Basement progress

August 30, 2012

Apparently, kids in school all day = official basement clean-out time.

I’ve worked a bit these past few days, ducking downstairs between grocery trips and volunteering in the school library and all the various other things that have to be done.  In the past, I’ve been horrible about procrastinating:  I would work and box things up or bag things up and there they would sit, for months; ready to go out the door and yet still sitting on the basement floor.  So my rule for this round of work was to get it in my car.

Day one, I told myself that all I really wanted was to be able to have a clear workbench:  once I had an empty surface on top of my workbench, I could stop.  Once I had that space, though, I wanted to keep going, at least a little.

Day two, I was a bit more vague, but my goal was to have the main area of floor empty.  The entire center of the room, empty.  And that little taste of space, foot by foot, encouraged me to keep working until it was done.

Two trips to Goodwill, one with a trunkful and one with a trunk FULL–plus backseat full–of “stuff” really can make a difference.  The room feels like it weighs less.  I still have an ugly pile on one side of the room, but the change in feeling when you walk in that door is amazing.  I can breathe again…the walls aren’t closing in; instead there’s space and room to roam.  (Well… as much as you can roam in a 11×14 foot storage area.)

Next week I’ll tackle the last pile, and over the next few months it’s time to seriously evaluate the tubs of “seasonal storage.”  In my opinion, seasonal stuff is what basement storage is for, but the amount of tubs we have down there (regardless of how neatly lined up against the wall) is a bit ridiculous.  As I pull things out for fall and Christmas, it’s time to cull.

Pillow problems

August 28, 2012

I’m laughing, because I just read a blog post about tossing throw pillows, and I just got new ones.  🙂

The author looks at her pillows through William Morris’ quote:  “Have nothing in your home that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.”  For her, the pillows fit neither criteria.  In our home, however, throw pillows are useful.  Back support in our chairs, propping laptops and books in laps, cozying kids up; especially poor, sick kids, camped out in the living room.  We use those throw pillows; good grief, even the dog uses our throw pillows.  They were so loved and well-used that they needed to be replaced.  They were useful, maybe, but definitely not beautiful.  (You can only wash pillows so many times….)

So I have two sets of two pillows sitting in my laundry room right now (happy birthday to me!).  And I am typing this on a laptop that sits on an old pillow.

Why?

Because they’re new and fresh and clean and too pretty to use.

Yes, even after I wrote an entire post devoted to the idea of “too” stuff, how everything in our house gets used, how we don’t have anything “too” nice or “too” fragile to be used… In the house where I just pulled out my grandmother’s cranberry glassware bowls to use everyday, because they’re a perfect size and why buy new ones if we have ones that work…. I have four pillows stacked neatly, waiting.  Just…waiting.

Time to go get the pillows.  The useful, beautiful pillows.

“And the people continued to bring freewill offerings morning after morning.  So all the skilled craftsmen who were doing all the work on the sanctuary left their work and said to Moses, ‘The people are bringing more than enough for doing the work the Lord commanded to be done.’  Then Moses gave an order and they sent this word throughout the camp:  ‘No man or woman is to make anything else as an offering for the sanctuary.’  And so the people were restrained from bringing more, because what they already had was more than enough to do all the work.”  –Exodus 36:3-7

I was overwhelmed by these words in Exodus recently, as Moses led the building of the tabernacle.  Can you imagine being a part of a group who just kept giving?  Who had to be restrained from continuing to give?  Who wanted so much to be a blessing to the Lord that they gave, morning after morning?

My Bible commentary reminded me:  Exodus 35:5 states “From what you have, take an offering for the Lord” (emphasis mine).  “We sometimes dream of what we would give to God if we were wealthy.  Moses’ instructions to Israel are a healthy reminder.  We can give only from what we have.  When we give willingly, we please God and find joy in giving…Today too, if all would give of what they have, there would be more than enough to do all God commands” (The Bible Reader’s Companion, by Lawrence O. Richards).

More than enough, if we all would give of what we had.

My daughter had a friend over to play recently, and this was the question shyly asked about our fourth bedroom upstairs.

