Hold on, courageous heart

Hold on, courageous heart.

The human heart is an incredible thing. It can break in half and still keep beating. It loves even when it is hurt. And, it dares to hold so many things at once: sadness and joy; grief and gratitude; longing and abundance.

They feel like opposites—in conflict with one another—when they're actually parts of the same whole. It’s impossible to live a full life without feeling and experiencing all of it. This is wonderful news and terrible news, all at once.

Here's the good part: our hearts are not alone, even when it feels like that sometimes. We may not know how we light the path for someone else and make carrying the load feel worth it. We may not know how we lift each other up and help each other move forward. And yet, we do.

Your courageous heart helps my courageous heart. And for that, I thank you.

The life-changing magic of doing what works (and ignoring what doesn't)

Books about home. I'm slightly addicted.

Books about home. I'm slightly addicted.

A friend recently wrote something on Facebook that made me laugh. While on a road trip, she had listened to the audio version of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, a wildly popular book on decluttering with a cult following. Here's what my friend had to say about the author's life-changing advice:

  • I guess Ikea won't solve my problems
  • I pretty much need to throw away 2/3 of my belongings
  • I have been folding my socks wrong
  • The author obviously does not have any kids

My friend noted that she was still headed to Ikea. And, to that I say, Go girl! Ikea may not solve our problems but it certainly helps ease the pain. 

I've read The Life-Changing Magic and have referenced it a few times here on the blog. Off the top of my head, here are some things I found helpful:

  • Declutter by category, not by room, starting with clothes
  • Discard first, organize later
  • Don't declutter mementos until the very end
  • If it doesn't spark joy, let it go

And while I've found these tips helpful, I'm a rebel and don't always do what I'm told. I suppose the "spark joy" rule goes for advice as well. I tend to follow the advice that inspires me to action, and I discard the tips that make me feel stressed, tired, or like I'm doing it wrong. 

I had an epiphany sometime last year, and it happened when my husband was out of town and the stomach bug was taking down the rest of us one by one. I was also in the middle of painting my oldest son's bedroom. I felt the bug coming on, but I refused to set down the roller until a few minutes before I got sick. Then I proceeded to feel like hell for about 12 hours. 

But in the minutes and seconds leading up to that? Totally happy. 

The epiphany was that doing things around my house gives me energy. Not everything. But certain things. When it comes to decluttering or tackling the next project, rather than follow some master checklist that someone else created, I ask myself, what's driving me crazy? What's the next thing I can do right now that will make me feel better?

Sometimes I get overwhelmed by all of the things, because I don't know where to start. But when I really stop and think about it, I'll realize something like, "The thing that's making me nuts is that when I open my kitchen cabinets, plastic cups fall out on top of me." So I'll declutter the kitchen next. 

I turn to books and expert advice (and blogs, heh) when I need to get my head around the task at hand. Sometimes, I need the extra voice to inspire me, motivate me, or give me a creative idea I haven't thought of. 

Here's what I don't do: use the KonMari method to fold my clothes. I spent an entire day trying to follow that advice, and that's a day I'll never get back. 

Cheers to Ikea! 


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The art of pausing and celebrating

I feel a surge of creativity in the summertime. It's the illusion of long, unscheduled days and weeks that makes me think, I have so much time! That's why my summertime to-do list always looks something like this: 

•declutter the house

•decorate the house

•sort through 25,000 photos trapped on old discs and hard drives

•read the stack of books I've been meaning to get to

Does anyone else have a list like this? I took that question to Instagram and Facebook a couple of weeks ago and many of you answered, "Me! Me!"

This list is also my New Year's Resolutions list. And, I've been making this list for about six years, ever since we moved into the house we're in now. 

