Thursday, September 17, 2015

How I Threw Out 30 Bags of Stuff and Started Loving My House

So like two years ago I started a post on decluttering that I never finished. Because I never decluttered. This is what I wrote: 

I have a clutter problem.
I think it stems from three main sources.
1) I like shop when I have nothing in particular in mind that I need - just to browse around and look at things and imagine them in my house. Most of the time I'm pretty good at not buying them, but every once in awhile, I buy something even when I have no idea where I will put it. And then it has to go somewhere.
2) I have a problem throwing things out - particularly things that have been given to me by someone - so I hang onto it and it takes up space in the open or takes up storage space in one of the many, many boxes I have stored at my parents' house.
3) When faced with a pile of clutter of any sort, even when that clutter is a pile of mail, I have a paralyzing mental block and I just stare at it and push it aside into a tidier pile instead of, you know, doing something about it.
I have some friends who have the most glorious, clutter-free houses. I have a mom who has a house with lots of knick-knacky stuff in it, but stuff that stays relatively organized so the effect is cozy and inviting rather than stifling. Somehow, I have managed to fail to achieve either of these ends of the spectrum.
This cannot continue.
I thought it was a really good beginning of a post, but alas, because of the above problems, I didn't ever finish it because I had NO IDEA what to do about it.

Then a few weeks ago I saw The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo in a friend's Instagram feed and I really wanted to read it. So naturally I bought it for my husband for Easter. (He is always pushing for less stuff, so he wasn't sad about it - and I think he was excited that I was ready to undergo a major project of this sort.)

The KonMari method has a couple of major points that really worked for me. 1) You have to go through all of your stuff and throw a lot of it away before you reorganize it. If you just keep reorganizing all of your stuff, it's always going to be a mess again soon. 2) You decide whether you want to keep things or not with one simple question, and that question is not, "Have I used this in a year?" or "Does this still work?" That question is, "Does this item bring me joy?"

I don't know why this worked so much better for me than anything else I'd ever tried to do, but I suddenly felt released from all of the stuff that for some reason I felt obligated to keep because it was still good or I might use it sometime or it seemed like a waste to junk it. "Does it give me joy?" made me go, "Nope. Toss it," to a lot of stuff that was filling up my little apartment. So each night we've been choosing a category and going through things and sending garbage bags filled with stuff we just didn't like that much to the donation pile or the garbage.

You guys. Why was I hanging onto some of that junk? I had shoes I hadn't worn in years that had cracked soles. I had stacks of notes from college and text books sitting on my shelf that I haven't looked at in 7 years except to pack them to haul them from one place to the next. I had kitchen appliances that I had used maybe once since we got married taking up huge amounts of space in my pantry. I threw away probably 20 pairs of cheap earrings from Claire's I'd had since Junior High when I got my ears pierced. It. Was. Ridiculous.

Here's the amazing thing about throwing stuff out. Suddenly you realize that it is not your room's fault that you don't like it. It's YOURS for filling it with a comforter you don't terribly love, cheap tv stands standing in as night stands, all the pictures you didn't feel like putting in the living room where people will see them, and two bookcases full of books you don't care about. In one night we donated an entire bookcase full of books, got a headboard with shelf space so we could junk the ugly space-sucking night stands, donated the bedding set that we picked when we got married because my husband was talking about how everything at Bed Bath and Beyond was too girly (I realized after about a year that I didn't love it, but it was a nice compromise until it started pilling) and replaced it with one that we both love, etc. We tossed out two-thirds of the contents of our closet so it became a beautiful and easily organized space, and now it's my favorite room.

This is my new favorite spot. The baby is a nice bonus.

