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. 

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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!

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