Sunday, June 16, 2013

How to Change the World One Clothespin at a Time

My neighbors Amy and Anthony have a New Year's Day Champagne Brunch every year. This year, as the party was winding down and several couples were sitting in the living room chatting, I asked Anthony if it actually made a difference whether or not I hung my laundry out to dry.

Given the amount of carbon dioxide being pumped into the atmosphere everyday, could it possibly matter if my little dryer sat still while the family's underwear hung on the line?

Anthony is a professor of Philosophy and Environmental Studies at a nearby university. By nature and by profession, he's a thoughtful man, and the subject of climate change is one he's thought a great deal about. What he told me New Year's Day was, yes, the choices we make, no matter how local, how seemingly insubstantial, make a difference.

What if, for instance, other neighbors notice that I hang out my laundry on the line? Maybe one of them will be inspired and string their own line across the backyard. And then somebody sees that line and gets inspired ... Maybe my simple act will multiply exponentially, one clothesline at a time.

I've recently read two books about climate change, Mary Pipher's The Green Boat, and Anthony's book, Mobilizing the Green Imagination: An Exuberant Manifesto. Both are good, but I'll be buying multiple copies of Anthony's book to send to friends and family. It is the happiest book about climate change I've ever read. Not that it denies climate change; quite the opposite. But instead of preaching gloom and doom, Anthony asks us to get innovative and imaginative. He goes beyond band-aid prescriptions.

Take recycling. Recycling is better than throwing something directly into the landfill, but it has its limits. Most paper and plastic products can be recycled a couple of times before they're too degraded for further use. But what if the pages of our gardening magazine had seeds embedded in them so we could plant the pages when we were done reading? What if that Starbucks coffee cup was edible?  Anthony suggests we need to start imagining ways not to recycle, but to upcycle.

One of the things I appreciate about this book is that it gets past politics. Anthony thinks the climate is changing, but he admits we can't say for sure that we know why. We can certainly point to a correlation between rising carbon emissions and rising temperatures, but correlation isn't causation. Maybe the sun is getting hotter. Maybe climate change is the combined result of  human activity and naturally occurring phenomena.

He argues that given that we don't know decisively what's causing climate change, we ought to err on the side of reducing carbon emissions. Why not? The less we rely on fossil fuels, the cleaner our air and water will be. The less we drive, the less time we spend in traffic jams and just plain traffic. If we drive less, we live more locally, and that can have its benefits.

It's so easy to despair about climate change, and there's much to despair about. But--and this is a major point of Mary Pipher's book, The Green Boat--humans need hope. We don't make much happen when we're living in despair. Mobilizing the Green Imagination makes me hopeful. It makes me want to get involved in my local community as well as change some of the ways we're living at home. How can we use less plastic? Reduce waste? Grow more of our own food? Connect more with our neighbors?

I can't change the world, but I could think about the place I live--this house, this yard, this city--and imagine how to make things better. Storms will come, and there will be difficult times. We can grieve, but let's not despair! As that old labor activist Joe Hill once said, Don't mourn, organize!

Friday, June 14, 2013

The Big Declutter: Day 4.5

Walking through my neighborhood in the early evening ...

Okay, so I sort of forgot to post yesterday. And it's not like I did too much anyway, but I did a little bit, and I should have posted about it, if only to make the point that doing a little bit a day is not doing nothing. It's doing a little bit of something.

All I did was recycle the collection of boxes that have been living in the cabinet under my bathroom sink forever. We don't have a recycling bin upstairs, so I throw empty product boxes into the cabinet and let them fester. (Fortunately, they don't actually fester. They just sit there.) So yesterday I took three minutes to pull them out and break them down and put them in the box I'm gathering the upstairs' recycling in as I declutter. That's it. Just a little bit, but something.

My decluttering project got interrupted this week by two writing assignments. One's here, if you care to look. It's about blueberries in North Carolina. Not too exciting, really, but it was fun to write. Another is about fathers and baseball. It's going to be posted on Father's Day, and I'll post the link when it's up.

Speaking of baseball, Will's team won its championship game on Wednesday night. It's been a good season, especially after his dismal basketball season with his lame basketball coach. His baseball coaches have been awesome. They're tough, but they also praise and they've taught the kids so much.

Here's my favorite coach story from this season. Two games ago, a kid on our team named Sam was at bat, and he got hit by a pitch. It wasn't an intentional hit--the pitcher didn't have the kind of control to hit him intentionally, and anyway, that doesn't really happen at this level of ball.

Anyway, the pitch knocked Sam's tooth out--a permanent tooth, I might add. The ump called time out, and Sam left the field, and somebody found his tooth (thank goodness). Sam departed with his parents to find an emergency dentist. The pitcher stayed on the mound, looking miserable. He really hadn't meant to clobber Sam. He was just trying to get the ball into the catcher's glove. At this level of ball, getting the ball into the catcher's mitt is a really big deal.

