How doing chores makes me feel empowered

October 8 | Guest post by Nya
By: Lisa DusseaultCC BY 2.0

This might seem paradoxical, and it probably is, but adding more chores to my daily life has actually given me the feeling I am more in control of my life. For example:

  • I could go to the supermarket to buy everything there, but I do an additional shopping trip to the local market. Or collect fruits directly from the tree whenever I can.
  • I could buy industrial food, but I make my own yoghurt, jams, pies, pizza and alcohol (yum!).
  • I could discard everything in the garbage, but I have five different bins for five different sorts of waste.
  • I could go to stores to buy new things, but I shop second-hand.
  • I could throw away used socks, but I darn them.
  • I could use paper tissues, but I use cloth. Or even family cloth, for that matter.
  • I could flush the toilet the usual way, but I flush it with the water from my shower.
  • I could buy stuff for Christmas, but I offer homemade presents.

As far as I am concerned, these chores are not tiresome. I shouldn't even call them "chores," as they are in no way unpleasant. They're part of my life and what's more, they bring me pleasure. They actually make me feel I have a choice.

By buying my food in local markets, I feel empowered to support my community, promote agricultural practices I respect and create social links. By repairing clothes, I choose to reduce waste and not to let consumption madness enter my life. By using reusable cloth, I choose to help protect the environment. By offering homemade presents, I choose to remind my relatives that the value of a gift doesn't depend on its price tag.

submit to Offbeat Home, bitchesSome might call this backwards. Isn't evolution supposed to drive towards a simplified life, with fewer and fewer chores? Society might not leave us as many choices as we want. We are forced into consumerism frenzy in the name of so-called progress. I have often felt my freedom of choice was reduced to "would you like to consume more or even more?"

These little actions, anecdotal as they seem, have allowed me to reclaim my freedom of choice. This may not be a revolution, I will not change the world, but at least this is my reaction towards a way of life I do not support. I want "to be," not "to have." And this string of chores allows me to be someone who confronts and rejects taken-for-granted practices.

  1. I'm really glad you wrote in Nya! This is the kind of life I'm trying to live. Was this how you were brought up or did you have to train yourself to adapt? If you developed these habits, do you have tips for folks who are struggling to do the same? For me, I have the best intentions, but because I can't seem to wrap the extra commute or effort into my every day schedule things just don't get done!

    • Thank you Claire! I was partly brought up this way (my mom never used paper towels for instance, and I grew up in the countryside, where it's common practice there to make jam and preserve vegetables). But actually taking the leap to darning my socks and buying second-hand was a gradual process. I'd advise you take your time and start by what makes you comfortable (maybe make delicious homemade food? It's the easiest step ;). If you try to change your whole lifestyle at once, you're doomed to fail! Leave the things you're less comfortable with (compost maybe?) for when you'll have adjusted with your new lifestyle.

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      • Thank you for replying! Cooking tasty nom-noms has definitely been my gateway chore.

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  2. This! a million times this, ESPECIALLY when it comes to food…getting my food from the CSA (community supported agriculture), the farmer's market, what i grew myself, and cooking food at home make me feel really really good because i am choosing not to participate in the mainstream food system, which, in my opinion is totally whack, and support something sustainable, local, and directly beneficial to my community. (plus hey, i'm saving money, AND my dollars go further in directly supporting the people that grow it).

    choosing alternatives to consumer madness makes me feel AWESOMESAUCE, even if it means more effort on my part. but with that effort often comes the lovely side effect of being proud of what i'm doing.

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  3. I started making my own bread, crackers, ice cream, cookies, etc – pretty much as an extension of me not offering my baby pre-packaged foods – and I really love it! It's more time-consuming, but immensely satisfying. The money-saving part is totally worth it, too.

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  4. I don't know why it never occured to me to use shower water to flush the toilet. Thanks so much!

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    • It never occurred to me either… before I read it on Offbeat Home!

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  5. i'm the same way with the food shopping and garbage/recycling, and i'm getting there with making foods at home and clothes shopping. also in the process of converting old flat-diapers into paperless towels. it has also never occurred to me to use the shower water to flush the toilet…i'll have to do some planning here to see how i can make that work! i aspire to your greatness. lol

  6. How does this shower-water toilet flushing thing work? I'd love to know more about this. Seems like a great way to save water.

    • Manually, you can use water collected in a bucket to flush, just pouring it into the toilet bowl. There could be greywater systems that hook it all up though, I would love that kind of arrangement!

    • I wish we had a drain system that collects used water from the shower to directly flush the toilet, but this is not currently possible for us.
      For the moment, I simply shut the bathtub to collect the water from my shower (I have a bathtub/shower rolled into one), and then use a bucket to collect the water and pour it into the toilet. It might seem like a pain, but it really takes a few seconds.

  7. Agreed! I find that even basic chores- like laundry, cleaning the dishes and cooking meals- leave me feeling very competent. It seems a little crazy cause I've been so messy for so long (always wishing for cleaning elves to come in the middle of the night), its sweet to come home to find that someone (me) has loved my home and taken care of it.

