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.

A beautiful basement

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

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

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

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

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

It’s amazing.

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

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