Sachi’s parents arrived on the red-eye from Hawaii and she went down for a quick overnight trip to pick them up. This set me up for my first “Lee” night (a night alone) in the new house. This may not seem that remarkable, but it’s exceedingly rare. I sometimes go more than a year without being alone in our home for more than a few hours.
Leading up to nights like this, I always joke about all the fun I’m going to have and what debauchery will ensue. It will be an all-night party with all the music Sachi doesn’t prefer. I may not even be awake when she returns. Like so many things, much of the fun lies in the anticipation.
To prepare for her parents’ arrival, we washed the dogs in their dog shower and they became clean fluffy balls. My challenge was to keep them dust-free until the family arrived. This meant no rambunctious playing in the garden. Weeks of drought plus eight dog paws equals our own little dust bowl. I even debated if we should go outside at all. But the nice summer evenings are fleeting and I couldn’t imagine a better way to spend it than on the deck.
I grabbed our moveable speaker, binoculars, a Rainier beer, and an adapter that allows me to connect my iPhone camera to one side of the binoculars. During the summer, a parade of boats goes by our house and I’ve become fascinated and sometimes enamored. “Oooh, look at that one.” Photos give me an opportunity to catalog what I see and feel a bit of aspiration. Someday, I’ll have a big boat too, right? I suppose I’m talking about yachts when I say “big boat”, but I can’t bring myself to aspire to something with that label. It evokes Thurston Howell III slumming it on a three-hour tour. I’ll stick with “boat”.
My friend, Mike, is well-versed in boats and is frequently trying to convince us to get a boat that we can take out for multiple days. He’s said on multiple occasions that when we’re ready, he’ll help us find the perfect boat and recently sent me links to ones I might like. It was obvious he’d been browsing and I understand. The allure is undeniable.
As boats float by the house, I can’t help but feel like I’m the creepy guy on the beach watching girls walk by. Every boat is different and interesting in myriad ways. If I identify a boat I like, I soon end up down the rabbit hole of boat websites and sales listings. It’s captivating. Someday, we may take Mike up on the offer to be a matchmaker, but for now, we’re happy with little Short Story and watching the parade.
I had sat down with my supplies for no longer than a minute before Piper leapt from the deck and took off around the corner of our house toward the garden. I protested, but she was silent aside from the footsteps. No bark, no foul. I shrugged it off.
The can of Rainier soon became a dram of bourbon. Then a Toronto cocktail, which features Fernet Branca and rye. These, among other things, are my favorite libations for a night like that one.
As I got lost sipping the cocktail and watching the boats, a thought hit: Where’s Piper? I shrugged it off. The dogs are in a fenced area. She has a history, as an adolescent, of disappearing into the forest for an hour hunting deer. I don’t think she’d do that now, but the fear lingers.
Like a child, Piper’s silence and absence were suspicious. Eventually, I had to investigate, which meant walking along the house and peering around the corner toward the garden. What did I see? Piper digging under a woodpile. She was covered in dust up to her front elbows and sticking her nose into the freshly dug hole as far as she could. Because, of course. Damn dogs.
Whatever she chased, it went under the stacked wood and evaded her attack. I called her once and she looked at me with a posture that clearly said, “Dude, this is a serious situation.” I was undeterred, “PIPER, HERE!” [downward point]. I left the scene with my intentions known and her unmoved.
She arrived at my side in a few seconds and I was proud. She clearly deserved a treat for leaving the very serious situation, so we all went inside. One treat per dog, gently accepted. We operate a fair and equitable home when it comes to treat dispensation, even when only one dog performed well.
Feeling like the woodpile was too much of an attraction, I tried leaving the dogs inside. The plan was to enjoy a worry-free evening on the deck without thinking about the dogs and their fluffy clean fur. I’d listen to an episode of 99% Invisible and chill out.
Then, just after I sat down, I heard a familiar sound from the other side of the door… Woof. Woof-woof. WOOF!
I groaned. Piper was not satisfied being inside and wasn’t likely to stop asking. Part of me thought she was having a Piper night and needed to take advantage, like me. At that moment, I realized that there was no training I could do, or maybe wanted to do, that could account for the dogs wanting to be with me. It’s not something that needs correction. If anything, it needs development. The best outcome, I think, is being outside with me, without getting into trouble.