The underlying why behind my too-ambitious list is this: I value making my home feel more like home, and I value feeling at home in my life (which is somewhat the same thing, but also not the same thing at all). So at the beginning of June, with my list in one hand and my proverbial why in the other, I started chipping away. Here's what I've done so far:

•decluttered the kitchen pantry as well as the art supplies stored in the kitchen pantry, and moved the pared down art supplies to a new location because the crayons and markers kept falling into the trash can. 

sorted the contents of the attic

decluttered toys 

•hung some cool skate board art on my oldest son's bedroom walls

•painted my middle child's bedroom and hung shelves and artwork. 

•donated and tossed many things

I'm not being all "woo hoo! look at me!" although I am proud of myself. My point is that I didn't realize I had done all of these things until I stopped for a moment and took an inventory. I was so focused on the next thing, that I didn't appreciate how far I'd come. 

I'm all about riding the wave of momentum, especially when I'm trying to tackle something big. I love the satisfaction of checking things off the list. The problem is that the list is never ending. 

Pausing and celebrating is just as important and necessary as the doing. So this week, I'm adding that to the list. 

How do you balance doing, with not doing?

Related: here's a video I did a couple of years ago with Solange Swafford about how learning to be can transform your to dos. 

And, If you're into podcasts, here's a really good one about the importance of celebrating, (hint: it's restorative and life-giving) and lots of candid talk about why we don't celebrate more often. 

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Join the conversation by leaving a comment below. And if you hit the like button, it creates a little heart explosion. 

Decluttering: getting the family involved

Last week I told you about how I spent an entire day sorting the contents of my attic. Because I had the whole house to myself, I was able to get a lot done. I made a ridiculous mess and still had time to put things back together before my family returned later that afternoon. Days like that are rare, but it was a great opportunity to get my head around what once felt like an overwhelming task.

The next day I got the family involved.

First, the furniture:

My husband hauled a bunch of furniture that we'd stored in the attic and garage out to the driveway, and later that morning, the Kidney Foundation came to pick it up.

The furniture was in good condition, and I'd considered doing a yard sale for years. In the end, donating it saved a ton of valuable time. If someone else can use it, I'm fine giving it away. (We'd already passed down most of the good baby gear directly to friends who needed it.)

Then, the toys: 

Until my kids were about two or three, I donated/purged toys without their input. But I learned the hard way that eventually they'll notice what's missing and get really offended when they discover you're the culprit. I've also learned that my kids are pretty efficient at decluttering their own belongings. When I go, "What the heck is this?", they say, "That can go in the trash," or "I've been looking for that!" and put it back where it belongs. 

This time around, we started with books and stuffed animals.

I dumped them all in the dining room and let my kids pick what they wanted to keep. They didn't spend too much time dwelling on a particular item. They had a good sense of what felt special to them and what didn't, so I let them do their thing.

Then, once it was all sorted, I took the "keep" containers back to the attic. (I swear I'm going somewhere with this. The attic is an amazing "holding spot" for works in progress.) The rest will get donated. 

Then, we sorted the very, very, special toys—toys that we plan to keep for a while: trains, Hess trucks, matchbox cars, and Power Rangers. (I gave up on trying to organize Legos years ago. I tossed all of the boxes and dumped thousands of pieces in a giant container. They love it this way, because they prefer to make their own things. Related: I will never buy another expensive Star Wars Lego set again.)

My tween son Dillon was obsessed with Thomas the Train when he was younger, and he decided that he'd keep most of the trains (and some of the track because Cate seemed to like it).

He's at an age now where he doesn't play with these things anymore, but he wants to display them. He lined his trains up on a bookshelf.  

My eight-year-old Blake is incredibly devoted to Power Rangers and has been for years. So I dumped a giant bucket of Megazords on the floor and tasked him with putting them back together. He was excited to take on the job. 

Notice the bare walls and painters tape. Another project for another day.

Notice the bare walls and painters tape. Another project for another day.

And so, this is how we spent the better part of a summer day, and it was glorious. My children did what I asked them to do with no complaints (what?!) and then played with their pared down selection of toys.

