Consumption value of chores?

This another reminder that people have different preferences and different budget constraints and that’s ok.  Just like how some people enjoy Brussels sprouts, blech.  We may not understand but we do not hold it against them so long as they don’t make us eat them (or otherwise force their preferences on us).

ANYHOW.

Planning FUN events to do every weekend is in right now because Laura Vanderkam has a new book out about what successful people do on the weekend.  Some supporters note that if they don’t plan a fun event, then the weekend ends up getting subsumed in Chores and Projects and they never have any fun.  Better to outsource the projects and as many chores as you can afford, or else stuff the chores into after work time on the weekends, keeping the weekends sacred.  God forbid your anchor event be cleaning out the garage, for that is a weekend wasted.

Mr. Money Moustache, otoh, goes the other route.  He enjoys (gets consumption value from) chores and projects so much that he’s doing them as an early retirement job even though he doesn’t have to.  Not only does he seriously enjoy fixing up houses, but he also notes that it’s ridiculous to pay someone to do chores that give you exercise while also paying to exercise at the gym.  (Although he doesn’t seem to be a jerk about his wife belonging to a gym.)  There’s time for other stuff too, but no weekly, “if we don’t do something that’s not a chore we’re not being productive” stress.  For him, there’s just as much, if not more, value in producing something good with his labor.

These are examples of different preferences.  We have them too.  #1 enjoys folding laundry with her family– it’s fun together time.  #2 hates that part the most and wishes she could just keep her clothing in piles.  Some people spend time doing crafts, which seems to us a type of chore– for FUN.  We don’t understand but we do not accuse them of wasting their time.

Consumption value from chores isn’t a new thing, though it may be going out of fashion.  It wasn’t so many centuries ago that big projects were also social events.  Any Little House readers can remember corn shucking, quilting, or barn raising parties.

In addition to differing preferences, there are also differing budget constraints.  If you have more money, it’s easier to go out and do things.  If you live in some parts of the country, there’s a lot more stuff to do than in other parts.

The year we lived in a beautiful city in CA, we went out every single weekend, usually something small one day and something major another.  We could walk to playgrounds and ice cream and sushi and Trader Joe’s and a farmer’s market and the library and a fantastic South American place and all sorts of things.  Small events were neither onerous or time consuming.  Meanwhile, an easy drive away (at least on weekends) we were surrounded with big parks, museums, zoos, restaurants, theater, and much more.   We took advantage.

Now we live in a small rural town.  There’s nothing to walk to except a church and a dentist office (and the dentist isn’t open on weekends, also she’s crazy).  The weather sucks a good portion of the year, and the nearest enjoyable “nature” is a couple hours away.  We’ve been to all the restaurants many times over.  Theater productions come in the middle of the week as they travel between real cities.  The little local festivities are repetitious and I’m not as saintly as my parents were in terms of taking the DCs to every one.  Also the local branch of the library sucks (we go anyway) and it’s 30 min to get to either the good branch or the farmer’s market.  To get to the really fun stuff in the city, it’s a 1-3 hour drive there and 1-3 hours back.  That can get pretty tiring, so we do it about once a month.

Our choice set, or budget constraint, is different now.  It’s harder to have fun event weekends.  But we can still enjoy homely things– cooking, chores, puttering, and so on.  Does that mean we’re wasting our weekends when we could be going to yet another local town festival… probably not.  Does it mean we’re wasting our lives when we could be living someplace with more cultural amenities?  Maybe.  Or maybe not.  That depends on our preferences.

The thing about preferences is that they’re ours.  Bloggers can tell you that you that there’s something wrong with you if you enjoy chores or if you don’t enjoy chores.  (If you’re super-malleable, you may even believe them.)  But for most of us, either we like doing something or we don’t.  Either we have opportunities or we don’t.  Don’t feel like you have to stress yourself out to have fun events every weekend if you’d rather stay at home and fix that thing in your house that’s been bothering you.  Don’t feel like you have to fix that thing in your house if you can afford to pay someone else to do it and you’d rather be out enjoying what your city has to offer.  There’s nothing wrong with you if you don’t do what the “in” thing is among whatever circle you (virtually) hang with.

And really, that’s all basic economics.  We maximize our individual utility subject to our budget constraints.  Which basically means, we do what makes us happy based on the opportunities we have available.  So long as you’re in tune with what makes you happy and what you can afford, you’ll be doing fine.

Of course, as Cloud recently pointed out to me, knowing what makes you happy is often the hard part.

