CC photo “Down at Every Laundromat in Town” courtesy of hjhipster on Flickr
THERE’S A coin-operated laundry room in the building where I live. Each load, washer and dryer, is $1.75. That’s $3.50 for a full, wash-and-dry cycle. The machine-mounted coin collector has one slot for loonies (that’s a one-dollar-coin, for you non-Canadians) and one slot for quarters.
Yes, it sounds like the beginning of a math quiz. But in reality this a tale about human psychology.
For three years, I’ve been buying rolls of quarters and loonies from the bank to feed the laundry machines. Because there is a slot for both loonies and quarters, I enter my $1.75 in the form of one looney and three quarters. I’ve done it this way every time, for three years.
The coin tray is regularly raided for soft drinks, bus fare, coffee, and other items. Every day pockets are emptied, and coins are deposited in the tray. Eventually either the looney or quarter supply is depleted. The dollar coins are typically the first to go, leaving behind a bunch of quarters.
That’s what happened recently. So I go to the nearby convenience store to rebalance the quarter-looney ratio, because it’s one looney and three quarters to do a load of laundry. And all I have is a tray of measly quarters.
Have you spotted the fallacy I’ve been under for three years? It’s obvious once someone points it out to you, as it was pointed out to me this week.
It’s not one looney and three quarters to do laundry, it’s $1.75.
One of my family members came up with the idea. What if we just took the quarters and put 7 of them into the machine? The answer, of course, is that you get to do a load of laundry. No loonies required.
It’s remarkable to me that a household of highly-educated people could have missed this for so long. Talk about the obvious. And yet a machine with one slot for quarters and one for loonies has a subliminal ambiguity built into it. Is this a system which provides options, or is it delineating the requirements? Sub-consciouly we had decided upon the latter: there’s a slot for loonies and quarters because 1+3 is the inviolable rule.
It got me wondering about how many versions of this I’m living in my life, right now. Where else am I unnecessarily putting loonies and quarters into slots, metaphorically speaking? What else am I doing uncritically, mechanically, unconsciously? How many insights, breakthroughs, leaps, mind expansions, and personal liberations could I be effecting?
The lesson I’ve drawn is that opportunity is all around. What is required is a mindset that is ever-vigilant, always on the lookout for a new and better way: a mental attitude that says “don’t limit yourself by tacitly accepting things as they are.” There is always another way, if you go looking for it.