Suddenly I don't just buy stuff because it's cheap and fills the need. I wait a little longer and pay a few dollars more and get something I really love.  I don't need more stuff. A few things that give me joy are so much better for me than a bunch of stuff that makes me feel blah. Because yes, stuff doesn't really bring you joy in the deep spiritual sense, but your things should give you some pleasure - otherwise why have them? A clean, organized space is bringing me SO much more joy than all of that stuff I've thrown out. I don't even remember what half of it was already.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Sleep it off

Amy Poehler's new memoir Yes, Please is full of fantastic advice. One piece of advice that especially resonated with me, a sleep deprived mother of an infant:

"One good night's sleep can help you realize that you shouldn't break up with someone, or you are being too hard on your friend, or you actually will win the race or the game or get the job. Sleep helps you win at life. "

It's true, though. I'll never forget the first few weeks of Samuel's life. Newborns are exhausting, but a newborn plus a three year old, plus a five year old? I was beyond exhausted. I was destroyed. My dear friend Cori and her husband called one morning when Sam was about three weeks old and asked if they could take the girls for the morning. My mom was gone, my husband was back at work, and I'd been the sole caregiver for the majority of the days for nearly a week and I don't even know how I was functioning at that point other than divine help. 

I quickly took them up on their offer and as soon as they picked up the girls I went to my bed, laid Sam on my chest (because that was the only way HE would sleep), and fell asleep. I want to say I slept for eight hours straight but that would be a lie. It was more like three hours. And then I folded some laundry. But it FELT like eight hours. It was exactly what my body needed. 

In fact, that moment was the turning point for me. I woke up from that nap thinking, "I can totally do this. I can totally do three kids!" From then on, I was able to conquer many situations that had previously brought me to my knees. 

I'm looking forward to paying Cori back in a couple months when she has her third baby. 

If you are anything like me, sleep can be the best friend that you take for granted at night, and then can't let go of in the morning. My kids are early risers, and I like to take advantage of my "me time" in the evenings. I need to stop watching so much Netflix and start enjoying more recreational sleep time. 

The Mayo Clinic has seven suggestions for getting better sleep:

1) Stick to a schedule
2) Pay attention to what you eat and drink
3) Create a bedtime ritual
4) Get comfortable
5) Limit daytime naps
6) Include physical activity in your daily routine
7) Manage stress

So if you are ever facing a mountain that needs climbing just tell yourself everything is going to be alright. 
Cause a players gonna play, play, play, play, play and the haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate, and Taylor's gonna shake, shake, shake, shake, shake.

But you're going to sleep. Sleep it off. 

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Teaching Kindness

Remember that time when I wrote about how my husband and I went to San Francisco and our rental car got broken into and it was okay because we sat and thought about things to be grateful for?

Well. Apparently we should never go on vacation. I've decided when we go on vacation we either have to have vomiting kids or car trouble of some sort, because or last few vacations have gone as follows: San Diego - clutch goes out on the car on Christmas Eve; Texas - CB gets carsick in the middle of the night and vomits all over twice; San Francisco - the aforementioned car getting broken into; Tucson - CB gets some kind of horrible stomach bug and starts throwing up right as we pull up to a hotel and then throws up all night; Texas again - parts go shooting out of our engine 3 hours from our destination and our car is totally trashed.

This last one was extra special because we'd only just bought the car about six months before, we had two kids in the car, and it was the beginning of our vacation after a year of not seeing my husband's mom. We'd decided to stop for the night just three hours out because we didn't see any point in driving until 4 am, and about two miles down the road the next morning we heard a horrible knocking that rapidly turned into a loud clang and smoke.

I could write another list about all of the things I thought of to be grateful for this time around, because I was shockingly calm about the whole thing and noticed lots of reasons that we were really lucky. (My husband had a harder time getting to that point, since he'd done a TON of research before he bought the car and felt pretty mad about it going out on us, but he got there eventually.) However, what really stuck out to me was how kind people were. At least 5 cars stopped in the hour we were sitting on the side of the road on a highway that wasn't all that busy. Some of them just slowed down to ask if we needed water or snacks until the tow truck came. Some told us they would pray for us. Some offered rides and advice. One family on their way to a funeral stopped and asked if we needed anything, then CAME BACK a few minutes later because they'd noticed there was a truck stop just over the hill and thought it would be a better place to wait with two babies. They totally rearranged everything in their truck to cram us and our car seats and our essentials in, and it was so much better to wait near a bathroom in the truck stop restaurant eating spaghetti and chicken strips and coloring than it would have been to wait by the side of the road for 3 hours for my brother in law to come and get us. (And, by the way, my incredibly kind brother-in-law ended up driving 7 hours for us that day, which I'm sure is not how he was hoping to spend his Saturday.)

