Pay attention. I am not kidding. Really.

Category: Pay attention to your home.

Brains: Men’s & Women’s

photo of a control box with one-third designated as man's brain with single toggle switch and two-thirds as woman's brain with 40 knobs and switches

Man’s brain. Woman’s. Guess which is which.

Warning: a recent spate of Facebook posts has prompted this blog post and, if you’re married, most of it will be yesterday’s ho-hum news. But – pay attention – it never hurts to be reminded of what we already know. (And, of course, there is the outside chance that you just might not know this stuff yet.)

It all started when I innocently commented on a young wife’s post, referencing my own husband’s habit of answering “nothing” when I ask “what are you thinking?” Well! From there, Young Wife’s Hubby weighed in. Then Older Brother had a bit of wisdom to add, and so did several others who didn’t make the cut (in the interest of unaccustomed brevity) for this post. What follows is what the two brothers had to say about “what are you thinking, dear?”

Younger brother (Young Wife’s Hubby):
When a man is asked this question (‘what are you thinking?’), his brain scrambles to remember anything about what he was just thinking. ‘Nothing’ seems to be the only appropriate answer. Then we usually regret that answer but still can’t think of anything better.”

Older Brother:
“It’s a trap!!! I usually respond with ‘Nothing.’ That never seems to be the correct answer. So I try to think of what it is that would have made sense to be thinking about at that time. Then they get you with, ‘Why didn’t you just tell me that in the first place?’ Don’t take the bait!!!”

So! Never let it be said that Facebook is a complete waste of time. As you’ve just read, some practical and insightful pay-attention stuff dribbles out every once in awhile. This particular interchange reminded me of a video I saw several years ago. You may have already seen it, but maybe you’re in need of a good laugh today. So watch this Tale of Two Brains segment from Mark Gungor’s Laugh Your Way to a Better Marriage again, and then we’ll continue.

Now that you’ve watched Gungor‘s routine, you know that no malice is intended by either of us. But what does all this mean? Gungor sort of answers the question with his “Nothing Box,” but not in depth, for the same reason that I can’t answer the question with any degree of detail or authority. The photo above might illustrate how a man can answer the “what are you thinking?” question with the answer “nothing”: he’s simply switched off his only switch. But it’s still a massive mystery – this whopping difference between how men’s and women’s brains function (and a lot of other differences we don’t have time to cover!)

As a woman with almost 48 years
of marriage to her credit,
I feel entitled to opine
with some pay-attention points –
in no logical order.

  • STOP ASKING your husband, “what are you thinking?” It’s the same messy scenario as trying to teach a pig to fly – frustrating for you and it annoys the pig. No matter how many times you ask, you’ll get the same response. Your habit of repeatedly asking this question will not, I repeat, WILL NOT change his answer, as Gungor so clearly explains. Pay attention: this is not time well spent. (I know what I’m talking about here!)
  • Don’t ask your wife (in a fit of finding your “softer side”), “what are you thinking, dear?” unless you’ve got a good half-hour to burn because you can bet she HAS been thinking and is itching to tell someone. Shucks, she’ll even tell you, even though she knows you’ll be paying attention less than half of the time. At the end of that eternal half hour, you’ll know precious little more than you did before (the inevitable result of not paying attention), and shell be frustrated by your lack of paying attention. Pay attention: this is not time well spent.
  • Men and women are just hard-wired differently. Get over it. Not getting over it means you keep trying to make your spouse into someone more like you. Dooooon’t do it. It’s dangerously foolhardy and – pay attention – not time well spent.
  • Do learn to appreciate the differences between you and maybe even – gasp – look at life through the other gender’s lenses.
    • If you’re a woman, wouldn’t it be nice to kind of chill out WHILE STILL AWAKE and take it easy for a bit – give all that wiring a chance to cool off and the sizzling to calm down? (Just so you know, I’ve tried this, and it’s harder than it looks.) All I’m saying is, give it a shot every now and again: you might learn to shut off the brain chatter for a minute or two. (More than that is being totally unrealistic.) Then you can genuinely appreciate how your husband does it so effortlessly. Time well spent, to be certain.
    • If you’re a man, rest easy, I won’t make a pay-attention point about trying to get your brain to sizzle and frizzle the way your wife’s does. No point in setting you up for such unnecessary discomfort, now is there? But here’s a doable pay-attention tidbit for you. Practice being more appreciative that, whilst you are taking your nothing-box, wide-awake siesta, someone – namely, your wife – has your back because her brain NEVER shuts off. Pay attention, buddy: appreciation time IS time well spent.
red box with white text: “Don't forget, a person's greatest emotional need is to feel appreciated.” – H. Jackson Brown

(Brown wrote Life’s Little Instruction Book)

©2016, Teresa Bennett

Success is sure when….

photo of man digging basement under existing house

Digging a basement under an existing house.

Pay-attention whiz that you are, you’ve noticed from previous blog posts that, being married to the guy that I am, my marriage runs pretty much on the fuel of humor. I wasn’t altogether clear about this detail when we married, but I’ve acclimated admirably to my habitat, I think.

As a matter of fact, I even learned to beat Mr. Good Humor at his own game. Would you like to hear how? Not too many years into our marriage, I was surprised to learn that I could bring Hubby to his knees – laughing as he went down – in a half-second with just three words. (If you think I’m giving away those three magic words so early in the story, think again.)

By the time he told me about my to-the-knees power, he thought it was hysterical that I could accomplish so much with so little in just under one second. But Hubby is nothing if not honest. He also confided that for the first few years of marriage (when I wasn’t paying attention,) those three words did not make him laugh. Rather, they produced a deep and angst-filled pain in the pit of his stomach. (I suspect he was being tactful and that, in the beginning, those three words had pretty much the same effect as a falling guillotine blade.) But given his nature, Hubby gradually began to see the humor and, by the time he shared all this with me, all was well. Every time I say those three words, he laughs (between the groans) – on the way to his knees.

The three magic words?
“I’ve been thinking.”

You’ll be further impressed with his good nature when I tell you that these three words always – and I do mean ALWAYS – signal the birthing of A MAJOR PROJECT. Our projects are the kind that most couples (without our idiosyncrasies) would never even consider – not for a second.

My imagination knows no bounds. I can conjure up some pretty outlandish projects (like digging a basement under an existing house; see photo above). The idea that it might not be a good idea never enters my head. And Hubby, bless his soul, has the confidence and innate willingness to try just about anything – more so before I wore him out. (Almost fifty years of this I’ve-been-thinking business has taken its toll.)

For instance, after the basement digging came the I’ve-been-thinking, patio-deck MAJOR PROJECT that just wouldn’t go away.

