all have something we want to create, something good we want to birth from the center of us. Every single one of us has a voice whispering at the edge of our heart, beckoning us into something new and risky and probably breathtakingly beautiful.

The question isn’t, should we leap? The question is, will we leap? And will we let the boring repetition of our daily lives be the stable platform from which we jump?

Your adventure awaits you.

No need to make a big splash.

It’s enough just to learn how to swim.

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Kelly is a licensed clinical psychologist and co-founder of Artisan Clinical Associates in Naperville, IL. He is also a writer and blogs regularly about the redemption of our personal, relational, and communal lives. Kelly is married, has three children, and enjoys learning from them how to be a kid again. You can find him on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+.

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30 thoughts on “In Celebration of the Mundane

  1. This is very thought provoking, and without too much consideration, rings true. Never thought of adventure, creativity, innovation, that way before.

  2. I am glad you are back-missed your insights last week. Thanks for giving me a new perspective on the mundane-very timely as this has been an extremely boring week for me.

    • It’s good to be back, Ginny! Today, i got to do my first real writing session since the move and it felt so good. Hope you find some adventure within your boring this week!

  3. I
    find those first few days in the new home the best and very enjoyable. The
    liberating feeling of “no routine yet” and the feeling of a “fait accompli” for
    having accomplished the first and hardest step (getting out of the old place in
    one piece and sane) makes me grin on that first morning in the new home. The
    first few days where you discover the spot that feels right for your keys or
    your shoes, moving the bed to a different wall every 2 days until you discover
    the best direction to sleep in, the new rhythm that just comes naturally by
    being in the new environment – I love this process! My most creative thoughts
    and ideas come when I am in an unfamiliar environment. Hence in my case, I would
    say creativity and innovation come from the new vs. the old. I thrive in the new
    and unfamiliar; it makes me feel alive and energized! Call me crazy…

    • Thanks for this, Connie. I hear what you’re saying, too. I’ve generated more blog post ideas in the last month than I did in the previous year. Nothing like shaking things up to give you a new take on things!

  4. Thank you for this. We moved two weeks ago, and you’ve expressed a lot of what we’ve been feeling. This is exactly what I needed to read today.

  5. Congratulations on your move! Glad to have you back. I missed your article last week. I’m glad that you were able to get your office set up so you could get back to writing. It’s a great post with a perspective I had not thought of. Even though I am not moving, it inspires me to keep going through my house and clean up everything! Call me crazy, but I love to organize! That is one way that I know I am creative! Many blessings as you settle in!

    • Thanks, Jenny. I really missed writing last week, and it feels fantastic to get back to it. Glad this one inspired a little house cleaning!

  6. Thank you for this. I’ve been debating for the past year (off and on). I’m 68, and I am feeling myself winding down. I also know that there are far more days behind me than in front of me. I love the mundane (at least I have come to love it, slowly, over time), and then I hear myself saying, “Oh, there is SO much I want to do. And once I get ‘stuck’ in the mundane and routine, I’m going to die.” (And, also, God forbid that ANYONE would think of me as OLD. I mean, I need to buy a motorcycle or go to law school or learn to fly a plane! LOL) But over the past year, I have gotten everything in order (so I can die in peace and my heirs aren’t left pulling their hair out); I have pared down — I don’t have a lot of ‘stuff’ anymore; and just recently I’ve decided to make a 3- month ‘retreat’ (to be extended if I make it through the first 3 months): I’m going to explore ‘inner space’ by do a lot of reading, writing, drawing, painting, coloring (books), etc. But it somewhat scares me. So — this column was just what I needed right now.

  7. Well here’s one happy lady because you decided to make that space on that desk to write a post. I don’t usually get online shortly after waking up but today I decided to check my email to see if you had actually written a post (since I knew you were moving and all). So thank you so much. It’s great to see we all have all these yearnings because it’s so easy to think that something is missing or that maybe you’re just not that happy with your life and this endless search of how to fill that then. It’s exhausting. I’m am going to view this differently, the way you beautifully explained it. Thank you so much for continuing to write despite the craziness of the move, it means soo very much!

    • May, thanks for this! It is a real joy to be back to writing. Already have one ready for next Wednesday! I hope you feel increasingly like you can stop searching “out there” for a solution to the restlessness and start searching within the life you’re already living.

