Why you should resist modern conveniences like cooking boxes, personal digital assistants, and other technologies that shrink your brain over time. Focus on challenging yourself and doing as much via DIY as you can, based on your circumstances!we've learned

Why We Resist Convenience Services and Technologies (and It Has Nothing to Do With Money)

In line with my obsession with health, I’m super interested in everything we can do to keep our brains healthy and nimble for many, many years to come. It’s why I include keeping your mind active as one of the top priorities in the Ten Questions to Retire Early. And it’s why I’ve written about staying current on technology in retirement, to avoid getting old too fast, even after we unplug from work, which is how many of us interact with new technology these days.

It’s long been well known that we keep the neural pathways we use, but lose the ones we neglect, and that effect only magnifies with age. But I recently learned something even more terrifying: not only do we lose that pathways, but our brains actually shrink with age, and they shrink faster the less we use them.

There are other factors that affect brain health, of course, like healthy diet and exercise, and overall cardiovascular health. But how we use our brains can have a big impact on whether they shrink slowly — or shrink quickly.

According to this study:

Protective factors that reduce cardiovascular risk, namely regular exercise, a healthy diet, and low to moderate alcohol intake, seem to aid the ageing brain as does increased cognitive effort in the form of education or occupational attainment. A healthy life both physically and mentally may be the best defense against the changes of an ageing brain. [emphasis mine]

Meaning: If we want our brains to stay clear and crisp, we need to prioritize continuing to use them on challenging tasks every day of our lives, and avoid letting ourselves get mentally soft.

As always with health matters, we can’t control everything, but we can do our very best to increase our own odds.

Brain Health Has to Be On Our Minds

So for those of us considering or already embarked on early retirement, we need to prioritize this even more than other people do, because we’re willingly stepping away from the greatest source of not only mental and cognitive stimulation, but also of mental challenges that we might prefer not to have to deal with.

Those stubborn work challenges that make us want to hurry up and retire already are in fact doing us a huge cognitive favor by forcing us to think through problems we wouldn’t choose to take on on our own, and maintain our cognitive function. (So the next time work is annoying, remember that at least you’re maintaining your gray matter. Wohoo!)

If left to our own devices, we’re much more likely to avoid taking on hard problems that don’t interest us, and we’re much more likely to spend our time on familiar tasks, or worse, to spend a lot of time going down internet rabbit holes. (Which is terrifying because research out of China shows that heavy internet usage shrinks and restructures the brain even faster, even in young people. :::shudder:::)

Add to all of that the fact that many of us pursuing early retirement are banking on being able to live DIY-heavy lives for many years, and there’s a lot at stake. Not just our own quality of life, which is about a big as factor as there would be, but also being able to make our finances work long term by insourcing our own care and labor instead of requiring the help of others.

So we need to keep challenging ourselves. Not rocket science, right? Except:

Enter the modern world.

Why you should resist modern conveniences like cooking boxes, personal digital assistants, and other technologies that shrink your brain over time. Focus on challenging yourself and doing as much via DIY as you can, based on your circumstances!

Today’s World Is Conspiring to Make Us Mentally Soft

I’m not talking actual conspiracy here, but more that many smart people have figured out that there are bucketloads of money to be made from making our lives ever more convenient. The very concept of the smartphone has changed our lives immeasurably, and made thousands of once-laborious tasks instantaneous. Our cars get smarter all the time and now do far more than get us from point A to point B. And there are an endless array of home automation products that do all kinds of tasks around the house.

The goal of all of these products and services is to make us reliant on them. To not be able to imagine our lives without them. To fool ourselves into thinking that they are needs, not wants. To forget how to do the tasks we once did on our own, so that we have no choice but to continue pumping money to the companies slinging them.

Our lives undoubtedly move faster than we are equipped to handle. It is no wonder that we’ll take help in any form, especially if it’s wrapped up with the veneer of cool. Especially for those who are struggling to make ends meet, who have even less time than the rest of us, the yearning for convenience in as many areas of life is completely understandable. There’s only one problem:

Convenience Is the Enemy of Brain Size

Every one of these tasks that we once did but now rely on either a piece of technology or a convenience service or product to do for us is a way in which we are making ourselves soft. Not just metaphorically, but in terms of actual brain size and actual cognitive function. Every challenge, every obstacle we remove is like pressing the accelerator toward cognitive decline, dementia, memory loss, movement disorders and all the other bad mental stuff you can think of.

We all have to find the right balance of convenience vs. effort, and it’s important to acknowledge that some people could not survive economically or even physically without some help from conveniences. This is not an attempt to shame them, and instead I’d urge all of us to exercise as much empathy as possible when we see someone else making a convenient choice instead of a self-reliant or money-saving-but-more-time-consuming choice. Some people just don’t have that time, or are too overwhelmed by other things to learn the skills they might need for the DIY approach.

But assuming we have enough time in our lives to make some of these choices, it becomes a lot easier to turn down the convenient option, even if there’s no price difference, or even if the more convenient option is cheaper, if we know what we’re giving up by making that choice — long-term brain health and mental function.

The Problem With the Cooking Box

Recently, a young colleague at work told me that he has started using Blue Apron for dinner three days a week. I nearly jumped out of my chair, and not only because he earns an entry level salary, and the price-per-meal of those home delivery boxes is way higher than if you just shop for the ingredients yourself. (And never mind the amount of packaging and waste that comes with them, which should make any remotely environmentally-minded person feel ill.)

My first thought was: But you’re missing the opportunity to learn about cooking by exploring recipes yourself, and to learn about food by shopping for produce yourself. 

