Out of sight, out of mind

February 29, 2012

We’re gearing up to replace the deck on the back of our house.  After talking about it for a year, demolition begins this weekend.  I joked with the contractor that this was not a “Gee, I’d really like a new deck” job, it was more of a “Hey!  Be careful, that railing isn’t actually attached anymore” job.  It’s pretty bad back there.

What’s worse, though, is under the deck.  There is a storage area under the upper tier of the deck, about five feet high.  There are exactly three items we are storing there:  a large lawn cart, a lawn mower, and the (ahem) “scooper” for cleaning up the yard.  Unfortunately, the previous owners left us with a vast assortment of “goodies,” stretching back even under the lower part of the deck.  Plant pots, tomato cages, old fencing, a rusty old wheelbarrow…the list goes on and on.  I told the contractor I couldn’t guarantee we wouldn’t find a body under there somewhere.

That’s the problem with a storage area like that:  out of sight, out of mind.

The truly sad part is that some of that might have been usable before it was left to rot in a not-really-all-that-covered area.  Now it’s nothing but trash.

Our new deck plan involves getting rid of the built-in benches, the two levels, and the trellis, and instead putting in a simple landing with stairs leading to the large deck below.  No storage under the bottom level; it’s too low.  Covered storage under the stairs, where I’m measuring to ensure things fit exactly.

Once it’s done, though, it’s our job to make sure that area is not where things go to be forgotten.  There will be no more blaming it on the previous owners; it’s all on us.  I hope I’m ready for the challenge.


“Better a little…”

February 28, 2012

“Better a little with the fear of the Lord than great wealth with turmoil.”  –Proverbs 15:16

“Turmoil” is such a strong word.  When I read about “great wealth with turmoil” I tend to think in a “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous” sort of way; of people with indescribable amounts of money making poor choices and ending up in the headlines on a regular basis.  What I think we forget is how, compared to so many others on this earth, we have “indescribable amounts of money,” which we’re using to buy things, which are in turn sometimes causing us “turmoil.”  Or, at the very least, the Message version:  “a ton of headaches.”

For some reason I’ve been thinking a lot lately about our second apartment.  It was a tiny two bedroom, but I loved it:  it was nearly new, so it was incredibly clean, and it had a south-facing sliding glass door in the living area that looked out on the street, not another apartment.  In hindsight, I keep thinking about how small it was, but it was just exactly right for our needs at that time.  A living room, a kitchen big enough for a card table and two chairs, a bedroom, and a “bedroom” we could use as an office.  (Also a big bonus:  a laundry room, which was the deciding factor in moving there.)  That apartment represents simplicity for me:  small, clean, sparse, basic, yet pleasant–the sunny living room guaranteed that.  We didn’t have a ton of extra “stuff” because we didn’t have a ton of money (insert “we didn’t need money, we had each other” type of quote here), which kept the place clean and simple.  No turmoil, no headaches.

Let’s be real, though:  that was before kids and dogs.  If we had to fit our current family in that apartment, my feelings about it would be very different.  It wouldn’t be simple anymore; it would be cramped, crowded, and difficult.  (Where on earth would we seat everyone for dinner?)  So I’m not about to complain about the space we enjoy now.

What I need to be careful of, though, is how we fill that space.  More space doesn’t have to be filled.  What’s wrong with just enjoying….space?  Less turmoil, less headaches.

I asked my kids the other day, if they could keep just three things in their rooms, what would they be?  My pack-rat son answered immediately and decisively:  “My bed and my stuffed animals and my books.”  Even he, who is loathe to get rid of things, knew exactly what was most important to him.  (I won’t talk about how many stuffed animals and books there actually are.)  If we can keep the “stuff” in our spaces limited to what it truly important to us, keep it pared down to “a little,” we can hopefully save ourselves “a ton of headaches.”

