I’ve been thinking a lot about habits lately and wondering why they are so hard to break. It seems to me that from large scale emotional reaction to the mundane tasks of everyday life, those tendencies feel like the framework of our very beings. And I don’t know about you, but they seem to me like they are under constant threat, as I work to protect my personal houses of cards. The perspective of a control freak? Maybe…
Ellie recently asked me if I brushed my teeth in the shower. Wait…what? Those are two entirely different hygiene management systems that are meant to be run sequentially… NOT simultaneously. No way. I mean, beyond the fact that the toothpaste splatter surely would negate the effects of the soap, the whole water flow chaos would not be controllable for proper dampening, spitting, and rinsing. And I’m not even going to mention the travesty of having to add a whole new brush and paste set to my equipment. Lord knows I will NOT be reaching into the shower every evening before bedtime in order to complete my ritual. So, no, I do not brush my teeth in the shower.
Then again, what if….
How many times have I gotten through my entire primping routine only to have forgotten to attend to my pearly whites? And those times when I am only half way through my sink-side morning coffee and have to choose between it and a cleaning before running out the door? Never mind about the ridiculously large collection of toothbrushes I have from hotels around the world that I hoard like there’s going to be a toothbrush Armageddon. Am I waiting for every friend and family member to drop in spontaneously for an overnight without having packed their Dopp kits? I mean, really.
I decided to give it a try.
It’s brilliant. Beyond it’s efficiency, it really feels like my whole situation is clean from head to toe when I step out and wrap myself in my towel. And the time savings! I’ve recovered immeasurable amounts of time and coffee consumption pleasure by shifting the act into the cleaning category from the primping one. Why have I never thought of doing it before??
Routine would be the answer. I’m sure I developed my shower plan at a stage when, to me, brushing teeth was more optional than required, and, honestly, I never think about mixing up what’s tried, true, and purposeful. Seriously, I’ve been showering the way I do for so many decades – hair then body then face – and with so little thought, that sometimes I go through the whole experience without even remembering that I’ve done so. I can’t count the number of times I have come to the end of the showering event, certain I have completed all the necessary tasks, but don’t recall lathering one bit. Ahh, routine. You’ve got my back.
Much of my blogging tackles my deeply ingrained behavioral challenges, but the small stuff also consumes my brain and emotional energy. In fact, truth be told, it does so with greater consistency and equally debilitating effect as some of the big stuff.
I hadn’t noticed how deeply embedded my groove was until Jim and I got together. Two effectively independent grownups, both perfectly capable of getting through the day, suddenly tripping over each other and losing balance because of every day living, like tortured Twister contestants. I said, right foot red, not left hand green! I mean, really! Why do you have to do things that way? Huh, good question: Why do I have to do things this way? So, is the way I do things better? Or is yours? And if the latter, do I really want to – much less have to – change now?
Here is just a sampling of stupid shit that has brought me to my knees…
- Reusing a coffee mug after just a rinse and not a wash. This I just don’t understand. Not only do rings of cups-past start to leave a permanent mark, but what about the lip residue? Efficiency, he says. So, yes, he worries about his mug, and I worry about mine. But…ew. Every once in a while I take some Clorox to his whether he likes it or not. A girl can only be expected to tolerate so much.
- Peeing and blowing one’s nose in the shower. Okay, I have to admit, I thought everyone did it. Apparently not. It is kind of gross, but that doesn’t stop me. I just try to make sure Jim’s not around when I partake. Shower snot-rockets may not be in his future, but I do think he’s finding it a relief – heh heh – to give the other nasty habit a whirl. He is rationalizing the change in the name of water efficiency, natch.
- Loading the dishwasher. Plates go here. Cups there. Utensils right side up. Let’s face it, that we both even think about is a win. So, we’ve stopped correcting each others’ dish placement. Well, in front of each other, that is. Mostly.
- Making the bed. I always have. He never has. I’ve happily adopted his routine, though I do think about the mountains of dirt that must fall from the sky into my sheets in their exposed state, but I’m letting it go. Who says a girl can’t change?
