“Don’t buy anything made on a Monday or a Friday”. It’s good advice... why? Because the guy on the assembly line, is looking for his weekend on Friday and he is recovering from it on Monday. Let’s just say that thoughts of quality will not be bouncing around in his head.
Those who are dedicated to quality may end up having to take matters into their own hands, though the days of do-it-yourself are dwindling over time. It is becoming a scarcity even to find young people who have figured out how to cook a meal from scratch. It might be the reason that previous generations were so successful, they were wise with the use of their talents in ways we have not let learned, because in the end every home is a mini cottage industry in process with its own infrastructure, culture, limited resources, and inheritance passed on to progeny.
I was fascinated as a child looking over the goods in my grandfather’s house. Not only did he build the house himself, he was his own mechanic, with a garage that even featured a lift. In his house, you would find even the minutiae items we get from the dollar store, made by hand, rolling pins that he turned on his lathe downstairs, ladles made by folding up and soldering tin, a china cabinet made from repurposed boards that had been pried off a grain shipment and left on the side of the tracks.
This weekend, I am on my own version, a little job making frames for pictures and a mirror. My daughter had some odd sizes and the price to custom cut such frames at Michael’s was usurious. For the same price I invested in much superior quality, making them from good cherry wood to match other things in her room.
What drives the do-it-yourself impulse can be comical. Last week I was making lunches in the morning and my wife (who is not a morning person) was drinking her coffee. “Do you want me to make you a sandwich for your lunch?” I asked. “Yes” she replied. And so it began.
To be fair, sandwiches are just one of those things in life that people can be fussy about. But my wife is a very specific kind of person. She can have wish list that could make a Starbucks coffee barrista weep.
“No not that bread - use the pita bread. No, the bran one I like it better for sandwiches. Why did you cut it open, don’t you know that pitas were meant to have the end cut off so you can stuff them? No mustard for me. I like the chipotle mayo. Put it before you put the cheese. Are you going to use tomatoes cut that thick on mine? Did you wash that lettuce?....”. et cetera.
You may have been on the receiving end of such specific instructions and my remedy at a certain point is to hand back the job to the person giving instruction because it is clear they could not possibly like the job that someone else does. Those are the people who cannot delegate. I know. It’s the reason we don’t have a cleaning lady. My wife has been through that in her head and she and I both know she would be wiping the edge of counters for dust while clucking once the cleaner left. What I am most afraid of is that she might clean before and after the cleaner.
Still beyond the comedy, there is some virtue in this. People who clean their own toilets know what work is, and they know something about the world they inhabit, that it comes with a certain cost, usually in time more than money. They see the quality of the world they create, close up and in realtime. I think because of this, their lives come with a sense of appreciation and satisfaction that might be otherwise hard to find. They know how to be useful and they know the meaning of good-tired.
I have always liked the idea of do-it-yourself. The more you contain would-be costs from outside in the process of living, the more money stays in your own pocket. It’s not what you spend, it’s what you don’t spend that counts.
It’s the avocado toast dynamic. Last year, a millennial millionaire named Tim Gurner achieved infamy for saying he was able to save and get rich by not spending money on frivolous things like a $5 coffee or $8 avocado toast when he could make the same at home for about a buck. He got pilloried in the court of public opinion otherwise known as social media. Still, he is right. Do the math on what you spend on something like avocado toast every single day over the course of a year, and then figure out how to do the same thing yourself. Keep the money in your own pocket. Put it on your mortgage and get some surprises about how short your amortization schedule becomes.
I have one daughter whose life is still punctuated with much going out. She has decried the expense of bar bills, and has discovered that to imbibe enough to get happy at home before going out is cheaper. It even has a name. It is called a ‘pre’ and it is even more fun if you get together and do it with friends, then split an Uber to the club. At the bar, you can nurse an expensive drink all night long, to the same net effect, but with a smaller price tag. I am ambivalently pleased that she has grasped this basic economic logic, though not partying at all, might even be the cheaper option.
Home economics. I didn’t take it in school, but let’s just say I learned it later in life. You know that saying that youth is wasted on the young? There are all those life resources I still wince over, that I could have put to better use had I been wiser, sooner. Do-it-yourself-ers are good stewards of their own lives. Learning by necessity may come to everyone eventually but deciding to do it on your own as forethought, might be even better.