I just called our contractor to ask her if George could pick up three stepping stones for me while he’s at Home Depot, and in the process of that conversation, said, I feel silly asking, since I could just run out myself and pick them up, but that’s forty-five minutes out of my day, and at this point in my life, time is the most limiting factor.
And Pam said yes, it was the same for her, but she tried to remember that she was lucky that it was time that was limiting, and not money or health, and I agreed, because you can outsource time. Not all of it — no one else can write my novel. And while I’m fine with other people doing lots of parenting tasks — there’s almost none that I’m specifically attached to — there’s a certain percentage of time I want to spend taking care of the kids, because that’s the whole point of becoming a parent for me anyway, to spend time raising them.
Time with Kevin, or Jed, or friends, also something only I can do. And mostly, I like my cooking better than what I can get in restaurants (which is tasty, but eating too much of it ends up feeling too rich for me) or with someone else cooking for me.
But many, many things can be outsourced, if budget allows. And I think for years and years, I wasn’t doing it, not because money was tight, but because it didn’t seem like a reasonable use of money, to outsource my domestic labor. And I’m still struggling with it, to be honest, with feeling that my work is serious enough that I deserve an assistant, or help with the yard work, or house cleaning occasionally, etc.
Money is often tight, but I think I was also resisting the calculation of what my time was worth. And I keep wondering now — if I had committed to taking my writing seriously, as a money-making endeavor (rather than just a serious artistic one), when I was, say, thirty — what choices might I have made differently? How would I have invested in my career?
It’s impossible to do this in hindsight, of course — the calculations are too complex, there are too many factors. But I think I probably should have hired an assistant at least five years earlier than I did, maybe ten — I think I would’ve made back the cost of it and then some. Quite possibly by a lot, given how much people are paying me for my work now. My hourly rate, when I’m actually writing, is quite respectable these days, which is a little shocking to me.
But as a woman, as an artist, I didn’t feel like I deserved to take that kind of risk with our family’s finances — or to be blunt, with Kevin’s money, because he was bringing in most of it. If I’d asked him back then, I don’t know what he would’ve said, but the point is, I didn’t even think to ask. I didn’t realize I needed the help with the domestic labor, and if I had realized it, I would have felt too uncomfortable to ask Kev to spend money on it, because dealing with the house and the yard and the kids was supposed to be my job, and I was lucky that he was willing to take on so much of it.
That’s the narrative that was running inside my head for the last decade, and I’m still fighting it, and I think it’s just wrong. So, in case your head is telling you similar things, maybe reconsider.
Even if you just break even, if you pay someone $15-$20 / hr for yardwork or housekeeping or childcare or whatever, and are able to make that much yourself in something career-related, the career-related achievements will build over time, will give you increased skills and reputation and accretion of accomplishments (like books!). Washing dishes is necessary labor, but it doesn’t accrete in the same way. And you can test this out in a very small way — say, by having a mother’s helper, a local teen, come from 3-5 once or twice a week.
See what that does for your household economy. Consider whether investing in your own work is worthwhile.

1 thought on “Invest”

  1. I’m of two minds about this issue. There are all the practical reasons you lay out, plus the fact that you are giving a job to someone. On the other hand, I hate the “servant culture” of India, where I’m from, where middle class people seem to feel it’s beneath them to do their own cleaning. There’s something democratic about everyone cleaning up their own mess. (And obviously, men should not expect women to do the cleaning either–I’m not suggesting it actually *is* democratic without servants, just laying out an ideal.) No criticisms intended here, just curious what others think, as I can see both sides.

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