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It's T-Shirt Time


Time –more specifically, how we think about it, value it and spend it – is an interesting and often frustrating phenomenon.


No matter who we are, where we are, or what we’re doing in our lives at any moment, time is a factor. Often, we’re working to maximize it, or at least thinking, reading or listening about how to do so. Sometimes, we feel the need to slow down so we can appreciate the things in our lives and the way we spend our time rather than living by the clock.


Now and again, we wish we could compress the weeks, days, hours and minutes, especially when we have a tough situation – or maybe a fun vacation getaway -- on the horizon. And to a person, at some point, we wish we had more of it.


A few days back, I ran across a video titled, “How to fold a t-shirt in two seconds.” On its face, it seemed like it could be a handy “how-to” on maximizing precious moments in my day. But then I stopped to think about it, and the first question that popped into my head was, “If I’m looking to truly maximize the moments in my day to create a better life for myself, am I starting with my t-shirts? Is this tip really going to create the level of satisfaction I’m searching for in my busy life? I mean, how long does it take to fold a t-shirt, anyway?”


So, I did an experiment. I grabbed a t-shirt, and I folded it. It was, as you can imagine, a quick and easy process. After all, it’s not like trying to thread a needle blindfolded or assemble a piece of furniture from IKEA. It involves about three steps, doesn’t include sharp edges or heavy lifting and requires minimal fine-motor skills.


Deeming the process I employed on my trial run to be satisfactory, I did a few more practice folds to get my muscles warm. Then, I did a series of timed folds, using the “1-Mississippi, 2-Mississippi” protocol we used as kids in games of hide-and-seek and backyard touch football when low player counts required the pass-rusher to employ an audible “5-second rush” rule.


Again and again, I folded that t-shirt, each time recording the result. (Seriously, I did this.)


After a couple minutes and 20 folds (I determined 20 to be a statistically significantly number to achieve an accurate result), I had the final numbers. Under the assumption that I was folding at a relaxed, sustainable rate (and again, using the non-digital “1-Mississippi” method which I’ve found to be extremely accurate and handy throughout my life), my average time to achieve a properly folded t-shirt was 4.2 seconds.


Now, as an isolated, “one-off” case, spending two(ish) more seconds than “necessary” --according to the video which I never watched, since I ironically thought it to be a waste of time -- didn’t seem like a big deal, unless my job was to do nothing but fold t-shirts eight hours a day, five days a week (with overtime during peak t-shirt folding season).


But it isn’t. I’m simply a recreational t-shirt folder, an amateur, a hobbyist, spending approximately 42 seconds per week on the task, enough to be proficient but certainly not qualifying as “career-ready.”


If folding t-shirts were golf, I’d be a 15-handicap. If it were bowling, I’d carry a 160 average.


My conclusion was that with only 10 t-shirts in my normal rotation, “saving” a few seconds per shirt (or more to the point, maximizing that time since we can’t save or “bank” it, we can only change how we spend it) just didn’t seem worth it to me.


However, time is a precious commodity, and that’s probably why we get so frustrated trying to squeeze more out of our days and lives, and why people make videos and write books talking about how we can spend it more wisely or efficiently.


So, when we look across a longer span, we see that an additional two seconds (give or take) spent on an activity does add up over … well … time. And that’s when we start to think about what, how and how long we spend on our daily tasks, obligations and indulgences.


That said, I was – and remain – fully committed to not caring that it takes me more than twice as long as some DIY t-shirt folding expert to complete the task, and that any additional time I could “buy” with their method wasn’t worth it. So, I extrapolated my 4.2 seconds over a year’s time. (I know what you’re thinking, but just because I’m a writer doesn’t mean I can’t do a little extrapolating now and again.)


Assuming 10 shirts, folded once a week at 4.2 seconds per shirt, I will spend 36 minutes, 24 seconds on this task in 2023. Had I watched the video (which in theory, should have only taken me two seconds, right?), I could cut my annual t-shirt folding time to 17 minutes, 20 seconds, a savings of 19 minutes, 4 seconds.


For context, I’ve already spent more time than that just doing this inane experiment and explaining it to you. The thing is, I’ve enjoyed both the experiment and telling you about it more – much more, in fact -- than I’ll ever value saving a few seconds a week folding t-shirts.


So then, the question to ask oneself is, “What is the value of spending doing something that satisfies me over always working to maximize -- or to put in common terms, to “save” -- time?”


My conclusion? I think we all have better things to focus on than how we can shave a second or two off each t-shirt we fold. (That’s just my opinion; you may believe differently.)


Admittedly, I can’t get back the time I spent on this experiment, but I was happy to take one for the team, so you could be freed up to do something else, something you really enjoy. (You’re welcome.) I just hope the folks that made the t-shirt folding video felt their work as time well-spent as well, and if they’re passionate about t-shirt folding, I’m sure they did.


Everything takes time. But does trying to always “save” or maximize time help us, make us happier, or extend the length or quality of our lives? The answer is, I guess, “It depends.”


Admittedly, I’m one of the most impatient people I know, and if you know me, you may agree. But not always. Sometimes, I’m SUPER patient. And if I’m honest, I don’t think wasting my time trying to save a few presumably precious seconds on activities like folding my t-shirts is worth it, especially since most times when I’m folding my t-shirts (or other pieces of clothing), I’m likely also watching TV or listening to a podcast.


So really, it doesn’t matter if it takes me two seconds, 4.2 seconds or 30 seconds because I’m already doing something else, something I like, so I’m not “wasting” time shirt folding, which really isn’t wasted time anyway if I believe folding t-shirts (versus throwing them in a pile and grabbing one when I need it) adds value to my life. (Jury’s out on that one.)


I guess in closing, all I’ll say is this: if you think cutting two seconds off folding a t-shirt is going to change or improve your life, go for it. For me, I just don’t see it. If anything, this experiment may have convinced me that I should just throw my t-shirts in a pile.


I mean, c’mon, they’re t-shirts, not crystal goblets.


With that, I wish you a good day; one in which you spend your time in a way that brings you happiness and satisfaction.


© 2023 David R. Haznaw





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