And as personal finance blogs note, what you can afford varies wildly.

Where do your individual utility functions and budget constraints take you most weekends?  Are you in tune with what makes you happy?

35 Responses to “Consumption value of chores?”

  1. NoTrustFund Says:

    Yes, knowing what you want is half the battle. On that note, I do know that I hate doing laundry, I wish I liked it. Or that I lived in NYC where it is uber easy to outsource.

    Our kids are 3 and 1 so sometimes it is as fun to hang out at home with them as it is to go do something. They don’t really seem to care yet one way or the other. In the summer we went on lots of walks and I took my older one to the farmers market every week. Now the weather is horrible where we live so we’ve been sticking closer to home- with a trip to an indoor playground or zoo every couple of weeks. Oh- and we always pay for date nights! Would not miss those!

  2. First Gen American Says:

    What’s fun for me varies depending on the intensity of my work life. The more mentally challenging and stressful my workday is, the more physical and brainless my hobbies become. I am in the camp where I enjoy certain chores, specifically in the home improvement realm. Yeah, I pay someone to clean my toilet so I have time to do stuff like build chicken coops. I like learning, so the productive hobbies, often involve learning a new skill which I get some satisfaction out of.

    We do have to schedule in fun though because time does fly and I did spend a lot of time consumed by work.
    We have made progress this year in getting back outdoors and that’s been great both for the waistline and for sanity. Too much fun though can be costly, so it’s a balance.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      You’re absolutely right that work spills over into what hobbies are most appealing. During the school year I can only handle reading brainless books. My partner enjoys the kinds of hobbies that help him learn new skills, which I think is cool, but too exhausting for me! My hobbies tend to be more passive.

  3. Steph Says:

    I don’t get out enough on weekends, but I blame research more than chores…that said, I think my favorite thing about doing chores is the solitary time to think. Typically I clean on a Friday or Saturday evening when my roommate is gone. I may not enjoy scrubbing the bathroom, but I like getting it done and getting the time to reflect while I do it. (I agree with NoTrustFund above, though – doing laundry stinks no matter how you look at it)

  4. The frugal ecologist Says:

    We do a combination of both. We schedule in the fun time because it’s easy to let it slip by. Puttering is nice, but I find the events/outside we do satisfying and memorable. But we also get pleasure from completing house projects ( husband is building a dog training table, I organized my shoes). For us the distinction is between ordinary chores ( what we have to do weekly) and projects that give more of a sense of accomplishment)

  5. Cloud Says:

    Funny- I like folding laundry, too. But I like to do it on my own, listening to my own music (instead of the music that the kids like). It is one of the few times when I am not in the car that I get to really listen to music that I like. It turns out my husband hates folding laundry, but doesn’t mind shuffling it through the washer and clothesline and/or dryer. I am the exact reverse. Once we figured that out, laundry stopped causing issues in our house.

    From my reading of Laura’s posts and books, and having met her in person, I suspect she’d say making cleaning out your garage or doing some home improvement chore an “anchor” event in your weekend is a great idea if it truly makes you happy. I don’t want to speak for her, but my take is that she is arguing against the “you must do all of these chores or you are a bad person” sort of mindset you find in some women’s magazines. She her recent post about whether or not it matters that your cupboards are organized, for instance.

    I’m very much a pick and choose from the ideas of various people sort of person, so I enjoy reading arguments on all sides. They help me clarify my own thinking. In real life, I fall in the middle of this particular continuum. I very much like to have at least one fun thing planned for each weekend, even if it is just going to a park with the family. But if we get too many fun things planned in and don’t have time for any chores or work, I don’t like that. For me, it is all about being aware of how I am choosing to spend my weekends, and making sure I’m getting what I want out of them.

    And thanks for the shout out! I have a post half written that explains more of why I’ve been feeling angsty lately. It should go up sometime this week.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      I *think* I took the garage example from her as something that specifically does NOT count as an anchor event, but I could be misremembering. And, in fact, she’s pretty consistently argued not to do chores rather than the reverse (which is generally how the grumpy rumblings roll, so we’re sympathetic), but we understand that some people do get consumption value from doing chores and having chores done, even if we don’t always understand the lure.

      It’s definitely a good insight to think about how you want your weekends planned or not planned,even if that may be different from how much planning or chores someone else wants.

