On the 7am national news broadcast every morning in Japan, just after the weather and personal interest stories, there is a segment about “handy new tools” or “goods that make our quality of life better”. I cringe sharply, the moment the mother of the featured household shows up in her pink apron, showing off her flashy gadget, and tells us how it “changed everything”. I almost always twist internally, angering, while thinking about the wasted resources, and all of those dashed hopes and dreams that will result from this 3 minute segment. People who are desperate for extra time and happiness keep giving their hard earned salaries, piece by piece over to snake oil salesmen who promise “reduced stress” or “improved quality of life”. In truth, there is only one solution to all of this madness: we must succumb to the fact that life is hard. We need to reconnect to our humanity by finding joy in tasks that are joyless. Boiling that down even further, we need to slow down, and make our own lives.
While some new technology does add value and happiness to our every day, in the last two generations people have begun running away from some of the work of life that connects us to each other. The most concerning of these are the jobs of cooking our own food, cleaning our own living spaces and the job of dressing ourselves. Even if you lead a very busy life, with a demanding career, there is much satisfaction in taking control of even a small portion of these tasks. There is a revolution to be had in the concept of slowing down, and making something with your own two hands.
Make a sandwich, Make your bed, Make a plan, make a new dress for your date on friday night, Make a promise (and fulfill it), Make a loaf of bread, it does not matter. Make something, stand back and marvel at the wonder of your own mind and hands working together, feel satisfied, rinse and repeat.
The humble sandwich:
There is something truly gratifying about creating something delicious to eat. The great thing about making something as simple as your own lunch, is that YOU get make all the decisions! How often in life do we get to control all the variables? Instead of looking at tasks such as feeding yourself as a nuisance you can simply farm out to someone working at a food stall, be the master of your own universe. Make choices you’re happy with and make the sandwich (or whatever you choose to eat!) in your own kitchen. There are so many options available in local markets, and while its certainly important to have comfort foods that we return to on special occasions, it is so gratifying to take control of your own health and well being by making the decisions about what you fuel your body with.
Find interest in a job you think you dislike. The culinary world is a wide one, and there are many, many ways to get the job done! Not everyone is a born chef, but food is essential to our lives. Go to the market. bury your nose in the fresh herbs, listen to the sounds of people selling, ask questions about a fruit or a vegetable you’ve never eaten before, And even better, find a person who looks like they’ve been around the culinary block a few times, and ask them about their favorite recipe. Start simple, work with kitchen tools you love, and enjoy the process. There is romance in food, find that and revel in it.
A dirty job: The mundanity of cleaning my living space is something I struggle with day in, and day out. As a part time home maker, I become so overwhelmed with the never ending cycle of washing, scrubbing, dusting, putting away, and tidying. I scrub a spot on the floor and have an immediate flashback of doing the same thing twenty four hours prior. It feels as though there is no hope in the constant repetition and never ending cycle of the work I do. Except there is. The solution to the problem of housework that feels like a bad dream on repeat? Simply zoom out. Take ownership in the idea that you are not only “scrubbing the floor”, but also creating the stage on which the play of your everyday life takes place. You are building and writing a story that no one else can via your every day rituals that your children will pass down to theirs. Don’t clean the house because your husband/wife expects you to, “keep your house” in a way that suits you. Create a memorable atmosphere for your family and children that make you stand back and feel accomplished. The home maker is not only “cleaning up after their ungrateful, mess making children” They’re building a powerful legacy of service and love, and there is nothing mundane about that.
Whistle while you work:
My absolute LEAST favorite household chore is the folding of laundry. I never find difficulty in the washing or drying, but the folding and putting away of my own clothing is a task that is hard for me to stomach. My latest solution is to include other people in the work and play silly games while we complete it. My daughter and I play “who can find the matching socks the fastest” or “invent a new way to fold towels” while we work. We’ve made so many great memories and enjoyed time together while we tackle the job.
Stop shopping, Dress yourself in a different way.
Last night I walked through a 7 floor shopping mall in Yokohama Japan. People bustled around me, carrying bags, packages and boxes bursting with newly bought items. The atmosphere was so frenzied, it was difficult to feel anything other than overwhelmed. In the same moment, I realized the temptation of the flashy 50% off signs displayed in many of the shop windows. The sirens of consumption call to all of us, especially the sirens of the fashion industry.
Fast fashion is an industry that is strangling society and our natural world at an alarming rate. In generations past, there were two to three seasons when “new merchandise” would be introduced and sold in retail stores. In 2018, we have now 52 seasons in which new styles are on display. We are over stimulated with new possibilities, drawn in by clever advertising, and lured into purchases via false, low pricing. The fabrics used in most major brand label garments are manufactured and dyed with little care for the environment, and the clothes are produced with absolutely no regard for the employees who are forced to work in sometimes unsafe and unsanitary conditions in developing nations. The items typically last 2 or 3 washing cycles and then lose shape and gloss. This prompts the consumer to make another trip to the mall. This ugly circle has created an addiction to cheap, disposable clothing.
The solution to the whole problem: Take control of your own consumption and make the things you want to wear.
I know many people reading this will roll their eyes and say “I haven’t time or the interest in taking up sewing as a hobby”. I’ll get to you in just a moment!
For the people reading this that ARE interested in such a hobby: I’m not a master seamstress, but have completed simple dress projects in less than a day’s time. Even making one item of your own clothing on occasion, connects you to what you consume in a way that is very exciting! Learning a new skill like “attaching a button” or “inserting a zipper” is a powerful and revolutionary act. You’re taking control of your own life, and shucking off the necessity for shopping malls and fashion brands. You’re breaking down barriers for yourself and making it possible to accomplish the TRUE goal of fashion: expressing yourself.
While I was leaving the mall yesterday, I looked at the hoards of people milling around a particular brand shop and thought to myself, “Why would I want to let that brand have a voice in my own self expression?” When I create something to wear, I can decide fabric quality, color, drape, fit, and design. Why would I allow someone else to control that piece of my life? Every time I learn a new skill or draw up a new pattern, I’m taking control of my own identity. It’s a powerful feeling.
For the people who are reading this and thinking “I am not interested in making clothing, wasting time on failed projects or sitting in front of a sewing machine!” Look around you. There is probably someone within a stone’s throw distance that is. Support that person, and keep it local. They will make you quality items that do not fall apart after the second wash. They will lovingly produce bags, sweaters, hats, trousers, etc. that fit you the way you want. Ask the crafts person to help you make a wardrobe of “favorites” and “trusty olds” that you can create attachment and happy memory to, and when those things are truly worn out, instead of rushing to the shopping mall to buy a new one, you’ll want to mend the one you already own.
When summing up all of my thoughts and feelings on this matter, the first noble truth of Buddhism rings and repeats itself slowly in my head. “To live is to suffer”. Every day the human race wakes up, grits their teeth and pushes a stone to the top of a very steep hill, only to have to do it again the next day, and the next. It’s reasonable and expected for us to attempt to ease the suffering by creating short cuts and loop holes. While some of these advances in technology are absolutely essential and helpful in life, it’s important then, to choose which of these “improvements” drive us further from a connection with each other and take away our control, and which ones actually enhance the quality of our existence. Advances in technology should be just “advancements”.
Do yourself a favor. Go make something!
The writer is Tokyo based freelance writer and hand knitter. She enjoys triathlon, travelling the world and being the best mother and wife she knows how to be. She can be followed on @sassiecassie7