By now I have done it all ways. I have been really poor, I have been in-between, and I have been flush. In my early adult life I had so little money that sometimes I couldn’t buy food. I had two pairs of pants and one pair of shoes. I did have shelter, and usually food, and enough clothes to meet the requirements of decency (I also had shirts, btw), so it certainly could have been worse, but I was definitely poor.
Then, for quite a few years I was neither poor nor flush. I had enough money for food and clothes, and a decent place to live. I had a functioning vehicle and enough extra for the occasional evening out.
Eventually I got a job at a hi-zoot software company, then worked my way up through ever fancier jobs. I wasn’t the best paid person there, but I was doing well. I had never had this much extra money before and it kind of went to my head. I started taking trips to exotic locations, shopping at Nordstrom, going out to “it” restaurants, hiring people to do my grunt work for me.
It was fun for a while, it really was. It was new, and exciting and I would not trade the experience. That said I learned some interesting things along the way.
One is that once you start paying a premium price for things, your expectations rise accordingly, as does your capacity for disappointment. If I clean my own house, it’s pretty clean, but it’s not perfect. I probably leave a lint ball here and there, a few water spots on the bathroom fixtures, maybe miss that stubborn dust bunny that’s all the way under the couch and wedged into the corner. But if I pay someone to clean my house then by gum, it had better be perfect. I am paying good money, after all. And that attitude is its own burden.
Similarly, when I started paying someone to take care of my errands and random chores, at first I was really excited. How great it was going to be to come home and have the groceries bought and put away, the vegetables washed and chopped and the hummingbird feeders filled. How convenient to have someone else take my pets to the vet so I could relax on the weekend.
It was great until it wasn’t. Once I came home to a sticky mess of hummingbird food all over my back porch. If I had spilled it, I would have rinsed it away with a bucket of water and gone on about my business. That is what I did in the end, but because someone I had paid to relieve me of work had created new work for me, I wholly resented that cleanup task.
These days I do most things myself, and while I don’t always enjoy the chores, because my life is in better balance, they don’t feel unduly burdensome. In the days before I had enough money to pay for services, I had believed that there was a one-to-one exchange of money for time. I believed that if I paid someone enough for their time, I could buy some of my own time back. It seemed workable – work more hours at a more stressful job, to make the money to pay other people to do non-work chores in order to maximize what free time I had.
In reality, even though I was always willing to pay at the high end of the prevailing wage for the work I was having done, the added hassle of having to follow up on things that weren’t done quite right, and the cycle of expectation and disappointment took a toll and reduced the value of having things done for me. I’m not sure if the lesson is “don’t be so picky” or if the lesson is “do your own stuff.” I’m curious to hear what others think.