Between reading Die with Zero and attending my first death cafe, I’ve been thinking a lot about death lately. And it’s not necessarily morbid (i.e. an obsession with death) because I use these events to think about life. When I think about the shortness of life, I tend to think of bucket lists. But I’ve always been skeptical of big cities, big trips, big moments. Instead, I’ve always preferred small cities, the in-between times, the small moments. And I’ve always thought there was something wrong with me for preferring the mundane over the spectacular, but I’ve started to get more comfortable with defending wasting my time on things that other people think are wastes of time.
What is Wasted Time?
As a classic Type-A person, I hate waiting in lines; I hate waiting for anything really.
But I don’t count it wasted time when I’m doing something quiet and boring. Like when I listen to my mom’s stories about grocery shopping. Or engage in a hobby that never amounts to anything (like this blog!). Or play phone games with my nephews. It’s not that all my “good” time is spent in active pursuit and that I think quiet time is wasted. Actually, I love the quiet time more than the loud time just like I love small cities more than big ones.
Jerry Seinfeld has a comedy bit about spending “quality time” with his kids:
These guys that talk about “quality time” – I always find that a little sad when they say, “We have quality time.” I don’t want quality time. I want the garbage time. That’s what I like. You just see them in their room reading a comic book and you get to kind of watch that for a minute, or [having] a bowl of Cheerios at 11 o’clock at night when they’re not even supposed to be up. The garbage, that’s what I love.
Garbage time in sports is that time after which the game has already been decided. This is when people tune out of the game, but it’s also really interesting. It really shows what the team is about when the outcome can’t be changed. How do they treat the time? How do they treat each other?
Keith Urban describes his time hanging out with friends as Wasted Time, but it’s the best time of his life. The wasted time is the stuff that he loves being in the moment of. It’s not necessarily an achievement or photogenic, but it makes you feel something special, maybe because it’s private and it’s yours.
Why I Love Spending on Wasted Time
People talk a lot about picking experiences over stuff. And I understand the value of spending some money on good food and travel. But because I live in a super ambitious area with super ambitious people, spending on experiences means people one-upping each other. On dating profiles, so many people have the ambition of visiting every country in the world and I wonder, why? Even if you visited, say, Washington, D.C, does that mean you know America or Americans? Is life more than ticking cities off your to-do list?
And it just seems wasteful, ungrateful, and unsatisfying. I took a year abroad after college because I thought I was someone who loved to travel. But in reality, I wanted to grow roots. It exhausted me to explore; I wanted to create. And it was less exciting and colorful, but it was more meaningful to me.
No One Records Your Wasted Time
My parents never had a video recorder when I was growing up. And I’m happy about that because now that they have video cameras in their pockets, they record all sorts of really boring, mundane activities.
Our family gathers for every family birthday – so that’s nine times a year. And my mom videotapes us singing “Happy Birthday” for every birthday. We are not great singers. It’s incredibly boring and somewhat painful. No one will ever watch these videos. The videos will never be shared on social media (my mother isn’t that advanced).
We always puzzle at my mom recording these moments. The occurrences aren’t special or rare enough to be recorded. But that doesn’t mean we don’t enjoy that time.
Garbage time, to me, is that boring time where no one will be impressed. It’s building the foundation. It’s not worth reliving but it’s worth living in the present.
The Difference Between Quality and Garbage Time
Quality time is the highlight reel. Garbage time is too boring or private to be recorded, and should never be rewatched.
Quality time is running the marathon. Garbage time is training. It can prepare you for the big day but it’s not the day. No one wants to see you run 8 miles three months before the marathon.
Quality time is the epic trip to France. Garbage time is the hours you struggle through with your French tutor trying to perfect your use of l’imparfait. Garbage time is making the spreadsheets and emails for your trips. Garbage time is saving up, dreaming of your epic trip, anticipating the fun. When you fantasize and talk it up to your friends, that’s all garbage.
Quality time is the weddings, the birthday parties, the anniversaries, the vacations you go on with your friends and family. Garbage time is showing up for those people day after day for their garbage days. Garbage time is the errands you run, the meals you make, the schedules you plan. Ultimately, garbage time is where you spend your friendship. You don’t recognize it when you’re in it, but that might make it more valuable.
Social Media v. Your Life
I used to watch this YouTuber who made every inch of her life so beautiful that it made one of my friends start feeling self-conscious about how beautiful it looked when he made his bed or did his laundry. But not every moment of your life has to be beautiful. Actually, none of the moments have to be beautiful. Outward perception of beauty doesn’t make your life beautiful. Your perception of your life is what makes it beautiful.
I’m so tired of making my life seem cool. It doesn’t look cool. But just because my favorite moments won’t make sense to a highlight reel to anyone else, doesn’t mean my life is any less good. They say that you can’t tell if someone is depressed because they can hide it under beautiful images. It may also be true that you can’t tell if someone is happy because their highlight reel doesn’t look the way you think it would. All the fancy trips, the big parties, the Michelin-starred restaurants – they’re all fine and good. But that’s not what I think about as the highlight reel of my life. It’s the little, private moments – we don’t give them enough attention or praise.
I guess the moral of my story is that it’s ok to like what you like. And if you want to do something big, most of your life is in the preparation. If you learn to love the garbage time, the wasted, time, the downtime where you spend most of your time, then you love your life.