  • First, prepare our minuscule back yard for sandstone. Lay sandstone. Level sandstone. Fill in with concrete.
  • Five years later, take up sandstone. Stack elsewhere. Gather and dispose of concrete rubble. Design and construct wooden deck over same area. Paint.
  • Load up sandstone and take to friends in mountain home.
  • Five years later, take up deck wood and yank out all supports. After extending house out into former deck area, replant supports and reconstruct deck around new addition. Repaint. Cart off excess wood.
  • Five years later, take up all deck wood and supports. Replace supports in new concrete. Lay new deck wood. Paint. Cart off all old wood.

See? I was NOT kidding when I said those three words ALWAYS trigger a back-breaking MAJOR PROJECT.

But, good sport that he is, Hubby is always willing to man up. He tells himself it’ll be “fun.” Or a challenge. Or a learning experience. Or an extended workout (instead of that bothersome YMCA routine). Or a _____ – whatever he can think of to prove to us both that we can succeed at yet another MAJOR PROJECT.

When you combine these two traits – ignorance of what my latest I’ve-been-thinking MAJOR PROJECT really means and his confidence that the two of us can do just about anything, what do you suppose you get? You get two people who will tackle any project they can think up.

Pay attention: here’s the really important bit. These two people don’t necessarily care if their new project is a wise idea or if they have the necessary know-how to accomplish it. Details. The merest of details.

I perfected my three-word bombshell back when we young, and maybe that’s why it worked so well in the beginning. We were young and, as the young are wont to be, overly confident. When I threw out my I’ve-been-thinking hook, young Hubby just couldn’t bring himself to say, “I don’t know how” or some equally lame excuse. He asked older friends pertinent questions, researched, thought, planned, and jumped – feet first – into our newest MAJOR PROJECT. Now, though he should know better, he still takes the hook – from force of habit, I guess.

Is there a pay-attention point
to this memory-lane nattering?

Of course. The Great Pithy One, Mark Twain, beat me to it, as usual. But I’m an ethical writer, and I try very hard not to consciously plagiarize. That forces me to compose my own version, which is considerably less pithy.

What you aren’t supposed
to be able to do
is nothing you need
to concern
your pretty little head about.

Or something to that effect.

When we take stock of some of my I’ve-been-thinking projects, we look at each other and ask incredulously, “Did we really DO that? What were we thinking??!” See? Sometimes it’s best we don’t know our limitations. That’s when we do stuff we would never have thought possible, had we given the whole mess more thoughtful appraisal.

Thinking of your own MAJOR PROJECT? Go for it! You won’t know till you try, and success may very well be waiting at the end of your MAJOR PROJECT. Good luck to you – and I mean that!

©2016, Teresa Bennett

red box with white text: “All you need in this life is ignorance and confidence, and then Success is sure.” – Mark Twain

(an 1887 entry in one of Twain’s notebooks)

Pride Before the Fall

white box of rows of apostrophes

You’ll get it – really. Promise.

Have you ever been faced with a new task that you had absolutely NO IDEA how to handle? That happens a lot when we’re in our twenties and thirties – less frequently as we age and acquire a lifetime of experiences (most of which can be transferred). Laugh along with me as I rat on myself and tell a story of my astounding and prideful cluelessness.

A Story
of Pitiful Pride

Back in the Dark Ages, when Hubby and I were living in Married Student Housing, we had the extremely good fortune of living just below a couple on the floor above us who were from New Orleans – seafood capital of the world, to have heard them tell it. My connoisseur husband, though he hadn’t a great deal of experience with seafood, had enough to know he loved it. The problem? We were college students on a small campus located on a land-locked northern fringe of The Deep South. Finances and location conspired against us where seafood was concerned.

Enter, our kindly upstairs neighbors, who thoughtfully brought a bag of shrimp back after a home visit and gifted it to us. Hubby was ecstatic. I was not. It wasn’t that I didn’t like shrimp. It was that I had NO idea what to do with it – except eat it. You’ll remember, I’d spent my first 18 years in the middle of Indiana farm country. Not much seafood activity going on there in the 1950s and 1960s. Now, if they’d given me a big ole hunk of pork or beef, I would’ve been marginally better equipped to deal with it. A bag of shrimp? Not so much.

On the night when Hubby had set his taste buds for shrimp, I whipped out my Joy of Cooking cookbook that some optimistic matron had given me at a wedding shower. (The joy of cooking?? Really? Says who?) With gritty determination, I skimmed the Table of Contents and read the 126 pages on seafood preparation. Well! It appeared there was a good deal to be done to shrimp: peeling, deveining, yanking off their little tails, boiling, etc. Whew. Better get started. I slaved over those smelly things for over an hour – after reading for a half hour as I tried to understand how to administer all this “joy.” When Hubby returned from his part-time job, the shrimp and I were ready. Yessss!

The few times my non-gourmet, farm-girl mother had ventured into seafood territory, it was some kind of frozen gunk that she plopped out of a box and into a few inches of hot oil. Having completed my grim work with the Joy of Cooking routine, I figured I could stop reading at that point, and just follow my mother’s example. Pouring a healthy glug-glug of cooking oil into a large pot, I set the burner on high.

While Hubby washed up in the bathroom, I dropped the shrimp into the hot oil, and busied myself setting the rest of the meal on the table, figuring I had plenty of time. By the time I returned to the shrimp, they looked considerably different than they appeared just minutes earlier. Oh well, maybe that’s how they’re supposed to look. Or not.

You remember how it feels when you’ve done everything you thought you were supposed to do, but you still have that queasy feeling something isn’t quite right? That’s the pit-of-the-stomach feeling I had about then. To make myself feel marginally better, I made a bed of paper towels, artistically laid the little dears in neat rows, and covered them with a cozy paper-towel blanket.

Hubby trounced in from the bathroom, saying he’d been waiting all day for this, and wasn’t it cool that we had such generous neighbors, and wouldn’t this be a meal to remember? He was right on all three counts – just not in the way he expected. As he reached out to lift up their paper-towel blanket and cast a drooling, covetous eye on his prey, I stayed his hand and suggested we pray first. I mean, really; that IS the first thing we do at the table (and I figured I’d be needing a little divine protection in a few seconds).

Warning: from here on, the story goes from warm-your-heart goodness to something-that-needs-forgetting. When Hubby pulled back the paper-towel blanket, he found a plateful of black apostrophes – a literary feast, as it were. Being an English major, this made perfect sense to me. While they possessed a certain high-brow, literary classiness, it turns out crispy black apostrophes aren’t all that tasty. Actually – and we know this as fact – they’re inedible.

Hubby was not amused. That old standby, the PBJ, was not what he had been salivating for all day. In fact, he carried a grudge about this unfortunate episode from our early-marriage days for a very long time. Now, he can laugh about it. For many years after The Shrimp Episode? Not so much.

Meanwhile, you’re thinking, “Is there a pay-attention point to this pathetic story?” Well, of course. Why else would I tell such an embarrassing story on myself?

Pay attention!
When you don’t know
how to do something
but you know someone who does,
GO ASK THEM HOW TO DO IT.

