By the time we get to midlife, clutter's a problem. Oh, I don't mean the stuff that piles up on the kitchen counter, that tower of unread magazines or the ever-growing stack of things we mean to sort through.

Well, I do mean that stuff. Just not today.

Today I mean clutter in the sense of too many activities, too many things we mean to do –and even too many people.

Too many people? Sometimes that's true.

Busy-ness --the desire to keep busy every minute of every day-- is a neurosis that seems to wane with age, and good riddance.  As the value of contemplative moments becomes more evident, we appreciate those blank spaces on the calendar more than we did when we were younger. Time to savor a cup of tea in the garden, to sit before a roaring fire and read or even the luxury of a mid-afternoon nap reflect a different quality of life. One that wasn’t possible when we worked full time. That's the real business of life, isn'it?

Getting to the real business of life is a worthy goal. Sometimes, though, old habits can be hard to break. If we're not going 100 miles an hour every day we feel guilty that we're slacking off. Those pesky "shoulds" can hover over us long after they've served their purpose.

Midlife and beyond is a time- an opportunity-- to cull our lives, to look at our To-Do lists with new eyes and to assess whether each entry still serves us.

  • Do you belong to an organization that now feels more like a burden than a pleasure? You’ve done your time there and it’s now time to focus on yourself. Sign off without guilt.
  • Re-evaluate your daily tasks in light of this new stage of life. Are the daily habits ingrained over the decades- laundry on Monday, gardening on Tuesday, dusting on Wednesday- still relevant? Must you do them all? How important are they? Can you rearrange to allow more time for yourself, such as dust every two weeks instead of weekly?
  • Have some of the people in your life become an obligation instead of a joy? You might have had a lot in common with certain acquaintances when your children were in school together. Maybe now you find yourself struggling to relate to them. Don't be afraid to slowly wean them from your life. That weekly coffee date can become monthly and if necessarily, taper down to nothing. We "nice girls" sometimes have trouble with this. But it's your time, your life and you've got enough obligations that can't be easily jettisoned. Work on those that can.

But how will I fill those hours? Glad you asked.

If you've never learned the pleasures of quiet time, here's your chance. Force yourself if you must, but pick a book you've been meaning to read, sit somewhere comfortable and read it, guilt-free.

Walk the neighborhood. Notice the beauty of neighbors'; gardens, laugh at the cute dogs walking with their owners, breathe in the crisp air and simply enjoy the pleasures of being alive.

Sit with the people you love and be completely present. No need to look at the clock or your calendar, only your loved one. Enjoy the pleasure of their company and give them the pleasure of your undistracted attention.

It's your time now, and there's no reason not to claim it. You might find that you really like it.

In fact, I'm betting that you will.

Carol Cassara is a writer and ordained minister who believes in living fully in every color of the rainbow. Her essays have appeared in Skirt! magazine, the Christian Science Monitor, several Chicken Soup for the Soul anthologies, on public radio and other venues. After a long career as a corporate communications executive, she is enjoying having more time to write, travel and just enjoy life. When she's not traveling the world, she lives in the San Francisco Bay area with her husband and crazy little maltipoo. Her daily blog inspirations for creating our best lives can be found at www.carolcassara.com.