Leaving Things Better Off

Robot Character Sketch

When Sami and I first got married (almost 5 years ago, now!), our biggest source of marital frustration and unhappiness was chores. More specifically: the fact that I didn’t do them.

Growing up, my mom always ran our household, and did everything for me and my siblings: laundry, dishes, cleaning, cooking – all of it. After getting married, I subconsciously expected the same. So I did what I was used to doing: nothing.

I’d avoid dirty dishes, let my laundry pile up for weeks, and before our first month had ended, our brand new apartment was pretty disorganized.

To make things worse, I’m a bit of a clean freak, so this led to some hardcore arguments between the two of us. We’d both get upset with each other, or even worse, try to not get upset with each other and let the problems continue.

After talking about things, we decided to split up duties a bit more evenly. And while we’ve had various successes and failures over the years in this regard, things are much better.

Around the time we both finally opened up and talked with each other about this problem, I had just finished reading The Joy of Less (a good book on minimalism), and had some ideas of how to improve things.

One of the simplest ways I’ve found to improve problems like the one I was having is to just always leave things better off than they were before you found them.

To help with dishes, for instance, what I started doing was pretty basic: every time I went to put something into the sink, I’d wash and put away two other things in the sink. This way, by the time I left the kitchen, the net dirty dishes pile had decreased by 1.

Over time, I’ve found that this is by far the simplest and most effective method to cleaning (and life in general) that helps to avoid big issues and frustrating experiences.

Instead of dealing with big pile-up-problems in one sitting, it’s a lot less mentally and emotionally taxing to simply make things a little bit better when you can. An extra 30 seconds a few times a day is a lot less daunting than a single, 3 hour cleaning experience.

What’s really interesting, though, is when you apply this concept to other areas of your life as well.

The next time you start adding a feature to your company codebase – be on the lookout for a way to positively improve code quality. Maybe you could add in a unit test, fix a typo in a variable name, or even do something small like improve a comment or remove some trailing whitespace.

Over time, this sort of thing adds up and before long you’ll have substantially improved the code quality of your projects, with very little effort.

What I’ve learned over the years is that by really adopting the mindset of “leave things better off than they were before you found them”, I don’t only tend to solve my existing problems, but I also prevent new ones entirely.

If you’re currently dealing with a big problem, maybe the solution doesn’t have to be so hard: just make it a little bit less of a problem every day =)