Friday, December 30, 2011

Craft Room Clean Up

Do you want to see what happens when a packrat with 20 years of craft stuff never makes the time to set up her craft room? I warn you, it isn't pretty.

View from door. Laundry room and bathroom to the right.

I am lucky to have a craft room. In the almost two years we have lived in this house, I have never managed to get all of my craft stuff into it. Sad to say, there are still at least another 10 boxes of stuff in the garage. This is the second set up of my craft space. Originally I was sharing this room with Cat's office space, but about 8 months ago we rearranged the family room next door to house the office so that I could take the entire room. We moved furniture around... and then stopped.

The room quickly became a disaster. The worst room in our house, by far. Honestly, posting pictures of how this room looked feels about like posting a picture of my underwear. It is embarrassing how cluttered it became. The family needs to climb over boxes to make it to the bathroom (off to the right in this picture). There is usually a pile of dirty laundry or a couple of baskets in the forefront, too, since the laundry room is off of this room. However, I am a clutterbug and a packrat and I became blind to all of this mess. I usually didn't think about it until the rare times a person outside the family had to come downstairs. I know. This is how hoarders start.

View from the bathroom.
In addition to the piles of STUFF, there was the problem of lots of stuff and no organization. If you look at the pictures there are lots of cabinets and storage areas. They look nice don't they? Unfortunately, 80% of them are empty - everything is on the floor or a table surface instead.  The lack of organization meant I could never find something, such as zipper or hem tape, when I needed it. I would purchase some must have items for a project and then they would get lost in the chaos. So I would go out and buy more. In other words, this mess was costing me money.

Today it finally became too much for me. I have spent the past 5 hours working on organizing the room. The pictures may not seem like there is a huge difference, but believer me there is. HUGE. The three foot tall and 8 foot long mound of fabric that was previously on the floor has been put away. Craft supplies have been organized and put away.

I have labels on the drawers. LABELS. This is big, I tell you.

Look! There is floor!
 I am so pleased with the progress. Yes, it is still messy. I concentrated on organizing today and still have more to go. Cleaning will come tomorrow if all goes as planned.

Labels! And they correspond to what is in the container! Imagine!
 I also won't need to get basic craft supplies for quite some time. Turns out I have about 40 bajillion zippers and enough elastic to encircle the earth three times. And I still have those boxes in the garage to bring in and organize. But now I have space to do it!

So, yay! Progress! Really, the pictures don't do it justice. I am very pleased with how it is shaping up. I can't wait to work in the space once I am done.

Monday, November 28, 2011

San Francisco Trip - November 17-24

My family visited San Francisco the week before Thanksgiving. It was an absolute blast! Check out the fun times we had:

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Monday, November 14, 2011

Tooth Fairy, Santa Claus, and Imagination

I believe in make believe.

I believe in introducing a sense of wonder and play to my children. I believe in letting their imaginations flourish.

I believe in the power of stories. I believe in myth.

I believe in the Tooth Fairy. What the Tooth Fairy does with all those teeth she collects and what her source of funding is, I don't know. My mother sewed my brother and I special pillows for the tooth and money exchange. In another year or two, I look forward to sewing a special pillow for Cullen and then for Finnian.

I believe in things that are unseen. That are unexplainable. That are euphoric coincidences.

I believe in Santa Claus - or, in our house, the Winter King. There is a spirit of sharing and giving. It is part of humanity. A special part. I anthropomorphize it and call it a name, but I believe it is bigger than me or you or the Western world. It is a part of something, something special that we gift to those we love. It brings a smile to our face. I share that with my children.

I believe in personal myths. Introducing the ghost house in our neighborhood:

Walking by this empty lot with Cullen one day, I told him it was the ghost house. It has a driveway, but the house is invisible. His imagination has been captured by this. When we drive by it, he tells me what is going on in the ghost house. Who lives there. The games they play. He asks to go by the ghost house on our walks. I have not contributed to this process beyond that initial conversation when I pointed the lot out to him.

I love seeing their imaginations fly - going past things seen on tv or in books to a landscape of their own creation. I love hearing their own explanations of the world.

When I was a young girl, my uncle took me to a storm drain and warned me about the BIG GREEN ARM that would reach up and snatch me if I stood too close. Years later (after the delicious terror had subsided a little), I shared this with my father. Turns out my father and uncle were taken to the edge of a cliff by their uncle and told a BIG GREEN ARM would snatch them off if they stood too close. Yes, I will continue the tradition and scare the bejeezus out of my own kids (or better yet, my brother's kids should he ever have some) with the tale.

Why? Because to be human is to tell stories. To open our imaginations to things seen and unseen. Stories are what give us character and form. What did you learn about my uncle in the story above? That he had a puckish sense of humor and that he had a huge effect on my life.

