In Praise of The Inessential, Optional, Unrequired, and Otherwise Unnecessary

Closeup shot of stirring cherry jam with spoon in metal saucepan

I love making preserves. I am the jam, jelly, and marmalade queen, man. Beyond fancy cars, beyond jewellery, beyond a pair of handmade tango shoes from Buenos Aires, homemade preserves are where luxury is at.

What makes them luxurious? The fact that someone took old-fashioned time and care to make them. And furthermore, took time and care to make them when it really isn’t necessary. Think about it: no matter how good, a jar of jam is still a jar of jam, and it’s pretty much something that anyone can buy anywhere. And yet people like me – without orchards or even a single fruit tree – find themselves in the kitchen, thoughtfully stirring pans of sugared fruit.

Luxury. The luxury of the unnecessary.

A luxury that’s becoming rarer every day. Why?

Well, it’s certainly not time: we actually have more leisure time now than we did 40 years ago, even if it doesn’t seem that way. (And “seem” is right: the faster pace of our lives affects how we perceive time, and how we distribute it makes us feel that there isn’t enough of it.)

But there’s another issue: that despite us seeing ourselves as modern, forward-thinking people, we still have profoundly puritanical* roots, and as many of the old virtues are set aside in this brave new world, the puritan inside us still needs expression. And the most common expression is our attitude towards our usage of time.

Truly. Most of us tend to pride ourselves on being open-minded, non-judgmental individuals, and yet when we see someone doing something we think is unnecessary, we exclaim, “How do you have time for THAT?” Rather than being sorry that we don’t have time to do that thing, we feel… well, we feel a little important. A little virtuous. Years ago in an ad for supermarket cakes, two schoolgirls compare lunches: one displays the homemade goodies her mother has made her, and then the other displays the supermarket cake and says, “My mum packed me this – because SHE has a LIFE?” And if that’s not self-righteous, or judgmental, or self-important, I’ll eat my tall, black Puritan’s hat.

Get a life, we say, meaning a life that includes only The Important Stuff. Because, in some whacky reasoning we picked up somewhere along the way, we figure that when we only do Important Stuff, that makes us Important.

Not that I’m against Important Stuff. What I’m against is that relatively few of us sit down to ask whether what we’re doing is important to us, to whether it’s someone else’s idea of important. (Take “Time is money”, for example. Is this our personal philosophy, or that of the people who first put clocks in factories in the 18th Century? And who was that money for really: the workers or the factory owners? Seriously.)

I put it to you that the Inessential, Optional, Unrequired, and Otherwise Unnecessary may not be “important” by anyone else’s standard, but it can still play a vastly important role in your life. Devoting time to the Inessential, Optional, Unrequired, and Otherwise Unnecessary can give you bountiful riches.

To understand why and how, we have to go back to talking about luxuries. How do you feel when you buy yourself a luxury? It’s an indulgence, right? And something else. Something you may not admit, particularly if you’re strapped: you feel as though you have plenty.

Here’s the beautiful irony in all this: when you spend time on the Inessential, Optional, Unrequired, and Otherwise Unnecessary, you feel as though you have plenty of time. Suddenly, the idea that that you’re time poor vanishes like the illusion it always was.

There is, however, one rule – the rule that ensures you honour your time on this planet for the gift it is: you have to do that unnecessary thing with volition. In other words, you have to choose it, and be aware why you’re choosing it.

On Valentine’s Day, I launched The Hearting Project. I’m doing it for fun, and because I think it can make a difference. It’s not a necessary thing, either to me or those who choose to do it with me. I launched it during a very busy time in my life; a time when I could be doing just about any other worthwhile thing. But because I chose to do it, and know exactly why, it is a luxury that makes me feel rich, in so many ways.

What Inessential, Optional, Unrequired, or Otherwise Unnecessary thing will you choose today?





* I don’t mean literally Puritan, or at least not necessarily; just their influence, and similar cultural influencers. Got me? OK – let’s move on.

Photo credit © Kryzhov via Depositphotos