Finding the Balance Between Modern Convenience, Self-Reliance, and Community

Surviving and thriving at work requires some balance between your work life and the rest of your life beyond the job. But even your life beyond work may need some balancing of modern convenience, self-reliance, and community.

I’ve been reading several good novels set in rural America of the early 20th century and I am struck by just how much people used to do for themselves – home building and repairs, growing and preserving food, making clothes, making gifts, raising and training animals, educating children, running the family business and so on. I wasn’t so much overcome by nostalgia, as by the appreciation for the range of life skills these folks had mastered and the sense of self-reliance and satisfaction they felt. This self-reliance was also embedded in a sense of community as there were always tasks too big for one person or family – raising a barn being the classic, but by far not the only, example.

Photo by Igor Ovsyannykov on Unsplash

I am not so naive as to miss the point that these lives were hard and especially for women who took on many of the less rewarding tasks in many cases. I also know that for large parts of the world, life is still very hard.

In the part of the modern world where I live, it seems to me that various modern conveniences, both products and services, have substituted for most if not all of the things we used to do for ourselves. Don’t get me wrong, I am a fan of many conveniences. It’s just that I am becoming more aware that not all conveniences are a net positive.

As an example, lawn maintenance in the grassy suburbs where I live is increasingly contracted out to people using equipment suitable to the scale of their businesses. Homeowners themselves are also using a larger array of this commercial-grade “power” equipment. The result is that seven days a week, we have a neighborhood that frequently sounds like an airport runway next to a drag strip. Is a lawn service convenient? Undoubtedly. Is it a high-decibel intrusion? You bet.

Again, I am not arguing that everyone should hand rake their own leaves, I am just realizing that “outsourcing” the “joys of home ownership” can result in lost opportunities for developing satisfying skills and more community. You can’t have a conversation while using a leaf blower. On the other hand, we are certainly grateful when our neighbor with the only snow blower takes pity on us who are wielding shovels when we have a once-in-ten-years snow storm.

There are many modern conveniences that I don’t find intrusive – starting with running water and indoor plumbing. I am also very fortunate to have grown up in a time and place where I have had the benefit of many opportunities to learn to do things for myself. I am grateful that I can visit our family farm in Ohio that has been “modernized” over the 175 years it has been in the family. I like to be reminded of what conveniences we now take for granted there and how many different skills can be developed and honed in that kind of opportunity-rich environment.

I admit to being an avid do-it-yourselfer. The fastest growing segment of YouTube videos seems to be how to fix and build almost anything. So maybe doing things for ourselves is having a rebirth. Doing it yourself can be part hobby, part necessity, and sometimes just wanting to do something where the results are there right in front of you when you are done.

And of course, sometimes the main, often underestimated, benefit of doing something yourself is that you have an experience that makes you S-O-O-O-O ready to pay someone else handsomely to do it for you the next time.



One response to “Finding the Balance Between Modern Convenience, Self-Reliance, and Community”

  1. Ah, that last sentence is so true. As I transcribe my diaries from when I was 13 years old and on, I am amazed at how much time I spent delivering newspapers in the morning, washing dishes for a “free lunch” at school, and raking leaves or mowing lawn after school. My summer jobs from age 16 to 22 involved lots of dishwashing, cleaning latrines or toilets, mowing lawns, and other such things. Now I very GLADLY pay others to do all these things. Even though I prefer to do it myself when I’m setting up the room for a training course or other things to do with my professional work, for the most part I have moved from DIY to DDIY: Don’t Do It Yourself. 🙂 And, after a summer in a mountain camp where I was responsible for maintaining an infuriatingly unreliable gas-powered pump that filled our water tank from the creek, I definitely appreciate running water!!