Dealing with “stuff”

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….

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.

FM to CD to MP3….

One cold night over Christmas break I snuggled with my son on the sofa, watching the most recent version of “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.”  We’d come to the part where Johnny Depp’s Willy Wonka comes out to meet his motley crew of golden ticket winners for the very first time.  He smiles his vaguely creepy Willy Wonka smile, and after a dramatic pause, utters his first words to the group gathered before him:

“Good morning, starshine!  The earth says hello!”

I haven’t seen the movie much, but this always makes me laugh, and I burst out laughing even harder at my son’s reponse:  “That was…..weird.”

“It’s a song!  It’s an old song!”  And I found myself wondering how he can’t know it’s a song.  Which sounds ridiculous (why would a nine-year-old boy be aware of any song from the musical Hair, right?) but we are such a music-obsessed family it genuinely took me by surprise.

It reminded me of a conversation I’d had with my mom this past week, where she teased me about being a “woman of a certain age” because I knew the lyrics to some song she referenced.  (For further proof that I truly am a “woman of a certain age,” I’ve completely forgotten what that song was.)

We just like our music.

My husband and I grew up listening to our parents’ music, the true, fun “oldies” radio station (that would be defined as ’50’s music, people, not ’70’s).  My mom had the classical station on at our house during the day, all day.  Going to college in a town with only two stations (before the advent of internet radio and MP3’s) meant I got a good, solid education in classic rock before I met and married my husband and got a schooling in alternative music.  My son has had his own iTunes playlist on our computer since he was 18 months old.  (He was the one rocking out to an REM concert at nine months in utero.)

The ridiculous range of music I’ve been exposed to means that when we got our dog, Kina, I walked around for two weeks with random warped song references running through my head; from “Kina is a Punk Rocker” a la The Ramones, to “Oh, Kina Oh, Kina” instead of “Corrina, Corrina.”

All that to say….

In the bottom of our TV cabinet are three large drawers.  In spite of the fact that we now do loads of online music buying, all three are FULL of CD’s.  Full to the point of being difficult to open because they’re so heavy.  Full to the point that I’m not sure where we’re going to put the Imagine Dragons and Mumford and Sons CD’s my husband got for Christmas.  The drawers are holding, roughly, 300 CD’s.  Every last one of which has been downloaded on our computer.  So, why is it so hard to get rid of the CD’s??  We even have a place that would buy them from us; all we’d have to do it load them up and drive them there.  (Side note:  I’m reading a book right now that makes 300 CD’s seem paltry.  But that’s a post for a different day.)

Yet there they sit.  Put away enough that I can conveniently forget they’re there.  Organized, even, so we can find what we need when we need it.  But really?  Do we really need to keep the CD’s, when everything is on the computer and its backup drive?

I keep coming back to a different question:  do I really want to lose all that music if the computer crashes?

Once someone can convince me to let go of that question, we can start really letting go of CD’s.

My Christmas list

One last Christmas post and I promise to move on…

This is an idea that occurred to me fairly early this Christmas season, as we were just getting started with our decorating and everything was falling apart.  As my daughter kept asking about when we were going to put up the tree (the day after Thanksgiving, just like always–why is that a surprise?) and kept hounding me about putting up the tree and finally it was time to put up the tree…and I realized we had no lights.  (Take that, all you friends who think I’m incredibly organized.)  I knew we were going from a pre-lit tree back to our old, needs-lots-of-lights tree, and I’d bought a few boxes of lights…but then I’d promptly loaned out two boxes for our Sunday School class Christmas party, held the evening after we were tree decorating.

At that point I was so fed up with the entire situation; with all the badgering about putting up the tree and finally getting set up and realizing that we could now do nothing with it.  In desperation, I told the kids they could decorate the bottom half of the tree:  the half with lights.  Notice, please, that we finally have kids old enough to actually decorate the entire tree and not just the bottom branches, and now I’m asking them to just decorate the bottom branches.  I wanted to be done with the whole mess and move on.  I’d fix it later.

When “big tree decorating” was done, my kids unpacked their tiny trees, the ones they set up in their rooms.  None of their lights worked either.  At all.

And that’s when I started taking notes.

