Spot Treatment

05/27/2011

problem spotted

Urgency Day 90

500 Things Items 404-406: Laundry Mishaps

  • History: Moving-too-fast purchases
  • Value: Without coupons, approx. $15
  • Parting Pain: Yes, as a cautionary tale
  • Un-possessing: Offering to non-HE needing friends

Do you love Simon and Garfunkel?

I sure do. Which songs would be in the middle of our hypothetical Simon and Garfunkel Venn diagram: Bridge Over Troubled Water, Scarborough Fair, Sounds of Silence? Probably. How do you feel about Feelin’ Groovy?

It should be the song that is on a constant loop when I grocery shop.

Slow down, you move too fast…

I have a bad habit of trying to sneak in a quick trip to the grocery store– you know, just for “a couple of things”– before bus stop duty. This engenders several consistent results:

  1. I buy too little
  2. I buy too much
  3. I usually forget the one thing I actually went for.
  4. And I can be relied upon to buy the wrong laundry detergent.

My block on this is quite uncanny. I know I have a high efficiency washer. I know I need HE designated laundry detergent. But in the face of the

WALL OF LAUNDRY PRODUCTS:

the liquids, the powders, the gels; mountain scent, citrus scent, fragrance free, dye free, bleach alternative, best in cold water, on the rocks or straight up…

I am standing there, knowing I should already be loading the groceries into my car or I’m going to be late, not still STILL standing there, overwhelmed by laundry detergent.

4. And I can be relied upon to buy the wrong laundry detergent.

Last September, I wrote about wanting to fluff my laundry nook. It’s small and less than inspiring, and I just wanted a pretty spot to accomplish this most Zen of tasks—one that is never ever truly finished.

There’s nothing like hosting a big party to inspire a few household updates.

Just in time for the Self-Contained Unit’s grad party, I slapped a coat of pretty blue-green-grey paint on the walls, scrubbed everything else down, and you know what? That tip about a coat of paint being the best quick-fix is really true!

calm

I am so happy with my freshened up laundry area, I vow to take special care in selecting the correct HE laundry detergent to use there. I promise to stop and feel groovy.

Plus, school’s done for me now.

More about that to follow…

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The Last Lunch

05/23/2011

At 18, no longer embarrassed by his mom.

Urgency Day 94

500 Things Items 97-99: Plastic water bottles

  • History: From the brown-bag years
  • Value: Between the BPAs and the mold, not much
  • Parting pain: None!
  • Un-possessing:  Through Naperville’s comprehensive recycling program

Remember when pizza day at school was a treat?

It was usually Friday. And that was the only day Sam ever wanted to buy his lunch at school.

No years of char-burgers and tater tots for him; no spaghetti and meatless-meat sauce, no limp iceberg lettuce salads, no breakfast-for-lunch, no Can-I-just-have-ice-cream- please? bargaining attempts. No school lunches for Sam, except pizza. And by the third grade, he had given up that, too.

Today, I made brown-bag lunch #2017: My Last School Lunch for Sam. Two-thousand seventeen. That’s my estimate anyway, based on some creative but sound accounting. It may not be an exact figure, but I bet it’s pretty darn close. If anything, I bet it’s under the total. It sure feels like it’s under. All those bleary-eyed mornings of brown-bag duty feel like a lot more than 2017.

In honor of this occasion, I am retiring several tired reusable plastic water bottles.

For years, I would freeze and then carefully wrap a disposable bottle of water in foil and plastic wrap to include in Sam’s lunch bags. The ice would melt by lunch—luckily Sam never had one of those absurdly early lunch periods such as one year at his school (and I am not making this up) 9:40 a.m.—and it would keep the rest of his lunch cool.

Then, another mom said, “You shouldn’t freeze those plastic water bottles.”

(Plus, they really are lousy for the environment.)

So we tried:

  • re-freezable cold packs–  he’d forget and throw them away;
  • baggies full of ice—they invariably leaked and got stuff soggy, plus that’s a lot of baggies;
  • reusable plastic bottles filled with ice water.

The last wasn’t a bad solution. He still managed to pitch them, forget them, and leave them a moldering in his locker; but on the whole, these worked.

Then, another mom said, “There are BPAs in refillable plastic bottles.”

I am so happy to have made my last official school lunch.

Just for curiosity’s sake (and for our family records), the Last Lunch contained:

  • Granola bar (for midmorning snacking)
  • Raisin bread slices (he’s not a big sandwich eater; peanut butter crackers were also a staple);
  • MacIntosh apple;
  • Baggie of pineapple chunks;
  • Baggie of baby carrots;
  • Four Oreo cookies.

