More Christmas simplifying…

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

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!”

 

No, we don’t have mice….

I’ve read two different posts in the past few months about people forced to clean out, declutter, and reorganize due to mice.  (Read them here and here.)  While we have done our time with mice, our current “reorganization situation” involves a slightly different problem.  It involves a dog who’s learned how to open the pantry.

When we got Kina, I was thrilled that she was smart, but not too smart.  We’d had fourteen years with a dog who was too smart, and frankly, it’s exhausting.  Kina seemed to be just the right mix of friendly and bright; well-behaved and smart enough to train, but not so smart that she was out-smarting the training.

Then came the night we came home from church to discover….what was that on the living room floor?  I truly didn’t know until I got right up on it:  a bag of coconut, pulled from my basket of ingredients for making various granola bar goodies.  She clearly didn’t care for it, but that didn’t change the face that she’d opened the pantry to get it.

Once she’d learned she could do it, it was all over.  Every time I’d come home from dropping the kids off at school, I’d find something else.  The tub of oatmeal.  The container of flax seeds.  The box of cinnamon squares cereal.  It was funny and frustrating all at the same time.  How on earth was I going to completely reorganize the pantry to keep everything out of her reach?  I truly couldn’t think of how to rearrange things to where nothing would be touchable; it’s not that big of a pantry.  She was even nudging the canned food off the shelves, which obviously didn’t do much but dent the cans, but still…..

Then one Thursday morning my mom and I returned to the house after running errands to discover a box of raisin bran completely obliterated.  She ate the cardboard, too, she’d liked it so much.  For those who don’t know, raisins can be toxic to dogs, and that is how we ended up at the doggie ER (yes, there really are such things), essentially having her stomach pumped.  (“We’ll give her a shot to make her throw up, and once her stomach is empty, we’ll give her another shot to calm it back down; then we’ll feed her charcoal to keep any of the toxins from being absorbed…..”)

As my husband put it, “the dog just ate and barfed our entire Christmas budget.”

After I left her at the emergency clinic, I drove to Home Depot and got magnet closures for the pantry.  Forget cleaning and reorganizing.  We just need the stupid thing to stay closed.

 

Update:  Yes, true to her cast-iron-stomach Lab roots, the dog is totally fine.  My favorite part of the story involved a trip to our regular vet for the final blood work to check on her kidney functions.  When the vet tech got her to the back, the phone rang; so she put her in a room and closed the door so she could take the call.  The dog–yep–opened the door and came running back out to me in the lobby, leash dangling behind her, and threw her front paws in my lap:  “Quick, Mom!  Now’s our chance to make a break for it!!”

Yeah.  “Not too smart” my eye….

“A little folding of the hands to rest…”

Any flat surface...

Any flat surface…

Technically, the verse doesn’t exactly fit.

The entire proverb actually reads, “A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest–and poverty will come on you like a bandit and scarcity like an armed man.”  (Proverbs 6:10, NIV)

Every Monday morning, though, as I begin to pick up and try to help our home recover from the weekend, I think of this verse.  A couple of days off, I think.  Just a couple of days where I didn’t do (fill-in-the-blank) and now look at this mess.  Each time a Saturday rolls around, I feel like slacking a bit (it’s the weekend, after all), and then Sunday comes, with the get-ready-and-get-out-the-door morning crunch, when things get left undone or half-done… And then it’s another Monday morning, where I look around and shake my head and wonder, how did this happen?

Oh, yeah… a little folding of the hands to rest.

Our problem isn’t scarcity or poverty…it’s just “stuff,” stuff that gets piled on any available flat surface “for now,” somehow leaving me to deal with it each Monday morning.  Our lack of routine come Friday night is screamingly apparent by Monday morning; any other day of the week I’d be on top of all this, but apparently the weekends are “playtime” and not “worktime” around here.

I’m not a huge photo-blog person; the only other photo I’ve included so far was for a guest post I wrote, whose site always used photos.  But I had to include a picture with this.  On the raised hearth of our fireplace sits a basket for library books.  Most of the time, that is the only thing sitting on the hearth (although an assortment of things might end up in the basket).  Every Monday morning, though, I come downstairs and realize that “stuff” has been sneakily accumulating over the weekend.

Every Monday morning.

Maybe it’s time to rest a bit less on the weekends…..

I was wrong

I’ve had a line for ages–a joke, really, but I sort of believed it–that “you can never have too many Legos.”  Art supplies and Legos were two categories I truly didn’t mind drowning in.  I’m quite organized and have stayed on top of both for years now, in spite of the constant influx of more.

But I was wrong.

The art supplies are still manageable, although as my kids have gotten older the things are migrating up to bedrooms.  (As old as my kids are now, I don’t feel the need to constantly supervise crayons and markers…I can trust them not to draw on walls.)  The Legos, however….I think we’ve crossed a line.

