Awhile ago, I found myself very frustrated. I had a problem. Papers kept piling up on the kitchen table. If it had been junk mail, I wouldn’t have minded—junk mail is easy. You just throw it away. But it wasn’t just junk mail. It was other things too. Bills that hadn’t been paid yet, letters, things that had to get read… they were all on the kitchen table and it was driving me insane.
I started looking on Pinterest for pretty solutions to paperwork problems. Nice folders, wall filing systems, pretty boxes, new and improved home command centers…. I was trying to decide which option was the best for us, and where I should put whatever I decided to use, when it suddenly dawned on me that the kitchen wasn’t where the papers went at all. We had an office for paperwork.
I had been really excited about having an office to handle such things with, and I had put my desk in there when I moved into the house. It was nice… but I realized that we hadn’t been using the office. We sat with our laptops on the sofa, we wrote on the kitchen table, we did just about whatever it took to not go in the office. Why?
I went into the office to check it out and suddenly I understood.
The real reason there were papers on the kitchen table was not that I or my husband was being lazy, or that I didn’t have a filing system in the kitchen, it was simply that neither I nor my husband wanted to spend time in the office. And now I understood why:the office was ugly and depressing.
Understanding the root of the problem allowed me to channel my energies to fixing the real problem. We took the ugly door off and hung curtains in the doorway. (I’ve always loved curtained doorways, and these curtains were pretty and cheap.) Then we got rid of my husband’s ugly thrift store desk and bought a piece of plywood, and used it and some white paint to turn two mismatched pieces of furniture into a pleasant looking and functional work space for him. All told, our office remodel only cost about $30, and since then, we haven’t had an issue with papers on the kitchen table. As a side benefit, we have an easier time not using electronics in the evening, because the electronics stay in the office.
Identifying the Underlying Problem
This experience taught me something which I have tried to apply to other parts of my life as well. Sometimes our problems are actually only symptoms of the real problem, and we can’t get rid of the symptoms until we get rid of the cause. Understanding this fact and taking the time to think can save time, money, effort, and sometimes even your relationships.
Suppose you have a small child who screams and throws a tantrum every evening. You can try punishing the child for having a tantrum, you can give up and allow his undisciplined behavior, or you can see if there is an underlying cause. Maybe you will find that having a mid-afternoon snack will solve your child’s evening tantrum problem. Or maybe moving his nap, or getting his back adjusted by a chiropractor… People are complex and the reasons for their behaviors are too.
I read a story recently of a woman who argued with her husband every single evening. It was tiresome and it was poisoning their relationship. Finally, however, she analyzed the situation, and discovered that she was trying to get him to talk about various issues right when he got home tired from work. Simply rearranging their schedule so that he could relax for a few minutes after he got home allowed them to regain their peace as a couple.
Sometimes it’s hard to find the root of a problem, and sometimes the root is something that you can’t change. It’s also sometimes something you would never have guessed. (One time I realized that the reason I’d been edgy and upset for weeks was because I had writer’s block, and my inability to work on my writing project was causing a low-level stress in the background of my thoughts.) Sometimes, the problem is simply our point of view or our attitude.
Whatever our problems are, it is always worth finding the roots so we can understand what we are dealing with, and not waste time and effort fixing symptoms.
What problems have you solved?