In Defense of Doing Things the Hard Way

My dad, who had patiently been teaching me to drive for weeks, was finally somewhat relaxed in the passenger seat of his car for the first time. Looking out the window as we passed a local gym, he said something that has stuck with me ever since: “I’ve always thought it was funny that people drive to the gym so they can pay money to work out on an stationary bike. Why not just go for a bike ride?”

I think my dad’s ideas can be taken a step further. Instead of going for a bike ride to get exercise, why not ride your bike to a place you actually need to go, like the store or the post office or school drop off? Then you are a) getting exercise, b) getting your errands done, c) saving money, and d) cutting down your impact on the planet. The only resources you are not saving are time and your muscles. Those are two resources we could all afford to spend a little more wisely.

Modern society has cut down on the time and work it takes to do some many household tasks that we often don’t pause to think of the cost to our planet, our bodies, or our minds. When we stopped scrubbing laundry on the washing board or splitting wood by hand, when we stopped scouring pots and mowing the lawn on foot, when we stopped growing our own food, when we stopped carrying our children and started pushing them in strollers… we may have gained convenience, but we lost something too. We lost the exercise, the meditative mood, and the satisfaction of doing things ourselves. Hear me out!

Work hard at the tasks you actually need to do and you’ll save money and gas and gain muscles.

When we moved into our first (rented) house in South Dakota, we bought a reel lawn mower for $30 at an antique store and had it sharpened for another $20. It struggled against the course, long prairie grass and was actually a great core and butt workout. When we got in from mowing, we were sweating and sore and it felt like a great session at the gym… plus our lawn got mowed (for free) in the process!

Another obvious example is shoveling. Sure, a plow truck or a snow blower will make quick work of your driveway, but doing it yourself gives you a great upper body workout and the satisfaction of a job well done. Plus, you save money. Shoveling for your neighbors will only add to your workout and your sense of community. There are lots of tasks we have outsourced to others or to machines, which would be better done ourselves.

Take time to do tasks and you’ll unwind while reducing your environmental impact

Hanging out laundry twice a week takes more time than throwing it in the dryer (read how I reduce the amount of laundry we do here), but I’ve come to relish the fresh air, quiet, and flow of the task. While it’s not exactly meditation, it kind of feels that way (except in February, when my freezing fingers and nose keep me from enjoying it). Sweeping, too, is calmer and more meditative than vacuuming.

There is really nothing like kneading bread to illustrate how a mundane task can bring you back to Earth. The sensory experience of touching and smelling the dough is truly worth the time (plus you get delicious bread AND toned arms). Gardening, too, is worth doing yourself. Sure, you could hire someone to landscape your yard and cut your lawn, but doing it yourself gets you in touch with the soil and green plants – both good for the soul. And, yes, chemicals will kill garden pests, but there is really nothing as satisfying as collecting a jar of slugs yourself.

INTERMISSION: You may currently be shaking your head and/or laughing and thinking, “does this woman seriously have NO LIFE?”, but I would honestly argue that these daily physical tasks are more enjoyable and more life-affirming then, say, going to the gym and getting a take-out coffee or watching a show and scrolling on my phone.

Enjoy the satisfaction of a job well done.

Ask anyone who cuts, splits, and stacks her own wood and you will quickly hear how satisfying a well-made woodpile can be. There is pride in a well-built stone wall, in a basket full of home-grown produce, and yes, even in an empty kitchen sink after a big meal. These small accomplishments add up to a feeling of satisfaction often lacking in the daily grind of professional and family life. Shoveling off your walk, spying a row of lettuce popping up, or pulling a freshly baked bread from the oven is an immediate pat on the back you can give yourself. So many people are out there looking for meaning and happiness. There is happiness in a job well done. When we farm out all of our life tasks to machines, we lose the possibility of that simple pleasure.

If you are thinking, “well, I, for one, don’t have time to hang out my laundry or cook from scratch or plant a vegetable garden”, I encourage you to give it some thought. Are you driving to the gym to ride a stationary bike? Are you hiring out meditative jobs to other people or machines so you have time to meditate? How could you improve your life by getting back to the basics and putting in a little good, old-fashioned hard work?

Thanks for reading!

– Hannah

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