Words of Inspiration

February 3, 2017

Months ago–maybe even over a year–I put The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up on hold at the library.  I was something like 312th in line; at some point, we butted up against our hold limit, and I removed it from the list to put a hold on something else more pressing.  So when I found it at the library recently (on the shelf!), I snagged it.  On the way out I did a quick pass through the new book display and discovered her latest, Spark Joy.  I walked out that morning looking forward to a new round of reading and maybe a new way of thinking.

I enjoyed both books.  Some things I admittedly thought were a little quirky…the idea of folding every item of clothing we own I found a little ridiculous.  Our closets seem to be serving us just fine, thank  you–and maybe that’s why I thought it was a strange idea.  If we were struggling for storage or having trouble with making our space work, the folding concept might have really appealed to me.

Other things I felt strangely vindicated by:  keeping things that “spark joy” has apparently been a guiding force in my decluttering for years; I just hadn’t put words to it.  It was nice not only to have a phrase for what was leading me but also to have a reason for keeping the odd things I couldn’t quite bear to get rid of.  I’ve always theorized that if you get rid of enough stuff that doesn’t matter, you’re allowed to keep those things that do, even if it’s a little “weird,” to use my son’s favorite term.

The most important discovery for me, though, came from her book Spark Joy.  “No matter how much stuff you may own, the amount is always finite.”  The amount is always finite.  I almost have to use the word “epiphany” here….the realization that there was An End.  There would be a point where every room in the house has been gone through, has been evaluated, and has been decluttered.  That idea lit a spark under me (sorry, that was completely unintentional) and I dove into the basement storage area with renewed energy.  Because after all, it’s a finite amount of stuff!!

Basement storage, for our needs, is really very specific.  We need a place for seasonal decorations, a place for tools, and a place for those icky “you can’t  get rid of these tax records for at least seven to ten years.”  That’s it.  The unfortunate truth was that the room was turning into storage for “we might use this someday” (Exhibit A:  an inflatable wading pool I used when the bigs were about 6 and 4, around seven years ago) and “I’m too lazy to carry this trash upstairs” (Exhibit B:  that bag there…and there….and there….).  I went in inspired, and succeeded in creating a storage room that was actually a functional storage room.  The east wall consists of bins for seasonal storage, the northeast corner a workbench with tools, and the north wall ends in a small bookcase that holds two file boxes.  Yes, there is still a bit to weed on the tool bench, but the room is so clear that the bigs set up a table against the west wall and brought down some Legos.  (My son refers to this as “baby-free space.”  Even though the “baby” is three now.)

I weeded through our seasonal stuff and managed to narrow things down to one bin per season, except for winter.  Christmas means that pretty much all the other bins down there are “winter,” and I succeeded in scaling back enough to ditch one entire bin from Christmas storage.  In all, I’m down five bins of “stuff…” Amazing how things fit pleasantly when you’re not overcrowding your space.  😉

I now need to grab hold of that “the amount is always finite” idea and apply it to our laundry room closet.  Again.  But I will celebrate any victory I can!

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A Time to Work

April 26, 2016

A friend asked me recently how my laundry room project was going.  I had to laugh.  “It’s functional,” I answered, “so I’ve stopped.”  That means that much has been painted, all the hooks are hung, and the washer and dryer are back in their proper places and in working order.  But wow, it’s not done.  It’s in desperate need of a final coat of paint on quite a bit of the trim, I need to paint two doors, and paint all the walls above the trim work I just installed.  It looks awful.

But….it’s functional.  So I stopped.

We discussed the hassle of removing all the coats/hats/scarves and stashing them in the dining room while I finished the last of the paint work.  It’d almost be easier to wait until summer, she noted.  Then all that stuff would be put away.

Hmmm….

I really had to think about that.  I’m still thinking about that.  Instead of feeling like I’m procrastinating, putting off this ridiculous job that must be done now, maybe this is something to plan this way.  Maybe this is something to put off intentionally.  In summer, the “coatroom” part of the laundry room will disappear, and the area will be free to do whatever needs to be done.  I could even open the window for air while I paint.  Wouldn’t it make more sense to put it off–on purpose?

