Decluttering and making a house a home: a family effort!

It is a blessing to have someone on your life who loves you enough to kindly tell you how you could do better…some one who loves you enough–as you already are–to help you grow even better. My big stepsister Dymphny is like that. Totally accepting, yet boldly courageous in proclaiming the truth with love.

She flew down to help me reorganize my home, because we have been fortunate enough to be able to rent the suite below us, and now have the whole house! Instead of 3 bedrooms for 9 people, we have 5 and a den, besides an extra little kitchen and bathroom. One of the most exciting parts is the large living room, which will be our new homeschool room, instead of the tiny, narrow dining room we’ve used for school till now.

Things have been rather quiet on my blog because they’ve been so packed here! The kids and I, with some help from Grandpa, my brother and my lovely landlord Joe, repainted the downstairs…transforming the pale, depressing, hospital-gown green suite into cute Bubblegum Pink bedrooms, a Thai Teal bedroom, and a English Daisy yellow schoolroom! 🙂

Everybody helped…

It was quite the fun project…home renovation and interior decorating 101! My 12 year daughter became an overnight IKEA expert and made a massive list of everything we needed to make our new space beautiful. Since I never usually buy many new things for our home, the list was huge, and we had a rather epic expedition involving a 5 hour shop and a U-Haul. Happily my sister and brother were there to help!

Of course my productivity manager came along as well…

We survived!! IKEA soft ice cream was a definite must in our way out the door.

But besides buying new things to make our space lovely…we had an even more important job to do: purging everything unnecessary, ugly, extra, etc, that was currently making our home cluttered, chaotic and well, rather resembling a ramshackle thrift store instead of a beautiful, intentional space. No more!

My daughter’s new bedroom

This is where having a loving big sister with an objective eye for crap came in so handy. She wasn’t going to let me hang on to anything that didn’t make my life better. Rather, she helped me dig out the precious things hiding under the clutter so I can display and enjoy them instead of having them tucked away and forgotten, like the fancy tea pot I bought for my birthday on my last IKEA trip last Advent…and still haven’t used, less than a month till my next birthday!

It’s a gift to have someone affirm that you’re better than some kind of recycling bin, and that you don’t need to hold on to everything that comes your way. Sometimes when trying to sort stuff alone it’s hard to cut the invisible strings of guilt that make you keep stuff for “one day” or because it’s from “so and so”…or because getting rid of stuff feels wasteful.

Sorting books

The minimalist mom Allie Casazza says that whatever takes up your space, takes up your time. You don’t need to lose time shuffling around odds and ends you don’t need. I’ve done this for years. And what’s really wasteful is harming your relationships because of unnecessary stress….not being able to find things, arriving late, not wanting to have people over because of mess, etc.

It’s so freeing to let go. Chuck those old shampoo bottles and extra creams into the recycling. Take pictures of all those kids drawings and then let them go. Let someone else enjoy those books and clothes you don’t need. Live with a lighter heart and be able to find things. A clear beautiful space is so calming. A study quoted on a Gretchen Rubin’s podcast Happier found that women’s cortisol levels, indicative of stress, were directly related to the amount of clutter in her home. No wonder I’ve been on edge!

I was so grateful to have Big Brothers to pick up our porch full of donations, and Half Price Rubbish Removal to come the next day. Seeing what we don’t need has opened our eyes to see how we could enjoy our home even better. Having space to do so more peacefully and enjoying the presence of family, including our IKEA expert building expert Opa, has been the best gift so far this season!

To Explore Without Fear

It’s been so long since I’ve written on my blog! I miss the way I can untangle all the thoughts in my head by letting them out onto the page. When I don’t write for a long time, my head feels ready to burst. I also miss all of you!

So what’s been keeping me so busy? A few extra writing assignments, decluttering my house (ha, I know, again/still!), prepping for homeschool, organizing fall activities for the kids, and generally trying to get anything done while holding my giant, jolly baby!

After a super busy Saturday, we settled down to watch an inspiring movie, based on a true story, called “We Bought a Zoo.” After losing his wife to illness, a man (played by Matt Damon) moves with his two children to the countryside to start over. The catch: the beautiful property they want to buy is a zoo and must be kept a zoo. So with great effort and a ton of work, they get it up and running again. They find the courage to keep viewing life as a adventure after loss. It’s a real testament to the power of hope.

I liked the message was that adventures await you “if you can only have 20 seconds of real courage.” Sometimes it just takes a moment of bravery and openness to new possibilities to make great things happen. And this fits well with my homeschool theme for the year, which is to explore without fear. It’s too easy to get stalled by overanalyzing everything and worrying about what might go wrong. What about what might go right?

