Small Gestures

When I see a lonely speck on a big surface, I wipe it away. When there’s a stack of papers lying loosely on a table, I align them and put them into one of the corners. Some call this OCD, others call it “an eye for detail.” I’ve inherited this trait from my mom who, over 30 years of running a wonderful home, has made tens of thousands of small gestures part of the fabric that makes said home so wonderful.

Often invisible but never insignificant, it has taken me just as long to fully appreciate these gestures, and it’ll probably take me a lifetime to truly comprehend how much meaning they can add to other people’s lives. As a child, you barely notice your tied shoes, full lunch box, or dust-free toilet seat. Your job is to run, to eat, and to poop. You’re so busy soaking up the world and everything that’s in it, you have no time — nor the wits — to comprehend your caretakers paving your way. But every day, they do, and without them, you’d stumble, go hungry, or get stomach cramps.

Small gestures are most strongly felt once they are absent, and if we are lucky, we first might feel those gaps as teenagers, if only by means of our friends constantly asking us for a piece from our lunchbox — for they arrive at school without one every day, and we never go hungry. Next, you might try performing small gestures for someone you fancy, and if those go unnoticed, that too holds a lesson: At least every now and then, it’s nice, essential even, to feel acknowledged. As time wears on, you might realize small gestures open a lot of doors at work — or get scolded for not going the extra mile. You may collect bonus points on your exams for sharing knowledge none of the questions asked for, and slowly but surely, the insight trickles in: the little things are not so little at all.

The importance of details first hit me in a big way when I became self-employed. It was impossible to stand out by just “doing the work.” There were thousands of people doing it! All of the credit you wanted to earn was waiting in the extra hours — the screenshots you added to your blog post, the additional design options you provided, the second check-in with your client they didn’t pay for. Now that I am, for the first time, managing a home that houses more than just me, I’m slowly coming full circle. “Thank you for clearing out the dishwasher,” my girlfriend might say, and I’ll realize I’m not sure I said those words to my mom even once — yet she always thanks me or my dad when we do it. But there’s more than one way of contributing to family, and I’m also learning that we — the folk of small gestures — ultimately don’t do them just for the sake of others. We do them for ourselves.

If you really thought, “I’m sure she’ll be happy if I do this,” every time you wipe your girlfriend’s nightstand clean, yet nine out of ten times, she won’t say a word, you wouldn’t maintain this habit for long. No. The only way to arrive early at pickup time, get up to make breakfast, or refill the rinse aid in your dishwasher time and again, year after year, is to live and breathe the philosophy of the detail-oriented. To believe. To know, deep in your heart, that all of those tiny efforts will one day add up, even if you might not be there to see it — and that even where they don’t, they’ll still give you that warm, satisfying feeling of having done your very best.

Whether you’re a loving parent, dedicated caretaker, or other-conscious artist or entrepreneur, I want you to know: Your small gestures matter. All of those swapped toilet rolls, tiny gifts, and extra chapter breakdowns on your slides have not, are not, will not be made in vain. Not everyone will always see you, but in the long run, the people from whom it matters most most certainly will. But even if the road is lonely and praise is scarce, there’ll always be that sense of contentment when you go to bed at night: You’ve done your part. Your spark is out there, and it is glowing as strongly as it can.

Believe in small gestures.