Conveniencing Ourselves to Death
This weekend Neil had a man cold. And a rusted out brake line. This didn’t make for a very fun weekend for him. Spending an afternoon under a rusty, 15-year-old car tracing brake lines instead of watching sports (what sport season is it? I have no idea) is a sacrifice. However, we might be sacrificing much more if we value convenience too much.
How much do you spend on conveniences each year?
Add up those Keurig pods.
The paper towels, napkins, plates, and cups for parties.
The baby wipes. And boogie wipes. And make-up removal wipes. And disposable diapers.
How about single-serving snacks, like granola bars, yogurt cups, chips, etc.?
Now add in frozen meals, prepared foods, fast food, and take-out.
And subscription services like Netflix or Kindle Unlimited.
Do you pay someone to mow your lawn? Clean your home? Wash your car? Fix your car?
How much might you pay to have a new car so it “won’t break”?
What does your convenient technology run you? Your data plan? Your eReader? Your computing needs? Your FitBit?
If anyone is still calculating, you’re a better person than me. I admit I spend a countless amount on conveniences each year.
To be clear, I am NOT saying there is anything wrong with buying any of the items or services mentioned above. I choose to buy many of those items regularly or occasionally. But let’s just all be honest about the fact that we spend a lot to avoid inconvenience.
Now, it’s absolutely glorious that I can throw my clothes into a washing machine and have them come out clean. No hauling them down a creek. No heating up buckets of wash water over a woodstove. I also love my microwave, my Kitchenaid mixer, my laptop, my cell phone, my dishwasher, and toilet paper. The list could go on, but the point is, we have to the draw the line somewhere.
I draw the line after toilet paper and washing machines.
I draw the line before Keurigs and a new car.
But that’s just me. Where will you draw your line? I can’t tell you where that line is, but I can tell you need to draw it somewhere.
This ain’t Little House on the Prairie, but it ain’t Downton Abbey, either. You gotta do stuff for yourself sometimes,
There is a reason we aren’t all still growing our own wheat, grinding it into flour, and making bread. There’s a reason I don’t have any sheep in my yard to make clothes out of. Industrialization is awesome.
There’s a good reason modern conveniences have become standard in homes. They free up time for people to pursue innovative careers and hobbies. They improve our quality of life, without a doubt. But at some point, if I’m too busy or lazy to do basic human tasks like cook food, clean, or fix things, maybe I need to re-evaluate.
Perhaps your life is filled with conveniences because it’s over-filled with commitments, hobbies, or entertainment. Maybe you’re spending more money than you’d like on conveniences because you haven’t taken control of your time. Learning to say no is crucial.
So is accepting that avoiding inconvenience is impossible, anyway. Things will break. Plans will fall through. You will get sick. There’s no way around some suffering in this life, but making it our purpose to avoid inconvenience means we won’t have the endurance needed when the inevitable comes.
The High Price of Convenience—It’s About More Than Money
Ultimately, the price of convenience items can be much higher than meets the eye. For example, we all know eating restaurant food or prepackaged foods is less nutritious than most home-cooked meals. We also know that being glued to technology can inhibit our relationships, health, attention and reasoning skills, and productivity in the real world.
Letting machines do everything for us isn’t great for our physical health, either. Most of already work sedentary jobs, now referred to as the smoking of our generation. Add to that the fact that we drive everywhere rather than walking or biking, and pay others to do our housework, yardwork, and car repairs, and we can easily end up couch potatoes with catheters a la Mr. Money Moustache ‘s article “Is It Convenient? Would I Enjoy It? Wrong Question.” (or Idiocracy).
Unfortunately, kids are also spending way too much time on screens. As a parent, I can see why. It’s so much easier to turn on Youtube than to get everyone into their clothes, shoes, and coats to go play outside. But kids and grownups alike are much better off when we move our bodies and spend time outdoors.
Paying for convenience can also rob of us of the satisfaction of a job well done, learning new skills, and challenging ourselves. When I attempt a new recipe, I feel accomplished and satisfied while I eat the work of my hands. Neil still speaks proudly of the time he replaced the head gasket on his 1990 Dodge Shadow (my brother still drives it—it’s older than him!).
Many convenience items also represent a high environmental cost. Keirig is the ultimate example—the inventor claims he now regrets creating such a wasteful product. Maybe that’s just because he sold it for a meager $50,000 before it got hot! Don’t feel too bad if you own one of these nifty contraptions. We’re all guilty. Think of all the paper products we consume, the handy pre-moistened cleaning wipes, food packaging, flash fashion, not to mention the amount of technological waste we create with constant upgrades…it all adds up to a lot resources depleted to create it, and a lot of junk sitting in landfills when we’re done with it.