Don’t check out a book from the library. Don’t buy an e-book from Amazon. Don’t Google it. Don’t read a magazine how-to article. Don’t be proud: ask the person WHO KNOWS for some help – first! That might be all you have to do.

It would’ve been
for me.

If Id just left Joy on the shelf, swallowed my outsized pride, walked my little white legs up the stairs, and asked my neighbor how to prepare those expensive suckers, I would’ve learned there was nothing to prepare. Not only did cooking oil not belong in the picture, they’d already been boiled in the shell IN WATER. All we had to do was peel them, dip them in cocktail sauce by their tails, and chow down, tossing the tails to the wind. Who cares about the veins?!

I wasted time and effort and perfectly good shrimp whod given their lives that we might taste their succulence – all because I wouldn’t ASK for help. I also denied my neighbor the chance to show off her N’Orleans know-how and to feel exceedingly helpful to such an idiot neighbor. Now, is that not the silliest pride story you’ve heard in a long time?

Oh wait.
Let’s talk about you
for a minute.

‘Fess up. You just did this not very long ago, didn’t you? Your dad knows how to _______ but instead of asking for his advice, you went to the Internet instead. Granted, the project got a little messy and doesn’t actually function very well but, hey, you did it yourself.

Or maybe you wanted to make _______ like your BFF makes. But instead of calling and gratifying her with a request for her knowledge and recipe, you checked Pinterest for a recipe like hers, complete with step-by-step instructions. Dang. In spite of all that effort, yours didn’t turn out like hers – not at all like hers!

Or maybe you decided to get crafty a few Saturdays ago and create a mini quilt project. Instead of calling Aunt Dot (the family’s in-house quilting expert) for some concise pointers, you Googled “quilting projects.” And – big surprise – by the time you finished your Googling experience, Saturday was pretty much over, and you had no time left to actually DO some work on your project.

Sound familiar? We ALL do this. Most of us are just too self-sufficient for our own good. Pay attention and learn the lesson. ASK FOR HELP from people in the know. Almost always, you’ll:

  • get way more practical and useful advice,
  • save time,
  • be happier with your results, and
  • make someone feel better just because they were able to help someone else – you.

This is one of those hard-learned lessons whose scars I still bear to this day. Every time I eat shrimp, I’m reminded of my proud folly. Every time Hubby eats shrimp, well, you know what happens: it’s déjà vu all over again.* Learn from my mistakes!

*Don’t you love Yogi Berra malapropisms?

©2016, Teresa Bennett

red box with white text: "You like to be independent, but you will need to learn to ask for help. It doesn't make you weak.” – Taya Kyle

(Husband killed by fellow Marine with PTSD)

 

red box with white text:

Pride often precedes avoidable unpleasantness.

Our $12 Chair “Deal”

photo of channel-back, Rococo Revival chair

Deal or not? Read on, then you decide.

When you saw those quotes around deal, you knew something was amiss, didn’t you? That’s because you’ve already learned that – usually – when something looks like a “deal,” it probably isn’t. Nevertheless, most of us still succumb to that alluring, siren call of the word, deal.

Why would I be willing to tell an embarrassing story about our tumble into The Deal Pit? Because there are always plenty of pay-attention lessons to be learned from watching others fall headlong into The Deal Pit, that’s why. Since this blog is all about you, this is for you, dear reader. It’s too late for us.

(FYI: There’ll be a quiz at the end to see if you found all the pay-attention lessons.)

The Sad Seating Saga

Hubby bought our $12 chair at a thrift store where he volunteers. Risky business, that. It means he sees EVERYTHING that comes in the back door and, sometimes, just can’t resist, as in this case.

It was Rococo Revival from the very early 1900s, covered in dirty (and I do mean dirty) mauve upholstery (that 1990s, sickly, grayish-pink concoction). Hubby liked how he could really sink into it, with its curved back and cushy seat. Visions of himself reading a book while cozied up in it on a cold winter’s night danced through his head.

He made a convincing argument over the phone. But when I saw it, I realized (since I’m the person who deals with the upholsterer in our fam) that I was viewing a not-so-cleverly-disguised Money Pit. I explained it would take a small fortune to upholster it.

“Nah, it won’t take that much. Besides, we’ve been looking for a chair to go with our French Rococo couch for 42 years. This is as close as we’ll ever get,” said he. I had to agree. We had looked for 42 years, it did go nicely with our antique couch, and I did like the lines of the chair.

Get the picture? We’d just made an unspoken pact to pitch ALL reason overboard, as it would just prove a heavy encumbrance from this point on. (We tried to haul it back on-board from time to time, but never very successfully, as you’ll see.)

The Process

We took the chair to our upholsterer and came back with a stack of fabric samples. We chose one that would blend with our other upholstery and was about as cheap as we could comfortably choose (in fabric, as in most everything else, you get what you pay for), and returned the samples.

While we were there in her shop, she opened the seat cushion to show us the disintegrating foam. That would account for how “cushy” Hubby thought it felt, wouldn’t it? We chose new foam.

She showed us the tatty wrapping and cording she’d uncovered. We chose new Dacron wrapping and cording.

She showed us the webbing that was coming loose. We chose new webbing.

She showed us where the springs had come untied. We agreed to a re-tying fee.

She gave us the estimate. We choked. We plunked down our deposit.

A little later, she called. “You’ll need to do something to your chair before I upholster it. The frame’s broken in three places.” Hmm. That might account for the “cozy, sinking in” feeling Hubby got, don’t you think?

By now, we were in too deep to point fingers. She’d already purchased our fabric. We’d already paid our deposit. But that didn’t keep us from having many discussions about what was growing into THE Chair. In the end, Hubby gulped, retrieved THE Chair, spent a couple of weeks crafting special repair pieces and gluing them into place, and returned it to the upholsterer.

We picked up THE Chair a little later, and finished paying our $909.30 bill. Let’s see. Add that to the $12, and we’d just paid $921.30 for ONE chair.

WHY?

Now why would we, the epitome of Scottish frugality, be willing to plunk down $921 for ONE chair? I’m aware that plenty of you, my fair readers, pay this kind of money for furniture, but we do not. This was a real stretch. Did we abandon our principles? Is there a pay-attention part to our sad saga?

Of course! This saga is fairly teeming with pay-attention points – and none of them sad – for you, since you didn’t pay the $921!

The Promised Quiz

1. What does looking have to do with this story?
This is an easy one: keep looking and eventually, you’ll find what you’re looking for. It’s all about paying attention and keeping your eyes open. (See my previous post about your reticular activating system.)

Our answer? Forty-two years of looking is an awfully long time to look for something. Having found it, we should cough up the moolah and stop looking.

2. What does this story teach about the word deal?
Just hearing the term should send shivers up and down one’s spine. Seldom have I met a deal which didn’t turn into way more of something (money, time, energy, emotion) than I was expecting. When you learn the full cost of the deal, though, don’t throw it out automatically. Decide if it fits with what you’ve been trying to do or looking for. In other words, is it reasonable for YOU? It may not be a screaming deal, but is it reasonable?

