In defense of the little things

The Internet works in mysterious ways… as I was trying to watch this one particular French movie online, I stumbled across a set of instructions for making a tin can stove and an hour or so later I’ve read most of the Log Cabin Cooking blog. I have two take-aways so far. One: I must eat some beans and try to make this stove ASAP! Two: this line, from a post entitled “Crunchy Laundry,” stands out:

I just want to say that if you fall in love with crackly, sun-dried, un-treated cotton textiles; then the “chore” of hanging, taking down and folding your laundry becomes a slow pleasure that you’ll be happy to make time for whenever you can.

When my freshman year roommate and I did our first loads of laundry in college, I was shocked. Every single time she put something in the dryer there was this little piece of paper she had to hunt around for afterwards to throw out. I had never seen–and certainly hadn’t used–dryer sheets before. They were confusing to me! Dryers don’t need sheets like bed need sheets; clothes dryers already get clothes dry so it’s not like you need to put a special sheet in to make the dryer work.

Rube that I evidently was (and probably still am), I eventually learned what dryer sheets were for… and I still don’t get it. It is already easy to tell the difference between clothes dried in a dryer (sans dryer sheet) versus on a line. Yes, line drying clothes tends to make them feel a bit stiff at first. But replace stiff with “crisp” and you have a lovely laundry situation!

Whenever I find myself getting an inordinate amount of pleasure out of things like solid water pressure or really neat folded sweaters, I think I must be the only one who feels this way. But then I go stumbling around in the Internet and jam my toe on the blog of someone else who “gets” it–we spend most of our days doing eating, doing laundry, cleaning, carrying things. We might as well try to enjoy these activities as much as we can.

artemis

One of the “little things” from home I miss the most.

Today at the playground, after most of the kids had left and only “mine” were sticking it out on the suddenly chilly fall day (because I made them…), I found myself involved in a weird game of “let’s do half-assed calisthenics very rapidly while pretending to be frogs” (at least I think that’s what we were playing). As much as I felt like an idiot, especially because at least one middle aged dude was leaning out a nearby apartment building to watch (or judge my leap frog abilities?), I also enjoyed getting a little bit warmer and feeling a little less like the grumpy referee.

While glorifying household chores, as a woman, can start to slip into dangerously “un-feminist” territory, there’s no need for that. I get it. You (another woman) would rather have a meaningful, interesting career than spend your life cleaning up after toddlers and men who act (at least once they get home) like toddlers as well. Trust me. I get it. Right now, that literally is my job, and I don’t wish it on anybody.

That said, no one can avoid eating, or going to the bathroom, or cleaning up a bit. Increasingly, we don’t have the typical-for-five-minutes-in-the-1960’s households with one man working, one woman at home. People are single. People are shacking up. People are married but living in separate houses (yes, I saw a TV show about it on HGTV).

I am super duper happy that I have a washing machine in my life, so that when I want to wash a ton of towels and sheets, I can just throw them in and take the kids to the park. That’s great–it’s a serious time saver, and it does the job better than I know how to. I’m not suggesting that we go back to wringer washers. But when you have the chance, you might as well enjoy chores–or parts of chores–that you have to do anyway, right?

Research shows that we tend to enjoy planning vacations more than we actually enjoy being on them. We look forward, with pleasurable anticipation, to the many delights we believe will await us. We don’t anticipate the delayed flights, the restaurant food that gives us food poisoning, or the week on the beach spoiled by an out-of-season hurricane. So we have an unambiguous sense of pleasure awaiting us, whereas in our normal lives, we are very aware of both the good and the bad things around us.

Can a bridge count as a “little thing”?

However, it doesn’t hurt to recognize when little things are nice. The first thing I noticed in the apartment I live in here in Lyon was the one, huge, glorious window in my room. I’m not always happy here–in fact, I’m frequently frustrated by dozens of tiny and not-so-tiny things–but I have started to accumulate things to love. While walking on most city streets there is a pervasive odor of urine, probably my most detested smell in the world (and I can’t be alone in that).

To counterbalance all the pee, I try to pay more attention to the wafted bursts of bakery and cologne and even tobacco smoke. These quintessentially French smells (all of them, even the urine) provide the sensory backdrop of my current life. To give in and wallow in the disgusting nature of the pee-stained walls would be a shame, because it’s really not that bad, once you speed up to catch a whiff of the rose-scented women!

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