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  8. I need to get better at my mending. For instance – I have like 7 pairs of jeans that have worn through in the thighs (I'm not exactly a small lady), but are perfectly good everywhere else. Darning jeans is nearly impossible, but patching is not. I did sew a big rip in a freshly laundered towel (yes, my towels are that old) today. I felt very accomplished. But mending requires so much TIME. Mostly I'd rather be cooking. From scratch, of course.

    • If you know of an elegant way of patch the inner thighs of jeans that doesn't just highlight the crotch then I'd be very pleased to hear it!

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      • My grandma has patched jeans for me (only pair I still have from high school – I actually turned them into capris since they were a bit short). She always put the patch on the INSIDE of the leg, then sewed the worn spot with dark thread to the inside patch. Not perfect, but better than showing skin, and less attention-grabbing than a patch on the outside.

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  9. Oh, something else that has revolutionized the way I do chores – podcasts. I reserve listening to them for when I'm doing housework, which is a great motivator; if I want to listen to the Savage Lovecast or Radiolab or This American Life, then I've got to clean my kitchen or fold laundry or do some baking.

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    • agreed! i listen to audiobooks while i clean- and sometimes, i get so wrapped up that i end up finding more things to clean so i can keep listening!

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      • What a great idea! I love to read, and I'd rather read than clean any day. I could easily kill an entire Sunday afternoon "reading and cleaning" this way!!

    • Yes yes yes, I'll also add a THIS to podcasts! I love my podcasts but hate sitting idle while listening. They definitely help me get work done. :)

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  10. I use the commercial break clean up – one commercial break I make the bed and tidy as many things back to their appropriate places as possible – it's like a fun, frenzy, solo-competition. The next commercial break, I wipe down the kitchen, or clean the toilet. I mix it up and that way it feels like not so much a huge cleaning project, but tiny little do-ables. Plus, it keeps me from getting angry watching all the inane commercials trying to sell stuff. Also, kudos on the homemade preserves. I usually schedule a weekend of some father-daughter bonding to get this done! Always, fun, not chore-like at all!

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  11. I shop second hand all the time… mostly because I'm broke ass, but once it becomes the habit, it feels weird paying $65 for a pair of jeans when you know you can get them for $4.50 at the thrift store.

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  12. How do you properly darn socks? I'd like a tutorial on this, since the only thing I know how to do is to simply sew small holes back together.

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  13. I love this so much; I used to spend so much time thinking of ways to save time (convenience foods, convenience shopping, convenience presents and so on) but none of it was fun or felt good, it was all added to an idea of my life being full of jobs that I wanted to complete quickly so I could move on to other 'fun' things. But the things that I was saving the time for were things that I felt really unfulfilled by: watching xfactor, arguing online with people, going shopping 'for fun'. None of it was fun.

    But when I changed my thinking and realised that I didn't need to save time for these unfulfilling things, and instead did all the 'chores' in a more fulfilling way, my life improved. Yeah, I make curry paste from scratch and it costs the same as buying a jar of it and it takes 30 minutes or so, but what else am going to do with those 30 minutes, watch Big Brother? This makes me feel good about myself and the skills I have, it makes me feel proud and self sufficient, cooking changes really easily from a chore to being fun. Yeah, I mend my clothes where it would only cost £2 to buy something new from primark. But I don't like the culture of waste of throwaway clothes, and mending my own gives me satisfaction in many ways – and again, if I didn't use this time here, I would just fritter it away wiki-surfing.

    So I agree entirely with this, it makes my heart feel warm to read it here. I now 'waste' my time on chores that I needn't do, but it makes me feel better about myself and the world, and seems like a better use of my time. And if I enjoy it, it stops being a chore and becomes re-framed as an activity, so why chose the quick option to save time for something else?

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  14. This, big time! I've seriously been trying very hard to take my household to a more sustainable, self-sufficient and frugal level. At first, it was mostly about money (I left a "real" job to work for myself running two small businesses from home, and we want my old man to be able to retire very early from his soul-killing job, soon) but it has really given me a sense of satisfaction that I would not have thought possible. Finding ways to make the things we need for less, adapt what we already have to new uses, and finding things at thrift stores and yard sales instead of buying new makes me feel like I'm really moulding our lives in some real way to suit us instead of just mindlessly consuming. Buying local food and making things like cheese and condiments, as well as growing veggies, has made us eat healthier and become more conscious of what we put into our bodies.

    I love hanging clothes on the line, gardening, mending clothes and fixing up old things, all the things I grew up doing that for years I strayed from. Hell, I even feel a sense of accomplishment cutting coupons and saving money that way on things we have to buy.

    Next on the list, chickens and bees! Our state does not allow real graywater collection, which is bogus, but now I think we'll be using the shower water toilet flush method as well.

    • Will you please write an article on making cheese and condiments? Thank you!!! : )

      • They're not my recipes, just ones I've picked up from other sources. Am I allowed to do that?

  15. So here's a question for you self-sustainers out there… has anyone turned Exercise into a productive activity?? I've heard of people using stationary bikes to power generators for washing machines and the like.. I would love to make my work-outs more purposeful, then I'd probably be way more motivated to do it in the first place!

    1 agrees
    • Yes! I love my elliptical, but I'd love it more and be more motivated if I could power, say, the TV or air conditioner with it (or even charge my cell phone or computer).

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