Your Frustrating, Cluttered, & Overwhelming House (and Mine)

Yesterday was one of those days. You know, one of those days. It all started much like any other day. My husband and I were enjoying a cup of coffee in the kitchen when my daughter bounded into the room, and gleefully chimed:

"I am ready early today!! Wow! What am I going to do until it is time to get the bus??"

I responded with encouragement, coffee mug in hand:

"Well, it would be great if you could take 15 minutes or so and pick up some things off your floor."

Husband, with enthusiasm:

"Yeah! That would be great."

Pause here for indignant look of distaste, followed by a scrunching of one's nose...you know whose.

"But....That would be a waste of time."

Yep, it was time for what we call in our household  a little "Come To Jesus" meeting.

The frustration level in our house has been building lately.  My kids aren't frustrated...not at all. They are distracted. Distracted and forgetting the basics of how to be  good citizens of our household. They are too busy being understandably gleeful about the impending end of school, and all the fun that goes along with the weather getting warmer and the days getting longer.  My son, who is twelve, is especially distracted. "Like, .....I  don't know....why I....just came in the room....(oh, yeah! I need a snack!)" distracted. I think there should be a whole separate clinical category for 12 year old boy distraction. It is epic and amazing to behold.

Ahhhh, hormones.

So, if you are frustrated, too, here are some things to remember and steps to take:

1.If there is smoke, there is fire--That's right, if you are feeling frustrated with your house, nine times outta ten there is probably CLUTTER involved. You won't see it as clutter at first (it is really good at disguising itself as useful, meaningful items), but once you start looking more closely you will see there is a lot of stuff hanging around that you don't truly love, find useful, or think is especially beautiful.

2. Put out the fire--I mean donate it, recycle it, give it so someone who will use it. Having less STUFF to clean up, put away, dust and fuss over is the way to lessen frustration and gain peace.

3. Remember that it is a journey, not a destination--I have to remind myself of this one all the time. We are so seduced in our culture by the "once and done" myth. You know the reality decorating shows that have the awful "before" followed by the amazing reveal that make us all subconsciously believe that now the people's house, lives, everything is now finished and perfect--no more worries. THIS IS NOT TRUE. Creating a home that nurtures you is an ongoing process that requires day in and day out  maintenance and the understanding that rooms, like people and families, evolve over time.

4.Play to your strengths-- There are things we are good at, and hopefully like to do, and there are things we wish we never had to do again. If you live within a family, I bet there are things that you don't like to do, that someone else in the household is particularly good at and doesn't mind doing. For example, my son is wonderfully good at washing cars, and he loves to do it. If he washes my car once a week, I am so happy to help him fold and put away his clean clothes. Family life is about working together and sharing, making the whole thing easier (we all just need a reminder of this from time to time--hopefully before someone gets to the point of snarkiness and feeling like everyone else's slave. Ahem.)

Frustration is a symptom not of a terminal disease, but of a malady that is swiftly cured with teamwork and a little elbow grease.  Amen!

When Everything Changes

Change is a constant part of life. And, as I am sure you already know, change is challenging and often chaotic. In my own life, a year of earth-shattering change started on Memorial Day the year that I was 17 years old. On that Monday, my father died after a short and brutal fight with throat cancer. Just a few months later, in the early morning hours of  New Years Day, my mother died. She was swiftly taken by an aggressive brain tumor that had only been diagnosed that Fall, as I was starting my freshman year of college.  I was now 18 years old, had lost both my biological parents, and along with my stepfather, had two lifetimes worth of belongings to sort through.

I can't tell you very much about how we did that, or in what order. You would have to ask my then boyfriend, now husband, what day to day life was like that year.... I don't remember much of it.

After weathering many seasons of change in my life, I do know that when going through periods of transition-whether it is  happy, such as the birth of a baby-- sad, such as the end of a marriage-- or maybe a mixure of the two, such as when the youngest child has flown the nest---there are so many things that we have to deal with. Like real material things, along with all of our emotions. There is a lot of clutter that has to be shifted around, sorted, and gotten rid of.

At that time, it is important to remember these five things.......

1. Be Patient With Yourself-- You aren't yourself.  Things are going to be confusing, decisions hard to arrive at. Giving yourself a loving dose of care and understanding is just what the doctor ordered.

