When Convenience Isn’t so Convenient

I am a lazy as hell sonofabitch.  Just thought I’d make that clear before I got started here, because by the end of this you might not believe it.  I am lazy.  I like nothing more than sitting on the sofa in my PJs with a giant bowl of salt and vinegar popcorn watching TV or a movie.

Sure, there’s the part of me that craves adventure, travel, and doing interesting things, but when I slob, I slob full throttle.

So a number of things have come to surprise me recently.  It’s been eight months since I moved to this apartment (really?!).  At first the place looked like an Ikea showroom.  I had slaved away painting, assembling, and trying to make our new place look awesome, and I succeeded.  But that was a project.  Projects I obsess on, but when they’re done I soon lose interest.  So I pretty much expected (as I’m sure people like my brother did) for this place to go all to hell by now.

Much to my surprise, it still looks pretty much the same.

I’ll be brutally honest, there are a couple of slippers on the floor and some odds and ends that could be straightened up, but nothing that can’t be fixed in three minutes.  Even our bedroom has managed to stay clutter-free.

The reason for this is simple: It takes less effort to keep a place nice than to let it go to hell and then have to do a massive spring clean when company comes over.  It’s also part of the “broken windows” theory – if you have a neighbourhood with broken windows that aren’t soon replaced, then those living nearby stop caring and soon all the windows are broken.

When I noticed this I began thinking about other things in my life I did in the name of convenience.  Being lazy is a search for the path of least resistance, and going to university I remember all kinds of stuff I did in its name.  Stuff like instant mashed potatoes, microwave popcorn, non stick pans and the like.

Turns out they aren’t nearly as convenient as I thought.  Instant mashed potatoes?  Really, just how difficult is it to make regular mashed potatoes?  Cut yellow skinned potatoes into chunks (don’t bother peeling).  Steam 20 minutes (and play Xbox in the meantime), then mash them with some milk and butter.  All the instant mashed really does is cut out that 20 minute wait, and who doesn’t have things they can do in the meantime (like argue on the forums or search for porn?)

The effort involved is only slightly greater than instant.  The upside is cheaper and better tasting mashed potatoes.

Microwave popcorn is another example.  I always assumed those bags they come in were necessary because of the bag or maybe the oil inside.  Turns out you don’t need it at all. Any old brown paper lunch bag will do.  Put regular popping corn in (like 4 tablespoons or so) and fold over the top a few times.   Pop as much as you want and add your own butter afterwards.  Better than the goop those “special” bags contain.  Same amount of effort, healthier popcorn.

And non-stick pans?  I always hated cleaning pots and pans as a kid, so I figured non-stick pans were perfect.  Only they get scratched or wear down over time, and have to be replaced, costing more money.  And I’m sure a lot of people would complain about chemicals in your food, too.  And you can’t use a metal spatula on them, for example, everything has to have heat resistant plastic on it.

I got stainless steel pots and pans when we moved here, and I was worried about the aggravation of cleaning them.  But here’s the thing, I bought a copper pot scrubber, and I have yet to make anything that won’t come right off with it.  At the most it has to soak for a bit (and, again, there are other things I can do, it’s not like I need to watch it soak).  Ultimately there is no time difference, but I’m not going to be replacing my pots and pans nearly as quickly.

Why do we try to invent these new “convenient” ways of doing things when they aren’t really so much convenient as different, and often more expensive in the long run?

Now, to be fair I should point out there are lots of convenience items I fully believe in.  Frozen meat and vegetables, for example.  I’m sure people will argue fresh is better, but I don’t like to run to the supermarket every three days, so I like to stock up the freezer with things that will last a long time.  Besides, it’s cheaper to buy in bulk at Costco.

Sometimes the war of convenience tugs both ways.  As a writer I got used to writing stories on a computer, so naturally my quest for convenience lead to searching for the perfect laptop.  I thought I had that a few times, but no matter what even the lightest netbook can be a bit annoying to carry around everywhere.

Then my dad gave me his old iPod Touch and I realized most of what I wanted a laptop for was handled just fine by the iPod – email, internet research, and so on.  The only thing it couldn’t do was be a word processor.  Now I’ve gravitated to writing my first drafts on a Moleskine notebook instead.  It’s a lighter and more convenient solution for me, but rather than being either a more high-tech or low-tech answer, it split into two separate solutions.

Then there are even things I enjoy that are downright inconvenient – like whole bean coffee.  Don’t ask me why, but I like the morning ritual of grinding beans and using a French press.  But for the most part I’ll be damned if I can taste a difference between that and instant.  I add to much sugar to it, anyway.