Minimalism, meet reality

November 8, 2017

I moved the furniture in my youngest’s room this morning; moved the posters on her walls around.  Got everything rearranged, cleaned out just a bit, and it’s beautiful.  So empty and peaceful.

I worked in the basement for five minutes, going through a bin of stuffed animals (the old “out of sight, out of mind” trick).  I pulled five to keep–I’m still a sucker for sentimental stuff–and filled a 13-gallon trash bag with loveys to pass on.

I weeded kids’ books yesterday and kept only the much-loved favorites.  This was met almost immediately with a request to read A Pocket for Corduroy.  Funny how favorite books can be found when you get rid of the junky stuff.

I got in the laundry room closet today…..and it was still a laundry room closet.

But here’s the thing:  the only items in that closet right now that don’t really belong are some picture frames that I want t buy mats for.  Everything else, regardless of how un-minimalist it looks, is something we use.  Not every single day, but easily every month, and absolutely every few months.

I’ve finally come to the realization that every home is going to have a bin of extra light bulbs.

Truly….I think this is something the glossy magazines don’t ever spotlight, and it’s stuff that no one likes to think about.  But I daresay that even the most minimalist home is going to have a stash of bulbs somewhere.  If they don’t, they’re going to be hanging out in the dark at some point, because bulbs don’t burn out when it’s convenient–much like smoke alarm batteries only running out at 3:00 AM.

So that closet full of “stuff” isn’t going anywhere.  It is a testament to the reality of living this life.  We use detergent, and have an iron and ironing pad.  We need a place to keep things like string and screwdrivers and my secret stash of chocolate.  I’ll do my best to keep it organized, and keep it cleaned out, but some “stuff” you just need to keep.

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A little bit different

October 27, 2017

I think, if you sat our family down on the front steps of our home and took a photo, we would look like the perfect microcosm of average suburban America.  Three kids, two dogs, 2,300-square-foot home….it all screams “average.”

I forget in how many ways we are different, and are living life in a simpler way. We haven’t gotten too off-course from my goal of “enough” (in spite of birthday season), and we really aren’t quite “average.”  The past few days reinforced that idea for me.

In a way, it started Monday night; the last night of a four-week Bible study I was attending.  We usually have very quiet evenings, and me being gone four Mondays in a row was a serious shock to the family system.  (Obviously, they all did fine.)  Bedtime hugs and kisses were doled out at 6:40pm since I wouldn’t see kids until morning…..

…and the next morning we hit the ground running a bit harder than usual.  I dropped my youngest off at her preschool, then stopped by the library on my way to a chiropractor appointment.  I had a bit of time at home (long enough to flip laundry) and then collected my older daughter to tag along as we picked up the youngest from preschool and headed straight to Target for a quick lunch (um…ick) and a shopping trip involving birthday gifts for their brother.  We were having all sorts of fun, wandering and smelling candles, when I literally gasped so loud it scared the girls.

“I’m supposed to get your brother to his appointment at 2:00!” I hastily explained, and once I checked my phone I realized we were fine. There was no more moseying through the aisles, however, and we headed straight for the checkout line.  As I pushed the cart towards the door, my youngest reminded me, “Don’t forget his treat!”

Oh, yeah.  We stopped back by the deli and grabbed an Icee.

Headed for home, unloaded stuff, loaded boy, sat in a waiting room for an hour, and tried to breathe.

Back home I collected the girls and RETURNED to Target WITH the Redcard to get our 5% off all that stuff we just bought earlier.  (Sigh.)  One last gift for brother.  A few clothing items for my older girl, who is rapidly (again) running out of clothes to wear, regardless of how often she does laundry.  Got home and started dinner and ate together--on days like today, I consider the fact that we still managed to eat together a HUGE win.

While my husband and older daughter cleaned up dinner, my son and I jumped back in the car so I could drop him off at a homeschool group event.  I hung out to talk a bit, then headed home to put my youngest to bed while my husband ran to the grocery store.  Once both girls were down, I headed back out to make sure I was there to pick my son up at 9:00; only to check my messages in the parking lot and realize the group was running late and maybe push pick-up back to 9:30?

