Monday, January 30, 2012

Write Your Own Rules.

My inspiration for getting organized was my grandmother.  When she passed away in 2002, my father and I spent 6 months clearing out her single-wide mobile home.  At the time, "hoarding" wasn't part of the mainstream lexicon like it is now.  We didn't have a way to categorize what we were dealing with.  We just knew that something had to be done with all the stuff in that trailer.  It was overwhelming.  It was right out of the TV shows with which I'm now so obsessed.  In fact, it's the reason I'm so obsessed with them.  What causes a person never to be able to let go of anything, ever? How does it get that far?

As we sorted through this mountain of boxes, we kept an inventory because ultimately a lot of what we unearthed was donated.  The nearby battered women's shelter benefited the most--she had made hundreds of pieces of clothes, each one sealed in one of those plastic produce bags you put your lettuce in at the store, folded three times and then sealed with four straight pins (yes, 10 years later I still remember this).  Never worn; just... saved.  Saved for what?  We'll never know.  She never talked about what was in the boxes that filled her home floor to ceiling.  She would just smile and say that all of it was for us.  Boy, she wasn't wrong.

When we were finished, I began to look around my own house.  I had recently moved out of my childhood home and into my own, and I didn't really have a decorating plan so I just put stuff in that I already had, or that my dad wanted out of his house (he'd learned his lesson too, for the most part).  All of the family heirlooms that You Do Not Throw Out Ever ended up with me.  Overwhelming.  There was such weight attached to every piece of it.  And we couldn't use that stuff--the cedar chest of linens that were last laundered and ironed by my great-grandmother who died in 1971?  Good lord, that stuff is sacred!  What if something happens to it?

I decided to break that cycle.

Sure, there's stuff that is so precious and so single-purposed, that of course it remains in its pristine, preserved state.  But table linens?  Fair game.  That bolt of wool some great aunt brought back from Scotland that's the ancient family clan tartan?  Oh that's totally going to be a blanket (I'm not so handy with sewing, or it would be a skirt).  A hand-crocheted tablecloth that was a wedding gift to my grandparents in 1938 that I can guarantee was in the original tissue paper?

Totally on our Thanksgiving table last year.

And the rest of the stuff?  If I don't love it, it's gone.  Simple as that.  Usually donated, but sometimes eBay has lent a hand.

It's not always easy to let go of stuff, especially if you're just the latest in a long line of relatives to whom it has been bequeathed.  The heaviest words in the world are "It's been in the family forever" and "I remember when [insert name of random/little known/disliked ancestor] did/made/bought/gave/took/stole this whatever-it-is." 

But it's OK to use Great Grandma's china on a non-holiday.  It's OK to refuse to put something in your house that isn't something you love.  It's OK to pass these things along to people who will actually use and enjoy them (they're out there--again, eBay's in business for a reason).  It's OK to create your own rules for what sort of stuff is allowed in your home and to let go of everything else.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Content With My Content

The idea of being content is intriguing to me.  It's not about being thrilled or tired or anything else.  It's about being OK with how things are.  This is something that I've decided I really want to work on this year--being OK with how things are.  That doesn't mean that everything is the way I would have chosen.  It means that I am able to be comfortable with how things are.

That's becoming my recurring theme for 2012:  How Things Are.  It's why I'm here (writing this blog on this topic, not in the larger, universal/existential kind of way, which a subject for an entirely different blog, I'm sure).  Historically (or, How Things Were) I have tended to be hyperfocused on past wrongs or future assumptions.  It's been easy to still be pissed about something that happened years ago.  Or to be so wrapped up in some future event (ever planned a wedding? most boring day ever is the first day back at work AFTER the wedding) that it becomes all you see. 

In the immortal words of Garth Algar, it's time to live in the now. 

Yesterday, Mr. Incredible called out sick to work.  I took a sympathy sick day (read: I don't feel like going either) and in the interest of not getting dressed at all (Pajama Wednesday!) we kept Boo home from daycare.  It was a good day.  Like a REALLY good day, with sufficient time spent doing laundry and couching and reading and frolicking with our (newly acquired) dog.  At the end of it, Mr. Incredible asked me if I was happy.

Yes, I replied, every minute that I'm home.  And that's the absolute truth.  We moved into our "forever home" last spring, and it has become such a soft spot to land.  Sure, we have projects (um, back yard is dirt) and adjustments (budget, which is going to be its own series of posts once I can wrap my brain around it...) but on the whole it's exactly the right place for us.  That right there?  Content.

This is the first year I've really put effort and consideration into New Years Resolutions (yeah yeah yeah lose weight get healthy blah blah blah).  Everything I read, all those worksheets you download and fill out in the hopes that some magical solution would be revealed, all the "what's it all about?" pondering actually revealed something this time:  Living in the now is about both forgiveness and patience. 