All Christmas I took notes on what would make life easier.  Just little ideas, here and there, when they’d come to me.  Problems that we’d had that could easily be fixed, something that could have been done better if I’d had more time to prepare, or things that seem obvious now but that I know I’ll forget by next year.

I present to you my Christmas list (maybe some bit of it will help someone else):

  • Pack all lights in a separate box, and check to see if they work a few days before putting up the tree (especially lights for kids’ trees).
  • Pack ornaments sorted by “fragile” and “not fragile” so the kids can help decorate much more easily.
  • Put on cross-stitched ornaments first–they’re way bigger.
  • Have a wide space cleared in the kids’ rooms a few days before their trees go up.  (The bookcases are not deep enough to set the trees.)
  • Unload one box a day, and ONLY one box.  (“Tree” and “Kids” boxes first.)
  • If possible, set up the tree the night before decorating.
  • Have back-up “candle” bulbs ready [we put “candles” in all eight of our front windows]:  only one burnt out this year.
  • You are absolutely forbidden from buying ANY more scented pinecones.  No exceptions.

Hopefully next year will go a bit more smoothly.  I’ll need all the help I can get, seeing as by then we’ll have a eight-month-old girl added to the mix.

More Christmas simplifying…

Yesterday, finally, I finished putting away the last of the Christmas “stuff.”

I grew up in a house where we took down the decorations on January 1st, but as an adult my habit has been to put away on New Year’s Eve.  I love the idea of a fresh start for the new year.  So the idea of being done on January….8th?  Really??

There were a few factors playing into the delay:  first, we had a new furnace installed.  (Yeah, that’s a whole other post.)  Not much sense filling up boxes and loading the basement if you’re just going to have to move all the boxes, right?  Secondly, because of the new furnace, the basement shot to the top of my “to-do” list and I was determined to get it as clear as possible, since so much floor space was already freed up in giving the crew room to work.  Focusing on the basement meant the house stayed decorated a bit longer than usual.  A smaller, side reason was that our kids school break was just so long…..why not enjoy the pretty a little longer?  (Honestly, I think the week after Christmas is more appealing to me than ever, because I can finally just sit down and relax.  It’s over.)

Finally–and this is the big one–clean-up took forever because I really wanted to go through everything and purge.  There is so much in with Christmas “stuff,” and so rarely any out.  Some things are easy; lights burn out, you throw them away, and replace them with new ones.  But other things sneak up on you:  ornaments, for one.  They accumulate and grow and multiply in the dark of the basement and suddenly you can’t fit them all back in the boxes they came from.

I would love to say that I got rid of a bunch of bins of stuff.  I didn’t.  I did, however, get things reorganized to where next year should be much easier to set up and decorate.  And while I didn’t get rid of a bunch of bins, I got rid of two HUGE ones:  I’m getting rid of a Christmas tree.  (Yes, that’s my dirty little secret….that chick who writes a blog on simplifying had two Christmas trees for a few years.)

Also ditched:  a wreath, oodles of gift bags/ribbons, some decor items, and a substantial number of ornaments.

The basement is really starting to look good.  Amazing what the loss of a couple of giant tubs can do.

Simplifying Christmas

After the longest Christmas break I have ever known (literally, not figuratively) the kids started back to school today and routines seem to be slowly creeping back in.  I’m frustrated with the lack of writing I’ve done through December, but the month seemed to be full of “urgent” things (not necessarily “important” things) and I spent it trying to keep my head above water.  Now the holidays are done and the calendar is comparatively empty.  Hopefully January will be slightly more productive–in lots of ways.

While I didn’t do much writing in December, I was constantly thinking of things I wanted to write about.  I apologize in advance if I end up dumping some of them out in January.

My favorite discovery this Christmas was a guide to gift-giving that a friend referenced on Facebook; she’d seen it in our local paper.  They referred to it as “the four-gift Christmas:”  “Something you want, something you need, something to wear, and something to read.”  I was so excited for this little saying; I’d been struggling with the vague idea of “I want a smaller Christmas,” but defining what that looked like was nearly impossible:  what does that mean??  Once I read that phrase, I realized that the items we’d gotten the kids could be plugged in to those categories and I only needed two more gifts to be done.  (One admission:  we actually did the five-gift Christmas, because I think it’s incredibly unfair that Santa gets to be the hero each year:  my husband and I supplied a “want” gift, too.)  The definition of “need” was also something I wrestled with; let’s be real, these kids don’t need anything.  So I decided the word meant “useful” and things fell into place well.

