Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Day 25-30

Simple travels...
We are traveling with my four children. That can get complicated. Yet we are trying to keep it simple. Reusable water bottles, dried fruit, and drive through windows help to ease the chaos. While laid back destinations lower the stress level.
Still, we have the preschooler meltdowns to deal with. All my children have recently stated their avowed hatred for me (all those who can speak, that is. My infant is still silent on the matter.) We packed light and do laundry every day to avoid laundy build-up. It feels lighter this way. I am keeping short accounts with the housekeeping fairy. It is what I hope I will achieve for my daily life by reducing our possessions. I have a long way to go, but this respite is a good reminder of how good it feels to lighten my load instead of clinging to things.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Days 14-24

Ten days... that is a lot of time to catch up on. I have many funny stories I wish I could tell. Most of them are about my many thwarted efforts to minimise my stuff in order to maximize my time. (A lot of time was spent trying to save time. I hope the long term dividends will outweigh my current expenditures). Unfortunately, I don't have much time to tell my stories in. Instead, I will update you with a few pictures of the results of some of my simplifying measures.

This is my closet since I cleared it out. All my clothes are in this side of the closet. All my clothes that is except the ones that need laundering or that I am wearing. I even have my underwear and sock drawers in the closet. Reevaluating my clothes cleared off some space on our shelves as well, so now I can store other things like...

the photo albums that I recently organised and labeled.

This is the top of those same bedroom bookshelves. It used to be covered with a motley array of things that I would categorise as homeless. In order to simplify I either found them a home or they went to the local homeless shelter; The Habitat Thrift Store, where they are currently awaiting a home.

Now I can lay on my bed and see these family keepsakes. I treasure each one of the objects on this shelf. I also treasure the space in between them.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Days 11-13

This computer may provide me with one click access to the world, yet I am overcome by the view out of the window directly behind it, the simple beauty of our rain soaked yard. We have enjoyed a weekend of lush wetness. Being used to our semi-arid climate, these past two and a half days of rain have been a rare departure from the status quo. I am overjoyed. Anything can get monotonous, even sunshine. It breeds a weird sort of discontent, all that pressure to not waste the “beautiful weather”. But oh, for a cloudy, wet day. How are you supposed to spend it but inside? I never feel that I have wasted a rainy day. I can simply gaze out my window at the steady shower that washes all of nature clean. I can curl up like a cat on the padded cushions of my big oak rocker and take the time to really listen to the lyrics of some bittersweet song. I will find myself crying of course but I crave these moments of reflection, the space to weep over the terrible reality of life’s inconsistencies.

Now my view is fading into shadow. Only minutes ago I could see a world of Technicolor brightness against the vague gray sky. There were enough different shades of green to remake the rainbow. There was the nearly florescent green of the grass with each blade distinct, outlined in raindrops. The trunks of our young poplars stood in relief against the wooden privacy fence, trunks glowing green through their light gray bark. Then there were the leaves, the tender young leaves of early summer. They bore their pubescent greenness to the sky and were illumined by the indirect light from the cloud covered setting sun. Its subtle light filtered over everything, leaving the greens to stand out for themselves. Each shade nearly lighted from within revealing the infinite complexity yet simple beauty of a rain soaked day.

My view is gone now. I am left with only the faint outlines of leaves against a dying gray sky. I reflect on my day. I have sorted through most of the children’s clothing. I fear that I have not weeded out enough possessions. I have filled four large trash bags with clothing, yet the girl’s drawers are still full. Each of my daughter’s only has one drawer to herself. but they only had one drawer each when I started this silly quest. Before their drawers were crammed full and now they are only comfortably full, but is that going to make any difference? Instead of simplifying I seem to be merely reorganizing, unable to take the drastic steps I had wanted to try. I wanted to know if having significantly less stuff would translate into less work. I wonder if having a little less stuff will make any difference at all. The experiment continues.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Days 9-10

