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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First projects around the new place

In between unpacking, rearranging and painting, we are finally able to poke our noses out a bit and start getting a feel of what we can do around the place. I’m still majorly bummed out about all the concrete, but somewhat comforted by the empty plot the town council allowed us to use.

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The fish tank. Gambusia fish for mosquito control were close to the top of our priority list, so here they are, thriving despite the humble look of their habitat. The tank looks somewhat weather beaten, but I intend to camouflage it with potted plants all around until we can work out something better.

Some garden photos. There is a bunch of plants waiting to be replanted, and a few others already in their permanent place. The soil here is very heavy clay with a strong tendency to retain water, so we’re adjusting our plans accordingly.

I look forward to posting more updates of our work on making this place homey and inviting.

Some of the best things are free

Things are pretty crazy here with the holidays and me trying to put the house in order after the move, but I just wanted to share a couple of old photos I came across while browsing through my files… these are our dining table and chairs, delivered to our house by my sister-in-law some 8 years back. Friends of hers got a new dining set and were giving the old one away, and she thought of us – at the time, we were using a table salvaged by my husband from a roadside a few days before our marriage, and some folding chairs. Getting this dining set was a very welcome gift and, all this time later, it’s still going strong.

The table opens to comfortably seat ten people, and has had twelve guests gathered around it on some occasions. I love its rounded corners – so much less painful for little children to bump into. And, because it’s a used table, I don’t get very worked up over every little scratch or nick. I actually find it hard to imagine the amount of stress that I would undergo with expensive new furniture and a bunch of kids who love to jump on sofas and do crafts on the dining table (which also serves, combined, as our craft corner, study corner, bread kneading station, ironing board, etc…)

I wish all my Jewish readers a very happy Sukkot, and hope to post more updates soon!

Making progress

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In between all the rush of unpacking and preparing for the High Holy Days, we are getting to know our new neighborhood.

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There are lots of beautiful green nooks and trees that are great for climbing.

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Now that I have actually made a dent in the boxes and have all the essentials on hand, I look forward to making progress on this weedy patch of land and seeing what we can grow and do there.

I will post more updates soon!

Can We Really Make A Difference?

 

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“Is the wave of sustainable living, local-centered economy and ecological awareness a marginal movement, or can it actually have a global impact? I’ve heard many people say that we won’t be able to make any difference, because for every conscientious consumer there are a million reckless spenders, and for every organic backyard garden there are a million plastic bags of junk food. Others say that the yearning to return to closer, more self-reliant communities is nothing but hopeless nostalgia of people who have failed to adjust to a modern world.”

Read more in my latest Mother Earth News post.

The trouble with “measuring up”

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A huge stumbling block in the path of people who wish to simplify and live a quiet, slow and purposeful life, is being part of a social circle who all have bigger houses, more possessions, fancier gadgets, who take trips abroad every year, etc, etc.

An important thing to remember when you say to yourself, “how come they are able to afford it?!” is that you don’t really know whether they can. You don’t really know what goes on behind the closed doors of people’s homes, or in their bank accounts. Perhaps these people are living way beyond their means. Perhaps they are in debt. Or perhaps they afford their super-fancy, extra-packed lifestyle by maintaining two careers which leave hardly any family time at all.

And if you are a mother who stays home with her children, some people might deliberately or accidentally make you feel inferior, or this feeling might come across on its own when you’re reading about someone who “successfully” combined a career and family. And again, the true price of what it all entailed is seldom brought up.

Or perhaps you just walk into someone’s house and lament how this lady has it all together while you don’t, and seemingly never will, and forget that no one has our unique set of strengths, weaknesses, experience and family situation. I’m not saying we shouldn’t learn from one another. But this learning should be a thing of strength and growth, not just useless comparison that leads us to feel debilitating inferiority.

Maybe, when you were growing up, there was a child of your parents’ friends, or perhaps a cousin who was so much more accomplished than you, who spoke German and French and played the violin, and could do all the things you could never even dream of doing. Perhaps your parents spent your entire childhood and adolescence unfavorably comparing you with that “role model”, until you felt about that unfortunate unsuspecting child the same way Emma Woodhouse felt about Jane Fairfax – an almost unconscious grudge that is as unjustified as it is difficult to overcome.

G-d made us unique. He wants and expects us to improve, but not by striving to become the image of somebody else. His boundaries are wide enough so that within them, we can freely be just what we are.

