If something is unnecessary, why do it? Which actions do we do in our lives simply because we value them? What grace and beauty can the unnecessary reveal in our lives? Furthermore, if there are easier ways to do things, how can we make the practices that are meaningful to us be sustainable as well in a world so dependent on practicality and efficiency?
Many of us choose to do unnecessary things every day without even realizing: We tend a veggie garden even though we can easily buy peppers at the Kroger down the street. Even though audiobooks are cheaper and readily available, we read a paperback because we love the smell of ink on the page and the feel of texture on our fingertips. We might ride a bike down the street to a coffee shop, even though a car ride would be 2 minutes, and pedaling requires 10. Why do we do these things? What can we learn about our humanity and our values through our unnecessary actions? Perhaps these inconvenient choices are actually the most human, and indeed NECESSARY decisions we can make.
As I study letter-writing in an age of seemingly infinite technology, I wonder how we can and why we should continue to write letters. I’ve concluded that for me, letter writing offers an opportunity to navigate the world and explore my thoughts through a very specific voice. The voice is not short, concise and efficient like an instantaneous text message. It also is not formal, calculated and well-studied like an essay. Letter writing falls somewhere in between. It is both personal and genuine, while simultaneously thoughtful and deliberate.
Committing to a practice of unnecessary rituals preserves our precious humanity. Yes, a computer, machine or robot could most definitely do it faster, better and more efficiently. But, if we give up every one of these tasks, where does our value and contribution lie? Where is the line drawn? My unnecessary habits help me feel productive, valuable and capable. I tend to my garden, and those sweet green plants thrive. I cook for my family and feel I am able to provide and sustain. I write to a friend and I nourish their soul.
Take some time today to think about the unnecessary things in your life that bring joy to you and the people in your life. If you could replace these acts with something quicker and easier, would you? Sometimes the basic simplicities offer us the most joy and abundance. After all, we all know taking the highway is fast, but the backroads are languidly lovely.