Clutter: the perennial problem

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A few short months after we were married, I already saw the clutter beginning to accumulate. It has the most sinister ways to creep in. Old newspapers and bills, empty plastic bags, a few items that were lovingly given to us, but are of little use… it takes a time to sort through it all!

In addition, I soon discovered a slight difference of attitudes between my husband and myself when it comes to stuff. I see anything that isn’t useful or beautiful as superfluous, and will gladly throw or give it away. My husband will stick to anything he thinks we might ever use, someday, somehow In a house with very little storage space, this usually means piles of clutter.

Here’s what happened one night shortly after we were married. My husband came from work, holding two unrecognizable metal objects in his hands.

“Aren’t they nice?”  he asked enthusiastically.
“What are these?”
“Well, I don’t actually know. But aren’t they cool?”

Don’t get me wrong – I’m not complaining. I have a creative and resourceful husband who can take what others would label as “junk”, make a few tweaks here and there, and produce excellent and useful items. Our very first living room table was found abandoned on the curb, and restored just a few days before our wedding.

Most of our furniture was either found and repaired, or we got it used. It saved us a good deal of money, and is very useful. However, we also have much (too much, in my opinion) stuff that gathers dust on our shelves, taking up limited storage space. Not that I think having more storage space is a solution! Rather, it tempts you to hoard more and more stuff if you have such a tendency.

All our house moves were seen by me as opportunities to get rid of unnecessary clutter. Moving is the perfect time to do that, because you are forced to go through all your things and decide what is important enough to be wrapped, put into a box, and taken with you to your new home. Often, you will find things you even forgot you had – and ironically, even though you hadn’t used them for years and didn’t miss them at all, once you see them you are unable to say goodbye.

There is a certain box that has been sitting with us, unpacked, through two house moves. I figure that if we could live without thinking about its contents for four years, we aren’t likely to ever need it. My husband begs to differ. I have learned to let some things slide, however.

I think that once in a while, I will just pretend we are moving again, and simply let go. Let go of unnecessary items and simplify our life. It feels good.

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Who is looking for perfection?

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Today, just after the holiest and most awe-inspiring days of the new year, I was so happy to discover this… it’s something I wrote way back, when I was a new mom, and it rings just as true today.

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God is not looking for perfection, and though I always knew this, in my mind, I think that it only began to sink into my heart not so long ago. It cost me a great many tears until I reached this realization, but the reward was infinitely wonderful, because it gives a sense of security and confidence each one of us, as His precious child, deserves.

He is not, and cannot be, looking for perfection, because He did not make me perfect. He left room for improvement, and He delights in, and appreciates the efforts I undertake to improve.

Yes, there is the standard (vast and challenging) set of commandments each practicing Jew sees him or herself committed to. But other than that, He watches and appreciates me according to my own abilities and limitations – not those of other people.

For example, even though I am dedicated to – and know my place is in – my home, with my family, caring for my children, even though I have never been happy and content anywhere the way I am in my home throughout each day, the practical truth is that I’m challenged when it comes to everyday domestic tasks. And I mean, really challenged, which is why, when I say “if I can do it, anyone can”, I mean it most sincerely. I think the reason for this is a combination of natural clumsiness and forgetfulness (I’m prone to knocking things over, and I’d be lost without my notes and lists), and not being required to lend a hand around the house when I was a child, which could have formed helpful lifelong habits (but which undoubtedly would have been frustrating for whoever tried to engage me in helping).

So, if someone stops by one day and examines my house with a critical eye, perhaps some lingering undusted spots may be noticed, and some lack of order. But God doesn’t see this. He knows what my house had been like before, and knows the effort I put in to achieve a certain measure of tidiness. He knows the long hours I spend working in my home every day, long after the baby goes to sleep, scrubbing floors, ironing and working in my kitchen. He knows I do it all with a happy heart, thinking about how to make life more comfortable and orderly for my family. And he appreciates it, even though I might be forever and always lagging behind someone else’s standards.

He doesn’t want or expect us to be perfect. He wants our dedication, our faithfulness to the important tasks handed to us, our willingness to improve, our best efforts, our cheerfulness, our joy in being with Him, our appreciation of the blessings that adorn our lives. And He wants, appreciates and loves us, just the way we are, with our weaknesses, our misconceptions and our failings.

He sees us through eyes of compassion and love, which is how we are to be with our own children: to value and cherish them for what they are, never compare them with others, but celebrate their achievements as they make progress at their own pace. Who knows how many children’s souls have been terribly wounded, not by lack of care or provision, but by constant remarks about some other child, who speaks three languages and plays the violin. Thankfully, God is beyond human failings. Yes, He will never fail us.

We should know that each and every little thing is rewarded, even when it is seemingly noticed and appreciated by no one. He sees, He knows, and that is why pleasing people or measuring up to other people’s standards is not supposed to be our primary goal. He looks at our heart, and may we ever and always be strengthened and comforted by this knowledge.

Moving mess

So, we’ve finally got ourselves at the new place, and because I’m brave I’m going to show you a glimpse of the jumbled mess I’m dealing with right now. Wish me luck as I sort through it all!

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Backyard – overgrown weed jungle. I’m hoping to set up a little chicken coop and run here. Yesterday I was happy to find out that other people around her raise poultry in their back yard, too.

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A huge stack of boxes in the living room. I can’t seem to find my arms and legs right now, but it will all get done eventually.

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The kitchen is a huge mess right now, but I hope you can see the potential. It’s actually my favorite part of the house. There are two sinks, a lovely granite countertop and a window that lets in plenty of light.

Unclogging Drains

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You know those times when you’re washing dishes and the water drains just a little bit slowly in the sink, and you’re trying to deny it and say, “oh, it’s probably nothing”? Well, don’t do that, because you might just find yourself with a fully clogged drain before you know it! Treat the problem while it’s manageable.