I’ve heard the argument that folks who use those cooking box services enjoy getting exposed to new foods they wouldn’t have otherwise tried, and I can see the value in that. But there’s another way to get that same benefit: try new foods. Like actually make an effort to learn about different fruits and vegetables and spices, research recipes they show up in, and then learn to make those recipes. It’s waaaaaay less easy than throwing some pre-chopped ingredients into a pan (and then throwing away the loads of trash they came wrapped in), but that’s the whole point.

If you’re at a point of overwhelm in life and using those cooking boxes is the only way you can get a fresh, healthy dinner on the table for yourself or your family, then hey, you have my total support and empathy, because you probably have plenty of other challenges on your plate that are keeping your brain active and nimble. I have had plenty of work days when all I wanted in the world was for someone to make it easy for me to eat a healthy dinner, and I totally get that feeling of being so grateful for any help you can get. But those who use the services just to experience new yummy foods without having to put in the effort are missing out on a major opportunity for learning and brain maintenance.

The Problem with Those Personal Digital Assistants

Would you still buy a personal home assistant device and call out to “her” by name if you knew that every time you did, your brain shrank a bit? Yeah, me neither.

While there’s no research to suggest that actual thing happens on a per-usage basis, we do know that the whole point of this piece of technology sitting in your home and listening to you, awaiting your commands, is to make it as easy as possible for you to rely entirely on it. That’s how it can sell you more products (because it’s so easy, and those things make life even easier!).

Our species name, homo sapiens, means “wise man” in Latin, which many interpret as “thinking man” (or let’s go with “thinking person”). But more and more, we’re letting ourselves become “technology-reliant person.” In the past, if we wanted to know the answer to a question, we had to reason it out, or maybe go to the library and look it up. And to look it up in a book, we had to ask other questions first, to figure out where we should even look for the answer. Now we just ask Google, and we know the answer in under three seconds. I’m as guilty of this as anyone, because I’m intractably curious, but I know that every time I ask Google a question instead of trying to remember it myself, reason it out or look it up the old-fashioned way, I’m robbing myself of an opportunity to keep my brain big and healthy.

So while it may not seem like any big thing to ask the little digital hockey puck to tell you how traffic is looking, or to close the garage door for you, those are now things you haven’t done yourself, and especially with the garage door, you’ve now been able to stay seated instead of getting up and doing a task, and oh yeah, sitting is also deadly. And with things you might ask it that involve actual thinking, if you have this friendly, helpful little toy at your disposal at all times, it gets even easier over time to think less for yourself, and to let it think more and more for you.

I still stand by my assertion that it’s important to stay current on new technology, so we don’t wake up one day and find ourselves socially or technologically isolated, or afraid of learning new things. But, if we can learn to ask the question of whether a particular new piece of technology is something that will expand our interaction with the real world or shrink it, we’ll have the answer we need on whether that thing is something to add to our lives.

(And, I’m not gonna lie here — maybe I overlearned the lesson of 2001: A Space Odyssey, but I’m not especially keen on putting machines in charge of the functions of our home, or even to give them permission to listen to us at all times. Remember Hal, and how we took over the ship? I’m not inclined to find out if that could ever cross over from science fiction to science reality.) 

Finding the Right Balance

Like with everything, we have to find our own balance. Not getting so focused on saving money that we don’t enjoy our lives en route to our big goal. Not getting so focused on health that we won’t let ourselves enjoy our own birthday cake. (Mmmmm, cake.) Not getting so focused on doing everything ourselves that we drive ourselves crazy and spend all our free time on chores. But viewing each new convenience that arrives in front of us as a trade-off, and possibly a big one at that. As something we could grow reliant on, that could make us softer mentally or physically, and that could even accelerate the shrinking of our brains.

So with all of that said, what feels like the right balance for you? What are conveniences that have been worthwhile additions to your life, that have allowed you to focus your energy on tasks that are essential to your well being or important to you? And what are the conveniences you eschew for any number of potential reasons? Any of those new conveniences that you find super tempting, but that you now find yourself wanting to resist when you think about them shrinking your brain? Let’s discuss all of it in the comments!

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83 replies »

  1. I wrote a post on this a few months ago called “Conveniencing Ourselves to Death” that touched upon some of these points. I agree that we are missing out on opportunities to move, think, create, and interact with others.Of course, I’m all for a level of convenience, as I’m typing this on my laptop with Internet. But we do need to draw the line somewhere, and our physical, mental, and emotional health needs to be a factor even more than our money.

    • Oh man, I missed that one! I need to go back and find your post because I’m sure we were on similar wavelengths. Some convenience is fine, as you said, and necessary to navigate the world today. But yeah, so important to draw that line, even if figuring out where to draw it is its own challenge.

  2. In our community we have created a community garden where children are taught things like basic math skills while planting a garden in May/June or making juice from apples grown on trees in the common space in September. The idea is to preserve the old skills, making jam, canning tomatoes and putting root vegetables by. These skills are vanishing. I personally find it shocking to discover people who not only don’t know how to can tomatoes, they can’t even make a hamburger from scratch!

    • How wonderful for your community and the next generation! I also find it befuddling when folks don’t have basic skills, but I do try to remind myself that they have other skills that those of us who are multiple decades old will never appreciate. While losing traditions can be hard to swallow, I don’t think everyone needs all the same skills — though there are for sure some basic ones that make life and saving money a lot easier!

  3. Terrifying but true. I feel guilt every time I hire out something to be done on the house, and I wonder if I’m doing it just so I have more internet or TV time and if so what is that doing to my brain? Those cooking boxes baffle me, too. The only people I know who use them are my friends who already like to cook. Baffling.

    • Weird! Your already-cooking friends get the boxes?! I’m sure there’s some level on which that makes sense, but it escapes me. I hope you don’t feel guilt about everything that you outsource — it’s a terrible use of time to learn EVERY skill your home could require. But certainly we should all try to keep challenging ourselves as much as we can within reason.

