Saturday, March 29, 2008

50 Lbs Lighter

Over the years, as boys will do, my sons have accumulated a large quantity of LEGOs. I've been a pretty conscientious mom, taking the time to keep the instructions together, picking up thousands of LEGOs and putting them back into the bin, finding and utilizing a larger bin when the LEGOs outgrew their home, and NOT vacuuming them up, but instead, bending over thousands of times to pick up these teeny pieces and putting them away. After many years of watching the kids play with the LEGOs, I noticed they were not being used much anymore. I checked with the boys so see if they were ready to let them go. The boys agreed they were ready.

I generally don't list anything on Ebay, since it's faster and easier to drop things off at Goodwill, but I wondered what a huge lot of LEGOs might go for on Ebay. I was amazed to find that LEGOs indeed are quite worth selling on Ebay. We took a lovely photo for our listing (only one shot) which I am including for you here.

I should mention that we discovered the weight of the blocks by my 13-year-old son weighing himself with and without the bin. NO WAY was I getting on the scale with that huge, heavy thing. I already see a big enough number on my friendly scale without adding 45 pounds onto that number. We also took them to the post office to get the exact weight, so we could, you know, price the shipping correctly.

For the first several days, the only auction action consisted of multiple emails from people trying to get them for a ridiculously low price, asking me what my reserve price was (isn't that usually kept a secret?), and checking to see if I could do things I had already said I wouldn't do on the listing. (Apparently, their parents didn't do a good job of saying "no" and meaning it.)

As the auction neared its close, the bidding picked up, but still slowly enough I wasn't sure we would even reach my reserve price. Imagine my surprise when the bidding reached and quickly surpassed my reserve! Eventually the LEGOs sold for $250! We have just returned from the post office where we shipped the lot off to the lucky new owner.

My husband and I went to the post office together to ship the LEGOs today and he was highly skeptical that I had charged the correct price for shipping. He used to work for the post office, so maybe that influenced him, but I was Pretty Sure I had been careful to put the right info in. I didn't really want to charge the guy $40 for shipping and end up paying $75. Smart thinking, eh? Dear husband was delighted to see that the shipping price was correct, as was I. And off the LEGOs went to their new home.

So, I'm 50 pounds lighter! It feels good.

Now let's get back to those photos . . .

More Alphabet Soup

F is for Farmer. When I was a kid, I spent many magical days on my grandmother's farm in Oklahoma during summer breaks from school. I loved her farm more than anywhere I had ever been. There was something so beautiful and special about the wheatfields gently swaying in the wind, and something so noble about my relatives bringing in the harvest. I felt so honored to ever be a part of the harvest, whether I was bringing "the men" meals in the field, or driving the combine (only once). Even though I was around the farm and farmers a lot of my childhood, farming and gardening did not rub off on me. I suppose I have always been moving a little too fast to see the value in me personally planting and waiting for the fruit or flower. I do have hope that someday I will enjoy gardening, but for now, I'm definitely not a farmer.

G is for Garage Saler. Once, when my husband and I moved to another country for an extended period, we did have a pretty big moving sale and made a decent amount of money. Besides that sale, I've had maybe two others and the last one convinced me that there is no way it is worth my time to stand outside for hours and hours just to make $36, which is the grand total I made at my last sale. Not only do I not like HAVING garage sales, I almost never GO to garage sales. I once knew someone who managed to find a missing piece from a toyset and she only paid a nickel for it! And I hear these kinds of stories all the time and I have no doubt they are true. For me, though, the occasional swing by a garage sale satisfies any small desire I have to get bargains this way. I also only like to shop this way when I have something I am specifically looking for. I was able to get a nice desk chair and very nice TV for $35 about a year ago. It might be the same thing as the gardening/farming -- if I didn't already have fifty-eleven things to do every minute of every day, maybe I would enjoy garage-saling. But, I don't.

