I finished Laura Vanderkam’s 168 Hours last week feeling pretty settled in the fact that I don’t think she’d like me very much.
Don’t get me wrong — I gleaned some good wisdom from her, especially stuff that I can take with me when I eventually resume working outside the home again. Learning more about how to be more efficient and mindful with one’s time is something I am always interested in.
But I would love to hear her thoughts on my lifestyle in general. Cloth diapering? Homemade yogurt? Cooking from scratch? Cleaning your own house?? — Based on an entire chapter in which she chronicles women’s triumphant liberation from the tyranny of homemaking, she clearly doesn’t think very highly of it in general, which is a sad thing to me. I’m not morally opposed to some of her suggestions, but her basic advice in the “home” section of the book seems to boil down to if you don’t want to do it, pay someone to do it for you, which I think is overly simplistic, not realistic for a lot of people, and frankly short-sighted. I think eschewing a lot of these humble, everyday, unglamorous errands and chores is, in a way, eschewing a lot of life in general.
Yeah, it gets old and tiresome and tedious, but there’s something inherently satisfying in homemaking to me that I think I would miss — a lot — if I were to allow someone else to maintain my home for me, do my cooking, wash my clothes, and do my gardening. And I read a blog post* today that elucidated that feeling pretty well:
A few weeks ago, as I was turning on the dishwasher before we left my place, she said something like, “Dishwashers are what’s wrong with the world.” Something about that sounded right. I asked her to explain.
“Life is composed of primarily mundane moments,” she says. “If we don’t learn to love these moments, we live a life of frustration and avoidance, always seeking ways to escape the mundane. Washing the dishes with patience and attention is a perfect opportunity to develop a love affair with simply existing. You might say it is the perfect mindfulness practice. To me, the dishwasher is the embodiment of our insatiable need, as a culture, to keep on running, running, running, trying to find something that was inside of us all along.”
We used to have to spend a lot more time and attention maintaining our basic possessions. Dishes had to be washed by hand, stoves had to be stoked, clothes had to be mended, and meals had to be prepared from scratch.
Little was automated or outsourced. All of these routine labors demanded our time, and also our presence and attention. It was normal to have to zoom in and slow down for much of our waking day. We had no choice but to respect that certain daily tasks could not be done without a willing, real-time investment of attention.
“It helps to cultivate patience,” says Lily, “and the enjoyment of a task which we usually discard as ‘not worth it’, too boring, too mundane, blase. It gives us the chance to take a little peek into the tiny but enormous world of simply noticing what is around you, and engaging fully with it. If you are someone who is naturally averse to washing dishes, you abhor it, you avoid it at all costs, you grudgingly go through it as quickly as possible… Well then, this is the perfect opportunity to engage fully with those feelings, and to gently scrub them away, until what you are left with is the realization that life is an amazing, and beautiful, and precious gift, no matter what kind of activity you are engaged in. You are surrounded by great textures, and images, and formations of light, and sounds, and smells, and everything, all the time.”
I think there is a lot of wisdom here. This time of year, you hear a lot of people talking about how much they’re looking forward to summer vacations or bemoaning that they just need a break from the mundane. One of my goals in life, generally speaking, is to have a life I don’t feel the need to escape from. As I’ve said to Steve many times, doing the dishes and cleaning the kitchen and vacuuming the floors and doing the laundry and all that goes into homemaking is, in essence, Sisyphean (Laura Vanderkam even uses the same word!). It makes no sense to me to spend so much of my time fighting against it when these “primarily mundane moments” are all around me. If I want a life I don’t feel the need to escape from, I need to be at peace with everything in it, not just the pretty parts that I like.
So this is why I can’t fully get on board with Laura Vanderkam, though I think her advice probably works really well for people who have a very different life than I do or who are truly more pressed for time than I am. As a stay at home mom I need to use my time wisely, but I have a lot more flexibility with that time than a working mom does. But even if my time were more divided and I did find myself feeling more frazzled and rushed every day, I still think I might stop and do the dishes (or fold the laundry, or pack my own lunch, or plant my own flowers). I want to be fully engaged with all of my life. Not just some of it.
Anyway. In other news, I did this to my hair:
I think the lighting here makes me look kind of sickly … but you get the idea. Now I just need to find a mountain to climb so I can start singing about how the hills are alive. I love it.
* Raptitude.com: one of my favorite blogs these days. Go check it out.