Paper Clutter

February 27, 2012

Our desktop computer is in the shop….again.  The problem with the “again” part (aside from owning a clearly defective computer) is that it was taken someplace new to be repaired.  The “someplace new” required proof of purchase.  Of course I have the receipt, right?

Well, yes, I did have the receipt.  Unfortunately, it took me approximately fifteen to twenty minutes, looking in no less than ten spots in five different rooms, before I located it.  (It turned out to be exactly where it was supposed to be….long story.)  As I was digging through files and piles of paper, I was getting more and more irritated.  I really did clean out when we moved!  I thought I’d been staying on top of this!  How can we possibly still  have a Windows ’98 start-up guide?

In fairness to myself, we’ve been moving the “office” to an area of the kitchen, and so things are spread out much more than they normally are.  I don’t mean that to be an excuse, but the perfectionist in me needs to recognize that transitions are difficult.  It’s made it obvious to me, though, that even if I purged three years ago, it’s clearly time to do it again now:  especially if things are going to work well in the new area.

Why is paper so hard to deal with?  I think that the amount that comes into our homes, and the rate at which it comes, stacks the deck against us.  Even if I’m great at throwing junk mail into the recycling bin immediately (which I am), that still leaves “important” financial papers to be filed.  I’ve managed to curb most of those by going paperless, but somehow a few still come through.  And heaven forbid we get rid of anything pertaining to taxes; I feel like we’ve been brainwashed into thinking we’ve all got an audit looming just around the corner, so you’d better not throw those records out!  Paper clutter is the worst, I think, for the idea that “This is important!  You might need it someday!”  At its base is an issue of security; feeling safer because you have a file cabinet full of “just in case.”

I did a quick search on my Bible app and discovered that the word “trust” is used in the Psalms sixty-nine times.  None of those verses say anything about trusting in files and paperwork.  (But you knew that, right?)  The first three references that come up:

“Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.”  (Psalm 20:7)

“When I am afraid, I put my trust in you.”  (Psalm 56:3)

“In God I trust and am not afraid.  What can man do to me?”  (Psalm 56:11)

I’m closing with the words of Christ in John 14:1:  “Do not let your hearts be troubled.  Trust in God; trust also in me.”

(If you’ll excuse me, I need to clean out some files.)


The 100-Item Challenge

February 24, 2012

I remember reading a few months back about a “100-item challenge,” where minimalists were encouraging each other to pare down to only one hundred possessions.  Upon first reading, I burst out laughing—I have a hundred items in my two china cabinets!  (Turns out I only have fifty-six, but you get the idea.)  The more I read, the more I had to laugh.  Except for a few people who truly took this idea very seriously, it seemed that there were addendums and caveats around everything.  I understood how two shoes could equal one pair, but things started to get fuzzier when a set of plates—either four or eight—could be counted as “one” item.  My favorite exception was to not count the things the family shared.  Um…..that’s pretty much my entire house.

I appreciate the idea, though; the thought that the less we have, the more freedom we have.  And I was reminded of the challenge when I was reading the “Simplicity” chapter of The Pursuit of Discipline, by Richard Foster.   “De-accumulate!  Masses of things that are not needed complicate life.  They must be sorted and stored and dusted and re-sorted and re-stored ad nauseum.  Most of us could get rid of half our possessions without any serious sacrifice.”  (p. 92)

That, to me, is a challenge.  That is a concrete, specific, doable idea, with very little “fuzziness.”  That means half our books…. half our CD’s….half our shirts, pants, sweaters, etc…half the stuff in the china cabinets…..[Sentimentality enters, stage left:  “But, but, but!!!!”]  There are a concrete number of things we own, which can then be divided by two.  Is it possible?  Could I actually get rid of half of all these things “without any serious sacrifice”?

Richard Foster reminds us, in that same chapter, that “if our goods are not available to the community when it is clearly right and good, then they are stolen goods.”  Keep that idea in the back of your mind the next time you open a cabinet or closet.  I will be.

