Time vs. Money vs. Effort: DIY and the Modern Era

I am really not the type of person that muses on “the good old days.” I was born in 1988. The “good old days” for me included the Spice Girls.  So, really, I’m all about progress.

I do somewhat often muse on a three-pole dynamic of the first world: whether things should take time, money, or effort.

Let’s take clothing for example. It saves time and effort to buy a new dress at the store. Then, however, it costs money. The modern conclusion is that you don’t get a new dress.

But let’s say you want to bargain hunt, or shop thrift. That saves money and effort.  Then, again, that takes time. Sifting through sale racks and bins at thrift stores takes up way more time than popping into a department store and picking out exactly what you want in ten minutes. The modern conclusion is you don’t get a new dress.

Now let’s say you learn how to sew. You can pop out, grab a pattern and some fabric for next to nothing and make yourself exactly what you want.  Now this choice…this choice is the least valid choice in the modern era. It may save money, but it takes both time and effort. It’s even beyond effort, it takes skill.

I have recently reinvested time and effort and skill into sewing. I just sewed my very own Starfleet uniform. I made it exactly as I wanted. It’s entirely custom and fits perfectly. On top of that? It cost me about $50. The same uniform made by a professional seamster can shoot upwards of $200. That $200 would have saved me time and effort, but not money. Now I’m making a party dress that’ll maybe cost me $100 but would sell for upwards of $600. But does that really matter? No. I just want to make them because it’s fun. It’s something I like to do with my time, effort, and skill.

The issue then is what we value most. Some people would argue that I value my money more than I value my time, my effort.  I waste the time and effort I could use to do things like writing and working and participating in the world, or even resting. Some people would say that by hording my money and making my own clothes I’m embracing some Protestant Ethic, or some kind of Marxist money fetishism.

There is a culture on both the internet, more tight-knit communities of people like the Calvinists and the Amish, and tinkering folks who value Do It Yourself.

It's Dada art, poetry, AND sewing.

Like I said, I do not oppose progress, I value it dearly. Frankly, I don’t oppose money, either. I, however, find something romantic and delicious about taking the time and effort to not only develop a skill, but to have something tangible to show for it. People congratulate me when I finish writing something. We applaud people who write poetry and paint paintings and sculpt sculptures. Yet somehow people are most in awe of when I sew something. When I make something that I can wear everyday as opposed to sitting on a shelf.

But I don’t know anybody else who makes their own clothes… More than that, I don’t know anybody who makes quilts. I know people who make awesome Renaissance garb for the fairs and whatnot, and that’s amazing. But that’s part of those communities I spoke of earlier, almost subcultures.

I guess what I wonder, what I ask of the modern era, is for what do you need to save your time? This extends beyond clothes, garb, costumes, quilts. This extends to making furniture, learning a new language, learning to cook, playing baseball, reading books, learning about world affairs.

I find myself eating out a lot because I am too lazy to cook. I find myself speaking in no other tongue than English because I am too lazy to buy Rosetta Stone or take a class.

Time. Money. Effort.

We never seem to have enough of any of them. Yet one is the most expendable.

Yesterday I had a sudden realization that I would love to go to a baseball game where the ballpark had no lights. Where it had no lit scoreboard, no rock music, and the only things I would hear would be the announcement of the batter, the crack of a bat, and the spitting of sunflower seeds.

I had a feeling of nostalgia for something I’ve never known. And in that moment I felt like a hypocrite for longing for the pastoral, obsolete; longing for a time where night games weren’t needed to accommodate an urban patronage to increase revenue. In that moment I thought that maybe I opposed money, that I hated commodity fetishism, conspicuous consumption and all the ‘evil’ things that money does.

But in the end I was wrong. I don’t hate money. It doesn’t make me sad. What makes me sad is that ironically it is more easily parted with than effort and time.

Sometimes I think the monetary obsession of the Protestant Ethic is over. Our desire for things has driven us to spend our money, put us into debt, and leave us relying on it for everything. We’re dependent. We need money. We need money to make things easy, to survive, to have lots of time.

The other day I said “I wish I were independently wealthy. Then I could write and make stuff all the time.” All the time. I need money in order to keep my time, to not exert effort because I am tired. I have to work for my money to keep food in my mouth. That’s what I do with my time. I spend time working for money that I part with so I can have more time. Oh, and so I can exert less effort.

So now I’ve stepped back. I haven’t solved or fully understood these confusions and revelations. Rather, I’ve started asking, “Well, what will I do with the time I’ve saved by buying my dinner?” or, “So now I’ve bought this dress I wanted, what will I do with the rest of my day?”

The answers aren’t simple and I don’t often know them, so I sit at the computer and talk to the void of the internet. And sometimes it is easier to just buy whatever it is you want right then, right there. And even though I take up my time writing, cooking, sewing, painting, and baking cupcakes, sometimes I don’t want to. Sometimes I want to wander off into the distance for drinks, dancing, fucking, and sleeping. Sleeping.

I find myself at times wanting to do absolutely nothing. And I can. That’s because all it takes to do absolutely nothing is money.