1. You may purchase a material object from your “want” list.
2. You may hire out a task or chore which you dislike doing and use the time to do something you like doing.
If I’m going to be really honest with myself here, directly upon being handed the money, I’m going to head straight over to my favorite second-hand clothing store and get me some comfy, stylish shirts and a pair of cute boots to celebrate the onset of fall. That is my honest answer, and I’m not about to condemn myself for it, as I have many stained shirts at the moment and could use a cute pair of boots. However, today I do want to take a look at this question a little deeper, and maybe play some devil’s advocate with myself.
I was listening to NPR the other day and the topic was “happiness,” with regards to the ways in which we choose to spend our money.
The theory proposed in the episode of Morning Edition and in the corresponding article was that when people outsource tasks that they dislike doing (such as mowing the lawn, doing the dishes, etc.) and, in turn, gain more free time to do the things they actually enjoy doing, they report a higher level of contentment than if they use that same amount of money to buy something material.
In some ways, this makes a lot of sense. Coming from someone who is in a season of life which, no matter how many “simple” or “slow” principles are applied, allows for very minimal downtime, I could daydream for hours about what I’d do with a little extra time. If I could minimize stress by eliminating undesirable tasks and add to my own personal quality of life by replacing those tasks with something I enjoy, I can see how this could do wonders for my own well-being and, consequently, the whole family’s.
So why am initially I drawn to option 1 over option 2? According to the article:
“Contemplating paying somebody else to do something you’re perfectly capable of doing yourself may provoke feelings of guilt,” says Elizabeth Dunn, a professor of psychology at the University of British Columbia and an author of the study.
Yeah. This is totally me. If it has ever crossed my mind to consider whether or not I should hire someone to clean my apartment so I can have more time with my kids, the thought is quickly reproached with: “who do I think I am?” and “aren’t I fully capable of doing that myself?”
There is this pervading sense, particularly among modern-day Americans, that we must be self-made individuals, relying only on ourselves, and overcoming all obstacles by ourselves, without leaning on others. To lean on others, even if we are paying them for their services, can make us feel guilty.
This is SO interesting since many people will purchase material things all the time without the slightest inkling of guilt, not thinking twice about the effects that their purchases may have on their environment or on the atrocities that might have gone into making the product they are purchasing.
In taking a long look at the question posed and considering how each option would affect my own personal sense of well-being, I think I could be convinced to change my answer. Let me postulate a minute, what it might look like if I chose option 2.
I would hire out my dishes, the deep cleaning in the kitchen, and all of the bathroom cleaning. I’d hire out the lovely scraping of poop from cloth diapers into my toilet and the subsequent dunking into the toilet water and scrubbing of said cloth diapers which is required before putting them in the wash.
What would I do with the time I gain? Well, I’d start by making myself a cup of tea. I’d definitely get in some good cuddles with my girls while I enjoy it and, if they let me, read a few pages of whatever book I am on while they sit on my lap. I’d probably venture over here at some point and write a note to you all. I’d then head on over to my clean kitchen to make an elaborate, nourishing dinner for my family, flinging utensils and food scrapings around as I please, leaving the pots, pans, and tasting spoons for my clean-up crew.
I believe I may have become a little too excessive in my daydreaming. The thought experiment does break down at whether or not one has that spare $100 hanging around whenever undesirable tasks present themselves. In reality, it usually goes like this: you have $100, and you really just need to spend that on groceries and gas, so in order to not go crazy, it’s all about finding balance in your priorities: humming a little tune through the dishes, not cleaning the bathroom as often as you should, and, when necessary, shoving over the unfolded laundry to make room on the couch to sit down and write, then using said pile of laundry as the “mountain” in a giggly game of, “climb up the mountain while I try to tickle you” with your children, because if you can’t buy time for the important things, you simply need to will that time into existence.
The question at hand has, however, been a helpful exercise for me. Because when that odd $20 or even $50 of “mad money” comes my way, either in the form of a birthday card surprise or a “look what I found in the couch cushion” type of scenario, and I am urged to spend a little something on myself, I might think differently about how to use it.
So, what do you think? Which would you choose? What tasks would you hire out and what would you do with all of that free time? For all of my international readers, is this just an American phenomenon, or do you find that in your culture, there is a sense of pride in doing everything for oneself?
Head on over to the newly launched Facebook group, Eat Stories Like Grapes: The Community, to comment and join the conversation now!