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The personal blog of Frank Lesko. Award-winning writer. Non-profit entrepreneur. Activist. Religious professional. Foodie. Musician. All around curious soul and Renaissance man.

See also my professional blog: The Traveling Ecumenist.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Home Economics

"Home economics" is not a popular phrase anymore. It carries connotations of gender segregation in high school--girls take Home Ec, boys take Shop. Or even worse, sexism--girls take Home Ec, boys take College Prep Physics. But understanding the workings of a household in terms of economics is a really good idea.

Economics understands that in every system there are limited resources, and as a result you have to make decisions about what to do. Time, materials, hands to help, energy, all these are limited. Every decision to do something is a decision not to do something else. Each decision has both a cost and an opportunity. When you truly economize you end up doing the most with the least amount of inputs.

I can easily spend my time spinning my wheels--and have. I come home from work, get something to eat, drink some juice, and when I look in the sink both bins are overflowing with dirty dishes. I see 10-15 cups in the sink. I live alone, folks. Why did I use that many cups and when??

I've talked about my laundry previously on this blog. I can easily use the same bath towel for a week if I manage it properly. If I hang it up to dry quickly after using it and only use it for the same purpose each time, it stays fresh for quite some time. Hanging out in the sunshine and wind, I imagine it could be used almost indefinitely.

Let's say I have grease on my hands from fixing something, or maybe even ketchup from a sloppy hamburger. I could easily reach for the more-accessible bath towel--its just hanging there drying. I could also walk a few extra feet to the kitchen for a paper towel or find a rag more suited for that purpose. Those extra few seconds saved out of laziness using the bath towel ends up costing me more loads of laundry, more money in detergent, and more resources spent from the environment. The towel that could have lasted me a week is now in the hamper. I think I'm being "laid back" by reaching for the easiest items, but all I'm doing is making life unnecessarily difficult in the long run.

I am a believer that we can all learn to be more efficient and economical in our home decisions without having to change our entire personalities. I don't think we need to become totally organized, make lists or think completely differently if that's not our style. Its just about deciding how we want to spend our time and not doing things that are going to make more work for us later on.

Suze Orman talks about the way people rebel against managing their own money out of some protest of being a "money-oriented person." The result is that they spend years struggling with debt and living with the consequences of haphazard decisions--Decisions they thought they were avoiding, but in economics every decision not to do something is a decision to do just that. Money is a part of life whether we like to admit it or not (unless you live in radical, intentional poverty, but even then it may not be so simple).

I think a similar situation applies in the households--we rebel against a well-managed house because maybe it brings connotations of Mrs. Cleaver. People don't want to be a tidy "Suzy Homemaker", they want to be laid-back and carefree. But regardless of gender roles, we still have to feed ourselves and take care of our daily business. That work is not going away. The best way to minimize that drain on our time, attention, money and other resources is to properly economize what we do. Suzy Homemaker is either doing a much better job in the same amount of time as you, or has more time to kick back and relax. Suzy Homemaker may be calm and collected, while the so-called "laid-back" types are always running around "managing" candles burning at both ends.

A cup used can be rinsed out or just left on the counter for the next use. A household with many mouths could have a cup assigned to each person, so as to avoid unnecessary washing due to confusion over who drank from what cup. Clean clothes can be hung up to re-use, kept apart from the dirty laundry so I can tell what's what later. A stitch in time saves 9 more later, and there's no reason not to embrace that kind of wisdom today. I don't want to spend all my free time at the laundromat or washing dishes.

And if you're gonna be "laid back", do it with, uh . . . gusto: don't wash anything, and don't shower at all.

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