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Find Joy in Slow Work

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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.

Stacked photos of loaves of bread on top, coffee and letters on the bottom with text overlay in the middle.

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.

Hands kneading bread dough on a board.

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.

A kitchen counter full of jars of canned tomato sauce, freshly made bread rolls, a jar of yogurt, and pumpkin puree with text overlay.

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.

A wooden ladder under an apple tree.

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.

Fire wood stacked in a large shed.

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.

Lavender stems collected in a basket.

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.

Hammering spile into maple tree for backyard tree tapping.

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.

A bowl of yarn with knitting needles on a table with text overlay.

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.

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Julie

Monday 25th of November 2019

Thank you so much for this post. It reaffirmed my love for doing some of my favorite things: sewing, knitting, ironing (yes, I love to iron). Whenever I'm feeling stressed, I make a point of slowing down and doing what I love. It brings a sense of peace and balance to my life. Your insights are very much appreciated. Have a lovely day.

Kathie Lapcevic

Monday 25th of November 2019

I'm so glad you enjoyed the post. Thanks so much for taking the time to read & comment.

Lila

Wednesday 20th of November 2019

This was a great reminder that slowing down is OK and really a necessary part of living a less-stressed life. I have encountered that attitude when I share with people some of the things I like to do in my free time that take time. They sometimes give me that look that says "why would you make soap (or whatever) when you can just go buy it?" Sort of puzzled, and sort of pitying. Like most everyone, I've spent my life losing my creative spark in the pursuit of a living. It's time we all reclaim those things we like to do the most. Thanks.

Kathie Lapcevic

Wednesday 20th of November 2019

Thanks so much for taking the time to comment, I'm so glad this post was a good reminder for you.

Lucille

Wednesday 20th of November 2019

Wow, you hit the nail squarely on the head! That was beautifully written. I find myself almost compulsively drawn into the homemade, handmade lifestyle and at times wonder if I’m crazy. I do find joy in the work of my hands. Your post brought a few bible verses to mind, a smile to my face, and encouragement to keep on dong the slow work that shuns convenience and creates health for my family. Thanks for sharing!

Kathie Lapcevic

Wednesday 20th of November 2019

Thank you. I'm so glad this was encouraging for you!

Tracy

Wednesday 20th of November 2019

I just love this post! You wrote: "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." YES. Growing up we were taught to always be doing - and often that meant never taking time to just go slowly. If we had "extra time," we should fill it with something that needed to be done - and often that was more work or a task that wasn't enjoyable. Not that people don't also need to do the "un-fun" as necessary, but sometimes you just need to slow down and do things differently to not burn out. It's taken me about 30 years to finally say, you know, I cannot do it all, and I don't want to do it all.

So I cook soup from scratch, I garden, I put up food, I hand-write letters when I can, and I stopped beating myself up for not being able to accomplish everything.

Thank you for sharing your wisdom! Have a wonderful day!

Kathie Lapcevic

Wednesday 20th of November 2019

I'm so glad you enjoyed this post. And, of course, we still have to 'un-fun' work, toilets need cleaned, floors scrubbed, etc. but I've had to fight that constant work feeling too. I like to my hands to be busy, admittedly, and thankfully knitting is a fun way to do that. Thanks so much for taking the time to read & comment.

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