Meanwhile, something was chirping by the garden. I don’t speak chipmunk, but I’m pretty sure it was mocking Piper…and she knew it. “Chirp-chirp. Good try, muppet.”
This situation was not sustainable, so I had to change course and went inside to get my secret weapon: peanut butter treats shaped like bones, because I’m sure our above-average dogs appreciate that.
They watched me get the treats and place them in the middle of the coffee table on the deck. This was when the waiting began. All other dog thoughts were moot. The treat was all that mattered. To calm them down, I first asked them to lay down. They did, like good dogs, and received a treat.
In the moments after that, I decided to write some notes using my phone and ignored the view I had so decisively favored an hour ago. As I wrote, I felt warm, humid air across my face in waves. At first, I ignored it, but then it came in a rhythm and smelled like a dog’s breath.
If you have dogs that are allowed on furniture, you’ve had the experience of noticing a dog in your lap with no knowledge of how it got there. Maybe’s panting felt like that, but not as stealthy. Without noticing, she quietly triangulated her position so she could keep an eye on the treats and be ready by my side if I made any moves.
“Maybe, lay down.” She lied down and one minute passed. After three minutes, my writing was interrupted again by puffs of dog breath. The treats beckoned. “MAYBE. Go. Lay. DOWN.” Piper was tuned into the treats, but not as obstinate. The treats held Piper’s attention over the menace in the woodpile, and in that way, achieved the desired outcome.
It was a battle of wills and I had had enough. Lee night was becoming more of a dog night. There was no rest, silence, or fresh air as long as the treats were in view. I split up the remaining bones and rid myself of the meddlesome beasts. The chipmunk chirped fruitlessly as the dogs remained at my feet for what was left of the evening.
At long last, I could finally enjoy the evening writing, photographing, and listening to podcasts. Then, as the sun faded, I watched the Olympic volleyball and went to bed.
Lee night was not that different from any other night, really. And for that I am thankful. As much as I joke about all the fun I’m going to have with Sachi away, I don’t behave much differently than I ordinarily would. Maybe next time, though, I’ll try to convince her to take the dogs.
This might seem strange, but please follow the instructions below…
Imagine an apple that’s floating in the space in front of you. It’s red, has a small green leaf and a stem. Now, using your imagination, look at the top view of the apple. Imagine what it would look like if you sliced it into two parts. Can you see the seeds?
There is a good chance that you completed this exercise with ease. You were able to use your mind’s eye to conjure an image and “see” it using your imagination. This seems natural to most people.
This ability to see an image in your imagination is not the same for everyone. In fact, there are people, like Sachi, who cannot do it. The images simply do not form. No images do. Sachi and people like her live in a reality that is fundamentally different from most people because their brain does not generate mental images.
This is called aphantasia (lack of fantasy) and it’s a relatively new field of study. Most experts agree that it’s not a disability, but a different form of human experience. Ed Catmull, the former president and co-founder of Pixar, wrote about having it. So does Craig Venter, who sequenced the human genome.
My friend, Austin Kleon, recently wrote about it and his wife, who edits his blog posts, responded by saying, “I think I have that!” So it goes with aphantasia. People can live their entire lives with it and never know it. These people often respond to my apple exercise by saying, “Wait. People can see the apple in their minds?” They think “counting sheep” is just a metaphor and not something that people can actually imagine.
When I learned about aphantasia a few years ago, I talked to Sachi about it and learned she was an “aphant” and didn’t know it. This fascinated me and I set out to learn as much as I could. The more I talked with people about it, the more people I found who shared the same experiences as Sachi.
For example, Sachi and I have worked closely together since 2007. In our work, I often propose ideas for changes we could make to the Common Craft website, for example. I could easily imagine the new feature in my mind; how it would look and work. When it came time to discuss the idea with Sachi, I often became frustrated because I couldn’t seem to relate the idea clearly enough for her to understand it. Once I learned about aphantasia, I realized that she needs to see the feature on paper in order to see what I see. I was living in the abstract world of imagination and she needed something concrete.