“When you are 6 feet tall and weigh 130 pounds, you are allowed to have 4 Oreo cookies in your lunch.”

And that’s what Sam’s mom said.

House Keeping

05/17/2011

not keeping

Urgency Day 100

500 Things Item 400:  Sponge Mop

  • History: From another era
  • Value: Mine never fully wrings out and gets icky
  • Parting Pain: I really only use Swiffers, so no
  • Un-possessing: Free-cycle (i.e. out next to the garbage)

People expect empty shelves.

Since starting this project 400 days ago, I’ve gotten rid of 400 things from our home. More, really. So, when people come to our house, they truly expect to see empty shelves, bare walls, closed off rooms.

And you know what they find?

Full shelves, decorated walls, open doors.

The most dramatic realization in this project is that more than 400 things can lift right out of a home, and no one will notice. And I don’t mean 400 Lego pieces:

  • 41 Kitchen items
  • 58 Decorative items
  • 54 Items of clothing
  • 21 Wardrobe accessories
  • 35 DVDs, CDs and tapes
  • 4 Pieces of furniture
  • 8 Electronics
  • 43 (+ one trunk load) Toys and games
  • 28 Household items such as tools
  • 1 Christmas Wreath
  • 1 Box of Mouse Memorabilia
  • 186 Books

480 items, right there. Over 20% more stuff than planned: That’s a lot of wiggle room– and even that’s not completely accurate. I often underreported whole categories of items. Take clothing. A bag bulging with clothing to be donated would add just a couple of ticks to the Project counter. And books! One day I counted 127 books as a mere 4 items!

The idea was to stay on track, one thing a day for 500 days. If some days more downsizing was accomplished, well, this is one case where I will admit more is better. Only one, though.

So here we are: The last 100 days of my 500 days of highly monitored downsizing. And friends of this Project are aware that #500 will be a doozy. But I’ve known it from the start; it’s part and parcel of the entire endeavor. I knew I would be launching Sam at the end. Launching is necessary and exciting and heartbreaking and wonderful.  In terms of your child, launching sounds a whole lot better than downsizing.

What I did not know for a very long time during this process, was whether Paul and I would also need to downsize another very significant thing in our lives, at the same time we were launching our son.

For a very long time, we thought we would also need to sell our house.

Now “need” is an interesting word. On paper, we probably do still need to sell our house. But we can’t, not now. Right now, very few people can.

So we are keeping the house. We are profoundly grateful that this is even an option, grateful to every person who helped and prayed and employed and loved us to this point. We’re digging deep and digging in. We’re keeping the house, and launching the child.

Launching #500

in 100 days.

Stuff Happens

05/16/2011

Creeping but not creepy clutter

Urgency Day 101

500 Things Items 392-399: Candles and Scarves

  • History: Creeping Clutter
  • Value: Reminders that vigilance needs to be constant
  • Parting Pain: Candles: none; Scarves: Some (They’re my pathology.)
  • Un-possessing: Burning the candles, gifting the scarves

Stuff happens.

Despite my– or anyone’s—best intentions, stuff happens. An extra scarf here, an unconsidered candle there, and suddenly those nicely organized shelves and closets are loaded up again. Just as a few extra Thin Mints sabotage weeks of shorts-weather dietary forbearance, impulse buys undermine months of clutter caution.

But in our consumer culture, is it really possible never to submit to the retail-siren song?

In a word: No.

Stuff happens.

Okay, then what? What’s the reaction that’s going to ensure that a few impulse purchases remain an asterisk, a blip in the trajectory toward a less-cluttered life, and don’t become the beginning of a downward spiral back to clutter chaos?

When you stand at a pivot point, what do you do?

(Boy, a couple of Thin Mints sound pretty good right now, don’t they?)

I don’t know about you, but none of the conventional motivational phrases quite do it for me:

  • I don’t want to get back on some horse;
  • I don’t want to keep eying a stubborn prize;
  • I’m kind of freaked out by that picture of a kitten hanging on for dear life.

I need a new image, a new phrase to rattle the bars of my complacency. Hmmm. “Bar rattling?” Uh, no. Okay, I don’t have a poster-ready motivational phrase to offer. I do have one thing that usually works pretty well for me, and trust me, I didn’t invent this, darn it.

When I’m feeling flat, uncommitted and uninspired, I love a good laugh.