There is power in facts. There is power in science. I do not deny this. I share the wonder of the world of facts and science with children on a daily basis. If they ask me a question, I try to answer it as accurately as possible. But, in my opinion, if I left things there I would only be opening them up to part of the world around them. There is a shared sense of story within our culture (some argue that shared stories ARE culture). The tooth fairy, Santa Claus, ghosts, goblins, are all a part of this.

I do not understand the sense of anger and betrayal some have expressed with learning Santa Claus or the Tooth Fairy are not real. Some of my best childhood memories are tied to these ideas. The excitement of seeing those gifts under the tree - wrapped in different paper than the gifts from family - or waking up to see a quarter rather than a tooth (I understand there has been marked inflation over the past 25 years) added joy to the proceedings. Even as I figured out that it was a "lie", I had a sense of a rite of passage taking place. Suddenly, I was on the adult side, viewing this as a story to share with children. I was moving into the adult world, away from the magics of childhood. But I never felt angry or betrayed by it. Instead, I liked feeling like I had participated in something bigger than myself. I hope my children feel the same way.

Some people do not want to "lie" to their children. They say that by not telling their children about these cultural myths they are building a foundation of trust that will always be there. I agree that trust and honesty is integral between parenthood and child. But parenthood is about so many moments, not any specific one. I try very hard to be honest with my children. If I am asked a question, I try to answer it as completely as possible. One day, I will be asked whether the Tooth Fairy is real. I will most likely turn the question around and ask if the child thinks she is real. That will help me determine the response I need to give at that moment.

Until then, I will indulge in the magic of make believe. I will share stories and lore from my own family and from our culture and other cultures. I will listen with open ears and mind to the descriptions of the ghost family and cherish the expression of wonder and awe on my child's face when he wakes up on Yule. I do it for them and I do it for me.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Pioneer Woman

Survival skills fascinate me. Not just surving when the s#$@ goes down, but doing it well.

Honestly, if the economy collapses tomorrow and the revolution comes, I am screwed. I can't light a fire to save my life (literally). I know the concept behind it - wood, arrayed in a way that allows kindling and air, accelerant (if you are lucky), add flame - but somehow it never becomes fire.

I possess the same sense of unease that many surburan Americans share - that we have become disconnected enough from our food supply chain, self health care, and utilities that if the systems would break down, it would be mass chaos leading to mass casualties. We have enough food to last several weeks in our house, but lack a good water supply. If tomorrow is not like today, my family would be screwed.

Enough doom and gloom. There is good in the has led me to learn or adapt to new behaviors. This post is about celebrating what paranoia wrought in my life.

No paper towels - we have them on hand in our house, but rarely use them. We use bar towels and rags instead. I use them to clean everything. They are stronger than paper towels, reusable, and they go through the wash just fine. I don't know why anyone bothers with paper towels any more.

I used to draw the line at bodily fluids on the cloth towels, but cloth diapering my youngest has taught me that with enough wash cycles, everything is fine. And cloth diapers (and/or inserts) have future use as rags in the future. Bonus!

Cloth menstrual pads - Why wear a disposable pad covered in chemicals up against sensitive skin several days a month? A couple of cloth pads came with a cloth diaper order several years ago. I loved them so much I sewed some more myself. I used old baby blankets and cloth diapers to make them. They are super easy to make. Again, toss them into the wash and you are good to go. I have a lined cloth bag (that I made) in my purse to hold dirties if I am out and about. Considering the average woman uses 4-5 pads a day, 5 days a month, I am NOT throwing away at least 20-25 pads each month. And saving money. Yay!

Homemade deodorant - Ok, this one is brand spanking new. I tried several natural deodorants but found them irritating. Friends pointed me in the direction of making my own deodorant. I do not see why this won't be successful. I am excited about doing this myself!

Gardening - All my life, I was convinced I had a black thumb. Besides, the idea of clearing a plot of land, managing the soil, weeding, etc, overwhelmed me. I know I am prone to biting off more than I can chew and *knew* I would do too much and then give up when it got too hard to manage. This spring, I decided to test the black thumb theory by planting a container garden. I figured I could manage one pot at a time. If one pot of plants dies, it would be ok because I could either start over or turn my attention to another pot. I tried not to make a big investment in it. I used old wood baskets and leftover conference tote bags for the planters. I tried to keep things as organic as possible and didn't use insecticides or similar.

It was even more of a success than I imagined! I not only kept the plants alive, but harvested beans, squash, green onions, and potatoes throughout the summer. I didn't do too well at tomatoes (the squirrels made off with them) or strawberries (the squirrels made off with them), but looking back at this sentence, I realize it is more a matter of squirrel management than my gardening ability. The garden did go kaput during the blazing heat of August, but I can plan to be more diligent about watering next year.