I also started to see how aphantasia likely played a role in our past experiences together. I love traveling with Sachi, but we are very different travelers. The best way I can describe it is that I am a romantic traveler and she is a logical one. We both want to soak in experiences, but I come away with lasting memories that are filled with color and fragrance. These memories lead to nostalgia and daydreams that stick with travelers like me. I can place myself nearly anywhere I’ve been and imagine the experience.
Sachi, on the other hand, remembers being in Tuscany, knows she enjoyed it and can place herself at a specific location, but can’t reminisce. She can’t conjure the experience in her mind. There are no visions of olive trees blowing in the wind, even though she saw them in person and tasted the olives.
I didn’t understand why Sachi never seemed to have the same experience as me. We’d see the world’s most impressive architecture, like the Taj Mahal, and she’d come away shrugging her shoulders. She seemed incredibly difficult to impress and I was at a loss as to why. Now, I understand that these travel experiences don’t become embedded in her mind. They’re fleeting, and as such, have limited future appeal. What Sachi wants most is to sit and watch people in an Italian cafe, probably because it’s life happening in real-time. For her, this has far more appeal than being asked to imagine ancient Romans in the ruins of The Forum.
Think for a moment about how you read books. The words on the page help me imagine characters and events as the story is told. When Sachi reads a book, there are no representations of the characters in her mind. All she has is the words on the page and that’s probably why I’ve never seen her read fiction. Aphants are often attracted to technical and scientific fields (Sachi has a degree in microbiology) and my guess is it’s because they are more concrete than other fields. She loves a good spreadsheet.
Sachi’s phone currently has a photo of our dog, Bosco, on the lock screen. Bosco died in 2016 and I always thought it was odd that Sachi wanted to keep his image on her phone for so long. But then I learned that aphants are not easily able to conjure the faces of loved ones in their minds. She can’t imagine the faces of me or her parents. She recognizes photos as easily as anyone else, but can’t create them in her mind. If she witnessed a crime and was asked to help with a sketch of the suspect, she would not be helpful. I started to see that photo of Bosco as a workaround. She wants to remember his face, but can’t without an image that’s constantly in front of her.
I could go on. The aphantasia onion is one with many, many layers. I have described a few examples in the context of something that is missing, but the reality is that aphantasia is also additive. Sachi has many strengths and some, I believe, relate to aphantasia.
Craig Venter says that his experience with aphantasia meant that he could focus on the big picture because he wasn’t distracted by memorization:
I have found as a scientific leader that aphantasia helps greatly to assimilate complex information into new ideas and approaches. By understanding concepts vs fact memorization I could lead complex, multidisciplinary teams without needing to know their level of detail.
For Sachi, this seems to manifest in an intense focus on planning and details. I’ve never met anyone who is more detail-oriented and aware of her surroundings. On the water, while I’m gazing at the grand scenery, she’s aware of it, but also notices the waves are getting higher and the tide is ebbing. She starts to check our depth and ensure that all our belongings are secured. She’s also an incredible planner who approaches events with everything in its place. For that reason, our events run flawlessly. I, on the other hand, long for a bit of chaos.
Sachi describes her experience as constantly looking for the signal in the noise. From her perspective, the world is filled with distractions that aren’t productive for her. Perhaps that’s what Venter experienced, too. She doesn’t care about hearing a musician describe their inspiration in an interview, she just wants to hear the music. There are parts of pop culture that don’t stick to her and she’s learned to discard them. Why should she care about the noise? A scientific discovery or a looming financial crisis, on the other hand, is a pure signal in her mind.
I think this is one of the reasons we make a good team. Like any couple, we are different people, but aphantasia seems to take it to a new level. I’m romance and noise, she’s logic and signal. Together, we can cover a lot of territory.
What fascinates me the most about aphantasia is that people can go their entire lives not knowing that their brain works differently from other people. It makes me think about all the other differences in the human experience we don’t yet understand. Do we all have blindnesses and sensitivities that seem normal to us, but aren’t? I have to wonder:
Do I perceive the world in a way that is rare, unique, or undiscovered?
Is there a part of me that is a strength or weakness I don’t understand?
I’m sure all of these things are true to some degree, even if they don’t yet have a name.