It reminded me of a Saturday at my parents’ home.  My dad was outside in gray, windy, 40ish-degree weather, washing the windows.  I’d seen the weather forecast, and I teased him about what he was putting himself through:  “If you’d wait two days, it’s supposed to be almost seventy!”  His response was simply,  “Work before play,” and he headed back outside to his ladder.

I get that….I’m completely on board with the idea of “work before play.”  It’s an idea I’m trying to instill in my children.  But that morning  I started wondering about the difference between “work before play” and “when would it be wise to do this job?”  That question is the same one I’m thinking of now, as I look at my still unfinished laundry room.  Spring has sprung, and the room that once felt stuffed full of winter coats has thinned out to just a jacket here and there… Maybe it’s time to think about diving in?

Right on schedule

October 30, 2013

“A sociologist friend has the theory that people spend the first 40 years of their life enthusiastically accumulating and the next 40 years trying to get rid of the excess.”   (Scaling Down, by Judi Culbertson and Marj Decker)

So….I’m right on schedule.

I laughed out loud when I read this quote, because I really do fall into the timing they mentioned.  I’m not sure the word “enthusiastically” would have applied to my accumulation of stuff; maybe “mindlessly?”  “Carelessly?”  Sometimes it flat-out sneaks up on you; you turn around and are shocked:  when did that happen?  How did all this stuff get here?

I started thinking recently about when we really started accumulating stuff.  We did well for years; we had what we needed without a huge amount more.  Five moves in seven years helped a lot.  Our housing also dictated simplifying:  no basements in our first two apartments and first two houses meant no basement storage.  (Technically, that last house had a cellar–an open from the outside, Wizard-of-Oz type of cellar.  But I never even went down there in the year-and-a-half we lived in that house; I definitely didn’t want to use it for storage.  Eesh.)

It was the next stop when it all started.  Everything conspired against us:  bigger house, full basement, five years to accumulate things, and (the biggest reason):  we had kids.  I say that not to blame the kids, but the reality is that “stuff” began entering the house at an exponential rate.  When it’s just you and your spouse, it’s pretty easy to stay on top of things.  When you throw two kids into the mix….  Think about it.  It’s now extra everything:  from plates and cups to towels and toothbrushes to beds and blankets.  And that’s stuff you use; it doesn’t include things like junk mail and party favors and broken crayons and dead markers and no-more-sticky stickers…..you get the idea.

I would definitely prefer not taking the next forty years to get rid of all this excess, although I’m recognizing more and more that it’s a continual process;  it’s not like one day you suddenly stop bringing things into your house.  It will be a constant….”battle” seems too strong a word; maybe “routine” is more optimistic?  Just consistently, routinely staying on top of it.  I do think I need to dig out a little more before I can get to the “staying on top of it” part, though.

On a side note:  Scaling Down is one of the most thoughtful books I’ve read on getting rid of “stuff.”  It’s written mainly for those who are entering their retirement years and are preparing to truly downsize, but they recognize in their introduction that their book can be helpful for anyone, and it absolutely has been incredibly helpful for me.

Preparations

April 15, 2013

Awhile back I wrote a post venting about all the stuff I was dealing with.  Rereading it makes me want to slap myself just a little bit (get over it!), but at the same time, I understand where I was coming from.  I’ve been working on simplifying and decluttering and getting rid of excess, and to be deluged with stuff the way we were would obviously agitate me a bit.  (Interestingly, the whiniest post I have ever written resulted in the most “follows”….what’s that about?)

I’m at a place now where I realize that so much of the intake is so temporary.  The maternity clothes that have taken over my closet–and pushed all my regular clothes into every available nook and cranny left in the master bedroom–suddenly have a very limited lifespan.  The closet full of baby gear in the nursery will be dug into shortly, and everyone knows the cliches about how “they grow up so fast;” the bouncy seat and baby swing are going to be in and out of our lives in a fairly quick amount of time.  While homeschooling supplies might be here to stay for awhile, the pace of the influx has definitely slowed, and we can take the time to think through where something is going to live before we bring it home.  And all the winter gear (heavy coats, hats, gloves, etc.)….well, I tried to pack those away last week.  It didn’t last long.  (Sigh.)  But that time is coming.  Next week, maybe?

