And: what would it look like to give all life tasks the time they take?
I have been happily reading your newsletter for a few months (found you via Both Are True) -- this is my first time commenting and I just had to because omg how this resonates. I am a mother of two (ages 5 & 10) and I find myself in a time of mothering and taking care of home as my main work. Your suggestion of the three-legged stool of paid work, life maintenance work and creative work makes so much sense. It seems simple but since society is not set up to support this framework, I haven’t considered a three-part balance like this before. Just last night, I was folding laundry, making piles on the bed (jinx!), and I thought -- this is relaxing. I’m actually kind of enjoying this. But then I thought -- what does it mean about me that I am enjoying this? (Sounds weird but hopefully makes sense?) Anyway - THANK YOU. This is extremely helpful.
Rae Katz, it's a pleasure reading your articles! I rarely am able to find substacks that are truly interesting, easy to read and useful. Thank you for your work! 🐣
Love this, it reminds me of "On Work" by Kahlil Gibran (in The Prophet). I was going to quote an excerpt here, but the whole thing is really worth the read: https://poets.org/poem/work-4
Feels like the advice to outsource housework is a recent manifestation of the broader, long-term diminishment and undervaluing of traditional “women’s work.” I’m with you--let’s challenge this diminishment. I also find life maintenance work grounding, connecting me to the physicality and tangibility of life as well to other people. The immediacy of the results are uniquely satisfying to me. So much of my other work has uncertain outcomes but if I fold the laundry carefully, the clothes are there to behold.
Love reading every week!
I really like this framing of a triad.
The lucky ones are those who manage to combine the paid work and the creative pursuits. Unless you think getting paid will inevitably take away some of the soul-enrichment from the creative pursuits? I’d guess some writers (to use one example) have stuff they produce to get paid and some more personal creations that they pursue just for themselves.
Do you ever just do the menial stuff without an audiobook/distraction? I found a few years ago that so much of my day was taken up with podcasts to distract myself from the boring menial work of day to day life (cooking/cleaning/commuting) and worried I might be missing something. Have since tried experimented at just focusing on the task without distractions and can feel quite meditative.
First time reading your newsletter and this resonated! My husband and I went recently from two executive level jobs and four kids to just one (thanks in large part to my stage 4 cancer diagnosis, although I was the one who stayed employed). Our income has been halved, and we stopped outsourcing laundry and meal prep; but there is no question we are so much happier. To the questions you posed: we pay our weekly cleaner more than she asks and make sure everyone in the family is openly appreciative of the role she plays in our lives. And my language for “people like me” is “pleasing achiever,” sometimes preceded by “reformed” if I’m feeling optimistic.
Very interesting read. I am now retired, but early in my corporate career at General Electric I had similar heady experiences--in my case, more first-class travel to the Far East than skyscraper office. But the majority of time stateside--in meetings--ground down my soul & bored me completely.
I think your three-legged stool has an application to retirement, with the paid work support replaced by something challenging, structured, and outward-directed. In Connecticut, I discovered that 62+ are given free tuition at state universities. I enrolled in Botany, far afield (!) from any of my past studies. It’s fascinating, stimulating & interactive. I love being with the other students & doing labs.
Totally agree. I’ve recently found peace in laundry folding though I typically don’t get through it all in one session. The turning point for me was just designating an area of my house the laundry-folding area (not my bed). There is pretty much always an in-process pile and I’m fine with that. Fold a few shirts, chase a child, answer an email is a pretty typical chain of events.
My mother was a master at the 3-legged stool approach. She had a full-time job as a nurse, she kept a clean house with beautifully ironed and folded laundry, and she had time for reading, needlework and gardening. Her hobby was planning family vacations. She used to say that the daily living activities were what kept her grounded and able to be happy at work. Sadly, I still struggle with this, but your article is making me think about the importance of these tasks and how to turn them into positives.
Interesting perspective but I disagree. I think the triad leaves out a number of things that are important - socializing, working out, self care. Also, I do think there is value in doing nothing sometimes and being with your thoughts. My paid work is not all consuming and I have good hours and still find it difficult to make the time for everything I want to do. I don’t subscribe to “outsourcing” everything that falls under “life maintenance”. But personally, “outsourcing” some of my “life maintenance” has significantly improved my quality of life and even allowed me to be a better parent.
I am retired, after two twenty-year careers came to a close. I struggle with things I want to do because I don't have a schedule. The regimentation of working five days a week provided reminders, mile markers, for my day. Those all disappeared when I quit working. It's been two years, but I'm coming to grasp with how this works. Breakfast at 8 am, lunch at 1, dinner at 6. I struggled with taking a walk and practicing with my guitar every day, but now I am doing those things because I walk after lunch and I practice when my son leaves for work around 11 am. Basically, I have your three-pronged plan now, but it's a wobbly stool with only two legs since I've retired. I think that works for me, though. Thanks for your comments. New perspective is good perspective.
Here's a real life example.... my wife & I are fairly successful authors. Dollar wise, we earn enough to pay our bills, buy some toys, and do a vacay 2x / year in addition to skiing in winter & golf in summer. Yeah, we're living the dream. (We're in our 60's, so no kidlets...) It's been this way for about 4 years or so.
You're dead right in your metaphor of a 3 legged stool.
Our work takes up on average 2, maybe 3 hrs / a day. That's a TON of free time.
Last summer I decided to have a daily 'To-Do' list that included chores on a granular level: such as
- walk the dogs
- make the bed
- cook supper
I'd add the weeklies as needed (laundry, grocery shopping, stuff like that)
These 'chores' that are daily/ weekly have to be done; but adding them to a list of things to do have in some odd way added a dimension of richness to my life. Oh, and cutting back on online stuff to 2 hrs/day is also a big plus. I had to b/c that 'To Do' list got bigger and bigger.
If my own personal experience counts for anything, you're right on the money. Good job!
The 3-legged stool metaphor is an interesting one. Yet for me I see it as a 4-legged stool, the 4th leg being the selfless time given to others, whether that is to family members or neighbours or friends or as a volunteer in good causes or citizenship.
It is also valuable for your kid to see both parents do the work of keeping life going. I look back at my childhood. I learned alot watching my Mom cook and maintain a household. My brother and I did chores. Learning these skills is an underrated part of growing up in this society.
I like the triad, but it is missing the leg of unpaid fun, leisure and self-care time. Productivity advice that ignores the desire for that part of life bugs me. That is the fourth leg for me! Now that is a stable table of life :-)
Yes! Thanks for this, Rae. The despair-inducing image of unfolded laundry on the bed you must now sleep in as you're getting tired was salient and scary! But you provide solutions and remind us of its importance 🙏
i have a sheep farm with my husband, nine dogs (at present, soon to become ten), two cats, and 200 sheep (at present, soon to become somewhere between 230 and 250). i'm tickled by the notion of assigning work to specific parcels of time! work on a farm is an ongoing presence from the time you wake up until you fall into bed at night — during the fast-approaching lambing time, even sleep is
interrupted several times a night to stagger out to the barn, flashlight in hand, to check for newborn lambies and their mamas who must be tended. we sandwich our many and varied chores between major work elements such as (his) teaching sheep-herding lessons and cleaning out the barn and (mine) cleaning up after husband and dogs, tending two giant vegetable gardens, grocery shopping and cooking, and my profession, painting portraits of people's dogs. somehow it all gets done, with the usual emergencies involving so many animals tucked in there. farm life isn't really compartmentalizable, is it? ;-)