H is for Hair Color. So far, my hair color is whatever it is when it grows out of my scalp. I'm getting some gray at my temples, but I still don't have much overall. My hairdresser would be glad to cover up that gray. But, my thought is, once I start, I have to keep on coloring, and I don't like stuff like that. I can't tell you how many times stylists have asked me if I'm growing out some color because my hair grows lighter in the summer, and never paying much attention to it, the blond eventually grows out, leaving me with two colors of hair. I'm not morally opposed to hair color or anything, although I worry about the chemicals in the colorant. It's just that once I start, I don't see any way to stop. I'll just keep my natural color for now, thank you.

I is for Impudent. When I was a kid, my neighbor "Dr. D" called me "saucy and impudent." I THINK he was just kidding, but with many jokes there is an element of truth. Impudent means "marked by contemptuousness or cocky boldness or disregard of others: insolent." And I know that whatever I was as a child, I wasn't any of those things! I was such the rule-following, good-girl, adult-pleasing child that I am hard-pressed to think I would have expressed contempt, cockiness, or insolence! Dr. D., maybe you were projecting!!!

J is for Jury Member. So far in all my adult life, I have not been called for jury duty. I've always wondered how people who serve on juries can really disregard information they get, either through something overruled in the trial, or through the media. Maybe someday I'll find out by being on a jury where I have to "disregard" something.

That's all the alphabet soup in the can today.

Picture This

I've fast-forwarded somewhat so you can see some of my actual decluttering!

Before we got a digital camera (or two, actually), we had those old-fashion 35mm types that took photos that had to be stored somewhere other than the computer. As a result of a husband who loves to take pictures and who is rather good at it, I am the proud owner of four photo boxes, an American Girl doll box, two bags, and one large 12" square photo box full of photos. I know they are not supposed to be stored in the basement, so they are in the coat closet of my house. Remember, we have a small house, and the closet space is very limited, and this is the best place I can think of to store these photos.

Two days ago I decided it was time to attack the photos and see if there were one or two that could be discarded. Oh, I should mention that I am not a Creative Memories afficionado, and even if I were, it would take me at least 27 years to get all these photos cropped and arranged. So, they remain, in boxes. At some point along the way, I did try to bring some organization to them and used little ziploc bags to put photos into groups. But, alas, they remained a very large, very burdensome, treasure.

As I began to look through the photos, I realized that my photographer husband has always believed that one needs to take at least 2-10 shots of something in order to get one good copy. And I also realized that I myself bought into that "get duplicates" thing. So, here's a nice shot of baby sleeping on her handmade blanket. Oh, and here's a duplicate of that one. No, it's not a duplicate, just one very similar. And, here's another similar one, and another, and another, another, and ok, this one for sure is a duplicate. And I asked myself: WHO of us, even the one pictured, wants or needs to look at 12 extremely similar photos of this precious little baby sleeping? Especially because we have several other sets of her sleeping as well. So, I culled out most of them, leaving myself with one or two of these particular shots of her sleeping. It's not like she had colic or something and pictures of her sleeping were as hard to come by as hen's teeth. She slept fine.

So, I began the process. Pulled out duplicates, removed really blurry photos, took out photos that were dark, and removed some of those "proofs" from the multi-shot sleeping sessions. At the end of the day, I had removed 7 pounds of photos. Here's the photo:

I was feeling very proud at this point. 7 pounds of photos! Woohoo! I had cleared out 1 1/2 of the photo boxes and was feeling strong and confident, ready to attack the American Girl doll box the next day. Which I did. By the end of the process, I had cleared out enough photos to be able to actually get rid of the American Girl doll box!

I put the pictures into grocery bags and then into the trash. The trash even got taken out. Then I started worrying. What if I'm sorry I threw them away? It's not like a pair of shoes that I can go and just get another one of. When these are gone, they are truly gone. I thought maybe I had better do some journaling about this before they were gone and I decided I still wanted them for some reason.

