When I graduated from college, one of my aunts gifted me the sewing machine that she received as a high school graduation present. If people ask me what I’d rescue from our hypothetically burning house, I don’t name this machine, because a) unlike old photographs and my daughters’ baby books, it technically is replaceable, and b) it weighs approximately one thousand pounds, and I’m a practical person when imagining potential disasters. However, pragmatism aside, the sewing machine’s history and function deem it one of my most treasured possessions.
Unfortunately, a few years ago, I started having frequent problems with the machine. What started as the occasional jam turned into every-project jams that required taking pieces of the machine apart to fix, as well as a whole host of other issues. I’ll spare you the boring details, but suffice it to say that no sewing project was complete without a share of muttered profanities, angered flips through the yellowed manual, and resigned sighs about how maybe I just needed a newer machine.
And then one day I asked my mom for a thread-tension consult, and she inquired as to how long it had been since I changed the machine’s needle.
Welp, there was the answer to my problems. After making the much-needed and simple change, all of my multi-year struggles disappeared. To think that I had considered replacing the entire machine when I just needed a new 79-cent needle! The experience got me thinking about all of the times that I’ve blown problems out of proportion and assumed that major life changes were needed when, really, a relatively simple fix would do the trick.
For instance, in a former living situation, it drove me nuts that my roommates didn’t contribute equally to the apartment’s upkeep, including cleaning and chipping in for communal products like toilet paper, lightbulbs, and dish soap. I honestly considered moving out when our lease was up, but when I remembered how much I detest moving, I decided to attempt a remedy before abandoning the ship.
And, lo and behold, a conversation with my roommates yielded the group decision to each contribute $10 monthly to a “communal goods” piggy bank and to create a cleaning schedule. I went on to have the most roommate harmony of my life, all thanks to a short and honest discussion.
Another time, I was pretty sure that I needed a new brand of contacts and sinus surgery because my eyes constantly burned and my nose would not stop running. It turns out that I just needed to take an allergy pill on days when I dusted the house… or equally simple, delegate dusting to my husband!
On a much bigger scale, I was ready to quit my job two years ago after the birth of my first daughter, because I couldn’t bear the thought of being away from her for 40-plus hours a week. In fact, I sort of did resign when I told my boss that I was planning to make my exit post-maternity leave. I continue to count it as one of the greatest blessings in my life that he said, “Hey, let’s slow down. Why don’t we try a middle ground before you leave entirely?” He suggested that I work from home more, cut back on hours, and bring my daughter with me on occasional days.
My job has taken many twists and turns in the years since my daughter was born, but I’m still there, largely because my boss helped me see that I could honor my desire to have more time with my daughter while still doing good work. Flexibility and openness to possibility, rather than drastic change, were what was needed. (It must be noted that flexibility and openness on the part of my employer made the crucial difference in this situation. No amount of creativity or searching for a more simple solution on my part would have succeeded if my boss hadn’t been willing to work with me in making changes.)
There are plenty of situations in life that are impossibly difficult: the death of a loved one, unemployment, and complicated family dynamics, to name a few. All too aware of the circumstances in which simple solutions don’t exist, I’m committed to saving my mental, emotional and spiritual energy for those moments. That’s why before catastrophizing or making drastic decisions in moments like the ones listed above, I’m going to keep pausing and asking: is there a more simple solution? If the answer is yes, then I’m trying it first.