Reusing and recycling - I have discovered thrift stores are the cheapest and best kept secret for cheap fabrics. What is more pioneer-y than taking something old and making it new again? I love refashioning clothes! I have made patchwork sweater coats for several friends (and am taking commissions!), have learned the joys of felting old wool sweaters to make things like hats and slippers, and think using sheets for dress muslins is the best kept secret ever. I am having so much fun playing with old clothes!

Thrift stores are fabulous anyway. I get about 75% of my boys and my own clothing from thrift stores. I especially love shopping there for kids clothes. I heartily believe kids are meant to get dirty and I find it is easier to let this ideal stand if my child is wearing an outfit that cost $3 rather than $30. Besides, kids grow out of clothing so fast they barely get a chance to wear the item. And I love going to a place and finding the one item in the store that is a perfect find. It is like a treasure hunt.

Anyway, this is a short list, but it shows the shift in my thinking. Not only have I enjoyed learning new skills, but I have saved money and created less ecological impact by doing these things. I know there is a lot more I can do... and I will get to it, eventually. Maybe. Many people are doing much, much more. But it is fun to do just these few small things and feel like you are making a difference.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Halloween 2011

Halloween! Before I became a parent, I swore I would always make my children's costumes rather than buying them from the store. But that was before I had a boy who wanted to be a Clone Trooper. Wal-Mart could make that dream possible for $20. It would cost me more than $20 in materials, much less time, to do anything better. So for a couple of years I suffered the indignity of sending them out in store-bought costumes.

This year, each boy wanted to be a character that couldn't be found at the local Wal-Mart. Hooray! I experienced a great deal of satisfaction in costuming with them. I might just guide them toward unique costumes again in the future.

Cullen wished to be a wizard. But not just any wizard. He wanted to be Daffy Duck the Wizard from a recent Merrie Melodies short:

Something about this really captured Cullen's imagination. He spent weeks playing "wizard." In fact, he was the one who thought of using the tiki torch as a wizard staff. While playing outside with some friends, he grabbed one of our tikis and began swinging it around to direct his magic. Cullen was very exacting on how his costume must look; he shows promise of becoming a cosplayer.

I used old sheets for the cape and the robe. A $1 knit cap with a rhinestone became the headpiece. Cullen loved his hyped up wizard staff. The ball kept popping free, so by the end of Halloween night we put a glowstick into the end for a laser wizard staff. Cullen reveled in it and layered as many glowing objects as he could onto his person. He claimed they were the sources of his powers.

Finnian's costume was a home-made creation, too. He adores the tv show "Shaun the Sheep", especially Timmy, the baby sheep. I suggested he dress up as Timmy and he leapt on the idea. (Over time and big-brother's suggestions it became a Timmy-vampire-robot costume, but luckily simplicity carried the day.)

Finnian's Timmy the Sheep costume was super easy. I attached a couple of ears I made from an old black sweater to the $1 knit cap. The sheep fabric was $6 (and I bought way too much). I also got him some $1 black mittens and a black long sleeved shirt for the rest of the outfit, which he will be able to reuse this winter.

Let me tell you, Finnian was the cutest thing I have ever seen. The fluffy tail wiggled back and forth and you could hear the chorus of "awwwww...." as he walked by.

The boys had so much fun trick or treating in their costumes! My satisfaction with the night was much greater having contributed to it by making the costumes. Re-using materials (sheets, sweaters, tikis) appealed to my thriftiness and environmental consciousness. I am also pleased because I didn't use a store pattern for any of these costumes. They aren't complicated shapes - demi-circle cape, t-tunic, and tunic with elastic casing - but I was impressed with my ability to wing it. Here's to more winging it adventures!

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Project commences in 3... 2... 1...

As I gazed at the disaster that is my living room last night, I realized describing things was not going to be enough. I need pictoral proof of any progress I make. Maybe it will keep me more accountable to the project, too.

This weekend, I will be taking some Before pictures. I'll most likely take an additional Before photo before tackling the room, but it might be good to get a good baseline set. I'll post the pictures I take over the weekend or early next week so that people can better understand what I'm up against.

I plan to break the enterprise into bite-sized chunks. I'm going to work on one room each week. That way I can really focus - and maybe not feel so overwhelmed. I'll take a Before picture, a During picture, and an After picture. I'll write a bit about my decision process on what get kept, what gets donated, and what gets put in the sale/giveaway pile.

I'm going to begin in the upstairs family room. It is probably in the best shape - it is a public space so we generally keep it in better condition than private spaces - so won't take as long. I hope. It is also a space that the family uses every day, so it will make me feel good if it is clean and organized.

I'm marking my calendar: on Sunday, May 15, the Project Useful Beauty officially kicks off!

