Inconvenient Choices

Laundry hanging on clothesline

 

Our dishwasher broke several months ago.

We’ve been running a shoestring budget, trying to meet a goal of paying off some debt while simultaneously trying not to go negative on the farm finances before market season starts. So, when the dishes started coming out of the washer dirty (and sometimes not even that wet) and Mike deemed the repair beyond his handyman abilities, we just closed it up and left it.

We’ve been washing our dishes by hand ever since.

At first, we committed to no dishwasher until tax season, when we could use part of our refund to buy one. Tax season came and went. We found that hand-washing the dishes hadn’t overwhelmed us, and it hadn’t made a big difference in whether our house appeared overly clean, or overly dirty. So we decided to prioritize another chunk of debt we wanted to get rid of,  we bought some more dish soap and another sponge and kept right on washing.

About this time the weather warmed up enough for me to start hanging our clothes on the clothesline that Mike installed for me as a birthday present.

No, that’s not some chauvinistic joke. I’d been hounding Mike for a couple of years to hang me a line. We have a beast of an old dryer (if you’re sensing an out-of-date theme with our appliances, you’re dead on) that is in no way energy efficient, nor does it dry the clothes particularly well. Plus, why would I throw clothes in a bulky old machine that wastes energy when I live in a climate where, on a sunny day (which is 300 of them a year,) clothes actually dry faster on the line?

For convenience’s sake?

This year, I’m giving up convenience.

Nothing that Mike or I do is convenient. Dishes and laundry aside, we both work full time jobs and run a farm “in our free time.” No matter that farms can’t really be run as a hobby, and end up turning into third full time jobs that generally earn less than minimum wage. To make it more entertaining, we run our farm in a semi-arid desert (no dry land crops here) on two separate lots that are not within walking distance from one another.

Not convenient.

Then, just recently, I got in an accident that totaled my car.

Also not convenient.

The convenient solution, however, and the one we almost took, would have been to use the surprisingly fair insurance settlement to replace my daily driver with something affordable, resulting in a low car payment and easy mobility.

Instead, we decided to put the settlement toward (you guessed it) debt and go down to one car and a farm truck with 200,000 miles on it that probably should not be driven long distances.

Convenience is just not our thing. But we don’t intentionally set out out to make our lives difficult. And actually, inconveniences aside, we have never been happier. In a world that prioritizes convenience, I feel that there is one key question we frequently forget to ask.

Why do we need things to be convenient?

The answer, it seems, is virtually always time.

Why would I load my dishes in the dishwasher rather than washing them by hand? It saves me time. Same for the clothes dryer – and the clothes washer, for that matter. Microwaves warm food way faster than the oven, and robo-vacuums can even do the floors while I’m at work. I don’t have to do the drudgery of household chores, and I even get that time back for something else that I would rather do.

But what is is that I do?

I actually sat down and thought this out, assuming that the answer would be “a lot of Facebooking, and oh, I’m not really sure,” so that then I could write a post about how we use all these time savers to find time that we then waste.

But…

How many times have I actually used the time saved by not doing dishes to go on a hike? Probably never.

How often have I microwaved a dinner so that I had time to go grab a drink with friends? Plenty.

How often do I (did I) just agree to meet my husband somewhere and take two cars so I didn’t have to detour to pick him up so we could spend more time out at whatever we were doing? Often.

How frequently have I used the convenience offered by my clothes dryer to spend the evening on the patio drinking wine instead of hanging clothes?

Okay…A lot.

So my hypothesis that time saved in chores was just time that I would later waste ended up not being true. I generally do use the time saved to do other things I enjoy. Then why am I happy (even happier) hanging my clothes on the clothesline and washing dishes by hand?

Because it slows me down.

It keeps me grounded. It helps me live in the present.

Dishes, of all things.

