I remember reading a profile of the now-dearly-departed Fred Rogers in Esquire magazine about 12 years ago. Mr. Rogers was looking up at a clock and commenting on how big it was, and wouldn’t it be nice if we would all wake up one morning and concentrate on doing something small, not big. Quiet, not loud.
Shortly after that, I heard the first rumors of a new-wave of cooking, called “slow food.” Italians had a festival celebrating the time-consuming recipes of their grandmothers; they held the festival outside a McDonald’s, as I recollect.
Alice Waters, doyenne chef of Chez Panisse, was often featured on my local news, and even when I moved to the Santa Cruz Mountains and lived without television for three years, I was aware of her mission to start people on the path to healthier eating choices through initiatives like growing a playground garden on an elementary school in Oakland, CA.
But five hours to cook a soup? Too slow for my blood.
Nevertheless, one day this winter when the house was cold, I got it into my head to bake some bread. I had the ingredients because I’d meant to do holiday baking but hadn’t had time for it. I used my Kitchen-Aid stand mixer, and though the project took six hours, I only had to spend about 30 minutes actively working on it. Upon completion, my house was warm and smelled good, plus I had two enormous loaves of whole-wheat bread — baked in 9″ round cake pans — cooling on a countertop rack. All that, plus I enjoyed 5.5 hours of doing other things while the bread rose and baked; that’s what I call good return on my time investment.
This past month, I paid $35 to have a wedding-present lamp re-wired, and that has afforded me so much more pleasure than the aggravation of practically needing a pair of pliers to turn off the lamp I bought at Big Lots! for nine ninety-nine. Plus, I know that my repair bill supported a local craftsman-type business, and I won’t have to buy a new lamp for a while, which will cost me less in the long run.
These are just a couple of examples of what I refer to in the headline as “Slow-Consumption,” which I’m hyphenating so it won’t make people think so much of Tuberculosis.
I’m finding that paying attention to these “little” things is making me pay closer attention to everything I do. The interesting thing is, it seems like the more I pay attention to everything I do, the more money I bring in as a result.
My situation might be different from yours. I work from home and have for years. I accept a variety of clients, but most of them have a company where the president is known to answer the phone if nobody else can grab it. I am fortunate to have 15 years of experience in my field, a Master’s degree, and a deep-enough client pool that when one goes away, my homemade empire doesn’t topple.
BUT: I have to get at least 45 minutes of exercise daily. If my kids are home from pre-K, I take them outside or on an adventure. (I’m also training them to nap at the same time — sometimes it works, sometimes not.) I have other family responsibilities, too, and up until recently was also handling the brunt of the housework while my husband finished writing his dissertation.
Have these schedule-blockers held me back? Surprisingly, no. The recession hasn’t been a bad time for this non-home-owning professional independent contractor. Instead, I have found that by paying 100-percent of my attention to whatever I’m doing at that moment, my tasks are completed more quickly and smartly, and I’m earning more money because instead of a project taking five weeks, I can do it in two-and-a-half weeks, and earn more money somewhere else for the remaining time.
Giving my work everything I have while I’m doing it lets me finish projects in half the time it used to take.
The ramifications of paying attention and spending time have radiated from a single point. Last April, I made the choice to take the time to exercise during some point of the day. Now: I weigh less so I’m healthier and look better; I’m more aware of what I’m eating; I’m not shelling out money I don’t have for expensive processed foods; I locally and less-expensively source my fresh vegetables; the healthier food helps my family recover from illness more quickly (and with two kids in pre-K, we get exposed to plenty of germs around here); I miss fewer workdays; I have more energy; I achieve increased and better output; I make more money and better enjoy my “free” time.
(An added byproduct is that it doesn’t leave much time for splurgy shopping, so my recent finds have been low-budget, high-quality independent pieces from eBay.)
I think this all wraps into what the Utne Reader refers to as “slow consumption.”
UT limits slow consumption to an explanation of heirloom design as “making stuff that lasts.” I’d like to broaden that definition: Slow consumption is the method of taking time and care in what you do. Slow consumption is not answering email while driving while listening to a podcast of “This American Life” and mentally preparing a grocery list.
Think I’m daft? Well, we were all working 50+ hours a week and overspending on toys and alimony and houses and look where that got us. Our incomes/portfolios/holdings have been slashed, and some of us (maybe more than “some”) are at best under-employed.
So: right now, because we’re poor[er], at home with our kids (because who can afford childcare? Have you seen what they’re charging for preschool these days?), and bored, it’s the perfect time to embrace an older and perhaps-a-bit-austere lifestyle, one that we can model to our children so they don’t become greed-happy face-stuffers.
Here it is: Slow down. Make more money. Share the wealth with your neighbors so that they make more money. Live a longer, more-enjoyable life.
Another great deal from your trustworthy Deals columnist. You’re welcome. It’s my pleasure.
Watch less television; read longer books (Infinite Jest is fantastic)
Cook your own food (I like Alice Waters’ Chez Panisse Vegetables)
Grow, or locally source, your own food.
Buy things that are more expensive but last longer, like shoes and lighting. Repair as needed.
Stop throwing away plastic crap and don’t let the food in your fridge expire, either.
Play outside, either with your kids, your friends, or by yourself. (I’ve lost 55 pounds since I started running in April 2009.)
Find a hobby or project that can be passed down to future generations. (I’m embellishing a Goodwill wedding dress with embroidery, for my friend Anne’s “Wedding Dress Invitational” art project. Once that’s done, I’ll make it into a quilt.)
Don’t be so “busy” that you can’t go for a walk, preferably with the people closest to you.
Schedule time free from your cell phone, e-mail, smart phone, or PDA thingy.