What reason could I possibly have for wanting them? I wasn't sure, but I have learned in this decluttering process to listen to myself when I am feeling unsure about something. As I wrote, I realized that I had always had this idea of making a photo album for each of my five children and I realized that if I threw away all the duplicates, I couldn't make pretty much identical albums for each child. But, wait! Do I WANT to make identical photo albums for each child? Wouldn't it be more fun to make them similar albums? That is, albums with photos from all their childhoods, but different photos? That seems like it would be much more fun. Upon further reflection, I thought beyond making them for the kids and decided on a theme for my eventual photo albums: Life in _________. Each album would cover a time period when we lived in a certain town/state/country, or maybe just cover a certain time period, like college/graduate school, or our own childhoods, "Life in my Family of Origin."

I decided at that point to get the photos back out of the trash and keep them long enough to go through them again with my new plan in mind. I feel so much better about this idea, and I am confident I will still get rid of many of the original photos I first discarded, but I am not getting rid of them anymore without some sort of plan. And with photos, I think that having a plan is probably a really good idea.

I've always known that getting rid of photos is for me an extremely difficult process. Is it difficult for you? I daresay there are lots of people who have even more boxes than I do who can hardly face the thought of going through them.

My thought about photos is that they don't need any special colored papers underneath them or little stickers that tie them together with a theme. What I want when I look at photos is to read about the picture -- where was this? Why did the photographer take it? Is there a story? That to me is what makes the photo special, especially years down the road when the viewer is wondering what, where, when, why, who, and how?

Picture this! I have a plan!

Thursday, March 27, 2008

My "Clear Your Clutter with Feng Shui" Phase

So, the next thing I tried was reading this book: "Clear Your Clutter With Feng Shui." Here is an excerpt from her book:

Feng Shui is the art of balancing and harmonizing the flow of natural energies in our surroundings to create beneficial effects in our lives. These natural energy flows were well known and understood by the ancients, and knowledge of them still exists in some cultures today.

I had heard of this concept and I was pretty desperate to get rid of this stuff. I thought maybe if I started talking about "the energy of my clutter" it might help me do something. I mean, energy is good, right? I want energy! I need energy! And if the pesky clutter is draining my energy, then . . . wait. If the pesky clutter is draining my energy, then where am I going to get the energy to get rid of the clutter? It takes serious energy to go through all the junk, not to mention carrying it out to the car or trash, and what about putting the stuff I'm keeping back onto the top shelf? Well, I'm only on page 2 of the book, so I'll keep on. Maybe she'll explain where to find the energy that is being sucked out by the boxes of stuff.

And another excerpt:

My own approach to Feng Shui is rather different to that of other practitioners because I work directly with the energy of each space. Over a twenty year period, I have developed the ability to see, hear, smell, taste and sense energy in enhanced ways, so to begin a consultation the first thing I usually do is go around the entire inside perimeter of the building, taking an energy reading with my hands. The history of events is recorded in the walls and furniture in the form of subtle electromagnetic imprints, and through reading and interpreting these I can detect everything of significance that has ever happened there. Traumatic or repetitive events become more deeply embedded and have a correspondingly greater effect on present day occupants. I am also able to find areas where the energy in the building has become stagnant and discover what needs to be done to improve its flow. Whenever I come across clutter, its energy field is unmistakable. It presents an obstacle to the flow of energy and has an unpleasant, sticky, unclean feel to it, like moving my hands through unseen cobwebs. This is what first made me realize that clutter causes problems in people’s lives. It also has a distinctive musty, pervasive odour which I can smell if I walk into someone’s home, even if the clutter is hidden away from sight. Actually, if I tune in, I can also smell it in a person’s aura (the energy field around their body) if they stand near me, because they become imbued with the smell of it. But don’t worry about this if you ever meet me in person – there is so much clutter in the world that I don’t tune in too often!