  4. Yes! A friend just sent us a reminder that it was the last day to get $100 off the purchase of a “Nest” thermostat. My instant reaction was negative, but I didn’t know quite how to explain why I don’t want that! I tend to frame it more in terms of money spent, but that’s not really an issue.

    It’s about not needing a device that allows me to change the temperature of my home from my cell phone once I leave from vacation, because I can just plan ahead and adjust the thermostat before I go! It helps to put it in the context of losing brain cells–most people still value those!

    • It’s interesting the stuff that strikes a chord for each of us. I have less of an issue with the Nest because I like the idea that it tries to save energy, and I don’t know how much thinking most people are losing out on by not interacting more with their thermostat. (Everyone we’ve known who’s had a Nest has interacted with it far more than we interact with ours, which is essentially never.) But your points make total sense, and it definitely feels like you should avoid that thing if it will rob you of some good thinking tasks! (Plus, there’s just no need to spend that money if you already have a good system!)

      • I think I am just a crazy high use thermostater! Yup, for the average user I think maybe it is good to save energy. We’re so careful with our energy use, it’s hard for me to imagine an electronic device could do it better. But I’m sure there are other devices that wouldn’t get me so worked up!

  5. Dissenting Viewpoint Warning:

    I know to the PF community, Blue Apron might as well be Red Apron, with 2 horns included, but we use it, because we welcome the convenience, since it is a time saver, and opens up time to tackle other tasks that do allow us to use our brain. Yes, you could take the time to buy all that stuff in the grocery, comb the universe for recipes, but that all takes time. We are comfortable with the expense due to the convenience and time savings. We feel this works for our situation.

    Like you said, it’s a balance, and we prefer to use this convenience and choose other tasks to work out our brains.

    • I’m using those boxes more as an example for the range of things that make us soft, not specifically targeting them as the four horsemen of the apocalypse. If you use them so that you can focus on doing legit thinking elsewhere, and you can afford them (and you’re doing other things to offset their outsized environmental impact), then no grief from me. (But seriously, all that packaging.)

  6. I’m with you on technology running our houses. Anytime you open up your network, no matter how secure the connection claims to be, you’re putting everything that runs on your network at risk along with all the products being controlled. I would NEVER have security cameras attached to my wi-fi, especially cameras inside my house!

    That being said, I do have a wi-fi thermostat, smart plug, and Echo Dot. I’ve had problems with my furnace shutting off in the middle of the winter and, with pets, it’s a concern. This allows me to keep an eye on things so they don’t freeze while I’m at work. The smart plug is for the lamp in my living room, since there’s no light switch. I tried using an old school timer but found it never to be very accurate and this keeps a schedule so much better.

    I’ll admit that I got the Echo Dot out of total curiosity. To be honest, I don’t use it much — only to have it occasionally turn on the light for me or to play music. I never used Siri on my iPhone so I’m not at all surprised that I don’t use Alexa. It kind of creeps me out so I don’t know how much longer it’ll last in my house. Who on earth is buying the camera version??

    Once this stuff ages out and is no longer supported, it probably won’t be worth replacing. I find it way too tiring to keep up but doubt I’ll ever lose my fascination with new products/technologies.

    It’ll be interesting to see what comes in the future as far as privacy concerns/rights. It’s shocking to me that people give up their privacy so easily for the sake of convenience.

    • Oh I definitely get the appeal of that stuff. There have been times we’ve left on trips and wondered if we closed the garage door, and don’t have those fancy products that would let us log in and find out. So we’ve missed out on some peace of mind there, and have had to do the old-fashioned thing and call the neighbors.

      And we have some tools we use and like, such as Sonos, but I like that it’s not a thing that’s sitting and listening anywhere. It’s just an app we can navigate through to play music in different rooms. I know plenty of people don’t mind the watching and listening stuff, but I don’t know… I am not interested in getting comfortable with those pieces of tech. ;-)

  7. I don’t think preventing brain shrinking is too difficult. Crosswords, Sudoku, or other brain games could possibly give you all you need to keep your brain mass. Or perhaps learning a foreign language.

    For those who are retiring early, maybe managing that retirement nest egg and traveling to different locations is all you need?

    I’m not a fan of cooking boxes, mostly because of the cost and environmental points you made. Learning to cook is important, but my taste buds aren’t very sensitive so I’m all for quick, simple recipes of few ingredients. I can shop for these very easy at the local Aldi.

    I do love my Amazon Echo. Setting it up to close the garage door is actually a fairly good brain exercise. I’d have to program my own “skill” for my garage door. And pressing the button near the garage door is what I’d do most of the time anyway. I tend to use it to play music a lot easier than navigating an computer directory or phone app. You only give them permission to listen for the “wake word” and what comes after.

    This post reminded me of the end of Wall-E. If you’ve seen the movie, you know what I mean.

    • We did the WSJ crossword puzzle as a group at the firehouse yesterday. Many of the answers came from our brains, but there were some that we never would have gotten without Google. I guess that’s where the balance comes in…

    • Oh man, you’re not going to read this: https://www.nytimes.com/2016/12/31/opinion/sunday/how-to-become-a-superager.html. (Spoiler: those puzzles are not remotely enough.) And I didn’t write this in the post because there isn’t currently any research on it, but the sitting research is telling. The more you sit, the more you increase your risk of death, *regardless of how much you exercise.* (Let that sink in — we all need to!) So you could literally run marathons every week, but if you sit in a chair all day, you’re more than erasing the benefit of all that exercise. And the thing it all makes me wonder about is if we’re soon going to hear something similar about our brains. That every time we do a lazy task, we accelerate our brain aging, regardless of how many puzzles or brain exercises we also do. Let’s hope they’re working on that research now so we’ll know sooner rather than later.

