And how it keeps me grounded, humble and calm.
It was a typical Saturday afternoon and I was lying on the bed thinking about what to do for the rest of the day. And I saw the stack of my shirts to iron has piled up in the corner. Looking at the size of the stack, I questioned, if should I iron these clothes at home, or should I give it to some ironing service.
After pondering for a while, questioning what’s my worth for an hour, searching for the closest ironing services on Yelp, I ended up deciding to iron the clothes myself only.
For the past 13 years that I have been living in the United States, I have NEVER given my clothes to any dry cleaning or ironing services.
In hindsight, it was mostly a cost-conscious decision in the early days. It typically takes me 5–10 minutes to iron a shirt. So on average, I can iron somewhere between 6–8 shirts in an hour. With $2/shirt, I was saving somewhere between $12–16/hour. And that’s not a lot saving considering what would be my hour worth.
Over the period I questioned if I am spending my time on the “right” i.e. “high leverage” activity, and instead if I should just give this work to a someone who’s specialized in this job. But every time I decided to give this work to an external service, I would get an inertia of searching for a place, commuting to drop the clothes and then again commuting to pick up the clothes, etc. Considering it would take at least 40–50 minutes in total just to give it to an external service, I would end up doing at home only.
And every single time I iron my clothes at home, it reminds me a story of an ironer from my small hometown in India.
The story of a an ironer from my hometown
I remember this ironer who used to come to our house to pick up all clothes, take it to his home, iron them, and then deliver back to our home. He ran this home-based pickup and delivery service for a couple years until he got enough customers from our neighborhood where he became the de facto ironer for most of the homes.
Eventually, he outgrew his business and built a small 3 ft. x 3 ft. iron sheets based shop near our house. It was a very tiny shop. It didn’t have anything other than — his ironing table, coal-based iron, and a kerosene lantern for the night. Now he stopped coming home, and we had to drop and collect the clothes at his place ourselves. He ran his operations from that shop for a couple years.
He again outgrew his business and bought a small 10 ft. x 10 ft. shop in a shopping center of our neighborhood. He then upgraded to an electric iron, had a light and a fan, 2 ironing tables, hired one additional helper, etc. His business was still growing. He looked very happy and satisfied with his hard work and the progress he had made so far.
All of this happened between my 6th grade to 11th grade. And one thing that did not change in these many years was — the person.
He was still the same hard working person I had seen him on the day one. He was still doing the ironing work himself every single day. He still had the same level of humility and humbleness even after achieving so much success.
Lessons learned from the ironer
And every single time I iron my clothes at home, I still remember him. I remember his journey, his hard work, his success, his humbleness.
Ironing my clothes keeps me grounded and humble. It makes me appreciate the journey of hard work to reach to your desired destination instead of being impatient and taking shortcuts.
But you might question if we would not have given our clothes for ironing to him and instead if we would have done it ourselves, then he would have never built his business. So if I give similar work to the local businesses here in the United States, then they could also build and flourish their businesses.
And I completely agree with that. The only rational argument I could use in my defense would be — the unit economics were very different for similar services in India vs here in the United States when I started working in the United States. And now, it has just become a habit.
I also find ironing my clothes a relaxing and meditating activity. You are focused on one task and are trying to do your job well done. Sometimes I also listen to podcasts or music or watch a movie on TV. That way the regret or concern of if I am spending my time on the right activity does not become a concern anymore.
There is also a sense of satisfaction after finishing ironing with the sight of a neat pile of freshly ironed clothes.
By any means, I am not saying this is “the” approach. This works for me — even though financially or opportunity wise it may not be a wise decision, but I’ve learned to find a good meaning out of this activity.
I hope you may also find any such activity that’s not worth doing yourself purely from a financial perspective, but may inspire you or just bring up the good old memories.