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Perfect grass seemed like the ultimate suburban pursuit.
I’ve always envied lush green lawns and sharply trimmed edges — the kind you fear stepping on at wealthy over-55 communities.
But after ten years of living on a quarter-acre lot, my lawn is mediocre.
A diverse patchwork of weeds and crabgrass decorate our front yard.
Each invader thrives for a few weeks before being overtaken by the next.
As long as it’s green, says one neighbor with a similarly uninspiring lawn.
I trim the edges maybe twice a season. That’s not enough, and it never goes well (see featured photo).
Meanwhile, down the street, a cluster of homes exhibit near-flawless greens.
One neighbor, let’s call them The Joneses, told me the households all hire the same service to treat their lawns throughout the year.
The company uses less toxic treatments than competitors, Mr. Jones surmises.
Wallace, the 80-something with perhaps the most well-maintained yard of all (still mows it himself), once complimented our lawn shortly after we bought our home.
But we didn’t keep the treatment the service, so our lawn gradually degraded to mixed vegetation and brown spots.
Now we chat about his dog and computer punch cards instead of lawn care.
A small part of me — the youth who expected to live in a stone mansion by now — is a little embarrassed about our grass.
But mostly, I don’t care.
None of the neighborhood boys complained about the weeds or shaggy edges during the epic Nerf Blaster battle this summer.
The bald spot under the tree swing didn’t bother my five-year-old daughter and her cicada friends.
It’s not that I still don’t want perfect grass.
I don’t want it enough to sacrifice the time and money required to have it.
If I spent my non-working hours pulling chickweed, hairy bittercress, spotted spurge, wiregrass, and lespedeza (my nemesis), I wouldn’t be at the pool doing cannonball contests with my kids.
Paying a service would cost me about $700 (according to Mr. Jones) for a year-round rotation of fertilizer and weed-o-cide.
We’d have to stay off the lawn for a few days after application, and I’m unconvinced those chemicals are person-safe, cicada-safe, and crab-safe.
We can afford $700 for professional weed-and-feed treatments and even full-service lawn maintenance with all the trimmings.
But I’m a stubborn DIY Dad, and I like to keep the money I earn.
What’s attractive about our neighborhood isn’t the perfect grass or precisely trimmed sidewalk edges.
It’s that we have grass and sidewalks — and friendly encounters with people like Wallace and the Joneses when we step outside.
We have community, playmates, and lots of space to live and enjoy the outdoors — which became more evident during the pandemic lockdowns of 2020.
Our lawn doesn’t need to be perfect to serve as a suitable play surface when the iPad is charging.
And if the kids don’t like the grass, they can play on the driveway.
The grass is a lovely host for backyard camping and family firepits — as is.
Many of you probably don’t have or want lawns — or think the whole idea of a perfect lawn is another peculiar element of the American Dream.
It’s not just about lawns.
Americans love incremental improvements toward perfection and are willing to pay extra for slightly better.
We buy the new and improved avocado slicer because a spoon just doesn’t do the job well enough.
A decent grill is only partially sufficient for cooking meat outside nowadays. Gotta have a $1,000 smoker too.
Deep-fried turkey is better than oven-baked. Better buy a turkey deep fryer we’re at it.
Do you remember when we settled for coolers with only 12-hour ice retention?
Or firepits that release smoke when you burn wood?
Or when we untucked shirts not specifically tailored to be untucked?
I will enjoy my neighbors’ smoked pork and succulent turkey legs while drinking an ultra-cold beer sitting around the smokeless firepit, but I won’t buy these “affordable luxuries” myself.
The premium cost isn’t worth it to me, and I don’t see that changing as my wealth grows.
Smoke rises from my $40 firepit, and my beer isn’t cold the next morning.
My untucked shirts may not fall with precision over faded jeans.
And my lawn is imperfect.
No one seems to pay attention.
If I had perfect grass, I probably wouldn’t allow epic Nerf Blaster battles in our yard for fear of the neighborhood boys destroying it.
There’d be no swing — you can’t have bald spots on a perfect lawn.
I’d be a grumpy Dad always on the watch for lazy dog walkers.
Still, I want perfect grass, a $50,000 car, a $1,000,000 house, and a $250 cooler with seven-day ice retention.
And I can afford those things.
But I don’t need them.
Photos by RBD. Panda art by J.A.
Craig is a former IT professional who left his 20-year career to be a full-time personal finance blogger. He lives in Northern Virginia with his wife and three children. A DIY investor since 1995, he started Retire Before Dad in 2013 as a creative outlet to share his stock and real estate income portfolios. Craig earned a Finance degree from Michigan State University. Read more HERE.
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Attempting to edge twice a year (if I heard you right)…is a tough ask. Finding and holding the right line and getting through all the roots of the grass are challenging if only done twice a year. If that is your plan, buying an $80-$120 edger/trencher with a guide would probably do a better job of finding and reestablishing that edge with better end results. Like glass in a walk-in shower, I find it’s easier just to do the preventative maintenance than neglect and put off ever doing a proper cleaning to remove water spots. I pass the weedeater after pretty much every cut because to me it doesn’t look nice until the edges are squared up. I intend to do it every other week while I’m cutting weekly in the summer…..but generally wind up doing it every time. I am with you though…I can afford lawn service but would prefer to keep my money in my pocket….and I could use the exercise.
