Money and Time Are Both Stackable Units

…and we waste money because we can’t afford to waste time.

Photo credit: frankieleon, CC BY 2.0.

So if you read Do 1 Thing this morning, you know that my apartment has fallen into a ridiculous state of disarray in the four days since I got back from my trip.

It’s at the point where I feel like I’m going to have to spend an entire day cleaning my apartment, which is the last thing I want to do this weekend.

It’s also making me think about what I wrote last year—almost a year ago to the day, in fact—about money being a stackable unit, and how time works in the same way.

First, a recap of the “stackable unit” idea:

When I wrote about kids and allowances a few weeks ago, I wrote that of course I spent my 25 cents on an ice cream, because I knew that it would take way too long to save those quarters for anything that wasn’t an ice cream.

Likewise, if you’re earning “enough” and you’ve got a little bit left over, and you’re only ever going to have a little bit left over, why not share some of what you’ve got?

Now I’ve got more than a little bit left over, and I’m starting to think of my money as stackable units. (This feels like a very Minecraft thing, except I’ve never played Minecraft.) Stack enough money together and I’ve got a debt payment. Stack more money together and I could move into a bigger apartment. Start another stack for savings.

And boy-oh-boy do I not want to let any of that money leave those stacks. I am, very literally, hoarding all of my gold coins for myself.

Now, the same metaphor with time and tasks:

In my apartment a load of dishes (which I define as “enough dishes to fill one half of my double-bowl sink”) takes about 20 minutes to complete. This includes putting the previous dishes away, as well as wiping down the sink and the countertops afterwards.

If I put off doing the dishes for one night, it becomes a 40-minute task by the end of the next day.

It’s a lot harder to find 40 free minutes than it is to find 20, even though it shouldn’t be. 20 minutes is the time it takes to cook rice and bake up tofu and vegetables, for example, and you can batch that with dishes. 40 minutes becomes its own task, and means you have to choose between dishes and something else.

(Of course, the worst part is that the weeks in which you are most likely to let the dishes go are also the weeks in which you are least likely to have 40 consecutive stackable minutes.)

A load of laundry takes 30 minutes to wash, 45 minutes to dry, and 30 minutes to fold and put away. You can do something else while the laundry’s washing, if you have another task that takes fewer than 30 minutes (maybe a load of dishes?) but the drying part breaks everything up because you’ve got to put the clothes in and then come back 10 minutes later to take the clothes you want de-wrinkled but not machine-dried out, and you’ve got to hang all of that stuff up to air-dry, then if you’re planning a second load of laundry you have to go right back down again with the dirty clothes so you can time the washer and the dryer to finish within a few minutes of each other, and so on.

I don’t have enough stackable minutes, while I’m drying clothes, to do much else besides check email and social media and watch YouTube videos.

I often think of my days in terms of stackable time units, in that I block out specific hours for writing and other hours for answering email, and I think of evenings as enough time to get one interesting thing done. Sometimes that interesting thing is watching The Magicians, sometimes it’s hanging out with friends, sometimes it’s writing a chapter of my novel, sometimes it gets turned into “catching up on work”—and sometimes it gets eaten up by chores, which doesn’t leave me enough time after the dishes to do a complete interesting thing.

You’ll note that I wrote “spend an entire day cleaning my apartment” at the beginning of this post. I don’t actually mean an entire day. It won’t take that long. It’ll just take the four free stackable afternoon hours that I might have used to do an interesting thing that wouldn’t generally fit into a weekday evening. (And yes, probably close to four hours when you include the sweeping and the scrubbing and the vacuuming and the putting everything away and the two loads of laundry. I’ll time it for you when I do my Friday Estimate and Monday Check-In.)

So. Back to money. You don’t need me to tell you that the reason we “waste” money on takeout and disposable stuff and so on is because we don’t want to waste time. Here’s how Heidi Moore put it, in her interview with Ester Bloom earlier this week:

When we’re spending on take-out, it’s because we haven’t made room for ourselves to be able to cook for ourselves. We don’t have that time, because we’ve spent too much time at work or on other things, so we have no energy to cook.

The only reason I didn’t get stuck in a takeout hole this week was because I forced myself to get out of the house and buy groceries—a task that took 90 minutes from beginning to end. I’m going to have to do some writing work over the weekend to make up for the “afternoon writing unit” I spent on groceries (which I knew I had to buy in the afternoon, otherwise I’d get too hungry), but at least I saved money on takeout.

So. Do you think like this, when you plan out your own days, or is this another example of Nicole spending way too much time (pun intended) worrying about structuring her life and her finances?

And do you feel like you waste money because you don’t want to waste time—or vice versa?

Support The Billfold

The Billfold continues to exist thanks to support from our readers. Help us continue to do our work by making a monthly pledge on Patreon or a one-time-only contribution through PayPal.