Keeping it Simple

We’ve now KonMari-ed our clothes, books, papers, electronics, and linens, and the change in our house is palpable. The air feels fresher. It takes less time to do the regular maintenance work that used to overwhelm me. I’ve had time to tackle bigger jobs that I’ve been putting off, like cleaning out the fridge and our hall closet. With less stuff, everything just feels easier.

This process has forced me to recognize a few truths about myself. For starters, I am really easily overwhelmed, and I have been stressing myself out with junk. For another, I like to solve problems by buying something that will magically make everything better. I’ve come across more items bought in the hopes of making me more organized than I care to admit, and all of them sat, sad and abandoned, full of equally abandoned stuff.

Now that I only have about 50 items of clothing, I dress better. Because all of the clothes I’ve kept are things that I really love rather than emergency items bought because I felt like I needed them, I am able to put them together in interesting ways that (I think) look pretty great. For example:

20150901_131618Chambray shirt and midi skirt from Old Navy, Sam&Libby flats from Target, and faux-coral necklace from Wal-Mart for $5.

With all of this time freed up, I have more time to do the things I need to do, like reading for school, and the things I want to do, like cooking and going to the gym. And updating this blog.

KonMari Weeks 2&3: Books and Papers

We probably should have saved books until the end. We are not sentimental about much–our babies’ hospital bracelets, a few high school yearbooks, a few loose photos. But our books? That’s a different story.

I went to sleep the night before Book Day with a list in my mind. My nice Shakespeare collection, my Muriel Spark, my David Sedaris, about half of my sewing books, a few novels that I truly love. I went into the office in the morning and pulled these books from the shelves and set them aside. I announced to my husband that these books were all I needed and all I wanted to keep.

It was his turn. He disappeared into the office. A few hours later I found him on the couch sniffing an ancient paperback. Marie Kondo would not approve, but books are our weakness. We’ve managed to box up a few loads for Goodwill and a few loads for 2nd and Charles, a used-book chain nearby. Books are just going to take a little longer for us.

This weekend was Paper Day. We had about 8 file boxes, all from various homes and periods in our lives, all full of who knows what. I put on some country music (Kacey Musgraves’ new album) and started opening files to see what treasures and trash lay inside.

The criteria for paper is simple: Throw it away. What we need are our birth certificates and Social Security cards, the deed to our house, the titles to our cars, and our insurance policies. Everything else is available online. I extended the criteria to include things that would trip our kids out after we die, so I kept my license to practice massage therapy, some honorable mention writing awards I won back in 2004, the results of my IQ test from second grade, and a few letters from my misspent youth that I thought the girls would enjoy reading in 60 years.

When I was done, I had about three folders’ worth of material, and it all fit in one file box. The husband ran the shredder for hours and kept pausing to let it cool off.

The one thing I haven’t gone through are my dad’s papers. I pulled his file box out of the closet and the first thing I lay hands on was a court document requesting that something be expunged from his record. Jeez, Dad. I put it away and decided to wait until I dealt with sentimental items to tackle his life.

Our closets have remained pristine for two weeks now. Our bedroom remains peaceful and uncluttered. Right now Clara is picking up various things on the living room floor and throwing them like an emotionally disturbed monkey while Chloe ignores her in favor of Peppa Pig. This is why we need to KonMari our house–anything that can add a small element of calm is a good thing.

In Search of Order: We’re Kondo-ing Our House

I’m a little late to the cultural phenomenon that is Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing. It’s been popping up on my internet radar since January. I added it to my Amazon wishlist in March, put myself on a library wait-list for it in June, and just kept missing it somehow.

Then, a little over a week ago, I took myself on a mom-cation. That’s when you turn going grocery shopping into a long and fulfilling retreat by also going to the bookstore and Ulta Beauty, where I tried on a full face of makeup and bought absolutely nothing. (Sorry, Ulta employees.) There it was, right on the front shelf in the bookstore, along with The Girl on The Train, which I have also had on my wishlist for about six months. So I bought both of them and had the best weekend ever.

Kondo writes that she has been obsessed with homekeeping since she was five, and that once she realized that cleanliness and organization were more important to a peaceful and functional home than cooking or sewing skills, she switched her focus and devoted herself to tidying. As a soon-to-be FACS teacher, that struck home. Is organization and “tidying” something that we can teach our students? Studies have shown that the level of cleanliness and organization in a home has a correlation to children’s IQs. If I could give my students a guide to creating a clean, functional, and well-loved space, would I also be giving them a guide to parenting, to environmentalism (by way of avoiding over-consumption,) and to saving money (by investing only in loved items rather than storage systems to hold all the rest)?

