Learning the Swing of Things

A friend of my husband and his new bride, my fellow member of our Second Wives of Widowers circle and a short lady, had us over for a movie night.

At popcorn time, she deftly climbed on a dinette chair to reach her supplies on the upper shelf.

Last night as we prepared to join them again, my husband loaded one of our FOUR folding step stools into the car.


Selected two of the seven rubber jar-grippers that threaten to overwhelm kitchen tool drawer and added them to the stack of dvd’s…

I am so proud of him.


When we learn what is most needed, we likely have some bounty for fire-stricken Santa Rosans, too.


Finding Peace

With hurricanes to the east, fires to the west, renewed threats of nuclear mayhem and a general sense that the cultural foundation of charity among fellows has sundered along with the polar ice shelves…..

…to foster sanity I pursue clutter and build peaceable habitation.

And pursue it calmly because there is Absolutely No Deadline, and even unsorted — the remaining clutter is Out Of Sight.

So.  Going slowly.  Repacking just one or two boxes a day, I’ve reduced five stored boxes to three; I found and shredded thirty-three year old financial records; and I hauled all the detritus to the curb for tomorrow’s trash pick up.

But perhaps best of all, I’m starting to move into the Giant Bookcase!!!!!!

Oh that feels good.  I’ve moved my books on knitting and about folk music and my set of exercise videos into it from the (no longer quite so) crowded shelves in my study.  My husband carried down my antique sewing machine to serve as ballast for the lowest shelf — but you know, with enough space to set up a table, I might just use it from time to time.  Then he hooked up my personal d.v.d. player on the media shelf in the center of the bookcase.


It’s falling into place.

After awhile I will feel enough at home in that big downstairs room to move beyond ordering it, and to begin to live there.

Peaceable habitation.  Sometimes we can only manage a tiny corner at a time.

Hats and Thrift Stores

For the Fourth of July, we drove to the bay and took in the annual picnic fundraiser at the Governor (1903-1907) Pardee Home Museum where they garnish the event with live music and open the house for guided tours.  Folks dress in suggestions of period costume, overt combinations of RedWhite’n’Blue, or not. Straw hats abound…

We traveled with a couple new to the proceedings; indeed the wife is new to the United States so I stowed two summer hats for ladies in our weather gear bag, just in case.  It turned out that the extra (a hastily acquired replacement for one previously mislaid) matched the lady’s outfit perfectly.  Her husband crowed in delight as she tried it on; my closet was immediately decluttered of one hat, she looked lovely and would be well-protected from the afternoon sun.

During the drive we learned that the couple had spent the previous day shopping local thrift stores for home decor and essentials to adjust her new home to her own housekeeping style.  Lots of dust and dross and a few treasures.

For me, the high point of our annual excursion is the Home Tour.  The George Pardee family was full of collectors who “kept everything.” For now, the curators have it all gathered on side tables, in closets, on shelves, in glass-fronted cabinets.

My inner kid loves to stare at a cluster of carved miniatures, say, from all corners of the world: to admire the colors, imagine the craft of the toymakers, then fantasize a story for each item in turn.

Of course I want to examine every title in the library and every scrap of needlework in the place.  At the tour’s end, I determined to gobble my lunch and rejoin a later party.

I turned to my new friend to ask how she’d enjoyed the house tour.

“Just like the thrift stores,” she sniffed, and trotted off to ask permission to pluck lemons from a tree in the garden.

A Time to Fast

I was taught that the Lenten season before Easter is fasting time: fasting from meat and dairy foods, quieting emotional responses, working at simple tasks; and a time to give more thanks to God and more gifts to charity.

These practices are to lead us to sanctification, the nurturing in ourselves, by God, of humility before God.

The thing is that humility is like a shadow or a dream.  Humility comes closest exactly when we don’t grasp after it.  These fasting rituals serve to distract us from focus on the wrong things, from looking too hard for what we cannot see, to keep us from be deluded about our own holiness.

At sixty-five years of age, I don’t tolerate fifty days of carbo-loaded vegan fasting so I search for other disciplines to adopt.  This systematic collecting of things to give away is right up my alley.  The trick of it will be to find good and useful things to send on as blessings rather than simply to purge my home of broken things and trash — although that too has its benefits!

I already have a collection of duplicate bakeware earmarked for the next rummage sale, cleared out of a too-full cupboard last week.  Today I sent a book off to a distant friend…  Although that book had been intended as a gift, I can see that it may be time to cull my books.  Perhaps I can find forty books, good books, books that blessed me and now may bless others, to take to Yesterday’s Books, or the public library.

That may be my Lenten discipline.