2. Dealing With Clutter Is Emotional--The STUFF we have in our lives, whether a precious family heirloom, or an old, obsolete baby car seat have memories and emotions attached to them. These things stick to us, just like the dust that settles on our clothes as we are cleaning out, and can make us feel weighed down. It can also make us want to avoid dealing with it all together. Refer to tip #1, and keep moving forward.

3. Keep Things Simple--Have a set amount of time that you will work on things each day. Set a timer, and when it tells you you are finished, honor it.  Don't think that a marathon session of sorting and organizing will do anything more than exhaust you.

4. Reserve A Calm Space To Retreat To--Designate an area that will remain stacks-of-boxes-piles-of-paper-heaps-of-crap--free. Preferably this should be a place where you can't even see the stuff you are working on, and a spot that is pleasant to sit in. You will need this when your timer goes off, and you are ready to be finished for the day.

5. Create A Vision of What You Want Things To Look Like Going Forward--Picture what you want your life to look like going forward now that this change has happened. I know this is easier said than done, but it is important to think about so that you can work toward that goal--a goal where your home can be a nurturing place that supports and facilitates your vision for you and those you love.

A Clever Way To Spend Some Money and an Afternoon

If given a wad of ones, what in your house would you "buy back" for a dollar? Would you re-invest in that vase that has been sitting on the counter for a couple of months since you received flowers for your birthday? How about the casserole dish that is dusty and lonesome sitting in the back of the cupboard? When was the last time you made Tuna Surprise?!?

Now remember, you only have a certain amount of cash to spend, and when it is gone it is gone. So what is worth it to you? What do you love? What do you find completely useful?

This technique using a limited amount of money helps us to re-evaluate what is taking up the other finite thing in our houses: space. With only, let's say, twenty dollars in your hand, choices become more clear.

I love this idea! I came across a blog entry presenting this technique on unclutterer.com, and just had to share.  You can read the whole post here. Grab a friend to help keep you honest...whom you will "pay"...and tackle that hall closet or spare room you have been meaning to get to. Write in and tell us how it goes!!! You can do it!

Overcoming Overwhelm

It has happened countless times. She stands there in the doorway, befuddled and paralyzed.  It isn't clear to her what to do or even what the first step should be. She wishes she could just walk away...deal with this another day. She is a nine year old girl, and she has just been told by her mother to GO CLEAN HER ROOM.

How is she any different from any of us? We all have stood in front of a mess of one kind or another, mouth agape, feeling overwhelmed, feeling defeated before we have even started.

I remember being that young girl, and I was reminded of it just recently with my own daughter.

It is of comfort to me that most things in life that seem problematic or complicated, are really very simple at their core. You just have to seek out that basic element, boil the thing down to its very essence.

For instance, have you ever heard the theory that married couples really have only ONE argument during all the years they are married? Oh sure, the words used each time will be different, and the TOPIC may change...but supposedly you are arguing about the same damn thing every time. How much easier would life be if we could only figure out the real message behind the annoyance with leaving the toilet seat up?!?

I know that on that afternoon when my daughter had been charged with PUTTING IT ALL AWAY, the mound of mixed up clothes, papers, toys, hair thingees, and shoes had been shifted around and kicked about for quite awhile before I came to check on her--without any noticeable progress being made.

I jumped in, and we worked together. We boiled it down to the most simple tasks:

"Grab all the books! Let's get all the ones that are on the floor...any more we missed? There's another one. Now let's put this stack back on the shelf." We didn't lose our focus until all the books had been dealt with.

We then piled all the clothes together on the bed. We very quickly sorted out the dirty from the clean, and the pile of dirty was happily shoved in the hamper.

By now she was visibly energized since the room was looking better by each passing second. The mixed up mess had been broken into manageable categories.  We had a system, and the thing that seemed impossible was quickly being dealt with. It felt like it could be done. And it was!

So, the next time each of us is faced with a daunting project, we must remember it really is simple. Start with a basic task and see that part through. The accomplishment will bolster your will to take the next step, and then the next....

What did Mary Poppins say? :"Well begun is half done!"

Now, go get started!