      But big picture response to you is: none of that stuff is likely enough. We need actual challenges that feel unpleasant and force us to work and think in ways we’d rather avoid. Otherwise, hello rapid cognitive decline.

      And as for the Echo and whether it’s listening, don’t fall for their line! In order to hear the wake word, it has to be listening all the time. ;-)

      • Thanks for passing on that article… I hadn’t seen it. I wasn’t saying that doing puzzles was a cure, but it feels more mentally engaging than the tasks that the Amazon Echo substitutes. I also mentioned learning a foreign language which made it in the article (yay!)

        I hear you about sitting. I got a walking treadmill a couple of years ago when those studies were coming out. Even without that, I generally work in 3 dog walks a day. It seems easier for me to grasp, “don’t sit” vs. “learn a new difficult skill.”

        While the Echo is always listening, it isn’t recording or sending any information until the wake word is spoken. For the purposes of privacy, it’s probably better than a lot of other stuff online.

      • I am a huge believer in learning foreign languages, and plan to keep upping my number in retirement. Learning a bit of Japanese for our trip last winter was super fun and a good challenge — definitely stoked for more of that. (Plus, Japanese — the verbal part, anyway — is actually not hard. No genders and mostly no pronouns helps a lot!)

  8. I’m with you on working to keep the brain active and working, and resisting the lure of convenience! I’m guilty of taking the easy way as well, but am surely working on it. How crucial to be mindful of the mind, especially post-retirement! And yes, Blue Apron and the like are pretty cringe-worthy due to the environmental impact if nothing else. The cost and the fact that ingredients are likely to go to waste since people are using it to “try new foods” that they might hate are also a deterrent. To each his own, but it’s worth examining whether the common-sense alternative you mentioned (researching recipes and learning how to cook them) is feasible.

    • I’m definitely aware that not everyone has the luxury of time to learn how to cook (though I’m guessing that the folks with the least time also can’t afford those cooking boxes, so maybe it’s apples and oranges). But I think seeing this stuff in brain health terms does help to make the right choice for each of us more obvious! :-)

  9. All wonderful points. A happy side effect of avoiding convenience is, of course, saving money (usually). I’ll admit that was my primary motivation, since I’m such a blubberbutt to begin with. But it’s true that working harder for the things you enjoy keeps you more active and more grateful for what you have.

  10. Technology even makes trying new foods easier. You can go to one of the foodie websites, like Epicurious or Allrecipes or even food network, type in a few ingredients you have on hand, and it will spit out recipes that use those ingredients. I do this on the few occasions that my wall of cook books lets me down.

    Staying in the spirit of the post, I would use this method to overcome inertia or fear of the unknown. It is much better to get a cook book for a cuisine you want to try, and explore it yourself.

    • I think that’s so true. I get that people like the discovery of new recipes that those boxes provide, but it might be worth getting the same discovery with a little more work, at least from a brain health perspective (not to mention a financial one!).

  11. You hit the nail on the head with this post – nice work!

    I’m a firm believer in keeping my brain active, and maintaining skills or learning new ones regularly. I have zero interest in much the technology out there (self-driving cars, a box that can take orders from me in my house – scary!, even HVAC for the vast majority of the year), although I do rely heavily on the internet. I’ve learned a ton from youtube videos!

    We will not be ordering prepped meals via mail, preferring to grow and prepare it ourselves. It may be convenient, but that’s not us. We heat with self-procured firewood, preserve food, make our own maple syrup, beer, and cider, and read actual books that require a trip to the library to obtain (no Kindles or iPads among us). These are things that help us maintain our relationship to the world, and are skills and activities that we want our daughter to know.

    • It’s interesting where we each draw the line! I can’t imagine life anymore without my Kindle, because it makes it so much easier to read more, especially while traveling where I can’t always just grab another library book. But I do think there’s something wonderful about physical books, and I’m glad that you’re working to instill that love in your daughter! And as you said, the internet is such an amazing tool for learning — it truly is a great democratizer of information. It’s just when we become totally reliant on it and can’t function without it that we know we’re doing it wrong. ;-)

  12. Have you ever read The Time Machine? I recently read it, and it’s very in-line with this post!

    We’re still trying to find the right balance for our family. We love our Nest Thermostat and Amazon Prime Subscribe and Save (never run out of diapers!!). Auto-maintenance is one convenience service I’ve always used that I want to start DIY’ing. I guess I’m starting to lean more toward insourcing things that build skills but continuing to outsource things that require little skill and can be automated.

    • As in the HG Wells classic? I have read it, and was in a dramatic interpretation of it in middle school. Hahaha. And I don’t think any one technology is inherently bad (except maybe those tiny spies in our homes, ha), and we’re big fans of Subscribe and Save, too, for things that would otherwise force us to set foot in Target and risk buying much more. I don’t know that we need the mental enrichment of shopping for toilet paper. ;-) But for tasks that at least used to require real thinking and problem-solving, it’s great you’re focused on insourcing them as much as possible.

  13. I found myself agreeing with this post so much. I’m actually good with directions and navigating, but now that google maps can dictate my driving directions I found that I don’t learn how to get to new places. So I’ve tried on occasion to look up directions ahead of time and not use my phone to get me there. It does work I actually remember how to get there the second time without my phone crutch.

