It all started with my soap


A new year is coming, and I am focusing on the small stuff.

It is popular to make big, sweeping statements in a new year about the things that will change and be accomplished. I noticed a few years back that these grand announcements rarely had much effect.

What mattered, if I wanted to live a different kind of life, was the little things I did every day. I take my walk. I write a few words. I do my pushups. I’ve gotten used to watching in amazement how a tiny action, done daily, leads me to a place that seemed impossible just a few months earlier.

What I didn’t notice until recently is that it works the same way with little rewards. Small things make my life better in surprisingly big ways.

It all started with my soap.

Every day, I wash my hands several times and every day I use whatever soap I found that was on sale. If a package of six bars cost 50 cents less, that was the one I would buy. But while I was in Mexico, I bought a good bar of soap that cost a lot more — still less than a cup of coffee — but much more than I usually paid.

“Wow! My hands smell good,” I thought.

They felt good, too. I wondered why the heck I hadn’t done this long ago. I thought of all the years I never got one moment’s enjoyment out of washing my hands, and I wondered why on Earth that was. I went back to the store. I bought six bars. I gave some as gifts at Christmas. I stockpiled some for my own use. I decided — in this new year — I was going to treat myself to a wonderful bar of soap every time I washed my hands.

Then I got a new coffee cup.

Why did I go for so many years using whatever old cup was in the cupboard instead of realizing what a nice thing it is to have a pretty cup? My new cup is lovely. It doesn’t drip when I drink from it. It is brightly painted and handmade. It gives me a little pleasure every time I use it and I use it all morning long.

I thought of some of the larger purchases I’d made over the years that had given me very little pleasure. I thought of the purses and dresses that I rarely use, always imagining some special occasion when I would need them. The special occasion either never comes or it ends up being a lot less special than I imagined. But a nice coffee cup? That cup gives me pleasure every day all day long.

Big stuff, I have decided, is overrated.

The little place we rent in Mexico with the slightly worse-for-wear Formica countertop and the mismatched furniture is perfect. It is not fancy. It is small. It reminds me that simple is easier and I don’t need big. It reminds me how little is enough.

So, in this new year, I am focusing on the small things — both the little things I do and the little things that surround me every day. I’m focusing on the things that consistently bring me joy — the fresh flowers on my desk, my colorful new coffee cup, the smell of good soap. The moments of joy add up and make my day better. The days add up to make a happier life.

Now I just have to figure out what to do with a year’s supply of cheap soap.

Till next time,

Carrie Photos from this week’s column and podcasts can be found at

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