"Don't it always seem to go, that you don't know what you've got till it's gone"
-Big Yellow Taxi by Joni Mitchell

Tonight was the perfect summer evening. During dinner the cloud cover deepened and the air shook with the rumblings of an approaching storm. It threatened severity but it was only a bluff. The rain fell in drops, not sheets and they danced, plit, plit on my kitchen skylights. After the rain passed the air was cleaner and the fallen drops rested on every leaf and bud in my garden. The flagstones of our garden path were damp but not slick. I had hoped for sufficient rainfall as to preclude the need for watering this evening but this rain was merely cosmetic. The leaves appeared greener and the soil looked moist. Yet when I poked my finger in the ground I could tell it was only on the surface.

My children were all asleep, tired out from a long day of playing with friends. So, it was just me out there in the quiet of the evening, pulling the hose along behind me. I went from plant to plant watering deep into the soil, readying them for the coming day. First it was my peonies, flopping over into the path, nearly exhausted from their yearly outburst of white flowers. Sweet pea vine had wound its way through their dark green foliage. This is the first year either of them have done well but now they are filling up the garden bed, vying for space. The youthful green filigree of the sweet pea vine is in pleasant contrast with it's stately neighbor. Next I watered my herbs; chives with purple flowers crunchy from age, variegated sage plants in white, purple, and green, foot tall oregano, delicate french thyme, shiny slender tarragon, and the brassy woolly horehound. Then to my perennials, most of whose names I have forgotten and which I planted disproportionately. I have a huge plant with scalloped saucer sized leaves in front of a spindly columbine. My sorrel is hidden by a wickedly thorny rosebush.

Finally I got to the raised beds where we have planted edibles with colorful names like German butterball potatoes, Tom Thumb peas and Dragon carrots. While they got a good soaking, I weeded out some of the pinkie sized elm trees littering our vegetable beds. All the time I had been doing this, two birds in the parent elm were incessantly calling to one another in laser like song. I couldn't get a good look at their markings because they were hidden amongst the weedy lower branches of the great tree. They were songbirds with brownish feathers on their underbellies. Whatever their species, they were avid singers and their song was unfamiliar and odd.

I retraced the garden path, past my herbs and peonies to the back of the house. I had just rounded the corner when my whites confronted me from their place on the clothes line. 'Don't forget us!' they seemed to say as they waved in the light evening breeze. I walked over to comply. There the evening fell heavy on my senses. The crisp whiteness of the sheet, the moist coolness of the blue tinged air, the long low shadows from our hidden sun, all mingled together with the rich smell of grass and soil. A moment of true simplicity. The smooth texture of a wooden clothespin as I pressed it between thumb and forefinger felt like a gift. I piled the laundry over my left arm as an owl hooted from nearby. Perhaps it was roosting in the branches of the huge ash tree which was arching its great arms above me.

I carried the laundry inside, slid the screen door closed, and left the peace behind me. Somewhere in our mudroom I lost the awe of living. Here was more laundry to sort and fold. More decisions awaited me here; more things I had to manage.

Is it possible to live in awe of the moment in the midst of the mundane? The centeredness I felt at the clothesline, the peaceful purposefulness of watering plants, the simple sense of accomplishment that comes with weeding: can I make it mine always, minute by minute?
I recently read A Circle of Quiet by Madeleine L'Engle. In it she references the play Our Town
by Thornton Wilder, "After Emily dies she is allowed to come back to earth to relive a day, and she is torn apart by her awareness of all she has taken for granted. She asks the stage manager, 'Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it?-every, every minute?' And he answers, "No. The saints and poets, maybe-they do, some." (pg 230)

I know I am reaching out for the impossible; a truly simple life. A life lived every moment. To have the faith to be a saint. To have the receptiveness to be a poet. I know even at best I will only realize life as I live it some of the time. To live perfectly in the present is to be made perfect. That is for heaven. Still I must reach for the unattainable in this life, this day, this moment.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Days 5-8

Boy, time sure does fly when you haven't blogged. Three days already. Wow...