I had to laugh, because looking in the room, it was a completely fair question.  I explained that the room used to be an office, and now we were turning it into a bedroom (for our eventual adoption), so right now it was sort of “in-between.”  It was an honest description of the situation.  That being said, it’s been an “in-between” room for a really, really long time.

There are remnants of “office” in there:  a (completely empty) computer armoire, one kitchen chair used for a computer chair, a rocking chair, and a side table.  There’s also a child’s desk and a doll’s “baby care center,” pulled from bedrooms to go to the basement playroom, but somehow stalled out upstairs.  There’s also our stepladder.  At some point, I needed the stepladder upstairs to do something, but it was so long ago I actually don’t remember what it was.  (I’ve seriously thought about this for three days…I have no idea why that stupid thing is up there, it was that long ago.)

Admittedly, lots of things are “trapped” because I need help moving them down the stairs (even the child’s desk I’m not too keen on tackling by myself).  But the room has been in transition for so long that I’ve reached the point of absolutely no excuses.  I won’t even mention the file cabinet and stacks of papers in the closet….

It’s hard to commit myself to working in the room; the uncertainty of what to expect weighs on me as I think about getting started.  Who are we getting the room ready for?  Boy or girl?  How many?  How old?  What will they need?  Instead of anticipation, it’s a feeling of almost frustration–why am I cleaning this out now?  It almost seems like it would be easier to wait:  wait until we could be getting a room “ready for someone,” instead of simply “cleaning it out.”  Building on an attitude of excitement, instead of simply the reality of the unknown.

But here’s the thing:  I know, without a doubt, one thing any child will need will be an EMPTY ROOM.  A room standing ready; able to be filled with them and their things.  Wouldn’t it be easier, wouldn’t it be so much less stressful, to start moving forward on a child (or children) feeling like we’re ready to welcome them in; into a room completely cleared of everything and ready to make their own?

Maybe, just maybe, the next time someone asks me “what’s that room for?” it will be because it’s empty; ready to be filled.

Back to school…

August 20, 2012

So…that’s where I’ve been for the past week.

Doing the last bit of shopping for what the kiddos need, while trying to not duplicate what we already have.

Savoring the last two days of summer break.

Labeling school supplies and loading backpacks.

Squeezing in one last big trip to the library.

Meeting teachers, student teachers (for both kids!), and checking in with past teachers.

Consoling my tearful daughter, often, about going to “all-day” school, aka first grade.  (“Why can’t we just go half-day?  I liked half-day!  I’ll miss you!”)

Settling the kids in their classrooms and then spending an entire day with my mom; coffee, lunch, shopping….

Doing my normal, day-to-day housekeeping things….with an added benefit of kid-free grocery shopping.

Praying for my little ones, as they start this new year.

Tucking notes in lunch boxes, hoping they give at least a bit of encouragement (especially for “all-day” daughter).

And fending off question after question after question, all phrased a bit differently, but all asking the same thing:  “What are you going to do with all your time?”

Truth:  I’m not 100% sure.  Day Three of no-kids and I haven’t approached anything like a “normal” day yet; the year is still too new to have established any true routines.  Even my normal morning routine has been upended this year; forced into something different and still not truly set.  What will my days look like?  What will I be doing with this time?

I’m fairly sure He will show me.

Neat Freak

August 10, 2012

From The Comforts of Home, by Caroline Clifton-Mogg:

the joys of an orderly home

To live in the midst of disorder is disorientating, for nothing is more uncomfortable than a house where every chair is covered with old newspapers or toys, every table coated with the leftovers of the last meal, every bed unmade and every bathroom floor littered with unfolded, unhung towels.  So why is it that in some contemporary circles the word ‘order’ or ‘orderly’ is mocked for sounding out of date and old-fashioned?  Is it that their military and service connotations do not adequately convey the quiet pleasures of a home that is tidy, comfortable, friendly and warm?

A real home is a self-contained place where everything works for the benefit of the people who live there.  It isn’t just tidiness freaks who like to open a linen cupboard and see order–folded, stacked sheets and pillowcases instead of crumpled, billowing unidentifiable mounds.  And there are few people who do not like to see an orderly pantry, well-stocked with satisfying rows of jars and bottles, tins and packets; all promising delicious meals to come.