To everything there is a purpose…

Wintertime decluttering slows down.
In spring and summer, when the light is longer and my work load abates, there is time and inclination to chip away at emptying the inherited clutter in my storage areas .
During the shorter days, and when the teaching year is in session, I stop the heavy work.
But decluttering as a way of life has a way of taking hold.
There’s a habit of being aware of all our things: the clothes in our drawers and closets, the implements in our cabinets, the very food in our freezer and books on our shelves, all the stuff stashed in corners…  There’s a habit of thinking of each and every thing as wanting a purpose.  There’s a leaning toward the learned joy of matching the right purpose with the right tool.
I tore a tendon in my ankle.
I was sent to physical therapy to stimulate its healing and to strengthen the muscles that need to support it.
After awhile the therapist dumped a collection of marbles and dice and little rubber jacks onto the floor and I was given the job of picking them up with my toes and putting them back into their box.
The therapist’s collection was housed in a battered old recycled tissue box that during my month of therapy received at least one layer of revivifying tape.
As my course of therapy drew to a close I wanted a way to show my gratitude.
And then I remembered.
Back in my closet in a sack full of Stuff That Should Be Useful Someday, was a lovely, sturdy, cardboard box, (perfectly sized to hold that collection), covered in damask.  I’d received a gift from China in that box years earlier.  And that oh-it’ll-be-so-good-for-something-someday emptied box had accompanied me through four house moves.
And now it houses my therapist’s toe-strengthening marbles.

(The picture is of my mother’s old marble collection housed in a completely different box.)

Joy in Decluttering…

Twenty years ago my husband lovingly, carefully and competently prepared and repainted the exterior of his home.

This past weekend, our neighbor’s house-painting-professional son (now the same age as my husband was then) began to prepare, carefully and competently, our home for a fresh coat of paint.  His work resulted in the usual mess, piles of soggy dust mixed with peels of old paint, and a few pieces of rotted siding, all of which he did clean up thoroughly before he quit for the day.

The joy of seeing that old paint giving way to the new feels like the glee of a good decluttering.  I suspect it’ll feel even more like that joy when our rusted out gutters are removed and replaced in a couple of weeks.

So this old blogger’s mind went all clinical, wondering about the differences among cleaning a home, maintaining a home,  and decluttering a home.

Maybe this works…

  • Cleaning: removing dirt
  • Home Maintenance: removing worn out, non-functioning bits of a home’s working parts and replacing them with new, more efficient, safer stuff
  • Decluttering: removing from one’s home anything that fills up space without serving a purpose

But you know what?  It just doesn’t matter what the differences are because…

  • It feels GOOD to get rid of cobwebs, worn out gutters, or boxes of thirty-year-old House Beautiful magazines.
  • It feels GOOD to wash sticky countertops, replace a broken microwave, or donate six embroidery hoops to a crafters’ circle.
  • It feels really GOOD to trash five ancient half used packs of paper plates, give a shoebox full of half used paint tubes to an art student, or dust off a floor lamp and reposition it to where its light is needed.

It feels good to take charge of my stuff and my space.


JOY in American Decluttering

“I tried that Japanese decluttering technique where you pick up each thing you own and throw it out if it doesn’t give you joy.
So far I’ve thrown out all the dirty dishes and the tax bill…”

Each of two dear friends messaged me to suggest that just maybe I might find this joke relevant.

And I do know from long experience that if Just One Student mentions something, That Very Thing is on the minds of a third of the class.  And if TWO Students mention it, then it’s past time to open discussion:

There’s a reason I call myself an AMERICAN Declutterer!

Because American adults need a Completely American decluttering technique!  We need to pick up each thing and determine How Much Misery will accrue if we throw it out!

And of course I’ve set up a sliding scale for Measuring Misery…

At the far end is the Maximal Misery Level of, “I’ll spend the rest of my life in jail if I throw this out.”

At the near end is the minimal misery level of, “I’ll be dancing for joy forever and a day if I never have to look at this thing again.”

The trouble is that more or less everything we pick up will trigger two points of this spectrum at once.  Like, say, the tax bill.  I could be dancing with joy forever and a day… and spend forever in a jail cell …  if I get never look at it again.

Or maybe I’ll be dancing for joy to get rid of my child’s tattered baseball glove, but he will send me to jail if he finds out it’s gone.

(So, goes my procrastination reverie, we turn our sliding misery scale into a musical scale, and check whether the two notes generate harmonious sympathetic vibrations.  If they don’t…. )

Perhaps you can tell why I don’t take hard and fast rules for decluttering very seriously.  Except one.  That is: Sometimes you just have to do it.  And if you just have to do it….

…if at all possible, turn the discards and the discarding into joy-filled blessings.

  • Invite EVERYONE who has a stake in the stuff to agree that it is necessary to declutter.
  • Build affirming rituals around decluttering.  Include hugs, wine and pizza.
  • Sell as much as you can without driving yourself crazy.
  • Find your discards welcoming homes.
  • Recycle anything you possibly can.
  • Consign to the dump only that which is truly garbage.

Above all, Cultivate Joy.

The featured image is a teapot about as tall as my thumb, crafted entirely of beads.  It is a wedding present and serves as an absolute antithesis to clutter.  I think of Alice in Wonderland every time I look at it.  Going through boxes of clutter can feel very much like a trip through Wonderland.