The ump called time-in. So one of our coaches, Coach Guy, ran across the field to resume his position as first base coach, but on his way, he stopped at the pitcher's mound and patted the pitcher on the back, like he was saying, "Don't worry about it, son--accidents happen." 

And then our head coach, Coach Stewart, who was coaching third base, walked out to the mound and shook the pitcher's hand. He patted the kid on the shoulder. No hard feelings. Don't let it throw you off your game. You're doing great.

I got a little weepy then. Because it's not every day you see such incredible displays of decency and good sportsmanship. It's not every day someone models that kind of stuff for your kid. I'm happy Will's team had such a great season, but I'm even happier that he had such great coaches.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

The Big Declutter: Day 3

 I took this picture when we were dyeing Easter eggs. I
 thought I'd start today's post out with something colorful.

Okay, so here's where we are: One box of library books donated. One box of fabric and another one of yarn freecycled. School supplies sorted and stored in my study closet. "Shop the closet" is my new motto when it comes to requests for pens, pencils, highlighters, notebooks, notebook paper, construction paper, pencil sharpeners, pencil boxes, and graph paper.

By the by, if you're in decluttering mode yourself, be sure to check out, which is chock full of good decluttering tips and good humor (or, as it's a UK blog, I suppose I should say "good humour" or better yet, "ye olde goode humour"). I'm also feeling inspired by Jo over at, who has recently been writing about reducing waste by reducing packaging. She's even bringing her own containers to the butcher shop.

What tips do I have to offer at this point so early in the process? I have two so far: Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good, and Don't make yourself crazy by trying to do everything at once.

The hard thing about not doing everything at once is that you have to live with some residual messes. My study is looking better than it was the other day, but there's still piles of this and that scattered about, and there's a recycling box in the hallway, and some empty boxes as well. The attic--the terrible attic!--is looking worse than usual, even though it's actually less full of stuff than it was a week ago.

As for settling for good over perfect ... for me, this actually crosses paths with not doing everything at once. For instance, I have more clothes and linens to take to the Rescue Mission Store. In fact, a lot more. In the past, I would have waited to take a load over until I had everything ready to take over. This week I decided to take what I had at hand. The Rescue Mission Store is five minutes from my house. I could go every day, no problem. I hope in the next couple of days to do a purge of my closet and Jack's, and when I have that stack of stuff ready, I'll take it, and when I have the next stack of stuff after that ready, I'll take it ... and so on and so on.

Today, I'm resting a bit. I did an exercise class on Monday, and another one yesterday, and today I'm not feeling so much sore as depleted. A little floppy. I see a nap in my future this afternoon. And then Will has his baseball game--the big championship game!--at 5:30, which means two hours of feeling very anxious in the 92-degree heat. Will I have strength to declutter at any point between now and bedtime? That remains to be seen. Maybe I'll just count taking the books over to the library and hauling my freecycle boxes to the end of the driveway as my day's work.

Will did better yesterday. It was sunny, he went to the pool with his friend Gavin, he got a good balance of alone time and friend time and exercise time. Last night we read Encyclopedia Brown mysteries and tried to figure them out.

More good news: Jack's report card arrived today, and his grades were all A's and B's, even in French. Two of the B's should have been A's, except Jack got (rightfully) docked for turning in some assignments late. He's very fourteen lately. We're going to have to live with that for at least another year, I fear.

Next project: Freecycling activity books and art supplies. Cleaning out my closet and (gulp) getting rid of fabulous shoes I haven't worn in over three years. Going through bathroom cabinets and finally chucking (or, better, freecycling) bath toys that have seen no action since approximately 2008.

More soon.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

The Big Declutter: Day Two

This is the quilt I made for Our Fine Lower School's Director. This was our ninth and last year at the Lower School, and we both got a little bit weepy when I gave her the quilt.

So, no decluttering pix today, but I did want to report on my most recent progress. Yesterday I took a big bunch of clothes, blankets and old briefcases/computer bags to the Durham Rescue Mission store. Didn't make it to the library to donate books, because Will was being a pill (which I will discuss in a moment).

This morning I posted two offers to my Freecycle group--the yarn and the fabric scraps. I think I'm just going to do two things at a time, so it won't get confusing arranging pick-ups.

So my other goal for today is to organize our school supplies. Here's what happens every year: the boys get a list of school supplies they just have to have. Some of these supplies actually get used, others sit untouched in their desks/lockers/backpacks for nine months. At the end of the school year, they're brought home and dumped into closets and dark corners. Then, the following August, we get the new lists and go out and buy all new stuff because we can't find the stuff that got dumped in the dark corners.

But no more! I've been seeking out all our school supplies, including notebooks with only a few pages written on, perfectly good if slightly used pencils, many, many boxes of unused markers, and at least five pencil boxes, and thrown them into a box in my study. Today I'm going to organize the supplies and make a place for them in my study closet, which from now on will be considered our school supply store. I am sure to save millions of dollars in school supplies in the coming years.