When we got back from Texas, my two and a half year old had a few days where she was just royally grumpy and trying, (and this after a week of mixed interactions with her cousins, some wonderful and lovely, some of which resulted in hitting and crying in pursuit of possession of the coolest toys at Grancy's house). She was having potty accidents and wasn't listening and wasn't being very nice (a friend of mine calls it re-entry sickness - that craziness kids get adjusting to normal life after vacation), and I was just at my wit's end. Her favorite thing in the whole world right now is dressing up in princess dresses, and suddenly in the middle of another uncharacteristic fit I had an inspiration. "You know sweetie, princesses are always kind and nice. If you aren't kind, I don't think you can be a princess. It's fun to dress up, but it's more important to be kind and nice to people."

This totally struck a chord with her, and over the two months that we've been home from Texas. I have occasionally taken princess dress privileges away for periods of time until she can show me that she's being kind. My husband and I talk to her about being "nice and kind" daily. Sometimes hourly. As with most things, it seems to be getting easier for her with practice. She routinely points out unkind behavior to me when she sees it in a movie or at the playground and says things like, "[Blank] is being mean! That's not very good!" When I point out to her that her behavior isn't kind she is quick to tell me, "But I am nice and kind!" and then we talk about what we can do that would be better - what would be kinder. I make a big deal about it when she shares with her little sister without being asked, when she shows she is thinking about other people, when she thanks me for the yummy dinner even though she hasn't actually tried it yet and might not.

It's easy to think about yourself. It's especially easy for a preschooler to only think about herself, because her brain just hasn't developed all the way yet and she just hasn't developed that much empathy yet, and it's easy to just ignore children's inability to be kind and assume that they'll just grow out of it - which I suppose to some extent they probably will. But the more I talk to my daughter about kindness, the more I realize that how important it is, and how effective it is even though I know some things will come better with age. She talks better and better each day. She's starting to recognize letters. She's getting stronger and more agile and more beautiful every day. But the thing that matters most to me is that she's also getting better at being kind. I can see a difference already, and she has so much time to learn to be really kind and wonderful. Maybe someday she'll be the one stopping to help someone broken down by the side of the road, reminding them that even though things are bad right now, it will be okay - because people are kind. 

Monday, May 18, 2015

In My Own Little Corner

When I was a little girl one of my favorite movies was Rogers and Hammerstein's Cinerella. The Lesley Ann Warren version, not the Brandy version (which was wonderful, but as a small child I was confused that a white king and a black queen sired an Asian son).

My favorite scene wasn't Cinderella's transformation, or the ball, or the happily ever after ending. No, I loved the scene where Cinderella, sad and dressed in rags, sang about her special corner in her home where no matter what else was going on, she could retreat to and find peace and happiness in her imagination.

Here is the clip if you aren't familiar. Go ahead and watch. I'll wait.

Wasn't it magnificent?

Guess what? Twenty years later, I too have my own little corner. Like Cinderella, I spend my days waiting on my families every need, cleaning the house, and other various homemaking tasks. Unlike Cinderella, I'm not mistreated and I don't mind it so much. The work of a mother is hard and often thankless, but I love my family and I'm happy to do it.

Every evening I retreat to my own little corner. It is actually the corner of my son's room. The lights go out and I lay my tired baby across my body and rock him to sleep while I nurse. Down the hall I can hear my husband reading stories to my daughters, or saying prayers with them. I can see into the hallway to my bookshelves.

Sometimes I'll think about the books I've been reading and how they live in my mind and change my heart. Sometimes I reflect on the day and all the things I've accomplished. It's a place where I take pride in the laundry that was folded, the meals that were prepared, the restraint I showed when my three-year-old drew on the walls, or the pride I felt to hear my five-year-old read books by herself.

