Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Lose the Stuff, Find the People

Like many people in the Boston area, I live in an older home. By 'older' I mean we don't have walk-in closets, a dedicated mudroom or a custom built-in study area for our children like you'll see in fancy new construction. 

Our house was built in the 1930's. The original house consisted of a living room, small kitchen and dining room, two bedrooms, a bathroom and a screened-in porch. One of the bedrooms is a good size, but the other is pretty small. 

Over the years, different owners have made modifications to the house. The footprint hasn't changed, but the attic space was enlarged to accommodate two more bedrooms, a bathroom and a small sitting room, so it is not an uncomfortable size for our family of four. 

Still, I love peeking in the downstairs bedroom closets. The larger room we use for guests, and this is the closet:

As you see, I'm using it mostly for pillow storage (which is ridiculous, I know. How many pillows do we need?!) But when I consider the fact that this little closet stored ALL the hanging garments belonging to a married couple, it blows my mind. I am no clothes horse, but you couldn't fit my workout-wear alone in this little number. I'm guessing Mrs. Originalowner must have had three dresses--two she rotated during the week and a nice one for Sundays. 


I've been trucking along little by little in the A Bowl Full of Lemons 14-week organizational challenge, and I've made some nice progress. I found a great way to organize our deep freezer, which is such a relief. It's too cold to be digging around in that thing trying to find the bacon. And I finally figured out a way to keep our food containers tidy.

But the more I 'organize,' the more I realize a key thing: we have too much stuff. The reason organizing is hard is because we have too much to organize. It's not that our house is too small. It's that we have TOO MUCH STUFF. We can't even use it all. It's ridiculous. 

And I know I'm not alone. The size of the average American home has nearly tripled since 1950, while the size of the average family has halved. Certainly, bigger homes mean some degree of increased comfort, but they also spell bigger closets, more cupboards and, at the very least, more floor space to fill. Stuff comes at a cost--not just what you spend to buy it. You have to maintain it, power it and store it, not to mention the relational cost. 

2006 story about big houses on NPR notes the following: 
"The big house represents the atomizing of the American family," says [John Stilgoe, a professor of landscape history at Harvard University.] "Each person not only has his or her own television — each person has his or her own bathroom. Some of these houses are literally designed with three playrooms for two children. This way, the family members rarely have to interact. And the notion of compromise is simply out one of the very many windows these houses sport."
Recently I came to the painful realization that a significant amount of my time is spent managing our possessions. I spend a lot of time washing things, cleaning things, looking for things, organizing things and putting things away. I'm exhausted by it. Many days I spend more time with our stuff than I do talking to, or playing with, my children. And that, people, is sad. 

I joined the A Bowl Full of Lemons challenge group on Facebook for a little inspiration and motivation. There are lots of pictures of clean, beautiful, organized spaces, and more than a few posts lamenting the perceived deficiencies of the posters' homes. But today, I read my favorite. A woman posted a picture of her darling little nugget holding a half-eaten cookie. She wrote, "I am really starting to notice that I have more time in my day now that I'm not always shuffling around my clutter. Now that my kitchen, pantry, and dining area are clean and clutter-free I finally had the time and patience to let my 2 year old help bake cookies with me today."

I can tell you from vast and painful experience that a tremendous amount of patience is required to bake with a two-year-old. And yet this mother found it... when she lost the stuff. Hurrah!

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Organizing the YUM!

I know I said last time I wasn't going to talk about food for a while, but the first stop on the Bowl Full of Lemons organization challenge is the kitchen, so it's a little tough to not talk about food. Actually, week one is the kitchen, week two is the pantry, but I don't really have a dedicated pantry. So I'm combining weeks one and two.

This week I organized my food. See?
Laundry room/pantry/mudroom combo

You can see the paleo thing didn't take--a whole shelf of grains and beans!
Baking items grouped together

This wasn't too difficult for me because I always clean out my fridge. I believe in regular management of the refrigerator because I *hate* to waste food. Every few days I'll poke around and look for things that need to be used up. I very rarely have to throw anything out. Any amount of leftovers that can't be used in school lunches is re-purposed into quesadilla or frittata fillings. Last night we had sausage, peppers, onions, greens and broccoli for dinner. Usually we polish off the whole pan, but on this occasion there was about a half-cup left, so this morning I put it in a frittata. Yum, easy, no waste.

However, one item did get the old heave-ho. Over the years I have acquired some odd ingredients that were called for in recipes. Some have become staples, some have been tolerated until they were used up, but every once in a while I purchase a read dud, and one of these was....

