Making a Plan

The unfinished part of the basement has returned to the forefront of my attention.  We pulled out the ping-pong table for Jonathan’s birthday party, months ago, which entailed scooting large amounts of stuff out of the way to move it.  We then turned around and put it back a few weeks after, which collided with Christmas and those boxes of decorations, which got pulled out and put back, and now—once again—you can barely walk in the unfinished part of the basement.  Once again, it’s time to look and think and be ruthless.

My current hang-up with getting rid of things is the thought that I could get money for some of them.  Usually I will donate without hesitation, loading up my car for Goodwill and dropping things off while running errands, but these items are such that I keep thinking I might actually be able to sell them.  That results in a total hold-up, though, as I think and sort and put off taking pictures and put off placing an ad on Craigslist and on and on….Weeks later, I have to confess that I would probably be much better off just getting the stuff to Goodwill and being done with it, if only for my peace of mind.

In a moment of clarity the other night, I realized that I needed to approach the basement differently.  Each time I walk in there, I’m overwhelmed by all the stuff, and I try to think of what I should be getting rid of and what needs to be moved….but I have no plan, no map to lead me in the way I should go.  It became suddenly obvious that what I needed to do first was to define what a basement should be used for.  In our family, the basement is for storing seasonal decorations, tools, and a few tubs of toys that only came out occasionally.  Once that mission was spelled out, the reality of how much junk was in there became apparent.  I had already noticed that the basement was where broken things went to die, and once my criteria for basement storage was outlined, all the things that didn’t fall into those categories leapt out at me in a new way.  I realized that if I truly had only those items in the basement that fit in my plan, it would look a completely different way—that was eye-opening.  It recharged me, and made me ready to attack the room with fresh eyes.

This same plan of attack can be used for each room in your home.  What is this room’s purpose?  What do we do here?  What is the room used for most frequently?  With those questions guiding you, begin to outline what should belong in the room and what makes no sense there.  By defining a room’s purpose, I can see more clearly that magazines don’t belong in the kitchen, boxes of markers and colored pencils don’t belong in the living room, and Legos don’t belong in the dining room.  (Actually, we’ve adapted to Legos in the dining room, but that’s another story.)

To use another example, take our garage, which is another area where things get dumped and never leave.  What should our garage be used for?  Storing two cars, gardening supplies and tools, and bikes and some sports equipment.  The swimming toys that got dropped in the corner this past summer should be living somewhere else (seasonal storage is in the basement, remember?), ancient (“antique?”) fishing rods need to be gotten rid of (we don’t fish!), and while storing basketballs here makes sense, do we really need three?  Especially since we no longer have a basketball hoop?

Remember that your plan for your room may be different; each family uses the rooms in their home differently.  Set your family’s mission for each room, and make sure each item in the room serves that mission.  When everything has a “home,” it’s much easier to put everything away.  Remember, also, that other family members need to have a say in what is going on.  When it became clear that the dining room was the room of choice to build with Legos, I got a couple of pretty baskets to set on the bottom shelf of a cabinet.  When we need the room, the toys go in the baskets; it takes about two minutes to clean up.  We use that room rarely enough that the kids can enjoy spreading out and having a place to set up and not have to tear down every thirty minutes.  So be ready and willing to adapt and work with the others in your home—it’s their home, too.  Even if it means the dining room is referred to as “the Lego room” by your youngest child.

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A Grateful Heart

Our bedtime routines have always included reading.  Even if it’s something short and sweet on a late night, I try to fit in at least a bit of cuddle-with-a-book time.  We used to snuggle in the cushy chair-and-a-half in the corner of the master bedroom; now the kids are bigger and we spread out on the sofa downstairs.  One night my son had discovered a new book on the bookshelf; one I had slid in quietly, intending to see how long it took to be discovered.

It was an enormous book of fairy tales, with incredibly detailed illustrations on each page.  I’d been talking to my mom about how I wanted just a book of “regular fairy tales;” no Disney, no marketing ploys, just the basic stories, and she had found this and bought it for the kids.  And what did my son choose to read that first night of discovering the book?  Hansel and Gretel.

I hesitated.  Hansel and Gretel isn’t exactly a bedtime story.  Let me read to you about a terrible stepmother who’ll lead kids into the woods to die and a wicked witch who eats children….and now let me tuck you in! might not be the best way to end a day.  But I did it.  (I then ended the night with my daughter’s choice, a short board book of nursery rhymes, hoping to soften the blow a bit.)

Then things got interesting.  As I tucked my daughter in that night I asked her, as always, what she was thankful for.  “Mommy and Daddy and my whole life today” (her standard answer) “and food.”  She continued quickly, before I could say anything:  “Not food like dinner.  Food like, we have food.  Hansel and Gretel didn’t have food.”

I sat there for a moment.  My brain was going a million miles a minute:  all the things in that story, the evil stepmother, the candy house, the wicked witch, cooking children, eating children, conquering the witch and making it home safely, and she walks away with….they had no food.  They were poor and hungry; indeed, they were literally starving.  And she was grateful that she had a house full of food.

I made sure that I included in our prayers that night thanks for a kitchen full of food; thanks that God had blessed us with an abundance and that any time we were hungry all we had to do was open the pantry or the fridge and dozens of choices beckoned.  For the rest of the night I looked at things through different eyes:  we have a sturdy house, to keep us warm and dry from the wind and rain.  We have a furnace that works, and (thank goodness) air conditioning when we need it.  We have running water and indoor plumbing and even a yard to play in.  My kids have their own bedrooms. We are so overwhelmingly blessed in our standard, day-to-day life and we so often take it for granted.  I was reminded of the verses in Psalms:  “Lord, you have assigned me my portion and my cup; you have made my lot secure.  The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; surely I have a delightful inheritance.  I will praise the Lord…” (Psalms 16:5-7).  I breathed prayers of thanks and praise not only for all these material things that give me such comfort on a regular basis, but also prayers of thanks for a little girl that reminded me of it.  And I prayed that God would continue to work in her heart in that way:  to make her extraordinarily thankful for even the most basic things and recognize them as the blessings they are.

Where do I start?

A friend asked me a question the other day:  “Where do you start?”  Meaning, do you work on the public areas of your home first?  Or do you work on “your” areas, the ones where you spend time?

I said to work on wherever you spend the most time, and I still stand by that answer.  It makes sense to tackle the areas where you always are, since you then get to enjoy the results more often.  I jokingly call our living room “my happy place:”  if I can sit in my spot on the sofa, and everything in my viewing area is uncluttered, I can pretty much ignore the Legos all over the dining room table in the other room.

I would add to that answer, though:  whichever area is making you craziest, that should probably be tackled first.  Maybe you spend most of your time in the living room, but your bedroom closet is so full that you can hardly get in the door, and it’s a trial each morning to just get dressed.  Every day you have to deal with the mess.  No one else sees it, but it’s a hassle to you, each and every day; maybe multiple times a day.  If there is something that is making your life miserable, constantly, even if no one else sees it, then work on that; your life will be more peaceful for it.

My laundry room closet is my favorite example.  Really, who is going to go digging in my laundry room closet besides me?  Absolutely nobody.  But when I reach in there to grab an extra bottle of detergent or a couple of rags, do I really want things falling on my head?  Obviously not.  I referred to the closet as “the pit of despair” when the caseworker came over to do our adoption home study a few weeks ago; while I doubt it’s in such a condition as to prevent us from getting a child, it’s not exactly my pride and joy.  So keeping it cleaned up, even if no one else is looking, really does turn into a priority for me.  I’m in there often enough that it makes life much easier to have it cleaned out and “company ready,” even though company will never actually come.

Whichever you choose, most-used areas or private spaces, I encourage you to start.