If you’d like to learn more about aphantasia, the links below are helpful:
Carl Zimmer wrote about it in the NYT here and here.
I’ve always helped in the kitchen, but over the pandemic, I have become Sachi’s sous chef. Along with chopping and preparing, I’m learning about flavor and sauces. She’s my teacher and I try to follow instructions. Sometimes the most mundane things, like chopping onions, have a secret technique that makes it easier.
A few days ago, we came home with a four pound hunk of ham from Costco. It was one big piece of meat, similar in size to a spiral cut holiday ham. Then, yesterday, the power went out as a result of a wind storm and the ham, being fully cooked, started to look like dinner. Preparing for the power outage, Sachi had boiled some somen noodles, which are often served cold with a sesame soy sauce. With the ham and somen, we could have a classic Hawaii dish for dinner.
It got dark, we lit candles and I concocted brandy drinks with a syrup I made from leftover peach juice and Serrano peppers. We had a couple of drinks to celebrate the novelty of being powerless. Then, just as we got comfortable in the candlelight, the power returned. With a sigh, we moved into the kitchen, five paces away, to make dinner under the lights.
The ham, sitting as a heap of protein on the counter, was a puzzle to be solved. We needed a portion for dinner, maybe 10% of it. The rest needed to be cut into pieces and stored in the fridge. This is where the discussion began.
I asked Sachi, “So, how would you approach this?”
Being the sous chef, I wanted to know what she would do in terms of cutting up the ham. Left on my own, I could certainly do it, but I thought it was a teachable moment.
At first, she just kind of shrugged, “Whatever you think.” So, I looked at the ham, then at our storage containers. She said, “That one.” pointing to a larger Tupperware. I didn’t think it was large enough, so I brought out two large containers and looked at Sachi as if to say, “These?”
She didn’t respond directly, but she didn’t have to. Her silence in these situations tells a story. She had thoughts, but she was holding them close and letting me squirm, just a bit. I felt it. She clearly wasn’t sure about needing two containers.
This tiny decision about the containers and the ham was the perfect setup for an animated discussion. If you were to watch from afar, you might have thought we were arguing. While these discussions might include a bit of passion, they remain civil and kind-hearted. Behind the words is a genuine competition to verbally outmaneuver the other side.
Sachi relishes an intellectual battle. She will pick a logical side and stand her ground, just as she did with her brother, Mark, when they were growing up. When the opportunity arises, she expects me to challenge her in the same way. I didn’t grow up with that kind of competition and it took me years to figure out how to fight for an idea with a smile on my face. This was my chance. If you can’t smile about ham, what can you smile about?
We both looked at the ham on the counter and I asked, again, what she would do. She said, flippantly to my ears, “It’s a puzzle. I think it can fit in the first container.” In our relationship, this is loaded language. I’m famously bad with abstract puzzles and Sachi is famously good. Rather than teaching me how she would approach the ham, I heard in my head, “Dance for me monkey boy – let’s see you solve this puzzle.” Maybe alcohol influenced my perceptions just a bit.
In my mind, time efficiency mattered. Looking at the ham compared to the first container, there was no way it could fit; a physical impossibility. I declared, “There is NO WAY that will fit!” Left on my own, I would not waste time trying to solve the puzzle when we could just use two containers from the beginning. I could have it done in ten seconds. We both could have left it alone and disengaged, but what’s the fun in that?
Instead, I pleaded my case. Why go to all the trouble of trying to make it fit? It seemed like an inefficient use of time. All the while, Sachi implored me to try. She also argued, correctly, that two containers was an inefficient use of limited space in the fridge.
Instead of settling with, “Fine, just use two containers.”, she kept saying, “Try it, see if it will work.” I scoffed. There was no way that big ass ham was fitting in the Tupperware. No way. At this point it wasn’t about storing ham as much as the sides we’d picked.
We both have times, during these discussions, when we’ve exhausted our talking points and it becomes repetitive. Sometimes this provokes a subtle shift where other subjects get wrapped into the main debate. In our discussion about the ham, Sachi brought up a point about cleaning up coffee grounds that felt like one of these extensions. At first, I took it as a grievance about me not cleaning thoroughly and said, “Let’s not go there, this is about the ham.”