  8. I actually traveled a lot for work and personnal life during approximatively 10 years. Changing location (meaning country, meaning continent) every year or so… Learning two foreign languages… It was such a great adventure, but an adventure that doesn’t come to an end for so long is also so so exhausting… I needed almost 2 years to rest and, yes, create a nurturing routine. My dreams are nowadays filled with the idea of building a HOME 😉

    • Wow, I can’t imagine ten years of that, but I can imagine it taking two years to recover. My best to you as you seek to create your home.

  9. Welcome back and thanks for the thought provoking post. I’m happy your move seems to have gone well and glad you set up that office in preparation for this post! Missed you last week as you’re part of my routine, or adventure now.

    • Patricia, I missed this too and am so glad I’m back in my routine. Thanks for joining me on Wednesday mornings!

  10. I am going through a similar move. The piles of boxes are overwhelming. But while mundane can be comforting, I am actually trying to be less mundane and more adventurous in my relationships. It is a balancing act in both areas of life.

  11. as my husband recovers from a stroke…which didn’t affect him physically, but has scrambled his organized self a good bit, we’re finding the necessity of having a stable routine…maybe more rigid than we once had! he is not fond of it right now…especially in the morning. but i am finding the ability to get much more done than in the earlier days of my retirement! I would never have put it the way you did, but you are so right! it is the order that makes space for the creativity. love it:)

  12. Thank you very much. I just moved to London from Kuala Lumpur and initially, I felt guilty that I was being ungrateful for not being so overtly enthusiastic about having moved here with a promising career path. For days, I’ve focused so much on getting settled to a point that I felt desensitized. Thanks to your point of view, I don’t need fireworks to fully acknowledge this transition. I know I am fully grateful and I shall sanctify it even more with hard work.

  13. Wow. I love it when I read something that is exactly what I’m dealing with in my own life. No, we haven’t moved house. But we had a big trip planned for this year, and much to the consternation of the travel agent I balked and we cancelled. I realised I was just not feeling the love. Not wanting to travel for a while. I wanted boredom, routine, a chance to feel like my life was in order again. It answered the question of whether or not I could be on adventure forever. I cannot. But, after staying home most of four months and having a huge clean out and reorganisation of the home, I’m feeling the urges toward a little adventure again. It is like we learned in art school, you have to have ‘negative space’ so that you can see the subject, the night so you can recognise the day, the yin to offset the yang. Thanks Kelly, really loved this post. Wishing you well in your adjustment phase!

  14. We are quiet plain folk and have no use for adventures. Nasty, disturbing, and uncomfortable things. Make you late for dinner. I can’t think what anyone sees in them.

  15. Insightful, thank you! You have a wonderful gift in explaining implicit patterns of life in our day to day language! I have been trying to cultivate a contentment for mundaneness over the past few years. I somehow felt this need intuitively, never really question or explore why. This post helps me to connect the dots. I will keep these insights in mind as I have shift my focus from contentment to discipline. Creating and maintaining a thriving routine requires so much discipline, and I am not good at pruning my routine. Thank you for sharing your words of wisdom!

  16. Hello. I have been reading your posts for over a year now, and always appreciate your insight. I was disappointed to see in this post that you spend your money at Walmart. Walmart is not a corporation for people, for all sorts of reasons, only a few of which I will mention here. The ratio of pay from the CEO to the part-time workers is one of if not the highest of all corporations. Walmart pays large numbers of their employees too little, and offer them conditions that ensure the worker remain working but unable to make money to live (last minute scheduling, always just under full-time, no benefits). The lie of cheap goods for the average person comes with tremendous cost to those of us who cannot afford to buy whatever we want. Walmart employees are subsidized by our Federal and State governments. And finally (I am trying to keep this brief), Walmart puts small businesses out of business wherever they open stores. In the spirit of the 21st century, and as a challenge to a system that privileges the few, corporations, and profit over real people, please, spend your money where you think it matters. Remember that post you wrote about the pay what you can diner in Denver? Spending money is voting. Rethink Walmart. Please.

  17. Yes. I’ve long lived by this philosophy and it does indeed provide me with a stable platform for jumping off, jumping in and creating more and more.

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