cleaning

“Happier at Home:” Gretchen’s Project, KJ’s Clutter

Sunday, September 9th, 2012 | Connecting the Dots, Motherlode | 9 Comments

You can’t really click to look inside, I was just too lazy to use my own image. You can, however, click the name of the book in the post to get to Amazon and buy the book.

Motherlode sneak peek: Next week, I’m going to Boston to meet up with Gretchen Rubin and record a video introduction to a series of posts she’ll be writing for Motherlode starting 9/17. Like so many of us, I found a friend when I first opened Gretchen’s book “The Happiness Project,” and when that words-only friend turned into an actual live friend (at the ASJA conference) a while ago, that was even better—especially now that it means Gretchen will be writing a weekly Motherlode post this fall. (About what? That’s the only part I’m not going to tell you here.)

Since Gretchen’s writing for me, I thought I’d turn the tables and write, well, not “for” her but “inspired by” her. I know plenty of people started their own “happiness projects” after Gretchen’s first book. I did nothing so official, but this time, perhaps instigated by the fact that her very first topic in “Happier at Home” is something I know would make me much happier if I could just get a grip on it: clutter.

Ok, Gretchen doesn’t call it clutter. She calls it, rightly, “Possessions,” and that just puts a much happier spin on the whole thing, or at least it would, if my “possessions” weren’t so buried in my clutter that it’s become very hard to tell the difference.

I’ll blog my own “Happier at Home” project, which conveniently enough Gretchen began one September, every Sunday night along with my now-weekly Motherlode sneak peaks (and probably the occasional mid-week picture update of my, um, progress).

Gretchen started her latest project with “Possessions” because she’s smart enough to know that the clutter isn’t all there is to her relationship to her stuff. “My possessions had a powerful influence over the atmosphere of my home, and they contributed to, and reflected, my sense of identity,” she wrote.

I know what she means. I battle the clutter and mess of two adults and four children with an abundance of identity in the form of books, toys, magazines, newspapers and small, indeterminate but invariably important plastic objects (whose importance rarely becomes clear before they’re thrown away) daily, but the clutter isn’t all I’m dissatisfied with as I survey my domain. We just don’t live, physically, they way I want to live, or even the way we want to live. It’s pretty depressingly Tobacco Road around here, and I suspect the friend who just sent me an email about her new no-filter fish tank may have been commenting on our tank, which has been fish-free and filled with evaporating water for months. (Ok, maybe longer.)

Gretchen’s goals, and mine.

Gretchen’s goal was to “Find a True Simplicity.” Mine is to Cultivate an Ordered Calm. “Simplicity” will never reign here; I like clear surfaces but I also like books and magazines and easy access to things we love and use, and a few toys here and there don’t bother me as long as, if the spirit moves the child to put the toy away (and my “spirit” I mean “allowance” or possibly “threat”), there is a clear place to put it.

I’m adopting Gretchen’s second resolution, “Go shelf by shelf” as my first. My goal is to remove and clear, and to keep only what I “know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful,” with an eye towards finding a place for everything that remains, even if not everything is in its place.

It’s not at all realistic to expect that I’ll have gone “shelf by shelf” in our 4 bedroom house by next Sunday, but I’ll at least write about where we stand, and whether the bookshelf I took out of the guest room upstairs and then couldn’t find anywhere to put except the hall floor is gone, next Sunday. Beyond that lie two more resolutions for September: Make it right, and Put it back.

I want to do more than clear the clutter. I want to get what stays behind right: to finally replace the kitchen soap dispenser and repair the broken dresser drawer and put all the pieces in the Monopoly game. That, to me, is “make it right.”

And then I want to learn to keep it that way. “Put it back,” means more than that. It means embracing David Allen’s requirement that if it takes less than 2 minutes, you do it now by putting the tape back after wrapping a present, or picking up the clump of hairbands and replacing them in the box instead of dropping them in the nearest bowl. If I’m going to be happy with my possessions, each thing needs a place, and I need to make a habit of resecting those places.

Honestly, I go into this discouraged and overwhelmed. We’ve been letting things pile up for the five years since we moved into this house, and we have both had to accept of late that the children never put anything away because we rarely do: yep, there are six plastic spaceships and a half-built lego on the coffee table, but then, there’s a Sunday times and an open notepad (mine) next to them, and the bag I brought out yesterday to dig out hand-me-down soccer cleats on the floor next to it, unreturned to its place, and next to me on the end table is the squirt bottle Rob used to squirt the dog for barking at the UPS man on Friday.

