Tiny Houses

November 14, 2013

I am on a tiny house kick.  It started innocently enough, reading simplifying books again.  That cross-bred with my older daughter’s love of “house books” (decorating books checked out from the library), and I suddenly found myself introducing my older two to the joys of Sarah Susanka’s “Not So Big” series of books.  One of my new favorite memories is watching my daughter go through Creating the Not-So-Big House with my mom, explaining to her (in a way only an eight-year-old can) that “there’s lots of details….See?  That’s a detail…..”

Towards the back of that specific book, we found the Pears and Cherries and Hilltop cottages, located in a little cottage community in Whidbey Island, Washington.  My daughter and I both fell in love with those cottages:  so simple, so tiny, and so perfect.  So completely impractical for a family of five.  (A side note:  I’m not really one for jealousy, but “Thou shalt not covet the Pears and Cherries kitchen” needs to be engraved under the photo in that book.)

That led to a few more books; the latest was today when I found Tiny Homes by Lloyd Kahn at the library and pulled it off the shelf.  I really thought the kids might have moved on, but it fell open to “The Hobbit House” and both kids “awwwwww”‘d in unison.  We brought it home.

I’d read Tammy Strobel’s book (You Can Buy Happiness (and it’s Cheap) ) earlier this year; she lives in an amazingly tiny house after a journey of downsizing, baby step by baby step.

I look at all these houses (and they are tiny houses; Strobel’s house is built on a 8’x16′ trailer) and I am completely fascinated.  How do you live in a space that small?  Is part of it living in a climate where you can be outside often?  Is it simply having a smaller family?  I understand the “less stuff” part.  I’m not 100% sure, however, where we would put all our people.  🙂

I’m not sure why I’m so drawn to all these little places.  Maybe it’s just the idea of being quiet and alone, without all the kids and the dog and the chaos.  Maybe it’s the idea of having dramatically less to clean.  Maybe it’s the freedom of having to deal with so much less stuff.  I don’t really know.  It’s been fun reading, though; especially with my older two.  I love that the minute the baby is napping, they’ll ask if we can snuggle and look at a book.  And in spite of how incredibly enticing these tiny homes are, I love that I can put the baby to bed in her own room, upstairs, and then come down to cuddle on our sofa in a completely separate space, and read.

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Stupid time change….

I’m noticing more people have finally realized that even though “fall back” is supposed to mean an extra hour of sleep, it means just the opposite for those with small children.  While everyone else is looking forward to the shift, those of us with little ones know it means absolutely nothing besides now the kids will be up at five instead of six.

What I failed to consider was how the evenings would look.  We have a baby who goes to bed at six o’clock at night; on a really good night I might be able to keep her up until six-thirty.  Now, with the end of daylight savings, I have a baby that really wants to go to bed at five.

I know it will only take a few days to get her back to where we were (or at least close to where we were), but today I thought we had hope because she’d taken a third nap and slept until four in the afternoon.  Four!!  Making it until six should be easy; it’s only two hours!

I should have known when she woke up screaming that it wasn’t going to work.  We made it through a very high-maintenance evening (please know, she it not a high-maintenance baby!!) and finally, with dinner over, I was facing clean-up.  She was done.  DONE.  Unfortunately, my husband was done, too, as he was working overtime and had to disappear into his “office” in the basement.  I plopped the baby down in the living room with her bucket of toys, handed her a few of them, and kept talking to her as I ran back to the sink to at least get the leftovers put away.  Dirty dishes could wait, but I wasn’t risking losing leftovers to a sneaky (and astoundingly agile) dog.

Ravioli dished out and put away:  check.

Garlic bread stacked up and put away:  check.

Every last pot, pan, and plate piled in the sink away from potential puppy disaster:  check.

I raced back into the living room, where the baby had never really stopped crying.  I took one look at her and every last ounce of irritation melted away from me as I realized she had managed to reach over and around every single toy I’d attempted to appease her with….and grab her blanket.  There she sat, thumb in her mouth, blanket pulled to her cheek, tears still running down her face.  My poor, exhausted baby!

As I rocked her and nursed her that night I thought about how even a six-month-old knew exactly what was most important to her.  How even she, as an infant, was able to cut through all the “stuff” and reach for the one thing she knew would help.  She didn’t want any of that other “stuff;” she wanted That One Thing that was her comfort; that would get her through until her struggle was over.  She wanted her blanket.

What’s your One Thing?