I realize that all the little tricks I’ve done off and on will now need to be used all at once, for at least the next year.  Going through kids clothes seasonally will need to shift back to “I keep a bag in the laundry room at all times,” for all the little outfits that last three months at a time.  The “one in, one out” rule might need to get tightened up for at least a little bit; “one in, at least two out” is really appealing when I realize my daughter has about four pairs of shoes she can’t wear anymore.  Staying on top of paperwork is becoming vital, simply for my own sanity:  once baby comes, postpartum depression is most likely to come, too (though I’m hoping a spring baby might make a difference).  Having piles of papers all over my kitchen counters will not help my mood or mentality one bit.

I’ve been trying, the past two days, to really focus on clearing and decluttering the downstairs.  I can’t call it nesting, because there’s absolutely no burst of energy spurring this on; it’s just the reality of the words “if she’s not here by Wednesday, we’ll schedule you to be induced” that’s weighing on me and helping me plod on in a “slow and steady wins the race” kind of way.  I can sit here on the sofa and think, wow, I really need to sweep (it’s mud clod season over here), but things look pretty good.

Essentially, I’m thinking back to when my first child was born, and realizing that NO, I refuse to do THAT again.  Let’s see how on top of things I can be before all the crazy starts.

I guess that means I maybe should pack a bag for the hospital……

Dealing with “stuff”

February 25, 2013

I realize that it’s been over a month since I’ve written anything.  Because I’ve been dealing with “stuff.”  Literally.  It’s everywhere.

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She seems perfectly harmless, right?

Let’s start with dog “stuff:”  no, not that kind of dog stuff.  I’m thinking of the afternoon I got back from picking up the kids from school and discovered that, in the twenty minutes I’d been gone, the dog had ripped the under-the-kitchen-sink cabinet door off its hinges and gotten into a full bag of trash.  That’s a full bag of trash, all over the kitchen floor, with a cabinet door laying on top of the mess like a fancy embellishment.  I tend to operate under the theory of “if you’re going to look back on this and laugh, you might as well laugh now,” but I’m pregnant and hormonal and I didn’t laugh.  I cried.  (Bending over to clean up an entire bag of trash is becoming not only uncomfortable but downright impractical.  Thank goodness for helpful children.)  That story, though, was only a lead-in for more “stuff.”  Thankfully, the rest of the stuff isn’t as nasty as a full bag of trash.

Baby “stuff:”  We’ve been extraordinarily blessed with a huge amount of things for the baby.  We’ve gone from “we have a nine- and a seven-year-old–we have nothing for a baby” to “I think all we have to buy now is a baby monitor.”  It’s been absolutely unbelievable, and I’m so grateful.  It’s also been all over the house, because, since we’ve never had babies in this house, I have no idea where to put any of it.  The big stuff, in a way, is easier to handle than the little things: while loading a swing and a playpen in the car I was actively thinking about where to unload them when we got home.  It’s the bags of things like baby bottles and sippy cups that are wearing me down; I’m going to have to clean out an entire kitchen cabinet to fit all this stuff.

So yes, baby “stuff:”  a laundry basket FULL of baby toys sat in our garage until I got tired of tripping over it (our garage is not THAT big), and then I brought it in and it sat on our kitchen counter.  For days.  Along with baby clothes passed on from my sister, which sat piled up on top of the dryer.  Also for days. Which then met with….

Car “stuff:”  We got a new car!  (Well, a new-to-us car.)  We found a great deal on my “I’ve wanted one for six years” seven-seater CX-9, which then leads to cleaning out your old car so you can trade it in.  Which means another bag of “stuff” culled from my old car, sitting on the kitchen counter.  Next to the laundry basket of baby toys.  (Feeling crowded yet?)

I finally, finally went through the bags and bins (and yes, an especially supportive friend came over and helped, because there comes a point where you don’t have the wherewithal to do it alone) and had a clean counter for a matter of days.  That’s about the time where our decision to homeschool one of our kiddos kicked in, and we ended up with…..

Homeschooling “stuff:”  math manipulatives and library books all over said counter.  (Again….where am I going to put all this stuff???)

This doesn’t count all the normal “stuff” of everyday life; school papers and newspapers and toys and shoes and books.  (I joked with my husband that when my son leaves stuff laying around, it’s in a big pile on the side table in the kitchen.  When my daughter leaves stuff laying around, she seems to dribble it everywhere.) Now, with two winter storms in less than a week, we also have snow-related “stuff:”  that giant pile of wet laundry and shoes that ends up next to the back door. (One point for me:  yesterday I had everyone just throw it all in the washer.  Immediately.)

