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The secret to life

Everyone wants to know the secret to life. If you have made your way here today, you are in luck. I just so happen to know the secret.

Before I share it with you, though, I need to suit up and prepare myself.

via GIPHY

(That’s not really me giving the Mile-High Salute, by the way. Your confusion is totally understandable. People are forever telling me how much I resemble Emmanuel Sanders.)

Now that I’m padded and helmeted against the kerfuffle that’s about to ensue, I shall divulge the secret.

Make life easy.

Hey! Gerroff me! I can explain!

Let me explain.
[pause]
No, there is too much. Let me sum up.

Inigo Montoya of The Princess Bride, William Goldman

Let me back up a moment and say that making life easy is not always easy. Also, I’ll back up a wee bit more and say that this is not the only secret to life.

And ALSO, if something in your life is difficult, you’re going to have to put in some work to make it easier. So often, it is more work to make it easy is than it is to leave things as they are — or so it would appear.

Has anyone ever cleaned up after their child/roommate/life partner because it’s so much easier than explaining or arguing? Yeah, that.

You may have to carve out time for this by eliminating or delaying an actity or project. Ultimately, you will save yourself a lot of time and energy by putting in the work now. If it helps, think of it as having a peanut butter sandwich instead of pizza delivery. Before you know it, you’re eating at a café on the French Riviera! (Results not typical.)

Speaking as one who overthinks, I admit this is also a possible result of trying to make things easier.

I don’t know how long I’ve been saying that I need to get my life in order. I’m going to guess it’s been about 23 years. That’s how old my eldest is if you exclude the early months of his life. During those months, I was so sleep-deprived that my only mission in life was to keep him and myself alive.

Once I was out of zombie mode, I knew life was harder than it needed to be. What I didn’t know was how to make it easier.

When I wanted to get my life in order, I took the intuitive first step of determining what wasn’t working. Not only was it intuitive, but I already had a mental list started!

Unfortunately, this step led me down a dead-end road. It started out as a simple list and ended as a litany of my faults. Don’t do it, man. I’ve got at least 23 years of experience that says it is just not worth it.

Fortunately, in one of the (many, many) books I’ve read on cleaning and organizing*, I learned a neat trick: Find something that works for you, determine why it works, and apply it to something else.

Off I went looking for something that worked for me, and — surprise — I found it! Despite my butterfly-brain, I seldom lose my keys. They are on a clip that’s attached to my purse. I rarely need my keys when I don’t need my purse, so this clip is a fast and convenient way of keeping track of them.

car keys hang on a carabiner which is clipped to a purse

The next trick was applying this concept to a storage idea that wasn’t working well. My keys seldom leave my purse, but my purse was ending up all over the house. Sometimes it would be at the back door, sometimes on the couch, and sometimes on the kitchen table. It needed a home, and that home had to make sense to me.

Nearly every time I leave the house, I start in the living room. Nearly every time I come home, I head to the living room. The solution for me was to put up a hook in the living room where I always (okay, almost always) hang my purse.

A purse hangs on a wrought iron coat hook

I figured out why I could keep track of my keys (because it was easy and it made sense) and I applied it to keeping track of my purse (I put it somewhere easy to access in a place where it made sense). This may seem pretty basic, but habit can keep us trying to fit a new situation into an old solution.

If I had decided to keep my purse in my upstairs closet because I was taught having it visible was aesthetically displeasing, it would probably end up on the floor or a chair far more often than in its assigned home. (How’s that aesthetic working out?)

If I thought my keys should be on a hook in the foyer because my parents always kept their keys this way, they would probably be lost more often than not — in my coat pocket, on the table, or some other place that was convenient at the time I was done using them.

These storage solutions worked for me because they were easy and made sense. In fact, that idea was so exciting to me that I morphed it into my whole philosophy on change: If it’s not easy to do, I won’t keep doing it.

Take note: it needs to be easy to DO, not easy to SET UP. If you are adding something new to your life, setting it up could be easy, as well. But, if you are making a change in the way you already do something, expect it to be more difficult.

In this case, I didn’t have a particular home for my purse. I was setting up a system where there hadn’t been one before, so it was pretty easy.

By way of contrast, at the end of last year, I decided my kitchen was too hard to maintain. I ended up on a mission to revamp my entire kitchen system. The post I wrote about it is primarily about the inevitability of change. It also works to highlight the level of effort required to change long-standing patterns or systems.

It ended up entailing a major overhaul of how our cabinets, drawers, and pantry were set up. We have lived in this house for 13 and a half years and have never done a major overhaul of the layout of the cabinets.

I could easily have gone through the kitchen and pointed out everything that wasn’t working; in fact, that was a necessary step. To do otherwise would be like taking a math test by writing random numbers on a blank sheet of paper and hoping they match the problems. You might get something right, but it would be completely random.

The first step was actually to see what worked well in the kitchen. At first glance, it seemed nothing was working, but it turned out that some things were working quite well, thank you. The baking sheets are still under the oven and the spice racks are still right where they were a year ago.

Why did those things work when other systems had failed? The items fit their locations both in size and in proximity to where they were used most often.

The spice racks, in particular, set the stage for the rest of the kitchen project. Not only do the spices fit neatly, but putting them away is a snap because there is an exact place for every spice.

Bottles of spices lined up on a wooden spice rack
Yes, most of these are in alphabetical order. If you want to know what the first spice is, you have to know why those four are NOT in alphabetical order. Be prepared with this answer in case there is a quiz later. (There is no quiz. Don’t worry.)

Of course, not everything can be so regulated, especially if you live with my thoughts, which I do. Take, for example, my coffee-making supplies.

I don’t always have the exact same size bag of coffee. Sometimes we buy ground coffee (insert collective gasp of coffee connoisseurs), but sometimes a bag of coffee beans has ended up in our cart accidentally. Hence, a coffee grinder is sometimes required and sometimes not. What size package of coffee filters we buy depends on how much they cost when we need them. Because of this, we need to allow for the bigger one without letting that spot fill up with something else when we have the smaller one.

Improvise, adapt, and overcome.

U.S. Marine Corps slogan

All those details meant we had to be creative with the storage solution. Voila!

Fabric-lined basket labeled "Coffee and filters"
Interior of fabric-lined basket contains coffee filters, a bag of coffee, and a coffee grinder

Hmm. It seems I explained after all. Now, let me sum up:

The reason the secret of life is such a secret (and why I wanted to have full pads when I shared it with you), is that no one can tell you how to make your life easy. Only you know what works for you.

Before you make changes in your life, find out what’s already working. Even the smallest things can give you clues about the big ones.

Time will tell if the changes I’m putting in place now will hold. This leads me to my closing thought on the matter. Be willing to discard what doesn’t work. What worked yesterday may not work tomorrow. Life is not static, and neither are you. And that’s more than okay. That’s the way it should be.

Brightest blessings to you, Sunny

*I’m pretty sure I read this in Spiritual Housecleaning by Kathryn L. Robin. I haven’t read this one in a decade, but I still own it because I know I gleaned some wisdom from it and I intend to revisit. Please don’t rat me out to Marie Kondo. Thank you.


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