When we lived in the old house on this property, we had a dishwasher. That is, until a rodent chewed through some kind of water tube or wire, and then we had a built in dish drying rack.
And suddenly, something that was so easy became a big production. I agonized over whether every spoon was worth the use since I would have to hand wash it. I bought paper plates for the kids. I considered styrofoam coffee cups, but instead just rinsed out my coffee mug and ate my cereal out of it to avoid doing another dish.
But little by little, I realized I did not hate hand washing dishes as much as I thought I did. I enjoyed the smell of the dish soap, the feel of the hot water. I enjoyed getting out a clean towel to dry them, and then putting them away, instead of having them waiting in the dishwasher to be unloaded. They seemed cleaner and shinier. There was a sense of satisfaction when the sink was emptied, and then it got cleaned and dried. And it is hard to hate a task that you do every day. I had learned to enjoy the process.
There are a lot of things in life, especially in the domestic sphere, that are made out to be terrible chores. Such terrible chores, in fact, that either someone is hired to do them or a machine is purchased to do them. Sweeping and shaking out rugs has become vacuuming, and then creepy robot vacuums or cleaning ladies. I vacuum my floors. I never sweep anymore. I have never shaken out an area rug in my life. But I wonder, was it maybe not so terrible a job? Maybe it was something fun to do on a sunny day and made the kids laugh. Maybe after you were done, you rearranged the furniture a bit and felt good about yourself? Maybe not. I don’t know.
Or consider something like heating your home. Most people today use electricity, oil, or gas. We heat almost exclusively with wood, and sometimes it feels like it consumes our life. For example, this weekend we are going to visit my parents and will be returning with a huge trailer full of oak from a tree they just had taken down. We are always on the hunt for more, even though we hav plenty of trees, you can’t just keep cutting them down forever. Then it will need to be split, and dried. Then stacked. Then as winter approaches, some will need to be re-split into small kindling pieces. We will start hoarding newspaper. We gather sticks all year long and put them in the old house to dry. And for all this work, we have not started a single fire yet. Or cleaned one out.
But if I could somehow magically heat my home to 75 degrees all winter for free, I would not. I don’t just enjoy the the heat and the ambiance. I enjoy waking up on a dark and chilly morning, setting the logs just right in the back, watching the kindling catch and adding wood bit by bit. I enjoy polishing the glass after scooping out cold ashes, and then restarting an afternoon fire after the sun has weakened. It’s not just the beauty of the fire itself, it’s also the work that is enjoyable. Even the splitting can be fun. Matt does it with a friend, who brings a big powerful splitter to borrow, and he stays for dinner.
There is paid work of course, which can be rewarding, but that is not the point of it. Then there are hobbies, which generally cost money rather than being productive, but are done for sheer enjoyment. But there are also things in between, that are necessary, and can either be hard and satisfying, or automatic and mindless. Homemaking encompasses so many of these things.
So I will try to stop looking for ways to make my life easier, and instead look for ways that I make my tasks… well, not harder, but more satisfying. Why get a gift already wrapped when you could choose the right paper and ribbon, wrap it neatly, and enjoy the satisfaction of a job well done? Why turn on the air conditioning constantly when you could savor the routine of opening the windows at night, closing them when the day heats up, drawing the curtains against the sun, and reopening after a thunderstorm has cooled things off?
Just now I came back from getting my mail down the long gravel road. My neighbor was across the street, sweeping his driveway. I gave him the silent neighbor wave, while thinking to myself this guy is a nut. Isn’t it going to rain soon? Why does it matter if there are bits of leaves visible to the neighbors on your driveway? He didn’t return my wave. He was under the shade of a tree, admiring his handiwork. I get it my friend. You weren’t sweeping that driveway for me. Just enjoying the process.