To top it off, throughout the background of all this physical “stuff,” I’ve got ongoing mental “stuff.”  The phone call from the doctor’s office:  Your glucose test came back fine, but you’re anemic.  The phone call from the principal:  About your son….   The announcement from my husband:  You know those work from home positions?  I scored one.  (YAY!!  But….where will all THAT “stuff” go?!?)  All the “stuff” that rolls around in your head, 24/7, and makes you want to crawl back under the covers until it just goes away.  (Maybe that’s the anemia talking.  Or maybe it’s just that it’s February.)

So, bit by bit, we’re piecing things together over here.  Very slowly, things are finding homes.  I’ve had a clean counter for, I think, three days now….maybe I’m on a roll.  Hopefully, little by little, we’ll get new things put away in their new homes and we’ll start in on new routines and maybe I’ll even be able to write about it a little more.  Maybe, hopefully, in a more positive, not-so-whiny way.  Thanks for letting me vent.

Ready or not….

January 22, 2013

Hubby:  You’re nesting!

Me:  No, I’m panicking!!

Last week we celebrated my niece’s first birthday–my niece, who arrived a month early.  A few weeks before that, a friend delivered her twins ten weeks early.

If things go as planned, we will be having a baby in three months.  But nothing about this has been very planned, and for that reason, plus those back-to-back reminders that things can happen very quickly, I’m a little on edge.

Someone asked recently if we had the baby’s room ready.  “We have a room, does that count for anything?” was my response; and I confessed to a friend later that I felt genuinely bad for the kid.  The state of the nursery was “proof that this baby is a total afterthought.”  She promptly informed me, “No, it’s proof this baby is not your first.”  Good point…

Regardless, I decided that it was time to do what I could in the still-looks-like-an-office bedroom.  (It’s hard to get away from the office look when there’s a large computer armoire sitting smack dab in the middle of the main wall.)  I’d been moving random pieces of stowed furniture into the hallway, piece by piece, for my husband to carry down the stairs to the basement; so far it’s all things we do want to keep.  I had finally cleared off and set up the changing table, and last week I decided to stop waiting for the extra set of hands I assumed I needed and I assembled the crib by myself.  (Yes, all by myself.  Go me!)  I washed all the bedding and curtains, made up the bed, changed out and moved the curtain rods, and hung the curtains.  My niece christened the crib with its first nap the very next day.

Later in the week, I finally started clearing out the file cabinet, and am on the verge of–gasp!–getting rid of it completely.  I know myself, and I know that the file cabinet is feeding my paper clutter addiction.  I’ve changed a few things around with our filing system, which I hope to post soon.  (Until then, you can look at my hero and inspiration here.)

Finally, and this will seem silly, I sat down with a piece of paper and inventoried every single thing left in the room and closet that didn’t belong there.  (Or, rather, that no longer belonged there.)  It probably sounds like an extra set of work to do all the writing, but I’ve used this method before, in the garage, and it’s so much easier for me to look at a list on paper, go through it, and write down what I want to do with each item.  Once I’m done, I can look at the list, see that x, y, and z are supposed to go to Goodwill, and just walk in the room with a bag and gather it all up.  For some reason, walking in the room with a bag, without a list, means I just stand there and turn around in circles.  A lot.  Then I get distracted by something and nothing at all gets accomplished.

Two more pieces of kids’ furniture to drag to the basement, a trip to Goodwill, and doing something with that computer cabinet and we’re ready.

Well…the room is ready.

FM to CD to MP3….

January 15, 2013

One cold night over Christmas break I snuggled with my son on the sofa, watching the most recent version of “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.”  We’d come to the part where Johnny Depp’s Willy Wonka comes out to meet his motley crew of golden ticket winners for the very first time.  He smiles his vaguely creepy Willy Wonka smile, and after a dramatic pause, utters his first words to the group gathered before him:

“Good morning, starshine!  The earth says hello!”

I haven’t seen the movie much, but this always makes me laugh, and I burst out laughing even harder at my son’s reponse:  “That was…..weird.”