Last but not least is the financial opportunity cost of what we spend on convenience. Perhaps a few minutes here and there could add up to a small fortune when we consider what our savings could earn if invested over time. Just reducing restaurant eating and prepackaged foods alone could free up hundreds of dollars each month.
I love convenience. It’s hard to put a price on it, but we all need to draw the line somewhere. Otherwise the price could be your health, your sense of satisfaction, your productivity, your family, your money, and your world.
What conveniences are worth it to you? Where do you draw the line? What other non-financial tolls might conveniences take on us?
Enjoyed your article! If I have always had a certain luxury and then (either by choice or not) don’t have that luxury anymore I realize that I actually didn’t understand WHY something was a convenience. Pre-made foods at the store are a good example. I would like to re-create this chicken and dumpling soup I like from this store. I would hope I could make it work and taste good. There might be some laughing and crying involved but I think I could figure it out. Either way, I would know why canned chicken and dumpling soup is a convenience in a different way. Doing something yourself definitely brings a sense of reality and appreciation back into life that can get lost in the luxuries
Thanks, Sarah. I agree that it’s easy to take conveniences for granted, and that trying to obtain that thing the “old-fashioned” way increased appreciation AND helps us make a better judgment about whether it’s worth the price. Well said!
Good topic. My latest venture is wondering if I should pay a VA to help me with Pinterest work because of how much time I would save not doing it myself. I try to think that the tradeoff will be me doing one extra side job a month to pay for it that won’t take as much time as hiring a VA to do Pinterest. I think you do have to draw YOUR own line. Other people might hire someone to clean their house, but I actually enjoy cleaning my own. You would think of a million other things. One thing I do try to do though is not take conveniences for granted! Appreciate how they can help us and be thankful.
I agree! For me, I used to take buying Starbucks for granted. Once I made an effort to live more frugally and only buy it once or twice a month, I found that I appreciated it more.
Also if you do decide to hire a PA to help with Pinterest, I’d definitely be interested. I have a background in social and I’ve been looking for a side hustle. Let me know if you’re interested!
Yes, it is definitely a matter of personal preference and priorities. I could see hiring someone for Pinterest, especially if you could earn that money more quickly or more enjoyably than the time it’d take for you to handle that task. I agree that appreciating the conveniences in our lives is very important and helps us recognize where to draw the line.
I spent my weekend painting our living room. For the record I can’t stand painting, but would rather do it myself that pay someone. Conveniences are certainly a fine line. We have considered spending money on house cleaning,it would be a great time saver, but again have not wanted to part with the cost just yet.
You have to consider the environmental impacts too of things like plastic wear. We recycle as much as possible, but does everyone using this item do that?
Painting is a great example. Way to go on taking on an inconvenience in order to save money and gain satisfaction.
The environmental impact of plastic use is huge. And unfortunately, not everything we put in the recycling bin gets recycled.
We love our Keurig! But we don’t drink coffee. Basically, it’s an even more precise electric kettle. I use it for tea, cocoa, and oatmeal almost every day, many times multiple times a day. And since we don’t use the pods, we don’t have a lot of waste. Now, we could use an electric kettle or a teakettle on the stove, so I’m definitely giving into convenience. But I do try to be mindful of the impact that convenience has on the world.
PS – We still have the variety pack pods that came with the machine. We put them out for guests who do like coffee. I’m almost embarrassed to tell you how old they are. But no one’s complained yet 😉
I think Keurigs are super handy–they are just too easy of an example to pass up! But that’s great you get the convenience of one with the extra cost or waste. And I’m sure those original pods are fine!
I love this post! I think convenience is really about framing.
One of my recent favorite cookbooks is Simple by Diana Henry. One of her premises in writing the book is that we lose something of ourselves when we fail to take pleasure in simple things like cooking each day.
Now, I love to cook, so its easy for me to wax poetic about that, but the same thing really applies to laundry, cleaning, playing with kids, etc.
Interestingly, the cookbook made me want to get a line for drying my laundry… of course I actually hate the feel of line dried clothing, but its so romantic that I almost want to do it.
Anyways, the book I recommended is a best seller, so your library probably has it. Really good recipes- most are kid approved (if your kids like more than bread and cheese which mine sometimes do not).
Sounds like a good book. Thanks for the recommendation. I agree that it’s a mindset about how I’m going to few the day’s “boring” simple tasks. When I feel crabby about line drying my laundry or doing extra dishes from scratch cooking, I try to fancy myself a domestic goddess (though I’m truly not).
I hate that we accumulated so much debt, but everything happens for a reason. One of the positives that came out of our struggle is that we developed a sense of pride in our ability to save money and do things for ourselves. We still buy some things like big boxes of granola bars, but we’ve paid for very little heat this winter because we’re burning wood that Mr. Smith cut up over the summer and fall. It’s more work, but so much more rewarding.