Reading over some online reviews of Kondo’s book, I found some points of contention that seem weird to me. For one, a lot of people had trouble with the idea of talking to your belongings, thanking them for their service, and thinking about their comfort as well as your own. Maybe it’s just a lonely middle child thing, but that actually taps into something pretty deep for me. I’ve definitely felt the sadness of an abandoned t-shirt or a pair of shoes that sat, forgotten, in the trunk of my car. Even if you’re not into literal animism, I think that we could all agree that if we treated our things with respect, rather than as disposable and meaningless, we would take better care of them and amass fewer piles of crap.

For another, many reviewers seemed upset about the idea of getting rid of so much. And it is scary. But man, once you start filling those bags for Goodwill, you feel so free.

This weekend we Kondo-ed our clothes. Putting every article of clothing in one pile looked terrifying. Like this:

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You see how shaky that photo is? That’s because I was literally shaking. With fear. Of what we would find.

While our children slid down Clothes Mountain, my husband and I got to work, picking up each item and asking ourselves if we loved it. For my husband, this meant getting rid of some shirts and ties he’s had since high school (!?!?). For me, it meant digging deep, even deeper than my closet purge took me in April.

It took two days, but when we were done all of our closets looked like a million freaking bucks. And then still do. I’m down to about 40 total pieces of clothing, excluding lounge wear and gym clothes. That’s for all four seasons, but when I look at my closet, I don’t feel deprived. I feel like I have even more to wear than ever, because everything there is something that I truly love and feel great wearing.

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Dat closet floor.

Dat closet floor.

Rather than a dresser covered in laundry, we have four empty drawers, and I got to take over a drawer for my jewelry and makeup and everything else I don’t want the kids to touch. Yes, that is a Tarot deck. I’m the child of 70’s hippies.

Drawers filled with only the best t-shirts.

Drawers filled with only the best t-shirts.

This drawer has no handle, so you can only open it by removing the drawer next to it and pushing it from the back. That's what I call

This drawer has no handle, so you can only open it by removing the drawer next to it and pushing it from the back. That’s what I call “child-proofing.”

It’s changed the feel of our whole house. Our bedroom is now peaceful. I’m no longer overwhelmed by laundry, and the girls have shown some respect for their dresser drawers for once and resisted the urge to empty them onto the floor of their room. I was able to see what they needed (how does that baby have no pajamas? Where did they go?) and I took them shopping for school clothes today with a list and a purpose.

On Saturday we’re going to do our books, as per the KonMari Method. Clothes first, then books, then papers, komono (miscellany), and mementos. Books and papers are both big categories for us, as we are book hoarders and we like to file things and then forget all about them, so those are going to make significant dents in our household junk.

So far, I would agree with the millions of people that have already bought Kondo’s book and applied her Method: she knows what she’s doing. And I already have a few ideas about how to incorporate lessons in tidying into my lesson plans.

Simplifying: Or, the Art of eBay

I just finished my third semester of grad school. Just two more to go and I will be a fully licensed Family and Consumer Sciences teacher, ready to step into a classroom and make huge messes with a bunch of middle schoolers.

Here are my summer obsessions:

First, Minimalism

I was scrolling through Facebook at work one night when I clicked on one of those articles that people repost and that usually lead to something dumb. It didn’t. It led to a blog on capsule wardrobes that I could not stop reading, www.un-fancy.com. I mean, mind blown. I went home and, in the course of a single hour, pared my wardrobe down to about 40 items, including shoes.

40 items may sound like a lot to some of you, but let me assure you, it isn’t. We’re talking 10 pairs of shoes, 10 tops, 6 pants, 4 skirts, 3 dresses, and 3 cardigans, plus assorted scarves and belts. I purged my drawers at the same time, keeping only loungewear and exercise gear in them. It was scary but also freeing, and I have to say that I look so much cuter every day now that I don’t have all of that dreck to wade through. It turns out I only like two colors, anyway, so everything in my closet matches everything else.