A sneak peak of hall chaos.

I set out to clean the hall today, and mostly just stood gazing miserably, knowing that I can’t really clean out the shoe cubbies unless I pull out all the outgrown shoes, and I can’t pull out the outgrown shoes without something to put them in, and then I will need to take the ones that aren’t handed down somewhere and put the ones that are somewhere else, with a label and the hope of finding them in two years (girls) or four (boys). And that’s just the shoes; there are jackets and rackets and swimsuits and kites and backpacks and hats…

I finally managed to open the four elfa drawers that store up the projects children bring home from school all year; in a happy, ideal family, one goes through these at the end of the year, pulls out treasures, tucks some away, frames a few pictures and talks to each child about his or her school year. Instead, I dumped last year’s contents into the four bins I keep their artwork in in the basement without a word while three were out with various friends and the fourth played Minecraft. Now they’re empty and ready for 2012-2013, filled only with my intent to do better next year and the near certainty that I won’t.

I’d hoped for before and after pictures of a hallway transformed, but instead, I realized I needed the bins I keep Sam’s clothes in upstairs for mittens, etc., which meant taking Lily’s doll clothes out of his old dresser and giving it back to him and then switching the bins currently in the hallway for swimsuits up for doll clothes and…well, long story short, all the bins and the dresser are empty; the swimsuits and Sam’s entire wardrobe are in various piles, and it is all much, much worse than it was when I started.

What is it Gretchen always says? Happiness doesn’t always make me feel happy. But it really, really will feel so good when it’s done—and making the mess guarantees that one way or another, I’m going to have to pick it up!

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A Cleaner Car = a Better Life

Saturday, May 7th, 2011 | Connecting the Dots | 1 Comment

Let me just say: actual adults could now ride in every single seat of my car. Rob’s boss’s wife. Your mother. Martha Stewart. (I would let any of them ride in the passenger seat. Of course. But say they were ALL in the car.)

Now they could ride. I would not have to say “Oh, my God, I am SO SORRY.” Or “I have a towel. Do you want a towel? Seriously, take the towel.” Or “Shit, I don’t know what that is, but I’m pretty sure it won’t stain.” And here is how this miracle took place:

  1. Washed car in drive-thru car wash (you should hear a robot voice here, saying “Shine and Protect. Please drive forward.”)
  2. Took out mats and sprayed them viciously in self-wash bay with high-powered soap! And then high-powered rinse! And more rinse! I sprayed them so hard they flapped around on the car wash floor like sting rays. It was awesome.
  3. Double vacuum. Lots of quarters. (You can do this if you park in a spot where two vacuums will reach the car). Lily took one, I took the other, and we sucked the life out of everything we could find. At one point, I accidentally put the vacuum down over my iced coffee straw, and it sucked the coffee up.
  4. Nice lady in the next bay offered me two of her Armour-all wipes…and then the madness started. Two wipes barely made a dent, but oh, what a dent it was!)
  5. At home, where we had more wipes, and spray, and a towel, I went at every surface of that car. I dusted in the vents. I scrubbed out cupholders. (And, yo, Buick, those should be removable.) I wiped the backs of seats, I cleaned leather (with dish soap, which was ok, I think), I scrubbed the doors.
  6. I marveled at the filth. Who dribbled what brown liquid down the side of every door? What was that ground down deep in Wyatt’s cupholder? Who got what on the seat belt clip? And how, how did those spots get on the ceiling?

My car is CLEAN. Clean, clean, clean. I only took one before and after picture, and it’s kind of lame:

Before

Before

After

I mean, you can see that it’s better, but it’s just not dramatic. So how about this. I don’t want to get personal, so picture, say, your neighbor’s car. You know the one. The SUV you’d never, ever ride in, with the knee-deep goldfish and the stains on the ceiling (how do they do that?). The one that your kid came out of with a lollipop stick, a post-it and a fruit roll-up stuck to his butt last year. That car.

Now, picture a new SUV. Well, not a new car. A new used car, say, about three years old. Get that, and then put some popcorn down in the the gaps the rear seats roll in–you know, the ones no vacuum known to man can reach— and a couple of jelly beans. And then get a crayon and color some above the rear passenger 2nd row seat, and get a pen, and make a few marks on the rear driver’s side door, and then rub those off as hard as you can. Oh, and take off one of the radio knobs in the back. And spray it with some Method grapefruit all-purpose cleaner, and rub liberally with a cloth scented with orange cleaner and: Voila! My car!