This is the quilt I made for the administrative assistant at
 Our Fine Lower School.

Okay, so Will. Will, like me, gets funky in the summer. Really, I think he gets depressed. He's out of his routine, he doesn't get as much exercise as he's used to, and he doesn't always see his friends on a regular basis, because of vacations, camps, etc.

I think part of Will's problem is that he's an introvert. From my own experience as an introvert,  I know that getting the right balance between alone time and social time is difficult. You're a little bit resistant to making plans because you can't predict when you're going to feel like socializing and when you're going to feel like hanging out reading or doing a project on your own. But when you don't make plans, you often find yourself sitting at home feeling lonely and at loose ends.

This has been going on for years, and I keep waiting for Will to grow out of it. But last night I had a Big, Huge Revelation: he's not going to (me, either). And Big, Huge Revelation No. 2: This child needs more scheduled activities in his life.

Oh, I just hate that! It means more driving and more places to be. And Will hates it, too. He hates the idea of going to camp, and usually I don't make him. But last night I realized I have to make him. Our Fine School has half-day camps, and I'm going to have to bite the bullet, take a hit for the team, insert your own violent metaphor here, and sign him up. He's going to fuss and fight, but I'll sign him up for sports camps so he can run around and get tired, and then in the afternoon we'll go to the pool. My plan is to sign him up for a camp every other week. It's going to cost me a bundle.

Here's the thing: there's a lot of depression on my side of the family, and I worry that Will has inherited the gene. It's not bipolar, and it's not severe. Both my brothers and I have it, and none of us is medicated (not even self-medicated, though there's a lot of that in my family, too). The older I get, the fewer episodes I have, and this winter I was saved by my S.A.D. lamp.

When you have the kind of depression my family has--mild to moderate episodic depression--the best things to do are exercise, eat lots of protein, and spend time with friends. So I'm off to make Will a strawberry smoothie and schedule the rest of his summer.

More tomorrow!

P.S. The NIA class I took yesterday was great! Pom Pom, you'll be glad to hear that people didn't seem overly-territorial about their spots. Lots of dancing, a little bit of martial arts moves. I kept up as best I could, had loads of fun, and was wiped out for the rest of the day!

Monday, June 10, 2013

And so the summer begins ... And so does the decluttering!

My lovely, organized study closet

It's a rainy Monday morning. We've had a lot of rain lately, and I wish it would stop. The children are starting to grow mushrooms behind their ears.

So on Saturday I got to work on my study closet. Now I'm kicking myself for not taking a "before" picture, because it looks so dramatically different now. My pledge to you: I will take "before" pictures on the rest of my decluttering projects, even if means exposing the shame of my bedroom closet, a virtual den of dust bunnies.

Here is my study, after the purging of said closet:

Click on it if you want to see the true extent of the mess. Sigh.
My plan for this week is to post every day--yes, every day!--to report on my decluttering progress. This of course is to spur me on, to keep me focused, to keep my eye on the prize--and to make you feel better about the relatively uncluttered nature of your own home (or, conversely, to inspire you if you need decluttering inspiration).

Right now, I've got three piles going: 1) Stuff for Freecycle; 2) Stuff for recycle; and 3) stuff for the Durham Rescue Mission. My Freecycle piles are actually boxes, and the boxes I've got going are 1) The Big Box of Yarn I'll Never Use Again (some of it very nice yarn indeed, but it's just taking up space); 2) The Big Box of Fabric Scraps that I Just Don't Have the Energy to Sort and Sewing Notions I Never Use; and 3) The Big Box of Activity Books and Coloring Books that Only Got Used a Little Bit. What I love about Freecycle is you can give away stuff that's been used a little bit.

Next up: Comforters and Linens that We No Longer Use or Care For, and Clothes that Are Nice But Really Don't Fit.

Oh, and there's the box of ten year's worth of Martha Stewart Living November and December issues. I always think I'm going to sit down and leaf through them for ideas, but I never do.


In a little bit I'm going over to the gym to try a NIA class. I really have no idea what NIA is, but here's how it's described:

Neuro-muscular Integrative Action is a holistic, sensory-based movement practice that combines the spirited energy of Jazz, modern dance and improvisational movement with the power and precision of the martial arts, along with the flexibility, balance and sensory awareness of Yoga, Feldenkrais and Alexander Technique. All levels of fitness welcome.

I'm a little concerned about the improvisational movement part, but the rest sounds sort of fun.  I've decided I'm going to do more classes as the gym this summer, for a change of pace. Also, I sometimes get in a summer funk, and exercise is a good way to combat it.


Okay, more tomorrow. I hope I'll be able to report to you that I took clothes and comforters over to the Durham Rescue Mission and donation books to the library. If not, then I'm sure I'll have a fabulous story of why I failed in the attempt.