Really. A good laugh does for me what running does for runners– I’ve heard. It sends out those endorphins that make anything seem possible. Get to the end of listening to old Bill Cosby routines such as Noah or Toss of the Coin, and I’m clapping my hands together, eyes alight, and asking, “OK. Who’s with me?!” Because I’ve just committed to some scathingly audacious plan. Like what? Oh, like Organize EVERYTHING!, for a relevant example.

Just from having a good laugh.

It’s about keeping perspective though, isn’t it? My family volunteered at a wonderful event last weekend, the Families Helping Families annual 5k Fun Walk and silent auction. It could not have been more fun—well, yes, it could have, if it had not been 40 degrees out in a driving wind and spitting rain, but that just added to the spirit of camaraderie.

At the conclusion of the silent auction, I went over to congratulate my friend– and fellow clutter streamliner—Melanie, for having won a charming gift basket. She was wearing, atop her 5 layers of down and wool, the most sardonic smile. Having carefully instructed her  sweet husband on which auction items to try for while she went and walked their darling new puppy, she was exasperated to find that her $40 in raffle tickets had won her exactly the basket of lovely stuff she had donated in the first place.

You see? Stuff happens.

And we had a good laugh.

prodigal stuff happens, too

Why I Hate Summer

05/11/2011

It's 90 degrees out. Am I mad?

Urgency Day 106

500 Things Item 391: Winter Coat

  • History: c. 1999, I meant to un-possess it last winter
  • Value: It’s a good warm coat which someone will enjoy
  • Parting Pain: Embarrassed that I have so many coats, so no parting pain
  • Un-possessing: Donation

I hate summer.

I take a lot of abuse for saying this.

I also receive a fair amount of support.

Summer seems to be a more divisive topic than you might expect.

If you’ve been so kind as to take notice of the 250 Books list I’m methodically compiling, you may have observed a wonderful children’s book at #23, Summer by Alice Low. Occupying position 23 on my list should not suggest it is my 23rd favorite book; that is merely the order in which it was added. Actually, this little picture book is probably one of my top 5 favorite books.

It’s a sweet, funny tribute to all the things I used to love about summer-time, back when summer was about time: Time off, time to relax, time to do absolutely nothing. Summer-time is quantifiably different from other-time.

And it’s ridiculous to say we did nothing in summertime. We did everything in summertime!… except go to school, and that made summer the absolute perfect time.

Being done with school now, the lack of school doesn’t make summer perfect anymore. That’s not what is missing for me. The beach is missing for me. Has been for years now, and I miss it with an ache as potent as the loss of a soul mate.

But wistfulness is not hate. And I hate summer.

  • I hate the heat AND the humidity:
  • I hate perspiring glasses and people;
  • I hate that panicky space of time between shutting the passenger door on your buckled-in child or panting dog and dashing around to the driver’s door to start the car and crank up the air conditioning;
  • I hate air conditioning;
  • I hate when the air conditioning breaks;
  • I hate spider veins, month-old pedicures, self-tanner stains, bikini waxes, needing bikini waxes.

And there’s the ugly truth. I hate that aging means I’ve become high-maintenance in summertime. It’s not the aging; it’s the maintaining.

Summer used to be about a tank top, a pair of shorts and maybe some flip flops. Not anymore. Now, I need time to be presentable; more time than in the wintertime; too much time, to present myself comfortably, and I hate wasting time.

What am I working toward in this project?

Less stuff, more time!

And I don’t want to do nothing anymore; I want to do everything! Except preen. What a waste of time.

But that’s what it’s come to for me: Self-consciousness. I hate that.

Ditto, summer.

de-frocked

Urgency Day 107

500 Things Item 390: The Princess Dress

  • Her-story: c.1987 Fredericksburg, VA thrift store
  • Value: Cautionary Tale
  • Parting Pain: Not a lick
  • Un-possessing: For little Bird’s dress-up box

I didn’t expect to see a duck on the roof.

Riding off on our Mother’s Day bike ride last weekend, a neighbor pointed out a beautiful duck sunning himself on the roof of another neighbor’s house. As a former student at the University of Oregon, I am a Duck-at-heart, but I didn’t expect to see a duck atop a peaked roof, taking in some rays.

I frequently think about expectations. I believe that a lot of the things that delight us or frustrate us are things that defy our expectations. The duck was delightful. De-light-ful…

Are you waiting for the frustrated shoe to drop?

Long ago, I was a princess. I bought a princessy dress at a Fredericksburg, Virginia thrift store and dressed up like a princess for Halloween. I was twenty-five. My darling dressed up as an adoring nerd. I loved that dress. Maybe I loved it a little too noticeably or a little too viscerally, because my future brother-in-law, J**n, gave me a gym-class-gray tee shirt which reads “Princess in Training.”

