Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Decluttering Diary: Day 4

We have plucked all the low-hanging fruit, which means we have reached a dangerous place.

Why is it dangerous? Because now progress slows considerably and the culling will be more difficult and take longer. It's invigorating to think, "I'm gonna go through this box and I'm going to throw most of it out in thirty minutes or less!" You can be energized by that idea.

It's another thing entirely to open up a box of grad school stuff. It's the opposite of energizing. You are (if you're me) confronted by what a waste your twenties were in general, how much bad writing you did, the ways you weren't always a good friend. It's tempting to toss that box and just not deal with it. Except you (if you're me) also did some very fine writing (for your age), and you had great friends and great fun, and you traveled to Berlin and London and have all sorts of neat stuff to look at from those trips. So the box must be dealt with.

Yesterday I linked to an article I liked with a lot of great decluttering tips. One of the tips asserts that going through personal papers takes five times longer than you think it will. True dat.

Things are also starting to get a bit clogged up (don't scold, Jo!). I have more stuff to be recycled than my bin will hold, and if I fill up the trash bin with my decluttering trash, we won't have room for our regular weekly load of junk. Right now I'm looking into filling up the van and taking it to the recycling/waste center on the other side of town.


Good news! The Man tells me I can take it the recycling to the recycling/waste center without any special permission or paperwork. So that's number on my list for tomorrow. Number two, put Freecycle offerings online, including my lovingly cultivated of holiday magazines, mostly Martha Stewart Living Christmas issues, but also several very nice Halloween and Easter issues as well.

By giving these away, I'm finally acknowledging that 1) I hate Christmas (the secular side, except for the presents people give me and the cookies), and 2) there's a reason I've never done any of the Christmas crafts or baked any of the Christmas goodies that hum to me from inside these magazines' pages. The fact is, we have our decorations. We have our traditional goodies. We are not deviating, adding, or subtracting. We're fine.

I will say, the magazines are beautiful to look at, and I'm sure I'll buy this year's issue. Who knows, maybe I'll start a new collection to give away ten years from now to some young mother who thinks, quite mistakenly, that her Christmas is going to look like that.


Speaking of Christmas, I have started my shopping. I plan to be done by Thanksgiving at the latest.


Today, it's 65 degrees and feels like fall. I wore a light jacket, scarf and clogs out to run errands this afternoon. I looked for a long time at knitting magazines, though I'm not allowed to buy any or start any new knitting projects until I finish the sweater I'm working on.


I keep forgetting to tell you this interesting thing! I'm taking a free, online class through Missouri State University. It's called Laura Ingalls Wilder: Her Work and Writing Life. There's a new lecture every week, and you take quizzes. I took my first quiz today and got 100%. Aren't I something?

It's not too late to sign up. If you're interested, go here: http://outreach.missouristate.edu/180450.htm

Monday, September 22, 2014

Decluttering Diary: Day 3

It's 11:50 and I have just finished in Will's room. Will's room is not part of the attic, but it seems intertwined with the attic somehow, perhaps because half of the junk in the attic originated in Will's room.

You know what seems like a good idea when you're the parent of a messy kid? To periodically do a sweep of the messy kid's room and shove every little unaffiliated knick knack and doodad into a box, and then throw the box into the attic and pretend it doesn't exist.

Guess what? Bad idea.

Anyway Will has two rooms now, have I mentioned this? His old room (the room I just finished decluttering) shares a wall with the attic, and in the summer it gets super hot. This summer I rearranged my study and pulled Will's bed in there. Slowly, my study has become Will's bedroom and his study as well.

His old bedroom? Now it's sort of like Will's lounge. It has a nice chair and lamp, a table for projects, and Will's bookshelves. Soon it will be home to our fussbol table. Will is angling for a mini-fridge and a flatscreen TV as well, but I don't think that's going to happen anytime soon.

So Will has a suite of rooms now, as every sixth grader should. I spent time decluttering his old room today so that a) it would be easy to move in the fussbol table, and b) to feel like one part of the decluttering process is done. Not that it's totally decluttered, but it's a lot nicer and now that Will has moved across the hall, it actually has a chance of staying decluttered.

