Monday, April 18, 2016

The Zen of living in harmony with the stuff you already own...

On Facebook the other day, I went into a mini-rant about those clickbait articles you see about how to fix all the storage problems in your house, get organized, and feel the waves of energy that come with decluttering. After pointing out that those articles expect you to have all sorts of things you don't have--not little, unimportant things like time and money, but big things like empty closets and spare bookshelves, spaces under nonexistent (in our house, anyway) staircases, empty wine crates, really tall ceilings (in order to hang all those DIY hooks, shelves, and physical dimension alteration devices), a collection of power tools that would make Bob Vila jealous, and a degree in structural engineering (well, maybe some of my readers have that last, but I certainly don't), I tossed off a suggestion: maybe somebody should write a series of articles along the lines of, "The Zen of living in harmony with the crap you already own and can't get rid of because you can't afford to replace it and you're sort of still using it on a daily basis, with bonus lessons on how not to swear when you trip over stuff."

Somebody suggested I do it. Since I'm very open to writing suggestions, and since I have been struggling to blog mainly because I can't think of ways to comment on the Big Important Issues of the Day that will be a) helpful, b) charitable, and c) devoid of substantial cursing, I thought it might be fun.

This, then, is the first of these posts.

Take a look, dear reader, at the main living areas of your house. Do you have more than four or five such areas, including the kitchen, and not including the space near the front door that you try to pretend is an actual room instead of part of a hallway? Are all of them spotlessly clean, beautifully decorated, harmoniously arranged, well-organized, with just a hint of vanilla spice and pixie dust in the atmosphere? Congratulations! This post is not for you.

If you have fewer than five living areas (we have three, here at the Manning house, including the kitchen), if you can't pretend your front entryway is a separate room even if you squint and try really, really hard to see it that way, if the living areas are what might be charitably described as "clean-ish," if the decoration style is best described as, "Well, bless your heart," if the furniture is arranged according to the ancient principle of "You can't take a step without falling," if "well-organized" means "I stuffed everything into that desk with the lid that closes, sort of, on a good day," and if the atmosphere of the home reminds visitors more of Vincent Price than Martha Stewart, then keep reading.

I'm not going to tell you how to fix any of it--not today, anyway. Truth is, I don't know. I tend to fluctuate between .pdf files of fiction writing and a different kind of PDF, one that stands for "Periodic Decluttering Frenzies." These PDFs are well-intentioned efforts to remove clutter by cleaning out closets and drawers, donating old books and media, and then, in theory, moving on to things like the kitchen cabinets and the garage and so on. I usually get through the clothing clean-out and my husband does the books and media thing, and then life starts happening (often before we've really finished), and the kitchen and garage get put off until next time. If there ever is one.

No, I'm not going to pretend to tell you how to organize your life (especially if it involves somehow finding vintage tin tubs that you can turn into storage ottomans, or similar nonsense). But I will tell you that it is possible to take a deep breath, look around at the place where you live, and come to terms with the stuff in it.

Let's say that it's possible to give one's housekeeping efforts a score or grade (it isn't, really, but for the sake of argument, let's pretend). Now, let's say that a score of 100 points is awarded to those houses in magazines that nobody ever lives in and that have no experience whatsoever of dust, let alone of toy clutter or baby spit-up or teenage baking efforts or any of those other joys of living.

"Well," you may be thinking to yourself, "if those houses get 100 points, then my score has to be in the fifties somewhere, if I'm lucky." But wait--it's more complicated than that.

Start with zero points. Now, give yourself five points for each person (including yourself) who lives in the home, if you are the person who is mainly in charge of cleaning and organizing things. Yes, often this will be mom, but there are some stay-at-home dads out there who have taken on these tasks and we don't want to leave them out. If you don't think you should give yourself five points for each person, ask yourself this question: do you pick up at least one item each day that each person has left out, dropped in a hamper, failed to put in the dishwasher, etc.? I'm probably being conservative with the "five point per person" rule.

Next, give yourself an additional five points for each child between the ages of three and ten. For babies younger than three, you get an extra ten points per child, with a bonus of ten more points if you have more than one child under age three right now. If you have had a baby in the past six months you get twenty-five additional points automatically.

Now, this one might be controversial, but here it is: if you are homeschooling, give yourself an additional five points per homeschooled child. Why? Because if you are homeschooling, then your children are home with you all day (unless you are all out together). This means that you can't clean while they are sitting in brightly-lit classrooms creating messes for other people to clean up; they are sitting at your kitchen table (or their desks, etc.) and the science projects and finger-painting are happening right there. It is significantly harder to clean around people than to clean when the people are gone, which is why corporations have whole cleaning crews that come in after hours, with maybe a handful of custodial workers to keep the bathrooms from becoming unfit for human use during the workday.

If you have any sort of issues that make cleaning difficult (physical handicaps, mental heath matters, chronic health conditions, etc.) add between ten and twenty points depending on how serious the impediment is.

Add on five more points for each daily task you usually complete (dinner? bath times for youngest children? lunches for working people or school kids? laundry? and so on).

Now, add up your score.

I bet it's higher than you thought it would be. I bet some of you have more than 100 points.

Look at your living areas again. In the grand scheme of things, does it really matter if the baby's board book section of the bookshelf is starting to look like some cardboard-eating zombies have gotten to it? Is it really worth lamenting over your inability to replace the kitchen floor again this year, even though the old vinyl flooring has some pretty deep grooves in it? Is it a problem that your refrigerator is cleverly hidden under mounds of printed recipes and children's artwork? Does your house actually look like a public health menace, or does it just look like people actually live in it--people, moreover, who are really dear to you and who matter more than a thousand Pinterest ideas and a million decluttering techniques?

Someday, when your children are grown up, your house will probably be the spotless and organized oasis of your dreams. But it will also be really quiet--at least, until the grandkids come over. Until then, unless you could be featured on an episode of "Hoarders," chances are that things really aren't as bad as you fear they are, and it will all get sorted out in the wash (so long as somebody puts those baskets of unfolded laundry away one of these days).

Of course, you may be tempted to jump on the "minimalism" bandwagon despite these positive thoughts...but that's a post for next time.

2 comments:

L. said...

I was just thinking this morning how cluttered our tiny space is, with our college-age son's sports equipment, and his younger brother's model robot collection.
...and then I remembered, 15 years ago, how I bemoaned the plastic tubs of toys that used to scatter all over the floor, and get picked up over and over again, and then played with again, picked up again...ad infinitum......
Where did those tubs of toys go? I don't know! They just....went. And all of the other stuff will be gone, someday, too.
My kids will be grown up and gone, and I'll have a clean house again.
Do I really want to rush that day?
Nope.

Siarlys Jenkins said...

I do have some extra space to work with, since I moved as a single person into a two-story rehab. But it IS amazing how much space I have filled up, with stuff that once fit into a studio apartment. A dear friend I have some distant hopes of marrying has told me there's not room enough for her stuff here. It does give me pause to think where her stuff could fit.