Happy Valentine’s Day!

Happy Valentine’s Day!  Yeah, I know, it was a week ago….but think back for a minute.  What did you do for Valentine’s Day?  How did you celebrate?  Are those two dozen roses starting to smell a little…off?  Did the chocolate look a lot better in the box, instead of on your hips?  Are the cute balloons deflated and the stuffed animals starting to get dusty?

The only reason I ask is because of a story a friend brought up.  I’ll let her tell it:

At Wal-Mart, on Valentine’s Day, the woman two in front of me in line was bemoaning the amount she was spending on “all this junk.” Her cart was piled high with cheesy stuffed animals, heart-shaped candy boxes, and other gimmicky wares. She said to the lady behind her in line, “You know, none of it means anything.”  I so wanted to say, “So why are you buying it?!  If it means nothing, then do something for someone that does mean something instead of wasting money on things people don’t need, that mean nothing to you or to them.

Maybe it’s time to reevaluate our “celebrating.”

I still remember our coffee maker dying right around one of those “romantic” days; it was Valentine’s Day or our anniversary, I don’t recall which.  I just remember when my husband asked me what I wanted, I said—in all seriousness—a new coffee pot.  He told me later how completely horrified his female coworkers were, that he would buy me a coffee pot on such a special day.  Guess what?  Years later, I am still using that coffee pot, often more than once a day.  One of the best gifts ever.

I don’t mean to say chuck it all, I don’t mean to say you shouldn’t be getting gifts for your loved ones and I definitely don’t mean to be some miserly witch trying to hammer all the fun out of any holiday.  I just mean to encourage everyone to take some time to think:  about what is truly important, about how you really want to celebrate, about what you want to take away from this “special day” a week (or a month or year) later.  I’m actually a big fan of flowers (though roses aren’t my favorites), and who’s not a big fan of chocolate?  Let’s just make sure that we choose to “do something for someone that does mean something instead of wasting money on things people don’t need, that mean nothing to you or to them.


Two thoughts about Time….

I was trying to clean up after dinner on one of my “husband’s gone” nights.  It was one of those nights where you look at the mounds of dishes piled all over the counter (even after the kids load their own stuff) and just want to crawl into a hole and not come out.  I also wanted to get the kids in their respective tubs so I could be “done” for the day, but I knew that I didn’t want to come back downstairs to the dinner mess, once everything had congealed and gotten even nastier.  The kids were heading to the basement to play a new “game” they devised that always started out with lots of laughing and wrestling and always ended with them just beating the crap out of each other; I really wanted to head them off at the pass and say, “No!  Upstairs and into the bath!”…but again, I wanted to be done with the kitchen mess.  So I compromised.  I informed them that I would set the timer for ten minutes.  They could play and I would clean for ten minutes; then it was straight upstairs into tubs.  I figured no one would get too injured in only ten minutes of playing, and even if I didn’t get everything in the kitchen finished, I would have at least gotten started.

Ten minutes.  This is what I got done in ten minutes:

Completely emptied the dishwasher.

Rinsed and loaded all dinner dishes, including the crock pot insert.

Wiped down the table and all counters.

Pitched recycling into the blue box in the garage.

The only thing that didn’t get done in those ten minutes was setting up the coffee pot for the next morning.  I couldn’t believe it.  Now, I was booking it; I don’t usually move that quickly.  But it really is incredible how much you can accomplish in a small amount of time if you just do it.

My second observation on time involves me being a total jerk.  Do, please, forgive me for being a nag, just this once, and humor my rant.  For all the people who say they just don’t have any time…..

Skip one TV show.

Get off Facebook, Twitter, or Pinterest for fifteen minutes.

Drop five three-minute You-tube videos.

Give up a round of Angry Birds.

I said to my husband the other day that it’s amazing the amount of time we spend not actually doing anything.  I found out how much I could accomplish in a tiny amount of time….but I still have to decide to use my time wisely.  It’s my choice.

