The Queen of Making Do.

March 1st, 2012

When living with the problem feels easier than choosing a solution

Patrick and I are the king and queen of making do and getting by. It’s not a bad skill set for the dually self-employed. We’ve often had to make do and get by. But sometimes we take it to ridiculous extremes. Example: a spring popped off our attic steps sometime last fall. Without the spring, the attic door won’t stay shut, so Patrick got out his drill and screwed the door in place, as a “temporary” measure, until we could replace the spring.

In our house, “temporary” means “indefinitely.” Since that time, we have had to make several trips to the attic for the holidays, requiring Patrick to get out a step ladder and his drill every time, to un-screw and then re-screw the door. Then one day, we heard something like a shot go off in the house as the screws popped loose and the stairs came crashing down. We looked at each other in horror. What if one of the kids had been walking by?

That sent us straight to the hardware store, right?

No. It sent us to find the drill and two bigger screws.


If you google “attic stairs spring,” you will not only come up with first person narrative accounts of terrible injuries resulting from broken attic stairs, you will see that a replacement spring kit costs about $22. Replacing the whole staircase would run $100-$200.

I couldn’t find a kit for replacement body parts, but I’m going to guess that it would run considerably higher than a permanent fix for the stairs.

The thing is, we get used to working around problems, instead of dealing with them. After a while, the work-around just seems normal. What, you don’t need a ladder and drill to put the winter coats away?

It would be interesting to have a normal person come in and audit our household systems. It’s sort of what Lori did with our stuff when she worked with us on the decluttering story I wrote for Good Housekeeping a few years back. She introduced me to the concept of identifying what’s not working. Like, constantly picking up scattered board game pieces and putting them back in their proper boxes was not working for me. So I got a clear plastic box and labelled it “Game Pieces.” Β When the kids are missing the Yahtzee dice, or a chess pawn, they know where to look for it. Problem solved. Permanently.

I wonder what she’d observe by just watching us go about our lives for a week. The work-arounds that don’t really work. The make-dos that only make things harder. I’ve been thinking about time and energy recently, as quantifiable resources. I sense that much of mine is escaping through the cracks, like heat in a drafty house. I’m looking for the places it leaks out.

What am I working around, over and over? Where have I mindlessly adapted myself to the problem, instead of finding a solution?

There are a ton of household examples like the attic stairs (someday I’ll take you on a photographic tour of our many make-dos), but I have plenty that are all my own. One that comes to mind is bed pillows. I’ve have a crick in my neck because the pillows on my bed have become flat and horrible. I don’t usually prefer to sleep in hotel beds, but on the last couple of trips I’ve made, I’ve loved it, because they have nice pillows. I want a memory foam pillow, but I just can’t seem to bring myself to spend the $40 or so on it, when we have pillows already. So I guess I’ll just go through life with a neck that hurts all day.

That’s crazy, right?

Another one is my hair. I never feel like I can justify the expense of a salon visit more than once or Β twice a year, but then I have to spend an increasing amount of product and time to make my hair look nice (and myself feel good). That’s both a time and a happiness leak.

Another: I let my subscription go last year, to save money. It cost $15 a month. I loved listening to great novels while I cooked supper or folded laundry. I use the library’s digital lending service, but it’s cumbersome, and doesn’t play on my iPhone. I miss it. Another happiness leak.

These self-deprivations aren’t really about money. I spent $15 on a cocktail the other night. We went out to dinner on Mardi Gras for more than the cost of a new attic spring. I’m not sure what it’s all about. Intentionality, I think. Permission, maybe.

I’m curious to know if you have work-arounds in your life that aren’t working, make-dos you’ve been living with for too long? Where are you losing happiness, time or energy through cracks and gaps that can and should be fixed?

What do you think it’s really about?

26 Responses to “The Queen of Making Do.”

  1. Karen says:

    Boy, did this strike a nerve. My LIFE is work-arounds. I need to start intentionally identifying them. Thank you!

  2. Oh my sweet friend, the list of my work-arounds is so frighteningly long and overwhelming I shudder to even start thinking about what it is all really about. Permission. Apathy. Perhaps in some instances fear of failure. It is definitely worth examining. Great post Kyran.