Ronald McWho?

February 23, 2012

I had one of my proudest parenting moments ever last week.

I was driving the kids to school in the morning, and they were discussing possible substitute teachers for my daughter’s class.  My son mentioned that it might be our neighbor across the street, Mrs. McDonald.  He then immediately got the giggles.  “Whose husband’s name is Ronald,” he laughed.  (It actually is…. we’ve mistakenly gotten their mail before.)

My daughter didn’t get it.

You know!”  My son continued.  “Ronald McDonald!”

My daughter remained oblivious.

You know!  Ronald McDonald!  From McDonalds!”  One last valiant effort to make his sister “get it.”

She still, really, didn’t get it.  My six-year-old daughter had no idea who Ronald McDonald was.

Words cannot express how unbelievably excited I was at that moment.  All my attempts to keep my kids from advertising, which seem to be rapidly crumbling the older they get, have, apparently, made a difference.

Now, I do think that if you gave my daughter a picture of Ronald McDonald, she would likely know who he was affiliated with.  And she definitely recognizes the “Golden Arches.”  But the fact that she didn’t know his name is a fact I will hold near and dear to my heart for a long time.

I think we’re starting to think we’re immune to the lure of the ad, since they’re everywhere.  We think we’re “above” that, and not affected by them anymore.  It comes down to this, though:  usually, if you don’t know something exists, you don’t want it.

I’m sure an argument could be made for “I could really use a [insert made-up useful item here],” but for the most part, no one wants something until that little seed of desire is planted in the back of their mind.  And then it grows.  I like that…I could use that….I want that….I need that.

I don’t know how much longer I can shield my kids from that creeping desire for “more” that ads give, but I’m not giving up without a fight.


Thoughts on Thoughts

February 22, 2012

Philippians 4:8:  “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” 

The Bible Reader’s Companion defines the words this way:  “the true, which is the reliable and honest; the noble, or worthy of respect; the right, which conforms to God’s standards and merits approval; the pure, which is moral and chaste; the lovely, which is pleasing and agreeable; the admirable, which is worthy of praise.”  (p. 809)

Look around at your surroundings for one minute.  Do they contribute to your ability to think such positive thoughts?  Are the rooms around you worthy of respect?  Do they merit approval?  Are they pleasing, agreeable, and worthy of praise?  It’s hard to think true, noble, and admirable thoughts when you are continually surrounded by “I need to” and “I should have,”  “I hate this” and “what a mess.”

One of the best benefits of getting rid of overwhelming clutter is the freedom in your mind:  the weight, the burden that is lifted off of you, where you are suddenly able to focus on better things.  Instead of drowning and being dragged down, you’re light, free and clear.  The negative thoughts are gone, and you’re able to think on the right, lovely, and admirable.

Can you imagine what this world would be like if everyone could live by this verse?

Happy Valentine’s Day!

February 21, 2012

Happy Valentine’s Day!  Yeah, I know, it was a week ago….but think back for a minute.  What did you do for Valentine’s Day?  How did you celebrate?  Are those two dozen roses starting to smell a little…off?  Did the chocolate look a lot better in the box, instead of on your hips?  Are the cute balloons deflated and the stuffed animals starting to get dusty?

The only reason I ask is because of a story a friend brought up.  I’ll let her tell it:

At Wal-Mart, on Valentine’s Day, the woman two in front of me in line was bemoaning the amount she was spending on “all this junk.” Her cart was piled high with cheesy stuffed animals, heart-shaped candy boxes, and other gimmicky wares. She said to the lady behind her in line, “You know, none of it means anything.”  I so wanted to say, “So why are you buying it?!  If it means nothing, then do something for someone that does mean something instead of wasting money on things people don’t need, that mean nothing to you or to them.

Maybe it’s time to reevaluate our “celebrating.”

