The Time-and-Possessions Equation: or, why hire help?

Post in: German

When we’re not working, are we still working?
That is to say, is paid work the only work there is? Of course not. Unpaid work — in the form of caregiving, kinkeeping, and maintaining home, body, and relationships – is essential for life.
These tasks tend to be invisible until they come in conflict with paid work. Then there’s a contest between paid work or “life” – as the rest of our activities are often called.
Women have been responsible for the “life” part since the Industrial Revolution shifted the locus of work to payment for time and to factories and offices instead of the home or shop.
In this context, advice for women who take on paid work outside the home, especially women in professional and leadership occupations on both sides of the Atlantic, is:
Outsource everything you can. Housecleaning, dog-walking, party planning. I have heard it time and again, including disparaging comments about women who clean their own homes (I wonder if those comments would be used for male executives who clean THEIR own homes, however). Advice for women who take on paid work outside the home is:
Outsource everything you can. But I am personally in doubt.

I agree that paid hours take up time, time that must come from somewhere. We’ve each got “only” 24 hours in a day. But I am personally in doubt if having a small staff is in every case the solution. For one, cleaning, dog-walking, and party planning may not always be “work” – they could be sources of pleasure, or at least meditation, connection, relaxation, routine, groundedness. If they are not accomplishing any of these benefits, I agree, one should reduce their frequency (have a smaller home, don’t have a dog, don’t throw parties). These activities can provide exercise, connection, idle time for the mind to regenerate, during which good ideas can germinate.
For two, the issue of simply hiring staff as the number-one solution for “working women” troubles me on several levels: one is the ethical level of passing on inequalities in a global “care chain.” Another is, where are the other family members in the discussion? A third reason is, practically speaking, the amount of time it takes to hire and manage a small staff. Depending on the amount of work (and that’s the crucial question), it can be more time-consuming to hire and manage staff – as well as to sort out the pay and benefits, tax issues and insurance – than it is to do the work oneself. If things go wrong, they go seriously wrong, since these are the most personal spheres of life.
And that’s the final issue: the personal, emotional truth. Do I have so little regard for my possessions that I cannot be bothered to run a dust cloth over them once a month? Do I want to hire a stranger to polish my grandmother’s silver? Do I have too much space? Imagine how freeing it would be to admit: “This is who I am, and this is what belongs in my life. What surrounds me and what I do in my free time brings me joy, lightness, space, and freedom.” The time-and-possessions equation in our lives should balance. If I have little free time, I also need few possessions. If I have no time to sit in my living room, why have a living room? If I have no time to cut the grass in my yard, why have a yard? Many times, possessions represent dreams of how things could or will be in some distant future, or they represent the people we once were or lifestyles we once had. And if we are not ready to admit these truths of who we are, what we do, and how we spend our time, then we can enjoy the fantasy by running the dust cloth over the collection or the vacuum cleaner in the empty rooms. The self-storage industry is a fast-growing one, so strong is our attachment to fantasies of spaces we will someday fill or households we will someday help to furnish.
Imagine how freeing it would be to admit: “this is where I am, this is who I am, and this is what belongs in my life at this time, based on the truth of what is. I have what I need. What surrounds me and what I do in my free time brings me joy, lightness, space, and freedom.”

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