What Modern Convenience Would You Miss The Most?

by Katy on February 15, 2011 · 51 comments

I had the pleasure of hosting a dinner for my Nebraskan aunt and uncle last night, as they’re in town to help out my mother who’s recuperating from surgery. We were all sitting around the dinner table, when the conversation turned to my Great-Aunt Marie, who’s ninety years old and has lived her entire life in Nebraska. (If you ever bought cosmetics from Miller and Paine, you probably met her!) This woman is a marvel of energy, has always kept an immaculate house, and is, well, let’s just say “a pistol.”

Do you want to know the one modern convenience she apparently most appreciates? Her washing machine and laundry detergent. (Something about having the grate the lye.) And this is from a woman who had to wait awhile for indoor plumbing.

This got me thinking about how much I truly appreciate the modern conveniences that fill my life. Washer, dryer, dishwasher, microwave, automobile, toilet, hot water heater, vacuum cleaner, telephone, television, computer. The list goes on and on. I romanticize the good ol’ days, watching programs like Frontier House and rereading the Little House books every few years. But let me tell ya’, there’s a special feeling when my dishwasher, washing machine and dryer are all going at once. And I get to lie down and maybe watch an episode or two of Buffy the Vampire Slayer on my instant Netflix. Could I live without all my modernities? Sure I could, but my life would be a whole lot more drudge-y. There’s a reason why those young mothers in old photos look so aged, life for women, (and men I suppose) was never endingly difficult.

I could easily live without the microwave, dryer, vacuum cleaner, television and computer. But nobody, and I mean nobody better take away my hot water heater. After all, it’s my hydro-powered think tank.

What modern conveniences would you miss the most? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without”

{ 51 comments… read them below or add one }

Heather February 15, 2011 at 10:26 pm

I may have met her, but my grandmother definitely would have (she was a Miller & Paine shopper). Recently I was waxing poetic about the good ol’ days. My husband reminded me that women didn’t have it so good. I would probably miss my washing machine the most. I have three children who seem to require clean clothing on a more regular basis. Most of the others I could do without.


Auntie Karen February 20, 2011 at 9:49 am

I’m a little late ringing in on this one, but having just arrived home from the nearly 2-week road trip and visit with your Mom, I, too, am most grateful for our washing machine. Even more grateful for your Uncle who took on the task of washing clothes about 10 years ago. The automatic washer is a great way to engage the male of the species in what has traditionally been “women’s work”. I taught your cousins to do their own laundry at age 9 (about the time they had 2 favorite shirts and didn’t want to wear anything else to school). It’s a skill they have carried into adult life. Another wonderful aspect of the modern washing machine is that you can get along with fewer clothes–a good deal for a nonconsumer! Thank you for the pleasure of being hosted to the lovely meal and for a delightful evening with your family.


Katy February 20, 2011 at 11:10 am

Good to hear you arrived home safely. I was happy to have you guys over for dinner, and am still working on the leftovers. Finished the pinto beans and most of the cilantro yesterday, but finishing the purple cabbage may be beyond my abilities.

Good to hear that the cousins can do their own laundry. 😀



Auntie Karen February 20, 2011 at 1:25 pm

I am looking forward to building up some leftovers after a couple weeks out of the kitchen. Wish I had your cabbage. Just perfect for a few recipes in my “living well with leftovers” archive.


Erin February 15, 2011 at 11:23 pm

Definitely the hot water heater and my car. I think that out here in the country it is a must to be independent and have a car to get around.
Plus we love to ski, so the chair lift is pretty important too:)


Sara February 16, 2011 at 12:57 am

The ability to listen to music can make any job fun. My life would be so sad with no record player/CD player/ipod or radio in my life.


Jo February 16, 2011 at 1:39 am

I would miss the washing machine the most as well. Today I had a new one delivered to replace my ~25yo model because it’s so old spare parts aren’t available. I can’t wait to get started on the laundry pile tomorrow 🙂
Twenty-odd years ago, I had to go for months without appliances because I’d just moved into my first home and I couldn’t afford them. The two that felt like a real hardship were the washing machine (with a baby in cloth nappies) and the vacuum cleaner (fitted carpets). Now that the baby has moved overseas, I can’t imagine going without a computer + broadband.
I think if you want to get really excited about doing a “chore” like vacuuming or laundry, just give away or somehow disable the relevant appliance for a month or two. When you finally get to to use it again, it’s like Christmas!


