Doing more

Was her life harder than ours? Easier? Or both?

Was her life harder than ours? Easier? Or both?
“Housework” by Jonas Heiska [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

“…look for ways [that] devices or media may be making specific tasks easier or faster but at the same time making your work and life harder.”Alex Soojung-Kim Pang

“There’s no question that labor-saving devices save labor.  But they also manufacture labor.  The washing machine and the dryer don’t save time if you end up doing more washing.”Ruth Schwartz Cowan

Let’s talk about expectations.  Is it my imagination, or do they mostly trend upward? Specifically, do we increasingly “need” to do more, have more, excel more and achieve more to feel content?

It would seem that greater efficiency would make our lives easier, but it’s more complicated than that.  In his interesting book The Distraction Addiction, Pang discusses how Jevon’s paradox applies to more than energy consumption.  When availability and/or efficiency increase, so do expectations, offsetting any potential decrease in expenditure of limited resources.

When you get a raise or other additional income, do you save 100% of it?  I’m guessing not. In fact, I don’t know anyone who does that, and I’m not saying we should.  But if we keep adding more and more to our already abundant collection of possessions, experiences and expectations, we don’t need to wonder why we end up feeling stressed and slightly crazy.  As it turns out, more is never enough, yet paradoxically, it’s also too much.

Do you do more laundry than you would if you had to do it by hand?  Do you ever buy a new appliance or piece of equipment and then feel guilty for not using it enough (in other words, for not spending more of your already limited time with it)?  Did getting a cell phone make you feel obligated to leave it on and be interrupted by non-urgent calls and texts throughout your waking hours?  Why?

Today, I invite you to join me in taking Pang’s advice.  What aspects of your life are actually being made more difficult by things that were supposed to enhance your time, sanity and happiness?  I don’t know the ultimate answer of what to do about it, but I think it’s a question worth asking.  Feel free to share your own hints, tips and coping strategies in the comments below…but only if you have the time, can do it easily, and want to join the discussion.


  1. bobmielke

    As I get older I find I need less, especially materialistic things. I don’t need 6 weeks worth of cloths in my wardrobe. I don’t need to drive fast, the speed limit is just fine thank you. I don’t need that exploratory test or procedure, even if it is free. I don’t need constant improvements to my computer’s software. Change is good only when it correct fault or drastically imroves something. Change for change’s sake is bad.

    • Bob, these thoughts are along the same lines of what I’ve been thinking. As for clothes, the old 80/20 rule surely applies to me — in fact, it might be more like a 90/10 rule in my case, except for seasonal changes. And I’ve always been accused of “driving like an old lady” (slowly) so now I can relish the fact that my driving fits my age group!

      RE: tests and procedures, I have become terribly stubborn about procrastinating on “recommended” medical screenings. Jeff coming up with Stage IV colon cancer less than 4 years after a “clean” (disease-free) colonoscopy — a procedure that’s recommended every 10 years for a person such as he, without risk factors– sort of disillusioned me about the usefulness of such procedures. I’m not saying I don’t think it’s smart to get them, I’m just saying it’s hard for me to prioritize making time for invasive or uncomfortable doctor visits with questionable benefits over things that have an IMMEDIATE effect on my mental health, such as a nice long walk or a relaxing cup of tea or a visit with a friend.

      And don’t get me started about computer program updates! I used to opt out of Windows updates because they so often messed things up and I’d end up doing a system restore…now we can’t opt out! Grrrrrr….why do we seem to be forced into paying (in time if not in money) for fixes on things that aren’t broken?

  2. I loved the last sentence of this. Only if you have the time and want to do it. Great subject!! I’ve done laundry by hand, err, actually feet. In a bathtub for almost 2 years when TS was a toddler. Lots of laundry. Hung out to dry on the rooftop. Washer and dryer, piece of cake, hands down. I think we have less labor, higher expectations of ourselves. I wash my clothes less often to keep them from wearing out so fast, same with sheets and towels. I used to be neurotic about how clean things were. Now, I’m just less wasteful of water, electric, and my resources. I keep a cell phone handy, not for the caller, but for me. If I were to take a tumble, hopefully I could get help. It is nice that I can go about my chores and not have to sit and wait for that return call. Vacuum’s, they are great for getting spiders off the ceiling over the bed. I only have 2 bedrooms and a den with carpet and wish I’d put wood floors in them too. You are right, we have more labor saving devices but we have created more stuff to do. I bought a bigger, better embroidery machine that did not live up to the hype. Now I glare at it daily. 😦 Cars can do more but the fix is more expensive and needs more tech support than mechanical support to fix. Everything is changing. I sure don’t feel more relaxed these days. Just want to sit with a good book and do nothing for awhile. Maybe if it snows. 🙂