After the purge, I get ready for my day in about two seconds. For example, this morning: I put on a pair of cropped jeans, a white tank top, a flowy white shirt with 3/4 sleeves, brown sandals, and a gold necklace with an arrow charm and I was ready. I did this all while my three-year-old had a tantrum on the floor and my one-year-old poured her juice on her lap.

What am I doing with all of those old clothes, you may ask? Well, I am selling them on eBay, and so far I have made about $60 in two weeks, which was enough to buy a floor-length infinity dress for an upcoming wedding (I figured, what better piece to add to a capsule wardrobe than a dress that is literally 100 dresses?). I got the eBay app on my phone and it takes literally two minutes to set up a sale. I ordered a pack of Priority Mail flat rate bubble envelopes from the post office (free!) and there you have it. I have also been working on a capsule wardrobe for the girls, so I have been secretly clearing out the treasure trove of fancy dresses from their closet (just don’t tell Chloe.)

Also, don’t tell her about the toy purge I did a week ago. She still hasn’t noticed that 50% of the toys are gone.

Meal Planning Apps

I actually started using a meal planning app during the school year, when time was tight and it was tough to get everyone on the same page food-wise. I use eMeals, which has a ton of plans available and lets you customize your plan based on your preferred grocery store, in many cases.

Every week, I download a shopping list and menu. All of the recipes are there, and most take 20 minutes to prepare. So easy. And if there’s something else I want to try one week, I can customize my shopping list on the phone app to accommodate it.

This summer we are going mostly vegetarian. Mainly because I listened to The Splendid Table podcast on factory farming and it made me physically ill. Did you know that a pig is as smart as a three-year-old human? Meat is delicious but sad.

Cash Back Apps

Got Ibotta. Have earned $12 in two weeks, which went into my PayPal account and helped me buy that infinity dress. All through rebates on things I would have had to purchase anyway, like bananas, milk, and toilet paper. As long as you’re not buying stuff you don’t need just for the rebate, this is a great way to save some money.

So, my big summer plans are to use the fancy new sewing machine I bought myself for my birthday to make curtains for the girls’ room and maybe some knit tunics for myself to wear to the gym, to make this damn rug that I have already committed to finishing (more on that later), and to get rid of pretty much everything in my house because, let’s face it, I will never use that fondue pot. Exciting, right?

Breakfast is Served

We were in line at Target when I asked Chloe what she wanted to be for Halloween.

“Uuuuummmmmmm… a pancake!”

The lady in front of us started laughing.

“Go with it,” she said. “It will be a lot easier to make than some other costumes she could come up with.”

I realized that she was right and stopped myself from asking Chloe for other ideas. She wants to be a pancake, she can be a pancake. And, since Clara can’t voice her opinions yet, she gets to be the Bacon.

In Progress

Once I thought out the process, these costumes were super easy to put together. I used wool felt from Jo-Ann Fabrics, fabric glue, 5/8″ elastic, and a jewelry box spray painted yellow for the butter. All in all, it took a total of two hours to make both costumes start to finish, spread out over a few afternoons.

Pancake

Baby Bacon

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Chloe also had “Storybook Character Dress-Up Day” at her preschool, so I had to come up with another costume for that. My first idea was “Bunny” from Goodnight Moon, but I couldn’t find blue-and-white striped pajamas anywhere. So we went with Max from Where the Wild Things Are instead. I don’t think anyone at her school got it, but she was happy to announce to everyone who asked “I Max! Rawr!”

My Max

I used a hoodie from Target that already had ears attached, the tail from a cat costume, and a paper crown I made myself and attached to the hoodie with double-stick tape.

Trick-or-treating lasted all of 30 minutes before we had a total meltdown and had to go home, but I think they had fun. Maybe not as much fun as I had making their costumes, but fun nonetheless.

Bonus: I made a little extra money making this top for a friend who wanted to be Alabama from True Romance for Halloween.5970748_orig

 

The top was the only thing she couldn’t find anywhere, so I offered my services. Using a top from the thrift store as a pattern, I cut a very simple batwing shape out of light blue chiffon, leaving plenty of extra fabric at the neckline, hem, and sleeves in order to create the gathers. Can I just say that I have never sewed elastic directly onto fabric before? It took a few tries before I figured out the best way to go about it, but once I realized that you have to pull the elastic really and truly taut and use a straight stitch with a medium length it was an absolute breeze. And best of all, she was happy with the finished product!

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Promises to My Daughters: Or, Ways in Which I Will Not Ruin Your Lives (Fingers Crossed!)

