Reader question: Can convenience be a detriment to simple living?

Reader Shalin wrote in this week and asked a question I hear often: Where is the line between convenience and simple living?

Honestly, I don’t believe there is a set line between convenience and simple living. They aren’t on opposite sides of a scale. What is convenient and contributes to a simple life for one person may not have the same effect for someone else.

Dish washing: I hate it with a passion. As a child, this was my chore, and I vowed as an adult never to live without an automatic dishwasher. To me, washing dishes by hand is a waste of time and steals valuable moments that I could be taking a walk with my family, playing a board game with them, or reading to my son. However, I have a friend who loves washing dishes. She enjoys having her family gather in the kitchen and everyone work together to clean up after a meal. Her family continues their conversation from dinner, each takes on a role in the chore, and washing dishes is as much a part of dinner as eating. To her, an automatic dishwasher detracts from a remarkable life.

Neither of us is correct, and neither of us is wrong. We have made decisions about a dishwasher based on what is right for our families and for our pursuits of remarkable living. The automatic dishwasher helps me to pursue the life I desire, and washing dishes by hand helps my friend to pursue hers. What is important is that both of us have taken the time to evaluate the technology and weighed its advantages and disadvantages for our specific circumstances.

Simply stated, either a product or service helps you to achieve the remarkable life you desire, or it doesn’t. Whenever you encounter a new technology or service, you need to learn about it and decide if it will help or hinder your life. Don’t worry if you’re breaking with traditions of the past or modern social norms — accept the technologies into your life that help you to focus more of your time on what matters most to you, and don’t accept those that distract from it.

16 Comments for “Reader question: Can convenience be a detriment to simple living?”

  1. posted by Brianne on

    Erin,

    I think your last paragraph is exactly right. Each one of us is different and we need what works for us. I am more similar to you in that I’d rather the mundane tasks be taken care of for me so I can focus on more exploratory endeavors with loved ones.

    That’s not to say that the occasional mass cooking session in my mom’s kitchen isn’t a welcomed change. I’m lucky to be one of those people who can turn more mundane things into something fun and exciting simply by surrounding myself with those I care about.

    Good post!

    Brianne

  2. posted by Erin on

    I like your example here. Certain tasks that I enjoy I will continue to do manually, but in most cases I try to remind myself to work smarter, not harder. By eliminating the mundane tasks (dishwashing for me, too) we’re making time for the ones we like.

  3. posted by Susan in FL on

    @Brianne – Why aren’t you holding that mass cooking session in your Mom’s kitchen? Did you simplify too much? Or is it just more convenient to cook at Mom’s? Or is it the extra help with the prep and clean-up you get from Mom? Enquiring minds want to know.

  4. posted by Jenny on

    I’m not the original poster but I used to do mass cooking/baking sessions at my mom’s before I moved away. Several reasons1
    1) She was a better cook
    2) Her kitchen was about the size of my appartment
    3) She had the specialty gadgets that I didn’t
    4) It was good to spend time with her (Most important.)
    5) Splitting up what we made

    Jennifer

  5. posted by Rae on

    I can relate to the OP since I live alone and just installed a dishwasher in my home (an RV). Many people told me I’m lazy and that doing the dishes doesn’t take much time; that the dishwasher takes even more time than it would for me to them myself. That may be true, but now instead of washing dishes I work at my contracts or improving my blog, tidy up other areas of my home, play with my cats, or wind down with a video game after putting in a sixteen hour day at my various income streams. Most importantly, I’ve started to cook again, which I love but stopped doing because I’d then lose time in the cleanup. Now instead of eating up convenience foods, I’ve rediscovered the simple joy of chopping veggies or grilling fresh fish. Count me in as one who believes the dishwasher can help to lead a more simple life.

  6. posted by trillie on

    I think this article is the essence of this blog: Everyone has to find their definition of clutter for themselves and their lives, because clutter isn’t necessarily physical and there is no global right or wrong. Thank you (once again), Erin! :)

  7. posted by Shalin on

    Once again, thank you Erin :)

    I look around at my life sometimes and wonder *why* I may be “chasing performance/progress” and what tool and/or technique I use to achieve it…which then makes me wonder how much convenience is “too much” and what would I loose (tangible or not) by adding some convenience to some area of my life.

