I’ve had a few sessions of flat pack furniture in the last fortnight. Some small, some large. All took longer than I thought they would. Can’t get cocky with IKEA furniture, there’s always one thing throw you off-piste.
But no matter how many bolts I had to undo because the damn pole was the wrong way up or I’d arrogantly skipped ahead only to realise that order had a reason — I would still put it together myself every time.
Why, when for an extra tenner I could just get them to deliver and build it for me, do I so love putting it together myself?
Because it’s real.
Delegate for an easy life
I did a bit of copywriting for a sort of handyman company a while ago. The kind where you can book a cleaner, someone to build flat pack furniture or someone to do other handy things, like mount your TV.
It’s a great company, offering tons of services at the click of a button. In short, it makes life easy. And don’t we all like ease?
And then there are companies like Deliveroo. With a few taps you can get restaurant food delivered to your door by a slightly frazzled looking cyclist. No need to cook, no need to go out and pick up an order — no need to do anything actually.
If you have the money, you can pretty much get someone to do any chore. Got a garden? Get a gardener. Need an oil change? There’s a person for that. Need a shelf putting up? Just order someone for a half hour slot.
You can get anything delivered.
You can even get meal ingredients delivered to your door with a recipe tucked inside.
Too much delegation?
All this sounds great. Why spend time doing something like DIY, laundry or cooking when you can simply outsource it?
Well…I actually think there’s a good reason to not delegate.
Doing makes you capable. It makes you learn. Even the simple act of putting IKEA flat pack furniture together gets your brain working and your practicality improving.
You might not know how to put up a shelf or change a fuse but you can learn. And once you can do the small stuff, the big stuff isn’t so big. Suddenly it’s no longer overwhelming, you no longer need to call someone with a polo shirt and a toolbox.
It’s the same with cooking. If you don’t cook, you forget how. Worse, you never learn. Some people follow recipes every night, some invent from scratch and some people work on a mixture of the two. But if you open a box filled with tiny plastic sachets of perfectly proportioned ingredients, there’s no room to learn. No room to experiment even mildly. No room to have to think about it.
It’s not that delegating is lazy necessarily, sometimes it’s smart and efficient. But is too much delegation making us lazy? Practicality is a use-it-or-lose it situation much of the time — if you never do anything practical, you might find that your brain stops problem-solving. Stops being able to problem-solve.
Because you never put it in a position where it has to.
The variation of skills required in pedestrian chores of remarkable. I had a shop job about ten years ago and the swing door to the till squeaked agonisingly.
Everyone complained about it. After a couple of days of assuming the manager would deal with it, I asked him if there was a can of WD40 in the stock room. There wasn’t. I brought one in the next day and oiled the hinges. No more squeaks.
I was met with amazement. How did I know how to solve the squeak?
It would be easy to give a bemused stare and reply, ‘how do you not know?’ But no one knows anything before they’re told.
I grew up in a practical family. My parents did everything themselves right down to DIY and maintenance of their many bicycles. I know that WD40 solves squeaks because of that upbringing.
If my parents had delegated, if they’d taken their bikes to a bike shop for servicing, I would never had got to know WD40.
‘Doing’ takes you away from your screens
The thing about delegating chores, errands and practical activities is this; what are you doing with the time saved?
For some of us, it’s ostensibly the ability to relax. If we don’t have to spend 45 minutes in the kitchen because Deliveroo is doing the hard work, we can relax.
But what does that mean? Do we sit in front of the TV? Scroll through our phone newsfeeds? Both, simultaneously? And is that relaxing? Is it satisfying?
Because cooking can be both relaxing and satisfying if you approach it with the right attitude. And putting on some music, sitting on the floor and putting together flat pack furniture can be fun and satisfying too. If you don’t look at these things as chores and instead see them as unique, interesting and achievable challenges, then they’ll quite possibly do far more for your mental state than mindlessly browsing the internet.
Relaxing isn’t about doing nothing. It’s about doing something that isn’t too taxing, but leaves you in a happier mental state than before. And social media, even the internet as a whole, is not famed for that.
But doing something practical is. Satisfaction in completing something practical is quite a relaxing experience. It makes you feel good, it makes you feel competent and productive and chores are low stakes unlike actual work.
Finding the delegation balance
Delegating is one of the smartest things you can do and is a skill in itself. But it’s important to delegate efficiently and with good reason.
Delegating a task because you genuinely don’t have the time or the ability to do it, is smart. Delegating a task because you hate it, is also smart.
But delegating simply because you can…? Well that’s just a step on the road to laziness. To purposefully not improving a skill that’s within your grasp. Modern society will always provide a means for you to delegate. As they say, ‘there’s an app for that’. But that doesn’t mean you should.
There’s a community bike charity around the corner from me who run a workshop session every week as well as bike maintenance courses. If you don’t know how to maintain your bike, they’ll teach you for a tiny fee. Once you know, you can rock up any Wednesday, grab a station and use all their tools and equipment to fiddle, tune and show your bike some TLC.
So sure, you could drop your bike in for a biannual £50 service at your local shop, or you could learn how to do it yourself and keep your bicycle happily ticking over forever. It’s not about the money necessarily, it’s about the skills and confidence you’ll gain.
When we delegate everything, we don’t get the pleasure or the ability derived from doing those things. We don’t improve. We don’t pass down practical skills to children because we instead pay someone to do them.
And the more we delegate, the more we forget that we are capable of doing those things ourselves.
Until one day, you’re looking at your bike and you have no idea what’s wrong with it because it’s been 20 years since you actually maintained it yourself.
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Kitiara Pascoe is a ghostwriter and author. After three years of sailing around the Atlantic and Caribbean, she washed up in Devon in the UK. You can find her on Twitter @KitiaraP and @TheLitLifeboat. She’s the author of In Bed with the Atlantic and The Working Writer and you can find her journalism and blog at KitiaraPascoe.com or her ghostwriting at TheLiteraryLifeboat.co.uk