June must be a feverish month this year because now my little boy has a fever. It may be mild by medical standards but he is horrified. It started last night. He woke up screaming, tense and flushed. I thought perhaps he had some gas and had rosied his color by crying so. He did not want to nurse. He was only soothed if I sat up and rocked him, side to side, back and forth. He calmed down then but he was still warmer then usual. After multiple attempts at laying down with him he finally fell asleep, a worn out bundle shuddering in my arms. I gingerly laid down and cuddled him against me. His tiny frame would tighten occasionally and then relax back into sleep. Every now and then a phlegmy cough would disturb him, his form pressing heavier against my chest as slumber returned. I was relieved to finally drift off myself, thankful for his momentary contentment.

Forty-five minutes later he awoke with a shudder. He screamed and could not be comforted unless I sat up and rocked him against me, my arms nestling him tightly as we rocked side to side, back and forth. I would start to drift off and long to lie down but any attempt at the horizontal, not matter how slight would make him stiffen his legs and shriek. It finally subsided and we were able to resume our huddled sleep. This sequence was repeated at least two more times, though I think it may have been three (I was not fully awake and my memory is poor anyway). The last episode occurred sometime in the 5am range, though how long it lasted I am not sure. The light was just appearing as a blue richness ever brightening behind my creamy colored curtains when I closed my eyes to sleep.

Sometime thereafter my three year old darling came into my room. At first she was content to lay there while she slowly adjusted to wakefulness. Around 6:30 however she was awake and bored with waiting. She decided to hold my son's hand. Normally a perfectly harmless and adorable thing to do. In this case however he woke up, jerking me oh so reluctantly back to consciousness with his petrified howling. I tried to nurse him but he didn't even notice. The only comfort was the rocking, side to side, back and forth, while I struggled to stay upright.

Surprisingly however, the day has been pleasant. I decided to cut both of us a break "and let the rest of the world go by". So my main activity today was holding my son in an upright seated position and rocking him side to side, back and forth. It was a lovely way to spend the day. The challenge was to keep from rocking myself to sleep.

As for days 5-7, much was accomplished towards my goal. I considered every object in my bedroom with a critical eye and reorganised my jewelry, keepsakes and photo albums. I have a motley collection of thrift store photo albums. I labeled them all by date and organised them chronologically. I arranged my miscellaneous personal articles on the shelf below that. I don't know exactly what all was cluttering up my shelves but now I know what is left on them and can find what I want easily.

Evaluating my own belongings has proven much lighter work then trying to weed though my children's things. Almost every article of clothing, each toy, drawing and trinket have some memory associated with it. I fear that if I jettison the object the memory will float away as well. A I mentioned earlier, my memory is less the perfect and all these physical ties to the past root me down and keep the soil of my thoughts from eroding out from under me. Yet I need to let go. I cannot be tied to the material world so closely that I end up becoming a slave to these things. I need to trust that my memories will be there when I need them. Maybe I am just so busy right now making new memories that my recall is a little slow. And I can write. That can be my seawall to protect myself against the powerful ocean of time.

That does not mean that I am not saving things. Oh, no. I am sure that I am still keeping more then is good for us. It is too much clutter to carry around with us. I am trying to evaluate each item as if I were moving. Would I really want to pack and unpack this? Would I want to move another box just to bring this along? It gives me a different perspective on my stuff. Sometimes, often actually, I am not sure what to do with a particular item. So I put it aside to be reconsidered later. When I come across that laundry basket of the girl's dresses, the one that I hid underneath their bunk beds Sunday night, will I have missed them? Will any of my daughter's have missed them? If the answer is no, then off to the thrift store they go.

