While sorting out fall clothes recently, I got carried away with the seasonal tidying bout, and in the process of neatening and de-cluttering some drawers, I had a eureka moment. With one simple fix, I changed the course of my mornings for the foreseeable future.
By way of background, ever since we moved in, my makeup supplies had been jumbled into a small box along with extra toothpastes, flosses, and other random personal care supplies, awaiting the day when I would find the perfect cabinet/vanity/shelf to fit into our smallish master bathroom. Whenever I wanted to put on makeup, therefore, I had to root around in the small packing box stuck under our bathroom sink until I found what I was looking for. Not surprisingly, this awkwardness created enough of a threshold of inconvenience to deter me from my mission, unless I was feeling particularly motivated and energetic.
The quick fix was to commission a helpful daughter to sort out all the cosmetic supplies into a small basket, which I set on the dresser near the bathroom, in plain sight and handy reach. And voila, my track record of actually putting on lipstick in the mornings has gone up drastically.
Now, I’ve read quite a few articles and books over the years on the science of willpower and how best to harness it to maximum advantage. Apparently willpower, unlike a muscle—which grows stronger the more we exercise it—is a finite resource that dwindles as we draw upon it. So we shouldn’t waste valuable mental powers on trivial decisions or reminders; the trick is to learn how to set up systems to optimize our concentration and decision-making.
When I notice that my routines tend toward the inefficient or incomplete, it’s usually not just laziness, but poor planning and inertia that keep me on a less efficient track. I should know by now from reading the classic Cheaper By The Dozen—with its concepts of efficiency and motion study—that I need to be finding my own One Best Way. What do I need to jog me out of my rut and into a more productive path?
On the homeschooling front, I organized the school cupboard to make the books we’re currently working on more accessible. While most of our curricula are grouped by subject, I decided to stack all the school books that we’re using on an everyday basis on one shelf, so we can grab what we need when it’s time for school instead of having to find and then file every book each day.
This concept has so many applications, from family chores to parenting to homeschooling. As soon as I turn on my organizational goggles to look past the film of temporary fixes and “This will have to do for now” systems, I start seeing all kinds of ways just a little tweak could get us so much closer to the ideal, while we wait for the perfect to materialize. (It’s a huge help that I have a couple of children who enjoy organizing and tidying; in fact, one daughter so prizes order that as a baby she would sort her stuffed animals by height.)
At the ripe age of thirty-something-ish, I still find myself figuring these things out. Maybe everyone else already knows about the principle of subtle nudges toward optimization—and, in fact, I know the theory too—but I haven’t always been very thorough in applying it to case studies. I choose to find occasional proof of scatterbrained mismanagement as encouraging, because the fact that there’s always so much room for improvement means that things will only get better from here.
Photo Credit: First image graphic design by Charity Klicka; Second and third photos by Rose Focht.