    And about those food boxes… I have tried one out as a cheap trial to see what they were about (and for the limited time and offer the cost was fine). I do love trying new food, and it was all excellent. But in the end I felt horrible about the “ice” part of the packaging, I placed them in my chest freezer hoping to use them again, but if you had the service for more than a couple of weeks, that’s got to be a huge landfill problem. I think people aren’t learning how to meal plan. I know my husband can look at a kitchen full of food and have no idea what to do with it. (My daughter seems to be heading down that path as well.) Maybe there is a trade-off with convenience you can also get subscriptions to meal planning services, and then try to move off them after you work through a few weeks. Plus then you can support local foods for most items.

    • I love that you still try to navigate the “real” way. Like you said, when we navigate by computer, we don’t commit it to memory the same way, which should be proof enough to anyone that technology does change how our brains interact with the world. I recently heard someone say it’s actually bad for our memory overall that we don’t memorize phone numbers anymore. I didn’t put that in the post because I couldn’t find solid research on it (though I didn’t look that hard), but I believe it could be true.

      I think you’re right that you could use those boxes as a way to learn a few new recipes to rotate into your repertoire, and that’s a fine use of those services — that was what I recommended my young colleague do.

  14. Ugh! I think those cooking boxes are ridiculous. Why can’t you chop your own vegetables and look up how to make this dish on YouTube. There are so many resources now to help you cook. It’s stupid to pay ridiculous price for Blue Apron. They seems to be doing well so I’m completely wrong about this. People just want convenient and they don’t mind paying for it. Ridiculous…
    Convenience that I accept? Amazon stuff when I can get free shipping. Not Prime, it will just encourage me to spend more. Walmart has free shipping now too. That’s about it…

    • I feel for people who look at the hour it will take to prep and cook dinner the DIY way vs. the 15 minutes it will take with a cooking box and realize that without the help, they won’t be able to get a homemade meal on the table. But it does seem to be an awfully high premium to pay for the convenience, in terms of cost and environmental impact. #lifestyleinflation And I’m with you on free shipping, even though my rational mind knows that nothing is free and it’s really just built into the pricing. There’s still something psychologically comforting about not adding a surcharge to receive something. ;-)

  15. I don’t know if it’s an outcome of where I live right now(rural), or if I’ve always been curious, but I’ve been really trying to teach myself new skills whenever I get the opportunity. I’m taking a coding course right now and it’s crazy how flexible our brains are when you need to do something new! Of course, this course cost money, but it was well worth it because a) now I have a new skill for my resume and b) it gave me something to do!

    (On another note, if you want to keep your brain healthy- meditate! There is a ton of research out there that suggests that mediation actually slows down the aging process and it’s basically just exercise for your brain. Long term meditators have been known to look decades younger than their actual ages!)

    • Total believer in meditation here. But it’s also super great to keep learning new things as well — kudos to you for doing that coding course! That’s so awesome that you’re expanding your skills, perhaps just out of curiosity. It’s interesting that the research on aging says we also need to experience actual situational discomfort and be challenged to solve problems we don’t enjoy to keep our brains young. Still thinking about some good ways to do that without it sounding so un-fun! ;-)

  16. I don’t understand people that buy these cooking boxes either. I mean how hard is it to chop vegetables yourself?

    Although I work in the high tech industry and work with advanced technologies on a day-to-day basis…at home I’m probably one of the low tech people you’d encounter. We don’t have a TV, we don’t have a home network set up to share data between devices, we still use a cable printer, we don’t back up data onto the cloud, our smartphones aren’t loaded with different apps, we still read books rather than ebooks, and we still carry physical cards instead of loading them onto phone apps. Somehow I just prefer doing things the old fashion way.

    • I assume that it’s a time-vs-money question, and the people who do it have more money than time. We make choices like that, too, like outsourcing home maintenance we could do ourselves because we don’t have time right now, or at least spending the time would take away from things that are actually important to us. So I get it — but I also think it’s important to recognize what you’re trading for those conveniences (in addition to the money, of course!). ;-) That’s super interesting to know that you’re so low-tech at home!

  17. This is one of the couple things I’m most excited about. DIY-ing stuff more frequently since I’m not in a rush. Rode my bike to a few things I had planned last week, since I could spare the time (admittedly, I’m still overly scheduled, but I’m working on that). Experimenting in the kitchen and expanding my small repertoire of cooking skills sounds exciting and I already find chopping veggies quite meditative. Going a step further and making my own lotion is on the list after our two week outdoor-oriented vacation (starts on Friday!).

    • Making lotion itself is quick, but cleaning out the blender takes for freaking ever… so good thing you have time on your hands now! Haha. But same here! We’ve been leaning more on conveniences and shortcuts to get us through this last year, and I’m stoked to go back to doing a lot of things the hard way. ;-) Have a great vacation!!

      • Oh no. Now I know what to expect. I have leaned on conveniences big time the past few months. After we had a kick butt lettuce garden going all winter, I totally slacked and didn’t plant the summer veggies and fruit this year so there is only an overgrown and dried out kale bush, and some arugula that’s dried out and gone to seed out there right now. When we get back though, I’ll throw in all the good compost we have cooking and hope the dirt gets all sorts of good nutrition and I can get that thing dialed in for the fall.

      • I’ll be honest — I have a separate blender I got at Goodwill that I use just for that stuff, because it’s impossible to get it all out, and I do not need lavender lotion in my morning green smoothies. ;-) And I’m sure the current garden situation is a bummer, but you’re about to have so much time to remedy that, and you can plant year-round where you are, which the rest of us are highly jealous of. ;-)

  18. While there isn’t a lot of research out there right now, it’s fascinating to watch and work closely with the first few generations of digital natives. My students brains work so differently than mine. Though I do notice that I have adopted ugly habits like checking in with my phone before bed…or while I’m reading a book.

    And you’re right that there really is no substitution for living an active lifestyle. As someone who has done more sitting in the past nine months than probably ever before, I can tell you how different I feel (more mentally than physically).

