Thinking about housework

I’ve been thinking about the ideas in the book “168 Hours”, which strongly recommends personal outsourcing as a way of freeing up time that you could spend on goals or core competencies.

On one hand, I agree with it: delegation can help a lot. On the other hand, there’s something here I need to explore further. I’m not sold on the idea that maximizing life is the way to go, or that this is the best fit for us.

It helps that I can compare the experiences. I grew up with maids and a cook. Laundry was whisked away, ironed and folded. There was a hot buffet at lunch in the company dining room, and dinner was sometimes business, sometimes family-style. My mom cooked a bit, and she taught us how to wash dishes.

In the Philippines, having household staff isn’t that big a deal, and it really helped my parents with their business. In Canada, W- and I do all the work of maintaining the house. It’s not that bad, actually. Fifteen minutes of exercise bringing the laundry down and sorting it; half an hour to fold the laundry, which is really social time + movie time; a good weekend afternoon’s work preparing a month of lunches and a week of dinners, also social time; half an hour of tidying up each day and more organization during the weekends, which is really a working meditation.

We could trim our “preparation time” further by ordering groceries and household goods online instead of heading out, I suppose, or hiring out laundry or cooking. I’ll try keeping a more detailed time diary to see if I can identify big chunks of time that I can recover.

What would I spend the extra time on? Writing and coding, probably. Spending more time with W-. Learning how to drive, draw, or play the piano. Sewing, so I can learn how to make things. Cooking. (Yes, I return to that; it’s fun.)

But it’s not a straightforward money-for-time swap. It’s not just a matter of paying ~$25/hour to reclaim time for personal use. It’s really a time-for-time swap, because money is time, too. I’d be trading time now for time later, considering after-tax expenses now versus the compounding growth of investments that might enable early retirement or more opportunities.

The things I’d want to do with that time – writing, for example – mature with age and experience. Squeezing out more discretionary time to work on writing might result in improvements, but a lot of it is really just a matter of living more and learning more so that I can share more.

Doing things ourselves isn’t drudgework, either. We can save, learn, exercise, and build our relationship, all at the same time. If I ever run into tasks I truly despise, I might outsource those, but W- and I are easy-going and have so far managed well. (In fact, cooking all that food leaves me with a warm glow of accomplishment and productivity, and I learn a lot along the way.) I don’t feel starved for time. I feel that there’s enough time to do the things I want to do – perhaps not all of them, but that teaches me to prioritize and be efficient.

And of course, there’s my resistance to lifestyle inflation. ;) The longer I can live a simple life, the more I can resist the hedonic treadmill and sock away savings I won’t even miss.

I might dust off my experiments with virtual assistance and try out cooking and cleaning services. Some frugal bloggers I read have said wonderful things about housekeeping. We might see if it’s a good fit.

Shifting time around to have more discretionary time would be nice, but am I close to the point of diminishing returns considering the other factors, or are there other things I might discover if I keep at the experiment? Hmm….

Have you experimented with this? What have you done with your newly-freed-up time? Or how have you made household work even more productive?

2010-12-31 Fri 08:26

  • Although I don’t really like doing house work. (Or anything repetitive) I do like to try to find optimizations on the way things are being done (mind you I haven’t done all of them yet)

    For example:
    * the T-Shirt folding trick.
    * using vinegar for cleaning and laundry
    * optimizing the workflow for cooking (though it is still a bit tedious for me)
    * simplifying the kitchen (getting rid of many single purpose devices and extra knives, getting rid of those many sauces and such)
    * optimizing the fridge by not buying too much stuff or ending up with left overs.

    For cooking experiments (if I ever get around to it again) I would us the DS game “Cooking Guide: Can’t Decide What to Eat?” for some fun experiments. I just passed the masochistic curiosity phase of cooking whereby I do the most difficult thing possible (steak and sunny side up eggs, baking, etc) since you can’t do the trick of “tasting while cooking”

    Laziness/Impatience/Hubris (the stuff from the Perl book) tends to drive my MO rather than just being frugal, though I can get cheap at times. However, enjoying a meal is something I like to do and would spend a bit extra on, though I do still watch out for the cost.

    I think it was when I met a fellow “gourmet” back in BC when I decided that ya, being critical with food is ok as long as you enjoy it. Living in a condo, I don’t really worry much on how much things cost monetarily, but I do care about how much they cost in terms of physical space. Good food eaten out to me gives me the most pleasure with little space cost. Added benefit is the exercise I get for actually going out of the house even if I did drive it is better than just calling in for delivery.

    Anyway continue experimenting, the reaching the final state may be great, but it isn’t as much fun as when you’re experimenting to get there. — That’s the reason I like working on the Android than on my iPod.