At thirty-two I find myself the mother of two little girls. I never imagined myself as the mother of any boys, and when I realized I was pregnant for the second time I only made lists of girls’ names because I couldn’t even imagine having anything else. Even though I’ve had all these years to daydream about how I’ll raise my girls, it’s still taken me two years into the process of actually having them to define a few things for myself. About how I mean to raise them. About the kind of women I hope to help them become.

Here are the promises I’m making to myself and to Chloe and Clara.

1. Tell them they’re beautiful, every day. Because they are. When Chloe smiles, when Clara peeps around the corner and blinks her long eyelashes, when I see the reflection of their father in their eyes or in the little turn-up at the end of their noses, they are the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen. And they always will be, and so I will always tell them. I kiss them on the ends of their turned-up noses and say “You’re beautiful, my girl” and watch them fall asleep with little smiles lingering on their lips, and I know I’ve told them the truth, and that it’s one they need to hear every day of their lives to combat the images and opinions that will come their way soon.

2. Never, ever discuss weight. Mine or theirs. No little girl needs to hear about her mother’s dissatisfaction with her own body. Nor does she need to be on a diet. Or even think about anything like that. I know that my daughters will get ideas about what women should look like from television and movies and cartoons that portray girls as long-legged, wasp-waisted fairy creatures rather than human beings with thighs and realistically-sized boobs. I know that, but I also know that I can counteract a little of that if I emphasize strength and good health rather than thinness for its own sake. If I could have back the hours I wasted as a kid daydreaming about ways in which I could magically lose ten pounds, I could write a novel or build a suite of furniture. I want to pass those hours on to Chloe and Clara, and I want to see how they use them. Fatness isn’t the end of the world by a long shot, but dullness is. And nothing is more dull than talking about caloric intake and diet restrictions.

3. Teach them how their body works. Even if it’s by giving them a copy of Our Body, Ourselves and letting them know I’m available for questions afterwards, I want them to know how being a woman actually, physically works. And to teach them the proper names for their anatomy, so that they may be spared the pain of being physically averse to the word “vagina.” As I am.

4. Help Them, No Matter What. They will make choices with which I disagree. But the fact is, I will always be their mother, and my job is to teach them how to go about making the best choices they can and then supporting them, no matter what. I’ll never be able to change their minds (and I wouldn’t want to), but I can always lend a hand, put in a good word, and be a mom, no matter how old they are.

5. Teach Them How To Dress Appropriately. Listen, I believe in self-expression through fashion. You do you, and all that. But there’s a difference between expressing your individuality and wearing a micro-mini to a funeral. Let’s just say I have some regrets in this area, and that I can only hope that my youth made up for these lapses.

6. Teach Them How To Be a Good Friend. Know when to tell the absolute truth, and when to tell the other party that they look absolutely stunning no matter what. It’s a delicate balance, and I hope to be able to teach them this by example, as it’s pretty hard to verbalize.

7. Teach Them What It Means To Be a Woman. It means working twice as hard because you’re expected to be half as good. It means being twice as loud because your voice will be ignored twice as much. It means taking criticisms that you’re “shrill,” “pushy,” or “bitchy” as compliments. It means being judged by your appearance and having to learn not to give a damn/surprising everyone. It means being human plus a little extra effort to be seen as such. It means that you can make human beings inside your body and that some people will see that as weakness rather than the ultimate source of strength. It means that you have to be twice as strong.

8. Teach Them How To Be Self-Sufficient. My girls will know how to change a tire, use power tools, cook a well-balanced meal, sew a piece of clothing, play an instrument, grow food in a garden, use baking soda as shampoo, and start a fire with no lighter or matches. Just in case.

9. Remind Them That Their Sister Is Their Best Friend. Nothing makes me happier than watching them interact now. Clara grabs Chloe’s foot, Chloe grabs Clara’s hand, and they play a game of tug-of-war and laugh hysterically. Clara reaches for Chloe and pulls the pacifier out of her mouth and then beats her with it, as savagely as an eight-month-old can, and Chloe laughs like it’s the funniest thing that’s ever happened. I want them to always know how important this relationship is and how lucky they are to have a sister, a person who knows them better than anyone else in the world can.

10. Teach Them How To Put On Eyeliner and That A Little Deodorant Can Prevent Upper-Inner-Thigh-Chafe. I have only just learned these things. My daughters will benefit from my follies.