What can you learn from 10 days without electricity?

At the time of writing, my electricity has just been switched back on after 10 days.

Thankfully, it wasn’t due to a lack of money or chronic apartment deficiency that we were out of juice for so long. It was simple mid-twenties idiocy — we forgot to pay the bill on time, and we paid the price (for all of you out there who are worrying about your adulting skills, don’t worry, I’m pretty sure I’m winning the “can’t function in the real world race” by at least a mile).

I know what you’re thinking. Disaster, right? And for the first day, it was. As my boyfriend and I dug forgotten candles out from the darkest recesses of our junk drawer and lamented all the tasty frozen food we would have to throw out (so many wasted petit pois), we realised just how ill-equipped we were to deal with life without all the luxuries that we count as essentials. Internet? Gone, spelling a temporary hiatus in our marathon Game of Thrones sessions. Purchasing any kind of chilled foods? Out of the question. Once the summer sun had set, there was no chance of reading, sewing, cleaning, or any of the other things we do to fill our evenings. Our nightly choices were essentially either to hit up a local bar and rinse their overhead lighting, or sleep.

***

I won’t lie, for the first 24 hours I was raging. But then, once we’d lit the sea of candles in our blacked out apartment, we sat down with the salvageable remains of our fridge and talked for hours before turning in for the night, battery-powered fairy lights twinkling around us. And do you know what? It felt…good.

From then, things fell into place. We’d arrive home from work, knowing that we had a couple of precious hours to cook, tidy up and light the candles before sundown. And then — freedom. It’s remarkable how much time you actually have when you realise that all that shit you just “have” to do is actually pretty inconsequential.

***

As someone who acutely feels the external pressure to be constantly doing rather than being — whether that’s cooking, working overtime, reading up on the latest global news or just going on an Instagram liking spree — having the choice taken away was liberating.

It allowed me the opportunity — so often tacitly frowned upon by our society — to sit and just think, to draw shite doodles in my sketchbook, and to stretch out and relax in perfect silence. It made me go out and visit friends, without having that niggling feeling in the back of my mind that I should be hotfooting it out of the bar and finding something productive to do, whatever that means. It allowed me to sleep better.

Strangest of all, as soon as that pressure was taken off, I began doing more than ever — only this time it was the stuff I actually wanted to spend time doing. I sketched more in those 10 days than I have in months. I wrote things for myself. I finished that book I’d neglected for weeks. I spent hours lying in bed chatting random shit with the bf, just because. I noticed the birdsong outside my window. And as a result, I felt more human, more in control of my own life and time, more than just a slave to clickbait and Messenger and work and societal expectations and rushing around being productive and progressing. It allowed me to just be.

At 11.30 this morning, the electricity man rang my bell and switched the power back on. It was a bittersweet moment. On the one hand, yay lights! Refrigerated food! Laundry! On the other, I felt that it would only be a matter of time — days, hours even — before my boyfriend and I slipped back into our familiar routine, the magic of the darkness gone and forgotten. Last night, he said to me “I don’t know if I even want them to switch it back on.” I kind of agreed.

***

Now, I’m not suggesting that we all switch off our electricity and embrace the simple life completely. I certainly won’t be — I just bought a new blender and plan to spend the next few days juicing everything I can get my hands on. And I’m definitely not going to go on a moralising rant about how everyone should slow the hell down — some people thrive off action, others are already zen as fuck.

What I will say is that when life starts feeling like an eat work sleep repeat routine, when the daily grind starts to drain your soul, or when your eyes are permanently tinged red from screen overuse, perhaps it might help to switch off a little — literally. Unplug the router for a day, light some candles, and tell the 21st century to do one for as little or as long as you need. Over 100 years ago, Thoreau extolled the virtues of “simplicity, simplicity, simplicity.” Sometimes, that’s all we really need.