She understood my redirection and seemed to agree. Looking back, this was a strategy I’d never tried before. We were in a debate about ham and as long as it stayed about ham, we could argue and parry without hurt feelings.
Sachi stuck up for her coffee example by saying it supported her case about the ham. Whether it’s ham or coffee, I often take the easy route versus the most thorough or deliberate route. Point taken. These debates often relate back to the fundamental differences between us. That’s why it was important to me to keep the focus on the ham and not our personalities. A fine line indeed.
We could both feel the discussion coming to an end without a clear winner. The only thing left to do was to solve the puzzle. I grabbed a knife and started cutting up the ham as Sachi prepped other dishes.
As I cut fist-sized portions and placed them in the Tupperware, the outside of the ham seemed to fill the rounded corners of the container. Four portions covered the bottom with a better fit than I wanted to admit. I kept cutting, all the while looking at what remained and glancing at Sachi. “There’s no way this is going fit”, I thought to myself. Layer by layer, the ham filled the container. Sachi heard me mutter, “No fucking way” as the final pieces of the puzzle filled the Tupperware to the brim with ham. It was going to be close.
I was prepared to eat crow, but held out hope. The container still needed the lid to fit properly! Only by successfully affixing the lid could we be sure that the ham fit. That was a rule I made up on the spot. I tried once with no luck. Then, I shuffled the top few puzzle pieces and tried again. Sachi smiled, or maybe it was a smirk, I’m not sure.
The successful click of the lid snapping into place was met with more profanity from me and laughter that forced Sachi into a chair to recover. I hadn’t seen her laugh that hard in months.
In some ways this was the perfect ending. She won, but it didn’t feel like I lost. My approach was emblematic of my personality, but the debate was about the logistics of storing ham. In the end, the winner was clear and I could laugh about losing because it wasn’t really about me. It was about the ham.
I have a memory that seems inconsequential, but meant a lot to me at the time. We had just finished the Hunter House renovation and had friends over as a small house warming. After a quick tour, a handful of people were sitting on the couch in the living area. Our friend, Kate, who had visited the house before the renovation, looked around the room and said, “Like, how does this happen? How do you even start this kind of project?”
Having just lived through it, we didn’t have a ready answer.
Thinking about that question today, I think the answer is something like, “Outside of the resources, it happens by having a big idea of what you want and then making thousands of decisions to make it happen.”
From light switch locations to decking materials or the dimensions of a room, nearly everything needed consideration and eventually, a final decision. With the help of an architect and builder, we decided our way through.
It’s these decisions, big and small, that can represent a threat to a house-sized project and the people working to make it happen. If homeowners can make decisions efficiently and without drama, it makes everything easier. The project can stay on track because decisions are what often what breaks through roadblocks. Of course, the opposite is also true. If a couple can’t compromise and make decisions without anger and resentment, the project becomes more difficult. Roadblocks build up and eventually blow out the budget and schedule.
The one thing that gives us confidence in the context of a big, hairy project is our ability to make decisions without drama. We first noticed this when we traveled together in 2006. Travel has a way of amplifying relationships, in directions both good and bad. A day of travel requires decisions about what to do, where to go, what to eat, when to rest, and more. If you’re in a foreign country, it might include stress from not knowing the language, oppressive heat, questionable food and jet lag.
Before we ever made decisions about home design, we learned, via travel, to make decisions without hurt feelings. One of those methods was through understanding who cared more about a specific direction and giving them ownership of the decision. For example, if I was excited to do a hike and Sachi was indifferent, it was up to me to organize and make it happen. She would gladly go along and vice versa.
What makes this method work is a rule we established that keeps things on track. Under no circumstance is the indifferent person to express regret about the decision at hand. If a relationship risks explosion, agreeing on one course and then saying, “I KNEW we should have done the other thing!” is the spark that can set it off. Everyone must go with the flow and keep an open mind.
We also became more aware of situations that provoked one another while traveling. Sachi identified a combination of factors that can turn me into a petulant child that is something like this: hunger, heat, back pain. Knowing this, she worked to anticipate and mitigate those situations. I learned that we have different travel styles and that my need to “do it all” was not shared by Sachi and was making her feel weary and exhausted. So, I got used to slowing down.
