Toys without a home,
War and poverty abound —
Begin. Make your bed.
The other day I was trying to follow Jordan Peterson’s advice and clean my room (well, my whole house actually, living with small children it seems perpetually in disarray), and I ran into a problem about where to put the dog toys. Not an earth shattering problem of course, but a problem nonetheless.
I had swept the floors, vacuumed, dusted, put the children’s toys away and organized the DVD cabinet. Most of the house was tidy and I was feeling quite proud of how uncluttered it looked… except for the dog toys. I didn’t know where to put them.
They were slobbery and gross and so couldn’t just be shelved beside the children’s toys and I couldn’t just toss them in the closet because the dog actually likes to chew on them. I looked around for an empty basket or a bucket or something similar. No dice. Two tennis balls, a stuffed fox without its head, and a rubber bone just sat there, staring at me, reminding me that they had no where to go. Finally I just picked them up and tossed them on the stairs, just to get them out of the way. There were other fish to fry, the bathroom and the laundry room specifically, two major tasks still to go. I wasn’t going to let the dog’s chew toys route my efforts to get the house clean.
So I kept on. Fold the towels? Check. Clean the mirror? Check. Put away the laundry and clean out the lint traps? Check and check. It was about two hours after giving up on the dog toys that I was organizing a pile of clutter that had been accumulating between the wall and the washing machine for months. That’s where I found it. A dog bed.
I’d completely forgotten we had one. The dog usually sleeps at the foot of our bed and this little dog cushion had been bought a while back in hopes of changing that. I took it out and brought it into the den and laid it down on the floor next to the couch. The tennis balls, bone, and headless fox fit perfectly in it. They finally had a home.
Why am I telling you this?
Because problems generalize.
Solutions do too.
“Problem” is an actual species of thing. It’s a metaphysical category. Whether it’s a little problem (where to put the dog toys) or a big one (how do I put my finances in order), they’re fundamentally the same type of thing and you can address them in more or less the same way. In my case, I didn’t know what to do about the dog toys, so, after thinking for a minute about it, I stopped trying. I moved on to other problems I *did* know how to solve. In doing so the answer to my original problem was revealed. What I needed to solve problem X was hidden under the piles of problems Y and Z.
This is very often true, and this is a technique you can use to solve all sorts of problems, even ones that are very large. Too often people let themselves get stymied, stuck. They get to a problem they don’t know how to fix and they actually fixate on it, allowing it to prevent all further progress. This is exactly the wrong approach, fixation is how you turn a little problem into a great big one. Instead, move on. If you don’t know what to do don’t let that stop you. Solve the next thing you *do* know how to solve. In so doing, very often, you will discover the path forward.
Solutions do too.