Turning a critical eye to all of our worldly goods has been stressful but rewarding. Still, it is yet to be established whether or not this physical streamlining will actually help me to simplify my life. Am I making less or more work for myself? We will see.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Day 4

Although my four year old was still unwell, there was no sign of fever by mid morning. Thus heartened I decided to do some possession evaluating. It seemed easiest to start with my clothes. I have a interesting assortment of clothing most of which has been given to me by my mother or purchased at a thrift store. I like most of my clothing but wear very little of it. I am often guilty of buying something just because it is a good deal. Sure, it's nice enough, but why am I buying it. Usually it is just because I want something new now. I also hate shopping at malls and large retailers. I enjoy thrift shopping. It's an adventure. You never know what you might find.

(Now I have to think...How do adventure and simplicity fit together. Are they opposites or just two concepts that run parallel to each other. Hummm.)

Since the only part of my life in which I seek adventure is in the shopping arena, I go to our local thrift store more often then I need to. This is reflected in the quantity of button up shirts hanging in my closet, most of which I never wear. Evidently someone else never wore them either.

So I weeded out my clothing ruthlessly. While my little son napped in his crib I quietly removed all my clothing from my closet, examining each one. I didn't have any definitive criteria. I was working on intuition. Some clothes were maternity clothes. Some were from years ago before I was married. Right now neither of them fit me. So I said "goodbye" to most of the maternity clothes and "see you later" to the too small clothes that I hope to wear again. (I know, you are laughing at me. Odds are 10 to 1 that I will need the maternity clothes before those too small ones. Does simplifying preclude optimism?) I folded up all the seasonally and size inappropriate clothes and stacked them on my upper shelves. Only clothes that I can wear right now should be hanging up.

Along the way I decided that all my clothing should fit in my closet. I shouldn't need an entire shelf as well. Plus, if I hang them all I won't have to fold my laundry. I never seem to get around to putting folded laundry away anyhow. This seemed like a very good step toward simplifying my life. Less clothing+less folding=less work. That is what I'm after here.

It is not that I am lazy. Heck, no. I love to feel the sense of accomplishment that comes from a job well done. I enjoy the labor of love that goes into a meal or an article. I miss loosing myself in physical labor. Doing the job till my arms were sore, my back ached and my clothes were drenched with sweat. That was work. That was being alive. Changing laundry loads, picking up the same toys over and over again, making room on the counter for more junk mail; this stuff is getting by. Maybe, just maybe, if I can remove some of the clutter from my life I will have a little more time for living.

Today was a small step into the ocean of my possessions but now that my feet are wet it will be easier to dive in.

Day 3

Well, I will have to give a brief recap of yesterday's progress. That is if I can still remember yesterday. For some reason if one of my children has a fever it effects my memory.

All of our children were sick with fevers just last week so I was unprepared for further developments in that area. Even though I realize fevers are part of our bodies normal immune response and are actually beneficial, they worry me. I am sure this fear comes more from books and movies then from any factual information I have been exposed to. I remember as a child, watching an episode of the TV series "Little House on the Prairie" in which someone, I can't remember who it was exactly, but some poor person had to be immersed in a tub of ice in order to bring down their fever and thus save their life. The details are blurry but the impact is clear; fevers are drastic life threatening situations. If my children want special treatment from me all they need do is get themselves a fever. What alarms me most about fevers is the heat that radiates off their little bodies and feeling the warmth against my palm without actually touching them.

All this to say, that when I saw my four year old daughter cuddled up in my bed and fast asleep of her own accord in the middle of the afternoon, nothing else got done. I woke her up for dinner and spent most of the night alternating between cuddling her, cuddling my newborn son, and cuddling them both. I didn't get anything "done" but I accomplished so much. Those are the simplest times. Times of clear purpose. I need to comfort my children when they are ill. Holding them is what I ought to be doing. Hang the housework. It is nothing compared to my little one who clings to me, hot and achy and tired. "What can I get for you honey? Is there anything that you want?" I asked her last night.

"I want you Mommy. Can you snuggle with me? My head hurts. I want you"

"No, I have to do the dishes." God forbid. God forbid.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Day 2

Considering my possessions with a discriminating eye can certainly make life more complicated.