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The personal psychology of de-cluttering

As I mentioned previously, I come from a long, proud line of packrats. So what would cause me to go against my genetic grain and attempt to reorder my DNA to de-clutter?

Hoarding, some psychologists say, is a means for the hoarder to maintain some semblance of control in their life. Attachment to things becomes a thread of emotional security. For instance, if a beloved family member passes away, keeping all of their personal belongings is a way of keeping the connection strong; death is uncontrollable, but keeping stuff is. The irony is that clutter frequently makes things less controlled, so there is a spiral of failure waiting to suck you down.

De-cluttering, as it goes against the grain for me, is my own control mechanism. Life becoming overwhelming? Feeling stressed out? I can't control the situation I am in, but I can control the clutter within my house. Break out the garbage bins! Start the donation pile! It is time to de-clutter!

And, sure enough, I'm in the midst of a tumultuous time. I've organized two events within the past 3 months for over 300 people total. I've had my wisdom teeth removed. I've made some large purchases in the form of a new car and a travel trailer. I'm trying to refinance an investment property. Long to-do lists: I have them. All of this has left me (and my loving and patient husband) feeling wiped out and stressed out.

It has also left our house a bit of a wreck. Cleaning and tidying has moved down the priority list and it shows. As my circumstances leave me feeling overwhelmed and out of control, I seek to gain control of some aspect of my life. My house doesn't look like house beautiful. Target sighted.

Recognizing the impulse behind this does not mean the project loses credibility. Rather, I want to be aware of my motivations. The project will go forward. And you never know. Maybe I will feel better for doing it. Certainly having a more organized and beautiful house can't be all bad!

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Packrat: Nature vs. Nurture

I come from a long line of packrats. De-cluttering goes against my DNA structure.

My grandmother, whom I adored, could have been featured on one of the hoarder TV shows that are so popular right now. She lived in the same home for 45 years. From pictures, it looks like the house was clean and orderly until my grandfather died. Then everything went off the rails. My grandmother, a product of the Great Depression, began saving everything: newspapers, plastic containers, broken appliances, tins of old food. She got a job at a salvage store and brought home the items the store deemed too bent or broken to sell.

Most of my childhood memories of her house involve walking sideways down the hallway because the newspapers and boxes were piled to the ceiling and only allowed a narrow space to get by. Two of the three bedrooms in her house were always inaccessible because of the amount of stuff inside. She would sleep on a small section of exposed bed or on the living room sofa. My brother and I were never allowed into the basement. Never. It was one of the great mysteries of my childhood. I remember my brother and I peeking down there from the top basement stair step and seeing a jumble of boxes, papers, and junk.

To a child, this was heaven. I was always discovering something new at my grandmother's house. She kept all of my mother's toys (near mint-condition, highly collectible 1950s toys and comic books. My brother and I systematically destroyed most of them). We loved going over to her house because we could always, always find something new and interesting to play with. Sure, we had to crawl over boxes or dig through 25 years worth of junk to find it, but that was part of the fun. She did use this stuff as it was uncovered. I can still remember her ecstatic joy when she uncovered a metal box full of bar soap she had made back in World War II. A bar of it was at the kitchen sink for use thereafter.

When she passed away, I was in my early 20s and life circumstances allowed my husband and I to be the people to clean out most of her house. It took four 30 cubic foot dumpsters to clean it out. The dumpster company said it was a new record for them. The basement mystery was plumbed. I vomited in the front yard after inhaling the dust, mold, and grime that sailed off of an 80 year old sofa as it was carried to the dumpster. There were jars and boxes of strange chemicals and compounds. Probably most of it was toxic, but at that point we just had to make it go. It took two years from her death to get the job done.

My mother got the packrat gene, too, in a diluted form. Her tendencies were curbed by my father who was a throw-it-away-if-it-isn't-nailed-down type. (His mother lived a Spartan and utilitarian life in her tiny home where there was just enough of every item and everything had its place. Cleaning out her home after she passed was a breeze; it was done in a few weekends.) After my father's death and my mother's remarriage, the amount of stuff kept has mounted. My mom admits that there are spaces and rooms that are accumulating piles.

Me - I have the packrat gene, no doubt. One look at my crowded, cluttered house will tell you that. Unfortunately, the man I love is also a packrat, even more so than me in many ways. In his previous marriage, he lived in hoarder type conditions (apparently he is attracted to packrats). So I'm fighting an uphill battle here: my own predisposition and the instincts of my spouse. To de-clutter and organize will go against the grain for the both of us.

But, oh, the pay off at the end! The ideal of living in an organized and charming home! Instead of fruitlessly hunting for a required item, giving up, and buying another one - only to discover three versions of the lost item two weeks later - we'll be able to find what we need when we need it. Bliss.

So I'm going to do it. I'm going to fight against generations of packratdom to acheive an organized and de-cluttered household. One room at a time.