Well…..guess I’ll gas the car now.

Returned for pick-up and more talking.  Home by ten.  Completely sacked out by 10:45.

I knew going into the week that Tuesday would be the worst, Wednesday would be a bit better, and by Thursday, the end was in sight.  At some point mid-Tuesday, I stopped and looked around and had a sudden, deep awareness that some people live like this all the time.

Mine were a crazy few days, but for many, that is everyday.

That is how countless people are going through their lives:  a bit like pinballs, bouncing from one thing to another in an endless–and sometimes mindless–run.  That is what an average day looks like, for an average person.  And thankfully, SO thankfully, that is one way we’re different.

Today we are home.  Home for an entire day.  The bigs are at the kitchen table with me, coloring while I write.  The four-year-old is camped out in the living room with her My Little Ponies  My laundry for the day is done and my daughter has started hers.  The kitchen is clean and the coffee is fresh.  We have discussed a library run, and put it on the back burner.  All the kids are still in pajamas.  It is the best kind of day–especially after the week we’ve had.  I’m so, so grateful that this is our normal; that we are, actually, a little bit different.

I’ve been thinking lately of something that happened early this spring.  It was still almost cold outside–early spring–and my littlest, three years old at the time, was playing outside in a sundress that was completely inappropriate for the weather.  It was the “Mama, I want to wear my new dress” syndrome, and since I am old and finally recognize when not to pick a fight, I let her.  So she’d been outside playing, in a 45-degree mist, wearing her red, white, and blue “firecracker dress.”

She finally came in through the back door and immediately squealed with glee.  “Oooooh! Mama!  It’s warm in here!”

I burst out laughing.  “It is warm, isn’t it?  Isn’t it nice to come in and be warm and cozy?”

I can still remember how she looked at me, her eyes shining.  “It IS cozy!  This is the coziest house EVER!  I LOVE it!  Let’s NEVER MOVE!!

I had to laugh.  After twenty-one years of marriage, I’ve learned not to make a big broad statement like “we’re never moving.”  But I assured her that we’d do our best.

Last week I stumbled across a quote that finally put into words my feelings about moving; why I’m so hesitant to pack up and start over again.  Yes, me, who can happily while away an afternoon looking at houses online:  if I ever found The Perfect House, I still don’t think I could bring myself to act on it.  It just takes so much time, is the vague notion that would float through my head.  While reading Love the House You’re In, by Paige Rien, I stumbled across a little offhand comment that gave structure and definition to my haze:

It takes six months to move into a new house.  You might be sleeping in your own bed the first night you arrive, but to actually move in and find a space for everything, getting your bearings in a new space–not to mention making any improvements–takes six months.  It takes five years of diligent work to really make it yours–not finish it–but feel like yours.

Six months.  Five years.

This, of course, doesn’t count the months of un-making your current home:  removing all personal items and any source of clutter to ensure the house shows at its best for all viewings.  (Oh, the showings….three kids, two dogs, and a husband working in the basement?  Can you even imagine?)

So yes, beautiful girl, I am ready to say it:

This IS the coziest house EVER.  Let’s NEVER MOVE.

My home is fine, thank you

October 6, 2017

The comment on the Facebook post, which linked to an article on minimalism, read, “Yes, your home is too big.”

This is the kind of thing that sets me off a bit.  Firstly, they have no idea who is reading that particular post–and let’s be real, it can’t possibly be true of 100% of the people.  It’s a minimalism page.  They’re mostly preaching to the choir.

The article itself, honestly, was very thoughtful and well written.  The author was encouraging people to live smaller where they were–the article, literally, encouraged people not to move but to enjoy “less” in their current home.  One of their tips?  Close the vents in all the rooms you’re not using.

Um….???

We have no unused rooms in this house.  With a homeschooling family of five, and a husband working from home, we use this house–every inch of it.  We actually do have a few vents closed, to try to funnel air to the places that need it more (the basement, with the air conditioning on in the summer, can get downright frigid).  But there’s no room we’re “not using” in this place.

