Creating a new normal

This post was originally posted on our wordpress site. Enjoy!

I’m big on doing “the little things right” – pulling the shower curtain closed so it can dry properly, closing lids of containers after I use them, turning off the lights when I’m not in a room… and more!  My mind is often organized as one giant checklist that I like to periodically refer to.  That’s the way I am.  I am forever thinking about the little details.  But not everyone is wired that way.  Many people simple don’t connect leaving a room with turning off the lights.  It’s just something that doesn’t enter their minds as they go about their daily life and that makes it hard to change.  As someone who likes the “little things” done, sometimes the best way to encourage people to change is to create a new normal.

Raw Sugar Bowl by Ayelie via Flickr (

When I started at my current job, the sugar jar was always left open.  I am not sure why.  To me, an open communal jar of sugar evokes images of all sorts of nasty things falling into the jar, getting mixed in with my sugar, and ahhhhhh… But I’m anal like that!  There are good reasons to keep the sugar jar closed though: (1) the sink is right beside it, and you wouldn’t want water from dirty dishes getting washed to splash into the sugar (2) there’s often baking set out in the kitchen, so there are usually crumbs on the counter which could attract bugs – an open jar of sugar is prime bug food!  So how to change the situation?

At other work places I’ve been to, people will often leave notes.  “Clean up after yourselves!”  “Remove food from fridge after one week!”

But it’s been shown that notes and signs decrease in impact after each viewing.  Plus, it’s kind of passive aggressive…

Instead, I decided to close the sugar jar each time I was in the kitchen, even if I was not using the sugar.  By closing the sugar jar whenever I saw it, I ensured that when other people came to use the sugar jar, they would find it closed.  So if they wanted to use it, they had to open it.  After a week or two, I noticed that the sugar jar started being closed when I passed by the kitchen.  After three months, I never found the sugar jar left opened.

What happened?

I don’t have a scientific explanation.  I would speculate that by setting a new standard for what was “normal” – in this case, the state of the sugar jar as closed rather than open – people became more reluctant to leave it in an abnormal state.  By forcing them to open the jar, it also drew attention to the closed state of jar when they found it.  Afterward, perhaps they felt guilty or perhaps they were just instinctively reacting to the environment.  Either way, it works!

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  1. Modest Money says:

    Interesting that OCD can be contagious lol. Here’s a webpage you’ll probably like:

    I get all picky about little things that should be a certain way too. Some people just don’t get it though. Their normal is those lights left on everywhere and leftovers left in the fridge for weeks. Some people just need a slap upside the head. I like your subtle approach though.

    • CF says:

      LOL – nice link! I do hate asymmetry …

      It’s the same thing at my current workplace. There are constantly leftovers in the fridge. I’ve just started tossing them out, containers and all, lol. If it’s moldy, it goes. If I see it in there for longer than 2 weeks without usage, it goes. No passive aggressive notes, no emails…

      • Michelle says:

        My old boss was so bad! I think I have a teensy bit of OCD, but she was way out there. She once threw away my lunch that I had purchased that morning at the grocery store and it had the day’s date on it (because that’s when I bought it!) and she thought it was an expiration date and threw it out without even looking at the food or asking anyone about it. I guess it wouldn’t have upset me so much if I didn’t have food allergies and such a short time to eat. I think I had to eat a “sandwich” without bread that day and someone was so kind to give me a handful of chips!
        Anyway, about the sugar….freaking GROSS! Are you kidding me? I keep mine in a bag inside the container, because just the closed container isn’t good enough for me! I would start bringing packets for myself if I were you! People are so gross…

        • CF says:

          Oh no!!! I’ve had a few lunches gone missing during over-zealous cleaning sessions too, so I definitely sympathize. 🙁

      • Modest Money says:

        hahah I took the same approach with leftovers at my last workplace too. If they can’t be bothered to remove their own bacteria covered crap, they lose their tupperware. It’s just disrespectful to everyone else using the fridge to leave things in there so long.

        And yeah I had a good laugh at that link. It definitely reminded me that I probably have a bit of OCD myself.

  2. I’m so not like you in that respect! lol I’d probably drive you crazy. But I think I would be one of those coworkers that respected the new normal and closed the sugar jar…I probably just never even noticed it before.

    • CF says:

      I think that there’s just some things that you never really notice because you have no reason to notice them! It’s like that for me too, depending on the item.

  3. I have OCD like that too. I can’t stand my work area being messy, cluttered dirty etc.

  4. I like this! I find that when something is done already, prior to me being there, I want to make sure it’s left that way too. I think this is a good way of encouraging people to do things, because it just becomes the new standard!

  5. Eddie says:

    I think I used to have OCD, then I realized life is too short to stress about things that are at times beyond my control. Your sugar example worked, but in other situations certain things may not work, despite your good nature. As they say, you can lead a horse to the water……..and you know the rest! 🙂

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