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4 Absurdly Easy Things I Do That Make Life Disproportionately Better

coffee on the counter

Lots of the things we spend our energy on are worthwhile, but some are a better deal than others.

The benefits of my weight routine, for example, are worth much more than the effort it takes, but that effort is still pretty significant. You have to lift a two-hundred pound barbell quite a few times for anything good to happen.

There are a few things I do (and sometimes still fail to do) that take almost no effort, and somehow make my life significantly better. As far as I can tell, these four small things are the best deal going.

1. Shining the sink before bed

I don’t know where or when, but I remember reading about someone who swore that her habit of shining her sink before bed was the linchpin of her productivity and well-being. I have tried it and can corroborate her ridiculous claim. [Readers have since pointed out this is from the FlyLady].

Making your morning coffee beside a shiny sink is an empowering, self-affirming experience. Making coffee beside a dull sink, containing even a single dirty fork sitting in a puddle, is comparatively draining and dehumanizing. Add a stray, bloated noodle or two and it becomes strangely life-destroying.

In my experience, one of two different people emerge from that coffeemaking process, depending on the condition of the sink. One of them is sharp and ready for life. The other must fight his way to his desk from under some great existential weight, some grimy psychic debris that’s inseparable from the marooned soup remnants that greeted him this morning. The Sun is his enemy, not his ally, and all his work will be uphill today.

Different sinks probably need different techniques. Mine is stainless steel, and I use one of those magic white pads with a bit of Comet and water. Wipe down the rim and any chrome fixtures with spray and a dry cloth. Takes 40 seconds. Might change your life. 

2. Going outside with absolutely no plan

At some point in my adult life I developed a strange, seemingly self-defeating habit at the supermarket. I wouldn’t bother crossing the store to get the last item on my list. Part of me knew that leaving that one thing would make it necessary to walk six blocks to the corner store the next day.

This was my subconscious screaming for help. The quiet, wise part of my mind sabotaged my efficient supermarket routine in order to create an excuse to travel somewhere by foot.

I now see outdoor walking as an essential nutrient; it shouldn’t require an excuse. What we need to excuse ourselves from is the kind of perverse, post-industrial arrangement where it is even possible to spend a whole day without traveling any significant distance outside on foot.

Fresh air and bodily movement are always healthy, of course, but to get the full, disproportionately worthwhile benefits of neighborhood walking, it is essential that you don’t know where you’re going. If you have a destination, or even a regular walking route, then you risk making the walking itself into a task: something to be done with, rather than something to do.

When I step out of the building, I don’t know if I’m going to turn left or right until I’m doing it. I’ve gone on hundreds of these destinationless walks, and a regular route has not emerged. It turns out my body knows how to create a closed polygon without my mind having to think about it.

There’s something life-affirming about any enterprise in which you rely on moment-to-moment intuition instead of planning—and it’s just a walk, so you can’t muck anything up too badly. At every corner, you just turn whichever way you feel like, or maybe continue straight ahead. Let your feet decide. You will end up at home, somehow.

3. Sitting on the floor and doing nothing for a little while

Blaise Pascal famously said that all human miseries arise from our inability to do this. But I think it’s really just an unwillingness. He’s right about the arising miseries though—not knowing how to deliberately do nothing is a crippling disease that leads to bizarre, self-defeating phenomena like workaholism, cigarette smoking, rude smartphone behavior (see below) and eventually war and pestilence.

Sitting on the floor and doing nothing isn’t exactly difficult, but it feels very foreign at first. We are so attuned to being constantly doing, acting, evaluating and improving, that to fully stop in this way feels almost as radical as turning off your ignition at a red light and putting your feet up (although it’s a lot less disruptive to society).

I am sneakily suggesting some kind of meditation here, but the point is you can make your non-doing as formal or informal as you like. You can do it Zen-style, with a prescribed posture and technique, or you can just lean back and listen to the birds and the hum of the fridge for eight minutes.

I do this for twenty minutes a day, sometimes less, sometimes more. But even five minutes a day of being on the floor is more than worthwhile. Even one minute. Any amount of stopping, settling and noticing that we can offer our goal-addled minds goes a long way.

