I’ve spent the past two weekends removing wallpaper from our living room. The living room is one of two remaining rooms with wallpaper and this process is part of my new year’s resolution to be more proactive around the house. Of course, I wasn’t as proactive as I could have been. I casually mentioned that I needed to get to the wallpaper in the living room, and it was my daughter who spotted a peeling section in one corner and asked if she could tear it off that got the whole thing going.
About twenty five years ago, I spent some time at my sister’s house tearing down wallpaper and swore I would never do it again. It is a slow, tedious process, especially when the installer decides to lather on the glue so that either the wallpaper would never come off, or you have to take part of the wall with you when you remove the wallpaper. Then there is the top part of the wallpaper which is impervious to steam or enzyme or vinegar or whatever tool you use to try to melt the glue. You then end up having to remove the wallpaper twice; removing the top layer, then the bottom layer.
So, the best way to remove wallpaper is to realize it is going to take some time, put on some of your favorite music and have a little patience. All the while, try not to think about all the varieties of torture you’d like to inflict on the individuals who put the wallpaper up in the first place. Instead, think about how nice the room will look when it’s all done and painted.
For three days over two weeks, I’ve fired up the stereo, cranked up the steamer and went at it, steamin’ and peelin’ to Eric Clapton, Elmore James, Magic Sam and a little Dead, Decemberists and Arcade Fire for variety. And, if you just realize that the only thing between you and a completed room is a little time, you can make it through.
The hardest part of change is not creating new habits; it’s removing the old ones first. Those old habits have become, in a sense, hardened wallpaper, impervious to penetration. They can only be removed with concentrated effort and persistence. Because, habits, like wallpaper, have become fixtures in our mental rooms. They are how we see the world and how we react to it. Some of that mental wallpaper was put up a long time ago; others we have learned recently. Often, we forget that it is only wallpaper, we think it’s part of the structure itself and that if we tear it down, the whole house will crash in.
The real limitations to becoming the person we want to be or the company we want to be a part of, is not as much the lack of talent, time or resources as it is our ability to change our mental models of the world; indeed, our mental models of ourself. If we take the time, and have patience with ourselves, our ability to strip down the wallpaper can either reveal something new and wonderful or reveal something which is crumbling and needs to be fixed; either way, you will be able to see yourself if a new and honest light.
Proving for the peeling sections of your mental wallpaper can take either self-contained introspection or, like me, the assistance of someone (your daughter? your spouse? your friend?) helping you identify those blind spots with you. Be open to the possibility that what you think is rock solid is only paper thin and with a little effort, patience and, perhaps some Chicago blues, can be torn away.
That’s something to sing about.