(I do think that next year I’ll do more investigation into what grandparents are getting the kids.  If I had known that my daughter would be receiving hairbands from each set of grandparents, I would not have made them her “something to wear.”)

The other nice situation about Christmas this year is that so much of what we received was to replace something else.  A new comforter (out with the old!).  A new bread machine–that really, consistently works!  (Away with the broken one!)  So instead of filling up our house with another layer of accumulation, it’s been much easier to really apply the “one in, one out” rule.

Just a few thoughts on simplifying Christmas…I hope everyone has had a great holiday season and is enjoying the return to “normal!”

 

The “curliest” elf

A reminder that Christmas traditions are not always about “stuff”….

I asked my children a few weeks ago to tell me everything they liked about Christmas.  I wanted to come up with a list of things to make sure we did, much like our list this summer; not missing opportunities in this brief season to do the things they really loved.  The phrasing of my request ended up including things like “Opening presents!” from my very enthusiastic daughter, but it also covered all the things they wanted to do to celebrate.  One of those things was the lights at Longview.

Longview Lake’s Christmas in the Park is something we’ve done ever since my husband discovered I had never been; I think, on our first drive there, he must have asked me at least three times, “You’ve really never been to see this?”  (I think it was two whole years later before my parents went their first time.)  It’s a drive-through-the-park light display put on by the county; and I have to admit it’s nearly impossible to describe unless you’ve been.  There are dozens (hundreds?) of, essentially, pictures made out of lights; most of them “move” through the magic of timing (lights on/lights off).  Reindeer “fly” over your car; trains full of Christmas toys “drive” down the road; sledders slide down hills and “crash” into snowmen…..it really is amazing to watch.  (This year our son was finally old enough to realize and suddenly ask, “How do they put all this together?”)

Some of my favorite Christmas memories involve this drive with the kids.  When we started taking them, it was easy; we lived less than fifteen minutes away and we could hop over any weeknight to drive through after dinner.  The first year my daughter went she was too little to remember anything, so the following year my son kept asking her, “Don’t you remember that?  Do you remember that?” and finally, as we drove out, he leaned over in his car seat and looked at his baby sister.  “So….did you like it?” he asked eagerly.

Then, when the kids were four and two, we moved.  That made the trip to the park much more of an Event, and due to my husband’s overtime season coinciding with the holidays, we were usually limited to weekend visits.  That put an entirely different spin on the night.  No more zipping over on a whim, maybe even twice a year.  Now we drove the over-half-hour there as early as we could, to wait in line for who-knows-how-long.  (My cozy thoughts of, “Ooo–I should pack cocoa!” quickly disappeared once I realized I’d be trapped in a car with two potential bathroom emergencies.)  The first year that we sat in line–and I mean, really SAT in line–the kids should have been completely unbearable.  Just turned five and three?  Trapped in car seats?  Yikes!  Instead, we read the signs the light-up “elves” held, standing along the side of the looooong road (it’s about a mile to just get in to the place):  “Welcome!”  “Drive Safely!”  And the elf with our family punch line:  “Be Courteous!”

“What?” my five-year-old son asked.

“Be courteous,” I repeated.

He burst out laughing.  “I thought you said ‘be curliest!‘” he howled, and for the rest of the interminable drive to the entrance, both the kids laughed hysterically:  “Be curliest!”  Each time it might quiet down in the backseat, one of them would shout it again, and they would both dissolve into fits of laughter.

Every year since, we look for the “curliest” elf.  When we went this weekend, unfortunately, he wasn’t there; they’d replaced most of the elves’ signs with “Happy 25!” in honor of the display’s twenty-fifth birthday.  There was brief disappointment…..but that elf will forever live on in memory.  Besides, there’s always the chocolates handed out at the end of the drive to soothe any hurt.

At least one Christmas tradition that doesn’t involve “stuff.”  I know there have to be more….I think I’ll be on the lookout for them this year.