Your first idea might not be your best idea

Good ideas can astonish us with their simple brilliance. I admire whoever thought to call used cars “pre-owned.” A little wording shift changes everything!

But coming up with good ideas can be a tricky process. In general, as I’ve tried to come up with ideas for my podcasts, blog posts, articles, and books, I’ve realized two things:

1. The best way to get good ideas is to generate lots of ideas. For an every-weekday-morning podcast, if I generate 40 ideas per month, I can choose the best 20 to execute. Aiming for a high number means I’m not editing myself in the idea generation phase. Maybe an idea will fly, maybe it won’t, but why not write it down?

2. First ideas are rarely the best ideas. Any long project goes through a trough of despair at some point. But if you give yourself space to keep mulling something over, you will come up with new solutions. Often, the best gift you can give yourself is time.

This last realization is truly life-changing. When I’m editing a book manuscript, I can realize that even if I am really unhappy with a chapter, and have no idea how to fix it, that won’t be the case a week from now. If I give myself a week to think about it and try new things, I will come up with a solution. Even if I have no idea now what that solution will be! Leave space to mull it over.

I’ve been thinking of this lately with something that is not writing related at all. My older boys have shared a bedroom since their little brother was born 4.5 years ago. They are not thrilled about this. There are both temperament and sleep-need reasons to separate them. However, other configurations of room-sharing aren’t great either. My daughter could share a room with her little brother for a year or two, but as everyone enters the tween/teen years, this is not going to be a long-term solution. The 9-year-old and 4-year-old could theoretically share (that was the original idea), but the 4-year-old snores, and still wakes up early. The 9-year-old needs more, not less, protected space for sleep.

So then it became a question of how to add more space. I don’t really want to move, which would be the most expensive and time-consuming option. So then I got the idea that we could finish the attic and create a bedroom up there. At first blush, this seems reasonable. It’s one of the most popular renovations (as in most people who do it are happy they did it). The attic is large enough to meet code requirements and we already have a legal staircase (though the windows would need to be expanded, and putting a bathroom up there would require new permitting as well).

We all talked about this and thought it might work. But nothing needs to be done urgently, and as I was mulling this over, I realized that I really really did not want to supervise another major renovation project.

So I spent more time mulling it over. I walked around the house and rethought things. And eventually it came to me that part of the finished walk-out basement playroom could be repurposed as a bedroom with a much easier fix (there are already windows in a set-off area that would just need a door between it and the main area. Plus a closet!).

Now granted, I haven’t done anything about any of these ideas yet, but the basement idea is much better (as in simpler, cheaper, easier) than the attic one. My first idea was not my best idea. Since there wasn’t an immediate deadline for this, I had space to see that.

When has your first idea not been your best idea? Or maybe sometime it has! Also, I’d love to hear other people’s adventures in room-sharing, and reconfiguring rooms over time.

Photo: Bunk bed that was never used as a bunk bed due to previously mentioned snoring/waking issues

12 thoughts on “Your first idea might not be your best idea

  1. Many times! My first ideas tend to be too grandiose, too expensive, or too anything but realistic. Knowing this, I rarely act upon them without thinking them over for a couple of days or discussing them with someone else for a reality check.

  2. Hi Laura,
    You’ve mentioned your sons snoring a couple of times and every time I’m a little concerned (I work in the broad area of child sleep). Typically kids should not snore or mouth breathe when they are well. Have you had your youngest reviewed by an ENT to see why this is happening? Especially important if he has any other signs that the snoring is an issues

    Best wishes

    1. @Megan – thanks for the concern! He (and some other family members) seem to have slightly larger adenoids but pediatrician (and dentist) who’ve evaluated him haven’t seen too much sign for worries that he has sleep apnea.

  3. Your second idea sounds great!

    The family who owned our home before us did exactly what you’re suggesting. The house has four bedrooms, and they had five kids. To shelter everyone without shared rooms, a good-sized basement bonus room became the fifth bedroom. They said it was the prized sleeping space, because it (1) was two floors away from everyone else, (2) had an apartment-like feel due to the private bath and teen hang-out space it was attached to, and (3) was bigger than the other non-master bedrooms. It worked out for them, and once it wasn’t needed as a bedroom — i.e., when we moved in — it easily converted to a gym.

    Here’s to creative thinking!

