The Thing that Bugs You the Most


When John and I moved into our first house, almost everything needed to be fixed. Our to-do list included removing carpet, painting, replacing baseboards, taking down a shed in the back, and even replacing the floorboards outside the bathroom where water damage had rotted the wood. Our budget for this work included hiring one carpenter. As for grunt labor, we were it.

We’d been there a couple of days when our friend Claire showed up, bringing the traditional Jewish housewarming gift of bread, salt and sugar. “Bread so you shall never know hunger; salt, so your life shall always have flavor; and sugar so your life shall always have sweetness.”

When Claire asked how things were going, I told her about our to-do list. We were overwhelmed, and didn’t know what to do next.

“Enh,” said Claire, with a casual wave of her hand. “You’ll do the thing that bugs you the most.”

Years later, I haven’t forgotten. I hope I never do. We call it the Claire rule, which is fitting, because it clarifies. When I start work each day, the item at the top of my list is the thing that bugs me the most. Once it’s done, everything else is sugar. And sometimes salt.


Got a good rule to share?


  1. chris - October 21, 2016 @ 04:37

    Most definitely!… We all should have a Claire!..Glad u passed this on..

    • Petrea - October 21, 2016 @ 09:02

      Yay! I hope it’ll be as useful to you as it’s been to me. That phone call I don’t want to make? Yeah, that’s first, otherwise it’ll bug me all day.

  2. savannah - October 21, 2016 @ 11:02

    PERFECT! I’ve done 20 or so other things so far and NOT the thing that has to be done. I shall remedy this as soon as I finish telling you (and Claire) THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU!!

    (p.s. Hope we get to meet next time I’m out in L.A.)

    • Petrea - October 21, 2016 @ 12:22

      Get back here, Savannah! (After you do the thing that bugs you.) And you’re welcome.

  3. William Kendall - October 21, 2016 @ 12:37

    That’s a very good way of looking at things!

    • Petrea - October 21, 2016 @ 13:44

      I find it helps. A Facebook friend also suggested that when you can’t decide which of many things is bugging you most, you pick the one that’s right in front of you and start there. That’s a good, adjacent rule.

  4. Lowell - October 21, 2016 @ 13:09

    I’m going to remember this. I’ve tried to do this on most occasions, but didn’t know it was the Claire Rule.

    • Petrea - October 21, 2016 @ 13:44

      Credit where credit is due, Lowell.

  5. magiceye - October 24, 2016 @ 05:35

    So true!!

  6. Ann Erdman - October 24, 2016 @ 19:56

    I love the saying, the gifts, the tradition and how you have followed it. I must embrace this because I often feel overwhelmed with what to start with first!

    • Petrea - October 25, 2016 @ 15:37

      I do, too, Ann, and I’ve been repeating the mantra to myself a lot lately!

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