I don't know why but for some reason that corner is my sacred sanctuary. I'm removed from the work, and I get to sit and enjoy the fruits of my labors. The best part about that corner, is the time I get with my sleeping son. The weight of his body, the smell of his is pure bliss. I think about all my babies, and how they slept in that room and how I rocked them to sleep. I think about a baby or babies who are waiting to come into our family someday, maybe.

I never think about the mistakes I made or the tasks I didn't get to. I never worry about the next day or the next week. I don't know why it is. I don't know why that spot in the house provides so much peace, but I love it. I almost always tear up when I'm sitting there, my heart too full with gratitude.

I hope that when I leave this stage of life where I'm rocking my babies to sleep I can find an equally peaceful and satisfying sanctuary. I worry I won't.

Do you have a little corner?

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Luscious Locks: A New Mother's Irrational Views

The other day I read a blog post (that I can't find the link to, sorry) about a new mother's set of instructions for her babysitter, it was six pages long and ridiculous and neurotic and could have been written by me word for word at any time during Cooper's first year of life. It got me to thinking about all of the times that first time motherhood robbed me of all logic and reason.

Cooper took about two years to get any hair. One day my mom and I had a conversation about it-
Me: I can't believe it took Cooper two years to grow any hair!
Mom: Oh you thought he had hair like a year and a half ago. What did you used to call it?
Me: I did not!
Mom: Yes you did. Oh yeah, you called it his luscious locks.

Luscious locks you guys. And I was deadly serious.

I used to be EXTREMELY concerned with Cooper's sleep schedule. One time I started crying because I felt guilty that Josh and I had gone to see a movie at 8 p.m. and left Cooper with my mom and I was upset I had ruined Cooper's bedtime. Did I mention Cooper was like three months old and didn't really have a bedtime?

Or the time my mom offered to keep newborn Cooper for the night so Josh and I could sleep and I asked her not to make eye contact with him. I was very concerned with day and night confusion and had read some dumb thing somewhere about how babies take eye contact as a sign of daytime. Apparently I used to feed Cooper with my eyes closed...

When we moved to Washington my mom kept Cooper for three days while we drove our stuff here and unpacked. Every day I would call eight month old Cooper on the phone, not my mom, I would call to talk to Cooper. Multiple times a day. During which I would sob and tell him how much mommy loved him and not to worry we would be back together soon while Cooper sat and pushed buttons on the phone oblivious to the fact that he was talking to his mom because, you know, eight month olds can't conduct phone conversations.

Hypochondria also took advantage of my diminished reasoning skills during this time. Cooper was six months old before I went a whole month without taking him into the pediatrician. I don't remember all the diseases I thought he had but some of them were: a lazy eye (When he was a newborn no less. Don't all newborns have lazy eyes? Anyway I had the pediatrician write me a referral to see an opthamologist), asthma (I still kind of think he has asthma), scarlet fever, carbon monoxide poisoning, lead poisoning, measles, dehydration (this one included an ER trip where the ER doctor just stared at my happy, laughing baby and said, "nope."), botulism, every allergy there is, every developmental delay there is...

Also I tried to tell the pediatrician that my two month old was getting his bottom teeth. Spoiler alert: he was not.

The videos! Cooper recently found the videos on the iPhone and has been watching them when I realized that I took videos of the most mundane things! Like ten minute videos of him sleeping or a video of me reading a book to him, he not even doing anything, he's just sitting and listening to the book. Worse still, I emailed these boring videos to everyone I knew and expected everyone to be excited about them.

The hundreds of times I refused to go somewhere because Cooper was sleeping, or about to sleep, or there was the possibility of sleep on the horizon.

The time I tried to sign my one year old up for preschool.

When eating an egg gave Cooper a small rash one time and then I told everyone he was allergic to eggs and got mad at my mom for giving him a bite of a sandwich that had a minuscule amount of mayo on it and then I tried to take him to an allergist to get stuck with a million needles because I thought he had severe, life threatening food allergies.

I used to refuse to change lanes when Cooper fell asleep in the car for fear that crossing those raised bumps on the road would wake him up.

Wow. I was a mess.