Unstuck: The Power of Thinking Small

October 10th, 2012

Do you have “stuck” places? Projects that have stalled, good intentions that have gone to hell, to-do’s that don’t get done? My front porch is one of mine. But this week I learned something about getting unstuck through the power of thinking small.

I love our house. On the inside. On the outside, it’s been bumming me out. Specifically, our front entrance. While we refinished every interior vertical and horizontal surface when we moved in four years ago, the porch somehow got overlooked. Which is ironic, considering it’s been one of our principal living and entertaining areas. My Thursday “porch-sit” ritual has been memorialized in these lines in my book:

…five o’clock sharp, my front porch, kids welcome, no husbands, no regrets. The drinks are fancy, the snack simple. The children are encouraged to play video games and forage from the pantry. It’s our time. The Ladies have convened.

We talk about hair and makeup, sex, clothes, religion, music, food, and the riddle of being wives and mothers, and still ourselves.

My best girl Lennie and her kids come still over almost every week, but it’s been a while since I’ve invited other friends to join us. I can’t say if the porch cobwebs and clutter are a cause, or symptom of that neglect. Either way, the porch has not been my happy place for a while. Observe the dingy door, piles of clutter, and dead plants:

What are we trying to say here? Apathy? Ennui? Soviet-era Eastern Bloc with Nerf guerillas?

My sideways brain approaches home improvement as an interval workout: long stretches of slogging through denial and avoidance, alternated with maniacally aspirational shopping sprees at hardware and hobby stores that just result in more clutter and bad feeling. It’s remarkable how little one can accomplish, and still be exhausted.

I’m learning to do things differently. Differently for me is leading with one task at a time, instead of trying to do everything at once. When I realized the front porch was bumming me out every time I left or entered my home, I wrote it down in my journal as a “stuck” place. I have a few, and they love to gang up on me. Thanks to my journal, I’ve been able to make them take a number and line up in an orderly fashion.

When Front Porch’s turn came up,  I listened for what needed to be done. EVERYTHING, it wailed. And if not, then NOTHING.

Calm the cuss down, I said. Let’s make a list.

I looked at the list, and began to feel overwhelmed. Not enough money! Not enough time!

Okay, I thought. Pick one thing. One small thing that will make you feel great.

Easy. The mailbox.

Look at it, and marvel that I have been allowed to have a Pinterest account.

Does your home have a shame hot-spot? A place you have trained yourself not to see, but burns infra-red in your psyche every time you encounter it? A section of your closet? A box of photographs? A pile of bills?

That damn mailbox has been one of mine. I didn’t know how much until I wrote it on the page. Something so small, that weighs so heavy. I could change that one small thing.

So I did.


The funny thing is, while I kept laser-focus on that one small thing, other things happened. I had to get the cobwebs and dead bugs off the mailbox, which meant getting the shop vac out. As long as I had the shop vac out, it only made sense to get the cobwebs and dead bugs off the rest of the porch. And the trash, too. And to sort the clutter and decide where to put things, the way my darling friend Lorie taught me when we worked together on our home makeover for Good Housekeeping.

Choosing a paint color for the mailbox got me thinking about paint for the screen door, and for the front door, and looking around on Pinterest for ideas. And the second I became overwhelmed or intimidated, I came back to the mailbox. Just the mailbox. One small thing.

I confess, when I went to the hardware and hobby stores to buy paint, some other things may have gone in and out of my cart. Stay with the mailbox, I told myself, as I returned the flat of pansies to the display table, and passed by the metal owl decor. Mailbox, mailbox, mailbox.

One small thing.

Okay, the red chrysanthemums made it through. As a reward for staying on task. And maybe sideways brain took hold for just a second and put the turquoise spray paint into the cart. But as I was focusing on choosing the right orange-red for the mailbox, sideways brain was already working on colors for the screen door, and thought we could test that turquoise on an old metal pail that would be perfect for the mums.

And in between coats of paint on the mailbox, perhaps sideways brain noticed some vintage folding tables that could use a facelift.

Sideways brain has its moments. That turquoise is going to be amazing on the screen door. The next small thing.

15 Responses to “Unstuck: The Power of Thinking Small”

  1. Marie says:

    Ah. I really like this. I’m going to have to try this out on something. *thinking* And what a great color! *snags mailbox on Pinterest for inspiration* 🙂

  2. Devorah Singer says:

    Yup, that’s me all the way. Thanks for the unsticking formula- I’m so familiar with that loss of momentum that comes with having way too many things to do. The mailbox looks beautiful. XO

  3. Janice says:

    Wow! Great post. Thanks for the inspiration. I definitely have some “stuck” places in my house AND n my heart. I’ll see if I can find “one small thing” to do about each of them.

  4. Karen says:

    I love it!! I too have a big sideways brain and also my mailbox really needs painting! I love the last post about the red door! We are similarly challenged in my house. I wanted to paint our white interior doors black (look it up on Pinterest it’s really cool looking). My husband thought that I had really just lost my mind….I started a campaign of walking around the house singing, “I see a white door and I want to paint it black….” in my best Mick Jagger but he remains firmly in the white doors camp….

  5. Bev says:

    Lovin’ those two colors together! But…I’m now convinced that a “pimento” door would have really worked with your lovely porch.

  6. Darcy says:

    For me, the stalled project is my photo collection rather than an area in my house! I’ve been meaning to regularly put together albums of all the photos I’ve taken since my oldest daughter was born — she’s SEVEN now and has a two year old sister and I still have yet to put together an album! I have thousands of pics accumulated on multiple hard drives! I have thousands of iPhone pics on another drive and have become so overwhelmed by the size (and cost) of the project now that I don’t know where to begin. But I like what you write about starting small! I have to start somewhere and I have to start now before it becomes more out of control! Thanks for this post 🙂

    • Darcy, I have the same backlog (as I send picture money to school for one more set of awful portraits that will never be displayed)! When I look in my photo folder, I get completely sidetracked and overwhelmed. At some point, I will make a list on paper, of possible ways to group our photos: by year, holidays, vacations and major family milestones, and pick ONE to make a SMALL photo book. When I dive into my photo folders, I can hopefully ignore anything that doesn’t fit my chosen subject. In the meantime, backing everything to an external hard drive has let me relax about it.

  7. Amy says:

    I’m totally painting my mailbox…today! Periwinkle, for sure.

  8. mary says:

    What a differenece those colours have made to your porch. Quite the pick me up, for it.

  9. Pat Hammond says:

    Beautiful, bright, and colorful! That’s how to make any spot look better. One thing, though…never leave tools near where you plan to relax.

    I brightened up my white mailbox by glueing colorful glass beads on it in flower designs.My girls hate how gaudy it looks but it makes me smile every time I pick up the mail!

  10. Asha says:

    I am so very late to reading this! The mailbox looks so cheerful and happy hanging there, but it’s everything else in this post that makes me REALLY happy. Way to go, Kyran. Beautiful.

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  12. […] Improve your space. Toss clutter. Take the cup to the sink. Play music. Light a candle. Paint the door. […]

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