Lecture’s over.  Thanks for your patience.  I will now return to my attempts to encourage and not berate.

We’re making this too difficult….

I think we hit a wall with uncluttering because we just get so completely overwhelmed.  We open the door to the basement, look at the entire basement, and think I can’t do all this!  We look at our kitchen, with the cabinets spilling out goods, and know there’s no way I can do all this today, so we do nothing.

Do you hear the magic word in there?  The “all” word?  We’re making this too difficult.  As Flylady would say, “Babysteps.”  Let’s break this down for a minute.

Start with ten minutes.

Go to the area bothering you the most.  You are not doing the whole thing.  May I repeat that?  You are NOT doing the whole thing!  Pick one little spot:  one cabinet, one shelf, one square foot of floor space.  Bring a trash bag (for trash), a laundry basket (for things that belong in other places), and a grocery-type bag (for things you’re giving away).  And dive in.  Keep asking yourself the questions, Will this truly make my life simpler?  Is this a need?  Can I do without it?  Would this be better being a blessing to someone else?  God has clearly blessed us with abundant amounts of stuff if this is something we need to be working on; what would He think is the best plan for this item?

Two choices for how to spend those ten minutes:  five minutes in the area, and five minutes putting things away.  Or ten minutes in the area, and then take the next few minutes to put those laundry basket things where they belong.  The bag of stuff to give away goes straight to your car trunk.  The sooner you get it out of your house, the better.  I promise that Goodwill is just as happy to see one bag of stuff as a truck full.

Look up charities that are near you, or near places you frequent.  Goodwill is across the street from our grocery store; on a good week I can empty my trunk and have it ready for groceries in one trip.  (And yet there are other times where I drive around with my trunk full of stuff for Goodwill for weeks on end….)

And that’s it.  Ten minutes.  But ten minutes each day adds up…and often, once you see progress, ten minutes a day turns to ten minutes three or four times a day….and suddenly you realize that if you spend just one more hour, you can knock out that area that used to be your biggest headache.  And you’ll do it.

It doesn’t have to be that hard.

Fruits of the Spirit

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.  But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also….No one can serve two masters.  Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other.  You cannot serve both God and Money” (Matthew 6:19-24).

When I think of treasures in heaven, I’m reminded of the fruits of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22:  “…love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.”  I’m amazed at how many of those “fruits” can work hand-in-hand with simplifying and uncluttering our homes.

Love and gentleness:  with love and gentleness, we can look at others in compassion, see a need, and give of what we have.

Joy:  the joy that comes not only from giving, but in the freedom of having less to care for, keep up, and worry about.

Peace:  the peace that comes from not being surrounded by, and overwhelmed by, too many things.

Patience:  the patience we learn as we rely on Him to supply our needs, in His time.

Kindness and goodness:  again, as we see others in need and are able to share, providing for them through our abundance.

Faithfulness:  As we walk faithfully with God, we will learn to trust Him more to provide for our needs, and we can faithfully and continually give to others as He gives us even more than enough.

Self-control:  This one sometimes hurts.  This is the one where we turn away from excess, where we learn to recognize our true needs from a want, where we walk away from the idea of “more is better.”  Exercising self-control as we simplify means we evaluate every purchase we make, and ask questions.  Will this truly make my life simpler?  Is this a need, or a temporary desire?  Can I do without it?

Those questions kept coming to mind as I wrestled with whether to buy a rug for our living room’s hardwood floors.  Will this truly make my life simpler?  No.  It would give me one more area to vacuum, and I would still need to sweep around the edges, where all the dog fur would be accumulating on a regular basis.  It would be one more carpeted surface to stain if anything spilled on it.  It would be a good-sized chunk out of our bank account; money that could definitely go to better places, right?  And yet….our poor dog, ninety-one-years-old in dog years, could definitely use the more solid surface of a carpet as he struggles to get his three-good-legs arthritic furry body around.  It would make his life much simpler.  So round and round I went….  Thinking—really thinking–before you buy is not much fun.  But I do think it gives us a deeper appreciation for our things, and leads us to buying more wisely.