So, I wonder if people can smell my clutter on me? When I step up to the optometrist's reception area, do they wrinkle their noses and wonder what is that "unpleasant, sticky, unclean" thing they are detecting. Wow, with this thing to worry about, now I have even less energy than I thought.

Here's the link to the place I got these excerpts, because it has been a long time since I read the book. I have had to take a lot of naps to recover from reading this, so be careful.

The only other thing I remember from reading this book is that Ms. Kingston believes there is a great deal of energy being captured in empty boxes, and they are especially pernicious when stored under the bed. Well, I knew I had a lot of empty boxes in the basement, so I thought maybe I could scare up some extra energy by getting rid of some of those boxes.

I opened the basement door bravely. I slowly walked down the steps, preserving what little energy I still possessed. Soon enough, I spied a few empty boxes.

In the picture directly above this paragraph, you will notice an empty SILVER box in the upper left-hand corner of the photo. And in the photo to the left, look carefully on the right side and you will notice a dark green empty box that has stuff in it. Does that make it an empty box or not?

But, I ask you. Really. Does it look to you like the empty boxes are the problem in these photos? I think not.

Sadly, I concluded that although Ms. Kingston probably has some good ideas, she wasn't going to be the impetus that would make me do something about this clutter, now known as energy-sucking clutter.

Will this ever change? Stay tuned.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Alphabet Soup of Who or What I'm Not

A is for Attorney. Although I am not an attorney, I had plans to become one. My dad noticed my talent at giving people the third degree, and affectionately called me the "County Persecutor." I thought this meant I should become an attorney, so planned to do so all throughout junior high and half of high school. Then I came to my senses.

B is for Blonde. Although my driver's license says I have blonde hair, it's really more of a brown color. Some of it turns blonde during the summer if I'm in the sun a lot, but I'm really not blonde. Wonder how that description got on there. Is someone else filling out this info? I just looked at the weight listed on there, and it seems to be off by a few pounds too. Hmmm.

C is for Computer Whiz. Back in the ancient days at my secretarial job, we got this neat new gadget called a "Word Processor." It was cool! Way neater than the typewriter! But, this high tech tool required 40 hours of training on it. I was SO with it back then, it only took me 24 hours! But, now, I don't have to be a computer whiz. Why? Cause I have KIDS! They have brain parts that make everything computer-related obvious and simple, so I just ask them.

D is for Difficult to Understand. I grew up in the heartland of the USA, where we have NO accent (ha ha). I believed that those in the south, the northeast, the southwest, the north, etc., had little speech quirks that made it easy to tell where they were from. And although I can tell if someone is from Boston, Alabama, Michigan, or Virginia, I realize that we midwesterners have a few little quirks of our own.

E is for Elegant. Oh I wish I were elegant, and perhaps I have a few little elegant elements, but when I think of Elegant, I think of beautiful clothing (which apparently doesn't include jeans and running shoes), tall (5'3" doesn't qualify), and regal (I usually have some kind of food on my shoulder, thanks to my little guy). So, while I'm a lot of other things, I don't really think I am elegant.

Unless I break this post into parts, I will be here all day writing. So, I'll continue this on another post. Bet you can't wait!

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

My FlyLady Phase

Marla Cilley, AKA The FlyLady, has a wonderful website, full of encouragement on keeping house, decluttering, loving your family, and loving yourself. She offers daily emails to help you take control of your laundry, hot spots (clutter spots), dinner plans, and housecleaning. There are clever names, like "5 Minute Room Rescue" and "Weekly Home Blessing Hour." You can check her out at Somehow, I heard about this lady and jumped right on the FlyLady bandwagon, drinking in those daily emails, thinking there was someone out there who UNDERSTANDS and was ON MY SIDE in trying to keep track of all the details of running a home.

One of her cute titles has to do with clutter: "The 27-Fling Boogie." You are supposed to take a trashbag, walk through your house, and pick up 27 things you can throw away right now. I was able to do this, like, once. After that, I became effectively paralyzed as all my anti-de-cluttering mental recordings turned themselves up LOUD in order to be heard.

