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.

Words of Inspiration

February 3, 2017

Months ago–maybe even over a year–I put The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up on hold at the library.  I was something like 312th in line; at some point, we butted up against our hold limit, and I removed it from the list to put a hold on something else more pressing.  So when I found it at the library recently (on the shelf!), I snagged it.  On the way out I did a quick pass through the new book display and discovered her latest, Spark Joy.  I walked out that morning looking forward to a new round of reading and maybe a new way of thinking.

I enjoyed both books.  Some things I admittedly thought were a little quirky…the idea of folding every item of clothing we own I found a little ridiculous.  Our closets seem to be serving us just fine, thank  you–and maybe that’s why I thought it was a strange idea.  If we were struggling for storage or having trouble with making our space work, the folding concept might have really appealed to me.

Other things I felt strangely vindicated by:  keeping things that “spark joy” has apparently been a guiding force in my decluttering for years; I just hadn’t put words to it.  It was nice not only to have a phrase for what was leading me but also to have a reason for keeping the odd things I couldn’t quite bear to get rid of.  I’ve always theorized that if you get rid of enough stuff that doesn’t matter, you’re allowed to keep those things that do, even if it’s a little “weird,” to use my son’s favorite term.

The most important discovery for me, though, came from her book Spark Joy.  “No matter how much stuff you may own, the amount is always finite.”  The amount is always finite.  I almost have to use the word “epiphany” here….the realization that there was An End.  There would be a point where every room in the house has been gone through, has been evaluated, and has been decluttered.  That idea lit a spark under me (sorry, that was completely unintentional) and I dove into the basement storage area with renewed energy.  Because after all, it’s a finite amount of stuff!!

Basement storage, for our needs, is really very specific.  We need a place for seasonal decorations, a place for tools, and a place for those icky “you can’t  get rid of these tax records for at least seven to ten years.”  That’s it.  The unfortunate truth was that the room was turning into storage for “we might use this someday” (Exhibit A:  an inflatable wading pool I used when the bigs were about 6 and 4, around seven years ago) and “I’m too lazy to carry this trash upstairs” (Exhibit B:  that bag there…and there….and there….).  I went in inspired, and succeeded in creating a storage room that was actually a functional storage room.  The east wall consists of bins for seasonal storage, the northeast corner a workbench with tools, and the north wall ends in a small bookcase that holds two file boxes.  Yes, there is still a bit to weed on the tool bench, but the room is so clear that the bigs set up a table against the west wall and brought down some Legos.  (My son refers to this as “baby-free space.”  Even though the “baby” is three now.)

I weeded through our seasonal stuff and managed to narrow things down to one bin per season, except for winter.  Christmas means that pretty much all the other bins down there are “winter,” and I succeeded in scaling back enough to ditch one entire bin from Christmas storage.  In all, I’m down five bins of “stuff…” Amazing how things fit pleasantly when you’re not overcrowding your space.  😉

I now need to grab hold of that “the amount is always finite” idea and apply it to our laundry room closet.  Again.  But I will celebrate any victory I can!

Never Perfection

April 22, 2016

I’m noticing more and more lately that I’m much harder on myself than I am on anyone else.  I’ve been wrapped up in how not-enough life has been lately:  not-enough as in Too Much, much Too Much everywhere.  Which leads, then, to feeling like a hypocritical wretch when it comes to blogging about enough.  I’ve made a poor choice in my reading material lately, also, which only leads to more frustration as I see all these people who clearly have got it all together and figured out how to minimize…um…everything and who are setting a fine, upstanding example of what a truly minimalist house looks like.

Well, first of all, maybe I’m not really a minimalist?  Not by the true, popular definition, anyway.  I like a clear counter as much as anyone (okay, probably more), but I like some stuff, too.  Stuff that makes a house look cozy and not sterile.  Stuff that makes a place look like home, look lived in, and not cold.  So to number whatever-it-was in Simplify Your Life, I’m sorry, but I’m not getting rid of my houseplants.

As I struggled with all these feelings, I stumbled upon this post by Melissa Camara Wilkins on the No Sidebar website.  Fact:  sometimes this website is one of those “poor choices in reading material” mentioned earlier.  Obviously they don’t mean to be; overall they’re a wonderful encouragement.  But reading so many articles posted by people doing this “right” makes me a little nutty sometimes.  Wilkins article was a huge blessing to me.  There are people out there like me.  (My favorite line:  “My kids have Legos.”)  It is possible to be a minimalist and still Have Stuff.  It’s just a matter of focusing on what place that stuff has in your life, whether it serves you or whether you are in fact serving it.  (I will admit that lately, I’ve occasionally felt like the Stuff was in control.  We’re working on it.)

I still remember the winter our foster kids were here and I was straightening up in the laundry room/coat room and realized we had seven pairs of gloves.  We didn’t have seven pairs because someone was “into” gloves and had started a collection.  We had seven pairs because we had seven people living in this house.  We needed seven pairs of gloves.  Sometimes stuff really is necessary (though that doesn’t make it any easier–or less overwhelming–to take care of it all).  How funny to look at seven pairs of gloves and still be able to say, “I am a minimalist:  we have only what we need here.”

I also struggle frequently with writing this blog for another reason:  there are a million people doing this better than I am.  What on earth is the point of continuing writing?  But the point, I think, is for me and my sanity, my brain.  It’s a way to think through everything going on around me (which currently involves large tarps being taped up all over my living room to fix a hole in the ceiling due to a plumbing issue….have I mentioned how not-enough life has been?) and to process and reach a conclusion for myself, even if not for anyone else.  Although if it helps someone else, so much the better.

I’m quite sure the No Sidebar article will help someone as much as it’s helped me.

 

New Year Excess

February 3, 2016

I was standing in the kitchen one Friday in January, trying to figure out how I could possibly spend all my time picking. up. stuff. and still never, ever really get anywhere.  I was reminding myself that there were five people in this house, that three of them were children, and that it was going to be an uphill battle.  Let’s be real:  five people can generate a lot of stuff.  One brief outing to our home improvement store helped my understanding.

We went to pick up coat hooks that I would be hanging on a wall in our laundry room.  (I, like a raving lunatic, had decided we needed to make some improvements to the laundry room. IN DECEMBER.  While it is definitely true that that room wasn’t working well, Christmas was, without a doubt, the worst time to try to fix it.)

So off we go to pick up the hooks I ordered online.  One small box of things about to walk into my house.

On the way there I realized that the one other thing I should get were picture hangers–the really good, up-to-50-pounds kind, so we could move a mirror back to where it was before we rearranged the entire house to bring in our foster kids.  Okay:  two items about to walk into my house.

As I’m standing at customer service, picking up my order, the lady smiles at my two-year-old in the cart and asks if she’d like an apron.  She proceeds to hold up one of the orange aprons they give out to kids at their Saturday build-it programs.  The baby is suddenly ridiculously shy, but ten-year-old sister pipes up, “I want one!  Those are cute!”  To which I respond, “NO!  We don’t need aprons.  You don’t need an apron.  It wouldn’t fit you anyway.”  The saleslady is ridiculously accommodating and instead of aprons, gives me two “build your own toolkit” sets for both the girls.

Ahem.  Thank you.  (Said through gritted teeth….)

We can’t make it out the door without older daughter picking up at least four paint sample brochures, because, after all, it really is kind of her “thing.”  And as we walk by a display of batteries I realize we need a pack of AA’s for one of the Christmas presents sitting in a box at home.

That makes nine items, for those playing along at home.

At the self-checkout stand, we’re approached by another saleslady, who is offering my girls–what else?–free aprons to take home.  Ohmystars.  We politely decline the aprons.  AGAIN.  (Actually, I might have went off a little–good naturedly–about them pushing aprons.  I promise I was laughing.)

The punch line of our “went in for one item, came out with nine” story is that the next morning, I came downstairs and discovered that my son had won a prize at his youth event, which is where HE was while we were out and about.  Sitting on the kitchen table–along with two tool kits, four paint brochures, a box of batteries, a box of hooks, and a box of picture hangers–was a brand new water bottle.

That’s ten items in one night.  No wonder I’m not getting anywhere.

Back to “Enough”

December 1, 2015

A year and a month ago life got so crazy, so chaotic, that the idea of keeping up with blogging never even entered the picture.  Six months ago we went through another extreme shift and suddenly, writing seemed possible again.  So I’m jumping in today, babystepping pathetically back, figuring out how to use the “brand new WordPress site” (which most likely isn’t actually brand new at all), resetting my long-forgotten password, stealing a few minutes to reacquaint myself with this.

We’ve gone from two kids, to our beautiful surprise baby girl, to two foster children for nine months.  (Hmmm…nine months.  How appropriate for a rebirth.)  Now we’ve shifted back to our original three and have had a few months to get used to the idea of “just us” again.  “Enough” has been a moving target over the past three years.  Each time I get used to the idea of where we’re at, it changes.  Again.  Frequently.

I haven’t stopped thinking about it, though:  what is enough?  Getting ready for a new baby…moving in two kids and all their things…moving baby out of her room to use it for our foster son….moving older daughter’s things to make space in her room for our foster daughter…completely emptying a room downstairs to use as a bedroom for the baby…

What is enough?  I definitely wish we’d had less “stuff” to move around last year, and I’d been purging for ages.  (My husband did point out,  Aren’t you glad you did all that simplifying before this started?)  Now, after the kiddos have moved out and we’ve gotten a little back to normal, I’m starting to feel breathing room again, both physically and mentally.  We’ll see where things go from here.

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.

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……

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.

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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.