Our answer? While most definitely not a deal by our standards, we have a knockout chair for our $921. The price charged by our excellent upholsterer was reasonable. Could we buy similar quality and style in a furniture store? Absolutely not. Okay then, it was as good a deal as we were ever likely to find for what we wanted. THE Chair was living up to its name.

3. Where does homework come into the equation?
It’s the very first thing you do, you know that! And you keep doing your homework until you’re satisfied you know what you need to know to make an informed decision.

Our answer? We’d looked for 42 years for inexpensive seating to go with our French Rococo couch, so we knew we couldn’t find a cheap chair. When you’ve done 42 years of homework, you know you’re paying a fair price. Heck, it was the only chair we’d found that even remotely resembled our 250 year-old couch!

4. Should quality be considered?
Say what you will about the desirability of cheap, disposable furniture, there’s something to be said for sinking into quality and feasting your eyes on it day after day. Quality lets you make a buying decision and not have to think about replacing that item for a very long time. 

Our answer? Quality wins, hands down. We’ve experienced quality upholstery on quality furniture and not-so-quality upholstery on not-so-quality furniture. Quality wears like iron and looks good its entire lifetime. Not-so-quality stuff? Not so much.

5. When does someone have to step up and be the voice of reason?
Short answer: always.

If this scenario had happened earlier in our marriage, one – or both of us – would’ve said, “Are we nuts? Why are we even discussing this? The answer is an emphatic NO!” Spending close to a $1000 on one chair would not have been reasonable for us. Your circumstances AT THE TIME – not your friends’ or your parents’ or your co-workers’ – tell you what’s reasonable (as long as you’re willing to be reasonable).

Our answer? It was reasonable for this time of our lives, though we had many discussions, trust me, about THE Chair. Seldom has an item entered our home shrouded in as much angst as THE Chair. But in the end, we agreed; it was the right time for this purchase.

6. Can you find a workaround for a “deal” that turns out not to be a deal?
This is the ubiquitous trick question that must be part of every quiz. It’s a trick because I haven’t given you a single clue.

Our answer? Of course! There’s almost always a workaround. Some would call ours pure rationalization. But, as we’d successfully hauled Reason back on-board enough to use her at least a little, we much prefer to call it a “reasonable workaround.” We simply made THE Chair:

  • our upcoming anniversary gift,
  • Hubby’s birthday gift,
  • our Valentine’s gift to each other,
  • our St. Patrick’s gift to each other,
  • our Independence Day gift to each other,
  • my birthday gift,
  • our Friendship Day gift to each other,
  • our Halloween gift to each other, and
  • our Thanksgiving gift to each other

for TWO YEARS.

Problem solved. No worrying about what to buy each other for the next two years. No buying little tchotchkes, just to have something to give on a special day. See how this works? We both got what we’d wanted for a long time and didn’t get a bunch of unwanted tchotchkes.

So how about your deals? Do you have one that comes even close to ours? Tell it! Leave a comment, why don’t you?

©2015, Teresa Bennett

red box with white text: “Knowing when an item will provide you with years of use or enjoyment and is, therefore, worth its purchase price – THAT is a skill worth cultivating.” – Teresa Bennett

Apparently, no sage has said this, so I said it!

Getting Over Functional Fixedness

photo of pickup cab converted to an elevated deer hunting stand on wheels

“Bubba” clearly has no functional-fixedness.

Is functional fixedness a familiar term to you? I’ll bet not. It doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue, and it sounds kinda geeky, doesn’t it? I first heard about this functional fixedness concept over 35 years ago. Labeled object fixedness then, I learned about it on a PBS children’s science program, no less.

I still remember the city-block-sized light bulb that came on in my head: Whoa, I’ve got to stop thinking like this! And ever since, I’ve tried very hard to practice the opposite of functional fixedness. I do this mostly in very tangible, material ways, but also in more intangible, ethereal ways.

Functional fixedness means
just what it sounds like it means:

fixing something in our minds as functioning only in one way or for one purpose – the one which the maker intended. Getting over functional fixedness simply means redefining anything’s intended use. Stated like this, I’m quite sure you’re thinking, I already know this. But you’d be surprised how we all, even the very creative amongst us, get caught in this narrow, functional-fixedness mindset sometimes.

Real-life examples
run circles around definitions.

If you’re a visual learner, visit a well designed, upscale, antique store to see creative examples of how the experts get over functional fixedness. No time for that? Visit etsy.com or a similar site, instead. Observe how its Repurposing Mavens have taken an item, let’s say a heavy metal pair of ice tongs (manufactured for ice men to deliver blocks of ice for 1920s and ’30s household ice boxes), and turned it into something else – a paper towel holder, for example. Or maybe you’ll see just the metal part of an old garden rake, hung on a wall, and repurposed as a hat-and-coat rack, wineglass rack, kitchen utensils rack, or necklace holder. These are prime examples of getting over functional fixedness.

photo of metal rake head holding necklaces

photo of metal head of old rake holding kitchen utensils

These rakes won’t see soil again!

Junk stores, thrift stores, charity shops, second-hand shops (and most likely, your grandparents’ garage!) are awash in these very items – the kind found in trendy, up-market stores that have been manufactured to look like these old items and marketed to function as the very items I’ve listed above. When I first started practicing the opposite of functional fixedness, there was no etsy.com or any other similarly cool site. I had to hack out new ideas all by my lonesome. If you’re a wannabe Repurposing Maven today, lucky you: you have all kinds of websites to help you overcome functional fixedness.

Here are some
no-functional-fixedness examples
that have warmed my heart.

Let’s start with our opening photo of a Bubba deer hunting stand made from a pickup cab, elevated – and on wheels, no less. Those West Virginia boys don’t miss much, do they? And they obviously have a few tricks to teach the rest of us about getting over functional fixedness. Oh my, do they ever.

My own examples are a good deal, well, a good deal less “interesting.” I could use other words (silliness-on-stilts comes to mind), but I’ll be tactful, for once.)

We used to have a beautiful oak cabinet in our bedroom that held sweaters and socks, but it began life as a Victrola cabinet. You know – thick, chunky, 3/8-inch-thick phonograph records played on a unit which was hand cranked? At one time, our cabinet contained the guts for playing records in its top and a bottom section for storing records. Long before it was gifted to us by some garage-cleaning friends, someone had removed all the phonograph guts and the vertical dividers for records. Technically, it was still a Victrola cabinet, but we used it for clothes storage.

On our previous home’s breezeway, I once had a display of rather clunky, lidded, hinged boxes that were delivered to my father in the 1950s and 1960s, filled with guns that were broken down and packed in grease. With them I’d stacked old wooden drawers, salvaged in the 1960s from a hardware store opened in the mid-1800s. As I had them displayed, they looked as if they were all of a piece, even though they were only seven old drawers and packing crates placed on end or sideways to hold gardening books and supplies. They were no longer a motley collection of crates and drawers; they’d been repurposed into a single storage unit. (Not as colorful as Bubba’s deer stand, but every bit as practical and useful.)