  3. Kristina says:

    So much to think about here…for me, I’ve become aware that I nearly always think the solution will be harder (more expensive, more complicated, more time-consuming) than the work-around. And Redneck Mommy’s choice of the word “Permission” struck a chord too. I’ve recently been musing on the idea of taking myself seriously, and what that really means. Thank you for this post.

  4. erniebufflo says:

    I think a lot of the stuff like this that I do, I do because I was raised by cheapskates. We had enough money, but my dad only worked enough shifts to cover the basics and have plenty of time leftover for his garden. They made me reuse the same brown paper lunch sack for a week, a compromise because lunchboxes were SO UNCOOL. Those habits persist now that I’m an adult, and it often leads to Jon making fun of me. Once, when we were in Walmart, we walked past a crock pot that I really wanted because it had a timer. “ONE DAY,” I said to Jon, “I’ll have one of those.” He laughed at me: “Baby, it’s FORTY DOLLARS. Better start saving your pennies!” We went home with the crock pot, but I wouldn’t have if I’d been home alone. Most recently he made fun of me for buying Buddies, which are like the off brand of those Cutie clementines. They were like $2 cheaper, but they had seeds and were harder to peel. Jon was like, “We make a decent living, we can spring for the Cuties, I promise.” I still can’t bring myself to pay more than $25 for a haircut. I still feel like I need someone’s permission to buy a dress, even if it’s on sale for 50% off. It’s so weird. On the one hand, I think it’s great to live frugally, but on the other hand, living in imagined scarcity makes no sense.

    • KyranP says:

      “Imagined scarcity” …what a great term. Adding it to my lexicon!

    • Grace says:

      Oh, gosh, Ernie! The image of your disintegrating paper bag takes me home! Many a time, as I squeeze the last nanobit out of a tube of toothpaste, I think whatever is wrong with me, I’ve turned into my depression-era parents! I actually said to my husband that we need a new coffee maker, but that I didn’t want to get the one with a timer because it was more expensive. The look on his face, as he said “are you crazy? we use the timer every single day!” We’ll see who wins this battle! Imagined scarcity, indeed.

  5. Christa says:

    Thanks for a great post. Many things strike a cord with me…permission, fear of failure, accommodating to the situation to avoid the potential conflict of fixing it. So much to reflect upon.

  6. Sheryl says:

    I think sometimes it’s just recognizing that it’s a problem. We’re moving, so I threw out a bunch of stuff in my kitchen that wasn’t working, like the pair of tongs that doesn’t have a closure so they’re impossible to set in a dish because they sproing open. Why did I have to wait so long to get a decent pair of salad tongs?

    On the other hand, it is frugality too. I really want to get my hair highlighted, and I NEVER have. Why? Because it’ll cost $60-100 and which adds up to at least $400 a year. How can I drop that kind of cash on dead protein cells?!

    • KyranP says:

      Exactly, Sheryl. Sometimes it really is about the money. However, I think I tend to set myself up for impulsive or last minute splurges because I can’t give myself permission to spend on me up front. Example: I bought a skirt and a pair of jeans in advance of the Blissdom conference, (in part because I had a gift card left from Xmas). I wanted to get a new top or two as well to go with them, but I got scared of spending the money. Guess who paid the ridiculously inflated hotel boutique price for a top on Friday night, because nothing I had worked? That would be this fool. πŸ™‚

  7. Susan says:

    I think it’s a matter of priorities. I’ve got a good five items that push “house maintenance” down so low I may never get to it.

  8. Pam says:

    The legacy of cheapskate parents is one thing (I still feel guilty throwing away tinfoil after only one use – it can be washed and re-used, you know. As can clingfilm and plastic bags! Thanks, Mum) but not fixing clutter and broken stuff because it seems too big a task is actually dumb, because you know what? It never takes as long to do as you expect! And afterwards, the joy!
    Now if only I could remember that…

  9. Christine says:

    God, Kyran, I would read you just for the good writing… sigh + I’m interested in what you say. What bliss. Just finished your book and loved it.