The easiest way to bring order into a home is to organize, and the first step in organization is to get rid of all surplus clutter.”

I stumbled across this book at the library last week, thinking I was simply getting a “house book” to flip through with my daughter the decorator.  (“Mommy, can we get a house book to look at?” is a question I hear regularly.)  I ended up reading it cover to cover….and I loved this bit, because I always feel like I should be slightly apologetic about keeping a “tidy” home.  The phrases “neat freak” and “obsessive-compulsive” are all the words that seem to come up when you talk about someone with a clean house; there are always negative thoughts toward the apparently crazed monster that insists on (gasp!) wiping down the kitchen table after a meal.  I loved to read her description of how a clean and orderly home acts as a blessing to everyone who lives there.

I suppose, if you’re dealing with a perfectionistic drill seargent who insists that the rest of the family “pull their weight” and do it up to his or her standards….I can see, then, why a clean house would have a negative connotation.  I don’t want my children to grow up thinking their attempts to help are never “good enough,” or my family to avoid coming home because their mother is incessantly cleaning, or my kids to not bring friends over because their mother doesn’t want anything “messed up.”  But I don’t see anything wrong with having a home that is welcoming and comfortably clean….

I really like the word “tidy.”  🙂

Goodbye, summer….

August 8, 2012

Admittedly, the first day of fall isn’t until September 21st, but school starts for us next week.  It’s been the hottest summer I can remember, so in a way, I’m quite ready to see it go.  There’s still that part of me, though, that dreads the up-and-out-the-door of the school year, no matter how nice the weather is.

Before school was out, clear back in May, I took a piece of paper and the kids and I brainstormed every single thing they wanted to do (or would do) this summer. (Interestingly enough, this was weeks before I read a post about filling your summer with summer things, which just confirmed my plans.)   Their page included a wide range of ideas, from “grocery shopping with mom” and “eye doctor” to “go to Six Flags” and “NOT set an alarm” (offered up by my constantly sleep-deprived daughter).  We covered the paper with every single idea they could come up with, from the basic to the ridiculous; once finished, the grand total was sixty-eight items.

There were a few “sorry, guys, there’s no way” ideas, especially as they listed every possible amusement park/water park etc. within a reasonable drive, and threw in a major league baseball game to boot.  (Seriously, if we’d done all they wanted to do, we’d be beyond broke by now.)  It also pains me that one of the things that didn’t get done was “work in the garden with mom;” no one wanted to be in the garden this year, it was so hot.  But in spite of all the things that didn’t get done, we actually did fifty-three out of the sixty-eight things they came up with.  Fifty-three!

That, my friends, is a summer…in spite of 105 degree temps.

Girl time

August 6, 2012

I had the opportunity to spend the afternoon with just my girl recently.  Since my son was out and about for special time with my husband, I offered to take her out and about for a snack; anywhere she wanted to go.  Where would she like to go for a treat?  Her choice.

Her choice?  “Starbucks.”

(Gah!!  I’ve completely corrupted my child!!  She’s only six, for crying out loud!)

So….to Starbucks we went.  It’s right around the corner from our house (wait….can’t pretty much everyone say that?) and as we pulled into the parking lot she asked if we could go to the girly-girl store that was in the strip mall behind the coffeeshop.  I bargained:  a trip to the home-stuff store for me, and I’d take her to her store.

Deal.

After thoroughly enjoying her raspberry truffle cake pop (“Mommy!  This is the best food I have ever eaten in my entire life!!”) we went to look at “her” store, one of those tween shops that’s really too old for her, with cute (expensive) clothes and a gazillion (pricey) accessories.  As we pulled up, she announced that “just looking in the window makes me happy.”  My stomach turned….am I raising some materialistic little brat?  “Why does that store make you happy?”

“Because it’s all pink and purple!  It’s just happy colors!”

Whew…

We strolled the store, and she looked at everything, her enthusiasm unbounded.  Not once did she ask for anything.  Not once did she request, beseech, inquire, suggest, or demand.  She was beyond happy just to look, to see all the fun stuff, and then, when we were done, to walk out empty-handed; chattering away about her favorite finds.