I still remember our coffee maker dying right around one of those “romantic” days; it was Valentine’s Day or our anniversary, I don’t recall which.  I just remember when my husband asked me what I wanted, I said—in all seriousness—a new coffee pot.  He told me later how completely horrified his female coworkers were, that he would buy me a coffee pot on such a special day.  Guess what?  Years later, I am still using that coffee pot, often more than once a day.  One of the best gifts ever.

I don’t mean to say chuck it all, I don’t mean to say you shouldn’t be getting gifts for your loved ones and I definitely don’t mean to be some miserly witch trying to hammer all the fun out of any holiday.  I just mean to encourage everyone to take some time to think:  about what is truly important, about how you really want to celebrate, about what you want to take away from this “special day” a week (or a month or year) later.  I’m actually a big fan of flowers (though roses aren’t my favorites), and who’s not a big fan of chocolate?  Let’s just make sure that we choose to “do something for someone that does mean something instead of wasting money on things people don’t need, that mean nothing to you or to them.


Two thoughts about Time….

February 17, 2012

I was trying to clean up after dinner on one of my “husband’s gone” nights.  It was one of those nights where you look at the mounds of dishes piled all over the counter (even after the kids load their own stuff) and just want to crawl into a hole and not come out.  I also wanted to get the kids in their respective tubs so I could be “done” for the day, but I knew that I didn’t want to come back downstairs to the dinner mess, once everything had congealed and gotten even nastier.  The kids were heading to the basement to play a new “game” they devised that always started out with lots of laughing and wrestling and always ended with them just beating the crap out of each other; I really wanted to head them off at the pass and say, “No!  Upstairs and into the bath!”…but again, I wanted to be done with the kitchen mess.  So I compromised.  I informed them that I would set the timer for ten minutes.  They could play and I would clean for ten minutes; then it was straight upstairs into tubs.  I figured no one would get too injured in only ten minutes of playing, and even if I didn’t get everything in the kitchen finished, I would have at least gotten started.

Ten minutes.  This is what I got done in ten minutes:

Completely emptied the dishwasher.

Rinsed and loaded all dinner dishes, including the crock pot insert.

Wiped down the table and all counters.

Pitched recycling into the blue box in the garage.

The only thing that didn’t get done in those ten minutes was setting up the coffee pot for the next morning.  I couldn’t believe it.  Now, I was booking it; I don’t usually move that quickly.  But it really is incredible how much you can accomplish in a small amount of time if you just do it.

My second observation on time involves me being a total jerk.  Do, please, forgive me for being a nag, just this once, and humor my rant.  For all the people who say they just don’t have any time…..

Skip one TV show.

Get off Facebook, Twitter, or Pinterest for fifteen minutes.

Drop five three-minute You-tube videos.

Give up a round of Angry Birds.

I said to my husband the other day that it’s amazing the amount of time we spend not actually doing anything.  I found out how much I could accomplish in a tiny amount of time….but I still have to decide to use my time wisely.  It’s my choice.

Lecture’s over.  Thanks for your patience.  I will now return to my attempts to encourage and not berate.

I think we hit a wall with uncluttering because we just get so completely overwhelmed.  We open the door to the basement, look at the entire basement, and think I can’t do all this!  We look at our kitchen, with the cabinets spilling out goods, and know there’s no way I can do all this today, so we do nothing.

Do you hear the magic word in there?  The “all” word?  We’re making this too difficult.  As Flylady would say, “Babysteps.”  Let’s break this down for a minute.

Start with ten minutes.

Go to the area bothering you the most.  You are not doing the whole thing.  May I repeat that?  You are NOT doing the whole thing!  Pick one little spot:  one cabinet, one shelf, one square foot of floor space.  Bring a trash bag (for trash), a laundry basket (for things that belong in other places), and a grocery-type bag (for things you’re giving away).  And dive in.  Keep asking yourself the questions, Will this truly make my life simpler?  Is this a need?  Can I do without it?  Would this be better being a blessing to someone else?  God has clearly blessed us with abundant amounts of stuff if this is something we need to be working on; what would He think is the best plan for this item?

