How to solve a big problem by focusing on something smaller

Having traveled a lot in the United States I have seen a lot of public restrooms, usually in airports and conference hotels. They are, as one would think, more functional than glamorous, though some can be very nicely appointed.

Still, I rarely took notice of how fancy they were (except the ladies restroom at the Julian Serrano restaurant in the Aria in Las Vegas – wow! Floor to ceiling glass tiles in a rainbow of colors – an amazing restroom).

“Wait? Why is she talking about restrooms? Is this a potty story?” Not a potty story – just stay with me!

What I would notice is if they were clean or clean-ish. I love automatic faucets and soap dispensers (great way to save water and get soap easily) and hate automatic toilets (I will let you know when I am finished, thank you, you annoying device).

Some stalls were generous in size so that my roller-bag and I could maneuver easily, in others I was practically stepping over my bag to get the door closed.

I have never really given much thought to paper towels in public restrooms (except when they are out, then I miss them a great deal).

I would use them to dry my hands and clean off the sink area where I may have splashed, then into the garbage on my way out. Done and done.

That is until I watched a four-minuted TED Talk by Joe Smith called “How to Use a Paper Towel.” Mr. Smith explained that if folks reduce the number of paper towels used to dry their hands, an enormous amount of paper could be saved, which of course reduces waste and combats overflowing landfill problems.

He demonstrated how it could be done – shake and fold. Shake your hands 12 times (12 because it is an easy number to remember, or as Mr. Smith said “it is the only double-digit number that is one syllable”) and then fold one sheet of paper towel on half and dry your hands with it.

He had the audience chanting with him “shake and fold!”

I will admit, as he was shaking his hands vigorously, I could not help but wonder how much water would get all over the sink area. He likely does not carry a purse that might be set down on a counter.

I liked his premise – instead of focusing on the massive problem of overflowing landfills or waste on an enormous scale, he instead devised a simple solution on a smaller scale, using focused conscious thoughtfulness with a result that has a community, if not worldwide, benefit.

Think about what you really need to do not what you have always done. Think about being efficient. Think about the positive end result. Easily applied to being a parent, yes?

The fact is, I engage in analysis of how I can make things better for the Navigator all the time. I am sure there are things that I take for granted, things that I do by rote that can be simplified and made better.

Nonetheless it can seem overwhelming to be fully conscious of the impact of everything I do with and for the Navigator with an eye towards doing it better. I am not able to be that continually “present,” and looking at things globally on an ongoing basis can be disheartening (it is so big) and simply exhausting (there is so much).

Like Mr. Smith has done, it is a matter of looking at things in terms of “baby steps,” re-thinking one thing, or a portion of that thing, instead of evaluating every action all day long.

Is there something that is truly vexing – such as the Navigator’s anxiety towards transitions – on which I can narrow my focus? Focus on a small thing that can help the larger thing?

Knowing that resistance to transitions is a key element of his autism, can I instead think of a simple solution to reducing the anxiety, maybe finding a way for him to channel it differently?

Then I am not trying to deal with the enormous transition issue, I am narrowing the focus to minimizing the anxiety in response.

Bringing the giant issues of overflowing landfills and waste down to reducing paper towel use is a small action which still helps solve a big problem.

Shake and fold.