Ten Per Cent Empty, or 90 Per Cent Full

There is a common, exasperated statement that I often hear, say, and have come to realize has a double meaning: we’re so busy, we can never get anything done.

Taken literally, this statement can be interpreted in two different ways. Although we regularly do the dishes, do the laundry and do the grocery shopping, it’s not the actual doing, it’s the finishing of these and many other chores required to keep a household running smoothly, that cause the problem.

Through various stages in our lives, we have joked with long-time friends that, based on what we observed in ourselves and others, we should execute an awesome, fail-proof business idea. “The 10 Per Cent Guy” would swoop in, no doubt dressed in shining armour, and complete the final 10 per cent of the jobs around the house that just aren’t getting completed. These are tasks that are done to the point of being tolerable…but not finished.

My husband and I undertook major renovations of our first house when expecting a baby. Stupidly – and no, that’s not too strong a word – we decided to do much of the work ourselves. Not at all according to plan, our son was born three weeks early and we brought him home to the squalor of incomplete renovations. We had little time to do anything but assume the sleepless, zombie-like state required to care for a newborn.

Once upon a time, I was reasonably good at ensuring that projects were seen through to completion in a timely manner. At that point in my life, I hadn’t yet “adjusted” my standards to suit our new reality and was dismayed…and so young and very naïve. I thought it was absolutely ridiculous that three weeks would make a difference when it came to the completion such a major project.

I now realize that, as far as cushions of time go, three weeks is huge, and similar in size to that provided by the mattresses stacked up in that storybook classic, the Princess and Pea. Our happy ending occurred four months later when the renovated upstairs rooms were suitable to inhabit…but still had about 10 per cent of work to be done.

There are other tasks that usually get done, but never finished.

No matter how meticulously I follow my list while shopping, I always realize what is still needed as soon as I return from the store or market. I can never hope to be grocery (sigh) list-less.

The laundry and dishes too, are never really finished though I do feel a great deal of satisfaction when I can actually see the bottom of the hamper and the top of the counter. But even a quick glance away and someone has dirtied a dish or changed clothes, sometimes offering up a double whammy when one precedes the other.
Most kids are known to sincerely wonder what the point is in making a bed when it’s going to be slept in soon again, anyway. A wise woman I know maintains that one of the benefits of living in style of house other than a bungalow is that guests will never know if you don’t make your bed. I live in a two story, and I have to admit to sometimes employing the “out of sight, out of mind” approach to help create the illusion of tidiness.

The “Ten Percent Guy” recently came up in conversation with my long time friend. She has decided to now be happy with the 90 per cent that actually does get done, instead of fixating on the undone.

I’m still working on it.

Originally published in the Waterloo Region Record