Friday, October 3, 2014

Here's a Weird Thing That Almost Always Happens to Me (& that I wish I Would Remember)

So Jack's on the debate team again this year, which requires him to spend his Saturdays going to tournaments around the state. These tournaments are in some ways homegrown affairs, in that all events are judged by parents.

There is an online sign-up sheet on Our Fine School's Debate Team website, and all the good and righteous parents promptly sign up at the beginning of the year for the pleasure of leaving home at 6 a.m. on a Saturday morning and listening to teenagers discuss the pros and cons of euthanasia, deliver speeches on the importance of protecting the environment, and give dramatic performances of Kiplings' "If--."

I have never signed up. Not once. Not even.

The Man did, once, thus fulfilling our family's burden for the Debate Year 2013-14. He came home from his one tournament drained and pale, having spent the day locked up in a classroom, the flourescent lights flickering, his stomach grumbling, his whole body transported back to 1983, when the hellish road of high school was still his to traverse.

I swore again then I would never, ever sign up to judge.

First of all, there are all sorts of helicopter parents at Our Fine School who eat this stuff up. There is no place they'd rather be than back in high school, reliving past glories and judging other people's children. Why deprive them of their fun?

Secondly, I can't go back to high school. Cannot. Can't face the flickering lights, the stupor that comes over me the second I enter a classroom. And I'm not that good of a listener. I tune out after five minutes. I'd be a horrible judge!

But duty calls. It knocks on the door. In my case, it knocked three times. First, it knocked on Tuesday when the debate coach sent out an email that he needed two more judges for this week's tournament. Then on Wednesday, when he emailed to say he needed one more judge. Please, oh please, I thought, let somebody else sign up!

But nobody did, and this morning, the coach emailed again. His subject line read "A Plea."

Well, I can't stand to see a grown man plead, but it took me two hours to talk myself into emailing him to say, Okay, maybe. I'm not committing just yet, but I might. Will there be pizza?

The coach emailed back within minutes to say thanks for considering it, but someone else had already signed up.

And that's what always happens. Always. I resist when someone asks me to do something I really don't want to do. I say (to myself) No! I will not do it! You can't make me do it! And then, when I finally talk myself into doing it and say, Yes, okay, if you really need me to do this ... Well, I'm almost always let off the hook.

Now why do you think that is? And why do I keep forgetting?

I just don't know. But I do think my Saturday will seem all the sweeter because I said yes and the universe said, You know what? Why don't you sleep in instead? Thanks, universe. I will!

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Decluttering Hiatus

 My new treadmill desk! I'm walking as I write this!

My decluttering mission has been on hiatus for the last few days. Okay, maybe for a week. The problem came when it started raining last Wednesday. I didn't want to leave out any freecycling, and I didn't want to go to the recycling center in the rain. So my project came to a standstill.

Then, on Saturday the weather was good, but instead of decluttering I took a field trip. There's a plantation site about twenty minutes from my house, and I've been meaning to go out there forever. When the idea seized me on Saturday afternoon to go take the tour, I decided it was exactly the right thing to do.

Well, it was a fascinating tour, and I'm glad I went, even if it got in the way of my life being perfectly organized. The Stagville Plantation was the largest plantation in North Carolina, with over 30,000 acres and 900 slaves. The state owns the land with the main house and another section with a row of slave cabins. Both the main house and the cabins were lived in by sharecroppers until the 1950s, and the buildings are fairly well-preserved and maintained.

When I go to historical sites, what I really like to see is the domestic stuff--the furniture and the kitchenware and the buttons and combs and shoes (leather, unlike cotton, lasts). To my surprise, there wasn't much of that at Stagville. The furniture was sold off by family members years ago. The buttons? They're still there, somewhere under the dirt. There have only been two archaeological digs on the site, and they were small in scope.

So of course I came home and instead of decluttering emailed an archaeology professor on the Stagville Historic Site board of trustees and asked what gives. Turns out she's trying to get a dig going in the next few years. She said I was welcome to volunteer as a digger. I wrote back and said, Sign me up!

I guess it's for the best that I can't go dig now. I need to do finish my own dig here. More reports soon, I hope!

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:

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!