When my fella and I bought our house last year, we tried to make thoughtful decisions as we accessorized our new lives — years of editing Umbra have left me with little choice. So we bought a reel mower — completely manual, no gas, no cord, just a few blades and some sweat.

And I’m here to report: Our mower sucks. It rattles. It doesn’t cut all that well. It completely misses the tall, thin weeds that have populated our lawn this spring, so that even after a fresh cut it looks like we haven’t touched the thing for weeks. Honestly, I don’t want to care that I have a scraggly lawn — but I’ve started to feel self-conscious.

I half expect a formerly-kindly neighbor to wander over at any moment and chastise us for lawn neglect. We already had one wonder if we “couldn’t afford a real mower” and confess that she had considered loaning us her gas mower out of pity.

Did we get a lousy brand, or are reel mowers just an overrated option? If I could afford a cordless electric mower, I might give that a shot. But meanwhile, we struggle with our blades — and I have to say, I understand why people conform. When we hear the sound of gas mowers firing up throughout our neighborhood each weekend, there’s a certain subconscious comfort to be found in that recognizable ritual.

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Advice on mowers, reel mowing techniques, and resisting small-town lawn pressure welcome.