Do You Like To Vacuum ? Applauding Manual Labor

Do You Like To Vacuum ? Applauding Manual Labor

There seems a human instinct to want to do physical work.

Do you like to vacuum? Weed in a garden? Plant vegetables? Wash your car? Maybe you enjoy grilling out when the weather is good or taking on a small chore like painting the porch floor or sanding a piece of furniture out in the yard. I’ve done all of these things and more, because I enjoy some physical labor. There are benefits for sure. Physical labor can: burn calories; increase pride of accomplishment; satisfy the urge to be creative.

The Decline of Manual Labor Jobs

Victor David Hanson writes about our changing society in his article AS PHYSICAL JOBS DECLINE, SOMETHING IS LOST. He asks if the reader thinks that the decline of physical jobs in our new culture is to our advantage. “…life superficially appears to get better. Cheap cellphones, video games, the Internet, social media and labor-saving appliances all make things easier and suggest that even more and better benefits are on the horizon.”

But is this a good thing? Hanson talked to academics, lawyers and CEOs, to find that most of them made sure that they biked or ran or lifted weights. So if obesity rates are higher in the class of people doing manual labor, why is this. One possible answer I found: these men and women started out being active and their diet consisted of many calories to support that activity. But as they aged and their metabolism slowed, their eating habits did not change. And possibly they rose up in their jobs and were foremen, more than laborers. Thus age meant packing on the pounds and not burning the calories. Of course not all are overweight. Many are quite fit due to their active work and healthy eating.

But Hanson And I Have A Question For You

What did you do in your past life that you would love to brag about? Or what did you watch or experience that really got your juices going? Hanson claims that the greater percentage of answers would include physical work–the expending of exhausting energy. Like climbing a mountain, conquering a sport for the first time, building something–and to that effect watching someone else expend that physical power. Hanson writes: THERE SEEMS A HUMAN INSTINCT TO WANT TO DO PHYSICAL WORK.

Does TV Have the Answer?

Think about how content on television has changed. While we go to the pantry to get more chips or some caloric snack, we might watch reality TV where people do energy expending stuff. Hanson writes: “In a society that supposedly despises menial jobs, the television ratings..suggest that lots of Americans enjoy watching people of action who work with their hands.”

WHY IS THIS? Because despite our advances, physical labor is the platform, the basis for our success. Men and women have to build cars, pump oil. No app can do that. Hanson writes: “The high-tech, post-modern society still depends on low-tech, pre-modern labor.” That could be you working to prepare a meal for your family, or the mechanic trying to discover why the computer on your car is reading an error. Someone has to get down and dirty to make things happen.

Those I Depended On

When my husband worked in his white collar job, I tended the household. There were many physical things that I could do to keep our home running smoothly. Some of them I mentioned above. But when the basement began to seep water, when termites were found behind a wall, when the roof leaked–I needed the American worker. Without them, house and home would crumble around us. Though to be fair, right this moment my husband is repairing a drawer in our kitchen, one with an odd working angle, not a fun project. He’s found the necessary part and powered up the drill. I will allow a brag or more when he gets the job done.

More of Us Need to Do Physical Stuff

There are many upsides to taking up a chore. As Hanson writes doing what my husband is doing saves money and increases independence. It also helps we humans identity and find common ground with men and women who work.

Philosophical Benefits of Manual Labor

Hanson also mentions something we might forget when shut up in our air conditioned houses and cars, or eager to always dine at a restaurant where we don’t see the slime of meat or the detritus of vegetables. That kind of life hides reality. Some things that we encounter in day to day living must remind us of the struggles of human kind. Maybe they are not our immediate struggles, but someone’s. Hanson writes: “Working outdoors, often alone, with one’s hands, encourages a tragic acceptance of nature and its limitations.” He goes on to say that people who work 20 hours or more in minimum wage jobs know reality more than he did teaching in college.

Final Thought 

Hanson ends his piece by quoting Euripides, the ancient Athenian playwright: “The hopes of countless men are infinite in number. Some make men rich; some come to nothing. So I consider that man (or woman) blessed who lives a happy existence day by day.”

Thanks for reading. I’m going to do some chores now.

PS The Bureau of Labor Statistics States: Among workers age 25 and over, those with an advanced degree were more likely to work at home than were persons with lower levels of educational attainment—43 percent of those with an advanced degree performed some work at home on days worked, compared with 12 percent of those with a high school diploma. (But work at home means sitting at a computer, not building a highway or putting out fires.)

Photo Credit: The New York Times. Take a Labor Day Tour of Blue Color Art.









