You know,…those occupations we perform that keep life flowing. Those (mostly) self-imposed duties that keep us from real living. The perpetual actions that don’t contribute to noticeable forward progress. The errands we execute that may even be termed drudgery.
When I lived in San Francisco some time ago, a good friend of mine commented upon retiring at 40, that he noticed personal maintenance constituted about 20% of his non-sleep time. He had a small home and lived alone so he was talking about routine chores like laundry, cleaning, personal care, preparing meals, washing up the kitchen, etc., — all the small jobs that come with independently keeping a healthy home and body.
Housewives and homemakers with kids peg the maintenance percent much higher, closer to the inverse of my friend, 80% or above. We all conduct maintenance, whether brushing teeth, going to the gym, or filling the car’s gas tank.
Our free time usually dictates our relationship to many of the day-to-day upkeep responsibilities. They fall into categories of; we accept doing them, we do them grudgingly, we avoid doing them, have someone else do them, or we don’t think they need to be done (as often as they should be). Seldom are they actions we leap out of bed to perform with gusto. Wherever they land though, a key question is, do we embrace (any of) the maintenance?
In our small NYC apartment, we luckily have two bathrooms. The one I use, the one visitors use, I’m responsible for. Which means that when I’m there, at least weekly I am on my hands and knees scrubbing around the toilet. Not a job many of us relish but one I’ve reluctantly come to embrace (at least the bathroom I use).
Daily exercise of some type is a non-negotiable physical service. Sometimes it is pleasurable, other times it’s damn hard. For me, it usually falls somewhere in-between and accepted as a necessary self-preservation habit.
During the last few years, because much of my time is spent living on my own in Asia and hiring help is not so convenient, I do the routine household chores myself. Further, because I’m cooking more often, the maintenance category has increased markedly. I’m kind of stunned at the amount of time sucked up by the entire food prep process. Eating well is paramount, and basic. But finding food with good ingredients is not always easy, especially when it’s prepared with industrial oils and sweeteners. Hence, my maintenance percent has skyrocketed. I may not be up near the busy housewife with five kids, but I’m at least in the 50/50 zone. Buying, washing, cutting and preparing, food, then cleaning the dishes and kitchen is no small amount of time. Besides food, the places I live, because I like the windows open, collect dust so fast that cleaning has become a daily labor I’ve been grappling to embrace more firmly. Laundry — the washing, drying, folding, (I rarely iron and it may show), of clothing, towels and bed linen is another chunk of valuable time.
The other day GV, who is visiting me in Asia, cleaned my refrigerator, which she said was disgusting. It was a necessary maintenance chore I not only hadn’t been embracing but also didn’t realize was as sorely needed as it was.
Whether we fold laundry while watching a video or listen to audiobooks during the work commute, we try to find ways to soften life chores to make necessary tasks more tolerable (efficient). Some outsource a block of maintenance (vis-à-vis maids, restaurants, or partner agreements). But then again, there is subtle value in adopting even small rituals, such as making the bed in the morning. I’ve known many, mostly males, who do the minimum amount of domestic work. It’s not considered macho business. Real men don’t clean toilets. Although the understated value of cleaning up after yourself is not to be sneezed at.
The trick, it seems, is a little mental juxtaposition, to turn tasks from drudgery to willing acceptance. It may just be, that if successful, the result is a more positive alignment of perspective, having a favorable rollover effect to other aspects of life.
Besides, last year McMaster University conducted a study showing that doing housework five times per week can cut the risk of early death by 20%.
Hmm,…I’d better start a more serious mental exercise program, digging deep to welcome with open arms, the mountain of life maintenance which seems to be growing, and be content that it’s only me I’m maintaining.