The Awesome Power of Tiny Triumphs

It all started with a dirty medicine cabinet.

One night as I was absentmindedly brushing my teeth, I suddenly realized the shelves inside our medicine cabinet were kind of… disgusting. Abhorrent, really.

I’m far from a model homemaker and have never pretended to be (ain’t no freelancer who brings in her family’s sole income got time for that). But my bathroom is usually comparatively clean. The bathroom and the kitchen counters are the two things I refuse to let guests (or myself) see in a state of ick. It’s a matter of general decency. Yet somehow I’d overlooked this spot for so long that a layer of unidentifiable dinge had accumulated so badly it was almost fascinating.

I was seized with an overwhelming urge to clean it, immediately. So I did.

I took everything out and scrubbed every last inch of that medicine cabinet sparkly clean, toothbrush still hanging from my mouth like an old-timey comedian’s dangling cigar. Then I put everything back in and spent several minutes proudly admiring how showroom-worthy my medicine cabinet shelves now looked. Compared to how they’d been only moments earlier, they were gorgeous, and I was disproportionately proud of them. When you go months without vacuuming an entire floor of your house (shameface emoji), things like this are worth feeling disproportionately proud over, because they are triumphs.

I had executed a minor triumph. And, to my surprise, it wound up making a bigger difference than I could have expected.


Why This Didn’t Matter at All, And Why It Mattered a Whole Lot

No one but me and my husband (who couldn’t care less) would ever see the inside of our medicine cabinet, unless our friends have a habit of snooping when they come over, in which case they’ve seen much worse things than dingy medicine cabinet shelves. (Like the fact that my naturally brown hair color now comes from a box, because for some reason I’ve started to go gray at the ripe old age of 32. I blame shit like this.)

There are also plenty of other things in my house that needed cleaning way more than those shelves (like said un-vacuumed floor). But I was in the moment and I nonetheless got a job done that needed getting done. And it made me feel good. Very good.

If anything, it felt almost more impressive because no one was likely to ever see it. Like shaving your legs even in the dead of winter when you plan on wearing pants that day and not encountering a member of the opposite sex in the evening, it was something so unnecessary and superfluous it almost felt like a virtue.

I found myself wanting to tell anyone who came to our home to check out our medicine cabinet.

Yes, that was a tumbleweed of fur you just saw chasing another tumbleweed of fur across the living room floor, but you should see the state of our medicine cabinet!

Pay no mind to the towering mountain of dishes or the fact that my office still has no door handle; may I offer you something from our spectacularly clean medicine cabinet?

It seemed like such a silly thing to be so proud about. But those sparkling shelves holding our Q-Tips and BandAid boxes symbolized something pretty awesome in my mind. They were something that had been wrong, and had been wrong for some time, and for once I had taken decisive action and made things right. It felt spectacular. It made up, just a tiny little bit, for all the rest of my neglect-by-default approach to homekeeping.

With that triumph under my belt, I found myself glancing around at other things that might need work when I was brushing my teeth each night. The lampshades above the bathroom mirror had collected some dust, so I wiped those down. The top of the windowsill (which I never see because I’m wee) was dusty, so I wiped that down. Eventually I started keeping an eye out for other things around the house, pausing to pick up a fur tumbleweed whenever I came across one or finally putting those new books in the right place on my bookshelf after they’d sat in a pile for months.

I’m still light years away from anything that could be featured in HGTV Magazine, but I feel a tiny bit better about the overall state of my house with each silly little thing I make right. Each one makes me feel more like I’m slowly getting in control of things. Each one is its own tiny testament to the fact that I can make positive changes; I just rarely have the time to do so en masse, so these incremental improvements will have to suffice for now.

That one dumb little dingy medicine cabinet, and my decision to clean it that night, led to a minor revolution in the way I view my house and my role in taking care of it. It didn’t mean much of anything in the grand scheme of things, but it also meant more than I ever could have imagined.


Not Every Win Will Get You Applause

That’s the thing with forward progress. It’s made up of lots of small steps, and we have to take an awful lot of them on our own, in the dark and away from the fanfare, before we can get to those big moments that really do merit recognition and applause.

Before we run that marathon, we spend long, cold hours in the wee morning light just pushing ourselves a little bit farther than we did the day before, all alone and sore and exhausted. It may not feel like a win at the time, but it is. And each win, added one on top of the other and totalled up over time, will result in something pretty amazing.

Before we can celebrate our one-year anniversary of being smoke-free, we have to resist this craving, and the next, and the next after that. Being one hour smoke-free doesn’t feel like much of a win, but it is, and so is one day smoke-free, and one week smoke-free, and etc.

It’s so easy to dismiss the importance of the small actions we take each day in pursuit of our goals. But each one is a triumph. Each one deserves celebration. (Tweet!)

So, I’d like to ask you…

What tiny triumphs have you achieved lately? Share them with us in the comments and let’s celebrate the heck out of each other.

Image:  TheDeliciousLife / Flickr


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  • Amen. Given my current situation, it’s those small victories that are the only things that keep me going. Whether it’s just cleaning the floors or sending out another application, I have to take stock at the end of the day of at least one things I did accomplish. They’re usually not a big deal at all and something I wouldn’t have even acknowledged before, but now? The little things are totally big. Yay for cleaning 🙂

  • r-evove

    Thanks for the small and important reminder Cordelia! It is the small things that contribute to the whole. I totally relate and often find myself abandoning a big job and nailing a few small ones. The satisfaction of completing three little tasks keeps me in the game to get to that big one.
    Great thoughts – thank you!

    • Exactly. It’s all about forward progress and positive momentum.

  • Have you ever heard of Flylady? She’s all about small wins like this. And it really works! I have to be careful not to do all kinds of (meaningless, insignificant) small things in lieu of the big stuff that actually matters. When I’m stressed, I tend to micro-focus on something non-critical and shove off major responsibilities. Not exactly productive. But fitting in the small wins with the important stuff… YES.

    • I have not heard of her, but I will definitely check her out. You make a good point; sometimes it’s tempting to focus only on the small wins and say “look how much stuff I got done today!” It’s more about making incremental progress on the big stuff than doing a whole crap ton of little unimportant stuff and calling it productivity. (Something I struggle with myself plenty.)

  • Marilyn

    I cleaned the area BEHIND the sink this morning, the part no one notices because it’s hidden behind bottles and sponges and brushes and bottles of cleanser. I feel downright triumphant.

    • You should! That’s an Olympic-level triumph. (Now I’m off to check the state of MY behind-the-sink area…)

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