Friday, January 24, 2014


image from Laundry on the Go
Last weekend, I visited a pregnant friend for her baby shower. Over the weekend, she mentioned -- several times -- having hired a cleaning service to regularly clean the house. It was clear she felt some guilt about paying for such a service when she and her husband are able-bodied and could clean the house themselves. However, the two soon-to-be parents have a lot on their plates outside of work right now, and adjusting to a baby is going to add even more. I thought she made a smart decision, and I told her so.

This led us to a discussion about "outsourcing our lives" -- a catchphrase I've heard more and more recently, and am intrigued by. I am intrigued not by the notion of hiring people to help with the daily tasks, but by the conciliatory arguments that seem to go along with the phrase. Maybe it's a backlash against self-imposed austerity over the last few years. Or maybe there's some guilt involved in spending money just because it's an undesirable task.

Generally, I am very proud of being someone who does things herself. If I can repair a sweater, or necklace, or fix a scratch in the wooden floor, I am pleased to take a little time to do so. But even wanting to be self-reliant, there are cases where it makes sense to hire help.

One of the few things we outsource is our laundry. For the first few years I lived in New York, I would drag my laundry and soap to the nearest laundromat, insert lots of quarters, wait by the machines until my clothes were clean and dry, and drag them back home, up multiple flights of stairs. The whole process would take hours. While I did not enjoy it, I had the time to do it and it was less expensive than any other option, so it made sense.

But when my wife and I got married we had really different schedules, so for us to give up hours of possible together-time for laundry no longer made sense. Outsourcing the laundry so that we could spend time together was worth the cost. Add in that an entire load of my clothing was ruined because whoever had used the same washer before me had added too much bleach, and it also became cost-effective to send it out. An entire load of one's clothing costs more than we think if it comes to replacing it -- not to mention the loss of favorite items. So now we call someone who comes to our door and takes our dirty laundry away, returning it to us clean and neatly folded.

Outsourcing household chores can be a good use of money: As long as the time saved by hiring someone is used purposefully, and not used for something wasteful, hiring out can be a smart financial choice.

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"There's only one rule that I know of, babies -- God damn it, you've got to be kind."
-Kurt Vonnegut