That’s so good that you’ve found the silver lining in your situation and learned new skills. And there’s not much better than free heat. It’s certainly a lot of work to chop that wood–not convenient–but it’s great exercise, saves money, and like you said, is more rewarding.
Love the Little House & Downton Abbey references. It’s amazing how much the world has changed since WWII with technology. A hundred years ago, most of us would have still be riding horses or taking the train & only getting local in-season produce.
The means of having our own car, getting any fruit or veggie anytime of year, or streaming any show or song on-demand are three conveniences I would struggle to live without. Let alone hot water on-demand and a warm house heated & cooled with electricity (although we do heat with wood).
It truly is amazing. Appreciating and remembering all our modern conveniences is a great way to know where to draw the line.
Alan and I derive great satisfaction out of doing many things ourselves – yard work, car maintenance, home improvement, gardening, cooking. And we do some things that aren’t so satisfying, but also not worth the cost – dog grooming tops this list.
That said, I do love my dishwasher, my washing machine…and I use my dryer too. It’s all about balance.
There certainly is some satisfaction to be found in doing certain tasks ourselves. It would’ve make sense to live like the Dark Ages, or even 100 years ago, but it does make sense to have a limit to what we’ll spend on this area. Kudos for grooming your own dog! That’d be too much for me, but maybe that’s why I don’t have a dog 🙂
Totally agree about the dog grooming! I also groom our dog myself, even though we are both grumpy by the end. But the cost is so high! Interestingly, though, I do take him to get his nails trimmed. I haven’t been able to get that right myself.
Great post! We think about this a lot. Even if we can afford it – should we? We don’t subscribe to any media streaming services, but I go back and forth on that all the time. It would be so handy to have Netflix, but I can get everything I want to watch at the library (even if I have to wait for it). And I feel like it is good for me to practice delayed gratification and helps me limit my TV watching. But it is still inconvenient (and so often annoying)!
Thanks Kate. We also skip the subscriptions and opt for the library. It can be a bit of a hassle to remember, but our library has a drive-through window which is awesome when I don’t have to go in–which can be a time commitment with little kids!
This is a tough one. I do allow myself to spend on more conveniences than most in this pf bloggosphere (at least I think I do) in large part because I recognize that I am not Superwoman. I can’t do it all – and I don’t want to. That being said, a big area where I’ve cut back on convenience has been with food. Result? Better food and increased confidence. A big cooking fest on the weekend gives food for the week : )
That’s great you’ve found an area that’s worth it to you to put in more effort, learn new skills, and save money. Plus better food, and I imagine better health. It certainly is a personal choice of what’s worth it and what’s not.
We use to have someone clean our home for confidence when we both worked. My wife is now a stay at home mom so we cut that out. When we go out to eat we also largely do so for confidence not taste, since my wife is an amazing cook.
I draw the line at the point where the cost outweighs the Time benefit based mostly on our pay per hour.
I am definitely available to sacrifice more convenience costs now that I am home with my kids. Some tasks do require someone to simply be home, and it makes sense to adjust those decisions based on your situation. And yes, even great cooks need a break sometimes!
Interesting perspective! I hate cooking, so easy microwaveable meals are worth it to me. I also love my Keurig! I try to draw the line there. A new car would probably be more convenient than my 17 year old car with its frequent issues, but it’s not worth the money to me.
I love my microwave! And if you hate cooking, microwaveable meals sound like a great alternative to take-out or eating at restaurants. You are saving so much by dealing with that older car, too!
Definitely an interesting topic to think about. I think this more so comes down to “why are you looking for convenience?” and “what can you afford?” For example, I would love to outsource more things like house cleaning, yard work, etc., but I simply can’t bring myself to doing it when I have other financial priorities those dollars can be put towards. Now if I was a millionaire running a business I would almost certainly do it as I would need every minute possible!
Yes, the “why” behind your choices is significant. It wouldn’t make any sense to do all those tasks yourself if you could be making millions with your time! Until then, I’ll use my spare 5 minutes to hang laundry!
I love this post and some of the things you address. We have worked to have some balance in our life when it comes to convenience. For example, I love doing laundry and hanging laundry out to dry is fairly easy for me. We also don’t mind making a whole pot of coffee forgoing starbucks or a keurig. But, being busy, full-time working parents, we have a hard time doing the deep cleaning in our house and hire someone to come clean once a month.
I think being able to recognize WHEN you are paying for a convenience is important. And determine whether or not it is worth that price. For example, single serve yogurts are not worth the price for me, I can easily portion out bulk yogurt. But like you said, the line is different for everyone!
Thanks for sharing great examples of where and why you draw the line. It absolutely depends on the situation–I know I drew the line differently when I worked full-time outside the home. Sounds like you’ve really thought through your choices which is awesome!
Great post! I have some catching up to do here at your blog. Will be a good reading night I’m sure.