FM to CD to MP3….

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.

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My Christmas list

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.

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.   🙂