A friend of ours was recently paying attention on Craigslist when she snagged a printer’s table from the mid-1800s, complete with its original three-inch-thick marble top and vertical slots below the table top for printers trays. Since she’s no printer (and printers haven’t used the antiquated technology which necessitated this table for a very long time), she’s repurposing it into a seriously sturdy foyer table that can withstand any amount of abuse from a household of teenagers.

Proud of yourself, aren’t you?

You’ve already, though perhaps unconsciously, begun your own process of overcoming functional fixedness and repurposing objects, haven’t you? In fact, we’re all probably way better at this than our grandparents or great-grandparents, possibly because we get more practice. Technology is changing our lives faster than our ancestors could’ve possibly imagined.

Things are outliving
their intended purposes
right before our eyes –
almost monthly.

Certainly yearly. Pay attention: now that your music lives in cyberspace and is accessed by your smartphone, iPod, etc., and you’ve hauled your CD collection to the thrift store, what will you do with that pricey, cherry wood box that once held your favorite CDs? If you find yourself relying more and more on the ether version of movies and shows, what will you do with that box of drawers housing your DVD collection (after you also cart them to the thrift store)?

And that nifty little piece of furniture – the one in your parents’ family room – complete with nicely paneled doors that was manufactured to store VHS tapes? Do you suppose they’ll ask you if you want it, since they’ve finally retired the VCR? And what do you suppose you could store in it, if not VHS tapes? Too shallow for books. Too narrow for the sections of your fly rod, so no-go on the fishing equipment. Hmm. Not to worry. You’ll think of something.

And that’s the point.
If you’re PAYING ATTENTION…

you’ll find that for almost every item originally created for a specific purpose, which it no longer needs to fill, you can think of a way to repurpose or reinvent it to serve another purpose. And as you can see, it’s easy. Actually, it’s a hoot to see what your clever noggin can devise. (I’ll just bet those West Virginia boys had a rip-roaring time converting their pickup to a deer stand.) The quirkier and more specialized the device, the more creative your solution will have to be. 

Next up: Pass it on: share your skills! (If you’re the queen of Repurposing Mavens, that’s a skill others would love for you to share.) 

©2015, Teresa Bennett

red box with white text: "I don't think outside the box; I think of what I can DO with the box." – Anonymous

My artist-husband’s response: “There’s a box?”

Resource Misconceptions

photo of dump truck at landfill

The I-never-have-enough lifestyle produces this.

Do you ever look around and ask yourself why there’s such a great big ole disconnect between what we know and how we act? Disconcerting, isn’t it, especially when – ick – you realize you’re part of it?

Here’s one example of that disconnect I’d like to harp on, and I’m certain you’ve already thought of it. We act as if we think our world’s natural resources are limitless but we never think we, personally, have enough of them.

Resource Misconception #1
We have PLENTY of natural resources.
They’re limitless.

We act as if we believe this, even though reams of research and talking heads tell us otherwise. We here in the U.S. are particularly myopic and greedy, accounting for a minuscule five percent of the world’s population but using a whopping 24 percent of its resources. We know better, but we’ve assumed the fingers-in-the-ears, hands-over-the-eyes stance. La, la, la, la; not listening, not listening.

Maybe it’s because we live in such a large country that’s bountifully blessed with natural resources. (Those of us out here in the West look around and ask, “What’s the problem? We’ve got plenty more to use up!”)

Maybe it’s our inherited national psyche resulting from the fact that our country is one of the few in the world purposefully settled

  • en masse
  • over a relatively short period of time
  • by people who were on a very serious quest for a better life.

From the beginning of our nation’s history, we’ve looked around with covetous eyes, seen all these delectable resources, and figured they were ours to take and use any way we pleased. Shucks, there were so many we’d never use them up. Bad news: we’re using them up but then, you already knew that.

So, when we’re paying attention and being honest with ourselves, we know the world’s resources are limited. Now we come to our second misconception.

Resource Misconception #2:
“I don’t have plenty of resources.
In fact, I never have enough.”

What a difference, eh? We act as if we believe our world will provide plenty of everything necessary and unnecessary for human life, on the one hand. On the other hand, we’re constantly and consistently grabbing whatever we can because, after all, we don’t believe we personally have plenty. We don’t have enough! We figure we:

  • don’t have a large enough home and need to “move up.”
  • need another _____ with four wheels.
  • really deserve to ditch the five-year-old TV and buy a newer, bigger, techi-er one.
  • have waited long enough to get that slick smartphone that “everyone else already has.”

Now let me say right now, I don’t know anyone in middle-class America who’s willing to say “I don’t have enough” aloud and in public. I’m not sure I know anyone who would say this privately to herself. It’s just so pitiful, and plenty of us would rather have our tongues cut out than sound pitiful – even to ourselves. But though we don’t verbalize it, I know this is a very real resource misconception because most of us ACT this way.

Yikes, this kind of cockeyed thinking makes me crazy!

Especially when, if I just pay attention to my life, I can clearly see mounds and mounds of resources – all mine and already paid for in time, money, and energy. Things like:

  • a kitchen full of utensils, making meal prep a no-brainer
  • a block-size grocery store a mile away, filled with all the raw ingredients for the above, and the money to buy that food
  • a closet full of clothes, all appropriate for what I need to do and, for now, all fitting
  • a closet floor full of shoes, ditto above
  • a garage filled with two cars
  • a workshop area with every tool we could possibly need (and a bunch we don’t need!)
  • a house full of furniture and furnishings

And then there are the less tangible resources most of us also possess:

  • a community of friends and family who provide all kinds of support on an as-needed basis
  • carefully nurtured good health and good healthcare
  • inherent talents, as natural as breathing, to be used on the job or simply to benefit family and friends
  • cultivated abilities, e.g. repairing a bathroom stool; wiping every bit and byte of ID-sensitive files off a hard drive; taking portrait-studio-worthy photos, etc.
  • expertise acquired from six years of very expensive university studies
  • emotional insights acquired from life’s painful events (Yes, they’re resources; they’re the “tools” we use to help others going through similar situations.)
  • good enough health to work and earn money
  • sturdy legs to walk anywhere
  • eyes to see all the beauty around you and let it sink into your soul
  • a quick mind that allows you to catch on to your manager’s latest ideas quicker than anyone else at the table (always an endearing trait to those above us)

Here’s the irony in this sad saga. We’re not paying attention to the fact that we do indeed have plenty of resources of every imaginable kind, and so we tend to use up a disproportionate amount of the world’s diminishing and not-so-plentiful resources. We grab more and more because, pitiful souls that we are, we “don’t have enough.”