Back at home, our decision making process was different because there was so much more consistency. Today, we spend nearly every waking moment with one another doing the same things. We work together, make dinner together, walk the dogs together. This everyday proximity, over a decade, has shown me that we now share a decision making brain.
In moving to Orcas and considering a new house on the property, all these factors come to bear in the myriad decisions required to make it happen. We share a brain, but also methods for getting through the inevitable disagreements. For example, Sachi cares more about kitchen appliances, so I follow her lead. I care more about lighting, so I own that part of the project. A shared brain that is working on different facets of the project means disagreements are relatively rare. We’re both working toward the same outcome.
Of course, it took time to establish the vision of that outcome. At the very beginning, I spent time researching houses on the Houzz website. I searched for modern houses that were designed around a view. I looked up single story construction and houses that were in our region. I learned about energy efficiency, green buildings and trends in architecture. When I found something inspirational, I’d share it with Sachi and explain what I liked about it. Sometimes she’d wave it off, but often, she’d say, “Me too, I love that!” When that happened, I’d save the image. Browse the images we collected.
It was these initial discussions that laid the intellectual foundation for the house on Orcas. We came to early agreement regarding the big picture. The house would be modern, with a lot of glass that focused on the view. It would be single story and have a flat or slightly sloped roof. It would be efficient and use long lasting materials. It would sleep up to six people comfortably.
That was our starting point. We wrote a creative brief for John that outlined, in big swaths, what we envisioned. Using that document, he could start to think about the design and propose ideas. He could help us weed out early ideas that were too expensive or didn’t make sense.
And we needed the help. When a house design is young, the sheer number of options is nearly overwhelming. Something like a simple garage requires a deep dive into how we’d likely use it. Should it be heated? What about running water? Skylights? We had never owned a garage, so we could only guess. I knew I wanted a workbench, but that was about it.
That’s the thing about decisions early in a house project. They come with risks. Until the results of those decisions exist in three dimensions, you’re never sure how it will feel to actually stand in a room or look out a window. All you can do is trust the professionals, listen to one another, and make decisions with the best information you can find.
In the end, if it works as planned, people may one day sit on the couch, look around and wonder how it all came together. And our answer may still be the same. It’s having an idea of what you want and making thousands of decisions that you hope will fit together in the future.
Sachi and I spent months packing, piling, cleaning, and eventually moving from Seattle to Orcas Island over multiple trips in our car. To most people, this probably sounds completely unappealing and that’s a very reasonable reaction. No one likes to move, do they?
In observing her over the past six months, I have come to the conclusion that moving is actually right down the middle of what gives Sachi an abundance of satisfaction. She was born to move.
Let me explain. Sachi, in every situation, has thought ahead and has a plan that’s been tested in her mind for longer than she wants anyone to know. When she sits on the couch next to me, I can see her mind spinning through scenarios before coming out of nowhere with a remark like “we need to put air in the tires”. I’ve learned over time that these conclusions, while often lacking context, have backstories and lots of reasoning.
In this case, she had been planning a trip to Orcas that included the use of a cargo carrier that attaches to the back of our car. This carrier sits pretty low and when we exit the ferry, it can potentially drag on the ferry deck. This is especially true at low tide. She had reviewed the tide charts and thought we might be able to avoid damaging the carrier if we boarded a ferry in the late afternoon when the tide was higher, and put air in the tires for extra lift. In this case, I hesitated because I didn’t think it would matter, but in the end, I agreed and we put it on our to-do list. Sometimes, she just needs to get an idea out of her mind and then decide later if it’s worth doing.
In discussing it with her, I’ve learned there are two ideas that drive her incessant planning. The first is optimization. She looks at nearly everything from the perspective of there being a “right” way. This is not a moral judgement, but one that is focused on efficiency and effectiveness. If she has a chance to think about it for long enough or do a bit of research, the right way will present itself. On countless occasions, I’ve made suggestions about how to improve a process only to find out that she had considered it and dismissed it, like, four ideas ago.