So…back to the original statement…maybe our home isn’t too big?

Hey, remember….?

July 8, 2017

You know those holidays that end up being the extra-memorable ones?  Not necessarily for a good reason (though it can be).

Remember that Christmas that you got exactly what you wanted, and announced “Mama!  Dreams really do come true!”?

Remember that Halloween when you dressed up as bacon and totally stole the show?

Our Fourth of July “remember,” up until now, has been remember the year boy threw up that hot dog at midnight?  (Totally my fault–I insisted he get some protein in him before he gorged himself on desserts.  I guess the desserts might have had something to do with it, too.)

We nearly had a new one:  Remember the Fourth of July we got locked out of the house?

It started weeks ago, with me driving home from the Mazda dealership after having some recall work done.  About halfway home on the peaceful, quiet, kid-free drive, I realized with a jolt that the garage door opener wasn’t where it usually sat.  I wasn’t worried yet–just figured they’d thrown it in the glove compartment or cubby between the seats.

Nope.  Once I got home (and had my husband open the garage door) I did a thorough search.  It was officially nowhere.  Nowhere.

I called the dealership, and after some conferring amongst themselves, they came to the conclusion that it had probably fallen into the center console.  It was, literally, IN my car, unreachable until we took it back in so they could retrieve it.  Did I want to schedule an appointment?

Ahem.  No.  The car left town the next day, and the opener was unnecessary, while I trucked my kids around in my husband’s car.  Home a few days and then he left again–with a different kid–and again, the opener wasn’t even missed.

Then the car did come home to stay, and we developed a kind of do-si-do dance when leaving the house:  open both doors, drive my car out one, have a passenger put down my door while leaving out the other, then using my husband’s garage door opener to close his door.  Ridiculous, right?  But we did it for days, since I hadn’t yet gotten the car in.

Then it’s the Fourth of July.  The lawn chairs are loaded, treats are loaded, the kids are loaded, and we’re finally ready to drive to fireworks.  My husband pulls the car out and my son offers to put down the garage door–he enjoys showing off his mad skills at avoiding the trigger that makes the door bounce back up.  So instead of having the second door open, he simply runs out the first (as it rolls down threateningly, Indiana Jones boulder-style).

And then we realize we don’t have the other garage door opener.

Nor do we have any keys to the house (because, after all, who carries keys to the house?  We always go in the garage.).  Ugh.

My husband and I discuss our possibilities (admittedly few).  Are we going to break a window?  We’re not calling a locksmith after hours AND on a holiday.  Call my parents?  Not on the Fourth–they’re busy with friends.

Now what?

My husband and son took a tour around the house, testing windows (yep, they’re locked) and trying to establish which would be easiest to break and get someone into (we discovered those aren’t necessarily the same thing).  I hugged my 11-year-old, who was tearing up at the disaster the night was turning into, and encouraged the youngest to go catch fireflies while we waited.  Did I mention ugh?

The guys came back with information I pretty much knew already:  that this really wasn’t going to be pretty.  I was sitting sideways in the passenger side of my car with the door open, overwhelmingly frustrated, knowing that it was so ridiculous that the stupid opener was right here and yet wasn’t.

Then my frustration turned to irritation (it’s right here, for crying out loud!) and I remembered that the panel under the glove compartment was kind of loose from the work they’d done.  So I yanked it off all the way and did a quick scan.  Not there.

Then–as a testament to how completely fed up I really was–I felt around the edges of the trim on the center console and found an spot to grab on, and ripped the panel off the console, Mama-Hulk style.  (I think the kids were slightly horrified at this point.  My husband knew exactly what was going on.)

Inside the console was an abyss of wires and darkness, but the flashlight on my phone revealed exactly what I came for:  there was the garage door opener.  Disaster averted.  Evening back on track.  And now we didn’t have to go back to the dealership.  😉

There was a very loud victory dance in the driveway–the kids really were horrified at that.  But we turned the memory from “Remember the Fourth when we got locked out?” to “Remember the Fourth when Mom ripped her car apart?”  I’ll take it.