“It’s a song!  It’s an old song!”  And I found myself wondering how he can’t know it’s a song.  Which sounds ridiculous (why would a nine-year-old boy be aware of any song from the musical Hair, right?) but we are such a music-obsessed family it genuinely took me by surprise.

It reminded me of a conversation I’d had with my mom this past week, where she teased me about being a “woman of a certain age” because I knew the lyrics to some song she referenced.  (For further proof that I truly am a “woman of a certain age,” I’ve completely forgotten what that song was.)

We just like our music.

My husband and I grew up listening to our parents’ music, the true, fun “oldies” radio station (that would be defined as ’50’s music, people, not ’70’s).  My mom had the classical station on at our house during the day, all day.  Going to college in a town with only two stations (before the advent of internet radio and MP3’s) meant I got a good, solid education in classic rock before I met and married my husband and got a schooling in alternative music.  My son has had his own iTunes playlist on our computer since he was 18 months old.  (He was the one rocking out to an REM concert at nine months in utero.)

The ridiculous range of music I’ve been exposed to means that when we got our dog, Kina, I walked around for two weeks with random warped song references running through my head; from “Kina is a Punk Rocker” a la The Ramones, to “Oh, Kina Oh, Kina” instead of “Corrina, Corrina.”

All that to say….

In the bottom of our TV cabinet are three large drawers.  In spite of the fact that we now do loads of online music buying, all three are FULL of CD’s.  Full to the point of being difficult to open because they’re so heavy.  Full to the point that I’m not sure where we’re going to put the Imagine Dragons and Mumford and Sons CD’s my husband got for Christmas.  The drawers are holding, roughly, 300 CD’s.  Every last one of which has been downloaded on our computer.  So, why is it so hard to get rid of the CD’s??  We even have a place that would buy them from us; all we’d have to do it load them up and drive them there.  (Side note:  I’m reading a book right now that makes 300 CD’s seem paltry.  But that’s a post for a different day.)

Yet there they sit.  Put away enough that I can conveniently forget they’re there.  Organized, even, so we can find what we need when we need it.  But really?  Do we really need to keep the CD’s, when everything is on the computer and its backup drive?

I keep coming back to a different question:  do I really want to lose all that music if the computer crashes?

Once someone can convince me to let go of that question, we can start really letting go of CD’s.

My Christmas list

January 11, 2013

One last Christmas post and I promise to move on…

This is an idea that occurred to me fairly early this Christmas season, as we were just getting started with our decorating and everything was falling apart.  As my daughter kept asking about when we were going to put up the tree (the day after Thanksgiving, just like always–why is that a surprise?) and kept hounding me about putting up the tree and finally it was time to put up the tree…and I realized we had no lights.  (Take that, all you friends who think I’m incredibly organized.)  I knew we were going from a pre-lit tree back to our old, needs-lots-of-lights tree, and I’d bought a few boxes of lights…but then I’d promptly loaned out two boxes for our Sunday School class Christmas party, held the evening after we were tree decorating.

At that point I was so fed up with the entire situation; with all the badgering about putting up the tree and finally getting set up and realizing that we could now do nothing with it.  In desperation, I told the kids they could decorate the bottom half of the tree:  the half with lights.  Notice, please, that we finally have kids old enough to actually decorate the entire tree and not just the bottom branches, and now I’m asking them to just decorate the bottom branches.  I wanted to be done with the whole mess and move on.  I’d fix it later.

When “big tree decorating” was done, my kids unpacked their tiny trees, the ones they set up in their rooms.  None of their lights worked either.  At all.

And that’s when I started taking notes.

All Christmas I took notes on what would make life easier.  Just little ideas, here and there, when they’d come to me.  Problems that we’d had that could easily be fixed, something that could have been done better if I’d had more time to prepare, or things that seem obvious now but that I know I’ll forget by next year.

I present to you my Christmas list (maybe some bit of it will help someone else):

  • Pack all lights in a separate box, and check to see if they work a few days before putting up the tree (especially lights for kids’ trees).
  • Pack ornaments sorted by “fragile” and “not fragile” so the kids can help decorate much more easily.
  • Put on cross-stitched ornaments first–they’re way bigger.
  • Have a wide space cleared in the kids’ rooms a few days before their trees go up.  (The bookcases are not deep enough to set the trees.)
  • Unload one box a day, and ONLY one box.  (“Tree” and “Kids” boxes first.)
  • If possible, set up the tree the night before decorating.
  • Have back-up “candle” bulbs ready [we put “candles” in all eight of our front windows]:  only one burnt out this year.
  • You are absolutely forbidden from buying ANY more scented pinecones.  No exceptions.