My son has a tall bookcase in his room that I put in there specifically to display his Lego “stuff.”  It was arranged beautifully for a long time, but Legos (of course) are meant to be played with, and piece by piece would be taken off the shelf to be used.  Good!  I’m all for things being used.  Since the dining room table is our normal “Lego play area,” the pieces appeared on it to play with.  Then my daughter’s Legos arrived, apparently hungry for company, and the kids spent many afternoons during the summer playing Legos in the dining room together.  (Full disclosure:  the dining room table is Lego-covered 90% of the time, until the birthday/holiday season arrives and we need the dining room quite often.  My kitchen table, however, is always empty.  Thank you very much.)

Unfortunately….while the Legos were spreading out all over the dining room table, and buckets were appearing in the corner of that room, they were also still upstairs, spreading out all over my son’s bookcase.  (Is there a law of physics somewhere, about objects expanding to fill the allotted space?)  They were also spreading out into one corner of his bedroom; which unfortunately is the corner behind the laundry basket, which is making life difficult on a fairly regular basis.

So this morning, when I started putting Legos back in his room (there was so much stuff I split the job with him), I had nowhere to put them.  Nowhere.  The shelves of the bookcase appeared full, although lots of scooting things around freed up some space.  The buckets in the corner of his room are being stacked upon, which I guarantee is going to end badly.  I have absolutely no idea where he’s going to put the things I left for him to put away.

When we’d started tackling the table last night, I mentioned that he might have, maybe, too many Legos.  And he agreed with me.  (You know it’s bad when the kid agrees with you.)  I broached the subject of giving some away, especially since we are headed into birthday season and there will most likely be even more Legos in his future.  And he agreed with me.  (Pick jaw up off floor.)  His comment?  “We could give them to the library.  They’re looking for Legos for their Lego club.”  (Sit down before I start hyperventilating.)

If he is on board, I am happy to help.  Hopefully sometime during the next week, we’ll go through all this stuff–a shelf at a time, a bin at a time, or ten minutes at a time.  I don’t know how long his willingness to pass things on will last, but I hope to make the most of it.

FYI…my dining room table is beautiful.  It’s so nice to see it again.   🙂

My new favorite question

A friend posted a link on Facebook, and the title sucked me in:  Why We Love to Hoard.  It seemed like something right up my alley, so I read it (I encourage you to; it’s a really interesting read).

But towards the end the author wrote a sentence that completely changed how I’m clearing stuff out of our home:

“…for each item I ask myself a simple question: If I didn’t have this, how much effort would I put in to obtain it?”

Wow.  That is the question, isn’t it?  All those things I’m keeping “just in case,” or “for later,” or “for someday”….if I didn’t already have it, would I ever go looking for it?  I’m seeing everything in my home with new eyes.  And it works both ways:  there are some things that are suddenly totally justifiable to me, because yes, I’d go out and buy them again in a heartbeat.  I would buy this again.  Or, the irreplaceable mementos of grandparents; the things you can’t just go out and “buy again” because they don’t exist anymore:  the “keep the quilts that great-grandma made” kind of items.  

Others, though…yeesh.  It feels like I need to go back through the house yet again, from top to bottom, and just weed.  Because heaven knows that there are dozens of things lurking in this home that I would never in a million years actively seek out to “obtain” again.

Basement progress

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.

“What’s THAT room for?”

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.

Neat Freak

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.”  🙂

Animal house

My sweet daughter approached me one morning as I folded laundry.  “Mama…could you please help me sort through my stuffed animals today?  They’re getting a bit out of control.”  I told her of course, I’d be up as soon as I finished what I was doing; while inside I was doing cartwheels about the fact that she made the decision on her own.  No nudging or suggestions from me required.

I’d been watching her pile of animals grow.  They have an assigned spot to “live,” in an old cradle that my mother slept in (and my daughter, too, for a while), and for months–years, really–that cradle has been perfectly sufficient.  Slowly, though, my little one was making “nests” throughout her room for the overflow.  There was a little nest in the less-than-a-foot of space between her chest of drawers and the wall.  There was a nest  between her bedside table and desk.  A tiny nest in a child’s chair.  Each made up carefully with a blanket for the assorted “guests” that would live in that spot.  She had commented a few times on how many nests there were, and apparently she’d finally crossed some sort of line, because she was done.

I took a suggestion from Simplicity Parenting and made three piles:  keep, put away, and give away.  I don’t tend to like the idea of a “put away” pile; I hate the fact that we have toys in storage when some kids have no toys at all….but I also knew that there were so many animals it made sense to not keep everything out.  She sat in her desk chair while I held up each animal (no touching!  Many thanks to Sort It Canada for THAT epiphany) and she pronounced its fate.

As I suspected, the “give away” pile was small.  The “put away” pile, however, was huge.  I was completely unprepared for the amount of animals that my daughter was willing to give up temporarily, some of which I thought of as very important to her.  I was incredibly glad I’d let her make the decisions, because she was much more thorough than I would have been.

That night she went to bed with three animals in her bed.  Every other animal fit in the cradle; all the nests were put away, chairs were now chairs and the floor was back to being a floor.  She kept telling me how much better she felt, how much better the room looked, how nice it was to have everything where it belonged.  We’ve agreed that six months is a good time for a swap:  to pull out the old and put away the current.

I think, though, that I might ask her what animals she wants to retrieve, instead of just dumping out the bucket….I have a suspicion she wouldn’t miss some of those critters if they were gone.