In Seasons of Stress, Don’t Outsource the Fun Stuff!

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A couple of years ago, I accepted a job that required me to work more days out fo the year and to travel.

For our family, this was a big deal, because for the first decade-plus of our kids’ lives, I either worked from home with them underfoot most of the day or I taught third grade at their elementary school.

Feeling guilty about the time I would be away and what it meant for our day-to-day lives, I was eager to find ways to make life simpler, so that I could focus more on family when I was at home.

That’s how I decided, for the first time in my four-plus decades, to pay someone to clean our home regularly. This was a surprising step for us, and for a long time, it felt like exactly the right choice. Having someone clean the house meant I didn’t spend time at home with the kids nagging them to handle their cleaning chores, and I didn’t feel like I was missing out on quality time with them when I was scrubbing the toilets.

This arrangement worked well, and, despite the cost and the occasional pangs of guilt, I was happy with the choice. (And yes, I also realized that this was a HUGE luxury not enjoyed by so many working moms, who don’t have outsourcing as an option.)

Then, over the course of a few weeks, the person who normally cleans our home became less available. This lead me to set aside time myself to do basic cleaning. And a funny thing happened: I actually really enjoyed the ritual of cleaning my home.

I delighted in picking out some new cleaning supplies, and I returned to a past ritual: setting aside an evening to clean, while listening to music and lighting candles.

It turns out, I missed cleaning my home – and didn’t even realize it. For me, the time I spend cleaning has always been spent in gratitude. As I dust or clean specific items, I reflect on them – where they come from, why I have them in my home and what they mean to me. I take time to think about the many homeless people I have met through the years, praying for them and wishing the best for them while also feeling gratitude for my home.

While I don’t necessarily regret the initial money that I spent having the house cleaned, I’m happy to be cleaning it myself again – even though I also plan to have someone do the occasional deep clean, because it can be hard on my allergies.

This weekend, my husband and I had a similar realization about our yard. We’ve found it difficult to find days that were both sunny and free from other commitments to get our flowerbeds even remotely in order. With the kids playing soccer and baseball and with so much rain, it started to feel impossible to ever find the time to do the work ourselves.

But this weekend, we agreed we would do all we can to get the work done – even as storms are approaching.

So tonight, even with some sprinkles, we got out in the yard together and started shoveling and pulling and hauling.

We talked together about our week, even as we grumbled about the perils of the “Yazoo clay” that makes up our flowerbeds. We thought, too, about other yards that we have shared together and the time we spent getting those in order, too.

There was something pure and lovely about sharing that time together, digging in the dirt and talking about the past, while also planning our future yard. Now, as we prepare for bed, we both have a satisfying, earthy sort of tired feeling. It was hard work, but it was also fun.

So, even if you are able to consider outsourcing some tasks that people find desirable, make sure that you aren’t paying other people to complete tasks you actually don’t mind doing yourself.

A plan to boost your happiness shouldn’t turn into an obstacle to joy.

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