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The five-minute hundred-hour latch
A tough lesson on procrastination
Since becoming an "urban farmer," objects have a different value than before. When I lived in a small apartment in a highrise in Downtown Denver, space was at such a premium that I would buy pieces of furniture with hidden storage in an unsuccessful attempt to hide my Costco addiction. Today, little things get squirreled away in every corner of our almost four acres.
Those castoffs I once would have thrown away mindlessly get collected in anticipation of future use. There are jokes about farms held together with baling twine - but the truth is that it's pretty handy stuff. There's almost no cabinet, shelf, or drawer where there isn't some leftover clamp, wire, screw, or bolt that I saved thinking, "I'm going to need this someday." I probably did need it, and then I likely couldn't find it.
Baling twine is everywhere around here, though. It's essentially the confetti of farming. Look around in any direction, and the colorful strings are sure to appear, tied to fences for future use, used as children's lassos during imagination time, and to repair any number of things "temporarily."
I designed our chicken coop. It's a large structure with a peaked roof running down the middle. Half of it is fully enclosed, and the other half is a covered run area to allow access to the outdoors while keeping them safe from predators. When we built the coop, our next-door neighbor was getting rid of a French-style closet door. She offered it to us, and my penchant for reuse kicked in - I decided it would be the Pinterest-perfect door to the run.
Of course, I put optics over function for the door, not really thinking through the fact I would need to use it multiple times a day in all kinds of weather. A door would also need to latch to keep the chicken in and the goats out and protect the chickens and chicks from predators.
But who cared? French interior doors are cuter than functional barn doors, and both would work, right?
The "upcycled" door was (and is) cute and just functional enough to keep there, but it's far from the most practical choice. After the first rain, the door stopped latching effectively - not surprising.
When I needed the door to latch at the time, I'm sure I was probably carrying a 50-pound bag of chicken food while balancing eggs in my pockets and trying to keep the goats out of the coop. To rig the door closed, I grabbed some baling twine and tied it around the doorknob on one end and to the wire on the other.
"This is a temporary hold until I can actually fix it," I'm sure I thought at the time. That was over two years ago.
Since then, I have tied and untied that baling twine three or four times a day to secure that door. At one point, the twine snapped, and I replaced it with another piece. The most recent piece of twine had a knot in an inconvenient place that increased the time it took to untie it. I had to worry the knot from both sides to slip it through. Each instance took three or four minutes.
Each time I had to open or resecure the door, I thought, "Next week, I will add a proper latch; this is ridiculous."
And then I just . . . didn't.
I thought about it multiple times a day and just never did it. The twine was not ideal, but it worked *just enough* that adding a new latch never made it to the top of the to-do list.
Finally, last weekend, I trekked with my son out to the hardware store and remembered as we were leaving to grab a $1.27 hook-and-eye latch. When I got it home, I marched out to the coop and drilled the pilot holes in the door and jamb, and secured the new latch into place. Total time the project took? Five minutes.
The new latch I had thought about several times a day for YEARS works perfectly. It shaves about three-and-a-half minutes on each visit to the coop.
I started to beat myself up about why it took me so long to do such a simple chore. I knew what it needed. I had the tools and ability to do it. I just didn’t do the thing. I was settling for just good enough.
Then I made the mistake of quantifying my passive approach to the jerry-rigged door. At three or four minutes a visit times about four visits to the chicken coop a day, I spent 12-ish minutes each day tying or untying that twine. In short increments and spread out, it didn't seem like much. Trips to the coop to check the water, gather eggs (which I do twice a day), and feed are only a few minutes per trip.
But it adds up. Twelve minutes a day for two years means I spend 146 HOURS tying and untying TWINE ON A DOOR. It's almost embarrassing to type out loud. I spent almost an entire week of my life messing around with a sub-optimal knotting system I knew I could fix cheaply, easily, and quickly.
I spent a week I could have been with my kids messing with twine. Or, I could have been away from my kids for a week, sitting on a beach somewhere.
It made me think about the systems I have in place in my life. Some (many) work. Some don't. Others could be streamlined or reconsidered.
If someone had told me two years ago, when I was first tying that twine to the doorknob, that I could have a week's vacation if I would just drop everything and fix that door right then, it would have been no question. But I paid it in my time (and frustration), a few minutes at a time over the years.
Benjamin Franklin is often given credit for the quote, "If you watch the pennies, the dollars take care of themselves." It's unclear if he said it. But the principle holds with something even more precious than money - time.
I lost those minutes. But rather than beat myself up further about the "lost time," I'm going to smile about the fact I fixed it and learned a hard lesson. I won't have wasted another week on that dang knot in two years.
So, if anyone wants to book a week on a beach a few years from now, let's go - I’ll have earned it.