“In all labor there is profit, but mere talk leads only to poverty.” –Proverbs 14:23
Recently my daughter brought me a new-to-us dress that she had picked up at the community clothing exchange. The dress was a good fit and color for her, but it had a slight rip that—left unattended—would have frayed and worsened.
As I fetched my sewing kit and showed my daughter how to mend the minor tear, it occurred to me that I was passing down a valuable skill, more useful even than the technical expertise needed for mending: an appreciation for the worth of objects, the patience to care properly for our possessions, and a willingness to do the simple task before us.
Now, I’m no seamstress, and I don’t actually make clothes to wear. But little fixes like sewing on buttons and small mends are a no-brainer, so I try to fix the things that we love and that still have some life left in them.
It’s important to model for children what which we find worth doing, and I’ve gradually come to appreciate the value of caring for and restoring things. In our throw-away society full of cheap, mass-produced objects, it can seem easier and more efficient to buy a new thingamajig than to repair an old one.
Indeed, this is a concept I’ve wrestled with a bit; one side effect of receiving so many hand-me-downs (which, by the way, has been a huge blessing for our family) is that we may begin to view them rather cavalierly. Dialing down our expectations for how long we expect our belongings to last is a good coping mechanism for dealing with the inevitable chaos of life with young children, as I wrote about before, but we don’t want our stuff to be so easy-come-easy-go that we’d just as soon trash something and move on to the next shiny thing.
(Incidentally, this is why I don’t like my children to gravitate towards cheap trinkets. I used to tell myself that we’d combat the clutter by giving away or tossing things as rapidly as they broke or overwhelmed us, but that only reinforces a consumption-driven materialism that we’d really rather not cultivate.)
Great was our delight when we found a beautiful dresser sitting on the curb in our neighborhood, in excellent condition but lacking proper drawer slides. My husband got a set from the home improvement store, spent an afternoon installing them, and we ended up with a solid wood dresser for far less than the cost of a brand-new flimsy one from the store.
If we can salvage something by investing a little time and effort, why wouldn’t we? It’s a good habit to practice, because we may not always have the opportunity or resources to buy a new one. And what would we actually be doing with our time instead?
It really irritates me when I read motivational articles that, in their enthusiasm for streamlining and outsourcing—good things for the economy, insofar as they go—suggest that the reason for delegating “menial” tasks to other people is to free up one’s energies for proper leisure, because one’s time is worth so much.
We’d all like to think that our time is valuable, but in my opinion, it is arrogant to place too high a value on personal leisure under the guise of optimizing one’s economic potential.
It’s all well and good to pay someone to wash one’s dishes, if one is carefully tracking the time saved and using it for entrepreneurial ventures, working overtime, or other side hustles. But people who outsource their dishwashing by way of using paper plates, only to spend the time “saved” on watching TV, haven’t actually gained any economic advantage.
What they’ve gained is leisure, otherwise known as peace of mind, which is exactly as valuable to a high-income-earner as to a person with no income. After all, my downtime is just as relaxing to me as it would be if I were a millionaire. I’m reminded of the line from Fiddler On The Roof: “Even a poor tailor is entitled to some happiness!”
So I don’t consider myself too busy, too underpaid or overpaid, or too disinterested to do the small things that need to be done. And I hope my children likewise learn never to scorn honest toil.
Photo Credit: First photo graphic design by Charity Klicka; all other photos by Rose Focht.