This week a member of the Keep Calm Get Organised Facebook group asked a question about outsourcing home and garden duties. Some discussion continued around whether outsourcing was good or bad, worthwhile or wasteful, and it got me thinking about how my thoughts on outsourcing have changed and evolved over the past 10 years.
Let me give some background. My husband is very handy, above average handy in fact. The kind of handy that could give the local handyman or builder a run for his money and has him as a top pick for friends needing any kind of handyman type advice or assistance.
He is an analytical chemist by profession but when not donning a lab coat he’s pretty useful with any manner of tools. While at uni he had plenty of time as a pseudo apprentice for an electrician, and to top it off his grandfather was a plumber and his dad is pretty handy too. He was basically bred to be useful!
This has very much worked in our favour when it comes to home renovations. He has basically changed the entire layout of our home. Moved walls, hung plasterboard, rerouted pipes, assisted with electrical work, built retaining walls, laid flooring, hung doors, installed baths, showers, toilets and much more. We’ve managed to renovate almost every room of our home for next to nothing thanks to his handy work, and I am certainly very thankful for his skills. One thing it has meant though is that his (our) weekends have been very busy and not always filled with “family” time or relaxation. I remember he spent his paternity leave after I had Mr 2 laying flooring. Not exactly ideal!
The thing about doing everything yourself is that it does come with a cost. We are quick to see the financial saving of doing things ourselves, but frequently overlook the time and emotional cost. While doing every home and garden task you are capable of will save you money, it will cost you time.
Trading money for time
Not everyone will be in a position to DIY home renovations, but what about everyday tasks. Almost everyone is capable of cleaning, cooking, ironing, garden work, painting etc. Does the fact you can do it mean you should? Is outsourcing a waste?
My answer is that it is about balance. When we were first married and both at uni we were living on next to nothing. We used to go to the supermarket late on a Sunday night when all the meat was marked down and buy up everything to freeze for the week. The idea of outsourcing cleaning or ironing was laughable as it would mean going without food or petrol! Obviously, at that point in our lives (and at many points since) the balance of saving money vs saving time was pretty skewed. Time was something we could afford to give up, money wasn’t!
As our incomes increased (and subsequently our time disappeared) the idea of outsourcing the cleaning rather than spending 1/2 a day scrubbing the bathroom and mopping the floors made sense. When we were both working full time (particularly when I was pregnant with our first son) getting a cleaner was worthwhile. We were prepared to “trade” money for time.
After our first son was born the balance flipped back. Things like a cleaner would mean me being able to have less time off work on maternity leave and so again choices were made. This time, my time at home with my son was more valuable than having help cleaning.
We all make choices about what is more valuable. I’ve worked with many families helping them with their budgets and I am frequently asked whether the things they spend money on are a “waste”. That is an extremely hard question to answer most of the time. In the end it comes down to your values and priorities.
One example that comes up a lot is families where one parent decides to increase their hours at work so the kids can have more options for extra curricular activities or attend certain schools. I can’t tell you whether this is a waste. For me the idea of working more so my kids can do dance and soccer and learn a musical instrument would be a waste. At this point in time, extra time with my kids is more valuable to me than extra curricular activities. That isn’t to say it is the same for your family (or that it will always be the same for mine).
Is outsourcing household tasks a waste of money?
So, we come back to household chores and outsourcing. Is it a waste to pay a cleaner? What about a gardener? Getting your shirts ironed? Having someone cook and freeze meals for you? Is outsourcing these things a waste of money?
I think it depends on the cost balance. What would you have to give up to afford these things? Is that worth it? If you can’t eat because you paid someone to iron your shirts for the week then yes, outsourcing that is probably a waste. If having a cleaner means you holiday at the local camp ground rather than taking a trip interstate is outsourcing that a waste? I don’t know. It depends on how much value the cleaner adds to your life (& stress it removes) vs a fancier holiday.
At the end of the day I don’t think outsourcing is a waste. I think it is about making wise choices about time and money and what matters most to you.