Sometimes, I'd hear Dillon call out the name of a train and it took me back to an earlier time; I could hear the sound of his toddler voice. The whole time, I stayed close.  Supervising but not hovering. It was surprisingly easy—the way they were into it and the way it flowed. When it comes to what I consider a perfect mom day, this one ranks high. 

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Tackling the attic (aka, a minefield of mementos)

The other day Dillon asked me when I was going to finish working on his bedroom. He was polite about it and said something like, "Hey Mom, when are you going to finish my room?" but I heard, "What's taking you so long, woman?' and the question made me feel cranky and stressed. 

I've been "working on" his room since last summer (I think, I've lost track) so at this point, it was totally reasonable to check in. The walls are painted, the new furniture is in place, the non-babylike sheets and duvet are on the bed. The only big thing left to do is hang stuff on the walls. So what's the holdup? 

I want to display some of his school art and certificates. But the artwork and certificates are in the attic, and the attic is where I stuff everything that I don't want to deal with: furniture, toys, clothes, dishes, holiday decorations, and boxes and boxes of mementos.  

I had a strong sense that what's been keeping me from tackling the job (cleaning out the attic and completing my son's room) are all those boxes of memories. Those boxes are taking up the most space, and the most mental and emotional energy. 

In The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up, professional home organizer Marie Kondo says, "If you just stow these things away in a drawer or cardboard box, before you realize it, your past will become a weight that holds you back and keeps you from living in the here and now. To put your things in order means to put your past in order, too. It’s like resetting your life and settling your accounts so that you can take the next step forward."

Well, damn. That sounds exhausting. And it also sounds like a blog post for another day. But I know that Kondo is right about this. I also knew that my immediate goal wasn't to put my entire past in order, the goal was to finish my 11-year-old son's bedroom before he graduates from high school. 

Not long after he got all pushy about it (kidding), luckily, I found myself with one free day. In the house, by myself. I'm not going to sugarcoat the importance of this. Some jobs require the whole day with no interruptions or little people digging through all of that hidden "treasure" while you're sorting, discarding, and deciding what's worthy of being saved. The opportunity presented itself so I seized it. 

Once my family had gone for the day, I took every single box out of the attic (it's a walk-in attic, actually an unfinished room above the garage). I hauled it all downstairs to the family room, where I had plenty of floor space.

Sidenote: My calves were so sore after walking up and down the stairs a zillion times, I had trouble walking for the next few days.

Then I took a moment to get the big picture view of what I was dealing with. I tried not to hyperventilate. I found a few boxes with things like this:

Old demo reels on VHS tapes (!) from my husband's and my TV news days. A part of me wanted to go ahead and toss it. Another part of me wasn't ready to do that. And, the very focused part of me remembered that I was only going through the kids' mementos, not mine. So I took those boxes and set them aside.

Once I identified all of the boxes filled with the kids' papers, I pulled everything out, one by one, and started making piles: artwork, photos, certificates, report cards, and schoolwork that felt super special (like stories they'd written).

I took another piece of Kondo's advice on decluttering: If it doesn't spark joy, toss it. So, I also had a big pile of things to go to the trash/recycling.

Note about kid art: I separated the holiday art from the rest of the art, because I love to hang those as decorations during the appropriate seasons. 

Suddenly I had a lot less boxes, and neat-ish piles of mementos that I intended to save. I took the trash to the garage to deal with later (see how I do?) and then I took everything else back up to the attic. That may seem counterproductive, but here's what's significant about that: I can now move around in the attic, and I have a better sense of what's what.

After I cleaned up the mess and looked around again, I realized the attic project didn't seem so overwhelming anymore. A very large job had transformed into smaller, more manageable jobs that can be tackled in shorter bursts of time (which is much more realistic for daily life).

So it looks like I'll finish my son's room after all. I'll keep you updated on this ongoing story, because making a house a home is an ongoing process. 


ps - have you seen this trailer for the Gilmore Girls reunion show? There's a delightful part about a minute in where Emily Gilmore is assessing her belongings: "They don't bring me joy." 

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