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Goodbye DIY

Sanjib Saha

I GREW UP IN INDIA. There, it’s quite common to have outside help for household chores. Most middle-class families hire someone to help with washing, dishes and cleaning. Affluent households typically have a cook, driver and housekeeper.

After coming to the U.S., I noticed that most households weren’t dependent on domestic help, thanks to appliances like a dishwasher, vacuum cleaner and washer-dryer. A few coworkers went as far as building their own cabinets and decks, painting their homes and changing the oil in the car.

This do-it-yourself culture resonated with me for three reasons. First, I valued independence—the ability to do things at my own pace, rather than waiting on someone else. Second, the idea of working equally hard at work and at home gave me a kick. Third, it appealed to my sense of frugality. I wanted to be like my DIY coworkers.

But it was wishful thinking on my part. I tried various home maintenance jobs that required no special tools or expertise. But I didn’t especially enjoy fixing toilets, repairing garage doors, blowing leaves or mowing lawns. These mundane tasks felt increasingly burdensome. Still, the idea of getting outside help was at odds with my values. I’d no longer be the independent, hardworking and frugal person I perceived myself to be.

But in truth, I was being stupid and stingy. If I could afford it, why not pay someone to do these unexciting chores? Reluctantly, I availed myself of yardwork and housecleaning services, but I still resisted offloading anything else. That changed when I cut back the number of hours I worked.

How did a smaller paycheck motivate me to spend more for domestic help? My reasoning was simple. With my part-time job, I was effectively paying back a prorated percentage of my fulltime salary to my employer, so I could have a few extra hours for myself. If my personal time was as valuable as that pay cut, it made no sense to spend it on uninteresting tasks that someone else could do for an even smaller price.

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