Cocoa Nibs

According to the box, which claims 'yummy super food' status, cocoa nibs are, "cocoa beans that have been separated from their shell and roasted to perfection." Apparently they are "naturally rich in vitamins and minerals, and a great source of antioxidants."

They're also utterly revolting. And I'm saying this as a chocolate lover. Not yummy in the least and very hard -- as in, break-your-teeth kind of hard. They were also insanely expensive, so I kept trying to use them, but they ruined everything I put them in. I kept holding on to them, mostly because they were expensive. I'd offer them up for any local who wants them (a long list, I'm sure, after my glowing recommendation,) but they're 'best by' date was January 2015. They were looking past their prime, so today I decided to let them go.

And I'm publicly vowing not the buy anything crazy for another recipe ever again. Amen.

Speaking of buying, I know I said I was going to try not to buy anything, but I realized I needed a better means of can storage in my two pantry-like shelves in the basement. Stacking the cans was not working, so I went to The Container Store and bought this very nice little wire rack.
$15 at The Container Store

A couple of years ago, we bought these pull-out elfa drawers for the very deep lower shelf. Although you lose some real estate this way, things kept getting lost in the back, so these were definitely a worthwhile purchase.

The real sticky wicket in my food storage world are spices. That's a whole saga that probably needs it's own post, so I'll leave you on what I'm sure are pins and needles waiting for that one.

Friday, January 15, 2016

When Life Hands You Lemons

A couple of Advents ago, my older little asked me THE QUESTION:

"Mommy, is Santa Claus real?"

At the moment he asked this, I was in the throes of my harried Christmas preparations and was tempted to respond, "Yes. I AM SANTA! I make your Christmas happen! I make YOUR LIFE HAPPEN! If it weren't for me, you'd be eating a TV dinner on Christmas Eve with a nothing more than a Nike sock hanging on the mantle!"

I didn't say that, but I wanted to. I get kind of stressed out during Advent. The blessed season when I am supposed to be reflecting on the Coming, I am more focused on figuring out what I'm going to get everyone, what we going to eat, and managing everyone's dizzying social calendar. Somehow it all seems to come together, but by Christmas Eve, I'm spent. Every January, I vow I'm going to do better, but I never seem to manage a low-stress holiday season.

I think part of this is due to lack of organization. I am a somewhat naturally organized person, but since I had the small people, I've lost my way. Anyone who knows anything about small people knows you don't get chunks of time to do things. So for the past eight years, I've just been stuffing things in closets and drawers to reduce clutter, but the result of that has been... more clutter.

The littler little started preschool last year, so I have tackled a few closets, but there is still plenty more to be done, and some of my 'organized' spaces are not so organized anymore. This means my system was not good, so I have decided to branch out on the blog to chronicle my home organizational projects. I'll still talk about exercise from time to time, but I'm kind of done with talking about food, and I think you are all kind of done with me talking about food, too.

When life hands you lemons...
... and limes... and an orange...

I've decided to do a modified version of the 14-week Home Organization 101 challenge that is outlined on the very orderly blog called A Bowl Full of Lemons. The Lemon Lady has also recently published a book, which you can find here, but I think I'm going to forgo the book because I am really trying to reduce the amount of stuff in our house. I'm also being super cheap these days. (December was a very expensive month.)

A Bowl Full of Lemons is a very pretty blog, with very pretty pictures of a very pretty house. My house will never look like that. I think I will have to go off the lemon grove to some extent, because I will never be storing my books by color. Seriously, she does that. She has a Paula Deen cookbook next to a Harry Potter book because they're both orange. I mean, it's pretty, but not super practical.

Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa, and I am he.

In addition to having a lower-stress December, I also realized that the Santa question brought up a real truth that scares me a little. I DO make it all happen in my family. My darling husband earns the paycheck, does the taxes and handles car and many household repairs, but I keep pretty much everything else humming. In fact, I even file the car paperwork, organize the taxes and pay all the bills. I'm also the one who does all the shopping, the cooking, the cleaning, and anything that pertains to the children, including medical stuff. Since we have a child with disabilities, that stuff can get very complicated.

I'm not saying all that to sound like a martyr, or make my husband sound like he isn't involved (because he is), only to point out that I keep all the plates spinning, and I have a lot of information in my head. What if something happened to me? If I died (!) or were incapacitated, life would be hard for my family.

So, with that long-winded pre-ramble, my goals over the next 14 weeks are not just to organize, but to label everything so other people know where the spare batteries or extra laundry detergent is hiding. Also, I'm planning to make up a binder with pertinent information, especially regarding all of the little little's medical stuff. Yes, my husband or others could dig around and find what they'd need to know, but wouldn't it be nice to have it all in one place?