    • Oh my gosh, yes. I’m so curious to learn how the digital native stuff makes their brains different from ours — I’m sure there will be some negatives but also some positives that are fascinating. And I’m sooooo excited for you to get to stop sitting so much, soon. Can you nurse while going for a walk? ;-) (JK, I’m not that much of a clueless non-parent!)

  19. This is my first post comment (ever!) on a FIRE blog. Yerp, and I have to go and get controversial…

    In defense of readers who use Blue Apron, drive pickup trucks (huh?), or heaven forbid, own a dog (gasp and double huh??):

    I do not use Blue Apron, but understand why some might. Why? Because I hate to cook. It is as simple as that. Some may choose to use the service while still living well below their means. And I am so good with that!

    I love the themes of this post, including prioritizing brain health. Yet, the argument against Blue Apron can be used with so many of our activities. Need an oil change? Study and DIY. Need a brake job? DIY baby! Need a new transmission? Even better! Harder to learn and perform = more mental stimulation = more brain health. Environmentally friendly? Do you know what some of those mechanics really do with all those fluids and used filters?? Need a new car? Let’s learn to build one!!

    Okay, I know, knock off the sarcasm A Guy! What the heck is your point?

    I’m very new to the FIRE blog world (reader). I respect and appreciate the work you (bloggers) do. But there seems to be a tendency for some to be very judgmental on narrowly applied specifics. A new reader who reviews some of the comments under this post (who happens to use Blue Apron) would be so turned off:

    “I don’t understand people that buy these cooking boxes either. I mean how hard is it to chop vegetables yourself?”

    “Ugh! I think those cooking boxes are ridiculous. Why can’t you chop your own vegetables and look up how to make this dish on YouTube.”

    “And yes, Blue Apron and the like are pretty cringe-worthy due to the environmental impact if nothing else.”

    The first couple of FIRE blog posts I randomly read were by a very famous (infamous?) blogger. With the first one, I learned that if you own a pickup truck (nope, I don’t) different from the types blessed by the blogger, you are a “dumb**s.” In the second one, I learned that society has gone “bats**t crazy” in relationship to dog ownership (yep, got one). And some of the reader comments would have easily fit into a Jerry Springer blog (yep, the uncensored one).

    Holy Cat Claws, Batgirl!

    I love Ms. ONL’s site, and this is in no way meant to apply to her blogs. This is more of a polite message to all FIRE bloggers from a new reader who really, really wants to stay positive: Don’t be so judgmental, chicos and chicas! Read one of my favorite blogs written by Ms. ONL, “It’s Okay to Be a Brat When Planning for (Early) Retirement.” Though we may not admit it, everyone is a FI Brat with indulgences. Round up the hounds, jump in your souped up pickup truck and serve up the Blue Apron!

    • Hands in the air for you! First off, I’m delighted to be the place where you commented first, and YES to so much of this. (And of course thank you for your kind words!) ;-) But yes, there is real harm that comes from espousing a certain philosophy with the assumption that our own experience is universal. There are PLENTY of good reasons why someone might choose to order a cooking box service (or drive a pickup truck or own a dog, or insert not frugality-endorsed thing here), and looking solely at cost misses the point. We all have to prioritize what’s most important to us, and also just whatever gets us through each day or week. Not everyone has the luxury of equal time or ability to cook (see Revanche’s comment below!), and judging them for their choices doesn’t help, and as you said, potentially makes them feel unwelcome in these discussions. So three cheers for all of this!

      A two dog owning, SUV-owning, Whole Foods-shopping non-frugalite. ;-)

  20. Related to cooking, grocery shopping and brain exercise; while traveling and shopping for groceries, navigating new stores is a good mental challenge. I don’t do much of the shopping at home, so I’m at a disadvantage vs my wife. On the road we’re more equal, both of us have to search out items.

    I can see the point of view that it’s just walking around picking off shelves, couldn’t we have that done for us.

    In any case, it’s definitely a first world problem; how to find all the readily available goods available to us in stores…

    • You made me realize that Mr. ONL is in a similar position: he does much less of the shopping here (though certainly not none!), and so it is more “equal” when we travel. Never thought of that!

  21. You are so right, there are so many services that you can order just by a couple of clicks on an app! I’m not immune to their temptations and have tried out a few but nothing has stuck. It is always so hard to justify the added expense for a bit of time-saving (and apparently brain deterioration!)
    I have a co-worker who orders food through Skip the Dishes constantly and I just can’t get over what a waste of money it is. Delivered food never even tastes that good! We cook at home almost all the time and when we do eat out we try to go somewhere we can walk or bike to. Still pricey but at least we’re supporting local and getting some exercise.

    • I’d probably come down on the other side of things and say delivered food tastes DELICIOUS, mostly because we didn’t have to cook it. Haha. And I think the “waste of money” point is relative to each person and what they prioritize, though certainly true for most of us interested in saving aggressively. I love your point about going out to eat instead to get exercise and support a local business!

  22. We were just talking about this, weren’t we? I’m having an echo of deja vu ;)

    I’ll say “A Guy” makes a good point. There are an awful lot of blogger/commenters who sound a bit too holier-than-thou on the Blue Apron example like it’s completely unthinkable that any smart or thinking person would pay for a service like that. I’ll raise my hand right now and say I don’t but dang I wish I could afford a sous chef. If you had to spent an hour in my skeleton, you’d know that standing for that hour chopping vegetables comes at a very real and long term cost. Not to mention hand deformities and loss of range of motion – it’s pretty hard to dice onions when your fingers are dislocated or can’t bear pressure. I’ve adapted because I love cooking but it means there are days I have to give up other things that are incredibly important to me too. I literally choose between cooking a healthy homemade meal for my family and the ability to sleep that night because of the pain it causes.