"You may NEED that some day and you won't HAVE it anymore."

"Your CHILD made that, for crying out loud. HOW could you even THINK about throwing it AWAY?"

"Your MOTHER gave you that, for crying out loud. HOW could you even THINK about throwing it AWAY? Don't you LOVE her?"

"You can't throw THAT away. It's from that SPECIAL EVENT that you attended when that SPECIAL THING happened! What are you THINKing?"

"You know you will throw that away and then wish NEXT WEEK you had it!"

"Remember that thing you threw away 15 years ago and wished you had later? That will probably happen again if you throw anything away. Beware!"

"It's perfectly good and can certainly be used or fixed."

"Ooo. That might be worth some MONEY. You better keep it."

"They just don't make 'em like this anymore. You'll never be able to get another one as good as this."

"That cost WAAAAY too much money to get rid of."

"No, it doesn't matter that you don't like it anymore. It cost WAAAAY too much money to get rid of."

"Someday my children will want to read this letter from my friend."

"I know they never knew her, but it will be meaningful to them just because it belonged to me."

"So I can't throw it away, or any of the other 100 letters from this friend."

By the time I experience the slings and darts of these accusations, I drop my trash bag, slump my shoulders in defeat, and trudge back up the stairs, convinced I will never get rid of anything as long as I live.

In the meantime, FlyLady's encouraging emails start to get annoying, so I switch to "daily digest" and then finally, "no email."

In this phase, I have bravely gotten rid of about 8 ounces of clutter, mostly papers that I could trash because I don't need them anymore.

Somehow, I don't think that is what FlyLady is envisioning when she talks about "decluttering" your house. Sigh. How will I ever get rid of this junk?

Joining the Club

Today I am joining the bloggers club. I've been reading a couple of blogs for a few years but haven't had the brain space to figure out how to create one, let alone write anything worth reading. Thanks for stopping in.

You've caught me in the middle of an organizing epiphany. I come from a long line of clutterers. My parents both come from long lines of clutterers. I learned from my dad that if you can't find something, why, just buy another one! From my mother, I took in the idea that you keep just about everything just in case you need it. (I learned lots of really great things from my parents, too, which I'll elaborate on some other time.) From neither did I ever learn how wonderful it is to have LESS STUFF to care about, move around, trip over, and use.

I've known for years and years that I have TOO MUCH STUFF. Each move to a new house saw me donate boxes and boxes of stuff to Goodwill. But we've been here for 9 years, and added one more child to our already-large family of 6, and those kids generate some clutter, too!

The former owner of this house was an elderly woman who had lived here for 30 years. We offered to clean out some of the stuff in the basement and garage for her, since we anticipated that might be a big job. Well, we were right. It took us quite awhile, but we finally got the curtain rods, hundreds of board feet of lumber, and not a few toxic chemicals out of here.

We've also been the recipient of much generosity, in the form of cast-off furniture, curtains, dishes, sheets, etc. Eventually, though, too much of a good thing is still too much. Even after several clearing out sessions and a stint on freecycle giving away stuff, there was STILL too much in this house.

Now, our house is small, by today's standards. It was built in 1957, and families back then thought nothing of raising a family of our size in a house of this size. These days, we know many people who have half as many children and at least twice as much house. Must be nice, I've thought some days as I've threaded my way through boxes, bags, toys, bikes, and miscellaneous items too numerous and boring to list.

When we moved here, our children were little -- ages 6, 5, 3, and 10 months. They fit into two bedrooms and had space left over. As children do, though, they grew. And grew. Now 15, 13, 12, 9 and 2, the house seems to be smaller. On to the epiphany.

I read something that really resonated with me:

Have nothing in your house that you do not
believe to be beautiful or know to be useful.

I suppose that was the beginning of a shift in how I think about "stuff." More on the next post about my journey.