There’s no reason to make it into a self-serious mystical activity—non-doing is very practical and simple, and often it’s this assumed hyper-seriousness that drives people away from all forms of meditation. (This let’s-not-be-uptight-about-it perspective is the basis for Camp Calm, which of course I think you should look into.) You’re just sitting on the floor, noticing what it’s like to be sitting on the floor, maybe using a technique to further simplify it. After you do it for a week or two, you’ll wonder how you ever got along without any dedicated floor time.

4. Putting my phone over there

What a difference four feet makes! By “over there” I only mean any location in three-dimensional space that isn’t reachable without getting up. On top of the bookshelf. On the nightstand in the bedroom. In that little bowl where you dump your keys and change.

I suppose there are people out there who only pick up their smartphone with the idea of accomplishing some specific task, such as Googling a Jeopardy question, or even using it to phone someone. But I’m guessing most of you have noticed that pulling out your phone can become a kind of reflex, a conditioned defensive maneuver, triggered without deliberation by a boring or challenging present moment. Within seconds you’re in your familiar haven, cuddling with Reddit or Twitter, never having consciously decided to. This reflex is how I know it’s time to give up on a TV series: when I notice myself reading tweets during the quieter scenes, clearly I am wasting my time on this earth.

I’m sure the strength of the impulse varies from person to person, but I know my own phone-related reflexes have become almost robotic. When I’m surfing the web on my laptop, and a page seems to be taking more than one second, already my hand is searching for my phone to rescue me from the spectre of having to exercise patience.

Only when I look for my device and see it over there, across the room on a table, does it occur to me that it is possible not to pick up and touch this plastic rectangle every time I feel like it. I’m exaggerating only a little bit.

Photo by Andrew Imanaka


Anna March 28, 2016 at 2:18 am

It was flylady that talks about shining your sink. I do it because it means that I have just one area in my house that my brain can see as absolutely finished…. The zero point… It’s lovely to have that tiny clear space in my head and it makes me want to enlarge the space by having more completely finished areas. I got this from when I did the konmari method on my clothes. I have a lovely clear area in my house ( my wardrobe) that is completely finished in my head.

David Cain March 28, 2016 at 8:20 am

Yes, exactly. The shiny sink is the seed of cleanliness/godliness that can’t help but spread to other things.

Charlie Adams April 2, 2016 at 8:31 am

It doesn’t say anything in the Bible about cleanliness is next to Godliness.
Biblically speaking, however, outward cleanliness has no connection to godliness. Jesus made it clear that men are defiled by what is in their hearts and that godliness is not attained by what we eat or don’t eat or by how often we wash our hands (Matthew 7:18-23).

John Hoffman April 5, 2016 at 10:33 pm

Religious freaks should join the Taliban, hang out with folks like yourself.

Josh April 6, 2016 at 7:14 am

How is what you’re saying ever going to make someone turn to Christ? By correcting something so silly and innocent, you’re just turning people away. No one likes to be corrected by a stranger and 99.9% of the arguments people have over the internet don’t change anyone’s mind.

I myself am a believer and I just wanted to respectfully let you know that your comment was more of a turn off than a witness.


Anna March 28, 2016 at 2:19 am

Thanks for your article I’ll try to do the other things you talk about too. Xx

Elliott March 28, 2016 at 3:16 am

#5) put your phone on airplane mode (no data or wifi).

Zoe March 28, 2016 at 4:22 am

This… this is why I’m always so glad I never got a smartphone. I have a brick that lasts 3-4 months when I charge it, using the internet on it is not an option (I dread to think how much it would cost) and I’m never tempted to leave it out during social occasions. Sometimes I think a smartphone would be useful (whenever I’m lost) but I still can’t bring myself to buy one. I really don’t want to get addicted to it.
But I might give going outside without a goal a try, as well as the whole sink thing (but I’m going to make that the bathroom sink – a more problematic area in our home).
Thanks for your article David, it was inspiring as always.

David Cain March 28, 2016 at 8:22 am

If you don’t feel that you’re missing anything, then I wouldn’t get one. I really love mine and for the work I do it’s probably necessary, but it does come with some disturbing side effects.

I think you just convinced me to do my bathroom sink too.

Linda Slayton April 2, 2016 at 8:26 am

I have a smart phone, but do not ever use it unless I am away from home. I do not want all the interruptions that come with it. Go ahead and get one for the future, just use it as you do the one you have now. It may be a life saver in a difficult situation. Good luck.

karen April 3, 2016 at 11:11 pm

thank you Zoe for being another person in the world who doesn’t have a smartypants phone! I thought I was the only one.

