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.