Hopefully next year will go a bit more smoothly.  I’ll need all the help I can get, seeing as by then we’ll have a eight-month-old girl added to the mix.

Yesterday, finally, I finished putting away the last of the Christmas “stuff.”

I grew up in a house where we took down the decorations on January 1st, but as an adult my habit has been to put away on New Year’s Eve.  I love the idea of a fresh start for the new year.  So the idea of being done on January….8th?  Really??

There were a few factors playing into the delay:  first, we had a new furnace installed.  (Yeah, that’s a whole other post.)  Not much sense filling up boxes and loading the basement if you’re just going to have to move all the boxes, right?  Secondly, because of the new furnace, the basement shot to the top of my “to-do” list and I was determined to get it as clear as possible, since so much floor space was already freed up in giving the crew room to work.  Focusing on the basement meant the house stayed decorated a bit longer than usual.  A smaller, side reason was that our kids school break was just so long…..why not enjoy the pretty a little longer?  (Honestly, I think the week after Christmas is more appealing to me than ever, because I can finally just sit down and relax.  It’s over.)

Finally–and this is the big one–clean-up took forever because I really wanted to go through everything and purge.  There is so much in with Christmas “stuff,” and so rarely any out.  Some things are easy; lights burn out, you throw them away, and replace them with new ones.  But other things sneak up on you:  ornaments, for one.  They accumulate and grow and multiply in the dark of the basement and suddenly you can’t fit them all back in the boxes they came from.

I would love to say that I got rid of a bunch of bins of stuff.  I didn’t.  I did, however, get things reorganized to where next year should be much easier to set up and decorate.  And while I didn’t get rid of a bunch of bins, I got rid of two HUGE ones:  I’m getting rid of a Christmas tree.  (Yes, that’s my dirty little secret….that chick who writes a blog on simplifying had two Christmas trees for a few years.)

Also ditched:  a wreath, oodles of gift bags/ribbons, some decor items, and a substantial number of ornaments.

The basement is really starting to look good.  Amazing what the loss of a couple of giant tubs can do.

Simplifying Christmas

January 7, 2013

After the longest Christmas break I have ever known (literally, not figuratively) the kids started back to school today and routines seem to be slowly creeping back in.  I’m frustrated with the lack of writing I’ve done through December, but the month seemed to be full of “urgent” things (not necessarily “important” things) and I spent it trying to keep my head above water.  Now the holidays are done and the calendar is comparatively empty.  Hopefully January will be slightly more productive–in lots of ways.

While I didn’t do much writing in December, I was constantly thinking of things I wanted to write about.  I apologize in advance if I end up dumping some of them out in January.

My favorite discovery this Christmas was a guide to gift-giving that a friend referenced on Facebook; she’d seen it in our local paper.  They referred to it as “the four-gift Christmas:”  “Something you want, something you need, something to wear, and something to read.”  I was so excited for this little saying; I’d been struggling with the vague idea of “I want a smaller Christmas,” but defining what that looked like was nearly impossible:  what does that mean??  Once I read that phrase, I realized that the items we’d gotten the kids could be plugged in to those categories and I only needed two more gifts to be done.  (One admission:  we actually did the five-gift Christmas, because I think it’s incredibly unfair that Santa gets to be the hero each year:  my husband and I supplied a “want” gift, too.)  The definition of “need” was also something I wrestled with; let’s be real, these kids don’t need anything.  So I decided the word meant “useful” and things fell into place well.

(I do think that next year I’ll do more investigation into what grandparents are getting the kids.  If I had known that my daughter would be receiving hairbands from each set of grandparents, I would not have made them her “something to wear.”)

The other nice situation about Christmas this year is that so much of what we received was to replace something else.  A new comforter (out with the old!).  A new bread machine–that really, consistently works!  (Away with the broken one!)  So instead of filling up our house with another layer of accumulation, it’s been much easier to really apply the “one in, one out” rule.

Just a few thoughts on simplifying Christmas…I hope everyone has had a great holiday season and is enjoying the return to “normal!”