Brin April 17, 2016 at 1:11 pm

End of Dec. 2016 if your cell phone is not a 3G or up to 8G? the service of the cell phone will be shut off and it will be inoperable. That message was per AT & T.

You will need to upgrade or go without a cell phone. I went to upgrade to a new flip and was told they no longer carry them. I had no choice but to buy a smart phone, and I never wanted one, but I NEED a cell phone for emergency sake. The smallest smart phone cost a fortune and so did the monthly plan. My old flip phone was used, I paid $10 for it, had used it for 5 yrs. and my monthly bill was $40. This forced $$$$$$$$ upgrade is so wrong.

David March 28, 2016 at 6:44 am

After reading this, I reached for my phone as soon as the progress bar came up during a software update. What a worrying reflex. I think from now on my phone will be relegated to the other end of the room…

David Cain March 28, 2016 at 8:23 am

Haha… isn’t it ridiculous? I think you will be amazed at what happens when the phone is just out of reach.

BrownVagabonder March 28, 2016 at 7:57 am

I think going along with the idea of leaving a clean sink comes making your bed every morning – no matter how late you are running. I have learned that to be a psychological trick as well, so when you come back home after a long day, you have a nicely made bed, and also, they say, starting your day off with a task that you’ve completed and checked off, starts you off on the path to completing other tasks. Thanks for this post.

David Cain March 28, 2016 at 8:24 am

Yes, same kind of thing. It’s alarming what an unmade bed does to the self-esteem when you see it late in the day.

Bethanie March 28, 2016 at 9:44 am

My shiny sink (when coming home from work) was to hang up my coat or jacket immediately in the closet, rather than toss it over a chair. It took me weeks to train myself, but oh, the behaviors it led to! Putting clothes and shoes away immediately, for example. Making my bed as soon as I wake up. Once you develop certain habits, the house stays tidy by itself, practically.

David Cain March 29, 2016 at 8:56 am

This is one of those things that I know is true but still defy myself a lot of the time. A jacket over a chair is almost an invitation to leave anything on the table or chairs. It’s interesting how predictable it is.

Anne March 28, 2016 at 10:07 am

Lovely post, David. However, you may be taking years off your life using Comet to scrub your sink and faucet. I’m sharing my favorite sink/faucet scrub you can make at home in an old bottle (like a dish detergent bottle). This is completely nontoxic and nonpolluting — we use it on kitchens and bathrooms. It’s from Karen Logan’s book, “Clean House, Clean Planet.”

Earth Paste (otherwise known as Tub, Toilet and Tile Cleaner)
Ingredients: baking soda, liquid soap (Dr. Bronner’s almond scent is nice), white distilled vinegar, water (distilled works better)

How to make:
Mix 1-2/3 cup baking soda with 1/2 cup castille soap (NOT dish detergent! I use Dr. Bronner’s) in a bowl. Add 2 tablespoons water. Mix with a fork until smooth. Stir in 2 tablespoons vinegar last (must be mixed in last). The mixture will foam nicely. Use a spatula to scoop the scrub into a glass jar (such as a peanut butter or canning jar). Add warm water if the paste dries out over time, or break it up into a powder and sprinkle on to use.
Happy sink scrubbing!

David Cain March 29, 2016 at 8:58 am

Not long after you left this comment, my mother brought over some of this paste for me to try. I like the idea of making and using my own cleaning products (although I don’t think I believe Comet takes years off people’s lives!)

Anne March 28, 2016 at 10:13 am

By the way, I didn’t mention that I also like a clean sink in the morning and we are pretty good (99% of the time) at keeping the dishes washed. I shared my recipe above because a lot of people don’t realize how bad lots of household cleaners are for the environment, children, birds, pets, waterways, etc. I have spent some years looking into ways to clean without using nontoxic substances. The one I shared above is my favorite.

David Cain April 2, 2016 at 10:15 am

It works great! And even smells good.

Alice March 28, 2016 at 4:30 pm

The reason it’s so good to leave a clean and shining sink at night, to wake up to in the morning, is because that attention, which is love, that you give to things literally shines back at you and feeds/loves you. I noted this years ago. Maybe that’s why the old saying that cleanliness is next to godliness.

