Obstacle Immunity

Dana and I enjoy watching interior design and home renovation TV shows together. Unfortunately, we have no more seasons left of Grand Designs, so we have been making our way through the latest season of Save My House.

In the episode last night, designers Nate and Jeremiah help an older couple who have been living without floors (plywood subfloor), literally, for 16 years. They were cooking on a cooktop and cleaning dishes in a hallway bathroom sink. The story goes like this: the couple embarked on a renovation almost two decades ago, the contractor was not reliable, then they "could not find anyone" with a good sense of design, so they tolerated this. They had the money, but they gave up. I wish I could show you the shape of this home. I am all for compact living, but this was like living in a construction zone. For 16 years...

At first, I was in disbelief. How could anyone let this go for that long? The couple had become grandparents a few years prior and did not feel safe having their grandson visit, so they never had him over. It was heartwarming to see them smile as he ran around their newly installed floors and kitchen at the end of the episode.

The more I thought about it, the more I could empathize. No, I have never tolerated anything this intense for that long, but I believe we all create obstacles in our lives, sometimes without even knowing, and we go about our days tolerating them.

I think of the suitcase I neglect to unpack on a busy Sunday night after visiting family. The action of the week ensues, so I leave it there, stepping over it night after night as I get into bed.

I think of the clothes that sat in the trunk of my car for months when I said I'd donate them. Whenever we'd need trunk space, I'd have to shift everything around to make room or make it all fit in the backseat.

I let myself become immune to these self-imposed obstacles, taking more energy to work around them than to remove them. When I finally take action, I feel liberated, free. There's a weight that I never even realized was there, only noticing it when it's gone.

The scary reality is that these seemingly small obstacles can have a compounding effect. At first, it's an unpacked suitcase, then a useless trunk. Add a few more, and suddenly, every day starts to look like an episode of American Ninja Warrior.

While we're stepping over suitcases as we try to relax and spending extra time packing when heading out of town is already stressful, our mood deteriorates. Happiness and joy become a thing of the past. All we can think to do is take any drastic measure to turn our situation around and get out of the mess. We hit our breaking point and rely on one giant heroic effort to save ourselves.

We rearrange our room because it no longer feels like a resting place.

We buy a new car because we think we need the space.

Sure, change is good, but not if it's the outcome of sacrificing our well-being. I am still unsure how the couple last night made it work in that environment for so long, but they did. I'm happy to see them happy, but I'm sure there's a big part of them that wishes they unpacked that suitcase 16 years ago, or in this case, committed to finishing the job.

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