Sue February 16, 2011 at 4:08 am

I like to romanticise the simpler way of life of our forbears too. But before I get too carried away I remember how much I love my washing machine. And my hot water, flushing toilets, central heating, TV, DVD, laptop. I could manage without my car though.


Susan February 16, 2011 at 4:32 am

I love indoor plumbing, I can’t imagine getting up at 3am to go out doors to use the bathroom. I would miss my internet too. I like having a camera to capture memories too.


Nancy February 17, 2011 at 5:50 pm

I did without that for two years. It is really bad when it is raining or very very cold….

We also did not have hot water so everything from washing dishes t o bathing had to be heated on the stove

Thank goodness for hot water heaters!


Carla February 16, 2011 at 5:10 am

Running water!


ellen February 16, 2011 at 5:34 am

proably most of them! I don’t think I could have lived 90 years ago, having lived at this time…..


clickclackgorilla February 16, 2011 at 5:50 am

There must be something in the air, I just posted something about this very same question (though it was specifically aimed at electricity using things) on my blog. (You can read it here, should there be interest: http://www.clickclackgorilla.com/2011/02/14/life-without-electricity/)

Anyway, I think hands down my choice would be the washing machine too. Closely followed by the table saw (I heat with wood) and my stereo. As much as I use my computer now, I really don’t think I would miss it much. The weeks when it doesn’t see the light of day are always the weeks when I feel best.


Raven February 16, 2011 at 6:00 am

I lived for 2 years in an African mud hut without all the modern amenities. And the indoor plumbing and washing machine were definitely what I missed most. A bath takes on a whole new meaning when it starts with building a fire and then walking a kilmeter to get the 10 liters of water and then waiting for it to heat up and then pouring the water over yourself in a grass shelter with a cup. It’s not a quick 10 minute process. Sometimes more like 2 hours. You certainly learn to appreciate the joy of just turning a tap.

And I cannot get my clothes clean by hand. I just have some innate inability to do so, and I make them look dirtier, so I had to pay another woman to do it and she always made it look so easy. After 2 years of having a washing machine again, I still marvel at how easy it is. I wash clothes while I watch TV or cook dinner or read and it’s just so simple.


Cate February 16, 2011 at 6:14 am

While there are many modern conveniences I would despise giving up (like the internet, recorded music, and modern plumbing), I’m going to have to go with my washing machine, and the dryer to a lesser extent. My Nana had babies in the mid-fifties and didn’t have a washing machine. She washed diapers every day using a wringer, and hung them all out to dry. With two babies! Can you imagine? I can’t. So as someone with a toddler, a dog, and two cats, I can’t even fathom the laundry headache.


Rebecca February 16, 2011 at 6:17 am

After cloth diapering 3 kids, I can say for certain my washing machine. No way would I do that by hand!


Steady Plodder February 16, 2011 at 6:28 am

I think I’d miss it all! I think I could go without my heater and A/C…and could even learn to live without running water. But, I really don’t think I would ever want to wash my clothes by hand. I have a hard enough time getting laundry done WITH a washer and dryer. I can’t imagine how much laundry would stack up if I had to do it by hand! And…I’d miss my iPod too!


Juliette February 16, 2011 at 7:04 am

Definitely the washing machine. We cloth diaper too, and I don’t think I could do without it!


Elaine February 16, 2011 at 7:23 am

I agree with “running water”. I had a plumbing issue last week, and the water was turned off for about 20 hours. Not being able to flush the toilet was the worst of it.

