Sometimes the difference between a useless tool and a helpful one, or a good tool and a great one, is merely a matter of imagination.

I dislike decorative trinkets, and most especially if they must be dusted.  My mother-in-law, however, loved them, and we received many gifts that were more in line with her preferences than mine.  Thus I wasn't entirely pleased when she proudly presented me with a Charleston, South Carolina sweetgrass basket, beautiful as it was.  But inspiration hit, and instead of hanging it as a wall decoration, I put the basket on a desk in our entranceway.  Not only does it look lovely, but in an instant I solved my perennial "where are my keys?" problem!  Because the basket gets continual use, it never needs dusting, and its presence must have saved me, over the years, hours of searching time.  The right tool in the right place.

Clothes dryers are rare in Europe, Japan, and no doubt most other places in the world.  It was a bit of a shock to me, I'll admit, to find myself relying on clotheslines while visiting such highly advanced countries as Japan and Switzerland.  Growing up, my family did not get a dryer until after my brother was born — about the same time we purchased a television set — but I was seven and it didn't have much effect on me.  My mother, I'm certain, felt differently.  True, I love clotheslines and the smell of sun- and wind-dried clothing (and sheets!), and when we lived in Rochester and Boston I used them whenever I could, i.e. on warm, sunny days.  (My initial efforts in Florida were miserable failures because the high humidity made the clothes musty, and the lack of wind made them stiff.)  However, I consider the clothes dryer one of the blessings of civilization, and if you doubt me, I have just two things to say:  wet winter clothes, and diapers.

Still, somehow the very civilized Europeans and Japanese are managing without them, for which I respect them a lot, unless "managing" includes relying on paper diapers.  I suspect their laundry detergents must have fabric softeners blended into them, as the clothes, hung indoors with nary a bit of sun or breeze, are not the stiff boards I experienced here on still days.  I don't like fabric softeners, but nonetheless found inspiration to take another look at the possibilities.  Also inspiring was this very cool Japanese "clothesline" that we brought back with us after visiting the country. (Remember that clicking on the picture will show the full version.)

Initially we hung the nifty device on the back porch.  It was handy for hanging bathing suits and swim towels, but not much else, and didn't get much use.  But at one point — I forget the occasion — I moved it into our laundry room, aka garage, where I discovered that newly-laundered clothes hung there avoid the mustiness I encountered when trying to dry our laundry outside.  (Some of you may be wondering why the hot Florida does not dry clothes instantly.  It may, for all I know, but our back yard doesn't get much sun at all, and the neighbors would have something to say about a clothesline in the front.  I'm happy they're not objecting to our vegetable garden.) And the stiffness?  A few minutes tumbling in the dryer, with no heat, takes care of that.  I don't use the Japanese dryer for large loads, but running clothes need to be washed immediately, and not left to stew until we've accumulated a full load, so I was doing many small washes, which are inefficient (and expensive) to dry in the electric dryer.  For these, the Japanese dryer is the perfect solution — and now a formerly underutilized tool is a great asset.  The right tool in the right place.

So, one of those handy hook-and-clip devices is very useful — but how about two?  From our daughter and son-in-law we received a little one in the form of an octopus, very cute but too light to replace the one which I had recently moved from the back porch.  It hung around for a few months as a mere decoration until inspiration hit again.

I love to use plastic, zip-lock bags, but hate to throw them in the trash, so for years I have been washing and reusing them.  Drying was always a problem, however, and though I tried several solutions I was not completely satisfied with any of them.  Until now.  Look how perfectly the octopus hangs above the dish drainer, holding the bags in a position for maximum drainage and contact with the drying air!  Most definitely, the right tool in the right place!

In these examples I have found the right tool in something that we already had, but were not using to its best advantage.   I'm convinced, however, that there's a wider lesson here.  I'm generally a "make do," and "good enough" kind of person, which can be a good thing, but I'm learning that not only my productivity but also my enjoyment can improve greatly if I will make the effort and take the time to find the right tool.  Even if that means jettisoning something I have in favor of buying something that will work better.  But — Don Aslett's excellent advice to the contrary — maybe we shouldn't jettison things irretrievably right away.  We may have the right tool in the wrong place.
Posted by sursumcorda on Saturday, February 6, 2010 at 10:39 am | Edit
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Excerpt: You'd think that being freed from the 9 - 5 routine, Mondays wouldn't bother me.  (What's with 9 - 5 anyway?  When I was employed I never worked that few hours in a day!)  And normally that's true.  This week was another story. ...
Weblog: Lift Up Your Hearts!
Date: February 7, 2010, 12:46 pm
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