We don’t realize how much we do because we learned it. No one may have taught it to us actively, but we were learning passively. My mother taught me how to read. I have no memory of this, but all my memories of childhood pass through the books I read. My father-in-law taught me how to uncork a wine bottle when he found out I couldn’t do it alone. He stood in our kitchen and showed me how to push the screw into the cork, how to twist and twist until the sides came up and push down for the cork to come out. I think about it every time I open a bottle of wine. No one taught me how to take care of a home, but those are things I learned passively from watching my mother and also the women who cleaned and cared for our house in the Philippines. I watched them wipe dust away with a cloth, sweep the floor multiple times a day and wash dishes. To this day I prefer the broom to a vacuum cleaner even though no one taught me how to use either one.
Here’s another thing I did not learn – how to take care of my skin. No one looked at my skin when I was a teenager to tell me if I had oily, dry or combination skin, no one looked at my breakouts to figure out if something could be done about it, no one showed me where and how to choose a simple face wash. Even though I knew I was supposed to wash my face every day, the simple truth was I had no idea how to do it.
So most of the time I didn’t. Eventually I started buying a face wash and every now and then I would use it, or after a day of make up, I would wash my face. But overall I relied on my sturdy brown skin to hold up under the sun, under makeup, under my own naiveté.
Fast forward to the past year and I can see the wear and tear on my face. Some of it is the natural process of ageing, one that doesn’t thrill me, but I welcome it. I refuse to look down on the life experience that comes with getting older. It is more precious than wrinkle-free skin. But I could also see the impact of years of neglect on my skin. That’s different from ageing.
But on the list of things I want to change in my life, my skin isn’t even close to being a priority. My list is enormous. I want to create more with my kids, be more organized, use my phone less, put the laundry away so it doesn’t pile up, wake up early to write, go to bed early so I can wake up earlier, not get angry at my kids, not discuss the lives of people when they aren’t around, use my phone less, eat less gluten, paint the cabinet that’s been sitting on the deck for most of the year unused, clean out the kids’ toys, set better boundaries with my kids, use my phone less, eat less sugar.
Did that exhaust you? (Just writing it exhausted me.)
I’m guessing you’ve got a list, too, a mental tape that runs on a loop, full of daily categories where you could do better, promising you that if you could just get it together and change, your life would be different.
My list is full of good intentions, but the judgment it can direct toward me leaves little room for growth.
This is why I started washing my face.
It was one small change I chose to make, one that is about skincare yet also so much more.
Here’s how I did it.
I found a teacher. Her name is Jamie B. Golden, and I watched an Instagram live she did on skin care. I have no idea if her ideas are going to work long term, but when you have no idea what to do (and don’t want to see a dermatologist), you find someone you choose to trust and listen. I made a list of her recommendations and routines, and I went to Chemist Warehouse and bought what felt like a lifetime worth of products and terrorized their sales assistants with questions (“WHERE IS THE RETINOL?”). When there is something you don’t know how to do, the first step is to find a teacher. Let them fill in the gaps of your education, give yourself the grace of being able to say, “I don’t know how to do this. I need help.”
I set a routine and follow it. This meant buying products I did not have (other than moisturizer and a basic cleanser). Every evening now I follow a five-step routine. I even use a fresh washcloth every night because Jamie says it’s gross to use the one from the night before. In the morning I follow another routine before I leave the house. I’ve done this now for over three weeks, every single evening, every single morning. It takes me five minutes on either end, tops. I don’t do it because of the results – I’m not even sure I can see any yet – I do it because it is one small thing I can do daily to tell myself I can learn something new. I can follow a routine. I can take care of myself.
Find ways to enjoy the change. There have been times when I’m tempted to skip the cleansing and the toning, but the sheer enjoyment of it keeps me there. This isn’t going to work for every habit, there are some things (many things) we have to do that don’t produce endorphins of happiness. But when I can find something that helps me enjoy the process, it doesn’t hurt. For now that’s the smell of the moisturizer and the feel of a hot washcloth on my face.
How about you? What is one small change that could make a deep impact in your day-to-day life? What is one small thing you can choose to focus on for the next few weeks as the world around you gets more frantic? When the volume goes up and the demands you to do more and spend more, will there be a place in your life where you can tend to something small and watch it grow?
Growth is happening in your life and mine, and it takes place in the smallest of spaces, in the things that seem and feel insignificant. Don’t let someone tell you that thing you’ve changed is trivial. Even the smallest (good) habit is a victory, and the each step you take to take down the bad habits is a step taken in courage even if you feel weak. Every step counts. Every change counts. It all matters.
Now, I’m off to take my makeup off and press a hot (clean!!) washcloth into my face.
Maybe you’re frustrated by the list of big goals but wanting to seize your life and change? Small changes are for the rest of us, the ones whose dreams mock us from the sidelines, the ones who yearn for change but know they can’t just shove everything to one side. We do it bit by bit, piece by piece, and we believe that each piece is making a difference. If you want to read more about small changes, you can start here: