A beautiful basement

June 28, 2012

We had a big gathering at our home recently, which involved at least six couples and over a dozen children.  It was the “over a dozen children” part that led to some serious basement cleaning.  The original intent was to have the get-together outside, but with a high of 102, the basement playroom seemed a bit more practical for at least some of the evening.

One corner of our basement seems to be “Wii central.”  We have thirty-two Wii games (yes, I counted), which actually doesn’t bother me at all:  they line up neatly in their boxes and sit nice and straight on a little built-in shelf.  There’s something very “small” about them; even if there are thirty-two, they’re compact and contained.  The issue is all our musical instruments.

My kids love, love, playing Rock Band.  We started out with Beatles Rock Band and it seemed to grow from there; between the “Just Dance” series and the “Rock Band” series my children not only know who Tom Jones is but also know all the words to “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots” by the Flaming Lips.  They’re a bit obsessed; especially my son, who would pick playing Rock Band over watching TV any day.  And, consequently, we’ve got a problem.

We have one set of drums, two microphones, a “keyboard,” two Wii guitars, three (real) bass guitars, two (real) amps, and an acoustic guitar.  And about a bajillion cords with each item.  (That part may be a slight exaggeration….)

So when my husband cleaned up the basement, in the interest of keeping our “stuff” safe and making the basement more of a real play space for our visitors, he packed away all the instruments (and cords).

It’s amazing.

It is so beautiful down there, with nothing at all on the floor in front of the TV….just a basket for a few Wii accessories on the cedar chest and that’s it.  I can’t even describe the difference it’s made in the room as a whole, to have all that stuff (especially the cords) packed up and put away.  (I won’t talk about the difference it’s made in the unfinished part of the basement, where they’re being stored….I’m too busy looking at the lovely.)  I’m trying to think, frantically trying to figure out a way that we can keep the corner looking that nice, even if we get out the instruments.  What would it take?  How could we make it work?  How do we store these things where they’re usable, but not taking over?

I haven’t solved it yet.  I need to think quickly….my son is going to want to play Rock Band at some point, and if I’m not careful, we’re going to have a new batch of cord spaghetti cooked up all over the basement floor.  Again.

It’s been a busy few days, after a mostly quiet start to our summer.  We’re starting to settle back into normal after a week of Vacation Bible School (meaning very late nights and sleeping-abnormally-late mornings for my kiddos).  As I sat on the sofa recently I looked around and got the distinct impression that things had gotten a little out of control.

I sit and write about “pursuing enough,” and around me “enough” appears to be stealthily multiplying at night.  The dining room table can’t be seen for the piles of legos and lego buckets.  The library books have escaped their basket and appear to be on every single flat surface downstairs.  My son’s steady stream of artwork and papers have crept from the kitchen counter to a small side table in the kitchen to the kitchen table to the dining room….My daughter’s goody bags from VBS have yet to be dealt with, migrating from her place at the table to the kitchen counter and back again.  The worst part, for me, is that I ruined my beautifully clean laundry room closet with one bag of random junk culled from a drawer in my son’s room (I’ll deal with this later).  That one bag will sprout tentacles and my closet will be unusable in a week; I know it.

I’ve spent my downtime this summer reading books like “Simple Country Wisdom” (charming) and “Simplicity Parenting” (amazing), and yet I currently seem to be back to drowning in the swamp of “stuff.”

Here’s the difference, though:  I now know what to do about it.

I think, before, I would spend a lot of time procrastinating about what to do and how to do it because “it’s going to take forever.”  Actually, it takes about fifteen minutes; or ten minutes, or five minutes–however long I want to devote to the problem.  I set a timer and just do it–because even five minutes of uncluttering is an improvement.  Five minutes gets all the library books rounded up and back where they belong.  Five minutes gets all the papers gathered in a single stack (although admittedly it will take another ten to go through them).  The dining table will be reclaimed eventually, ten minutes at a time.  Some things the kids will help with, and some I’ll take care of myself….but it will get done.  I just have to get up and do it.

On that note…..I guess it’s time to get to work.

Summer routines

June 21, 2012

The summer rule at our house is “no screen time until after noon.”  It’s been that way for a few years, when I realized that once the TV went on, it didn’t turn off easily.  It’s not so hard keeping the kids from starting it…..it can be quite difficult getting them to stop.  So we solved the problem by slapping down the rule, which also covers the computer and time on the Wii, and we really haven’t met with too much resistance.  I truly don’t mind the kids watching TV in the afternoon, especially in July when it’s one hundred nasty, sticky degrees outside.  Flopping down on the floor of an air-conditioned house sounds pretty appealing to me, too; and with the DVR we can watch when they want, and skip the ads.

That leaves the morning for errand running and playing outside, before it gets too hot out.  Then we tend to hibernate for the rest of the day (though not necessarily in front of a screen).

What I didn’t expect was my reaction to our rule this summer.  I was a little shocked at how much I felt the pull to get on the computer; I was really angry with myself, for awhile, for how difficult it was for me to give up my own “screen time.”  But then it hit me:  it was messing with my routine.

For an entire school year I’ve dropped the kids off at school, come home, grabbed my coffee, and hit the computer.  I’d balance the checkbook first thing, and then move on to checking e-mail and other assorted tasks.  That’s nine months of establishing a habit that I was suddenly forced to break.  It’s not so much that I’m addicted to the computer or screen time or e-mail or any one of those things; it’s simply this is what I do next.

That realization was a great comfort to me.  Instead of getting angry with myself for being so drawn to the computer, I can simply remind myself gently that it’s hard to change a habit.  Our summer schedule is so much simpler:  I’m loving my time with my kiddos, our extra snuggle time in the mornings, and not having to be out the door at 8:00AM sharp….if I can enjoy all these other changed-for-summer routines, surely I can get over any lack of computer time.

I joke that our home is furnished in “acquired traditional,” but I truly realized recently that our home really is put together from hand-me-downs.  Not in a sad and decrepit way, but in a “wow, we’ve gotten a lot of furniture from grandparents” kind of way.  My daughter sleeps in my old bed, which was my grandmother’s (on my father’s side) bed.  We have a desk in our front room where I scrapbook, which belonged to my grandmother on my mother’s side.  Even the dishes stacked in our kitchen cabinets belonged to my grandparents.

I was thinking about this recently in light of the idea of “accumulating.” As I started to really evaluate our rooms, I found that often, passed-down furniture outnumbers store-bought furniture; quite drastically, in some cases.  Our front room is a perfect example:  four pieces of furniture; three of which are from family.  The dining room:  four pieces of furniture, counting the table and chairs as one item; again, three of those items are from family.  (Which is why, if pressed, I would give away my table over my corner cabinets.  The table we found at a huge furniture store.  The cabinets were my great-grandmother’s, and come complete with a story attached.)

Why does any of this matter?  Why is this suddenly on my mind?  Because there’s a foreclosure in our neighborhood that’s about $46,200 less than the current mortgage we hold.  The wheels are turning in my brain….could we move?  Should we move?  One of our biggest reasons for not moving again has been to make sure the kids don’t have to change schools; in this case, they’d be staying put, so that excuse is out the window.  So this is a real possibility.  Could we do this?

I’ve driven by the house about five times over the past week.  It’s definitely a “fixer-upper.”  How much of that $46K would end up being spent on “fixing-up?”  It’s listed as a four bedroom, but it’s technically three, plus a bedroom added to the basement.  I’m not a fan of kids sleeping in basement bedrooms….

The list goes on and on, with little “not-quite-right” and “wouldn’t-quite-work” items.  Honestly, though, the biggest problem boils down to our (read: my) hand-me-down “stuff.”  I might not be big on a lot of “stuff,” but the bit I keep is apparently very important to me.  If I don’t have a place to put the piano…or the corner cabinets…or the desk…I don’t think I want the house.

If we ever decide to truly downsize, once the kids are grown and gone, making decisions about what to do away with is going to be exceptionally difficult.  I’m currently choosing to look at the upside of this situation:  I have a beautifully furnished home full of wonderful memories of wonderful people.  As my kids get older, they’ll be hearing stories about these items and learn why they make me smile.

Summertime…

June 14, 2012

Summer is my least favorite season.  Just as I’m not a “beach person,” like everyone else around me seems to be, I’m also not a “summer person.”  I know that makes me weird, and I’m okay with that.  But I’ve been really irritated with myself lately for dreading summer’s arrival, when there’s actually only one thing I really dislike about it:  the heat.  (Which, yes, can be completely unreasonable at times….but I’m putting that thought away for right now.)

The thing is, there are lots of things I truly like about summer, and I am determined to focus on those this year; to focus on the present and the now and to “fill my summer with summer things.”  (Many thanks to the “My Men and Me” blog for this final bit of inspiration: http://mymenandme.wordpress.com/2011/11/04/not-enough-picnics/ )

Summer blessings:

Quiet, no-rush mornings where we don’t have to scramble to get out the door on time.

Mornings spent in our glider swing:  two kids, one mom, books.

Grilling for dinner.  (Double points for this, since that means my husband is doing the cooking.)

Sitting in the shade chatting with friends at playgroup while the kids run wild…and coming home from playgroup, with sweaty, rosy-cheeked kids, walking into the sweet relief of air-conditioning.

Leaving the library with piles of books.  Often.

Waking up in the sunlight instead of the dark.

Kids running through the sprinkler.

Sidewalk chalk.

The birds enjoying the bounty of our mulberry tree.

Visits to Sylas & Maddy’s ice cream parlor.

Not having to set my daughter’s alarm clock.

Staying home on scorching afternoons with the lights off and the blinds opened just enough to let in some light.  (The kids asked to keep the lights off recently:  “It just feels cooler.”)

Art projects with the kids.

Watching parent birds feeding baby birds, seemingly in every tree in our backyard.

I have until the start of school on August 15th to enjoy these things as much as possible.  I plan on it.

My Paradox

June 12, 2012

I moved the living room furniture last week, pushing the sofa directly in front of our bay window.  (It’s air conditioner season here, so I don’t anticipate opening the window anytime soon.)  I was completely not expecting the enthusiastic response I got from both my kids, who appeared to be positively thrilled with the new arrangement.  My daughter was actually dancing around the room.  “Why?” I finally asked.  “Why do you like the furniture this way?”

“For our nest!!” my daughter announced.  And, yes, by the next afternoon there was a pile behind the sofa, and the spot was officially dubbed their “nest.”

There are no fewer than nine blankets and six pillows back there.  The amount of stuff in that nook, which is maybe eight feet at it’s very widest point (but it’s a bay, so it narrows to about 3 1/2′), looks ridiculous.  (Actually, to be honest, it looks quite comfy.)  All the blankets and pillows are tumbled and tossed together, in a jumble of chaos where the “dividing line” between my kids’ spaces is vaguely discernable by a color change:  one side is mostly blue, one side is mostly pink.  It’s the definition of “excess.”

But….

If one of the high points of my kids’ summer is the ability to make a “nest;” to snuggle in behind the sofa, in the dappled shade of the trees that grow just outside the window, and read a book; or to just hang out together (as they often do)…..then, isn’t that a definition of simplicity?

Back to Basics

June 7, 2012

After my post about “How far we’ve come,” I was asked about how I was going to get “back to basics,” what I was going to do to move in the direction of a simpler home.  I could think, immediately, of a few things, but the more I thought about it the more I thought of….so here are some ideas.

First, there’s the obvious:  those moments where I decide that “today I’m going to tackle that drawer…..”  or shelf, or cabinet, etc.  Not an entire closet; just a bite at a time, to make sure I finish what I start.  I’ll go through each item, decide if it’s something we use or if it’s better off blessing someone else, and box or bag up what needs to leave the house.  But that’s only a bit part of the whole.  For lack of a better word, I’m going to call this a “lifestyle adjustment.”  (That sounds really snooty, doesn’t it?  I just mean that there seems to be a need to change how we think about stuff before we can conquer it.)

I also keep brown-paper grocery bags stowed away around the house.  There’s one in our closet, so the minute I try on a shirt I haven’t worn in a while and realize why I haven’t worn it in a while, I can change immediately into something different and add the shirt to the bag.  I keep one in the laundry room closet, so that once I’ve told one of the kids, “Last wearing on those shorts!” (or shirt, or whatever), I can add the item of clothing to the bag the minute it comes out of the wash.  I also have a nice basket on one of the shelves in that closet (about 9×13, and deep), where I put things destined for the thrift store.  This is, admittedly, where fast food toys go to die; but it also holds lots of other things that are preparing to move out the door.

The idea of “one-in-one-out” is gaining ground with the kids; they’ve realized that we’ll take a trip to the used book store if they have a stack of books ready to sell.  This is actually better than one in/one out, since the ratio usually ends up being something like one in/five out; but since they come home with cash they still think they’ve got the better end of the deal.  It’s also become easier with clothing:  we bought you those shoes to replace your worn out ones seems to make a lot of sense to them, and out the trashed ones go.

Finally, though….this is where the “lifestyle adjustment” begins.  I had a friend call recently from a store she was at, offering to pick up water bottles for my kids.  Stainless steel, with the kids’ names on them, on sale for 99 cents.  (99 cents!!)  And I said….no.  Because I know we already have two stainless steel water bottles, one for each kid, plus a Hello Kitty water bottle my daughter kept at school, plus two nice plastic water bottles….you get the idea.  I know we don’t need any more water bottles; regardless of how cool or how cheap (or how thoughtful my friend was).  The reality is, we don’t need a lot of things.  But I have to change my lifestyle; my mindset; my heart about what is a “need” and what is a “want”…..and maybe, at some point, admit where purchasing a “want” might be okay.  I have to change our buying habits; and we weren’t big spenders to begin with.

That’s the hardest part of the process:  the heart change that has to take place to say, “Thank you, Lord, for the abundant blessings you have given me, and now I will be content with that.”  Even better, to say “Thank you, Lord….what would you like me to give away today?  May I be content with less.”

June 6, 2012

My first time being asked to write a guest post! The Sort-It blog is great for organizing advice….especially when the organizer answers your questions personally. 😉

Sort It ~ Professional Organizing for the Toronto Area

I have been following fellow blogger Jen at Pursuing “Enough” for a few months now. She writes candidly about her battle with stuff, and all the fun things that contribute to it, like her kids. After a few comments back and forth on a post I wrote back in February (Can’t Touch This), I asked Jen to share her experience of putting that advice into practice. So, here we go:

I am learning that just because I am on a quest to simplify our family’s life, it doesn’t mean that anyone else is going to go along with it easily.  My son, especially, has such a tenderhearted, sentimental nature; it’s extremely hard—seemingly almost painful—for him to get rid of things.  When he was three, it was precious and charming:  “Mommy!  We can’t get rid of that book!  It has baby remembers all over it!”  Once he hit eight…

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I’ve made all my snobby pronouncements about how people waste time on the internet:  too much Facebook, too much Twitter, too much Angry Birds, etc.  I can sit on my high horse and make those comments because I’m rarely spending time on them.  Checking in on Facebook once a day hardly takes over my life, and I’m not on Twitter at all.  I’ve even (gasp!!) never actually played Angry Birds.  Maybe if I did I’d really like it…..but I haven’t bothered to try it yet.

So now I’ll ‘fess up to how I waste my time online.  (And I can really, really waste some time with this.)

I look at houses.

It started out of necessity:  every time we’d move and be, literally, house shopping, I’d hop online and look at houses; sorting which might be a possibility and which we could rule out.  Even after a move, though, and even now when we’re done moving (knock on wood), I love to look at houses.  When I’m driving the kids to school, or coming home from the grocery store, seeing a new “For Sale” sign in a yard prompts an immediate thought of Oh!  I’ll have to look that one up!  The Realtor.com app on my phone should be disabled, and instead I downloaded another local real estate app.  (Because some listings have more photos, that’s why.)  I can spend an embarrassingly long time scrolling through “Nearby Homes For Sale.”  When it was a hundred degrees last summer, I humored myself by looking at houses in Maine.

I have absolutely no pangs of discontent as I look; I’m not dealing with envy or jealousy, or frustration with our own home.  (I like this house so much that my response might be something like, that’s a cool house, but I’d rather have mine.)  I’m not desiring “more” or “better.”  I just like to look at houses.

What’s fun, on occasion, is to pull the map over to where our first home was; to zoom in on our old neighborhood and click to see homes for sale.  Looking through those photos, all those little identical ranch homes…it really does take me back to where we were, years ago.  And I’m torn about the change in our standard of living.

Our first house had three bedrooms and one bath, which would have provided our (then non-existent) kids with their own bedrooms; though I suppose one bath could have made for some occasional discomfort.  It had a living room and a nice-sized eat-in kitchen and a one-car garage.  Laundry hook-ups were in the kitchen.  What more, really, even now, do we need?  Admittedly, jobs dictated moves, but I wonder if we’d stayed in that town how long we could have lasted in that home; how long we could have made do with what we had and made it work–probably pretty well, actually.  At what point would we have been crowded and uncomfortable, with two kids in that little house?  Would we have just sent them outside more often?  At what point would I have been completely frustrated with a one-car garage?  When would I have decided that huddling in a hallway listening to tornado sirens wasn’t enough, and I wanted a basement, now?  I truly don’t think we would have stayed there forever.

My husband actually mentioned our first home recently (commenting that we would have had that house paid off by now), and I asked him if he thought we would have stayed put, if jobs hadn’t interfered.  He smiled and pointed out that I would have found some classic Craftsman bungalow closer to “downtown” and we would have ended up there instead.  (Sigh.  So true.)

I look around three moves later, though, to see the accumulation of the fourteen years of stuff after that first house, stuff that has grown and expanded to fill the space offered, and I do wonder how to get back to what we need.  To peel back the layers of excess and get down to the basic needs of running a home.  Not a bare, spartan home, but not an extravagant home, either:  a comfortable, peaceful home, where people have what they need and aren’t buried by any more.

June 2, 2012

I thought this was the most amazingly beautiful description of what we should be striving for in our lives…what the end goal of all this “simplifying” really is. I hope you appreciate it as much as I did.

My Men and Me

For years I have tried to live out a simple life. To shake off the unnecessary, the excess. To sift through the stuff, to purge. This is a daily challenge, I have found. The journey of a lifetime. Often I have strayed off the narrow path of enough onto the paved highway of too much.

What is becoming clearer to me, is that there is more to a simple life than the making of one. That the process of reduction is not the life itself. There is a beyond.

Because after the simplifying, the sifting, the making smaller … there is something left. There is that which was deemed important and valuable and necessary. And the step beyond, the beauty of simplicity, the living of the simple life … is the caring for that which has been kept.

What is left is named treasure and the…

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