Image: lovely oil painting by Trent Gudmundsen 

Be your own friend

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As mothers, we are nurturers, giving to others as naturally as breathing. But what happens when you feel your fountain is about to run dry? I can tell you it happened to me more than once. In the early years of marriage, with two children under two, living in a remote place with no close friends or family support and with a husband who worked long hours at the time – there were many, many days when I felt overwhelmed.

Nurturing ourselves is something we usually have to take charge of, because no one can know our material and spiritual needs as well as we do. We are the ones who know whether we are tired, hungry, in need of a shower, or preoccupied about something that keeps sitting in the back of our mind.

Basic needs have to be taken care of. Of course, sometimes we will be required to step out of our usual limits to take care of others, such as at times when there is a new baby, or a child is sick, or any other emergency. But it doesn’t work in the long term. We simply cannot ignore our own needs on a regular basis and still expect ourselves to have the mental energy to nurture others. One can only give what one has, it is a basic law; just as I cannot give a thousand dollars if I don’t have them, I cannot give relaxation and peace of mind to my family if I’m an overwrought, exhausted nervous wreck by the end of a day (or even worse, close to its beginning).

Of course, here we reach a point when an argument might follow, discussing what is a basic need and what isn’t. We are all vastly different and come from different cultural backgrounds; some would say that going on a vacation abroad or having two cars is a basic need for them. I will, however, focus on three things that are important to me in order to get through a day successfully: food, sleep, shower and (I know it’s a fourth) some quiet, peaceful time.

I will start with sleep, because lack of it is what makes me malfunction most seriously, and it isn’t something I can simply catch up on whenever I need to (as opposed to food). Recently, when I realized I can hardly drag myself out of bed most mornings, it occurred to me I simply must make getting more sleep a priority. To do this, I basically had 3 options: go to bed early, get up later in the morning, or take a midday nap. Now, getting up later in the morning is not a really feasible option most days, and I can’t always count on getting quiet time in the middle of the day. So my only real alternative was going to bed early. Of course, it would mean missing out on things I could be doing during the evening (whether housework or my own projects), but as I found out, I don’t really do anything constructive anyway when I’m too tired, so it’s not a big miss-out.

Then there’s food. Here we’re doing good; I sit down to eat with my kids at least 3 times a day, and often we have a snack once or twice in between. However, I mostly make one-dish meals (pasta, soup, crustless quiche, stuffed peppers) and there are those days when cooking just doesn’t fit in. On such days, I’m thankful for frozen leftovers, and when it comes to the worst, there’s always eggs, toast and oatmeal.

Then there’s spiritual life. I consider it a must, like food or sleep, but it doesn’t have to happen through solid long periods of inward reflection and prayer. I simply close my eyes, for a few moments several times a day, to lift up my thanks, sorrows, hopes, requests and frustrations.

Now we come to a point which, I have noticed, is often debated, regarding its necessity and even advisability. I’m talking about having one’s own projects and making time for them, for enjoyment and personal growth. Here I see two polar attitudes; there are those who say your own comes first and you are entitled to anything as long as it makes you “happy”. Others self-righteously give up on anything unrelated to motherhood and housekeeping, and feel it would be selfish to have any hobbies, friends or intellectual pursuits.

I am somewhere in between. I certainly have enough in my home and with my children to keep me busy from the moment I rise till the moment I go to bed, but I find it stimulating, enriching and uplifting to carve out time for writing. Being an author is another “me”, something that exists apart from the daily grind. There are also crafts, reading, expanding my knowledge about things that interest me. Those things  occupy only a small portion of my time, but it’s like the icing on the cake. An added bonus is that kids who have a mama who loves to learn and create will love doing those things too.

Others come first. I cannot keep little children waiting (not for any considerable length of time, anyway) for their meals, naps, baths, boo-boo kissing, storytelling and discipline. But I can and will make sure that I am not forgotten either. For long hours every day, I’m the only adult in the house, and I sometimes feel alone; sometimes there’s the pressing need for a friend, a mature, generous, motherly-type friend who would kindly ask: how are you feeling? Is there anything I can do for you? What would make you feel better, more at peace, more comfortable?

I don’t have to wait for someone else to ask those questions. I can be my own friend. I can ask myself: how am I feeling? What can I, realistically, do for myself right now? What would make me feel better, what can help me relax? Is it a cup of tea? Baking some cookies? Curling up on the couch while my children are playing on the floor? And sometimes, in the desperate busyness of a day, I can tell myself, “hold on. It’s crazy right now, but as soon as things calm down, as soon as the little people get their necessary portion of attention, you can have some for yourself.” It doesn’t make me lazy or selfish. It makes me a responsible mother who teaches her children self-worth and self-respect.