How clutter hurts your life

I want to start the week off looking at some ways clutter makes our life harder, besides what Flylady calls CHAOS (Can’t Have Anyone Over Syndrome).  I think that’s the first and most obvious reason people want to unclutter their homes.  But what about other problems it causes?

  • Unnecessary complications and minor irritations:  I’ve had two little socks tucked into my laundry room cabinet for months, waiting for their mates to turn up.  Load after load has been done in my washer, and still those little socks sat.  Doing a deep clean-out of my laundry room closet resulted in me locating the missing socks—tucked away, at some point, waiting for their mates to turn up.  (Argh.)  Another perfect example:  each time I try to stuff one more plastic cup into my kids’ “cup drawer.”  If I just got rid of just one cup out of here, things would fit better.  Instead, I’m playing Tetris each time I unload the dishwasher.
  • Missing out on what is truly important to you:  Each time you buy a new widget or goo-gah, you’re spending money you could have spent on something truly important to you.  Avoiding even a few $20 impulse buys results in almost $100 worth of money that could be earmarked for something magnificent.  Think of it:  One $5 thingy that you discover during your weekly grocery trips; maybe one $20 item you discover “on sale” each month, and one more “oooooh, I love it!  I don’t do this very often, so it’s okay!” $100 splurge every, say, four months ends up totaling eight hundred dollars in a year.  Eight hundred dollars.  (And sixty-eight things that you have to figure out what to do with.)  Don’t whine at me about not having enough money to do [fill in the blank] when you’re up to your ears in stuff.
  • Wasted time:  This is huge, and I’m thinking about this because I just cleaned out the laundry room closet.  Again.  It appears to remain clean for about three days in a row, and I’m starting to think the only way to truly keep it clean is to take the door off and have it all on display.  By tucking things in there (out of sight) to deal with later, I’m skipping the less-than-five-minute route of dealing with something now, instead piling it up gradually into a morning-long project.  Less stuff, less time to deal with it.  This also covers the time you lose looking for things you’ve lost, because there’s no designated place for them or because they’re buried in all the other stuff you own.  More wasted time.
  • Wasted money:  This may be a reach, but in the piles of papers stacked on your desk there could be old forgotten checks or gift cards waiting to be dealt with.  There’s also the more common occurrence of buying things you already have (but can’t find), or not returning things you don’t need (once you get home and realize you already have one).

I’m sure there’s more; I’d love to hear your ideas.  I think that once we recognize how much harm we’re doing to ourselves and our lives, we finally have the reason to change.

 

A Different Kind of Clutter

I was sitting on the sofa at the end of the day when my husband asked me if I was feeling all right.  “No,” I admitted, “I’m not.  And I have no idea what’s wrong.”  We’d had lots of sickness in the house at that point, and I just attributed it to “maybe I’m starting to come down with something.”  I let it go.

As I lay in bed later, though, it finally hit me.  I’d had no time alone in….let’s see….I began to count back.  I hadn’t been alone in the house for almost three full weeks.  I’d had something to do, places to go, or the kids had had days off school for three weeks.  As a full-fledged introvert, it’s no wonder I was feeling so “off.”  Once I’d made that realization, I immediately started feeling better; just knowing what was the matter helped me improve, and I could start thinking forward to when I could make “alone time” a possibility in my future.  (Even knowing it was almost a week away gave me something to hope toward.)

I realize there are millions of Type A people out there, who thrive on “lots to do” and “busy-busy-busy!!”  I am not one of them.  So when I got to that point of being overwhelmed, I didn’t even recognize it for what it was.  I had too much “stuff” in my life:  not material, tangible possessions, but “stuff” on the calendar, which had filled up so gradually I hadn’t really noticed it.  I’d joked with other moms about how each “kid-free” morning had filled up with something to do; how quickly it went from “Gosh, both the kids are in school!  Freedom!” to “Gotta run!  Too much to do today!”