It is VERY NICE. And it took, um, 4 hours–but you have to add in driving to the car wash and back, and dropping Lily at a playdate, and going through the McDonald’s drive-thru, plus a small wait at said car wash.

The Debris

This isn’t everything we took out of the car. It’s everything that came out of the car AFTER everything came out of the car, you know–the stuff that was so deep under the seats, etc., that I didn’t find it until I was seriously crawling around in there. Plus it’s the resulting car-wiping mess.

Wouldn't you like to ride in this car?

Can you tell I’m feeling proud? But I’m also feeling dumbstruck. Because while this is the first time I’ve really climbed in and wiped and scrubbed and wiped some more since probably last summer, I have vacuumed it recently, and thoroughly. And there is, in theory, a rule–that you can’t eat in my car.

And it’s pretty clear we’ve been eating in the car. And we have–not just the road trip lunches, either. All of a sudden, every day, it’s been afternoon snack in the car. In fact, what, two blog posts ago, there I am, wailing about disastrous parenting resulting from snacking in the car. Our life should not be busy enough to require that we eat that often in the car. Small children can, I’m told, go for several hours without refueling. And they don’t need that much food to begin with. And, seriously, they should not need to be bribed with food to go get their older siblings at school.

I’m incentivized. I wish to turn over a new (old) leaf. I do not want them to eat in this, my glorious clean car. And if (when) they do, I want them to clean up. I’m pretty obsessive about that–and yet, I found multiple lollipop sticks under Rory and Wyatt’s seats. So:

  1. No more food in the car.
  2. And because I know that’s going to be really hard to stick to, only fruit roll-ups, cheese, apples–non-crumby food–in the car. And if you get a lollipop, I’m writing your NAME on the friggin’ stick.

Our afternoons are too busy. There is one afternoon when Lily and Sam will really need to eat a snack in the car after school, and a second where only Lily will–but that does not mean that others, who can eat their snack at other times, before or after the car ride, will eat too.

I’ll admit it, though, it’s such good multi-tasking: ride in car for 20 minutes, eat snack. And we don’t go anywhere that’s not at least 20 minutes. But the results are so unbearable! I have serious incentive, this time. That car cleaning was good for the soul but bad for the nails, and I don’t want to do it again. Has anyone (besides my dad) ever succeeded in a no-eating-in-the car regime?

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Powerpuff Girls

Saturday, March 27th, 2010 | Connecting the Dots | Comments Off


Powerpuff Girls

Originally uploaded by kjda

Bubbles and Blossom. Buttercup won’t play… Which, if you know
anything at all about the Powerpuff Girls, is totally typical. You should have heard Lily–oops, Blossom–”but we need someone with beautiful black hair like Buttercup!” “No! I don’ wanna!”

I think she would have done it if Lily hadn’t demanded that she dress up. She’d already spent ten reluctant minutes as a fairy. Rory likes to be comfy.

I have been cleaning out closets, and wondering how we gather all these clothes that I don’t even like, that are stained or tacky (ok, in some cases, because I bought them). We have a friend who gives WONDERFUL handy-downs, so it’s not that…I think it’s that I make the same mistake with the girls that I used to make with myself: I buy stuff on sale. Which means there is nothing to go with it, or the color isn’t really right, or I only liked it because it was cheap…

I reformed, not too long ago, and cleaned out my own closet down to a finely honed, kinda monochromatic but very wearable small set. I try to do that for the girls, but I get very caught up in “Oh, but this is perfectly good,” or “oh, but Rory will grown into that some day.” Boys, too, on a lesser scale. And I have trouble pitching the stained tshirts if they’re the tshirts I actually liked.

But it’s spring, and spring will continually inspire me to dump more and more stuff, and bring out the summer stuff (ok, we’re WEEKS from that) and maybe it will all get a little better. I’ll watch Clean House, and that will make me ruthless.

One thing I did was to throw away a whole bunch of the clothes Rory wore when she first came home because (ok, this is awful) I associate them with this time when I wasn’t liking her, or life. I don’t want to see her in those pants. I hated her in those pants–and it had nothing to do with the pants. Those are tainted pants, and they had to leave the house. And so on. I feel really good about getting rid of them–like I symbolically threw away the way I felt back then, too.

KJ Dell’Antonia
sent from my iPhone

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