    • Marlene, I too noticed that my clothes were wearing out faster when I washed them more often. I thought getting a machine without an agitator might fix that, but it didn’t, as far as I can tell. Now if I wear something for only a few hours and don’t get it dirty or wet, I often just hang it on a peg rack in my bedroom to wear again before washing. Jeff can tell you that peg rack gets pretty overloaded at times! 🙂 I tend to obsess about keeping dishes and utensils clean (nobody is allowed to load my dishwasher!), but not so much about everything else.

      We have transitioned some of our floors to hardwood instead of carpet, and have really enjoyed the change. Sorry to hear about the embroidery machine. I don’t even sew much anymore but have been thinking of getting a new machine just for mending and such (my old one is nearly 40 years old now and getting cranky) and I find it fascinating just looking at the new ones and all the things they can do. Luckily I would not have nearly the skills to even know what to buy, let alone learn to use it, so I am safe just window shopping on that one. But it made me smile to read your comment “Now I glare at it daily.” I have different things to glare at, but I get it! 😀 That’s one thing about books; I never have to glare at them. I hereby grant you permission to sit with a good book and do nothing at least ONCE before it snows!

      • Thanks sweety. Maybe next month if they don’t tape my eye shut after the eye lift surgery. 🙂 It will be the eye I read with.

        • Marlene, I hope you are able to read after surgery, but you also might want to consider an audiobook or two. I’m totally hooked on them and love the way I can download them so easily online for free from the public library. Back in the old days I’d be listening to my books on cassette tape while doing various houshold tasks, and sometimes when I was wrist-deep in the mud while weeding or gardening, the tape would need changing and I’d have to pull my gloves off and try not to get my Walkman muddy. Digital audiobooks are so much easier!

          • I do have an audio book waiting and that will be great. It’s funny that I prefer silence when I’m outside or trying to concentrate on a sewing project. I always have to find a pocket that the phone fits into. Going to work on that one. I have not downloaded from the library yet. Maybe soon. It’s been a crazy summer. Digital is sooo much better. 🙂

            • I don’t know if it’s my aging brain or what, but I do find lately that I have to turn off the book if I need to focus on something. It’s great to listen while weeding, doing dishes etc. but not for things that require more concentration. PLUS I learned the hard way that some authors just don’t transition well to audio format — I don’t think I’ll ever try another William Faulkner audio book! I kept having to rewind and reply sentences that I didn’t fully understand the first time.

              YES it’s been a crazy summer, and they keep getting shorter and shorter…

              • My son and I were talking about music today on our way somewhere. He mentioned that I rarely listen anymore. That I used to have it playing all the time. I’ve tried to explain but only a few will understand that when you’ve had nerved damage be it the Bells doing massive damage to the 7th cranial nerve to the PTSD from years of living with people that had me on eggshells, at some point in time, you need a great deal of quiet to heal. As we age our nervous system becomes more fragile as well. I can tune out a lot of background noise but find it takes a great deal of my energy. Especially if we are needing to concentrate. I almost never have music on when I drive anymore. That should tell you a lot.:) i think the summers are just going faster because we are trying to cram more into them.;) And this heat!!! We are finally getting a tiny break. Have a wonder filled weekend, Julia. You deserve it.

                • Thanks Marlene, this may explain a lot about me, because in recent years I truly CRAVE quiet– often I want TOTAL quiet — much more than I used to. During the many weeks of hospital time we experienced in 2013-2014 with Jeff and Matt, more than one nurse told me about what they called “ICU psychosis” which could be triggered by the cumulative effects of weeks of constant noises, beeping, continual light and other insults to our normal orientation (maybe they thought I was beginning to get a bit crazy myself, hee-hee) 😀 Seriously, they did this to explain and help prepare us for the often difficult transition from ICU to a regular room or home care. I think that’s a good example of the kind of trauma for which total quiet might be very healing, though of course it might be initially disorienting. I still love and listen to music often, but only when I’m in the mood for it, which usually means I need to wake up and get going or exercise or something. But there are more times when I DON’T want it. About the only sounds I always love are birdsong and rain. I’m glad you are getting a break in the heat, tiny though it may be! Have a great weekend and thanks for being here.