    I agree with commenters here – the last paragraph sums it up nicely. …Unclutterer to the rescue! ;)

    Best,
    Shalin

  8. Profile photo of

    posted by Lori Paximadis on

    “What is convenient and contributes to a simple life for one person may not have the same effect for someone else.” Exactly.

    And definitely, convenience and simplicity are not mutually exclusive or inclusive, and different people have different views on what makes a given thing convenient and/or a good contribution to a simple life.

  9. posted by Shalin on

    I should probably also mention that I originally considered the idea when I thought about the rewards of hard work or patience vs convenience. I’m not totally sure if they are opposites, but it seemed that with convenience, you tend to loose a certain amount of enrichment from hard work or patience.
    But Erin, would still be right – it’s really the discretion of the individual as to what they want…

  10. posted by s on

    I was waiting for someone to say they just use disposable stuff. Cleaning up after yourself can be a bit of effort, but also consider balancing the rewards and convenience against costs and environmental impacts and even impacts to other people. It’s still at the discretion of the individual, but I hope we’re keeping the impacts of our choices in mind.

  11. posted by MIke on

    I guess I’m going to have to buy the mushroom brush.

  12. posted by Adventure-Some Matthew on

    I’ve used this very train of thought to justify my desires of having a motorcycle. My wife and I only have one vehicle, and sometimes it can be frustrating. If I had a motorcycle, it would get me where I need to go efficiently and effectively. Plus, I just want one! :D

    Some people understand, some don’t. I guess the dishwasher example is an easier to understand illustration.

  13. posted by Beverly D on

    The last paragraph is exactly what DH and I did last Christmas when deciding whether or not to get Kindles. I, being the “early adopter” of the family, started to conversation, ready to jump right in. He, being more reasonable, brought up several good points about how we would actually use them. We would have to buy two, because we read the same books so would need to share, he liked the Sony while I liked the Kindle, and on it went. At the end of the day we had talked ourselves out of it. Maybe at some point an e-reader will enhance our lives, and then we’ll buy.

  14. posted by Amy on

    Beverly, I had that same debate over my Kindle. This post definitely reminded me of that decision. Worried that it would be a silly thing to buy, talked myself out of it a bunch of times. After all, I have some many books that I haven’t read! But after agonizing over the decision, I finally bought one and I love it. As far as shiny new toys go, it’s hard to beat.

  15. posted by Lesley on

    @s, there is more than an environmental argument against disposable goods. There is a financial one as well.

    But you bring up another great point about balance, just as the original post does. For example, I use paper napkins with my family, but everything else associated with meals is a hard good (real dishes, silverware, glasses, etc.). Trying to get cloth napkins truly clean after they are used by my boys (8 and 2) just isn’t worth it to me.

    Same for lunches. I pack my 8-year-old’s lunch every day in an insulated lunch bag with a thermos. I use plastic containers for some items (sandwich, so it doesn’t get squished, for example), but I still use ziploc bags for many others. And no, I don’t wash and reuse them. Again, there are only so many hours in a day … Other folks I know go with all disposable for kids’ lunches.

    The balance of time, quality of life, money, etc. can be a delicate one.

  16. posted by Sue G. on

    “What is important is that both of us have taken the time to evaluate the technology and weighed its advantages and disadvantages for our specific circumstances.”

    So true. Fantastic post! Thank you, Erin.

    I don’t own a microwave, cell phone or a car. I’ve owned all three before, but have come to the conclusion that none of those items currently enhance my life (and possibly are a detriment for –me-). Many of my friends think I’m judging their lifestyles, but as I try to explain these things are just tools. If they’re useful – GREAT! If not, we don’t HAVE to use them. We should make conscious choices about our stuff (tasks, etc.) and not let our stuff direct our lives.

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