David Cain March 29, 2016 at 8:59 am

Yes, totally, it is a kind of love. The cleanliness/godliness connection is really interesting to me, and I think you’ve kind of nailed it here.

noelle March 28, 2016 at 4:31 pm

My habit is to clean up the dishes and sink first thing in the morning while my coffee is brewing. I prefer to relax after cooking and eating dinner rather than doing one more chore when my energy is low. In the morning the task seems a lot less onerous, and it’s nice to start the day by checking something off the list that’s “low-hanging fruit”. Different strokes for different folks.

David Cain March 29, 2016 at 9:01 am

Different strokes indeed! I can’t think of anything I’d rather tend to in the morning less, but I like the idea of setting up some low-hanging fruit to get the sense of accomplishment going early.

Karen April 2, 2016 at 1:32 pm

I’m with you Noelle – maybe it’s a morning person thing for me, but I’m happy to wake up and putter around cleaning up small messes first thing, making myself so proud of my ‘productivity’. I find it painful to make myself do it in the evening.

Phil March 29, 2016 at 11:48 am

#1 is clearly a self-diagnosis of OCD… ;)

David Cain April 2, 2016 at 10:10 am

Heh, cleaning up once a day is definitely not OCD. If you want to see the living hell that is real OCD, watch this documentary:


Flor March 29, 2016 at 1:50 pm

I confirm that #2 is excellent advice. It makes you discover lovely places, no matter how much time you think you’re wasting (which by the way would be wasted in another less productive activity). After all, having a horrible sense of orientation like mine could be a blessing in disguise!

David Cain April 2, 2016 at 10:10 am

I have never regretted a walk!

Joan McKniff April 2, 2016 at 6:13 pm

But please do not assume we all can walk or can walk w/o pain or can walk more than 5 minutes. Let alone sit on the floor.

Just the occasional, if you are able, would be so inclusive and not makes us feel rejected, failures, or that this information is not for us.

Age 74, out of 5 months of hospital and rehab.

Chris March 29, 2016 at 7:57 pm

As a dad of small kids, I hate that the phone thing is so hard. I’ve taken to leaving it at the front door so I’m not tempted. We also make sure to get dishes all away the night before because nothing is more stressful than waking up to a full sink!

David Cain April 2, 2016 at 10:11 am

We have reached the era where we really do have to be vigilant to keep technology from taking us over. But a little effort goes a long way.

Valerie March 29, 2016 at 8:46 pm

Small hinges turn big doors.
Getting up to clean my sink now. ;-)
Thank you.

David Cain April 2, 2016 at 10:12 am


Carina March 31, 2016 at 8:10 pm

Nobody has EVER inspired me so much to clean my sink before. :) I just discovered your blog, and I think it’s the best surprise I’ve had for a long time. Your thoughts talk to me as if they were my own subconscious trying to talk to me. Really. I couldn’t stop smiling while reading. Thank you so much for your wonderful words! :)

David Cain April 2, 2016 at 10:13 am

Credit to flylady.net. She inspired whoever inspired me to clean my sink for the self-affirming effect.

Matt Ryan April 2, 2016 at 8:35 am

I finally now understand my obsession with making sure the sink is empty and, relatively, clean each night before going to bed. It’s not OCD, and it really DOES make the coffee taste better.

Thank you David. An excellent read this morning.

David Cain April 2, 2016 at 10:14 am

Thanks Matt. Everything is interconnected… little actions have big consequences. And anything connected to my coffee is important.

QueenieBee925 April 2, 2016 at 9:35 am

Shining your sink is not OCD. It is a life saver for people who struggle with staying on top of life. I have followed FlyLady.net for years.It all may sound strange but if you do it, it is life changing. Shiny sink; bed made….foundation for everything else going smoothly. FlyLady is an early, modern minimalist even though she does not label herself as such. ” you can’t organize clutter; you can only get rid of it.”
Thanks for this post

David Cain April 2, 2016 at 10:14 am

Could’t agree more QueenieBee!