I loved this saying which I saw on a ballet bracelet at the Dance Box store:

But Mother, what if I fall?

Oh, but my darling, what if you fly?

So in the spirit of adventure, two of my daughters are trying ballet and another one just had her first horseback riding lesson! They are all very happy. I’m so glad we decided to try new things in a spirit of hope, rather than holding back out of fear. Hope opens the door to possibility. As the hobbit says, you never know what adventure awaits you when you step outside your door.

How blogging helps prevent soul clutter…and house clutter, too!

Half a year ago, as I was busy sorting through my boxes and packing up my house for our move, I found all sorts of precious old papers–boxes of dusty journals that hadn’t seen the light of day for years.

For you see, before I had my blog, writing was a covert operation. Almost nobody was allowed to see my poems. My scribbles were hidden away, safe from scrutiny, safe from the ‘horrific danger’ of being disliked or dismissed.  I’ve grown a little since then, and realized that unshared art is like a silent opera…tons of emotion just burning to be released, but kept in a bottle. It’s worth it to risk people laughing at you, to make it possible for them to cry with you, hope with you, and rejoice with you.

So in honour of the publication of my first book of poetry, I’ve decided to release some of my earlier writings from their solitary confinement and share them with you. Perhaps some sappy love poems from my early days dating my husband, impassioned prayers from my time of conversion to my faith, or other melodramatic outpourings…So if every now and then something appears from “Anna’s archives,” I hope you’ll welcome it kindly and pat it on the head, even if it is a little bit puppy love…

And once I let it live in Crazy Land, I can recycle the original! So it’s all part of my mission to delcutter my house, and by sharing these pieces of me with you, also delcutter my soul. Where is your soul clutter? Is there something inside waiting to be shared? Set it free!

 

We are NOT our stuff

It’s easy to get mixed up about who we are…what is important to us and where we spend our time… Sadly those two things don’t always coincide. Sometimes we spend a lot of our time dealing with stuff that doesn’t really matter. Like our junk. Our millions of clothes, books, toys, papers, household supplies etc.     There’s a saying that where your treasure is, there is your heart also. We might think that our heart isn’t in our physical possessions, but if we spend huge amounts of time buying, organizing, sorting and maintaining them, then isn’t it true? Society (or at least advertisers) actually tries pretty hard to make us believe our happiness and identity does come from what we own. We define ourselves by our possessions:

I have Ferrari = I’m successful. I wear expensive jewelry = I’m classy. I have the latest fashions = I’m attractive. I eat organic = I’m pure.

There’s nothing wrong with these good things, but none of them actaully defines the core of who we are. None of these things come with us when we die. I believe it was St. John of the Cross who said, “At the evening of our lives we will be judged on love.”     So how does stuff relate to our capacity to love? St Augustine tells us that “any lessening of concupiscience (the disordered and selfish desire for or attachment to things) means an increase in charity (generous love for others).” So the less our heart is crammed with stuff, the more room there is for people.     I want to relate this again to how we use our time. What has the time you spend dealing with your excess stuff (at least if you have too much of it like me) prevented you from doing for others? Perhaps volunteering at an old folks home, visiting a lonely relative, having a friend over who really could use a heart to heart chat, etc.     Or what does needing to constantly clean and organize prevent you from doing for yourself? Reading great books? Exercising? Meditating? Praying? Reflecting? Writing? Wouldn’t doing these things make you happier than trying to shuffle around the belongings you don’t know what to do with?     We don’t want to live caught on the surface of life, amidst our clutter. We want to go deeper, love better, ponder life’s meaning and find ways to nourish our souls. Having too much stuff can trap us in the superficial…so there’s only one solution: get rid of it and free yourself to live better!     I’ll write more on doing major decluttering soon, including insights from organizational master Marie Kondo’s book “the life-changing magic of tidying up: the Japanese art of decluttering and organizing.” Until then, all the best, and remember, you are not your stuff, you are so much more! Trimming the excess clutter will only free you up to be more yourself… 

Unblogging My Clutter

Whatever you can’t give away, you don’t possess. It possess you.
Ivern Ball


For years I’ve had the problem of having way more stuff than I could handle. I’ve spent endless hours shuffling around junk and not knowing what to do with it. I’m constantly sorting, recyling and giving boxes to the thrift store, yet I never do more than melt the tip of the iceberg. I get paralyzed by the tiniest decisions…like keeping or chucking this trinket or piece of paper, and end up shoving it back in the box and running away to cook dinner.