- Doing laundry. I do it as I go. He does it when he runs out of clothes. or when his Sunday calendar reminder goes off, whichever comes first. Surely a hold over from the days of finding flecks of order in the chaos of parenthood, I can’t stop the feeling of imminent doom if clothes start to pile up. So, guess what? I do the laundry. He just has to work harder not to keep wearing the same two shirts every other day since they are always clean and hanging in the “next up” spot.
- Making lists. Groceries. Hardware store runs. Weekend chores. I know in my head what needs to get done. Without proof in the form of a list, Jim is blissfully unaware of anything being needed. How convenient. Never fear, though; I’ve figured out this game. If I give him a list, there isn’t anything he won’t do, pick up, order, or fix. This is my kind of dividing and conquering!
- Thinking before acting. He thinks. I act. Okay, so we’re never going to be in lock step on this one, but we’re both trying to be better. We just spend more time discussing why and how than I ever imagined possible. Go figure. There’s a lot of efficiency to be gained from planning. Who knew?
- Managing life. There are just so many things… toilet seat positioning, bill paying, remote control placing, computering in bed, putting laundry away, double spacing after a period, blah, blah, blah…
Yes, particularly in writing, I can see plainly how truly unimportant any of these “issues” is in the scheme of things, yet I would be lying if I didn’t admit that they took – and, at some level, continue to take – a frighteningly large toll. Heck, I’m even blogging about them.
I often wish that I weren’t effected by the small stuff, but I cannot deny that I am. I literally have lost sleep over the butter-in-or-out-of-the-fridge debate, whether or not there’s a backup tube of toothpaste at the ready, and, as we know, whether the usable towels are cleaned within a specific timeframe in order to avoid the use of – gasp! – the decorative ones (Don’t Forget Your Towel!).
Yeah, yeah, yeah. I can hear the comments now. “Let it go!” “Live in the now!” “Don’t sweat the small stuff!” Gee, thanks. I never thought of that.
I’ve always marveled at people who seem to go with the flow… with whatever supplies, at whatever time, with whatever outcome. Yes, you annoy the ever-loving shit out of me, but I also salute you. I just know you don’t scurry around the house to empty all the wastebaskets when the kitchen can is full and ready for the dumpster. YOU know, after all, that rubbish disposal is always available and that even emptying a single trash can is in-and-of-itself an achievement. I truly wonder, though, why your other bins don’t scream at you, like mine do at me. Or do they, and you’ve just found the courage to tell them to go lump it?
Is that what it is? You go-with-the flow-ers are just specially equipped not to get frazzled when things get in the way of a plan, even if your plan is not to have a plan. Do you, as I fantasize, think it’s enough to just think about the joy of every moment while listening to Joni Mitchell and marveling at the beauty of life and all of the people in it? Or could it be possible- and be honest – that you sometimes sit around and see all the task management happening around you and ask, why can’t I be more like those control freaks so that I get some shit done? Is maybe going with the flow a habit you’d actually like to break? Maybe you want to care more about getting your taxes in on time… just this once?
I guess we’re all just moving through life as best as we know how, right?
The good news for all of us is that as we age, when we tire of the fight for our blind convictions, it gets easier to loosen the grip on what we are sure we know for sure (if you know what I mean). I’m living proof. A recovering control freak and know-it-all who now welcomes the tutelage of her daughter – one of two people on whom I have been wholly focused as the target of my wisdom and life-lessons since exiting my womb. What an amazingly powerful and seismic shift. And, oh, the relief of hand over the reins! My urge to fight for what I know I know is waning, and my instinct to protect my stance feels increasingly boring and unnecessary. I’m actually catching glimpses into a life of contentment.
Look at me. Going with the flow and shit. Cue Both Sides Now. Finding pleasure in the game of Twister is right around the corner; I can feel it.
To read more about our Tiny House #1, view a gallery of that completed project’s progress photos, and join me in my musings, take a wander around my website.