Working with our hands, taking time to create something over a period of long hours is an important part of a simple life. We can find joy in slow work and long projects.
Our modern lifestyles tell us that our days and tasks should be easy and fast. Everything should be instant and convenient. And yet, I’m here to sing the praises of living a time consuming life.
For our ancestors, time consuming and handmade projects were a matter of survival. Options for instant meals or convenient shopping simply weren't available.
Now that those options are available – making things by hand, investing entire days to home projects feels almost like an affront to modern times.
And yet, it is exactly because those options are available that it is as important for us to do them ourselves in our modern times.
Not the Same as Difficult
We sometimes have the mistaken belief that time consuming projects equal difficult projects. And while there is no doubt that can sometimes be true, it is not always true.
Baking bread from scratch takes hours. It is not difficult. Making sauerkraut takes days but it is not difficult nor is the actual hands-on time all that great.
Digging a garden by hand is physically demanding and difficult while also being slow work.
It’s important to stop thinking that just because something takes time that it is difficult and better left to professionals or to be picked up at the grocery store.
There are times and places for both things, balance is important, but separating the concepts of time consuming and difficulty is important.
Why to Take Your Time
Handmade work provides us with purpose and pride. Both things that often go missing in hectic, chaotic and overly mechanized modern lifestyles.
Long projects also slow us down and reminds us that we can’t do all the things. Nor do we really need to do all the things.
These kinds of activities help us understand the labor that goes into stuff we might randomly pick up on a shopping spree. That’s important because mass production often means cheap and easily accessible stuff – but is that stuff truly necessary?
Work Does Not Equal Drudgery
My dad used to say if it was fun, it wouldn’t be called work. There’s some truth to that sentiment but in the case of doing the time-consuming work, let’s focus on things that are work but also fun and enjoyable.
If baking bread from scratch feels like the most unimaginable bit of drudgery for your life, please don’t do it.
Doing the time consuming work in this context is about doing the things that provide meaning and joy in life. For some that is baking bread for others it’s about keeping a large garden and for still others it’s about spinning wool and making yarn.
There’s no right or wrong, no bit of work is better than another. Simply do the slow projects that most align with personal priorities and brings some pleasure to life.
Truly this is the kind of work that is also a pleasure.
Convenience & Free Time
We all enjoy our free and leisure time. There’s nothing at all wrong about having it – in fact we should try to build more of it into our lives in my opinion.
However, let’s try to make sure that free time is of a substance and quality that rejuvenates our souls and connects us to people we love.
Let’s also make sure that the convenience actually gives us free time because sometimes it can actually be a burden. What often ends up happening is that the shortcut for convenience in this one task ends up making us feel like we need to spend the additional time working or doing things that don’t always provide joy.
Is the convenient thing nourishing to body and soul? Homemade soup isn’t that difficult or time-consuming really but does take longer than opening a can. Is the canned stuff nourishing? Or even all that tasty?
We can compromise on convenient and slow living.
As an example, we can buy wood from a local person who earns money by cutting down trees. We can then use an electric or gas-powered splitter to cut into pieces for the woodstove. The stacking and moving into the house needs to be done by hand. So there’s a decent compromise that allows us to have some free-time and support our community at the same time.
Respecting Personal Limits
Everyone has their own difficulty level and tolerance. Sometimes physical limitations means standing for long periods is difficult or impossible. Caring for small children, sick spouses, ailing parents, etc. all mean we have individual levels of time consuming that can be withstood.
Do what works for you and make no apologies or excuses for it. This is not an exercise in judgment or trying to be perfect or keep up with someone else.
If anything this call to do the time consuming work is about slowing down and accepting that no one can do it all. And no one has to do it perfectly, remember to find compromises.
This kind of work and dedication is about simplifying life to a manageable and joyful level. These kinds of tasks should provide joy and purpose in lives that we all to often just move through without noticing much.
Not Old-Fashioned or Traditional
There’s this weird idea that doing things manually is beneath us or behind the times. That doing things by hand is old-fashioned or about preserving tradition.
While these projects can sometimes be old-fashioned and about preserving tradition, those aren’t the only reasons to do them.
Rather doing this kind of work is about connecting to ourselves, our land, our homes in a way that mass production doesn’t provide.
Work isn’t beneath us – work is often what provides joy and purpose in life. And in this particular case, we are talking very much about doing work that we enjoy and that isn’t drudgery.
How to Get Started
We modern folks are generally out of practice doing things by hand. And the only way to get practice is to well, practice.
Start simple: Plan for one meal a week cooked completely from scratch. Mend rather than toss the torn jeans. Make your bone broth. Write an actual letter to someone you love.
Pick something and go after. Remember no one does something perfectly on the first try. The first try is likely to be messy and disorganized. That’s okay – everything gets neater and easier the more times it is repeated.
The idea is just to simply start. And to start small. Add things if and when the first thing becomes so part of the routine that adding something new feels easy and doable. If that doesn’t happen, that’s okay too.
Don’t add things just to keep busy or because of some weird feeling of obligation. This will only create overwhelm and stress, both things we’re trying to remove.