I’m still in awe of her attitude.  Her willingness to deeply enjoy everything around her (especially the food), and her willingness to walk away from all of it with a smile on her face:  she’d enjoyed it, and she’d have lovely memories of it, and now she was done.  No greed, no ugliness in her heart; just a sincere joy in everything we did together.

Joyful gratefulness?  Grateful joyfulness?  I don’t know what to call it, but I want it.

I’ve been reading minimalist blogs for a while, and it seems to have been a very trendy topic for young singles or young marrieds.  I often found myself rolling my eyes and muttering but wait until you have kids.

Well, now I’m being challenged by a new discovery:  blogs written by families, with children (sometimes lots of children), and their stories of simplifying and downsizing (sometimes really downsizing).  Finding out a family of four can thrive in a one-bedroom apartment is a bit of a shock to the system.  All my blathering on about decluttering loses something when I face the fact that we still have a stinkin’ big house.  I’ve wondered often in the past if the size of our home made those who knew me gag:  what a hypocrite!  what kind of simple living is she talking about?

[Full disclosure:  our home is, according to 2010 numbers (all I’m finding at this point), a totally American average 2300 square feet, with its finished basement.  I think it’s huge, but the homes 2 1/2 times the size of ours to our immediate east tend to put a different perspective on things.]

I’ve thought a lot lately about our home, about moving, about really downsizing and what that would look like.  Some things I’m mulling over:

First of all, there’s the very basic cost analysis.  The work we would need to do to sell this house, for what we would get for the house, to then buy (nope, not renting, sorry–there’s another reason I’ll never be a “true” minimalist) another house….the math doesn’t add up.  And I’m selfish:  even though I like the idea of downsizing, I tend to look at home prices and say “but our house is so much nicer for the price!”  Paying more for less house (a very real possibility in our location, especially with what we have left on the mortgage) doesn’t really appeal to me.  Paying less for less house seems to mean copious amounts of renovation…. defeating the purpose of paying less in the first place.

Secondly, I’m incredibly blessed to have the space we have, and am reminded of it each and every time we go on vacation.  Any time we stay in a hotel, I spend 95% of my time there in high-stress mode, constantly reminding the kids to be quiet:  there are people next door; there are people downstairs; there are people sleeping…. I turn into monster-mommy, trying to clamp a lid on my little ones normal noise level.  The same thing happens at home, too, on Saturday mornings:  shhh… Daddy’s still sleeping.  But wait:  at home, on those Saturday mornings, I get to say go to the basement; you can be as loud as you want down there.  Stress level:  zero.  That, for me, is a wonderful blessing.

Also:  we host.  A lot.  Christmas, Easter, Thanksgiving, birthdays….our families rotate hosting duties, and we have people over, often.  Having that space to spread out after a holiday meal is wonderful.  Even on Saturdays, if my family comes over, we spread out:  my dad might be reading in the relative quiet of the front room, my mom and sister and I chat in the kitchen while my son plays with Legos at the kitchen table, my daughter “does gymnastics” in the living room, and baby cousin bounces in her seat in the living room/kitchen doorway.  We have room to host, in a comfortable way.  And if all the people get to be too much for someone, they can hide upstairs or in the basement when needed.

Which brings me to my last point; my most important point.  We are currently planning to adopt from the foster care system.  Having that space–that ability to be away from someone–is something that I want to hold on to at all costs.  When and if we have more siblings in this house, I want to be able to have the kids separate when necessary:  Sweet boy, head to the basement for awhile; you need some time alone.  I know that there will probably be shared bedrooms in our future, which makes having extra space all that more precious.  I think of our front room our “away room,” an idea from The Not So Big House, and I joke that the big blue chair in the corner is the “alone chair,” where you go when you want to be alone.  So far I’m the only one in this house that uses it (haha), but I think that idea is going to be important when we start meshing who-knows-how-many new personalities into this home.

I know, absolutely, that my intentions of not moving don’t really matter.  We’ve “moved for the last time” three times now, and I fully recognize that my plans are not always God’s plans.  A job loss, a fire, a tornado….all sorts of things could happen to force my hand.  And I’ll take that as it comes.  But right now, I’m going to focus on simplifying and decluttering, and continue being content and incredibly grateful……but not downsizing.