  10. tamara says:

    Oh, Kyran, this is why I love your blog so much! It always strikes a chord. I too have my fair share of ‘work arounds’ that we constantly put up with. Now we are a one income family with four children, so there are often just other priorities on the list, needing attention. Still that isn’t always the ‘excuse’.
    I loved the mention of your pillow – in the fact that I am also currently suffering a crick-in-the-neck from a flat worn out pillow. I have even gone as far as – squeezing the pillows in the store, on several ‘drive-bys’, then decide that I don’t need to spend that money right now just on me! Let’s hope the first step is admitting we have the problem πŸ˜‰

    • KyranP says:

      I hope so. Maybe we can have a pillow pact.

      • Ashley says:

        Buy the pillow!

        I’m like you on so many levels – I NEVER (seriously never) get my hair done. I have three pairs of slacks that I wear to a professional job. Yes, I said 3! (I get to wear jeans 1 day and I wear one of the pants twice each week). Talk about a work-around…I have duct tape holding up the hem on the leg of one of my pants. I actually remove the tape when I wash the pants and add new tape after I’ve ironed them. Why don’t I just take a second and sew the stupid things! πŸ™‚

        Anyway, back to the pillow (now that I’ve explained I’m a true work-arounder): I finally caved in after years of back pain and neck pain and I got the memory foam pillow (it was 3 years ago). Best purchase ever! I sleep better and have less back and neck pain – and the thing is still the same shape that it was 3 years ago. I really think I’ll never have to buy another pillow ever again. So, I think I’ve actually saved money – still, I realize that thought sometimes isn’t enough to take the leap. But just do it!

        • Kyran says:

          Okay, if I haven’t posted a picture of my new pillow within a month’s time, you all have permission to bust me out. πŸ™‚

          • Margaret says:

            Don’t wait! Do it now! The relief I felt after just one night with a memory foam pillow was incredible. I had put off buying the pillow for months, telling myself it was an unnecessary splurge that I couldn’t justify. But, let’s face it, if you can’t get a good night’s sleep, it costs you in other ways–you’re cranky, tired, and unproductive. Well, . . . I was. Get it–now!

  11. Nancy says:

    Love this. Permission. I don’t give myself permission often! The story that comes to mind is we finally had a huge party last summer, our first in 11 years. My husband told me to buy the things for the house I never let myself buy. What did I buy? An $15 dry erase board I had been craving for years. Lights for the back porch that make me so happy that I never let myself buy because why do we deserve fun lights? Again, inexpensive. And we finally hung a wealth of pictures, painted by my husband and father-in-law, that had been gathering dust in storage. Love the post!

  12. KyranP says:

    Been ruminating on “permission” since writing this post and reading all your great comments ( I love the examples — truly, you are my tribe). One thing I’ve become semi-aware of is that my subconscious will try to steal what my soul needs if my conscious mind won’t give it. Example: I have a really hard time giving myself permission to play. So instead of being intentional about doing something fun for a couple of hours, I wind up goofing off surreptitiously–mainly on Facebook or twitter. Which isn’t all that fun, and all added up, probably sucks away much more time than if I said, I’m taking the morning off to do something fun. It’s a penny-wise, pound-foolish approach to time, as well as money.

    • Cathy says:

      Wow- captures me exactly. In the end I’m wasting more time, losing more happiness… for what? Some ideal that I’m not even living up to.
      Have the second the pillow comments. My neck pain has only come back once in the 3 years I’ve owned my memory foam pillow. πŸ™‚ Thanks for posting~

  13. Taido Chino says:

    Love the blog and the post! As I’m reading this, my mind naturally turns to all the “work arounds” and ways we “make do” in other areas of our lives. Work, health care, but especially relationships. Making do in marriage. Work arounds in friendships. Not giving ourselves permission to speak freely with family members. And the list goes on…

  14. Heather says:

    What a great post! I’m not sure what someone would say if they came to my house! The cable cords taped to the floor across the doorway to the living room? Hmmmm….
    As I’ve gotten older, and have a child, time always gets more precious, so I do tend to spend money on things that cost me time.

  15. Mariellen says:

    Great post! Permission for sure. And for me, also a sense of not being capable enough..which is total rubbish. But you feel it and so be it. And one more thing – after a while you can’t see it in the clutter of broken stuff…you just don’t see it any more. Clear a bit, fix a bit – and I do.

  16. […] at hand, not panicked by the fear of letting something good get away. It’s a powerful form of permission, which seems to be one of my watchwords this year. My journal lets me say yes to everything, at […]

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