We did finally break down and buy the rug I’d been looking at for months.  Money out of our bank account?  Check; though not as much as it could have been.  One more thing to stain?  Well, check, though nothing’s happened yet.  (Knock on wood.)  One more area to vacuum:  check; which has proven to be not a big deal.  It’s a good, heavy rug with backing on it; it’s not going anywhere if I run a vacuum over it.

Here’s the thing, though:  that rug has turned our living room into a place where everyone wants to hang out.  Suddenly, the middle of the floor is the place to be.  My husband and I sit and read in our “spots,” and the kids are lying on the floor, reading and playing.  My daughter has commented more than once, “Mommy!  The whole family is in here!”—meaning dogs, too.   It’s been such a joy to have that happen that I have absolutely no regrets about buying that rug.  If anything, I wish we’d bought it sooner—but would I have as great an appreciation for it if I had?

Confessions of a Hypocrite

One more message from the kitchen:  true confession time.  The kitchen is the hardest room for me to stay on top of.  It’s home to both my junk drawers (one much junkier than the other) and my biggest pile of papers, which never seems to really leave, no matter how many times I manage to make it disappear.  It’s one of the two rooms in this house that everyone uses, all the time, which means it’s a great place for things to accumulate; especially hidden things.

A great example:  my “random utensil” drawer.  (Not to be confused with my “utensil” drawer, which has all of our silverware, and not much else.  It is probably the most uncluttered area of the house.)  Digging in it, I find….. Spatulas:  I use.  Pancake turner:  use.  Apple corer/slicer:  use.  Measuring cups and spoons:  use constantly.  A few things could be moved to more appropriate places; for example, the beaters that attach to my hand mixer can go into the box with the mixer.  So far, so good.

But now let’s really look.  I have a candy thermometer I haven’t used since we moved (that would be over three years ago…but I really might make yeast rolls again).  I have a cheese slicer, and I only buy pre-sliced cheese (but I know it’s cheaper to buy the block, so maybe I’ll start doing that and need it again).  I have a corkscrew, and we don’t drink wine.  Ever.  (It was purchased by an extended family member for when their family comes over for visits.  Apparently cohabitation in this house requires alcohol.)

Do you see the incessant justification going on?  I don’t use it, but…. I don’t need it, but…..  Every single item in this drawer, in this house, can somehow be justified.  Each item, I can find a reason to keep; can make up a reason to keep.  I think that’s what makes uncluttering so difficult sometimes.  I think an incredibly important question we can ask ourselves is, “Would this be better off being a blessing to someone else?”  I think it helps cut through my excuses, to realize that there is someone out there who could truly use and appreciate an item that’s just clogging up my drawer.

So here I am, as someone who is continually shouting the praises of simplifying, and I’ve got a drawer full of crap like everyone else.  But that drawer is currently empty, open, and drying from a good scrubbing, and all the stuff is sorted out on my counter, and now I get to put things—selectively, carefully—back in.  At the very least, I can move the rarely used items to a different spot, even if I don’t want to get rid of them quite yet.  (Do I really want to dig around the cheese slicer each time I want a measuring cup?)

Once finished, each time I open that drawer and don’t have to move something to get at something else, it will make me smile.  Ease of use, for a drawer that gets used often, really is a big deal.  And by the time I get used to that drawer being clean and clear, once the novelty has worn off, I’ll have moved on to a different drawer or different room in the house, and started working on something new.  Because let’s face it, this is an ongoing job that doesn’t ever really go away.