Which leads me to today's psychological tidbit:

When undertaking a large decluttering project, it's important to build in one sure success a day. It can be as small as a de-junked junk drawer and as big as an eleven-year-old's room.

Big take-home thought: Don't confuse "success" with "perfection."

By the way, I found an interesting article about decluttering via Pinterest. Here's the link:


There were several fine pieces of advice, including "Your goal should be to reduce clutter, not create more storage space" and "Have rules about what you're keeping and what you're discarding." I'm good at rules. Do you have any rules for decluttering?

By the way, Jo, over at All the Blue Day, is also decluttering and has lots of good ideas.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Decluttering Diary: Day 2

Notes from today's work:

1. You will be surprised at how much resentment and hostility you feel toward certain items in your attic, items that you yourself purchased and brought into your house.

In my particular case, I have a shoe rack I bought at Target or Bed, Bath & Beyond four or five years ago. It wasn't a great shoe rack (it was wobbly), and I used it for about a year before giving up on it. Later, I purchased an under-the-bed shoe storage case, which I like much better and do use.

So off to the attic went the shoe rack, with the idea that one day I would take it to Good Will. But then I lost one of the rack's rods, thereby making it worthless. But obviously the rod was somewhere in the attic, so the useless rack sat there, taking up space, making me hate it.

Finally, today, I found the missing rod. I plan on taking a special trip to Good Will just to dump off that stupid rack. I hope the Good Will people take one look at it and do what I lacked the courage to do: burn it.

2. You will get very, very tired of stepping on bubble wrap and scaring yourself to death.

3. Pop quiz: Say you find a small box filled with the contents of the junk drawer from your old house. Say you haven't looked in this box in seven years, ever since you packed it up and moved it to your new house.  Do you:

a. Dump the whole box into a trash bag?

b. Keep the box--one day you're going to figure out what those keys unlock?

c. Start going through the box, then halfway through realize the only sane answer is to dump the whole thing into a trash bag?

The Correct answer is (a). I chose (c). Of course.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Decluttering Diary, Day 1

Some rules I'm developing:

1. When you feel yourself getting tired, stop what you're doing and straighten up a little before you totally run out of steam. If there's trash on the floor, sweep it up and throw it away. Make sure at least one two-foot square spot looks orderly, even if it's fake order you've created. You need to be able to walk into the attic (basement, pantry, closet) the next day and not feel completely defeated.

2. Lego is not sacrosanct. It's okay to throw away the occasional piece of Lego. No one's ever putting those kits together again anyway.

3. Remember how many years you have a) recycled; b) carried your own canvas bags to the grocery store; and c) composted. You have earned a small, guilt-free spot in the landfill. There will be items that you simply can't recycle, freecycle or give to Good Will. Toss them into the trash and move on with your life.

And a quote that motivates me in this effort to simplify and clarify my surroundings:

"It is the main earthly business of a human being to make his home, and the immediate surroundings of his home, as symbolic and significant to his own imagination as he can."
                                                                     --G.K. Chesterton

Which is to say, to some degree I'm considering this decluttering campaign an art project.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

In Which We Declutter

My latest quilt top, sideways.

I am in the process of decluttering my life, which is to say my house. If you have read this blog for any amount of time, you are probably familiar with my attic and are aware that my attic is a problem. It's a large walk-in attic, and it takes twenty seconds to open the door and chuck something inside, thirty seconds to walk in and pretend you're storing something properly by piling it on top of something else.

My attic is filled with Legos and many, many empty Starwars Lego project boxes, lots of books, lots of archived manuscripts. My wrapping paper is stored in the attic along with the luggage, the board games, the Christmas decorations, the Halloween decorations, the linens that are used once a year, the boys' school papers and old toys. Magazines. Art supplies. Camping equipment. None of it remotely organized with the exception of the Christmas decor and the luggage.

And then there is the flotsam and jetsam. The phrase "flotsam and jetsam," let it be known, was originally defined as the odds and ends that floated up on shore after a shipwreck. This somehow seems appropriate.