      • Laura Vanderkam (@lvanderkam) Says:

        I think the example I used was taking your car to get repaired. In general, that’s not an anchor event (i.e. something planned and enjoyable) but if you’ve got a group of auto-obsessed friends that meets to tinker with cars every Saturday, then it certainly could be. It is completely subject to one’s personal utility function. I dislike laundry a lot. Other people love it to the point of writing books about it (see Cheryl Mendelson). Personally, I’d rather use the time to write, run, sleep, etc. I did hand wash all my sweaters this weekend when I was home with the baby. She was somewhat intrigued, but not really, and then started stepping on my clean sweaters, which made the whole process a little frustrating, not fun.

  6. bogart Says:

    I have not read the book (I’ve realized I’m very put off by its title; I’d be more inclined to pick up, “What the Happiest People do on the Weekend,” but am not really interested in knowing what the most successful people do then.)

    I have realized in thinking about the general topic that one of the things I find most annoying about parenting a small- to medium-sized child is that time is ALWAYS constrained. That is, there is always a deadline by which I need to be back to resume being responsible for my child (or, I am currently responsible for my child, which creates other sorts of constraints).

    Although there is no reasonable metric by which I am granted permission to complain about the time constraints I endure (because placed in position along any continuum that contains data points from other human beings mine they are in the bottom quartile, likely not near its top end), this does, in fact, create noticeable negative utility for me. It appears I am a free spirit. Which don’t get me wrong, I understand that this is what’s involved with parenting and am grateful to be able to do that, but minimizing other constraints to offset this downside has become a priority for me for now.

    Thus am I loathe to make plans or commitments. DH golfs one day most weekends and I ride one day most weekends and we as a family have a short list of “stuff we can do together that gets us out of the house yet involves no planning and is very flexible,” which include going to the pool to swim, taking the dogs for a walk in the woods, or going to the lake for a kayak, swim (weather permitting), or dog walk, as well as going to the library or a local park, going disc golfing, for a bike ride, or out to a meal. Mostly we do those things, with very little advance planning and significant guidance from our mood together with weather conditions. We do chores throughout the week (including weekends) but have ramped those down to about as low a level as possible and don’t generally see weekends as chore time.

    I do want to expand our garden this year, which will necessitate fencing (or gardening on behalf of the deer), so installing that is an upcoming (likely weekend) project, and next weekend we have a short trip planned. So it’s not like we are incapable or totally unwilling to plan-and-implement. Also I gave 2 Christmas gifts this year (one to DH, one to my mother) that each consisted of a pair of concert tickets; both those will involve my participation (though that wasn’t inherently true, both have invited me and I’d have been riled had DH not). We have lots and lots and lots of good opportunities to attend musical/theatre events (well, lots and lots and lots on music, fair to middlin’ but non-zero on theatre), but that’s a comparatively low budget priority that gets further mired in the lack of desire to commit in advance.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Flexibility is definitely important by itself, especially when so much of life is structured. With free time, I like a bit of structure and a bit of no structure depending on how much structure I’ve had lately (I have diminishing marginal utility of both structure and free time). And how much of each also depends on where I’m living and how easy it is to do fun things at the last minute, or how many things there are to do worth planning for.

      • bogart Says:

        Yeah. I keep our swim gear in the car at all times, and a pair of walking shoes. The shoes are partly an “if the car breaks down” thing (dating more to my grad-school era transportation circumstances, but no harm in keeping them around today), but also mean I can at any moment take a literal and happy hike, and ditto going to the pool/lake for a swim. The library and parks are also more or less constantly available, so the demand to plan is low.

  7. oilandgarlic Says:

    I definitely think money constraints is a factor that affects our fun time, so basically we tend to alternate between chore/puttering around weekends (or cheap stuff like a park outing) and more expensive planned fun weekends. Another factor that affects planned fun is that sometimes just having stuff that needs to be done around the house causes us stress and we rather finish up those nagging chores than go out, and unlike Laura, we can’t afford to outsource everything. We just outsource the most hated or repetitive chores, but if my husband can and knows how to hang curtains or install a dishwasher, he’s going to do it himself even if that prevents us from planned fun.

  8. Rumpus Says:

    The more time my job takes up, the less I want to do chores, and vice versa. Chores are just making things nice…clean clothes, clean dishes, well-functioning house, etc. Who doesn’t want that? And sure, I could outsource it, but when you outsource work, you take on a smaller amount of harder work (in this case managing).

  9. Linda Says:

    I like learning new things in the kitchen, garden, and in my craft of choice, knitting. I also feel better — more resilient and ready to deal with day to day stress — when I have completed a certain level of “taking care of me” chores like cooking enough to have leftovers in the fridge or tackling the mail pile from the past month. I get refreshed from staying home and puttering and stressed out if I have an event/activity every weekend.