Needs Vs. Wants

From the book Voluntary Simplicity, by Duane Elgin:

“For example, we need shelter in order to survive; we may want a huge house with many extra rooms that are seldom used.  We need basic medical care; we may want cosmetic plastic surgery to disguise the fact that we are getting older.  We need functional clothing; we may want frequent changes in clothing style to reflect the latest fashion.  We need a nutritious and well-balanced diet; we may want to eat at expensive restaurants.  We need transportation; we may want a new Mercedes.  Only when we are clear about what we need and what we want can we begin to pare away the excess and find a middle path between extremes.  Discovering this balance in everyday life is central to our learning, and no one else can find it for us.” (p. 100)

We’re facing a large “need versus want” situation in our kitchen.  Our stove is original to the house, which means it’s sticking out like a 25-year-old black-and-stainless-steel sore thumb in the middle of our bright, cheery, white-appliance room.  But it still works, so we’ve been using it.  It runs warm, however, so using it entails a lot of checking and double-checking baked goods, and sometimes entails completely starting over on a ruined “fill-in-the-blank.”  (Ask my daughter about the birthday cupcakes we were making for school.)  But it does work.  The front burner is very temperamental; I’d say it works 95% of the time if you pay attention and stop to plug it in just right.  It did stop working completely recently, until I discovered my husband using it, so apparently it’s working again, though not dependably.  (Do you see where I’m going with this?)  But the stove does, technically, work.  And every evening, as I’m wiping down the kitchen, I think about how after fifteen years of cleaning electric burner drip pans, I really want a smooth-top range—but aha!  There’s that word “want!”  Do we really need a new stove, if this one “technically” works?

Well, yes, I think I’m finally coming around to realize that we do, in fact, need a new stove.  The hassles of dealing with this one are beginning to overtake the functionality of it.  When my daughter is giving me hugs to try to make mommy happy because the cupcakes are ruined but need to be at school in the morning; when I’ve waited—and waited—for the water to boil, only to realize the burner isn’t even working; it’s starting to encroach on the smooth running of the household.  Having a not-decrepit looking piece of equipment sitting in my kitchen would definitely be a nice side benefit.  (When the realtor selling this house took photos of the kitchen, she carefully positioned herself so the kitchen island blocked all evidence of the stove.)  A smooth-top range?  Definitely a “want” over a “need,” but by researching prices carefully and thinking about ease of cleanup on a regular basis it seems like it could be a fairly practical want.  (I’m not seeking out a high-end chef’s oven for my seriously lacking culinary skills—I just want something that wipes down easily.)

Until we finally decide to commit to making a purchase, however, I will continue to use my “technically working” stove and hope for the best.  “Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”  I plan on making do for a while longer.

Choices, choices

As I stress to my kids the difference between “needs” and “wants,” I’m struck by the incredible array of choices we have in purchasing for our “needs.”  Do we need soap?  Absolutely!  But walk down the “soap” aisle in any discount store and let your senses be assaulted for one moment by the sheer number of choices in front of you.  How many brands do you see?  How many different choices of soap within each brand are on the shelves?  This doesn’t even include the entire stores that are devoted to soaps, lotions, and potions….and remember, this started out as a genuine need.  Yes, we need soap, but if we’re honest with ourselves we would admit that we don’t need 500 different choices of soap.

Notice this the next time you shop.  I need laundry detergent, (though I realize some people make their own), and when I go to the closest store, they have mostly just one brand.  But there are shelves stacked five tall containing the various assortments of that brand.  (Ironically, it’s not the brand I use, which is why I buy my detergent elsewhere.)  Dish soap, cleaners, lotions, food….the list goes on and on.  It’s no wonder we’re overwhelmed with our stuff; we have so many options in front of us for legitimate needs.  We haven’t even gotten into “wants”!

How often do you try out a new choice in one of those “need” categories, and immediately decide you don’t like it?  What do you do with it?  Does it remain in your home, collecting dust, a constant reminder of the mistake you made?  Do you wince each time you open the cabinet and remember, “Yeah…I thought I’d really like that…it didn’t work at all.”  It is the gradual accumulation of mistakes we don’t get rid of that is part of what is overtaking our homes—and remember, we’re still only talking about “needs.”  Our “want” purchases create a whole extra mess.