Today I planned on getting rid of stuff but instead I went shopping. Thankfully they are consumable goods and I won't have to evaluate them for long; groceries. I never find shopping with four children to be a simple task. Things often spin out of control as we traverse the aisles. One hand on the cart, one hand holding a baby who is on the verge of fussiness. Today I wanted to put on a good face. I may be a harried homemaker but I didn't want to look like one. So in preparation for our shopping excursion I got dressed. Now that may not seem like much of an accomplishment to you but I have interchangeable dayclothes and nightclothes. They look so much the same, no one can tell the difference. Except for my oldest daughter of course. While we are standing in line to check out she will suddenly notice my "outfit" and will ask me in her high pitched six year old voice, "Mommy, why are you still wearing your pajamas?"

So I made the effort and put on a nice white button up blouse and an almost matching white skirt. "Pretty good," I thought. "I don't look rundown or all that overweight. This was a good choice." I was feeling relatively attractive and put together as we browsed the aisles of our nearest health food store. That is until my oldest daughter started laughing and pointing at my newborn son. "Mommy," she said "the baby has spit up all over him." Why this was funny, I do not know. I do know however, that it caused me to look down and realize that not only was he splattered with spit up so was my shirt. Then as I turned him around I noticed the distinct smell of baby poop. Not a terrible smell as poop goes, but distinct all the same. Upon closer inspection it became apparent that his adorable cloth diaper cover had not done it's job. I had a mustard yellow stain smeared on my white shirt where his little bottom had been pressed against me. Goodbye to "relatively attractive and put together," and hello to "harried housewife".

Although I may have suddenly looked like one I didn't feel like one. Wearing a bemused smile, I said to myself. "This is what I get for focusing on the outward instead of my heart." At the slightest sign of vanity, God always seems to give me a gentle, and often humorous reminder of where my thoughts should be. "Whose adorning let it not be the outward adorning...of putting on of apparel, but let it be the hidden man of the heart, in that which is not corruptible, even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price."
1 Peter 3:3-4

Wouldn't my life be simpler if I wasn't concerned about what people may think of me because of my clothing?

And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin. And yet I say unto you, that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which to day is, and to morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith? Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things. But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. Matthew 6:28-33

If I want to simplify my life, I need to seek first his kingdom. Changing out of my pajamas and looking presentable is certainly not a sin but if that is what makes me feel good about myself I have really pinned my hopes on the wrong thing.

I guess as I spend the next few weeks evaluating my possessions, I should consider my attitudes towards them as well. This may be tougher then I thought.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Day 1

My goal: Simplify my life

There is no shortage of advice on how to accomplish this elusive utopia; simplicity. There are entire magazines which purport to be devoted to this cause. Unfortunately making to-do lists, trying out new decluttering tips, and following advice on which storage containers to buy has done precious little to help me simplify my life. I have tried to schedule out our days minute by minute. I have attempted to effect five minute clean up sessions each time before I left a room. I have even purchased various boxes, shelving units, and other organizational tools (some of which I have actually used). I have been attracted by one helpful tip after another but my life is still pretty much the same chaotic whirlwind it was before I tried any of these things.

So what is the secret of simplicity? Is it less stuff? Is it sticking to a schedule? Is it in forcing myself to be more consistent or in letting more things go? How clean is clean enough? Where does parenting fit into all this? I am sure that I can't buy simplicity in a catalog, but will buying certain things actually make my life simpler? Or is less really more?

Simplicity. For me right now it means an environment in which we as a family can live and work efficiently. Or maybe it means living a life with inner calm no matter what the environment around me. OK ,so I can't decide what it means. What I do know is that I want to find out.
So for the next few days I am going to start with the material stuff that takes up so much of my time; laundry, shoes, food, dishes, craft supplies, dress-up clothes, plants, books, indoor toys, outdoor toys...the physical stuff of our stay-at-home life. I am going to evaluate our possessions and see how they effect our life. If they take more then they give, then they need to go.