 

Our lying brains

June 14, 2017

I sat at the kitchen table at 9:30 this morning and thought with a sigh, I’ve done nothing today.

Um…wait.

Dealing with my son’s depression has led us to a lot of “that’s your brain lying to you” discussions.  I suddenly realized I could apply that lesson to me.

Okay….I must have done something this morning.  What have I done?  (Not counting coffee and quiet time first thing, because that’s not really “work….”)

I got a shower, and got dressed and got my hair done.  (I’m a mom.  That totally counts.)

I fed both dogs, got them outside, and started a load of laundry.

I ate breakfast, and hung out with my son while he ate breakfast.

I took care of my breakfast dishes and the few other dishes/recycling in the sink.

I wrestled the patio umbrella/patio table back into proper position after the thunderstorm that blew through this morning.

I made an appointment to get my recall-issues car in to be repaired.  (That, in itself, involved an unfortunate amount of time online, plus a trip to the car to get the registration with the VIN number/replace the registration with the VIN number.  Go me for putting things back.)

I made a fresh pot of coffee and prepped some half-caf in my coffee canister.

I flipped the laundry and started a new load.

I did a quick sweep of the kitchen floor (since the new load was dog towels and I stirred up fur everywhere).

I dealt with a dirty pull-up.  (Yes, she’s four.  Prayers appreciated.)

I got my littlest breakfast and sat with both my girls while they ate breakfast.

And that, that moment of sitting, of (gasp!) sitting and drinking coffee and enjoying being with my girls, that is when my lying brain snuck in to feed me garbage.  She’s having fun!  NOW!

For once, I’m not buying it.

PS And now I’ve written a blog post.  So there, you lying brain.

Full moons = crazy dreams.

I’ve definitely noticed this pattern, and last night was no exception.  So often when I wake up, I’ll think, what was that about?  This time it was perfectly clear.

The first dream involved me grocery shopping.   I was searching carefully for items on my list, finding them, and the instant I put them in my cart they would change into something different–not what I wanted at all.  This happened three or four times, until I was pulling things back out of my cart, trying to get them to revert back to what I wanted, to no avail.

While I was wrestling with shape-shifting groceries, someone came on over the intercom and announced that this was the annual “Hy-vee Garage Sale,” and suddenly the grocery store was approximately 1/10th groceries and 9/10th’s Hobby Lobby goods.  I was now struggling to even find what I needed.

Next up: unloading said groceries; at the house we lived in 14 years ago.  When I pulled up in front, our former foster son greeted me and said one of my husband’s friends was here to see him, so I went to his “office” in the garage (which we never actually got built at said house.)  Apparently, he still worked from home in this scenario.  I pulled open the sliding glass door, and was met by another sliding glass door.  I pulled open that sliding glass door and was met by yet another, taking its place.  This happened about five times…. somewhere along the line I recognized what was going on, even in the dream, and made up my mind I was going to make this work, so I finally slid my arm and leg in through the doorway as it opened and won that fight.  HA.

I think my brain is trying to tell me life is a little out of control.  The reality, of course, is I already KNEW that.

Times change

March 24, 2017

Recently I found this draft I wrote three years ago:

I was snuggled with my littlest, before bedtime, when I noticed something odd.  Her bedroom is–by far–the smallest bedroom in the house.  It’s also the most awkward to furnish, because in addition to being small (it’s something like 9’x10′), one wall holds three doors:  the door into the room and a double-door on the closet.  But as I sat and rocked the baby, I realized that her room felt spacious.  Maybe not as roomy as her sister’s (whose room is ridiculously large), but it felt open and clear.

That’s because, of course, she isn’t even a year old yet and doesn’t have any “stuff.”

Don’t get me wrong, that closet is quite full of clothes waiting to be grown into; almost the entire top shelf is devoted to 12-18 month clothing that she’s creeping towards daily.  She has “stuff.”  But wow…all her room has in it is a crib, a changing table (with baskets for the clothes she’s currently wearing), a rocking chair and a small side table.  That’s it.  It’s absolutely refreshing.

I wish my other kids–especially my son–would “get it.”  That even a room that tiny can feel large if it’s not crammed with stuff.  My oldest often complains about how small his room is, when in reality it’s not bad; it’s just full.  He’s also the poster-boy for posters; when we moved here we devoted one wall to all his artwork, arranged carefully all together.  Now he’s old enough to get the thumbtacks for himself and his room is becoming a fire hazard.  I keep trying to explain to him that his room isn’t small, it’s crowded.  I think it might have started sinking in when family began to ask him what he wanted for his birthday and he said he didn’t want any more Legos because he didn’t know where he would put them.  That’s a pretty big step for my little Lego fiend.

The problem is that everything is held in comparison to middle girl’s room, which is HUGE.  It’s the one at the veeeery end of the hall, over the garage, and it’s almost as big as the garage.  (The square footage of her bedroom is actually bigger than the master bedroom; it’s 12’x18′.)  Her space veers back and forth between completely trashed and amazingly clean; the older she gets the more into decorating she is and the more “fixy” she is about her space.  To her credit, her large room usually feels large because she’s kept it fairly picked up.

I’m sure that someday, as the baby gets older, she’ll probably want a room as big as her sister’s, too.  I’ll take the smaller space any day.  Especially one as clean and simple as the nursery is now.  In a few years, little one will start accumulating stuff and putting her own mark on everything, the way her siblings have.  I hope she learns to appreciate the beauty of less.

So here we are, three years later.  The room is actually much the same, though we moved in a chest-of-drawers to replace the outgrown changing table.  We also moved the side table out, and a small “crib” in, to hold her stuffed animals.  (I would say it was a doll bed, but it was actually built by my great-grandfather for my mother when she was born.)  The closet has even been cleared out, and all her “to grow into” clothing (now size 6 to 10, the best of the best from older sister) is hanging up instead of piled on the upper shelf.

The only part of her room that gets regularly out-of-hand is her bed, since she wants ALL her stuffed animals in bed with her.  Oh, and her library books.  And sometimes a box of Kleenex.  (You get the idea.)  Sometimes when I tuck her in at night I tease her about where she’s going to fit, and she will cheerfully inform me, “It’s okay, Mama!  There’s a spot right here!”  And sure enough, there’s just enough space for her little head to lay on her pillow.

My son has come a long way, too.  Apparently around age ten or eleven there’s a seismic shift in attitude about stuff, and things that once were overwhelmingly sentimental now just seem babyish.  (I’m seeing it happen with my eleven-year-old daughter now.)  His room looks consistently better, with the occasional “wow, I have too many books” issue.

Interesting what three years can do.

First-world problems

March 15, 2017

Our pantry is not my favorite thing about this house. I hold to the theory that pantries should not be deeper than they are wide.  Ours is definitely deeper than wide, which results in things disappearing back into the dark abyss fairly frequently.  I hit on the solution (and it is still, honestly, a good one) of using baskets as “drawers” for most items, and two nice wooden trays (inherited from my grandfather) as “pull-out shelves.”

This plan has worked really well….until we overloaded one of the trays with canned goods and broke the tiny plastic bracket holding up the shelf.  It really wasn’t a problem; I’d just use a tiny wooden dowel rod to replace the bracket and we’d be set.

Except the piece of plastic was still lodged in the hole. 

No problem….I’ll just move the shelf up a notch.

Except there was a piece of plastic broken off in that hole, as well.  

I’m not proud of how this story ends.  (At one point, my sweet husband asked if he could do anything to help, and I might have said, through clenched teeth,  “Yeah!  You can buy me a new house!”)  One thirty-minute real-life Tetris game later, the pantry was entirely rearranged and usable again.

Because we had so much food.

I still think about that.  We had so much food we broke the pantry.  How blessed are we?

Now we’ve just finished a washing machine meltdown.  I noticed back in January that it seemed to have the hiccups:  it would hit a point in the wash cycle where it would circle back and start all over again.  Once I caught it, I’d just turn the whole thing off and start it over on the drain/spin cycle and call it good.  Eventually I called a repairman, who came out and informed me it was working fine for him.  (Apparently the “let’s do a quick run through of the cycles” doesn’t trigger the problem.)  We bought a warranty to ensure that when it acted up again, everything would be covered.  The load I put in after the repairman left didn’t work.  Sigh.

Two days later (now that the warranty is actually activated….) I scheduled another repair, four days out.  When that repairman showed up, he had to order the part.  The actual repair is then scheduled for eight days later.  (Are you doing the math here?)

In the meantime, the washer went from quirky to dying.  The hiccups settled into an “I don’t do drain/spin” no matter how many times I put it through the cycle (though for awhile, the third time was the charm….).  The tub would empty, but I was hand-wringing clothes before I put them in the dryer, and I hung the exceptionally soggy items outside over the deck rails.  (One factoid they don’t mention about minimalism:  when you have fewer clothes, they HAVE TO BE WASHED, or you will RUN OUT OF CLOTHES.)

The grand finale to the washer story is best told in numbers:  one month, seven appointments, (six where someone actually showed up), two new computer boards, three “recalibrations,” and one–ONE!!–blessed replaced “shifter,” and all is well.  (Might that have been the problem the entire time?  We’ll never know.)

Yet again, how blessed are we?  I have a washing machine that I’ve been able to depend on painlessly since 2012.  I finally, finally have a working washer again and no longer have to think about laundry.

First-world problems.  I’ll deal.

 

Why I left Facebook

February 19, 2017

Last Thanksgiving I decided I was pulling the plug on Facebook for awhile.  The holidays were underway and I thought, for my own sanity’s sake, that I didn’t really want to see all the picture-perfect photos of everyone’s picture-perfect celebrations when there were still occasional days in our house where my child’s depression won, and everyone would fall apart, like a domino run, one after the other.  Obviously, the election played a part in my decision, too, but at the time my choice was less politically motivated and more out of self-care.  I had enough on my plate without having my nose rubbed in everyone else’s apparent happiness.  Our days were improving, and I wanted to enjoy that to the fullest, instead of getting pulled into the comparison trap.

I still logged in once each morning to clean up notifications and to check the “Your Memories on Facebook” page.  As a homeschooling mama, I belong to a ridiculous number of groups, who are always hosting a ridiculous number of events; I did feel the need to check in occasionally there.  And as someone who tends to use FB to chronicle the fairly mundane day-to-day life taking place under our roof, the memories were wonderful to look through and laugh at and sometimes share with the kids (and to remind myself that happiness wasn’t always this tenuous).

No news feed.  No sorting by most recent.  No so-and-so liked this or so-and-so shared this or random ads for….why would you think I’d want an ad for this?

Can I tell you something?  It’s been really pleasant.

Fast-forward to now, about three months later.  As I’m reading in Psalms, I come across verse 14 in Psalm 34:  “Depart from evil, and do good; seek peace, and pursue it.”  I stopped to really consider those words, and it occurred to me that they summed up what had been happening over this past accumulation of weeks.

Depart from evil.  No, I’m not saying Facebook is evil.  But the feelings that get stirred up in me, from the political posts or the comments or the “shares” that haven’t been fact-checked; or the envy that crops up when I see someone else doing or getting something wonderful…..those feelings can be pretty ugly.  And I’ve been gradually leaving those behind.

Do good.  Guess what?  When you aren’t sitting and scrolling through your news feed constantly, you can get more done.  Add that to how much better I feel since I’ve left, and more of what is “getting done” is full of good.  (Please also note:  “getting done,” with a three-year-old in the house, sometimes looks like “playing kitty dollhouse.” That’s allowed.  I’m not talking about business productivity here.)

Seek peace and pursue it.  That’s exactly why I left in the first place.  Facebook did nothing to help my peace.  All it did, in various ways, was stir up stress and anxiousness in me.  It’s not in the business of creating peace; that’s not its job.  (Now, that’s an interesting question: what exactly is its job?)  Turning away from it has helped increase my peace dramatically, and allowed me to pursue things that contribute to peace even more.

Let’s be honest….now more than ever we are a people in need of peace.