I’ve been thinking many times about how our lives, even though in many ways they are easier and safer than the lives of our ancestors and we have more free time, are so much more fast-paced and hectic, and people don’t seem to be happier. All the wonderful modern conveniences save us time, no doubt, but they also create higher expectations which we sometimes find difficult to fulfill – and I wouldn’t say we always should.
Take for example such a wonderful thing as a washing machine. In the past, doing the washing meant that an entire day was supposed to be dedicated to it. All the scrubbing and rubbing and wringing and washing were done by hand, and it took a lot of time. Now, all we have to do is keep two hampers (generally), one for lighter-colored fabrics and one for dark fabrics, wait for one of them to fill (which sometimes takes a surprisingly short time), throw it into the wash and then into the dryer if you have one, or on the clothesline if you don’t, or if you are lucky and the weather is good for drying. Then fold, put away and you’re done – one of my favorite chores, personally.
On the other hand – and I’m saying this in full awareness that I wouldn’t want to do without a washing machine! – this created far higher expectations regarding the cleanliness of clothes. In the past, people had fewer garments, and it was acceptable for children to wear clothing that was a bit stained or patched and frayed here and there. Now, we’re all expected to look neat and clean at all times, which is sometimes difficult with little ones. We have piles of clothes which take up a lot of closet space, and a lot of time to fold and sort through with each change of seasons. So I thought a bit about it and figured that it’s OK for children to walk around with stains, at least until the end of the day. :o)
Cooking from scratch is another similar story. In the past, people grew a lot of their own food, and most of the food was homemade. Women used to cook much more, yes, but it doesn’t mean they served elaborate meals! In most families, people were happy with a simple meal, such as soup and homemade bread, or bread, cheese and homemade canned vegetables for a snack. Now cooking is easier, which allows us to think up more varied menus – and it’s nice but can be time-consuming.
Transportation and communication is another example. Just a century ago, most people didn’t go out that much, except for working in the field or garden, or to the local store; visiting was done mostly between those who were within walking distance, and letter-writing was a slow and relaxing activity, quite unlike emailing, text-messaging, Facebook Wall posts or Twittering. Relationships weren’t as numerous, but they were deeper, slower, more personal and meaningful. Quite simply, going somewhere or contacting someone required effort, and therefore people only bothered if it was important.
Now, with the wonders of easy transportation, we have the opportunity to visit far more places, but we also have the pressure and expectation to find the time for many different activities. It’s easier to communicate, and so we are expected to keep up with many, many social obligations and people who aren’t, in the long run, meaningful in our lives. In the past, it was considered normal to wait for a letter for weeks and months, and people didn’t forget each other. Now, you are pressured to answer emails on the same day you got them, or you are “out of touch”. All of this pulls us in many different directions.
It used to be common knowledge that a day means toil and busyness from sunrise till sunset, but the work was unhurried and not so stressful. The question to be asked, is why should we try so hard to save time, if that time is immediately torn apart by new things we are supposed to be doing, not all of which are conductive to our emotional health?
Simpler slower living allows more involvement of children in daily chores, rather than segregating them in “age-appropriate” activities with little meaning. This is why I don’t want to get a bread maker – I like to create the opportunity for Shira (and in the future, both girls and hopefully other children we may have) to knead by hand. Same goes for mixing by hand rather than with an electric beater.
As a family, we’re not always out and about, wasting gas. And I can sometimes answer an email after a few weeks, even if it makes me look like someone from another planet. I do want to retain some of that slower pace in my life. Sometimes, less is really and truly more.