Forgiveness is hard, man.  Really hard.  It goes against every fiber of my being.  If I forgive you for what you KNOW you did wrong, then how will I be able to continue to be wronged?  My strength comes from having endured whatever it was I've been through, right?  Forgiving doesn't take that away.  Forgiving is the pinnacle of Letting It Go.  It's not a denial that something happened.  It's not permission for it to happen again.  It's just letting it go so I can move on to the good stuff.

Patience.  Ugh.  Patience SUCKS.  In my cube in the inside corner of my very stressful department, I have a lovely Chinese character on the wall that translates to "The Good Luck Is Coming."  And I'm sure that the good luck IS coming.  But I can't just sit on the edge of my chair and will it to show up.  I'll miss out on the good stuff that's happening now.

Contentedness, for me at least, is a continuum that looks like this:

Forgiveness---------------  Good Stuff  --------------------------Patience

And that right there is the goal:  To focus on the good stuff in the middle of the past and the future.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Stuff, As Managed By A Three Year Old

My daughter Boo turned 3 last week.  For weeks we've been struggling with her emerging personality (because of course she doesn't act like me or my husband AT ALL oh no not even a little...) and we've just been worn out by the effort of Having A Child Who Is Three.

We were doing it wrong.  Totally.  100% Not Right Even A Little.  Last night, we got schooled.

Backstory:  Boo has a lot of stuff.  She has an area in our house, just off the kitchen, that will someday be a breakfast room or something but right now it's where her stuff is.  Our expectation is that at the end of the day, before bathtime, she will pick up her stuff and put it away.  We've asked around, and this is not an unreasonable expectation.

But she wasn't doing it.  We'd set the timer for a VERY generous amount of time, and she would just not pick up.  Anything that was left on the floor or wherever was "taken away" (read:  tossed into spare bedroom with exasperation and frustration).  About a week ago, I had HAD.IT. and I cleared out her playroom.  There was not a single toy in that room.  It was like after the Grinch Stole Christmas.

And she didn't care.  She was fine.  She didn't seem to miss her stuff at all.

We were devastated.  HOW did we get to this point, where our child was so S-P-O-I-L-E-D that she had no regard for her stuff; she had no concept of what it meant to take care of her stuff.  Her stuff was important, dammit, and HOW were we going to make that point?  How is she ever going to learn to appreciate and manage Her Stuff?

Last night, Mr. Incredible reached his limit and pulled out a big black garbage bag and started putting stuff in.  She wasn't going to pick up?  Fine.  She was going to watch AND HELP her stuff be put in that bag to give to other kids.  Fast forward 10 minutes, and all of her baby dolls (probably 5-6?) and their stuff, including the cradle, all of her dress-up clothes, some stuffed animals, the dollhouse that she'd received as a birthday gift the day before (?!) and on and on.  And she was fine.  No trauma, no meltdown.  She was fully aware that this bag of stuff was going to be given to other kids.

We were speechless.  I was in tears.  We CANNOT give all of this stuff away.  I was sad, and I told her that.  She was sorry I was sad, but was not sad herself.

Just after we'd tucked her in with more stern words about Learning The Value and Appreciating The Effort and all sorts of other BS that seemed important, she emerged from her room with a big smile, and said she needed to go to the bathroom.  She went, and I asked her why the Pink Bear she wanted to sleep with was so special, but the other stuff was not.  Here's what she said, as best as I can remember it, with no elaboration or embellishment by me:

"Mama, Pink Bear be's special because he's soft <insert cuddle of Pink Bear>.  The toys in the bag for other kids are for the other kids because the other kids can play with them and I have Pink Bear and Monkey and my stories and I like when we read stories and have songs and go places and that's good and tomorrow daddy's going to give the bag to other kids and I'll got Pink Bear and that's good."

Our jaws were on the floor.  Our three year old daughter was giving us a lesson on the value of the time we spend with her, the things that are important, and how we share with people who aren't as lucky as we are.

I was suspicious, I admit.  "She's setting us up," I told Mr. Incredible.  But she wasn't.  She was just telling us that the stuff is just stuff, and the things that were important were the things that make her feel happy.

Tonight we're going to go through the big black garbage bag together, and the stuff that she's ready to give to other kids?  She can (within appropriate reason, of course...).  The stuff that's important to her, that makes her happy, that she loves?  She will keep, and I'm interested to see how she takes care of it.

The lesson I took from this is that sometimes, it's just stuff.  When you're unable or unwilling or uninterested in taking care of your stuff, it's time to go through and keep what you love and pass along what you don't.

I'm reminded of George Carlin's fantastic bit about Stuff:

That's powerful stuff right there.