I also love my garbage disposal and dishwasher. My washing machine is down again, so I’m doing the laundromat thing, which really isn’t too bad!


fairy dust February 16, 2011 at 7:47 am

I watch episodes of “Daniel Boone” just about every night, and I could not — EVER — have been a pioneer woman. Just the thought of all the work and having to do it all in a full-length, heavy dress with layers of underthings. I would have just shot myself at the first opportunity. So… electricity, especially as it gets used for, oh, air conditioning (and heat in the winter), dishwasher, ‘wave, clothes washer/dryer, TV/DVR/computer, etc. And indoor plumbing. And being able to wear shorts and a t-shirt without getting locked away for indecency is a major plus of modern times too 🙂


Cyndel February 16, 2011 at 9:20 am

Speaking of this, I watched an old episode of That 70’s Show on Netflix yesterday and Erik had to look through encyclopedias to learn about the three branches of government. Then, he had to write out the report with pen and paper and manually count the words. I would have lost points for turning in a hand-written paper in high school. In fact, in some classes, it would have been refused.

With that being said, if I had to choose, I would totally give up my computer if it meant I could keep indoor plumbing. An indoor bathroom is of the utmost importance when you live in an 11th floor apartment. My boyfriend, on the other hand, would happily go outside to use the restroom in order to keep his video games.


Judy February 16, 2011 at 9:21 am

I love all of our modern conveniences even back to the printing press cuz I love to read. Electricity, running water, indoor plumbing, washer, dryer, dishwasher. The newest appliance I would not like to live without is the hot water heater for our bathroom sink. Instant hot water without letting the water run forever to get hot. One other thing I enjoy is the automatic garage door opener, and car trunk opener. No wonder we don’t get enough exercise!


Practical Parsimony February 16, 2011 at 9:31 am

Standards in cleanliness rose when manufacturers were trying to sell their cleaning products, so what we think is the norm would not have been. Clothing was normally only washed every three months, if that often. AC could be what I miss the most. Plus, having a period is a constant for women across the ages. As I watched a movie about a wagon train and the months long trip to the western US, I wondered how they stayed “clean and fresh.” Hot, running water would be indispensable to most of us. I know cold works best. Sponge baths would only work so long for me. Of course, I am spoiled. AC certainly would take away the agony. CRAMPS? Well, work still must be done. Very few women lived to menopause, so no relief ever came for most women. Yes, those were women, broken and battered by life. Who needed flooring when you could shellac the floor with cow poop? There is a gleam and hardness that would stand up to torture and never need mopping.


Jenny February 17, 2011 at 9:50 am

Actually, I believe that women in the early days had relatively few periods. Periods were later to start (either because of hormones in today’s food or poorer nutrition). Women were married younger, and generally started having children then (no birth control) and breastfed them for a long time. Then when their cycle came back (again with no birth control) they would soon become pregnant again.


Queen Lucia February 16, 2011 at 9:39 am

I couldn’t live without the toilet, running water including hot, the washer, some sort of music player and the STOVE! I could live without the microwave, the dryer, the dishwasher, the vacuum, the TV, the computer, the car….


Jessica Wolk-Stanley February 16, 2011 at 9:44 am

When I read about how hard life was in the “olden days,” I marvel that our ancestors lived long enough to reproduce. I suppose that every generation takes for granted their life and people had many skills to cope and manage. Still, I think that we are all very fortunate to have been born in this era.


Anne Marie @ Married to the Empire February 16, 2011 at 12:01 pm

I’d have to say indoor plumbing would be #1 for me. I can’t comprehend having to go outside in whatever weather to use an outhouse. Heck, I find it inconvenient to walk to a fully-plumbed bathroom when we go camping!

I also can no longer comprehend how we lived in the days before iPods. I’m addicted to my little device. I love having my entire music collection with me wherever I go!


Mary H February 16, 2011 at 12:53 pm

Definitely running hot water! In fact, I’ve commented on this a couple times recently to my family, that running hot water is the ultimate luxury. Must be the extra cold weather this winter that has brought it to mind. When I get a chill I can’t seem to shake, nothing works like a nice hot shower. And even coming in from some outside task and being able to turn on hot water for washing my cold hands makes me feel lucky.


Jennifer February 16, 2011 at 3:25 pm

I think I could find alternatives for the microwave, car, and flush toilet (lately I’ve gotten to the point of seeing a composting toilet as similar in function to my cat’s litter box), but internet access…now that would be hard. Also, I realize that my morning shower is a luxury, but it’s one that I would miss a lot.