My friend Reiko remembers me doing the same thing in highschool. “It seemed like every Saturday you were stuck inside cleaning your room again” she told me the other day, when I told her of my renewed mission to declutter my house. I realize now that what I was really doing was “neatening.” In her book “Let Go of Clutter,” organizational expert Harriet Schechter defines this as follows:

Neatening: straightening, tidying, and/or hiding things away to create the illusion of orderliness.

In other words, pretending. Ugh. I hate pretending. Trying to create an illusion of something I’m not. Keeping up appearances. What I really need is real change….to be liberated from the suffocating hold of too much stuff. I need to declutter, and this time not a little bit at a time, but in a radical major way.

Decluttering: discarding, removing, or markedly reducing any accumulation of material objects.

If it’s so obvious and simple, why is it so hard? Schechter believes we are hard-wired for hoarding. It’s an old survival instinct…our inner squirrel packing away nuts for a snowy day. Your waste-not-want-not squirrel might say while you attempt to declutter:

But it could be useful one day…
But it’s not broken…
But it was expensive…
But it was a gift from Aunt So-and-So…
But I don’t want to be wasteful and make more garbage…

The problem is that we live in a time at least in many parts of the world, of abundance rather than scarcity. Hoarding in this context makes no sense. We end up with more that we know what to do with…and as a result spend hours and hours every year shuffling it around, looking for new storage solutions, sorting and resorting.

If I had $10-15 for every hour I’ve spent sorting mismatched kids socks alone, I could likely take a cruise. Schechter suggests you add up all the minutes each day you spend sorting, looking for lost things, and trying to put away stuff that has no place of it’s own. If you value your own time, you’ll realize that clutter is a luxury you can’t afford. An hour a day wasted adds up to about $3500 a year!

What is your clutter preventing you from accomplishing instead? Playing music, taking an art class, trying new recipes, taking a long walk at the beach, taking time to stay connected with friends, getting a promotion? How does a messy house affect your sense of self-worth?

While I know clutter is a waste of time, space and money, and a stressful source of tension, I find it hard to deal with alone. I feel overwhelmed:


I’m really blessed to have some awesome friends who are willing to get up to the elbows in junk and chant, “Chuck! Chuck! Chuck!” So with their help and you all cheering me on (and sharing your best declutter tips, please!) I hope to at last conquer my clutter by letting it go…unblogging my emotional blocks around “stuff” to create a clear and peaceful home…and heart as well.

Laying the Foundation for Homeschool

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This summer I’ve been busy working to organize our home and lay the foundations for homeschool. While I prefer a flexible, creative approach to homeschool, rather than a workbook only style, I realize that having an orderly environment where we know where all our great books and supplies are is conducive to achieving this. So in this spirit we’ve been clearing out our junk (over 7 garbage bags have gone to the thrift store, not to mention all the garbage and recycling we’ve cleared out). And we’ve been organizing our homeschool books and supplies. My oldest daughter has had lots of fun helping write labels for them.

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She is actually, unlike some of my other kids, quite naturally orderly and loves all this house beautifying. We spent one morning hauling apart our overcrowded kids book shelf, giving away or recycling some, and putting the rest back in categories like stories, French books, reference books, science books, pre-school, arts and crafts, etc. After I took this picture we got out our dollar store labels and wrote all of these and put them on the shelves.

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My 8 year old was very satisfied:
“I’m so proud of us, Mama! Here, tell me to get a science book.”
“Ok, grab a science book.”
She ran and got it and showed me.
“See, we look at it and then we put it back where it goes!”
I’m so glad she gets excited about this; as order is not my natural forté it helps a lot!

We labeled our binders with partitions for our different subjects, too.

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I recently read a great post on the blog “Capturing the Charmed Life” about homeschooling:

The Art and Science of An Education

It’s a beautiful testament to the benefits of a flexible education tailored to your own children specifically. I like her broad vision of education as something that helps us learn how to live, not just how to pass certain exams. Definately worth reading for anyone interested in education or child-rearing.

Here’s a wonderful quote by John Taylor Gatto she included in her piece:

“Whatever an education is, it should make you a unique individual, not a conformist: it should furnish you with an original spirit with which to tackle the big challenges: it should allow you to find values which will be your road map through life; it should make you spiritually rich, a person who loves whatever you are doing; wherever you are, whomever you are with; it should teach you what is important, how to live and how to die”.

This is what I hope to do: expose my kids to great works of art, literature, science, etc and help them to develop a life-long love of learning. I also want to teach them to think for themselves, to care for others and to become the best people they can be. It’s a big goal; wish me luck!