There’s no thirsting for the things
Of the world—they’ve taken wings.
Long ago I gave them up, and instantly
All my night was turned to day,
All my burdens rolled away.
Now the Comforter abides with me.

He abides, He abides.
Hallelujah, He abides with me!
I’m rejoicing night and day
As I walk the narrow way,
For the Comforter abides with me.

–from He  Abides, Herbert Buffum

Let the sunshine in

November 3, 2013

A few months ago I wandered downstairs first thing in the morning and went straight to the back door to let the dog out.  I opened the door and was startled to realize that the “leaning” tree, a giant mulberry smack-dab in the middle of our backyard, had shifted.  Noticeably.  The branches that had overhung our deck and shaded the baby’s room were now suddenly rubbing against the back door.  When I looked at the hackberry tree which it leaned into, I noticed that it had shifted there, too…..a much more precarious situation since our neighbor’s house was in a direct line of the leaning trunk.

The tree was not only there when we moved here, it was there when the house was built 25+ years ago; we are one of a handful of houses in this neighborhood where trees were left standing when the homes were built (even now, you can pick us out).  The number one reason I wanted to buy this house was “the south-facing backyard with mature trees.”  Taking a tree out goes against everything in me; I’m the one planting them, not removing them.  But this was pretty clearly not negotiable.

We got the removal scheduled and I white-knuckled it through two high-winded thunderstorms before they arrived (I think I envisioned every possible scenario where the tree landed on the neighbor, her house, or her dog).  Finally, the crew came out and gave our family quite the show:  you don’t realize what some people mean when they leave in the morning to “go to work.”  Ropes and pulleys and walking limbs and hanging on trunks, and all of us at the windows watching their every move.  Each branch that came down hurt to watch; while it let in more and more sunshine, I was dreading going to the baby’s room and discovering how miserably hot it would be.

And then….when they were done, when the massive wall of tree was removed from the middle of our yard and I walked out onto our deck for the first time, it was the strangest sensation.  It was physical:  this moment of I can breathe.  I could see the sky instead of leaves, clear blue instead of deep green, air instead of solid; and I could feel it, within me.

I suppose it’s like any other serious decluttering job.  That feeling of space, of lightness, that results from getting rid of excess.  I never really thought about “decluttering” trees from our yard–I definitely don’t plan on making it a habit.  I am enjoying this feeling, though; and my daughter is eagerly planning “her” butterfly garden for the spring with all the newfound sunshine.

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.

Over the course of the last year I’ve had the opportunity to peek into at least three different nurseries of three different mothers, whether in real life or through photos on Facebook.  It wasn’t until the third that I really noticed it:  this vaguely familiar feeling; the I think I’ve been here before…but no… moment; the why does this ring a bell?  thoughts.  It all clicked when I complimented one of the moms on a wall hanging and she said, “Thanks!  I found the idea on Pinterest!”

Aha!  That’s it.  Everyone had taken all the same ideas and made them their own:  each room was different; and yet, each room was sort of the same.

Well, I’m not on Pinterest.  I waste enough time online without needing to get sucked in to something that I fully recognize could take over my life.  So the baby’s room fails to meet the “shared on Pinterest” criteria.  But….the baby’s room is done.  It’s actually completed (even though it didn’t get painted until she was three months old).  Back in January I wouldn’t have guaranteed any of that.  And last fall I was a basket case, because, as I kept having to tell people, we have nothing.

“Wow!  Your other two are really old!  Do you even have any baby stuff left?”  That was pretty much the response of pretty much anyone who talked to me about our little surprise blessing.  And my response, to each of them, was always the same:

No, we moved when my daughter was two and didn’t want to move all the baby stuff since were weren’t having any more…..all we have are two umbrella strollers.  We don’t even have a crib–it broke in the move.

Then my response started to change.

It started with a sweet friend from church asking me if I had any maternity clothes.  No, and I was loathe to buy them, knowing I’d never wear them again.  So in came three bins of clothing for me to use, completely free; originally on loan but (after some thoughtful consideration 😉 ) simply given.  My entire maternity purchases were a few pairs of jeans from Goodwill.  (I hadn’t even known there was a maternity section at Goodwill.)

Next up:  dinner with my college roommate and her husband.  She asked about our adoption plans, and when we told her–as we’d told our caseworker–that we had a “situation,” she got it immediately.

“A growing situation?” she asked. Yep.

“Do you even have any baby stuff?”  Nope.

She then offered us all of her baby stuff, left from her now-preschool son; after coming to the conclusion that they wouldn’t be having any more, she was trying to figure out how to get rid of it all.  (I believe her actual words were, “Back up the truck, baby….it’s all yours!”)

So a few weeks later, when another friend asked “Do you even have any baby stuff?”  I got to try out a new response:  Funny story…. By the end, I said something like, …and all we need to buy is a crib!  We have everything else we need!

To which she responded, “Do you want a crib?”

Are you kidding me?

We have acquired, to date, a crib, changing table, two changing pads (with covers), a bassinet, a car seat (plus two bases), a stroller (that works with the car seat), two baby bathtubs, one bouncy seat, one infant “seat,” one floor play mat, one swing, and numerous toys and blankets.  This doesn’t take into account the amazing amount of clothes loaned to me by my sister; from my niece, who is just over a year older than our baby girl.  And it turns out we didn’t actually have “nothing:”  I had my older daughter’s crib bedding, which I’d listed on Craigslist twice and which–somehow–never sold.  (Thank goodness it was a girl!)

I could spin this and talk about how budget-friendly our nursery is.  Or how “green” I am, with all this used stuff.  The reality, though, is that when we had a need, God provided.  When I was completely overwhelmed with the thought of starting over, especially since we weren’t planning on doing the whole baby thing again, God took care of the “stuff” situation, and helped me realize how He was present in the entire “baby” situation.

I am so unbelievably thankful to all the people who made my little one’s room.  Each and every day I see these things, and am reminded of God’s provision and friends’ willingness to help.  I can’t imagine a better way to decorate a nursery.

A quick note…..

May 20, 2013

On April 19th we were blessed with a 9-pound, 10.7-ounce bundle of little-girl joy.  I’ve spent the past month primarily snuggling a baby, homeschooling a son, and just. barely. keeping up with the house.  (I’m incredibly grateful for a Sunday School class–and a husband–that cook.)  No blogging for me, thanks.

I had a friend post something on Facebook, though, that I wanted to share.  It really hit home for me for two reasons:  first, the incredibly obvious idea–how did I miss it?–that “gluttony” doesn’t just apply to food.  (Duh.)  Secondly, the incredibly convicting idea that it’s not just about getting rid of stuff.  It’s about putting Him first, making sure He is our priority, finding out what He wants from us….letting Him fill us, so we don’t feel the need to be filled with all the other “stuff.”

I’m working on it….

The Socially Acceptable Sin, by Jason Todd

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……

Transitions

April 11, 2013

This has been a season of transitions.

In February, we started homeschooling my son, while my daughter continues to attend our neighborhood school.  Over the past two weeks, my husband’s workplace has been prepped and he officially has his first full-day work-from-home today.  The baby has been considerate enough to wait until the work move was complete, but she’s due to show up any day.  (Hint, hint, baby girl……ANY DAY NOW.)

The basement has transitioned from a nice place to hang out to a room full of cardboard and packing trash alongside the sleek computer equipment.  We’re still figuring out what to get rid of and how to arrange what we keep….it will probably take awhile.  I have to recognize that this shift is huge and that it’s not going to be a showplace tomorrow.

The nursery has transitioned from being worthy of an episode of “Hoarders,” to being cute and ready to welcome a new arrival, back to–well, it’s still nothing like it was.  The sudden overwhelming urge to paint (surely we can get the room painted before the baby shows up!), though, has turned it back into a space clearly not ready for habitation.  Half the room is taped, half is not; I’ve spackled the walls and they’re now sporting a delightful calamine-lotion-on-chicken-pox look, and all the furniture is pushed to the middle of the room.  Again:  it’s not going to be a showplace tomorrow.  And it doesn’t matter; the baby will be sleeping in the bassinet in the master bedroom for weeks anyway.

I have to laugh as I look back on how I started this blog focused on simplifying my family’s life…..things have only gotten exponentially more complicated.  It’s hard to be faithful to writing and posting when I’m doing so much reading and researching on homeschool stuff, never mind the normal, day-to-day getting ready for baby.  (At nine-and-3/4-months pregnant, all I really want to do is sit down.)  I’m realizing, though, that even through all this, my ideas of “enough” and “simplifying” are continuing to be defined and clarified.  (A perfect example is when my daughter looked in the nursery and asked, “Is this all that’s going to be in here?”)

I have all sorts of posts swimming about in my head….maybe, as this time of transition starts to settle down just a little, I’ll be able to start writing more.  I realize that it will probably get worse before it gets better.  🙂

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.

20130225-205603.jpg

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.