Read more in my latest Mother Earth News post:

“The simplest and most obvious thing is prevention: try not to let your drains get mucky in the first place. Clean plates thoroughly before placing them in the sink, especially plates with lots of fatty/oily residue, and try to catch hair and other gunk before it slides down your bathroom drain.”

On a more serious note, my thoughts right now are with Bruce and Carol McElmurray, who have fled from wildfires in their area in Southern Colorado and left their beloved mountain cabin behind. Bruce and Carol and their dogs are safe, but they might never return to their home. I’m crossing my fingers and hoping for a miracle. I’m sure they will appreciate your prayers.

Pesach cleaning for the desperate

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After a decade of marriage, it’s probably time to come to terms with the fact that cleaning will never be my hobby. There are many aspects of homemaking which I enjoy – cooking, definitely. Baking, mmm. Taking crisp, freshly washed, sun-dried clothes off the line – absolutely. But cleaning? Frankly, I can think of a thousand pleasanter ways to spend my time.

Of course, since we all appreciate clean floors, bathrooms and windows, I do clean, but the weeks between Purim and Pesach have never been my favorite time of the year. Add to this the fact that I’m due to have a baby in a couple of weeks, and you’ll get a picture that doesn’t exactly fit in with a marathon of vigorous cleaning. In fact, if I can but manage to drag myself off the sofa and do some dishes, I’m likely to congratulate myself at this stage.

Right now, it’s so much about letting go and lowering my (and everyone else’s!) expectations. We are facing a few stressful issues, but I’m really determined to reach the moment of going to meet my baby in as peaceful, stress-free state as possible. Last time around, I wasn’t able to do this. I was consumed by thinking about what I still need to do, and felt nearly cheated by the baby arriving a couple of days before due date, when I had counted on an extra week (my first two pregnancies lasted around 41 weeks).  Obviously, it was completely irrational, but I felt as though someone hit me on the head with a hammer and sent me headlong to a place where I wasn’t supposed to be yet.

So, this time, I don’t care what happens around me. I don’t care if my waters break at the precise moment when I’m trying to scrub the stove. I don’t care if my house isn’t really clean. Pesach is about getting rid of any trace of leavened bread. We’ll make sure to throw it all out. Dust on top of bookshelves isn’t leavened bread. Messy closets aren’t leavened bread. Grime on windows isn’t leavened bread.

Sure, it’s really great to take the whole kitchen-scourging thing a step further, and make it into full-blown spring cleaning. But you know what? I can’t do it this year. G-d has given me this pregnancy, and He has also scheduled it for this time of the year. I am sure He didn’t want me to forego the rest and relaxation so necessary in these last weeks of pregnancy, nor to exhaust myself by trying to do more than I am physically able to, nor to risk hurting my back by bending, lifting, or climbing ladders.

So I’m going to putter around, doing the easy stuff like sorting out our kosher for Pesach food items. My husband and older kids will pitch in with what they can. And I’m going to have my baby when she comes. And the dust will accumulate a little further, and wait for the time when I’ve recovered my health and strength. And life will go on.

Also read this lady’s down-to-earth and practical article – a breath of fresh air to all who have been harassed by the upcoming holiday and all the cleaning it entails.

Green cleaning: simple and effective

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I have a wide array of all kinds of cleaning agents, sprays, powders, liquids, etc, under my kitchen sink – but in general, I prefer to leave them there. My favorite cleaning agents are vinegar, baking soda, and citric acid crystals. Combined with hot water and elbow grease, these will get almost everything clean.

It’s especially important to avoid most commercial cleaning products if you have allergies. Quoting from this article:

“Most household cleaning products are harmful to children. According to research done by the University of Minnesota [1], several chemicals found in the home are linked to allergies. They cause birth defects, cancer, and psychological disorders. The Consumer Protection Safety Commission [2] states that since 1970, asthma cases have increased by 59 percent. Children under 15 years of age have suffered from asthma at a higher rate of 41 percent. The data is alarming to healthcare professionals.”

While it may be difficult to find an unequivocal link between this or that cleaning product and allergies/asthma, one thing is certain: cleaning with stuff that you can actually put in your food has to be safer. It’s better for the environment, too. And as a bonus, it will save you a bundle in the long run!

Read more about green cleaning in this post.

When you are just swamped

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You don’t remember when you’ve last had a night of uninterrupted sleep. You haven’t washed your hair in three weeks. Your friends send anxious messages asking if they’ve offended you somehow, because you haven’t returned their calls for ages. There’s a dark unrecognized sticky puddle under your fridge that you are going to tackle as soon as you have the opportunity – and you’ve been saying this for two months at least.

It seems you are on a treadmill, running and running and never getting anywhere.

Congratulations! You are a Mom to little ones.

This is often the picture of my day-to-day life. Sometimes toddlers can actually be even more intense than newborns. So it’s not like things don’t get done… but admittedly, very little gets done, and this little costs a major effort. The two things that get me through right now are the following:

1. Appreciate the small things. You’ve washed the dishes? Emptied the garbage can? Wiped the bathroom mirror? Great! So what if these aren’t major projects or fancy meals you can show off at the end of the day (because, you know, a sink can refill itself in the span of an hour around here). You still deserve to be appreciated for your efforts in keeping a clean, livable home.

2. Take advantage of the little snippets of time. If the baby is settled down on the rug with a couple of toys, you know you probably don’t have hours to rearrange your closet. But you do have five minutes to take the washing off the line or water the house plants.

And, finally, this too shall pass. From my experience babies get a lot better at entertaining themselves once they start crawling. And, in the more distant future, they might find the company of other people to be more exciting than their mother’s. So we had better enjoy this while it lasts.