Canadian Doomer February 16, 2011 at 3:33 pm

We’ve been slowly adjusting our way of living because we do think that peak oil will cause a Collapse and modern conveniences will disappear or become unaffordable.

We have no television, microwave, dishwasher, garbage disposal, air conditioner, cell phone, coffee maker (I use a kettle on the stove and a French press). I’m figuring out ways to reduce our reliance on everything except … the computer. That’s going to be the hardest. Next would be the fridge. We bought bicycles and are going to transition away from the car, but I dread winters with small children and no car.

Does anyone else feel really old when reading Cyndel’s comment about encyclopedias and pen-written papers? :S Or is it just me?

Oh, and I don’t think anyone ever went outside at 3 am to use the toilet. That was what chamberpots were for.


Nancy February 17, 2011 at 5:55 pm

We were a family of eight and chamberpots get full. I made a few trips outside at 3am (but only if I couldn’t hold it any longer)…


Jennifer February 17, 2011 at 9:53 pm

Wow, I totally remember looking up stuff in encyclopedias, and ours were old, so I didn’t have anything newer than 1976 unless I went to a library, and sometimes their stuff wasn’t much newer…and I graduated from HS in 1993. And I will probably forever have that weird callus on my middle writing finger, though it’s not as rough as it used to be. I imagine kids these days don’t have that anymore, my 3 yr old son will probably not have it. Sadly it’s been so long since I had to physically write anything of any length, that my hand cramps up when I have to.
Oh, and we went outside to the outhouse at night, as our chamber pot was small; only the really little kids got to use it.


ellie February 16, 2011 at 3:46 pm

As a child I lived without indoor plumbing. I wouldn’t want to do it again!! Yesterday we had a huge snow and windstorm. Our power was off all day long. Its amazing what can’t be done anymore without electricity – especially with 8″ of new snow. So, I guess I would miss electricity in general the most.


Marie-Josée February 16, 2011 at 4:13 pm

Electricity! Which makes all the other magic happen: heating, hot water and lighting. Then my computer. I just love having all that info and resources such as your blog seconds away.


Shannon February 16, 2011 at 5:00 pm

Hot baths and the washing machine. And honestly the grocery store. I do like to grow food, but I remember my mother telling me how awful it was to spend your entire August and September (after a summer spent pulling weeds and praying for good weather) in a hot kitchen, canning everything and knowing that your ability to survive the winter depended on it.


AnnW February 16, 2011 at 5:33 pm

I LOVE hot water. I am most grateful for that every day. Can you imagine living in the bush and not being able to wash your face with hot water? I think about water every day. I figure that every day is a good day if I don’t have to carry gallons of water on my head like the women in Africa.


Lynda February 16, 2011 at 9:00 pm

I have a vacation cabin I spend lots of time at. During the Winter there usually is no electricity for weeks at a time…so no water, hot water, lights, movies…I cook on the fireplace with cast iron, we have kept the old outhouse (so who needs to flush), I have several large washtubs for bathing and hand washing clothes (I don’t mind heating water)…I love every minute…I get to play Frontier House…but I ALWAYS have my I-Pod: 1500 songs, a dozen podcasts, a dozen audio books and a couple TV shows…my one and only must have.


Katy February 16, 2011 at 9:07 pm

That sounds lovely!



Tracy February 17, 2011 at 7:58 am

How do you charge your ipod?


Dmarie February 17, 2011 at 2:35 am

the refrigerator! hands down!


Jude February 17, 2011 at 8:45 am

I’d hate to be without my washing machine and stereo. (It’s 2011 and I still don’t have a dishwasher.) But I think, too, of what’s missing in most of our lives due to modern conveniences. For instance, I listen to CDs or records, but before modern stereo equipment, most homes had pianos and singalongs in the evening. I can’t in a million years imagine us doing that. Before t.v. people listened to radio shows, which are far more engaging than t.v. sitcoms. Also, people used to play cards; even back in the sixties my parents got together with another couple once a week for a couple of hands of gin or bridge. And, of course, we all know that video games have displaced books for children’s entertainment. So, while I feel blessed to be spoiled with so many modern contraptions, I’m aware that much has gone out of life because of them.