When things get too bad, too busy, I try to remember a quote referenced in Celebration of Discipline:  “I find He never guides us into an intolerable scramble of panting feverishness.”  (pg. 128; from Thomas Kelly.)  I need to remember:

“He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul.”  (Psalm 23:2-3)

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you.”  (John 14:27)

“You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you.”  (Isaiah 26:3)

“Turn from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it.”  (Psalm 34:14)

I challenge you to evaluate your calendars.  Do you see “peace” or an “intolerable scramble?”  I pray “Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”  (Philemon 1:3)

From Yahoo: “Banker’s $350K Pay Not Enough”

Sometimes blog topics just fall in your lap.

This headline made me roll my eyes–but isn’t that what it was supposed to do?  The article (http://finance.yahoo.com/news/bonus-withdrawal-puts-bankers-malaise-050100338.html) was an interesting read.  Some quotes:

“[Andrew] Schiff, 46, is facing another kind of jam this year: Paid a lower bonus, he said the $350,000 he earns, enough to put him in the country’s top 1 percent by income, doesn’t cover his family’s private-school tuition, a Kent, Connecticut, summer rental and the upgrade they would like from their 1,200-square- foot Brooklyn duplex.”

 

“Facing a slump in revenue from investment banking and trading, Wall Street firms have trimmed 2011 discretionary pay. At Goldman Sachs Group Inc. (GS) and Barclays Capital, the cuts were at least 25 percent. Morgan Stanley (MS) capped cash bonuses at $125,000, and Deutsche Bank AG (DBK) increased the percentage of deferred pay.

‘It’s a disaster,’ said Ilana Weinstein, chief executive officer of New York-based search firm IDW Group LLC. ‘The entire construct of compensation has changed.’ ”

 

“M. Todd Henderson, a University of Chicago law professor who’s teaching a seminar on executive compensation, said the suffering is relative and real. He wrote two years ago that his family was ‘just getting by’ on more than $250,000 a year, setting off what he called a firestorm of criticism.

‘Yes, terminal diseases are worse than getting the flu,’ he said. ‘But you suffer when you get the flu.’ ”

 

” ‘I wouldn’t want to whine,’ Schiff said. ‘All I want is the stuff that I always thought, growing up, that successful parents had.’ ”

 

(My personal favorite is the “it’s a disaster” quote.  But that’s beside the point.)

What I want to think about for a moment is how each one of us, from billionaires to people making nearly nothing, are faced with choices every day.  (Alan Dlugash, an accountant quoted in the article, states, “If you’re making $50,000 and your salary gets down to $40,000 and you have to cut, it’s very severe to you… But it’s no less severe to these other people with these big numbers.”)  We each have to decide how we’re spending our money and our time, and all of us can sometimes be forced to make decisions and slash certain items, regardless of our total income.  Where do we choose to live?  Do we choose private school or public?  Do we choose cable TV or no?  Do we choose a restaurant meal or eating in?

This is our biggest and most important choice, though:  Are we recognizing our income and our ability to earn it as a gift from God, or are we looking at it as something that we worked hard for and earned on our own?  (America loves the idea of the “self-made man.”)  How we view the source of our finances should make a big difference in what we do with them.

Richard Foster defines “Inner Simplicity” in Celebration of Discipline:

First: receive what we have as a gift from God.

Second:  know that it is God’s business (not ours) to care for what we have.  We can trust Him.

Third:  have our goods available to others—“if our goods are not available to the community when it is clearly right and good, then they are stolen goods.”

“If we truly believe that God is who Jesus says he is, then we do not need to be afraid…the almighty Creator and our loving Father…we can share because we know that he will care for us.”

Are the financial choices I make as a believer reflective of God’s work in my life?  Am I allowing him to lead my use of our resources, putting Him first, and trusting him to faithfully provide?  Hopefully I will let God guide my choices, as I start with the choice to be thankful to Him for the gifts He has given my family.

One parting thought:  “There are two ways to get enough:  one is to continue to accumulate more and more.  The other is to desire less.” (–G.K. Chesterton)