Larry Banman: The value of time is determined by its use
March 27, 2009
“If my time is worth anything . . .”
I have used that phrase numerous times whenever I felt the need to rationalize my desire to avoid some task like changing the oil in my car, cutting and splitting my own firewood, pouring a concrete patio, tending a vegetable garden or shingling the house.
Those are all tasks that I am capable of accomplishing. Certainly not with the expertise of professionals, but with enough skill to pass all applicable codes. It also takes me quite a bit more time to successfully complete those tasks.
For example, in the time it takes a mechanic to change the oil in my car, check all fluids, add a few pounds of air to an offending tire, cast a scrutinizing eye on the air filter and hit me up to fix some hidden defect, I am still trying to figure out how to remove the jack from the trunk. I think the design to neatly fold the jack into the space inside the spare tire which is located beneath the carpet in the trunk is one of the most complex engineering feats known to exist. I believe it is a plot by engineers to make sure the rest of us realize that we can’t possibly be as smart as they appear. Since we don’t understand how smart they are, the next logical assumption is that we can’t live unless they exist.
Over the past few decades, as our culture has become more affluent, we have seen an increase in disposable income. That is a term that the majority of us, as kids, never knew existed. Certainly we realized there were wealthy people like the Rockefellers, the Great Gatsby and that man with the top hat and monocle in Monopoly. But, for the vast majority of the rest of us, we lived from paycheck to paycheck or we went without. It was just that simple.
After disposable income was invented, people started to increase their involvement in leisurely pursuits. Fishing used to mean you found some string, bent a wire for a hook, found a tin can to use as a reel, dug up some worms and you went to the local pond. Now, fishing could entail a commitment of thousands of dollars of equipment and even involve a trip to another country. I can remember fishing in what we called channels. Now there are television channels devoted to watching other people fish.
As our recreational pursuits became more complex, we slowly lost ground on the one commodity that is finite ” time. I theorize that to rationalize the time we spent on play, we needed an excuse for why we could no longer engage in seemingly meaningless household chores. Thus the invention of the term, “If my time means anything …” The presumption, of course, is that my (our) time is too valuable to be wasted on a task for which we could buy a new gadget or hire a person to accomplish.
There is some logic to that argument. For example, in a climate such as ours, the time and money spent to raise vegetables doesn’t make economic sense. I remember the first time I purchased a cucumber for roughly the same price as a pack of high-quality seeds. I have the ability to raise a grand total of two to three cucumbers over a couple of months of gardening. Add to that the cost of water, gas for the rototiller, new gardening tools and it does make more sense to grab a couple of cukes from the produce section at the local grocery store rather than tempt the short growing season.
However, that old “time is money” argument has been trotted out far too often, in my opinion. I have heard it used as an excuse not to take a walk because the hour needed for that walk could have, conceivably, been used earning money at a second job. Too often, “my time is too valuable to …” really means “I am far too lazy to …” It makes me wonder if the worst of the union-labor mentality is pervasive in our society.
Over the past few months, I have alluded more than once to the value I see in getting back to what really counts. As our disposable income has diminished, it has allowed people to free their time, and their minds, to reprioritize values. As disposable income has decreased, conversely, disposable time has increased. By necessity, more and more of us are changing our own oil and doing our own household repairs. I have also discovered that, without the pressure of wondering if I am wasting my precious and valuable time, I am enjoying those types of tasks. For example, since my wife and I can no longer afford very many “dinner-and-a-show” evenings, we are more content to do things like split and stack a cord of firewood, re-caulk the bathroom shower door, mulch the lilacs or take the dog for a walk. And, if you noticed, all of those pursuits cost next to nothing, except some of that disposable time.
Most people can relate to that good feeling you get after a good spring cleaning. It isn’t necessarily fun while it is happening, but after the cleaning is over, there is a feeling of accomplishment and of getting rid of things that are holding you back. I am using this time of economic doldrums as a personal spring cleaning. Parts of the process are really quite refreshing.
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