Chandy is the developer of hometuneup.app, a free online resource for DIY home maintenance.
Sensory Observation and Mindfulness
Sensory observation is information we gather through our 5 senses - sight, smell, touch, taste, hearing. We use these senses every moment of our waking lives, making observations continually and processing them. Some observations we ignore, some we make a mental note of for later use, and some others we act upon in the moment.
Mindfulness is about being acutely aware of the environment you are in. You are taking in everything you see, hear, feel, smell without engaging with these sensory signals at any depth. In other words, you act as an observer, acknowledge the sensory signal you are receiving and, perhaps, even make a small mental note. Nothing consequential occurs when you are in a state of mindfulness.
What role does mindful sensory observation play in home maintenance, you ask?
Sensory Signals are Everywhere in your Home
Your home is a living, breathing and dynamic entity. Sure, at the core it is a structure, an immovable object firmly planted on a piece of land. But once you occupy it and fill it with furniture, appliances, devices and fixtures, you breathe life into it and give it a unique personality.
When you walk into an unfamiliar home, all your senses are on alert taking in the colors, the smells, the sounds, the textures and making detailed mental notes. When you have lived in your own home for a while, however, the observations you make through your senses seem muted - familiar, less urgent, less exciting.
The truth is every sensory observation you make in your home is telling you something. To understand what that is, you need to be able to distinguish each new observation from ones you have made in the past. That’s a tall order, given that you are inundated with hundreds of sensory signals every day.
But there’s a way out.
Harnessing Sensory Signals
You need to harness these signals rather than letting them just wash over you. You do that by being intentional and mindful.
If you have ever traveled by a commercial airline, you may have observed the pilot put on a reflective vest, descend from the plane with a flashlight in hand, and perform a “pre-flight walk around” – literally walking around the plane making a visual inspection of the fuselage, the wings, the tail, the under-carriage, and the nose. To a casual observer it appears like he is making a cursory inspection, looking for any gaping problem. He is actually working from a mental checklist. He knows how things are supposed to look and he is comparing that to how things are. In other words, it is an intentional exercise whose goal is to affirm the air worthiness of the plane.
Familiarity Breeds Awareness
As a homeowner, you should take the time to familiarize yourself with the sights, the sounds, the smells, and the textures of all aspects of your home. What noises does your refrigerator make when operating normally (and boy, do they make some strange and unexpected ones like hissing and crackling)? Or your washing machine during various wash cycles?
What do the floorboards of your hardwood floor feel like when you walk on them barefoot? Particularly close to any plumbing. Do they feel smooth, even, solid? Or perhaps there’s an unexpected “give” or even a coarseness or an unevenness?
What about the paint on the walls or the ceiling? Do you see any spots or stains or discoloration that you haven’t seen before?
Do you taste freezer burn in the ice cream you just pulled out? Perhaps there’s frost buildup that you hadn’t noticed before.
Or do you smell something just a little off inside the refrigerator? Or as you walk past the kitchen sink?
And what about outside the house? Any new signs of rust on the gutters? Or fence boards that seem to have been dislocated and revealing gaps?
You can use these sensory observations as signals that perhaps an appliance or fixture requires attention. The more keenly aware you are of what things look and sound like when operating normally, the quicker you will be able to focus on those sensory signals that are trying to tell you something.
Schedule a Walk Around
So, grab a flashlight and take a deliberate walk around the house each month, if not each week. Visit each room, look at each corner, inside and outside.
Observe. Listen. Smell. Feel.