Make a list
of your own personal resources.

Pay attention to it. Take it to the next step: revel in it. Post it somewhere prominent where you can’t miss it. Make it a habit to review it daily. Realize you have enough, and give the earth’s not-so-plentiful resources a much-deserved break!

Meanwhile, let’s delve deeper into this topic of resources with this post on functional fixedness. (It’ll be fun, unlike many of my previous posts. 😀)

©2015, Teresa Bennett

red box with white text: “The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.” – Gen. 2:15, NIV Bible

Translation: TAKE CARE OF resources.

red box with white text of Luke 12:25: ". . .life does not consist in an abundance of possessions."

The I-never-have-enough lifestyle won’t work.

Decision Making, Part 3

photo of almost completely used toothpaste tube

“It’s almost empty. Pitch it, for Pete’s sake.”

Once you start reading it, you may wonder why this post’s topic wasn’t part of Living Well, Part 3, because it sort of fits under the umbrella of little decisions that most of us think don’t matter. But then again, it takes off in a completely new direction. Since it isn’t an exact fit, it stands alone as Decicision Making, Part 3. (Goes to show you get special treatment when you don’t fit anywhere else.)

Here’s the pay-attention tip
right up front:
use what you pay for.

Since this is a fairly straightforward and logical statement, you’d think we’d all grasp this concept. Instead, it seems a devilishly slippery one for our society – at least today’s American society. Our forebears living before the Industrial Revolution got it; no one had to explain this concept to them. We, it would appear, are living on another planet.

FYI: Bill Bryson’s lengthily titled Made In America: An Informal History of the English Language in the United States is a delightful read with an added bonus that directly applies to our use-it-up concept. He describes how our society functioned during pre- and post-Industrial-Revolution times, succinctly illustrating why people didn’t throw away any resource they had paid for with time or money, prior to the Industrial Revolution.

Unlike our pre-Industrial-Revolution ancestors, though, we have an abundance of everything. In fact, we have too much of everything. “Not quite. We don’t have an abundance of money,” you say? What a surprise. We have houses and apartments stuffed to the rafters, but not enough money. Do you suppose there’s a connection?

But, I digress. I want to stick like glue to this use-it-all concept. Let’s get started by using some REALLY little examples. Promise me you’ll stay with me to the end. Roll your eyes if you must and if it makes you feel more hip, but just stay with me. Okay?

First, a little reminder
of what I – and you – pay for.

I pay for the WHOLE tube of toothpaste – the part that squirts right out of the tube and the two-weeks’ worth that won’t squirt out, leading me to pitch it into the trash. Colgate doesn’t say, “Aw shucks, we’ll just give you that last bit that we’ve made almost impossible to get out. It’s on the house.” I’m quite certain no one at any level of Colgate-Palmolive’s vast management tiers has said that.

That last quarter cup in the slimy-sided mayonnaise jar? I paid for it. When I throw it in the trash, I throw away food (make that a food product) I’ve paid for. (I’m also dooming yet another jar to the dump instead of the recycle bin.) Kraft didn’t throw in a little extra “at no additional charge”; they charged me for every bit of product – plus the jar, label, and lid. Businesses don’t absorb these costs; they pass them on to us.

Oh, pleeeease. Using up the last little bit of toothpaste?? That can’t make a difference,” you say?

Of course not!
But that’s not the point.

Scraping out every smidgen of the mayo won’t make a difference either. Neither will sloshing water around in the shampoo bottle or laundry detergent jug till not one bubble comes out. Neither will rinsing out the ketchup bottle with water and throwing the resulting goop into your home-made soup. None of these little habits make a difference – on their own. They allow you to stretch toothpaste, shampoo, mayo, detergent, ketchup for just a few more days or weeks, and that’s all.

This simple idea that if we pay for something, we should use it – all of it – involves, for the most part, making little decisions. Now here’s where we come full circle to Living Well, Part 2: THEY ADD UP. When we apply the use-it-all principle to all our buying decisions, the effects begin to add up. Adding this use-it-up habit to your lifestyle results in collective, very real savings. And that, as you know, is what helps out the old bottom line.

The reverse is also true.

The mindset prompting the mayo’s premature death in the landfill also prompts you to throw away plenty of other resources you paid for, and that doesn’t help the old bottom line. I don’t have to tell you how important the bottom line is; sitting down to a stack of bills every month has already taught you that. But there’s one more reason that use-it-up habits are worth incorporating into your mindset.

Quick. What’s the number one cause of marital problems, according to the majority of marriage counselors? Right. Money. Not too much of it, as a rule; the problem is that one or both partners are pretending they have too much of it. Okay, so we have a rampant cash flow problem, along with an astronomical divorce rate, in “the richest country in the world.” How did that happen?

One answer:
we throw away
an awful lot of stuff
we pay for.

(We also buy boatloads of stuff we definitely don’t need, but I’ve already covered that (sort of) in Saying “No” – Practice, Practice, Practice and Just because we can doesn’t mean we should, Part 3.)

Not many small- to mid-sized businesses can stay in business operating on the fiscal principle that they’ll just throw out

  • that last batch of plastic,
  • that last dozen boxes of fan belts,
  • that last five bolts of upholstery fabric,
  • that last….

You get the picture. But husbands and wives (CEOs of household “businesses”) try to do it all the time – and set themselves up for fiscal and marital failure.

I may as well come clean.
Several years ago,
I was not paying attention.

I was already sloshing water around in the ketchup, mayonnaise, shampoo, and detergent bottles; it was the rinsing required by our city’s recycling policy. But then, I was pouring all that goop I’d paid for down the drain. Are you doing the same thing? Well, then. Why not use the product instead of throwing it away? I was already halfway there to developing the use-it-up habit, and so are you.

Pay attention to your own use-it-up habits – or lack of. Try this concept for a while. See if this use-it-up habit doesn’t make sense. If you agree it does, make it your own.

Then look for a mate who either already knows and uses this concept – or “gets it” when you tell him. You’ll be doing yourself a huge favor.

Already married? Try – do try – to get on the same page. Decide you’re both willing to adopt new use-it-up habits and whatever else it takes to ensure a profitable bottom line for Mr. and Mrs. Joe Smith & Associates.

As you might have guessed, for a very long time now my husband and I have practiced habits that were common before the Industrial Revolution and even during the Great Depression. We were doing all this well before frugality became the new chic way of living after the Great Recession. But even now, even with a growing number of our society regarding frugality as du jour, our use-it-up habits mark us as freaks to a great many of our peers. They roll their eyes and say “Oh, pleeease.”

Don’t care. Know why? Because it makes a difference in our bottom line, and we’re always tickled about that. Others’ labeling us as freaks? Of no consequence.

Pay attention: use ALL of the resources you pay for.

Next up: my ever-so-humble take on how our misconceptions about resources get us into sooooo much trouble.