                  • I’m always here. It’s my calling. Going to a wedding this weekend that the bride isn’t excited about. Should be fun.:( It will be 93 outside and the wedding is …outside. 😦 At least I have a hotel room to go back to. There is a breeze blowing tonight and I am more than grateful. The only sound is the ringing in my ears and a fan. I don’t often hear birds anymore but when I do it’s magical. Hugs.

                    • Well, you know something must be off if the BRIDE isn’t excited about the wedding…although I wasn’t all that excited about the details of planning my own either. I just wanted to BE married, and the wedding felt like it was mostly for everyone else. Hope the weekend goes well for you, though…maybe there will be one or two memorable moments! I had a bit of that breeze myself tonight and I’m grateful, too!

  3. Re: “feeling obligated to leave your cell phone on”: I know at least two people who carry a cell phone with them, in the off position. When they want to say something to someone, they turn it on, make the call, and immediately turn it off – even if the person they called had a quick follow-up question they wanted to ask.

    • It’s a variation of the old “don’t call us, we’ll call you” but given the very real pressures many people are facing, I think it’s reasonable to carry a cell phone to use only when necessary, and not be continuously available. One quick follow up question might be minimal, but what if there are continual such interruptions from all sorts of people about all sorts of things? I have been with people in person, people I might not see in person but once or twice a year, where we could not have a conversation because of being continually interrupted by their cell phone bringing such quick questions from different people about different topics. It can literally eat up all the time a person has available.

      I think it’s wise to keep cell phones turned off, especially when one is driving or in a meeting or other such situations where interruptions involve not only one’s own time and focus, but that of others as well.

  4. Email makes it easier to get in touch across the miles and I love that you can include several people at once. The downside is all the junk that finds you day after day: ads, newsletters, spam. I spend time once a month or so unsubscribing from things. it saves time in the long run, but it’s not something I would have had to do ten years ago.

    My husband bought on of those self driven vacuums several years ago and that thing drove me nuts. Mike would run around moving furniture here and there because the Roomba would constantly get stuck. It seemed like so much more work than simply hauling out the vacuum.

    I am probably one of the rare souls, that saved a lot from a big raise years ago. I continued to live on less and socked away several hundred dollars every month. I knew from living in poverty that savings was my way out.

    Lots to think about here, Julia.

    • Alys, I loved my Roomba before it finally died on me, but I did laugh about having to “babysit” for it — meaning I would always remain on the floor where it was running, so I could hear if it hit a snag. Yes, it was a lot of trouble. I liked that it could go under the furniture where I couldn’t reach with the regular vacuum, and I liked that I could run it while doing something else, but cleaning it out took a lot of time too. Like all such technology, it probably only created more work since I still felt that I had to run the vacuum cleaner and the Roomba was only a supplement.

      Kudos to you for realizing that saving your money would bring great dividend in the long run. I think it’s easier to stay where we are, in terms of material wants and needs, than to go backwards, and saving money can enable us to stay where we are when unexpected expenses arise.

      I totally agree with you about the benefits AND drawbacks of email. Apparently, anything that’s easy to use is also easy to abuse.

      • The under the bed feature is the biggest plus with the Roomba, especially with all the cat fur we have floating around. I’m often horrified when I move the bed and see what’s been collecting there. No white-glove awards for me, that’s for sure.

        I agree with you. I think the concepts of saving and investing should be taught in math classes, but they prefer algebraic equations instead. There must be room for both. Not everyone is taught that at home, or its simply not their reality. Saving benefits everyone, but its not ingrained in our culture the way it is in others.

        And oh yes, use and abuse can go hand in had.

        • Alys, I remember in high school, EVERYONE (even those of us on the academic track bound for college) had to take a course our senior year that was basically a “how to survive on your own” class. We had to pair up and get “married” to another student at the beginning of the quarter, design a budget and stick to it through various “expenses” doled out to us through the course, depending on how many kids we chose to have, how many cars etc. I was terrible at budgeting, which is funny because I think I’m pretty good at it now. Fortunately, my “husband” was really good with the books, as well as understanding of my overspending. 😀 It was a great experience, because we had to agree on things such as how much to spend on housing, how much to give to charity, etc. and the compatibility issue really came into play. I learned how much easier life would be with someone who basically had my same values, as the classmate I “married” did. It was fun! I think schools today should do something similar, including the choice of whether to live alone, marry or have a room mate. All these things have very practical economic consequences that we often don’t consider when making decisions.

