Podcast 088: Not seeing what’s in front of you

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This is Podcast 88 and it’s about not being able to see what’s in front of you because of how it’s defined or named. Naming and defining are important. They help us differentiate things from each other. We assign them attributes that contrast them with other things. The other side of that is they become tied to those attributes and so identified with them that we can’t see them in another light.

Here’s how that becomes a problem.

I have some clients who are makers. Boy, are they ever! They’ve got equipment and machinery and supplies for a huge range of activities including forging knives. It’s a challenge to find room for all this stuff and have it stored in a way that it can be easily used.

This is a common problem. The quantity of your stuff comes to a tipping point when you can no longer have everything you own in easy reach. That’s when you have to start putting things in less-than-handy locations, far from where you’ll use them and maybe needing a ladder to get to. But consider yourself lucky if you do have the space to maximize in this way!

In the case of these clients, they’ve dedicated a room for making and crafts and another room for guests and their future children. Although we’ve sorted and purged out a lot from the craft room, it’s becoming clear that there’s not enough room for all that they want to do in there. I suggested they move to the guest room, which is much bigger than the current room.

But that’s the guest room! my clients tell me. And what about the nursery? In my book, guests don’t need a huge guest room. They’re only visiting and ideally, they haven’t brought a whole bunch of stuff. The craft room, on the other hand, is used every week, sometimes every day, for activities that require space for storage and creating.

As for the future baby, which isn’t even a twinkle in her parents eyes yet, she won’t need much space either. Even if my client gets pregnant tomorrow, they’ll have three more years at least in the bigger crafts room. Well, they hadn’t thought about it that way.

It’s a great example of letting the definition of a room tell you what has to happen in there. They probably decided this room was the guest room/ future nursery when they first moved in. And so it became set in stone. Who would think of doing crafts in the guest room? That doesn’t make sense!

This often happens with people’s home offices. I’ve been shown home offices that clearly haven’t been used in years. Turns out that the person works at the coffee table or the kitchen counter. “Home office” and “where you work” aren’t necessarily the same place.

If you don’t see that distinction, you’ll persist in using a subpar coffee table office. The “real” office will get fixed up nicely but the coffee table stopgap office will lack necessary supplies. A former client built a lovely room in her backyard with plenty of sunlight and garden views to use as her office. But all her active paper and computer and other supplies were on the dining table. The garden office was too cold. So she was unable to commit to either one. She worked at the dining table, but went to the office to use the printer, because the printer belongs in the office. All her files were also in the “real” office. So much extra work and schlepping back and forth!

What labels have you given things that prevent you from seeing their potential? Instead of accepting that rooms or objects are just what everyone calls them, question that. In past episodes I’ve given ideas for increasing your objectivity regarding your own rooms and objects. Try to see things in new light and ask the obvious questions.

In this case, an obvious question I asked my clients was, why not use the bigger room for the activity that requires more space? Since I don’t live there, it was easy for me to judge the rooms by their size rather than their defined purpose. I saw clearly that the problem was not enough space so I looked for more.

What you can do right now: think of a lack or a problem you want to solve, one that you’ve tried unsuccessfully to deal with. See if you can find any assumptions you’ve made that aren’t necessarily true and are limiting your range of options.