Compromise

“Miss the target, hit the tree.”

Ron has a clean garage–and all it took was a little compromise.

“Close enough for jazz.”

“I’ll settle for 80/20…”

Is close enough really good enough? How precise do we really have to be?

My wife is a perfectionist about many things. If we are rehabbing a room and she is sanding a piece of trim or chair rail, she sands down to the grain, even if we’re just going to paint again. She gets it right down to the bare wood.

Drives me nuts.

A piece of wood-trim baseboard that is 90 percent covered by a long couch? That needs to be sanded within a hair of its life? I don’t think so.

But oh, she does.

Her little house projects always run over schedule, because perfectionists rarely get to the end of the job. There’s always one more thing to do.

I refused to let this become a constant source of arguing, so I took an internal vow: I promised myself that on the occasions when we tried to do a job together, I would hold my tongue and let things be done her way.

I would give her an equal sense of empowerment and change the complexion of these arguments, if not indeed reverse them forever.

Last month, we cleaned out the garage together. I knew the potential for disaster on this one, because when it comes to cleaning, the roles reverse and I happen to be the perfectionist.

See, I’m a guy who loves to throw stuff out. Despite my romantic heart, I only really like to keep small mementos.

But the wife, she likes to keep things that are “life-stage landmarks,” like each of the kids’ first bikes, the grill we used when we cooked out in the park every Friday night, the tire from our first family car to use as a swing later, etc.

So I made myself a stack of what I considered trash–and realized that none of it is going to make it to the front lawn; she had it all earmarked for some future project or some museum they might put up about our family later.

I pulled back and changed my strategy. I said, “You know, if we fill the bed of the truck with steel, I could take it to the metal recycling place for cash.”

She paused. I had her attention.

“How much do you think you could get?”

I held my breath, then said, “Well, whatever it is, you could have it all.”

She considered this a minute, and put the old rusty grill in the back of the truck. Next came the bikes, an old washer and dryer set we were saving for God knows who, an old lawn mower that I never got around to fixing, and more of the same.

The grand finale came when I found the neighbor was replacing his hot water tank. As he was hauling it out of his house, I told him where I was going and he and his friend threw it on the truck as well.

“Just glad to get it out of here,” he said.

We drove to the dump and came home almost $110 richer. How cool was that?

The dispatcher handed me the cash, and I handed it right to the wife without counting it.  You guys should have seen that move. It was so slick she didn’t know what to do.

It was a nice wad, and she seemed really pleased.

And now the garage looks great, with plenty of room to park both cars just as winter comes around the corner.

There’s still some stuff in the garage I’d like to get rid of–that tire I was talking about, some old kiddie pools that she claims will come in handy someday, sawhorses that were there when we bought the house…

I didn’t get the pristine, immaculate garage I wanted, but it’s a lot better and–son of a gun–she was happy too.

I guess that 80/20 thing isn’t such a bad idea.

What about you and your life? Are there places you could compromise a little more and perhaps move life ahead a little?

There are some places where it’s easier than you think. Small gestures can go a long way.

Sometimes, if we’re all crashed at the end of the day, tucked snugly in each of our couches and chairs for the evening, I’ll get up and pop an enormous bowl of popcorn. I break it down into four bowls and give everyone their own private stash.

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