          • Julia, what a great story and a remarkable class, too. We had a six week course via home economics called survival for singles. It was far less detailed then yours, but we learned some of the basics you mention like writing a check and budgeting. I’ve always been good at budgeting , a necessity when you live with less as you know.

            Now kids need to learn how to use PayPal, how to avoid scams and phishing schemes, etc.

            I love the emphasis on compatibility at that young age. I wish I had learned that lesson earlier in life.

            • You know, with Pay Pal and phishing and identity theft and what not, it’s getting harder and harder to know where to start when trying to teach kids about basic living skills. It’s such a lot for young people to handle. The book I just quoted from in a recent post (The Distraction Addiction) points out that computers keep getting faster and more accomplished, which tends to make us have a lower estimate of our own capabilities in comparison, yet we can still do many things computers can’t do. But it’s easy to get intimidated by the upward spiral of technology. In so many ways, I think we had it easier than today’s kids do, even with all their abundance and advantages.

              Navigating compatibility issues can be a great stepping stone to adulthood, and a major reason why I think it’s good for kids to live in dorms for at least awhile. I had so many lessons to learn about how to get along with people whose tastes, habits, hours and personalities were different from mine. Some of it was painful, but fortunately there was much forgiveness all around and most of us emerged from it all as friends. My memories of college years are much happier than those of high school.

              • It is easy to get intimidated, isn’t it? When I’m away from the computer or other technology, I’m aware of so many things we do in a day that require awareness of our surroundings, the ability to read people, our sensitivity to site, sound and smell and all those things that make us human. Nothing will replace that, in my opinion.

                My college years were happier than high school too, in most ways. I think we discover ourselves, have a taste of freedom and responsibility and that we also make friends based on our likes, not just geography.

                • Yes, I’ve often thought that we change more during those college years than at any other time in our lives. I remember the first summer I was home, I was startled to realize that so much of my world was now made up of people I had not known existed one year ago. They were from all over the USA and each added a new dimension to my life. In that sense it’s like a much more intense and “present” form of blogging.

                  • It’s so cool that you were able to observe that at such a young age, Julie. I think you’ve probably always been an old soul, deep and caring and aware of all that goes on around you.

                    • 🙂 ❤ Thank you Alys. I don't know about that, except that I'm getting older all the time, so hopefully my soul is at least keeping up with my body. 😀 As a young person I always felt immature but perhaps in some ways I was out of sync because parts of my personality really were a bit old from the very beginning.

  5. Michael

    I heard that the average person checks their smart phone around 5oo times a day. I still have a dumb phone- without internet coverage. Good idea from Eric about turning the phone off at times.

    • Michael, I finally gave in and got a smart phone when I found one I could get for less than $7 per month (I don’t use it that often). I must admit it has been handy in certain situations, but I still don’t turn it on unless I’m out somewhere and Matt or Jeff isn’t with me. I do like it for things such as coupons and checking gas prices. But I still haven’t really learned to use it. Raynard’s wife Mary had to explain to me how to answer a call! (It was brand new that weekend we met them in Virginia Beach.) I kept swiping and poking at it to no avail. Fortunately even though she did not have the same kind of phone I did, she figured out what I was doing wrong. Maybe it’s just my age, but I don’t think these things are particularly intuitive in terms of figuring out how to use them.

  6. Julia, I’ve read your post several times since Thursday (love the vintage painting) and wonder if you have difficulties maintaining two residences. I would love to have any tips for inventory and remembering what is where! I may have all or none in one location and it drives me crazy! I hope you’ve had a good weekend.a bit of quiet was obvious this evening when we returned to Garden City after a camping weekend. Now where did I put that MUSTARD? 😉

    • Sheila, I’m glad Walter wasn’t here to listen to what I said when I just finished a LONG, LONG, LONG reply to your comment here, and then just when I went to send it, it VANISHED off the screen! Totally! I HATE WORDPRESS when that happens! The short version is yes, it can get confusing to figure out where some things are kept — I’ve tried to keep it roughly similar, but over time it’s gotten more mixed up rather than less. I tell myself it’s good mental exercise for my aging brain. But I love living between two homes. I appreciate each more, I think — I always hate to leave one for the other, but when I get back to either place, I’m always so happy to see it again!

  7. Of course, I would feel EXACTLY the same way as you! Heehee!😉

    • Twins separated at birth!

Thanks for encouraging others by sharing your thoughts:

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: