Back to “Enough”

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.

Christmas, slightly simplified…

It is Christmas. We have an almost-eight-month-old. It’s a bad combination.20131215-154413.jpg

As we started decorating for Christmas this year, I forced myself to scale back. Partly because of the knowledge that the baby could start crawling at any moment, and how much time do I really want to spend chasing a baby?

Also, though, because of the hassle.

Isn’t that awful? To look at these things as a hassle? But when I pulled out the lights we usually hang with our garland on our porch, and half were burned out, I didn’t even bother. I just piled everything back in the box and thought maybe next year.

The tree is up. The Nativity scene is up. The Advent calendar is up. The wreath on the door is up. I checked in with my oldest as I was reigning it in, and asked if there was anything else he Really Wanted to put up; if there was anything he would Truly Miss if it wasn’t out. Verdict: the light-up houses. So we set up our seven little Dickens’ Village houses on top of the piano and I put them on a timer so I didn’t even have to turn them on in the morning. Then I put my red glass hurricane candleholder on the kitchen island and called it good.

That doesn’t really sound all that simple, I know. It’s scaled down for us.  I’m looking at this year as a test: will I miss it? If I don’t get it out, if I don’t put it up, will I even care that it’s gone? If I don’t miss it, am I prepared to send it out the door before next Christmas rolls around? Will I really miss all the “stuff?”

Well…yes.

I made it a full week before I decided I really wanted the garland hanging on our stair banister. Maybe it’s just that I’ve gotten used to it; it’s been with us through the last two houses. That’s almost ten years worth of greenery hung with red tartan plaid ribbons.

Now we’re driving through neighborhoods looking at Christmas lights, and I’m feeling like a Scrooge. We usually have candles in all our front windows, and I hang a little greenery with white lights on our small front porch. The practical side of me is screaming, she’s going to start crawling! You don’t want to have to watch all those cords! You don’t want to have to deal with burnt out bulbs! But guess what? I really, really miss our lights. A wreath on the door just doesn’t cut it.

And honestly, if you’re going to have anything on display at Christmas, shouldn’t it be lights?

The people walking in darkness have seen a great light…–Isaiah 9:2

In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. –John 1:4-5

The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world…to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God… –John 1:9,12

When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world.  Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.–John 8:12

I have come into the world as a light so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness –John 12:46

For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord.  Live as children of light… –Ephesians 5:8

But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another…–I John 1:7

The Lord is my light and salvation–whom shall I fear? –Psalm 27:1

Yes….even if you’re going to have a scaled-down Christmas, you should probably keep the lights.

 

 

Tiny Houses

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.

Let the sunshine in

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

“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…..

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

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……