Lastly, I'm going to try to do all of this without buying anything, or at least, not buying very much. I might even do a nice spicy rant on my love/hate relationship with The Container Store! Goody!

I might not be able to do all of this in 14 weeks, but I'll try. What's more important to me is developing systems that work. Let me know if you want to join in on the 'fun'!

Sunday, January 10, 2016

My First Trip to Lulu

Last Christmas, I received a lululemon gift card. (I can't believe blogger doesn't recognize that as a word. Yes, there is a red, squiggly line under it.) Of course, I said thank you very much to the giver, but I received it with mixed feelings. I know many, many women who *LOVE* lulu. I see it's little trademark all over the other women at barres all over town, but I've never gotten into it.

My Darling Cousin gave me a lululemon shirt a few years ago for Christmas. She gushed effusively about it's wonderfulness, so the following Christmas I set foot for the first time into a shop with the intention of buying her a gift. I took one look at the $58 price tag on a plain t-shirt and walked out. Lulu is just too rich for my blood. I was afraid if I tried anything on I'd fall in love with it and then I'd go broke. With Physique 57 and Bar Method, I really don't need another expensive obsession. And really, how good could lululemon be?? Is it really better than all the other purveyors of high-end fitness wear? You know, the ones that are also expensive, but at least run decent sales? It just seemed highly over-rated.

But lulu devotees swear by the lusciousness of their clothes. I've been promised they'll make my bottom look irresistibly cute. I've been told they will last for years and years. A dear friend was hit by a car last year while she was out running. A horrible accident that left her in the hospital and a rehab facility for weeks. Once we got over the 'oh my, thank God you're alive!' part of the story, she said, 'yeah, they had to cut off my running tights. I was pissed. They were lululemon!'

And yet still, even with that most remarkable testimonial, I resisted. The little gift card sat in my wallet for exactly 380 days. Today I finally decided to do something with it.

I walked into the shop and was immediately accosted by loud music. This gave me a sickening feeling of being far too old.... like this was the workout-wear equivalent of Abercrombie & Fitch and I should only be shopping here with a sullen teenager in tow. But the gift card kept whispering, 'spend me.' I reminded myself that there were plenty of women my age at the barre wearing lulu, and so, I persevered.

I wouldn't mind something that would make my bottom look irresistibly cute, so I headed over to the pants. There were nice, firm plastic mannequins wearing all the different styles, which were stacked according to size--lots of 2s, 4s and 6s, a few 8s and only a handful of 10s and 12s. (It seems, like Abercrombie, they don't want anyone bigger than that wearing their clothes.)

A friendly saleswoman helped me pick out a few styles suitable for my workout of choice, then led me to the very cramped fitting room. She introduced me to the girl working that part of the floor. "This is Stephanie. She does barre."

I tried on a few pairs, and meh.... for $128, these did not light me up. They were just regular workout pants. For that price, I need something to sing to me. So I dropped them off with fitting room girl and told her none of them worked for me. She said, "Is it the style? The fabric? The fit??" I replied, "Honestly, they're just really expensive and I didn't think they were anything special."

Well, she asked. (Actually, I read an article in the Wall Street Journal a few years ago that said,
"Lulu also trains its workers to eavesdrop, placing the clothes-folding tables on the sales floor near the fitting rooms rather than in a back room so that workers can overhear complaints." 
So really, by being straight with her I was able to save her the subterfuge.

After the pants fail, I perused the workout tops, t-shirts and hoodies. I liked one of the hoodies, but not for $128. They like that number, 128. They also like the number 58, which was the price of the t-shirts and workout tanks.

Finally, I saw a scarf I liked. It's actually quite versatile! It has snaps and you can wear it a number of different ways, including all the way open, like a blanket. The other friendly saleswoman said, "A lot of people like this option. You can use it like a blanket on a plane!" Well, this was a nice selling feature, since jetBlue now charges you for blankets. So I settled on the scarf.

I still had $27 left on my gift card, so with a little kick in from my wallet (because nothing is only $27!) I bought over-the-knee grippy-soled socks. Apparently they'll keep me warm during savasana. And now I can look like Jane Fonda. See?

And with that, I departed lululemon. I like my scarf. And my legwarmers, but I won't be rushing back. In fact, if I never go back, that will be just fine. Don't get me wrong--I'm thankful for my gift card. I fully intend to enjoy my purchases.

But I stand by my original suspicion--to me, lululemon is highly over-rated. And for that I am glad. My wallet, and my children's college funds, are safe. At least, for now.