It’s the motivation, stupid

As I puttered in the yard yesterday morning, a utility worker was making the rounds of the neighborhood, reading meters.

“Your yard looks really nice,” he said. “I wish I had that kind of motivation.”

I thanked him and then tried to minimize the compliment with self-deprecating humor: “I’d much rather work in the yard than clean my house!” We both laughed; he went on his way and I went back to weeding.

The truth of that remark stuck with me, though. Why do I feel that way? What is it about yard work that appeals to me, so much more strongly than house work?

A few things came to mind that were true but didn’t seem to carry enough weight. I love being outdoors. I love plants and critters, invertebrate as well as vertebrate. I love doing the stuff that yard work entails: digging, pruning, weeding. I also love doing laundry, though, and putting things away where they belong. What else, I wondered?

Yard work is very satisfying because the results are so tangible: the grass looks neatly trimmed, the beds are a pattern of flowers rather than a riot of weeds. But house work produces tangible results, too: dirt is removed, clutter becomes harmonious and orderly, questionable odors disappear.

But the results are so fleeting, I lamented. You clean up the kitchen from one meal and a couple hours later you start preparing the next meal. You wash all the clothes in the house and at the end of each day there’s a new pile of dirty clothes. When you mow the lawn, it looks nice for a week or more. When you weed, it takes a while for new weeds to grow.

And there it was — my “Aha!” moment. House work seems like such drudgery because the next mess happens almost as soon as its predecessor is cleaned up. Or worse yet, the next mess is in progress before you finish cleaning up the current mess. With yard work, you stand back at the end of the day and survey your accomplishments, knowing that you’ll get to savor it every time you pass through the yard for the next few days. With house work, you stand back at the end of the day and think, I get to do this all over again tomorrow.

Excuse me, Mr. DeMille, but what is my motivation in this scene?

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