On Wabi-Sabi Wednesdays, I feature excerpts from my upcoming book, Simply Imperfect: Revisiting the Wabi-Sabi House, which will be released this month.
In our rush for convenience, we’ve motorized nearly every household task. Before I’m even out of bed, I hear my partner grinding coffee beans in the electric grinder. I blow dry my hair, brush with a sonic toothbrush, make breakfast smoothies in a blender, prepare dinner using a little electric chopper and load my dirty dishes in a dishwasher. The machines bark digital beeps when the coffee’s ready or the dishes are clean, urging me to stop what I’m doing to drink or unload. All too often I jump to and obey the digital command (especially if I’m trying to write or meditate). Without these noisy conveniences, my life wouldn’t work. But in addition to the cacophony they bring inside, they rob me of the opportunity to slow down and pay attention to what I’m doing.
The Amish understand this. Contrary to popular belief, this religious sect carefully weighs every new technology to determine whether it would truly enhance and improve their lives. In most cases, they’ve found that the tradeoff of expense, noise, and planned obsolescence isn’t worth the opportunity to be present with a task. They see work as an opportunity to serve God and their communities and deepen their ties with each other.
When I was growing up, my family had a dishwasher , and it was most efficient (and led to less fighting) for my sisters and I to divide up nights and each clean the kitchen alone. It was lonely. I hated when my sisters got to watch Charlie’s Angels in the other room while I was stuck loading the machine. Doing the dishes at home wasn’t anything like the Thanksgivings we spent at my grandmother’s house, which had no dishwasher. I was very proud to be old enough to join the women in the kitchen as they divided into sudsers, rinsers and dryers. As the china passed from one hand to another, the conversations that didn’t take place at the mixed-gender dinner table flowed. This female bonding was as much a part of Thanksgiving for me as my grandma’s mincemeat pie—even if it wasn’t sustainable in modern families. (If my sisters and I been forced to hand wash the dishes every night, we all would have missed Charlie’s Angels.)
Modern conveniences have been invaluable in freeing women from housework so they could do great things, and they make it easier for working parents to feed their children. But every once in a while, we need to rebel against the machines. Hand a towel to your significant other (the person you most text with) and ask him to dry while you rinse. Have a real conversation. Take ten minutes to sweep the floor with a real broomcorn broom instead of filling your space with the vacuum’s roar. Spend fifteen minutes outside, under the influence of fresh air and sunlight, pinning clothes to a line. Enjoy the lack of convenience. Enjoy things happening slowly.
We could take a lesson from our canine friends, who don't have to be taught to slow down. A little porch-sitting never hurt anyone. Photo by Philip Gould