Two choices for how to spend those ten minutes:  five minutes in the area, and five minutes putting things away.  Or ten minutes in the area, and then take the next few minutes to put those laundry basket things where they belong.  The bag of stuff to give away goes straight to your car trunk.  The sooner you get it out of your house, the better.  I promise that Goodwill is just as happy to see one bag of stuff as a truck full.

Look up charities that are near you, or near places you frequent.  Goodwill is across the street from our grocery store; on a good week I can empty my trunk and have it ready for groceries in one trip.  (And yet there are other times where I drive around with my trunk full of stuff for Goodwill for weeks on end….)

And that’s it.  Ten minutes.  But ten minutes each day adds up…and often, once you see progress, ten minutes a day turns to ten minutes three or four times a day….and suddenly you realize that if you spend just one more hour, you can knock out that area that used to be your biggest headache.  And you’ll do it.

It doesn’t have to be that hard.

Fruits of the Spirit

February 15, 2012

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.  But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also….No one can serve two masters.  Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other.  You cannot serve both God and Money” (Matthew 6:19-24).

When I think of treasures in heaven, I’m reminded of the fruits of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22:  “…love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.”  I’m amazed at how many of those “fruits” can work hand-in-hand with simplifying and uncluttering our homes.

Love and gentleness:  with love and gentleness, we can look at others in compassion, see a need, and give of what we have.

Joy:  the joy that comes not only from giving, but in the freedom of having less to care for, keep up, and worry about.

Peace:  the peace that comes from not being surrounded by, and overwhelmed by, too many things.

Patience:  the patience we learn as we rely on Him to supply our needs, in His time.

Kindness and goodness:  again, as we see others in need and are able to share, providing for them through our abundance.

Faithfulness:  As we walk faithfully with God, we will learn to trust Him more to provide for our needs, and we can faithfully and continually give to others as He gives us even more than enough.

Self-control:  This one sometimes hurts.  This is the one where we turn away from excess, where we learn to recognize our true needs from a want, where we walk away from the idea of “more is better.”  Exercising self-control as we simplify means we evaluate every purchase we make, and ask questions.  Will this truly make my life simpler?  Is this a need, or a temporary desire?  Can I do without it?

Those questions kept coming to mind as I wrestled with whether to buy a rug for our living room’s hardwood floors.  Will this truly make my life simpler?  No.  It would give me one more area to vacuum, and I would still need to sweep around the edges, where all the dog fur would be accumulating on a regular basis.  It would be one more carpeted surface to stain if anything spilled on it.  It would be a good-sized chunk out of our bank account; money that could definitely go to better places, right?  And yet….our poor dog, ninety-one-years-old in dog years, could definitely use the more solid surface of a carpet as he struggles to get his three-good-legs arthritic furry body around.  It would make his life much simpler.  So round and round I went….  Thinking—really thinking–before you buy is not much fun.  But I do think it gives us a deeper appreciation for our things, and leads us to buying more wisely.

We did finally break down and buy the rug I’d been looking at for months.  Money out of our bank account?  Check; though not as much as it could have been.  One more thing to stain?  Well, check, though nothing’s happened yet.  (Knock on wood.)  One more area to vacuum:  check; which has proven to be not a big deal.  It’s a good, heavy rug with backing on it; it’s not going anywhere if I run a vacuum over it.

Here’s the thing, though:  that rug has turned our living room into a place where everyone wants to hang out.  Suddenly, the middle of the floor is the place to be.  My husband and I sit and read in our “spots,” and the kids are lying on the floor, reading and playing.  My daughter has commented more than once, “Mommy!  The whole family is in here!”—meaning dogs, too.   It’s been such a joy to have that happen that I have absolutely no regrets about buying that rug.  If anything, I wish we’d bought it sooner—but would I have as great an appreciation for it if I had?