Friday, September 06, 2013

The Cost of Convenience

Because we have several children, and I don't like clutter, I take things to the local thrift store. 


The thrift store I prefer to donate to is a branch of the local homeless shelter, so anything that will benefit the men at the men's emergency shelter, or anything that will help the women and children at the women's emergency shelter or participants in their residential treatment program goes to those programs. And, what they can't use or sell in the thrift store goes over to help clothes children in third-world countries. Plus, the thrift store gives job opportunities to people who are in their residential programs, and generates revenue to help fund the multiple community programs they sponsor. Not only that, but they address issues on a spiritual level, which I believe is an important component of any truly successful program.

It is a great way to donate.


They aren't open late. They close at 7pm some nights, and 6pm on others. They aren't open at all on Sundays. I totally understand their decisions. And, I respect them. But, it isn't always convenient for me to get over to their donation center (which is just a couple of miles from my house) with my donations. Most of the time, I collect items in my garage (which is too small to hold our twelve-passenger van) until I have enough to make it worthwhile to take things. The problem is, the bags of clutter that I've removed from my house clutter up my garage. I don't like it. And, with a large family, a little bit of clutter multiplies, quickly. 

So, recently, instead of waiting until the other thrift store was open, I loaded up the bags that were registering on my clutter-meter and headed to a nationally branded thrift store. They were open after 8pm when it was convenient for me to drop stuff off. And it was incredibly convenient. 

Now don't get me wrong. There is absolutely nothing wrong with donating to any of the well-known thrift stores, whether they are nationwide chains or little local businesses. You don't have to feel guilty if the thrift store you donate to doesn't benefit the homeless or destitute because (unless it is a private thrift store) it definitely benefits someone who is in need. And several give jobs to people who wouldn't otherwise be able to get a job. It is great to donate to any thrift store anywhere.


I chose to donate to a place that gives people jobs instead of supporting an organization that changes lives for eternity. And I did it for convenience. 

Then, as I thought about convenience, I began to think of all the things we've lost in our pursuit of convenience. The Pixar movie "Cars" deals with one aspect; to save a little bit of time, interstates bypass the small towns that were once "the jewels of Route 66." Cell phones make communication more convenient. Washing machines make keeping clothes more convenient. Electric or gas dryers make getting clothes dry more convenient (though nothing has made keeping clothes clean or dry convenient). Convenience foods have changed the way America eats, in more ways than one. 

Gone are the days when women gathered together to make quilts, families gathered together to bring in and put up the harvest, or raising a barn was a community event. Instead, we fly through our days with our cell-phones-turned-pocket-planners directing us to the next activity, rushing from work to take our kids to soccer or ballet or gymnastics, grabbing food on the run as we try to fit in everything that defines a successful American family. And it is all "convenient."

So, I have to ask the question.

Is it really? 

Is it really more convenient to rush through life, ending each day exhausted? Is it really more convenient for the office to have access to you twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week? Is it really more convenient to grab pre-fab food, when you consider the health issues that more and more experts are saying connect back to what we eat? Is it really?

I don't know. It certainly makes my life easier to wash huge loads of laundry in my front-loading washing machine. If I had to go back to an old wringer-washer, or even worse, washing by hand, one day a week would not be enough! If I had to cart water from the well, I wouldn't be able to get anything else done. The river is only a couple of miles away, but it would definitely interfere with my day if I had to lug buckets back and forth, especially to wash clothes.

We've made some major changes in our diet, basically eliminating convenience. And it has been hard. More than one day has found me preparing food or cleaning up afterwards, literally all day long. I can no longer buy much of anything at the grocery store that doesn't require hours or days of advanced preparation. It is, much of the time, a pain. But, the benefits have been well worth the sacrifices (unless you ask my teenage children - they completely disagree) and we are reaping rewards every day.

My dryer broke at the beginning of the summer. So I put up a clothes line in my back yard. It isn't more convenient to go hang clothes in the back yard instead of throwing them in the dryer. Until it comes time to fold everything. And the smell; the smell of line-dried clothes is wonderful. Plus the added benefit of the sun helping whiten my whites. It does take longer. It isn't as convenient. But, I'm saving money, which is always a good thing. And, it is a community-building experience. Several of us can hang wet clothes out together, and several of us can take dry clothes down and fold them. All the while, little ones who are too young to help can play and laugh with us in the grass. It isn't faster or easier, but the rewards are tremendous.

Our automatic dishwasher broke a few years ago and our kids all voted not to replace it! Instead of spending time washing dishes to put in the dish washer, we simply wash them and dry them and put them away. A regular assembly line makes quick work of everything, on most days. Sometimes it is a pain, but not enough of a pain to warrant us spending money to buy a new dishwasher.

Over all, I really don't think convenience is worth the cost. It is a price I am not willing to pay, especially when it doesn't really save time or money or energy anyway.

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