From a purely financial perspective, doing one’s own yardwork ignores well-established theories about opportunity cost and comparative advantage. Just as the United States should focus on soybean production and import its avocados, such thinking goes, so its citizens should leave the lawn-mowing to the professional landscapers lest they misappropriate a billable hour.
Indeed, the answer is obvious if the question is going to be discussed in economic terms alone. I save $200 a month by caring for my own lawn but could easily earn more than that figure were I to use my yardwork hours to teach an extra class or write a bit more second-rate political commentary. What I would lose in the bargain, however, is the moral satisfaction of creating order out of chaos, bringing the land up to my own standards, and performing a task that remains — how else to put this? — proper to a man.
A friend of my stepson’s came over at the beginning of June to watch the Champions League final with us. “Man, I really like what you’ve done out there,” he said, gesturing out the window. “You’ve got a miniature Versailles going on.” I demurred that if anything, we were more inspired by the English garden ideal than the overly-geometric French version, but of course I took the compliment in the spirit in which it was intended. “Thanks, but it’s all her vision,” I said, referring to the Lady of the House. “I’m just the groundskeeper.” That’s not entirely true — I just do the brute labor, like mowing the lawn and picking up branches and offering an opinion while shopping at the greenhouse. She’s the artiste who builds, sculpts, cultivates, plants and harvests. I don’t always appreciate having to stoop under the branches of the redbud trees which nevertheless manage to slap my face and knock my hat off, and it certainly is challenging to maneuver around some of the intricate arrangements she’s constructed, but I know my place.
In my days of renting houses, I always had yards small enough to cut with a push mower. I bought this house twelve years ago, with just under two acres of land, but I didn’t upgrade to a riding mower. At the time, there just always seemed to be better things to do with a thousand dollars, but soon enough, I decided I didn’t need one anyway. It only takes about three hours to do the entire yard, and the mower is self-propelled anyway, even though sometimes I refrain from using it just to make it more challenging. I look at it as three hours of enforced walking, mild exercise, and music listening. And I do love the temporary satisfaction of a job well done, as I look over the uniformly-trimmed grass late on a summer evening after mowing. It will only be about three days until I start to see all my work come undone, but that’s plenty of time to enjoy it. While it remains neat and tidy, it reminds me of the professionally-manicured soccer pitches I spend so much time gazing upon. This is worthwhile labor. It is its own reward. As Camus said about Sisyphus, the struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill a man’s heart. I, too, conclude that all is well.