What’s making the most difference now?

a teeny star on a finger

Sometimes I stumble on something that works so well at what it’s supposed to do, it affects me in an entirely different way than I thought it would.

My mandoline, for example.

I had heard about these magical tools that produced razor-thin slices of food for years before finally deciding, on a whim, to buy one. I can’t remember where I came across it, trolling an aisle at Marshall’s, most likely, an activity that occasionally turns up amazing, life-changing things for under $100 like a copper-sandwiched All-Clad or a bra that fits. The mandoline was well under $100, under 1/10th of that, as I recall, and an alluring, ruby-red color to boot. I bought it immediately and, after getting it home, just as immediately stuck it in a drawer where for the next 8, 10, 15 months or so, its chief purpose was to annoy me whenever I went in search of a knife or a corkscrew and instead, the stupid thing turned itself sideways and jammed the damned drawer shut.

Stubbornness, hope and two cucumbers saved it from the Goodwill pile. I am trying to stay SCD-legal, and for me, that means finding ways to make ordinary, good-for-me stuff seem more delicious and alluring than, well, the usual delicious and alluring stuff that is poison for me. I looked at the cukes, thought of the mandoline, and somehow, the right synapse fired. Five minutes and several janky moves later, I finally had the rhythm down, and a neat stack of paper-thin cucumber that seemed, well, delicious and alluring.

It can be a mandoline, then, that helps me move forward: a way of slicing the same thing just a little bit more finely. Or it can be writing down my annual goals every morning, every goddamn morning, so that they are there in front of me, quietly reminding me of what it is I really want.

It can be making the bed in the morning while the kettle is on, and reading 40 pages of a book with a cup of tea before I wake up my computer from its night’s sleep. It can be creating little check-boxes next to each to-do item of the day; it can be recasting that to-do list as a “will-do” list, and whittling the number of items down each day until it really is.

It can be just deciding to notice, and foregoing, for now, the judging that generally follows.

It can be so many things, big or small. Mostly, for me, though, it is so many things, all small. A thousand-hundred tiny things, one after the other, one by one. Small. Smaller. Smaller still. When your default settings are “full-bore” and “off,” it is hard to see what you need to and, much, much more importantly, to feel what is happening to you. With these million-thousand tiny things come the same number of opportunities, and even a white tornado like me can grab one out of a million-thousand.

Besides, this is how change works: a little bit at a time, then all at once.

Not all of the things work. As many, more, even, far more I abandon as quickly as I pick them up. That’s okay. There is always another small thing to try: keeping a sink clean, spending just 10 minutes at something, adding a habit, removing a piece of clutter.

What makes the most difference to me now is not one particular thing, but the transforming power of any one thing…


Image by jared via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.


  1. I will subscribe to you to the ends of the earth because you make this much sense this beautifully.

    Excuse me. I’m going to spend ten minutes re-writing my resume, and then I’m going to clean my sink.

  2. I am loving your blog more and more all the time.

    I love this part: “Besides, this is how change works: a little bit at a time, then all at once.”

    In my life I find that I make little changes, little adjustments of perspective, tiny bitty shifts and nudges, and then one day something changes bigtime and it can feel like one smooth tectonic slide instead of the slow-and-steady lurch that it was.

  3. Yes! I call this tinkering. I think it has a lot to do with why I don’t know how to tell people how I spend my time — because it changes in a thousand tiny ways all the damn time. I’m always bringing in some new tiny experiment to shift something in some wee little way. I gotta believe it all masses up to something huge.

    1. “Tinkering” is great. I’m a fan of puttering as a calming technique, and tinkering is definitely puttering’s kissing cousin.

      I cannot tell you how deeply satisfying it was to figure out that vinegar-soaked pads would E-F-F-O-R-T-L-E-S-S-L-Y remove the lime and hard-water scale that had plagued me for years. And now look at me—first the lime scale, now an entirely cleaned bathroom.

  4. Loved the bit about writing down your goals every day. Lately, I’ve felt mired in ‘kinda important’ stuff which really turned out not to be important at all. Gotta work those little steps.

    Well done, as usual.

    1. You are the poster child for that, Kate, and for how you can turn a life around one step at a time. (Not that her life was bad, folks—just amazing what she’s done with it.)

  5. Sounds like the kaizen way! One small step(s) flies under our critical radar and lets us accomplish many things.

    Another great post!

  6. amen!

    just take baby steps, ije – has been my mantra these past few weeks. it only begun to sink in yesterday, as in i’ve stopped feeling guilty for not doing more.

    i’m taking your blog post as a sign from the Universe that i’m on the right track! thank you:-)

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