©2015, Teresa Bennett

red box with white text: “Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without.” – Anonymous

A Yankee gem from an old German (?) proverb

Decision Making, Part 2

photo of basement office piled high with papers, files, books, etc.

A basement office in need of decision-making

You noticed, of course, that Decision Making, Part 1, ends with a well-meaning encouragement to make decisions – as many as possible – all day long. But I’m betting some readers (including you, maybe?) are thinking, “But I’ll make mistakes.” Of course you will, darlin’. And how do you think you’ll learn if not by making some mistakes? (How do you think I became so incredibly wise, if not from making a fair share of my own, eh?)

No, it isn’t your imagination and, yes, I am contradicting myself – yet again. This entire PayAttention! blog is an attempt to help us all learn from others’ mistakes. But there’s just no getting around the fact that we all have to make some mistakes for ourselves. That’s the bad news.

The good news? Making decisions is like everything else in your life.

  • The more you practice, the better you get.
  • The better you get, the less you have to think about it.
  • The less you have to think about it and the more intuitive it becomes, the more you do it.
  • The more you do it, the better you get.

Do we have another circle thing going on here? You bet. Except this time, it isn’t a vicious circle. When you’ve practiced proactive decision-making so much that it’s just part of who you are, you rarely find yourself with a backlog of decisions to make. You simply make them as you go, and you acquire an unconscious habit of looking ahead and making decisions before they’re screaming, in-your-face emergencies.

FYI: you’re already
making decisions
all day long.

If the photos in this blog post look uncomfortably familiar to you, that’s a clue you’ve settled for the deciding-not-to-decide brand of decision-making. Remember the colossal list of junk at the beginning of Decision Making, Part 1, all evidence of a homeowner’s deciding not to decide? Look around you. What’s in your home?

photo of folded laundry covering dining table and chairs

Laundry HERE???? Postponed decisions.

  • Piles of files covering what used to be office work surfaces?
  • Piles of laundry on the dining table and chairs?
  • Piles of books all over the place?
  • Piles of magazines beside your favorite chair?
  • Piles of opened and unopened mail in the office, on a kitchen counter, on the kitchen desk?
  • Piles of food on the pantry floor?
photo of bookshelf in bedroom with stacks and piles of books all over the bed, floor, and piled in messy piles on the bookshelf

PLENTY of postponed decisions.

If this is what you see, that’s more good news. It means I’m speaking to the right audience.

Rather than decide to:

  • file the magazines for future reference,
  • read them in the evenings till you’ve read everything of interest,
  • pitch them into the recycling bin, or
  • pass them on to someone else for their pleasure reading,

you’ve decided not to decide. So there they all sit, perched in a precarious pile.

Rather than:

  • fold the clean T-shirts and jeans you dumped on the coffee table,
  • get up off the couch, and
  • carry them to your bedroom closet,

you decide not to decide. So there they sit, waiting to embarrass you when your girlfriend drops by – or worse, when Mom shows up unannounced.

Rather than:

  • driving to a furniture store,
  • buying a bookcase,
  • assembling it, and
  • organizing your books on its shelves, or
  • giving them to a charity shop,

you decide not to decide. So there they sit, an obelisk slowly and precariously reaching toward the ceiling.

Rather than

  • file,
  • act on, or
  • recycle

each piece of mail as you opened it, you decided not to decide. So there they sit, an uneasy reminder that an unpaid bill or a friendly letter from the IRS may still be lurking in the pile somewhere.

If I’ve just described your living quarters, it’s time to start practicing decision-making – and not the decide-not-to-decide variety. All this clutter you see around you? Merely postponed decision-making.

Pay attention:
postponed decision-making
is scarier than you think.

When we postpone – decide not to decide – the above relatively easy-to-make decisions, we could well be avoiding other, more important and vital ones, as well. And that’s the scary, surprise ending to this disagreeable saga. Life is full of REALLY important decision-making. If we aren’t very good at making little decisions, we’ll be abysmally ham-handed at making The Big Ones.

Make a list of the messes of your life that bother you the most. Decide to decide what you’ll do about the worst one. Follow through.

Okay, that wasn’t so bad.”

What’s the most next most annoying one on your list? Decide to decide what you’ll do about it. Follow through.

Well! That wasn’t so hard.”

Woohoo! Don’t you love positive momentum? Make another decision. And another. And another.

It’s astonishing how rewarding decision-making can be – when you’re good at it – and we simply DO NOT “get good” at things without practicing. Now, go out there and do yourself a whole lot of favors: practice productive decision-making – all day today, and every day thereafter.

Next up: Decision Making, Part 3. It’s all about those trivial, oh-pleeease, roll-of-the-eyeballs decisions that “everyone” knows aren’t worth bothering with. Or are they?

©2015, Teresa Bennett

red box with white text: "We need to accept that we won't always make the right decisions, that we'll screw up royally sometimes - understanding that failure is not the opposite of success; it's part of success.” – Arianna Huffington

“Failure” = getting better at decision-making

Decision Making, Part 1

photo of outdoor garage sale

Debris exposing decisions that were NOT made

  • Bags and bags of costume-jewelry beads
  • Worn out workshop tools
  • Boxes and boxes of crochet thread
  • Sacks and sacks of knitting yarn
  • Leather worker’s lacing in every imaginable color
  • Multiple tubes of gaudy glitter
  • Men’s rubber – yes, rubber – rain boots
  • Dress pattern packets in jumbled piles.
  • Instruction booklets for what no one wants to know these days
  • A 1924 algebra textbook
  • Heavily battered pots and pans
  • Mismatched cracked and chipped pottery
  • Women’s undergarments no woman under 40 would recognize
  • Threadbare towels and sheets
  • Piles of faded postcards from travel-smart friends

All this was there – and much more – at an estate sale in an elderly neighbor’s house. It immediately made me unexpectedly and unexplainably sad. I said as much to the young woman helping with the sale and asked about the owner’s circumstances. “Oh, she isn’t dead. She just went into assisted living,” she chirped brightly and reassuringly.

This is your mother’s stand-in talking, now: Never, ever say that. (I’m quite sure I did when I was her age, and equally sure the more mature around me would’ve liked to smack me.) DO NOT make blithe statements about the last stages of life, about which you know nothing. FYI: moving into assisted living is dying-in-slow-motion for most elderly people, as they watch their peers up and down the hall die off and as they await their turn or – worse – the dreaded move to a nursing home.

Whew. That just slipped out. We’ve digressed, haven’t we? Let’s get back to the topic at hand.

Ever been to a sale
like the one I’ve just described?

Then you know the drill. Some flea-market-type person agrees to handle the sale of all the house’s contents (after family members have fought over the good stuff). Enterprising flea-marketers figure this saves the family additional heartache and stress, while providing themselves with legitimate income.

