Knowing One’s Strengths or How to Remodel a Kitchen

I have several strengths. I can play saxophone (or any other woodwind I have tried, except those dang double-reed ones) by ear. I excel at making tasty and flavorful soups and sauces with no recipe and only ingredients I have on hand. My spreadsheet skills are top notch. I am probably also the best friend anyone could have. I am trustworthy and connect deeply with others in one-on-one settings.

Then there are things I am very much unskilled at. Cleaning my house is but one example. I have the dual issue of clutter and just straight up dirt. Am I proud of this fact, absolutely not. But my autism diagnosis and subsequent exploration of resources that are out there have helped me reframe my deficits. I no longer feel like I have to hide in shame, not let anyone but family and very close friends into my home and generate unbearable levels of anxiety within myself trying to understand why I am so incapable of taking care of my home in such a basic way. I no longer feel compelled to say “there must be something WRONG with me” that I cannot clean my house or keep my house clean. It’s just something I could use some help with.

There are other examples of things I’m not so good at. Speaking in front of large groups, trusting people who have not demonstrated that they have earned it, communicating with people who do not wish to take me at face value, being “politically correct,” spatial awareness, asking for accommodations (working on this one), and knowing what I want/need or what would improve about a situation when I will be the only one benefiting from the change.

That last one is a biggie. As an undiagnosed autistic child, my mother considered it her job to set me (and my siblings) up for successful living as an adult. This means honing skills at being adaptable and resilient, finding a niche, making yourself indispensable by filling the gaps that exist in the world. And damned if I’m not good at those things. At work, my role has been to quickly solve the problems that everyone else is tied of searching for the solution for. I’m very good at that. I try to educate so knowledge is spread, but teaching autism to neurotypicals is probably too much to expect. 😉

So we are now in a situation where we may be remodeling our kitchen at home, money in hand and everything. This is a very exciting and intimidating prospect for me. There are plenty of features/”bugs” in my kitchen that I have successfully redesigned my cooking processes around. I see the value in flashing forward to the end of next year and having the kitchen remodeled by then, but I have no clue as to how to get there. Whenever I consider having multiple strangers in the house, tearing things apart and then rebuilding/reinstalling them, my mind basically shuts down. (There are other MAJOR life events that trigger this same response in me that I may speak about in another post sometime.)

And then on a walk the other day, my husband asks “well, what would you WANT in your new kitchen?” The truth is, I have literally never considered this thought. My skills were never honed to make sense of a universe where I had agency to change the environment around me in any dramatic way. I have been put in a situation as it is and I have adapted, every time, without exception. What I want is never more important than avoiding a ruckus or disruption of things and people around me.

As it relates to spatial awareness, design is also not a strong suit of mine. I might be able to drum up ideas about how I’d like the kitchen laid out, but if someone came to look at my ideas and said, ‘you might prefer this or that for these reasons,’ I would be 100% persuadable. I have no reasoning being WHY I think I might like something one way or another.

And then there’s the aesthetics of the situation. Sure, I COULD say I’d like my kitchen to be designed in glossy orange and black tiles (Oregon State colors) with Beaver icons etched in my cabinet doors, but something tells me that wouldn’t be the ideal choice for the house’s resale value. At least I know this about myself going in.

So, in short, I think it would behoove us to hire a designer or a remodeling company that also does design. Anyone in the industry would have more experience with trends and general good practice for this sort of thing. I have even brought it up to my sister as a potential project that I would love her help with. She has been doing landscape design for a while now and though plants may be her ideal medium, her planning and design skills are badass. And she understands enough about my life, my skills, my deficits to be helpful if she wants to be. Or hurtful if she doesn’t. That’s the risk I take on.

In conclusion, maybe I’ll have a new kitchen next year or maybe I won’t, but it’ll happen only by my recognizing and acknowledging my deficits and outsourcing the work that requires those skills. I have a feeling this is what neurotypical people do all the time without discussing or belaboring it at all. At least those who aren’t shamed into feeling like there must be something wrong with them for NOT being able to do a thing or to do it well. We need to work, as a society, to stop shaming people for things they were not put on this earth to do and help guide them toward the things they are. This would allow all of us to contribute our best to building the society around us.

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