Years ago, I bought an edger attachment for the Craftsman weed-wacker you see in the picture. It never worked properly (or I wasn’t using it correctly, or the edges were too overgrown). So I fought with it a few times, and eventually gave up. I’ve learned how nice edges take work, and I’m just not so keen on doing it every two weeks. When I’m done mowing, I’d rather do something else! I have considered buying a better edger, but haven’t gotten around to it, and not sure that’s how I want to spend $100 and add a new tool and yard maintenance activity to my collection. Seems like a fairly simple solution to my edge mess, but it’s not a priority.
I’m lucky, my wife does all the yard work and its a beautiful one acre yard surrounded by another acre of woods. In 40 years of living in this house I have done the lawn less than ten times. Our two acres are surrounded by 800 acres of wooded wetlands we don’t own but are free to use as if we did. We have deer and other wildlife frequently entertaining us in our front and backyards. We don’t use any lawn service, we live in the country and there is no pressure out here for perfection. But its been so wet this summer we have approached near perfection anyway. She’s been mowing twice a week.
Sounds like a nice place where you live. I hope your wife uses a riding mower!
Lawn care is a lot easier than you’d think! With most cool-season grasses you only need to apply weed and feed fertilizer two times a year. However, the application method and rate are (while simple) critical. Proper mowing height and watering are the only other requirements that you’ll need to adhere to for a picture perfect lawn. Lots of good university based information here: https://www.turffiles.ncsu.edu
Thanks for sharing that resource. Tons of information there, especially good stuff about the weeds (that I see so often). Notable, there’s an entire science and field of study on this topic.
We have a small patch of lawn that we nurture, but like others it has its own personality and we just roll with it. I have dabbled in border gardens for yrs and just a few days ago I was scheduled to host a gathering of friends. I purposely decided not to stress about the weeds or the bent over half spent sunflowers. I wanted to see how many people would comment about the weeds verses the colorful zinnias that thrive in this California heat. Not one soul mentioned the weed population, but many were taken by the pops of color that pushed their way through. Living is so much more enjoyable without the demands of perfectionism.
“Living is so much more enjoyable without the demands of perfectionism.” I like that.
She does, I’ll buy here a BMW riding mower if that will keep her doing the yardwork!
I totally understand your frustration. I live in southern Illinois and have a 1 1/2 acre yard. I really try to keep my front yard looking good but I struggle with the back and sides…weeds, crabgrass, white clover and moles! I tried a professional service for a while but they didn’t make my lawn look any better than I can and I can do it for about $300/ yr less than they were charging me. Like you i can afford it but I also get satisfaction from doing it myself and saving the money. BTW I retired a year ago at age 62 and have no regrets.
Congratulations on your retirement! I guess you have more time to focus on the lawn now. Many of my neighbors with the nicer lawns are retired. Yard work is a hobby, and it shows. Plus it keep them active, out there mowing and pulling weeds. There is some satisfaction in doing things on your own. When I mow, I turn on my Apple Watch to see how far I walk. It’s great exercise.
Hahaha. I’m in very much the same camp. Sure I’d love a great lawn, but (1) I’m not going to spend all of my off time working on it to keep it up and (2) I’m not paying someone to do it either because that money is better spent/used elsewhere and (3) I love getting to put out the slip n slide or the inflatable water slide or just playing with our girls in the yard. I wish we had a perfect lawn, but it’s just not a priority for us either. Kudos to those that it is though because I’m low-key jealous.
We had a slip n slide for the past two years and it broke after about the 10th use. The kids love that thing and are still mad that I haven’t spent the $20 to buy a new one. Totally messes up the grass, but worth it for the fun.
We live in the woods, and I only mow my weeds once a month. Trimming? That’s what RoundUp is for, and I use it abundantly. Like you, I’ve got more important things to do with my time. Great post.
Out in the woods, I hope the bugs aren’t too bad. We have plenty of mosquitos (we don’t pay for the spraying service like many neighbors).
I used to care about our lawn but no longer. Mostly because we’ve ripped up a lot of the lawn and put in a backyard garden instead. We are also in the process of ripping up everything and plant bee turf instead.
You’re very correct… you can afford these fancy things and services but do you really need them?
I remember seeing a photo of your garden on your blog. Nicely done! Mrs. RBD wants to have one, but there’s not a great place for it in our yard. I like grass because mowing is easy. When we moved in, I got rid of a big mulch area (not a huge fan of mulch, too dirty).
Are people still striving for the perfect green lawn? Talk about western world problems…
They are so sterile and there’s nothing for our children to learn from, no plants, no flowers, no insects, no animals.
They are a threat to biodiversity. No living organisms live in it.
We should strive for more flowering meadows in the city. It’s being done in quite a few citys in Sweden, and more are following.
It’s WAY more beautiful. Just google flowering meadows city.
I have planted hundreds of different flowers in my garden. And I’ve kept just a small patch with “normal” grass.