16 thoughts on “Do You Like To Vacuum ? Applauding Manual Labor

  1. Hi Beth! What an interesting perspective. I think I have to agree with you on many levels. For example, I am a person who loves to walk. Having an energetic dog in the house helps. But when I walk by the community gym in the morning and witness a row of people on treadmills inside a building I always have to ask why? I get it when the weather isn’t good, but when it is nice out, why would anyone want to walk indoors? Of course, with that said, what I really like is having the choice. I’m not very good at house cleaning and I LOVE having someone come in twice a month to do the dirty work. But with that said, we don’t’ have gardeners even though the vast majority of families on our street do–I like working outside with the plants. So to me it is a trade off but ultimately I think the message is that we must stay active right? Thanks for that reminder. ~Kathy

    • Thanks for writing, Kathy. I never liked the treadmill thing, though back in Iowa I had to do that. Now I can walk out every day and it’s great. Though the community has gardeners, I don’t always like what they do and I love my patio area which is all mine. I also enjoy cleaning and back in the day when I did have people come in, I always worked with them. Part of it was the activity, the rest my insistence on doing it MY WAY. I love painting furniture and redoing things with my own skills. The drawer John worked on? Didn’t come out too well, LOL. Beth

  2. There is certainly something to be said for doing something creative around the house. “I think today I will paint the bathroom, it is looking a bit dull.” Off to Home Depot for sandpaper, putty, primer, paint, brushes, a roller, masking tape. Many folks have all of that at the waiting in their basements/garage. And half way through you think, “why am I doing this?”. But when you open the door to the bathroom and see the results there is that moment of pride in what you have accomplished. You might even surprise your wife or members of your family with your ingenuity!!!!!! And you will feel very accomplished, and might even think of doing another chore the following weekend……. 🙂

    • Thanks, Bill. Can’t wait to see your hard work. Wow, the years I have wallpapered, painted, redone furniture. Pride in the work as well as learning something new. It never fails to draw me in. Beth

  3. As someone with bipolar disorder, I have found that manual labor helps me when I am experiencing anxiety. Ito gets me out of my head so I stop over analyzing, generally the cause of the anxiety. it also helps expend built up energy that comes from the fight or flight instinct triggered when I’m anxious.

    • Thanks for sharing this, Tricia. My reasons might be different, but I feel a sense of calm when I have completed various tasks, and as we are discussing here, manual labor also allows my mind time to wander and refuel itself.

  4. Such an interesting blog! I actually do love to vacuum and clean. It provides me with immediate gratification ——–something that I can control and feel good about. I find when I am having a tough time figuring something out…….or if I am upset or sad……… helps me process through those feelings.

    • Thanks, Ellen. Another thing we have in common. Sometimes the physical action of cleaning etc helps me work out a problem. It probably is also the underlying feeling of accomplishment that might heal a hurt or help me deal with a worry. THANKS.

  5. I love to mow the lawn. I’m one of those people who don’t exercise just to exercise, I like to feel like I’m accomplishing something, and if that can happen outside, even better. It’s not just about exercise either, but stress relief as well.

    • Yes, I totally agree with you. Even when we had house cleaners, I always worked with them. When I had a guy who helped with yard care back in Iowa, the operative word was HELPED. Sometimes I felt I did more than he did!! Thanks for your note. Beth

  6. I am a workaholic but unfortunately, that means I am at the computer all day and most of the night! However, since I began working at home I have made it a policy to take a break every hour and do something physical, which is usually vacuuming, weeding, or something that makes my whole body move. My dogs can tell time so they know when my 4 pm break is approaching and they get to go for a walk. Great post. I will try to do more. Thank you.

    • Love you schedule. Works for me. I don’t have a pet, but my husband and I walk almost every day in So Cal for 2.5 to 3. miles. He keeps track and I just enjoy the sunshine and the surroundings. This week with the heat, it has not been that much fun. I have always enjoyed craft-type chores and gardening. I can wield a rake, pitch fork and blower like the best of them. Beth

  7. I have to agree. There is something about physical labor that is more satisfying than mentally challenging activities. I have my feet on both sides of the street and feel very fortunate for the opportunity. I’m a professional juggler and have to work in the heat of the sun doing aerobic activity for much of it. Though as I age, I don’t relish the long days in the heat or the taxing on my body. After 25 years, I’ve sought the refuge of my brain to keep me out of the sun. I work with writers and often sit for 8 hours behind a computer. I can’t quite give up the excitement of performing, but my body is luring me inside more and more to the detriment of certain parts of my body.

    • Wow, I admire what you have done and your skill. And I think I understand your frustration. But leaving behind that manual skill has to be hard. I hope you can set up a schedule where the days you are not at the computer, you are doing some juggling.

  8. In the places in the world where people live the longest, you have 90+ senior picking olives, tending sheep and walking everywhere. There is a lot to be said about continued physical activity. It’s good for you.

    • Right, there have ben entire studies and books written about this. Our computer age will cause us to struggle with it more and more.

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