What was your point, J**n?

The princess dress has since been toted unworn from house to house, all these many years, locked away in a storage trunk which looks very much like a treasure chest. But I wear that tee-shirt every time I clean my house. I am very tidy; I wear that tee shirt a lot.

Last weekend wasn’t just for Mother’s Day. On Saturday, somewhat unexpectedly, the Self-Contained Unit went to his senior prom. It was unexpected, because until recently, he vigorously eschewed many such iconic traditions. But tradition has its place, and his father and I were tickled that he asked a smart, strong, lovely young woman who can go toe-to-toe with our boy. Truly, she has a good head on her very fit shoulders.

It was quite the Event.

Somewhere since the time of my (alas) unrequited senior opportunity, prom has gone from prom to PROM! It is now a three-day weekend of breakfasts and pictures and limos and PROM! and after-PROM! and PROM!-getaways and senior ditch day. This is the expectation. Here is my frustration: There’s a bit of princessing in all this. I wanted to hand out tee shirts.

Do you believe in magic?

I sure do. And I think anyone who says “no” is way over-thinking the question. Think Harry Potter; think dropping a coin in a fountain; think about the birth of your first child. You don’t even have to be a parent: your first child could be a beloved niece or nephew or the dog whose unconditional love can’t be adequately explained. There is magic in those bonds. I’m talking to you, my darling skeptic.

This question, about magic, was one of only four questions asked on Sam’s Vassar housing survey. Three of the four questions,

  1. What are your preferred hours of consciousness?
  2. How tidy are you?
  3. How social is your networking?

(I’m paraphrasing) had four possible responses each.

But the fourth question was binary:

      4. Do you believe in magic?

  • Yes
  • No

I do believe in magic. But not in princesses. I worry that ratcheting up events like prom—sorry, PROM!—into something rivaling a wedding with all the attendant princess-for-a day fuss and expense, creates Serial-Princess-Expectations, which grow with each event.

I am almost certainly fighting a losing battle-of-expectations here, so I will simply donate my own princess dress to a beloved little Bird’s dress up box. Does this undermine my intention? I trust her parents to keep her balanced.

Magic is important, for little girls, and even former Ducks.

former fairy tale Duckling

Footnote: I am delighted to report, the adorable, if unexpected, couple had a lovely, drama-free time at the PROM!

Spot On, Donna

05/07/2011

sweet but unused

Urgency Day 110

500 Things Item 389: Set of Egg Cups

  • History: From long ago and far away
  • Value:  Sat on a shelf more than they held my eggs
  • Parting Pain: My cupboard is a little less inviting, but no separation pain
  • Un-possessing: Gift

If you are a pattern seeker like me, you may have noticed a pattern on my May blog:

We celebrate a lot of birthdays in May!

A lot as in “Holy crap, what was going on all those Augusts ago?”

Between Paul’s family and my family and our closest friends’ families, we have 12 May honorees. Plus Mother’s Day. In some families that may not seem excessive. But here is a coincidence that I think makes my pattern a bit more exceptional:

Paul and I each have one sister who was born on the anniversary of the other’s parents:

  • My Donna was born on his John & Virginia’s anniversary, May 7;
  • His Katherine was born on my Arthur & Joyce’s May 15.

I think that’s a cool bit of family overlap. Plus, I recently pieced together that my niece Laura– of tiny sand-crab fame— shares a May 5th birthday with my dearest friend’s gorgeous mom, Bonnie—which is also Cinco de Mayo. I say, Margaritas for everyone!

Oh my dear lord, who am I forgetting?

I realize that sending out these very personal posts, or “modern greeting cards” as I call them, makes this blog feel even more personal than it already is– which is pretty darn. I’ll risk it. There’s not a chance I am going to miss wishing my darling sister a great big bloggy Happy Birthday!

Happy Birthday, Donna!

And speaking of chance and patterns and sisters, all these things converge remarkably in Donna. My sister Donna is famous, infamous actually, for having the most unlikely consistency in one very specific routine task: Parking. Donna has uncanny luck with finding parking spots right next to whatever entrance she needs to use. Her luck in this area is so consistent, when other’s familiar with this pattern share in her good fortune and find a wildly convenient place to park, it is recognized with this invocation:

Donna spot!

On Donna’s birthday, I wish you all a happy Donna spot. I hope you recognize the patterns of good fortune in your own life. Luck comes into our lives in obvious ways and in small ways which are not always easy to spot.

But having treasured sisters is the greatest luck of all.

Also a happy Donna spot

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