    That doesn’t even take into account the fact that I also do our grocery shopping to get raw ingredients and ideas for making those meals in the first place and that’s another huge cost.

    The point I’m making here is that there are reasons for using services that your lived experiences don’t include.

    In any case, for money and environmental reasons I don’t do Blue Apron but I sure do take convenience elsewhere to make up the differences. It’s amazing how much I can learn on the internet about cooking, baking, substitution of ingredients that would have been so much more difficult to access in the past! My favorite thing to do with any new recipe is to read about ten of them, find the common factors and build my own recipe tailored to my time and energy constraints and our dietary preferences (always add a veg, reduce the fat and sugar). I’ve got my own little cookbook that I’ve created with those Frankenstein recipes now and they’re even fit for company! But you’ve got me thinking about making our diet even healthier so that’ll be a new level of tweaking.

    • At least 50% of my posts originate as conversations with friends… plus this one has been on my mind a while! ;-)

      And YES, totally with you on not being so judgy about those who use the cooking boxes. There are plenty of good reasons to use them, and though the cost is jaw-dropping to frugally minded people, not everyone has the luxury to do things the hard way, for reasons you cited and plenty of others. My only argument is in favor of not using those boxes or any other convenience mindlessly, without knowing what you’re trading for the convenience.

      And your approach to recipe hacking sounds awesome. Maybe I can borrow that technique in retirement!

  23. It is mentioned before: balance is key. What I’d you use the tech to gain time so you can think more at work? Waze already saved me a ton of time so I could be more often where it matters rather than in a traffic jam. That is a keeper.

    Lunch boxes are a no go here due to the price. There are variants here where they deliver each week the raw ingredients and you cook yourself. We actually use their recipes to get inspiration and discover new meals.

    The challenge is indeed to keep your brain trained and active. I have only gutt feeling: people that stop the mental challenge get stuck at that point in time. Looks like a waste to me

    • You will note I did not bash the digital map programs. While there is some evidence that we lose spatial reasoning skills when not forced to learn our way around, I think Google Maps is a lifesaver. On our trip to Japan, for example, when half the streets *don’t have names* and the ones that do have street signs we can’t read, it would have been a VERY different experience without Google Maps. Like Waze for you.

      And I think there are good reasons to use those cooking boxes (though I have a hard time getting past the environmental impact), but think it’s important to know what you’re trading for the convenience. And if the convenience in one area lets you really use your mind in another, then great!

  24. There are those of us who just couldn’t function without our personal data assistants…that’s sad. When I’m at a restaurant and glance over at another table and see an entire family of four sitting at the table with their faces buried in their cell phones, it genuinely makes me fear for the future of our society. We’re social animals by nature. Technology is great, but man, we’ve turned these things into something that we NEED – else, we feel naked and void of any and all meaning.

    Regarding the boxed meals thing…though expensive, I can totally understand it. I don’t particularly enjoy cooking. I’d rather not spend a ton of time cooking because I’d rather be doing other things with my time…things I enjoy more. Perhaps your coworker is the same. To them, the time-savings is worth the cost. For the longest time, restaurants were worth the cost to me. It was super expensive and I knew it, but I did it anyway because I just didn’t enjoy meal preparation and I was willing to foot the bill. I think there are a lot of things in life where paying some dough might be worth it.

    I probably should have paid for those boxed meals instead of getting takeout all the time. It would have saved me a bunch of cash! :)

    • You’ve seen me in the presence of my phone, and it’s kind of you not to mention how unhealthy that relationship is. ;-) But yeah, it makes me DEEPLY sad to see groups out together, interacting only with their devices and not with each other. Or especially couples doing that. (Like why even go out? Why not stay home where it’s cheaper?) ;-)

      And I am only arguing for balance, and for recognizing the trade-offs we make for convenience. So if those boxes make sense for you (though I’d imagine they can’t be delivered to an Airstream on the move!), great! You know what you’re getting into. ;-)

  25. I don’t read like I used to. And I used to say when I was working it’s because I was too busy. Now that I am retired, I still don’t read hard copy like I wish I did. I blame if it partially because I am on the internet reading many different things and responding to blogs like this. Hmmmm, does that take the place, is equal to what I want to do, or should I be doing more? Your comments make me wonder even more.

    • Yeah, no easy answer to those questions, though of course I am not going to tell you to stop reading blogs, or at least not this one! ;-) Haha. I think it’s about what makes you most fulfilled and enriched. I don’t think there’s anything more inherently virtuous about reading books vs. reading online content, but it’s about which makes you happier — or which you’d feel sadder to miss out on.

  26. Ah so totally get it. Here are my random thoughts on the matter and beyond ha!

    I realized a while back when I don’t do ‘old fashioned tasks’ I start to get anxious and kind of depressed. Dumb example – we did many years ago grocery delivery until we realized that walking to the grocery store is what actually gave us a lot of extra ‘connection’ and taking time. We never did that ordering again.

    Technology is a double edge sword though as is the incredible pace of change and how anxious / stressed it can make you without you even noticing. This is why we love hiking to get away from the crazy amount of technology, pace of change, too much information etc (which really screws with your brain and sleep patters) AND to your point of keeping a healthy mind, love the idea of traveling constantly esp in places we are really foreign to force our brains to hear different languages and have to be in new situations all he time.

    Exercising doing rock climbing or trying to beat your PR on a run for example, also are great for a focused mind. And budgets and predictive models – I love those for fun to keep my brain engaged in different ways since I such at puzzle solving – pen to paper or excel, in addition to mint and personal capitals, etc. to keep the brain active.

    And finally we got a bucket list – I read the brain gets a shot of happy hormones when you click those (and tasks) off. This is when I was doing research on neuroplasticity recently.