Modern life busy. It’s crammed with everything from soccer practices to evening work meetings, to social events that feel semi-obligatory. Technology keeps us connected to everything and everyone, all the time. As a result, we all, well, most of us, anyway, feel the burn of “busy.” I realized a couple years ago that busy stresses me out beyond belief. I started trying to manage my calendar more consciously, so that events – whether they be work, social, or otherwise, didn’t bunch up together. This year, I’m taking it a step further. I’m giving up being stressed, at least to the best of my ability.

I’m checking out of that race.

I’m doing one thing at a time.

And I’m choosing my things carefully.

Which brings me back to the dishwasher. Or lack thereof.

Mike and I have made a commitment that every choice we make will be guided by one simple question: Does this move us closer to or further from the lifestyle we wish to live?

It’s simple, but amazingly effective. For us, our dream life would be farming full-time, making a living from it, and essentially being a self-sufficient homestead. We want more of the outdoors, less of the rat race, and as much quality time as we can spend together. We also want to live as lightly on the land as possible.

Having identified that, it makes it easy to prioritize every decision we make. Farming might pay the bills if you’re really good at it and willing to work your balls off, but it’s never going to make you wealthy. We know we’ll always live on a tight income, so debt has to go. If that means no new dishwasher and no new car, so be it. That’s an easy sacrifice. We want to live easy on the land. The environment means so much to us, that I will happily spend 15 minutes hanging clothes on the line rather than running my geezer of an electricity-sucking dryer. And because I want to live easy on the land, I also won’t waste the natural resources buying a new one when I can last indefinitely with my clothesline and geezer-dryer for rainy days.

But beyond the practical aspects of our decision making, we have enjoyed surprise benefits. We wanted more of the outdoors, and hanging the laundry on the line gives me quiet minutes of the day in the sun and wind, listening to the geese fly overhead or watching the dog chase rabbits. One day, as I stood at the clothesline, a swarm of honeybees on the search for a new home flew right over my head with a roaring buzz that made me gasp out loud and watch them move, hundreds, maybe thousands, of little bodies as one unit across the yard and over trees.

Doing the dishes, my hands in the hot water, methodically moving the sponge over plates, glasses, and pots, I find myself processing my day at work, decompressing, not worrying about getting anything else done because there’s not much else you can do elbow deep in dishwater with soap suds all over your hands.

And without a second car, Mike and I are finding ourselves working together more. We sit down on Sundays and plan out the week – when he’s going to need me on the farm, what errands need to be done, which require use of the truck and which can use the more gas-efficient car. We cluster our to-do lists, knocking out as much as possible on each trip into town, saving us time and gas, which fits in line with our values. Plus, we spend more time together, traveling in the same car, bickering over some farm-related topic or telling stories about our respective days at work.

Time together. That was on our list.

We’ve slowed down. We’ve chosen according to our values. So even when we are busy, running from a day at work to the farm to work some more, it doesn’t feel like an obligation. It doesn’t feel like a rat race. It feels like something we want to do.

We’ll probably get another dishwasher by summer’s end. The impetus, however, is not time saved by not doing the weekly loads of dishes, but rather the simplicity it provides us during canning season when putting up food for the winter requires the constant washing, sterilizing, and recycling of mason jars. In other words, if we ask ourselves in August, “Does this move us closer to or further from the lifestyle we wish to live?” the answer changes from what it was in January. A dishwasher will help us put up food faster in a season when time is of the essence, when vegetables run on nature’s clock, not ours, and over-ripe tomatoes might rot on the vine.

Inconvenient choices. One thing at a time. Living in the present moment.

It’s worked wonders for me. I imagine the story might be different for others. Others who enjoy more of a hustle and bustle to life. Who thrive on packed schedules and stacked social calendars.

But us, we’ll stick to a regiment of line-dried clothing and shared car time. And in the fall, we’ll spend hours (days and weeks, really) putting up our own food over a hot stove with boiling jars. And in the fall, more hours planting cover crops and getting the field beds covered for winter. But despite the hours of work and all the time and effort, we’ll know that not a minute was wasted because we know what we want to do, and we know the steps to get there.

One hand-washed dish at a time.

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