Shirley April 2, 2016 at 10:33 am

Ditch those white magic pads and comet….nothing but chemicals.
I have stainless steel as well, just sprinkle with baking soda and a spritz of vinegar and rub and rinse. Will save you some cash too. Ditch those chemicals, not good for you or our planet.

kim April 2, 2016 at 2:31 pm

Not being a functional morning person, I set my coffee maker up right after I wash the last dish (and the hubs has packed his lunch for the following day) and clean the sink in the evening. Then I go and turn down the bed and turn on the bedside lamp and turn off all other lights in that part of the house. In the meantime, the hubs has fed the dog and let her outside…. and back in again…..and set up our 9pm show on the Roku. Then we relax and enjoy the rest of our evening together. And feel like we’re in a 4 star hotel when we walk into a bedroom with a turned down bed and soft, dim lighting at the close of the day.

This is a recent development for us. Both of us were raised in neat freak households and rebelled, well into midlife, lol! But when the decluttering bug bit me, it created a snowball effect with both of us. Once there’s less stuff, it’s easier to find homes for what remains. Once stuff has a home and you’re not having to move stuff to clean…..surprise!….. it’s easier to clean and you’re more inclined to do so more often. Your home feels better, you feel better, you suddenly find you have more time….why? Because you’re not spinning your wheels constantly dealing with all the clutter! Then you find you have time to take your coffee, go outside and sit and sip for twenty minutes while you watch the breeze move the leaves on the trees around. (My version of 20 minutes on the floor)

Life is good when you wake up to a clean, shiny sink.

Judi April 3, 2016 at 7:54 am

First thing we do in the morning is get up and walk the dog. We get to check out our beautiful tiny neighbourhood and talk about what’s happening in each other’s day. When we get back we’re awake and ready to start the day. We do this every day, even the one that had 53 cm of snow!

Diane April 3, 2016 at 7:58 am

I love this….your words came to me at a moment when I need them. I love directionless walks and although I can’t sit on the floor, I do just sit sometimes and observe what is around me. As for the clean sink, I thought it was just me. I love going into the kitchen in the morning to see an empty shining sink.

Thank you!

Cam April 3, 2016 at 10:20 pm

Fox said, What are you doing Badger?

Badger was laying in the grass. Doing nothing, she said.

Then you’re just lazing around.

No. Badger stretched out and yawned. That would be doing something.

I see, Fox said slyly. Then tell me. What is this nothing you’re doing?

Not even the ten thousand owls can say.

Peggy April 4, 2016 at 11:49 am

I shined the kitchen sink today. I often go outside with a “vague plan”. I have trouble sitting on the floor now that I’m older. But I’m very accomplished at sitting in my swivel rocker and looking out the window (with no plan). My husband despairs of getting in touch with me because I’m hardly ever in the same place as my phone :)

I greatly enjoyed your post and all your other ones too!!!

Zack April 10, 2016 at 12:28 pm

Great post David! I’ve written about similar experiences in my own life with regards to allowing for boredom and idleness in our lives. I’m truly fascinated by how many of us are seemingly incapable of being separated from our devices in the slower, more idle moments of our day. Thanks for touching on this too!

TheHappyPhilosopher May 11, 2016 at 10:03 am

Very interesting, especially the sink shining ritual. I will have to try this.

A similar ritual is making the bed. Something about the act of accomplishing a task upon awakening sets the stage for accomplishing other more substantial things during the day.

Anna Thornton May 17, 2016 at 11:05 am

In a world of confusion and general disdain lately, I was absolutely ecstatic to read this post! I do all those things! I’m not the only one! What a joy and solace it is when we can find another human being on the same path as us. It’s a perk to being human I guess, as a flaw of being human can be to think that we are alone in a world full of them. Thank you, and I look forward to reading much more!

kaelow May 21, 2016 at 8:48 am

I haven’t read all of the comments, so someone may have already claimed this :)

I think you should add a 5th…it may seem somewhat self-indulging for you do to do it, so since I’m suggesting it, it won’t look shifty if you did add it.

#5 – Read a Raptitude post…any post, even (or especially) one you have read before

I am not in a regular habit of reading any blog…or reading actually…but every time I read a post here I feel inspired and refreshed…I come away with a total positive-vibe.

Perhaps you could make a random-reader button…just click it and up pops some random post. As we all know, any of them will only be good. Even the ones we’ve read before…I can’t remember them and the more we read them the more we might have a chance to ingrain the idea.

Theresa June 7, 2016 at 8:33 pm

This may have been mentioned, but a good #5 would be making the bed daily. That is like the morning version of cleaning the sink in terms of perking one up.

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