    I am now daily committing to writing down the 3 specific things I am grateful for (spiritual health), I get in some walking and or weight work (physical work), some mindfulness exercise (inner peace/ mental health) and some mind problem solving situation (mind agility). I do try to eat well but sometimes it is harder with kids and work and all…(pork tacos, why are you so good!).

    I tell you though – we do monthly challenges of habits we want to change or random things we want to do and one month I tried going technology free for 3 hours in a row at least every weekend day, I failed!!

    • I especially love your grocery shopping example, and the fact that you recognized that the increased convenience actually robbed you of the experience of walking to the store. Those trade-offs are often not visible to us, so I love that you guys recognized that! And your daily commitment is legit — congrats on doing all of that! (Wow.) And yeah, talk to Mr. ONL about those pork tacos… ;-)

  27. I’ll admit to falling prey to Amazon Prime Day yesterday (damn you, coworkers, for mentioning it. I wouldn’t have known otherwise!). While I was on there perusing the scores of junk and things I absolutely don’t need, I noticed a deal for an electric pepper/salt grinder. An electric pepper grinder?! Why on earth would we need a device that saves us from a few twists of the wrist? I feel like plugging the thing in might take more time than grinding pepper the old-fashioned way!

    I didn’t have a smartphone until about three years ago, and I will admit it was life-changing. But I, like most people it seems, am hopelessly addicted to it and am trying to wean myself off. There’s something to be said for so much knowledge at your fingertips, but I don’t need to ask Siri to remind me that I have a doctor’s appointment or anything. I’ve got a paper planner for that.

    • No shame — I bought a few things on Prime Day, too. ;-) And back in our baller days, we had one of those automatic pepper grinders, and it was pretty brilliant for adding pepper while your other hand was occupied stirring the pot. But yeah, kind of an unnecessary unitasker. ;-) And I feel you on the smartphone addiction — hoping it’s not too late for me and I can recover my fully human self after we quit! Haha.

  28. Not sure if you’ve addressed this before but what are your phone plans once you give your work phones back? Type of phone and carrier?

  29. For all the reasons I’ve felt that “convenience” is dangerous, I hadn’t ever heard the argument that it’s actually shrinking our brains. I’d call this discovery terrifying :)

    I think there’s a good hybrid here though of doing things the “hard way” until you’ve stopped learning and finding joy and then automating them so you can shift your focus on new challenges. There’s a certain amount of blog administration that comes to mind as something that used to be new and full of technical challenges but now just mindlessly eats up time. I’m working on automating these things so I can get a bit more time back and learn something new.

    Thanks for sharing this!

    • Because I’m sure you needed something else to worry about. ;-) Haha. I like how you framed this — hard way until you master something, then move on to the next skill to do the hard way. That’s smart. Especially because it assumes that some things, like critical thinking and info retrieval, are things we never master and therefore will always have to engage in. And amen to automating those blog tasks! ;-)

  30. I’ve had a standing desk or the last 9 years and use the hell out of it. Then some days I think – is it better to stand for 6-7 hrs a day than sit? :) Probably yes, but when I need a sit break I jsut pop into a meeting or coworkers office.

    We have an echo dot and the only thing it does is mostly play music for us, or act as a timer. We haven’t enabled gadgets or what not on it like most people probably do, but it works well for what we do. We couldn’t get the Nest to work for us though. Our Honeywell programmable thermostat works way better since we can just program it to be at certain temps certain times of the day. Especially since our cool down temp is to get down to 78 then um, yeah. It worked better than the Nest for us. :)

    Just last night, Mrs. SSC (She didn’t like the Prof SSC) was having our 6 yr old look up something in a book vs us googling it. She’s started reading real books lately so he can see us reading books and not just think we’re playing on a kindle/ipad/etc… We do some things solo, but do hire out for other things. We’ve been cleaning service free for about 4 months now… It’s been a curve getting back to a shcedule of “deep cleaning” things. Ugh…

    • I think the answer on the standing desk is: does your back feel good when you stand all day? Then it’s working, whether or not sitting is deadly. ;-)

      Wait, so there was an Echo listening when I was at your house?! Oh no. Time to go into hiding. Hahaha.

      And if it was possible for my love for Mrs. SSC to grow, it just did. I LOVE that she had one of your littles look something up in an actual book.

  31. I don’t like having extra hackable things in my life. I don’t intend to return to the land, or anything. I just think it is important that I know how to do things and how to figure things out. Two of my roommates are desperate for a husband and REFUSE to use their brains to problem-solve basic life tasks that they think should be delegated by gender. My problem with this is that we live in a single-gender house. I won’t do their thinking for them and they think I’m mean. But what would they do if I was not around?

    • I have definitely had acquaintances who’ve had that approach to life, and like you, I try to shake people out of it. There’s no good reason to divide tasks by gender that aren’t biologically dictated (which very few are). I get extra joy doing things that boys are “supposed to do.” And Mr. ONL is a champ about doing the dishes, which makes me extra happy because that’s so often thought of as “women’s work.”

      • My girlfriend and I break up tasks based on who loves a chore or who does not mind it. Then we take into account who is physically capable of a chore. She does the cooking, with moderate help from me, because we both enjoy her food much more than mine. I clean up after.

      • That sounds perfect. I’ve never understood couples where I see one half do the cooking and the cleaning up. I always think, about the non-cleaning partner, “Well, I hope you are balancing this out in some other BIG ways!” ;-)

      • It is easier to not assume gender roles for chores when you share a gender. Plenty of data supports that LGBT households have more parity in domestic tasks.

    • Please delete this post. My site has a non-copying policy. You may link but not copy and paste as you’ve done here. Thanks!