Carla February 17, 2011 at 8:45 am

All of you washing machine people are assuming two things — running water and electricity! Pretty much any of the other machines named also use electricity. Think about it…


Leanne February 17, 2011 at 8:59 am

I spent a lot of time growing up with my grandparents. They didn’t have running water until I was 12. I learned to wash my jeans on a scrub board, and pretty much waited to do so until they could walk on their own! None of this wearing things once and throwing them in the wash. We used a chamberpot at night, and carried it to the outhouse in the morning. We bathed in the river when it was warm enough, and in a steel tub in the kitchen when it wasn’t. Life wasn’t “drudge-y” without all those things, it was different. I barely watched tv, I played outside with my friends. If we wanted to skate, we had to clean off the rink first. We worked a lot harder, but we also worked smarter, and spent our time with friends and family, instead of electronics. Do I want to live without my modern conveniences? No! But it can and has been done, and it’s not any worse than what we’re doing now.


Jean February 17, 2011 at 12:48 pm

Having lived through an ice storm where we didn’t have power for 2 weeks, I can honestly say the clothes washer! We had hot water, as we have a gas water heater–but you did have to shower in the dark!


Angie February 17, 2011 at 5:44 pm

This article brought back a special memory. We were overseas traveling on a tour bus. I was watching women and children wash their clothes in the river, when I looked over to my husband and said: ” I am VERY grateful that I have a washing machine. I could give up a dishwasher and dryer, but please, don’t take way my washing machine.”


Jennifer February 17, 2011 at 9:39 pm

I always assumed I would miss indoor potty, but all indoor plumbing, from the water heater, to bath tubs, to flushing toilets, to a sink to brush my teeth, I think is really important to me. Sure I’d miss my washing machine and my dishwasher but I think (as long as I didn’t have to make my own soap) I could survive. Ah, but we had an old farmhouse with a stagnant well and faulty plumbing, so even though we had an indoor bathroom, we couldn’t actually use it. So we had no bath or shower, or sink to wash our hands. And in the middle of the night we had to hike outside in pitch blackness with snakes and spiders to the outhouse. Thankfully we had toilet paper instead of the Sears-Roebuck. But I would not want to have to go back to that. Oh and I LOVE deodorant. I find myself grossed out when I remember that ladies’ perfume was originally used to cover up body stink. YUCK! **ladies’ “unmentionable” modern conveniences rock too.


Lisa Under the Redwoods February 18, 2011 at 7:50 am

Running water. I lived for over a year in Honduras where I had no water in the house and only a latrine. I shared, with the neighbors, a faucet in the yard with a water tank. I lived on a small hill so there wasn’t enough water pressure to get water in the day. We would turn the water on at night and one of us would go out in the middle of the night and turn it off. Not to mention of course any water that was drank or used for most cooking had to be boiled.

Once the entire town went without running water for two weeks and I had to haul it in buckets from the river.

I love my running water!


Kayla K February 18, 2011 at 8:26 pm

I love running water. I worked as a historical interpreter on a 1850 Iowa farm and just 8 hours a day without it was not fun.


Molly On Money February 21, 2011 at 6:46 pm

I use my dryer from mid-Nov. to mid March. Last year when it broke down (OK, really, a mouse got in it and died – ( ) I decided not to replace it. It can be an inconvenience but it hasn’t been too bad.


kels March 2, 2011 at 4:40 pm

i couldnt live without the washer. it would suck to have to wash all my clothes by hand


Sister X November 2, 2011 at 12:27 pm

I realize that I’m commenting a little late (I just stumbled upon your site a few days ago) but I can tell you from experience that the only thing I could not give up is my dishwasher. My husband and I lived in a cabin (in Alaska, no less) with no running water (and no internet or TV) for six months and the thing that nearly broke our relationship was having to do all of the dishes by hand! Even having to use the outhouse at -60 just became something to laugh about. Dish Days we stopped talking to each other. 🙂


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