How my time has shifted from consuming to producing in year two of retirement. The impact of meaningful, self-made goods vs efficiently produced goods on your happiness.
As a former economics major, I spend a lot of time thinking about comparative advantage. Comparative advantage refers to the ability of one particular actor to produce goods or services at a lower opportunity cost than others.
We all basically practice this in our jobs; by specializing in a particular task, we become the most efficient deliverer of X good/service for the cost. Then we take the cold hard cash we earn, and we turn around and pay for goods and services made by folks who have specialized in their respective fields. The net result of this is that presumably we are all left with a basket of goods and services that are cheaper/higher in quality than if we tried to do all of those things ourselves.
I have always thought very highly of specialization. I still do.
But in retirement, I’ve discovered there’s a whole other class of goods that don’t fit well into the economic framework I diligently studied in dusty classrooms. Making stuff feels awesome.
Meaningful vs Efficient Goods
You’ve probably experienced some version of this. You knit your first hat. It’s ugly compared to a hat you can buy in the store. Maybe it even cost the same or more when you add in the sky high prices charged at hobby stores. But gosh darn it, every time you look at the hat, you know that you made it. So you wear it proudly, and all your friends side-eye you, but who cares? Or maybe your kid comes home with a lopsided mug with a stick figure drawn on it. How beautiful! You can’t wait to take it to the office and use it every day! It’s got meaning which adds to it beauty compared to a good that was professionally or mass produced.
I wrote a little bit about the benefits of “making”-focused hobbies in Always Be Producing: The Secret To Not Wanting Fancy Things, which still remains one of my favorite posts on the entire site. I didn’t realize that I would end up slowly migrating most of my time to endeavors in this line of activity voluntarily during retirement.
In my first year of retirement, I spent the majority of my time detoxing by indulging in totally lazy joys. Netflix binges. Reading an entire historical series in a week. Hours of watching League of Legends streams. I would say 90% of a given week would be devoted to consumption of stuff. It didn’t have to be expensive – sometimes it was just going out and enjoying the sunlight on my face. But it was about taking something in.
Now in my second year of retirement, I notice my week is swinging towards 50-60% “making” activities. I think about blogging, I chase an investment idea, I learn to cook, and I paint my house. Now it’s about putting something out. Not necessarily for the world, but at least for myself.
In retirement, I’m filling my world with meaningfully produced goods rather than efficiently produced goods. And it feels great. I can look around and see evidence of my own fingerprints on the life I’m living, in both the choice of the product but the making of it, too. It’s a richness I didn’t realize I was missing before.
Meaning When Things Go Wrong
Not only does doing more things on my own provide a sense of satisfaction, but there is an unexpected side benefit.
When things go wrong, meaning can make a crappy experience seem sweet, even positive.
Those of you who have been keeping up with recent posts know about my paint fiasco. Well, after a few more paint samples, we finally settled on a new shade and repainted the entire living room. And I still wasn’t sure I was a fan of the color. I had a mini-meltdown given the dozens of hours I’d already put into trying to get this just right. “This is not the inspiration picture!” I said plaintively to the Hubs. I sent photos of the room to three other impartial observers at 11pm at night, asking what color they would guess this was. There were frantic cries of “It looks purple! It looks purple!” Apparently it was strident enough to set my dog off, who came trotting up to deposit his treasured half-chewed fox toy at my feet in an attempt to soothe me. Not good times.
But I woke up the next morning with a different perspective. The truth was that the shade was pretty in its own way, just entirely not what I had envisioned. And more importantly, every time I looked at the color, I could see the shade, or I could choose to see all the love behind it. I wasn’t having a melt down because the paint color was wrong. I was having a melt down because this is the first home my husband and I have owned, and we’re expecting a kiddo, and more than anything I wanted to create a space where we could spend many years creating happy memories, a room that felt comfortable and inviting but also felt sophisticated and adult because hey, we were adults now and it was time to celebrate that.
That’s a lot of pressure to put on a paint color.
So I had a choice. I could spend a bunch of money picking another shade and hiring painters (because frankly, we just don’t have it in us to paint this room a third time ourselves). But what message would I be sending to myself when I was in that room every day? That I valued picture perfect magazine looks at all costs? Or I could keep the color we had painted ourselves, and every time I looked at it I could see all the hope behind it that I had held when I designed the room for our family. And I could look at the funny looking streak in the corner and remember the Hubs using his special “painting technique” for more efficiency.
When you put it like that, I love this room.
And let’s be clear, this paint color was my best attempt to get a specific visual outcome, and it failed at that particular task. It would be the same shade whether we did it ourselves or whether we had paid professional painters $800+ to do it for us. But because we’ve done it ourselves, I’m able to take what feels like a mistake in my choice and still see it as beautiful and lovely for our home whereas having purchased an efficiently produced painting job would have made it harder for me to create meaning that could overshadow the negative feelings.
The freedom of time in retirement has led me to pursue a lot more activities focused on making. The satisfaction of seeing a room filled with meaningfully produced goods – goods with your fingerprints directly on their making – has been incomparable. And equally important, it’s a lot of fun.
Do you have a hobby or project you’re particularly proud of? What’s your position on meaningfully-produced vs efficiently-produced goods?