    One thing I do try to make time for at least once or twice a month, though, is having a special dinner or brunch out at one of the many amazing restaurants we have in Chicago. I’d rather not spend my disposable income on shopping and buying stuff but eating really good food. And I’m very grateful that I have the income that allows me to do this.

  10. Comradde PhysioProffe Says:

    Brussels sprouts are OBJECTIVELY DELICIOUS!!111!!!

  11. Dr. Koshary Says:

    Dude, it’s all about what you cook the Brussels sprouts in. Glaze those suckers in a nice wine reduction, and they’re awesome. Just ’cause nature made them cabbagey and annoying doesn’t mean you have to leave them that way.

  12. Leigh Says:

    I’ve thought about hiring cleaners, but so much of the time spent cleaning is really tidying or doing laundry and you need to tidy before the cleaners come over and I don’t really want strangers washing my underwear. Some days, my boyfriend helps with the chores, which definitely makes them go faster AND more fun.

    I’m with you on the brussel sprouts.

  13. GMP Says:

    Yeah, reading about that book by Laura Vanderkam made me feel like a big fat weekend underachiever.
    We live in a nice medium-sized city, but it’s really cold here for 6+ months of the year and there’s little to do with kids without spending money. We could go eat out or shop or go to a coffee house, but that’s all consumption.
    Most of our weekends are chores and vegging out (everyone having their electronic fun). I would like us to entertain more, but we don’t really have many good friends here and also hubby is antisocial, so we don’t do it as much as I would like.
    I don’t mind the chores but they are often made more difficult by kids hanging off of me or asking to be fed/picked up/entertained. I enjoy doing the dishes and cleaning the kitchen at night when everyone’s in bed and I can put my own music on.

    I do enjoy it when we have an anchor event (nothing too exciting though), usually it’s someone coming over, or kids having a birthday party, or someone going to see a show in the theater or something like that. Over the kids’ winter break we had a 6-day Star Wars marathon, the whole family enjoyed it (baby sort of watched too).

    I have been told before by (former) friend that my family is really slow and boring. Whatever. Hence the former.

    Why oh why do I have to have overachiever weekends? Who wants to form a support group with me for people who live in not-so-happenin’ places and don’t do very much on weekends?

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      We’ll join by necessity. :) Though I think we’re going to the city this weekend. (Our big event in the city is usually going to Whole Foods!)

      We also had a lot more friends that we enjoyed spending time with the year we lived in a big blue city. Currently we’re in the in-between age where all of our local graduate student friends have graduated and moved on and we’re not quite old enough to hang with long-term tenured professors.

  14. Donna Freedman Says:

    Sometimes just hanging out with friends/family makes me happy whether we’re “doing” something or not.
    Lately I’ve been baking bread on a Saturday or Sunday, which is not a chore because I get to EAT IT when it’s ready. If I had to make bread would I enjoy the process as much? Not sure. But I find kneading to be very calming — and I find eating to be very stimulating. I blame S.A.D. for my carb-craving state right now.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      My partner has a specific level of stress that makes him bake bread. Too little stress and he doesn’t feel the need, too much stress and he can’t. He made a lot of bread in grad school.

      I think hanging out with friends (but not with family) counts as an “anchor event”.

  15. rented life Says:

    Really late to the game but I liked this post a lot. It also explains why we live where we do. Everyone thinks we should live further away from the city, etc, but that does not make us happy long term.

    We don’t operate on weekends strictly speaking because husband has to work at least one, and lately both, days of the weekend. So we need to be more creative with our activities. Sometimes it means not doing what we want because he can’t do the weekend thing, which is a bummer, but it’s how it is. We like to go to crafty things that go on in fall and summer to walk around and look and wonder why we didn’t get a booth. We go to many of the summer festivals that are free, but there’s a few I still want to check out that we haven’t. In nice weather we go for walks in evenings. Our extravangent item–netflix–lets us have a movie/TV series date any time and not have to worry about if he’s scheduled to work at night or not. We also like walking around bookstores to look, but we can’t really buy right now.

  16. Carnival of Personal Finance #397 – Favorite Superbowl Commercials – January 28th, 2013 MONSTER Double Edition — My Personal Finance Journey Says:

    […] 2013 game plan for my finances”   Nicole from Grumpy Rumblings of the Half-Tenured presents Consumption value of chores, and says, “Is a weekend spent doing chores instead of spending money out wasted? Nicole and […]


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