It is the flotsam and jetsam that will break your heart.

Every year I make a little progress decluttering my attic, but I can never quite get there. This year, I've decided, will be different.

One thing that's making the process easier: Now that he's in sixth grade and almost twelve, Will has grown out of a lot of his toys, toys he might possibly have played with  a year ago but now don't interest him at all. So out they go. The good stuff goes to Good Will and the Rescue Mission, and the junkier stuff I freecycle with caveats.

There are also piles of books just right for a fourth or fifth grader, but as a sixth grader Will's looking for books about older kids, not younger ones. So I'm taking loads of paperbacks to the library and to the book bins for Our Fine School's spring used book sale.

Another thing I've figured out: Don't do the actual decluttering in the attic. It's way, way too overwhelming to stand in the middle of all the clutter and junk and try to go through it. No, the trick is to throw stuff in boxes and bring the boxes downstairs. When you have several boxes, you sit in front of the TV and stream "Friday Night Lights" or "Larkrise to Candleford" and start making piles. The piles are as follow:

1. Trash
2. Recycling
3. Freecycling
4. Keep

You must be ruthless when it comes to the "Keep" pile. If you keep it, you must have really, really good reason to keep it and a place to put it.

I personally love keeping cards and letters. Being ruthless, however, I've started asking myself the question, If I threw this away, would I remember that I had it in the first place? Nine times out of ten, the answer is no. Now, I keep letters from family members and dear friends, letters I might love to re-read twenty years from now, but I don't keep birthday cards my parents sent that just have "Love, Mom and Dad" written on the bottom. Greeting card humor or sentiment is rarely good enough to justify keeping a card.

The other benefit of bringing the boxes downstairs is that I can live with a cluttered attic, but I can't live with a cluttered living room. Clutter that's right in front of me is clutter that's got to go.

I'm very serious about tackling the Attic Decluttering Project this fall, so expect to hear more about it. Feel free to share your best decluttering tips. And don't laugh at the idea of me having an organized attic! Really, stop that laughing right now!

Friday, September 5, 2014

Is it Fall Yet?

Given that the high today is going to be 90 degrees, I don't think so.

I feel like I'm just starting to emerge from the bubble of summer, where I was very quiet a lot of the time. The person I saw most, outside of my family members, was my friend, Sarah, who took Will to the pool with her kids approximately 3,000 times. Blessings upon her head. But Sarah and I mostly saw each other picking up or dropping off children, and though our chats were always fun, they were mostly brief.

So I was quiet a lot this summer. I read a book called A Book of Silence by Sara Maitlin, and it took me most of the summer to read it, but I liked it and understood the author's desire for staying away from words. It made me turn off the radio more often and just work in my kitchen in silence. I read another book called The Old Ways by Robert McFarlane, about old roads and pathways, mostly in the UK. It also took a long time to read, mostly because though it was beautiful, it didn't have a lot of people in it to carry you along on the backs of their stories. I am a walker, and The Old Ways is a book about walking, which for me is a quiet activity, as I mostly walk by myself.

Last night I saw my friend Tracy. She is one of my lunch friends. During the school year, I do most  of my socializing at lunch, and Tracy and I have lunch every few months. She works at home, too, and admitted last night that she's having a hard time re-entering the stream of school and practices and games and assemblies. It's like, once you commit to being in the thick of things again, there's no stepping back onto the shore. Well, that's not true, but that's how it feels, and for us introverts the very thought is exhausting.

Anyway, Tracy and I have seen each other several times the last two weeks since school began (Our Fine School starts in mid-August), and each time we say, Let's have lunch! But I don't think either of us have been ready for lunch. Finally, last night, we bit the bullet and settled on a date and time--next Wednesday at one o'clock. I have a speaking engagement next week, too, and my Bible study starts up again, so there you have it. And on Saturday my book group is having a pot luck. I will not be dipping a toe into the stream of life, I will be jumping into the deep pool. Well, it's about time, I guess. A summer of quiet is nice, but it does a body good to make some noise every once in awhile, too.