The entrepreneurs set up shop at the front-door or garage-front with the ubiquitous card table, complete with a “sales clerk” like the chirpy young woman above. They’ve culled what’s left of the valuable stuff, priced it at antique-shop prices, and have it displayed safely under their noses on that card table. They’ve pulled the rest of the house’s contents from every drawer, cupboard, closet, and cubby, organized it, and laid it all out – room by room or table by table in the driveway – for prospective buyers to paw over.

In short, the entire detritus of a person’s life, as well as every room of their home, is there for total strangers to sift through. The plan is that visitors will offer a buck for the privilege of carting stuff from the estate-sale house to their house. Furthermore, the family is desperately hoping a yard-saler (or Realtor in disguise) will make an offer on the house, and they can be done with the whole miserable business.

In most of the cases I’ve seen, the homeowner has been on the slow, downhill slide of poor health. In fact, they left for the assisted living center or nursing home much later than they should have. The result is a grungy house (the ”fixer-upper” you’ve seen in Realtor ads), unpainted and unmaintained, filled with items like the ones listed above which should have been given away or disposed of a very long time ago.

They long ago reached a point where the physical activity of running a vacuum and the mental activity of sorting through a lifetime of material accumulations (for the grandkids, favorite charities, younger friends, etc.) were simply too much for them. I’ve often heard stories of elderly people who, having reached this point, would not permit family members to take over these chores. They could no longer perform them, but neither would they let anyone else perform them. They simply sat in their beloved homes, with those homes falling down around their ears, and decided not to decide.

What have these people done?

They’ve abdicated their decision-making responsibilities, with rather unpleasant, awkward results – for all concerned.

Did they suddenly do this at age 82, just weeks before the long-term-care facility move? They did not. The elderly people I know about who ended up in the very situation I’ve just described had spent most of their adult lives avoiding decision-making whenever possible. What most of these people seemed to have in common was a deep-seated aversion to looking ahead, planning for the future, and making the necessary decisions, however disagreeable or uncomfortable they might be.

What happens if you don’t do something very often? You’re not very good at it. If you’re not good at something, what do you tend to do? You avoid it. Do we have a vicious circle going on here? You betcha.

Here’s the pay-attention lesson
for this post.

Make decisions. Now. Lots of ’em. Every day. All day.

  • Don’t live your life by proxy.
  • Don’t abdicate your right to decide.
  • Don’t let others keep doing your deciding for you.
  • And most importantly, don’t dump your decision-making onto others.

Part 2 of Decision Making is ready. Warning: if you thought this Part 1 was harsh, you haven’t seen anything yet. Sticking doggedly to my ever-so-endearing, in-your-face style, I’ll be asking some rather disagreeable questions. (Just thought you’d want to know.)

©2015, Teresa Bennett

red box with white text: “An expert is someone who has succeeded in making decisions and judgements simpler through knowing what to pay attention to and what to ignore.” – Edward de Bono

An English psychologist–creative-thinking fella

Letting Go: THE Sweater

photo of striped sweater

This sweater is teaching cool stuff.

I know two very cute little girls who, if everything goes according to plan, will likely experience an event chockfull of pay-attention points in a few years. I know their parents well and am certain they’ll use this event as an SLE (educator-speak for Significant Learning Experience) to teach both daughters the letting-go concept as well as the gratitude concept.

Are you a parent of young children? If so, I do hope you’re fortunate enough to be part of something that promotes these two pay-attention concepts. There’s a good-sized group of parents in our church fellowship who take part in a very predictable, hand-me-down-clothes chain, which helps them teach these concepts to their young charges almost effortlessly.

Here’s what’s
on the horizon
for these two little girls.

Right now, an older girl in this hand-me-down chain is wearing the darling striped sweater (above) that she and her mother snagged for a song at a thrift shop run by a local, church-sponsored children’s home. The first time she wore it to church services, a young mother approached her and began telling an interesting story (though what on earth it had to do with her, she couldn’t imagine).

A few years back, when she had been on a mission trip to China, the young woman realized she needed different clothes. Being an average American woman, she was taller and larger than the wee Chinese women all around her. It took some diligence to find appropriate clothes that fit.

But she persisted and found a shirt and a sweater that worked. In fact, the sweater did more than “work.” It came to symbolize the whole mission trip and all its memories, gradually becoming THE Sweater. Once back in the States, she kept wearing both – until motherhood intervened. (Those of you who’ve gone through a pregnancy know that’s a politely veiled way of saying motherhood piled on some pounds, some of which stubbornly refused to leave, and some bones shifted and found new homes, also stubbornly refusing to budge.)

Paying attention to her new normal, she donated the Chinese shirt. But she couldn’t bring herself to part with THE Sweater. Soooo many memories. How could she just throw it out?! Besides, they had plenty of storage space.

Enter, The Husband. A practical sort, he kept asking why she hung onto something she could never wear again. “Why not just donate it? Someone else could be using it.Eventually, agreeing with her husband’s wisdom and sharing his concern for the less fortunate, she released her grasp on THE Sweater Full of Memories and sent it to a thrift shop.

Now we’re back to the point where we came in. But don’t get up and leave; we’re only midway through the movie.

You see, the 12-year-old now wearing THE Sweater will eventually hand it on to another girl, who will hand THE Sweater on to the girl after her in this well-designated chain, who will hand THE Sweater off to…. You guessed it: the story-telling young mother’s two cute little girls.

Is that not cool?

This story is simply oozing
with pay-attention lessons.

  • The obvious one, of course, is that when we no longer use/need/want something, we should pass it onbefore it’s ratty-tatty or out-of-style – so that someone else will benefit from it.
  • A close second in this story’s pay-attention lessons is the can-versus-should dilemma we all struggle with. Just because we can do something (store things we don’t need or use for indefinite periods of time) doesn’t mean we should hang onto our extra stuff indefinitely. (Read more about this exasperating pothole of life.)
  • Memories, by definition, live in our brains. They are not part of a tangible item like, oh say, a sweater. When we give the item away, we get to keep the memory.
  • Any used item given to us has value, even though we didn’t pay money for it.
  • More importantly, a used item can come to us complete with a mini history lesson that just might be more valuable than the item ever was at its newest and best.
  • Releasing what we’re grasping gives us a free hand into which something else can be placed. Full hands are just that: full. They can’t accept anything more. (That goes for closets, too, BTY.)
  • When we’re willing to release our grasp on something, sometimes it can return to us in a most delightful and unexpected way.
red box with white text: “The only things we can keep are the things we freely give to God.  What we try to keep for ourselves is just what we are sure to lose.” – C.S. Lewis

When we give to those in need, we give to God.

red box with white text: “...remember the words of the Lord Jesus that he himself said, 'It is more blessed to give than to receive.'” – Acts 20: 25, The NET Bible

I want to be the “more blessed,” don’t you?

Well, that’s a wrap.

Stay tuned. Next on the docket is the can-versus-should pothole of life – that pit into which most of us, including moi, regularly tumble. (Warning: it won’t be pretty.)

©2015, Teresa Bennett

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