Is there something in your life that you keep meaning to change, but never get around to doing it? Like replacing that curled-up linoleum in the kitchen, for instance, or covering that ugly water mark on the living-room ceiling?
After years of experience with this sort of procrastination, I've concluded that the more familiar a thing is (good or bad), the harder it is to change it.
I remember my excitement some years ago when my husband and I moved from a house in the suburbs to a rambling old farmhouse in the country. The ceilings were thick with coal dust; paper place mats covered gaping holes in the walls; and one electrical outlet serviced the entire kitchen.
For the most part, we knew what we were getting into and welcomed the challenge. What I wasn't ready for, however, was the bathroom. The sink leaned sideways. The tub was covered with rust stains. The toilet came precariously close to erupting with every flush, and the wallpaper resembled moldy mozzarella.
I put my foot down. "This bathroom has got to go," I declared firmly.
Three years later, the tilt, the rust, the flush, and the wallpaper remained intact.
More pressing projects, such as updating the septic system and replacing the coal furnace, had taken priority. The odd thing was, the more familiar I became with that bathroom's quirks, the less I noticed them. Once I even caught myself describing them to a friend as "endearing."
The "now you see it - now you don't" phenomenon doesn't apply only to big things like bathrooms. Living with small catastrophes until they're invisible is also common. Take the splotches on the door of my refrigerator, for example.
Anyone seeing those splotches would be shocked at what they'd assume was my slovenly housekeeping. What they wouldn't know is that these dark smears (they look like a year's worth of dirty fingerprints) will not wash off.
I discovered this the day we moved in and immediately made up my mind to do something about it. All it would take was a whoosh of white spray paint to hide the unsightly mess. Did I do it? No. A year and a half later, the splotches are still there because I no longer see them. I really don't.
It's only when company is coming, and I suddenly see the house through someone else's eyes, that I panic and become aware of all the flaws I truly thought had disappeared.
While visiting my son and his wife one summer, I thought it odd that they had two television sets in their living room - one on a table, another on the floor. The first time we watched a TV show together, they switched on both sets.
Finally I had to tell them that watching two screens at once was making me dizzy. At first they seemed surprised. Then they laughed, realizing that their arrangement was a bit unusual.
"I wish we could turn one of them off," my son apologized, "but the sound doesn't work in the color set, so we have to use the black-and-white set, too." When I asked why they didn't just get the sound fixed in the color set, he looked even more sheepish. "I guess we've watched TV this way for so long, we don't even think about it anymore."
That's what happens: Soon, you don't think about it anymore. And if you don't think about it, it goes away, right?
Wrong. The smudges, cracks, wobbles - they're all still there. What can you do to ensure that problems are fixed before they're forgotten?
1. Do it now. (This is a respected old adage, but it's tough to live by if you need a can of spray paint and the hardware store is closed.)
2. Occasionally invite an outspokenly honest friend or relative to your house. The kind who will ask when you're going to fix the porch railing that just jabbed him or her in the ribs, or wonders aloud if you've ever considered a new color scheme for the family room.
3. Take a long trip. You'll return with a fresh perspective, which will include seeing all the flaws in your home with new and frightening clarity.
4. Move into a new house or apartment. All the things you didn't fix in the old house will now be someone else's problem, and you'll have a chance to correct all the flaws in your new home before they become familiar.
But don't wait too long. It may only be a matter of time before they're invisible, too.
(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor