19 July 2016

Suspicious of convenience

The things that humans have invented to make life more convenient are truly mind-boggling. Paper and pencils, mattresses, electric lights, taps and ovens... I love them. My favourite appliances are the washing machine and dishwasher for the hours of time they free up each week. (Written, I suppose, from the point of view of someone who's never lugged water from a well.)




The latest invention: a laundry folder. Available from www.foldimate.com
to the truly lazy and spendy.

The laundry folder: a step too far

At some point, however - and I think we are at that point - trading money and the earth's resources for convenience must stop. We have to draw the line somewhere! People are welcome to mortgage their financial futures for playstations, heated car seats and this laundry folder, but with a few billion of us around now, they are not welcome to create demand for more and more stuff to satisfy humans' inbuilt desire for convenience.

After all, it's to be our great grandchildren's planet, too.

Yes, it might be available, and it might even be cheap. However, it will almost certainly be polluting, and it will certainly fill your house with yet more 'stuff'. Boo to both of those.

Stealing skills

It will also erode your ability to look after yourself. Packaged food means you don't need to be able to cook, a heatpump means you never learn to chop wood and light a fire, a laundry folder means that the deftness required to fold laundry fast need never develop, or if it has it will fade away.

Stealing movement

Automated blinds? Ah, no need to use those thighs and buttock muscles to raise yourself from your comfortable armchair. No need to use arm muscles and fine motor to control to pull a chain. You, too, can be relieved of this burden. 

Wireless technology for easy installation
Automated blinds. Sedentary, couch-shaped people can
 enhance their current shape by purchasing these from Luxaflex.

Just remember, your body reflects and adapts to what you do with it. Move it!

The solution

The solution, of course, is to actively be satisfied with what you have, even if it means doing a bit of work, and honing skills that couch potatoes don't have. It means acknowledging that people who lived before these things were invented were every bit as happy as we are, if not happier. Because 'stuff'' never makes us happy.

Gratitude is a big help here. When I focus on being grateful for an oven that heats up at the touch of a button, sparing me the woodchopping and firelighting that cooks had to do for thousands of years, I am grateful!

When we take modern conveniences for granted, and let our mind rest on what could be easier and faster, our thoughts turn to what we haven't got, rather than what we have. A gap is created that we crave to fill. It's a normal human desire, but it's a route to the equally normal human feelings of dissatisfaction and unhappiness.

Advertising, of course, steers our minds in the dissatisfied direction, as does every television programme that shows people in flash houses and cars. They subtly reveal to us a gap between what we have got, and what 'other people' have. The result is dissatisfaction - unless we actively choose the opposite.

Self control

It all comes down to the marshmallows, really. As I was reminded recently by the first part of a documentary on the Dunedin study, so much of success in life comes down to self-control. Preschoolers' success at not eating the single marshmallow on their plate in order to wait 15 minutes for two marshmallows predicts a large number of facets of their future, from graduating from university to having a successful marriage.

Not buying stuff that is expensive and polluting, but just might save us some effort, is much like refusing to eat that delicious, tempting first marshmallow. Of course we all want to gobble it immediately*! The secret is to look away from it, which is what the successful preschoolers did, and remind ourselves of why we are saying no.

The delayed gratification of two marshmallows in 15 minutes is equivalent to the healthier body and planet, the more satisfied and therefore happier mind, and the more secure financial future that not buying brings about.

From a purely financial point of view, the US$800 or so that the laundry folder costs will turn into $1200 or so in 15 years at a 3% interest rate. That's not a lot, but if you apply the self control consistently, it would be quite achievable to avoid spending $5000 on convenience products in a year. That would turn into nearly $8000 in your bank account 15 years later. (Low interest rates are pretty hard on savers, that's for sure. In times of more normal interest rates the increase would be much greater.)

The convenience pyramid

If convenience items were arranged like a food pyramid, I'd put weatherproof housing, running water, pre-woven cloth, and needles and thread at the bottom. At the top would be the clothes folder and automated blinds, and the contents of some children's lunchboxes.

But we get to behead the pyramid above the washing machine and dishwasher, right?


*The funniest bit in the documentary was the little girl bursting into tears as she lost control and ate the first marshmallow!

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