The second driver is regret avoidance. I’ve rarely seen Sachi more disappointed than when she misses an opportunity to optimize and feels the sting of regret. In this case, regret is a signal that the desired result was possible, but went unnoticed or unoptimized. This realization, that the present could have been better with a bit more consideration, really does sting. To her, it feels like a personal failure.
Now, Sachi and I are very different and I admit that she’s helped me become a better, more observant planner. But man, I sometimes long for a bit of chaos. When everything has a bulletproof plan, there’s not a lot of room for surprise or serendipity. I miss the days of living closer to real time, when events force you to make decisions on-the-fly. There is magic in letting the chips fall where they may.
A good example is our dogs who are managed like any other project. Generally, I want them to be free and get used to being off-leash now that we’re out of the city. Sachi wants to keep them safely on-leash, and there are valid reasons why this is the case.
On a recent occasion, we parked the car outside the Yurt where I said, “Screw it”, and let the dogs out of the car without leashes. The moment Piper hit the ground, she saw a deer and chased it across our neighbor’s property and disappeared down a steep embankment toward cliffs by the water. I ran after her, yelling useless commands at the top of my voice. Piper eventually trotted back unhurt and followed me back onto our property, where we encountered Sachi by the car with a smug smile on her face. Magical, right?
This begs the question: would I trade one for the other? Do I really want chaos or cost instead of complete optimization? Not in a million years. Sachi’s approach to planning smooths rough seas on a day-to-day basis. For every instance of optimization that I notice, there are three that happened behind the scenes. These are things like placing a new roll of toilet paper on the back of the toilet when the roll is about to run out or keeping our bottles full of water in the car.
Once it became clear that we were probably moving, planning went into overdrive and honestly, she was happier than I’d seen her in a long time. There were a million things that could be planned and optimized and organized and strategized. You’ve never seen an adult so happy about bubble wrap and cardboard that’s designed for packing plates.
Now that I think about it, there is another driver of her planning and optimization that’s related to our move: frugality. Her default option in most situations is DIY. She will gladly spend extra time to do something herself if it means saving a few dollars. And it’s not really the dollars that matter, but the principle.
When we first got together, we had a huge bowl of coins and my first instinct was to take it to a Coinstar machine in a grocery store and pay a small fee to get it counted. Sachi wouldn’t have it. She went to the bank and returned with little coin sleeves and rolled up dozens of sleeves of coins with no fees involved. This is still what we do and once again, I’ve come around to her way of thinking.
In preparing for this move, we had to figure out what to do with over a decade of financial documents that filled multiple filing cabinets. Sachi looked up IRS recommendations and found that we only needed a fraction of them. We could get rid of the rest, but how? They contained sensitive information.
My first inclination was to take it to a shredding service who would destroy them in minutes for a fee. That didn’t make it past Sachi. Instead, she put our little office shredder to work over multiple days and thousands of documents. It would run until it overheated and stopped. After it cooled down, she’d be back at it. We recycled over a dozen trash bags of shredded documents for free. Sachi was incredibly satisfied and I shrugged. Her satisfaction was more than enough for me.
This kind of planning also applies to food. Any time we are about to leave home for a few days, Sachi’s planning manifests in what we call “eating down the house”. This means planning meals days ahead so we leave without buying anything new or wasting any perishables. The perfect scenario for Sachi is leaving with just enough food to pack up and eat on the road. In moving out of an entire kitchen, the mother of all eating down the house projects commenced, sometimes producing strange but still delectable combinations served with a side of optimization and without the sting of regret.
On the last night at the Hunter House, the entire kitchen had been emptied, except our trusty coffee maker, which was about to make its final journey from Seattle to Orcas Island. Before heading to bed, I always grind the coffee and fill the coffee maker with water so it’s ready in the morning. With the grinding done on the final night, I panicked for a second. What about the filters? Had we packed them deep in some unknown pile of boxes? I opened the cabinet where they usually resided and sure enough, it was completely bare, with the exception of a single coffee filter, obviously placed there by Sachi, with a plan in mind.
I write books and run a company called Common Craft. I recently moved from Seattle to a rural island. Here, I write about online business, book publishing, modern home construction, and occasionally, dumb jokes.