    1. @Kathleen – thanks! Yep, this is my thinking – the basement bedroom will have some real perks, and if all we’re adding is a door and a closet (if that — maybe just a wardrobe!), those don’t scream “bedroom” when we sell the house and someone wants to use it as a playroom/gym/theater room/storage/whatever.

  4. We live in a 4 bedroom house with 7 people, one of whom is an au pair who legally needs her own room. Two rooms are really large and two rooms are really small. As a result, my 3 boys share one of the really large rooms. They are currently 12, 6, and 3.5. There are a few things we have done to make this work. Right now we have a set of bunk beds and a toddler bed, but there is room for a twin when the toddler bed is out grown (this will be soon). The older two have reading lights. We have invested in a white noise machine to muffle the sounds of others sleeping. Our 3.5 year old can fall sleep in full light (he doesn’t know anything different). When they get up they are trained to get up and out without waking their brothers. They occasionally wake one another but not often. The biggest change recently has been the need for some more private space for the 12 year old. We solved this issue by removing all the toys from the room (we have a finished basemen playroom), and buying a small desk and a “Do Not Disturb” sign. When he heads into the room to do homework or have some time to himself to listen to music he lets everyone know to get what they need (usually just a martial arts uniform or book) and then he puts out the sign. I shared a room during adolescence and my kids don’t know any different. I feel like everyone adapts when needed. At our house it is needed. Architecturally, there is no where to create a 5th bedroom and financially stepping up to a 5 or 6 bedroom house is not feasible. My kids live a pretty nice life and sharing a room is a minor hardship. The joys of big families!

    1. @Gillian – yep, the joys of big families! My perusal of real estate listings around here has revealed that most normal homes do not have, say, 6-7 bedrooms. Now if you’re in the market for a castle or something, that’s different. But we are not. Between the attic and the basement, however, we do have some space that is not being optimized, so we do have options for expanding within our current footprint. Looking at that, the basement really makes the most sense.

  5. Thank you for this perspective. I will think of this often!

    Have you ever done a post where you list out all of the parenting books you have read? I feel like you have mentioned a few in monthly reviews, but I didn’t know if there was a single location where you had done a post just on various parenting books that you found most useful.

    1. @Julia- Thanks! I haven’t done a parenting books post, though maybe I should consider it. My general take with parenting books is that I’m going to be wary of any that have an angle about how your kids will “turn out” as a result of your implementing the author’s strategies. By the time you are reading a parenting book, your kids will turn out fine. What’s more interesting is any parenting book that makes life more livable in the here and now. The other problem, unfortunately, is that most aren’t based on research where lots of people try the strategy (maybe even vs. other strategies!) and you see how many it works for. Strategies work for some people, and then those people swear by the concept, and other people think they just did it wrong. But that’s not really helpful…

  6. My whole industry (architecture/interior design) revolves around iterative process where we revisit the solutions repeatedly to work out the best design. It always seems crazy that other industries don’t take this as a default way of work and clients often pressure architects to produce work quicker, which often results in inferior design, and the fees are often questioned because the perception is that we just go and “draw up” final solution, while the problem-solving is really where the time goes. The rule of the thumb is that no good ideas are generated before about 5th round. And sometimes you go backwards, too, but I cannot remember an instance in 20 years of practice where the first solution was the best solution.
    I don’t specialize in residential but my instinct is also that basement would be better than attic because the presence of ground makes it so much easier for temperature control, which is usually an issue in attic spaces and an expensive fix. As long as there is proper exiting from all basement spaces and there is no dampness issue, these make great living spaces. So which kid will get the basement apartment?

    1. @Morana – I like this rule of thumb, that there are no good ideas before the fifth round. It just seems more realistic, and leaves more opportunity for iterating on the first stuff.
      Since we already have heat/AC (and plumbing!) downstairs this would really be a much simpler fix. And yes, there are multiple means of egress, so that is not an issue. Most likely my eldest will get the basement apartment though there are options to actually do two rooms down there…stay tuned!

  7. We have a cape cod with 2 bedrooms up and 2 down, and a bathroom on each floor. We have two girls so they share a room and we are all upstairs. This works well since those are the big rooms (and we are talking big like 20’ long). But we are getting to tween years and there is much complaining but also arguing about who has to be ‘alone’ on the first floor or whether the adults end up with the small room. It’s tough because since we are in tween years we are also (hopefully) about halfway through our years of having 2 kids at home full time. It’s a constant point of contention right now.

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