Do The Little Things

Every little bit helps.

Photo: jim hutchison

When I was younger I had a real idea of what “done” meant in my head — that moment when all the cleaning was done, all the items crossed off the to-do list and I would sit back on my perfect modernist sofa with a mug of tea by my side and some kind of wool throw and I would read something that was both high-brow and deeply and simply satisfying. (I am writing this on my Ikea couch with a Gudetama blanket draped over me and a can of beer by my hand, which I guess means maybe dreams do come true?) The fact that I never arrived at “done” was a function of personal failure, and one day I would wake up ready to take on the world. As I careen toward 40 I have decided that done — for me, at least — doesn’t exist. There is only sitting there in the middle with all the dust (and dust mites!) and debris and having as good a time as I can.

But it turned out that giving up on done did not (only) mean despairing. It also meant a willingness to experiment with ways to do better. Once I realized that there was no end in sight, nothing to power forward towards (or, better, nothing to be angry at myself for failing to power forward towards), I started to find workarounds. Many of those workarounds involved the foolish spending of money.

I hate sweeping the floor, and so I bought a robot mop. I bought a robot mop knowing full well that there was a good chance that the robot mop would sit unused in a corner and the floors would remain as disgusting as they ever had been. That it would be a failure. And a waste of money. So far, though, I’ve let the robot mop roam free every weekend. My floors are not clean; my floors will never be clean. But they’re cleaner than they were. Other things along the same lines that I have purchased: a balance board, a new dishwasher.

I have also purchased a machine that cycles water through my nose. It has a battery and little tubs of a proprietary salt blend and it pumps water in one nostril while it sucks it out the other. My doctor has been after me for years to engage in daily nose rinsing. I go see her once a year, when my allergies are at their worst, and she tells me that I should rinse my nose out once a day, and I nod, and then I don’t do it, and my poor sinuses get worse and worse.

My doctor, by the way, did not tell me to buy a machine for this purpose. My doctor told me to use a mug and a straw. I don’t know exactly why I haven’t been able to stick with the mug and the straw. There are reasons, but none of them are very good. She told me to do it in the shower, and I don’t like to take a shower at night, and I can’t do it in the morning because if I do I’ll wake up the household. It is also a hard thing to stick with because although there are some immediate benefits, it is hard to see any on-going improvement. And so every year I have tried and failed and now I have bought a machine. The machine may possibly be more effective at funneling water through my nose, but it doesn’t possess any obvious advantages over my doctor’s cup-and-straw method. It’s just different. I’ll give it a try.

I don’t know why some habits stick and some don’t, why I am pretty good at working out and terrible about cooking for myself. Also sometimes I wonder if I’ve just maxed out my virtue threshold, if any improvement on the nose-washing front, assuming any can be made, will only lead to a slacking off on the no-fun-internet-while-at-work front. But, as I said earlier, the inevitability of (my) failure means that it doesn’t matter anyway. I’m doomed, but maybe my sinuses can feel better along the way. Buy the machine! What’s the downside?

My newfound willingness to spend money is somewhat at odds with my deep-seated conviction that there is no perfect object out there in the world that will transform my life, no little black dress or power tool. (I need such a conviction because I am so prone to romanticizing stuff — I once bullied my parents, poor academics, into buying me a pin in the shape of the Iron Cross with a giant rhinestone at its center. I was eight and convinced that it had to be a magical object.) But the things I’m buying now aren’t designed to be perfect. They’re experimental. They’re compromises. They’re acknowledgments that so far, the ways I’ve found of trying to do the thing have failed, and that I am going to try another way, and that I may fail in that way also.

There is nothing cool about a machine that rinses water through my nose — I do not feel like a better person for owning it. But it is a way of trying, all over again, something that seems like it might help, something that I haven’t been able to do yet. And even though I hate New Year’s resolutions, in 2017 I am going to keep trying. I am going to keep going around if I can’t go over, I am going to admit that I would rather not go through life with my nose plugged completely shut, and I am going to let my robot mop roam free.

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