Having a butler seems to be all the rage these days. Perhaps it’s the “Downton Abbey” effect, but I seem to be hearing more about them recently. In a New York Times Magazine article this summer, Gwyneth Paltrow talked about her butler and how amazing he was. Also, a friend of a friend recently wrote an editorial in the Wall Street Journal about his experience being a butler for charity.
I’ve never met a butler. In fact, I’m not even sure I know what a butler does, but I assume his job is to make one’s life easier. He would anticipate one’s needs and run interference between the real world and those he served. He would guard his employer’s schedule and weigh opportunities realistically, with no fuss. And I don’t want to be sexist; I’ve learned that butlers can be female too. But for the sake of simplicity, my butler is going to be a he.
I think I need a butler. Perhaps we all do.
While having such help isn’t in my future, maybe there’s another way. Perhaps without a butler, I could still live like I had one. I could somehow fool myself into thinking a butler was there to serve me, even when he’s not. My days would be prepared, seamless, and calm. My butler would guard my schedule. I have a Ph.D. in over-scheduling and he would would gently help me become less skilled in this arena. Is this possible? Maybe…
The First Step: Planning and Prioritizing Like a Butler
If I was going to invite a butler (real or pretend) into my life, I needed to think about what he would do for me. And while I’m sure he’d be quite talented, he wouldn’t be able to read my mind and would need a job description. I began thinking about my expectations of him.
My ideal butler would be a skilled planner. At the beginning of the week, he would think about ways to make my days go smoothly. He’d make sure that my clean car had a full tank of gas. He’d create a weekly meal plan and ensure that I had the groceries I needed. My butler would also make sure the laundry was done, my clothes were ironed and ready to be worn.
My butler would also be an expert at prioritizing my activities. He’d look at my schedule and watch for signs that I was trying to do too much. Matter-of-factly, he’d rearrange things when needed, even if it meant rescheduling something with a dear friend. He’d look out for me and would know that no matter how fun an opportunity, sometimes the right answer is a polite declination.
A Butler Gets Days Off
On TV, it seems that butlers are ever-present and ready to serve. Sadly, in real life this is not true. This is the United States of America and we have labor laws here. Sadly, my butler will have to get a couple of days off every week. Of course, for such an important position and genteel person, I’d want to treat him well and give him a break. But it’s easy to get greedy and want more, more, more, especially when we’re talking about this kind of valuable help.
My butler is probably going to want the weekends off. Therefore, I will need to be my own butler on Saturdays and Sundays. The weekend was approaching. I put on my top hat and started thinking like a butler.
On weekends, I need to prepare for the week, so my butler can magically appear on Monday morning. I will cut up vegetables and iron clothes. I’ll wash the car on Saturday mornings. In fact, my weekend chores are so predictable that I could type up a checklist. This is not rocket science, people. My regular tasks are the same, week after week, year after year. And so I did type up a checklist. It felt like a very butler-like thing to do – efficient, realistic and dispassionate.
After I printed out my butler’s “to-do” list on a Friday, a surprising thing happened. I, I mean my butler, started getting a head start on my weekend tasks. He wanted to be sure I had some time to relax and have fun on the weekend. (He’s so thoughtful! Already I don’t know what I’d do without him.) With the checklist handy, my butler could see what he could do in a spare ten minutes here and there. I greeted Saturday morning with far less to do than normal. And my butler had not complained or dreaded his chores; he had just gotten them done.
My Butler Reports to Work
Once the weekend was over, my butler reported to work Monday morning and did a splendid job. I walked into the kitchen and was greeted by cooked breakfast in the slow-cooker: a generous serving of warm, creamy, steel-cut oats. The house smelled fresh. An ironed outfit was waiting for me in my closet. My car was pretty clean and the gas tank was full.
As the week progressed, I noticed that my butler really showed off when I got a good night’s sleep. When I was rested, my butler-like stuff was done almost magically, with very little effort. When I was tired, however, my butler worked slowly and the same tasks were overwhelming.
My dog is also part of the butler team. Butlers care about everything you do and watch your every move. So do dogs. My dog greets me at the door upon my return, just as my butler would. He cares about how my day was and listens agreeably to everything I say. His name even sounds like a butler’s: Holmes.
During the week, I’ve learned that my butler is better at setting boundaries than I. He unemotionally considers requests that come my way and can clearly (and quickly) see what’s a good idea and what isn’t. For him, it’s easy. And when my butler says no to things, there’s no drama or hand-wringing, just a kind and polite “no, thank you.”
A butler makes my life easier. He might improve yours too. Real or imagined, he helps us take good care of our future selves, as well as be realistic about how much we can take on. These are things we can all do for ourselves, even if we don’t have hired help. Indeed, there is a butler inside all of us.
This is easier said than done, of course. But when you plan for your week ahead, trying thinking like a butler. When your calendar gets jammed, ask yourself: what would my butler do? Chances are the answer is clear. Once you know how to proceed, then thank your inner butler. He is politely waiting for you.