The Great Clean Out of 2017.

kitchen

Dear friends,

One of my favorite memories about my unconventional father is his “honor garage sales.” Although I spent most of my life separated from my father, I lived with him for two full years in college. (It was a little weird; after all those years apart we were suddenly adult roommates.) Bob loved money and loved cutting a deal, but he didn’t much care for the logistics and customer relations aspects of hosting a garage sale. So he tagged all his items and displayed them in the front yard with a sign describing the rules of his garage sale. (“Take your item and leave your money in the envelope in the mailbox.”) Then he drove to the neighborhood bar where he threw back a few and waited out the crowd. Several hours later, Bob came home to an envelope full of money and a mostly cleared yard. What a deal!

I’ve started off 2017 with a New Year’s Resolution to purge my life of excess baggage.  My approach is a little different than Bob’s but it works for me. I made an extensive list of every “space” in my home to be purged, cleaned and/or reorganized. I mentally gave myself a full year to do the job, but I was exceptionally industrious in January and made a ton of progress. I purposefully avoided a list that said “Clean Den” because I knew it would be overwhelming. The key to success, I figured, was the satisfaction of seeing regular check marks indicating progress on my list.

In that spirit, my list says things like “De-clutter nightstands.” “Purge jewelry drawer.” “Tackle the den bookshelves.” You know . . . bite-size, manageable chunks. So far, I’ve tackled my dish pantry (it took an entire day); my dining room buffet; every single drawer and cabinet in my kitchen (all 39 of them), including the kitchen counter tops, coffee stand, and kitchen appliance cart; hung a new light fixture in the kitchen (okay, Mr. Mom did that, but I helped); repainted the fireplace mantle and screen; purged and reorganized the front coat closet; Mr. Mom’s closet; the mud room (really a glorified alcove); the master bathroom sink cabinet; every table surface and wall in the living room; and the half bath counter top. I’ve hauled too many car loads to count of purged possessions to a local charity resale store. And I’ve still got a long ways to go.

Including a basement that’s not even on the list because it’s too overwhelming.

But hey, it’s only February, right? And you ought to see my house. It really is looking so good.

I’m not sure that any woman who calls herself Magpie and has an entire pantry of dishes (on top of all the dishes in her large kitchen) can ever claim to be a minimalist. But, lordy, you ought to see how de-cluttered my house is looking. There are tables and counter tops and walls with plenty of open space. The drawers are organized. There are EMPTY drawers! (Okay, there’s one empty drawer in my buffet, but still. It’s EMPTY!) I actually gave away one bag of table linens and several boxes of dishes, my most treasured collections.

And I feel so good about my newly airy 2500 square feet of dwelling space!

Actually, I feel guilty. A little. Because no good deed goes unpunished in the Magpie psyche, I feel bad for living in such a big house and having spent money over the years on so many possessions I’m now giving away. But I read this article earlier this week and decided to “own my mistakes” and “let go.” And even Mr. Mom has given me an important affirmation. A couple of weeks ago he said “Things are really looking good honey. The key, I think, now is to maintain it. Quit bringing stuff home.”

No penance for past sins. Just forward progress. He’s a gem of a guy, ain’t he?

And I really feel like I’ve turned the corner emotionally. I amused my friends when I declared I was going to pare a little each year until five years from my death I would live in a very small space and be free of possessions. They are anxious to know how I’m going to know when I’m five years from death. But I figure barring a tragic accident or very sudden illness, I’ll know. And I’ll trim accordingly because I’m committed to not leaving a trail of possessions for my loved ones to deal with. It’s not what defines me, much as I’ve allowed it to as reflected in my self-selected nickname.

It’s worth mentioning my friend and colleague died suddenly two weeks ago at age 59. I absolutely adore his wife and our circle of friends’ shared grief has been a bit of a wake-up call. Life is short. Hug your people. Tell them you love them every day. Get your shit in order and focus on love and kindness, not things. I hear the message, dear universe.

I’m not only cleaning out the physical clutter, I’m sweeping away the emotional detritus. Or trying to, anyway. And I’m telling everyone I care about in every way I know how — I love you!

And there’s a minimalist quality to those three simple words that are fitting, don’t you think?

With gratitude {for the energy and inspiration to clean, for the incredible luxury of worldly goods I can share with others, for a large circle of peeps to love, for today’s breath},

Joan, who thinks Bob almost had it just right and is seriously contemplating a “charity garage sale” where everything is free, first come, first served, and wonders what you think about her crackpot idea

 

 

 

Advertisements

A tale of two trees.

Dear friends,

xmastree

If you’re like me, Christmas is the most sentimental time of year. By the time my birthday rolls around in early December, I am inevitably lulled into a month-long reverie of reminiscences that make January and its stoic resolutions seem like an especially cold slap in the face.

Decorating the tree has long been the focus of my nostalgia. I have collected dozens of ornaments over nearly 40 years. I’d like to claim they are each carefully wrapped in tissue and stored in tidy containers, but the truth is while some are, most aren’t, and my containers wear the heavy dust of a basement I rarely venture into.

Still, when I open my boxes and begin the ritual of adorning the tree, it’s as if the concentrated essence of Christmases past fills the room like the steamy aroma of mulled cider. My kids know the drill: I put on my favorite Christmas music (classics recorded by the likes of Tom Petty, the Eagles, and John Mellencamp); Parker manages the bird’s nest of wire hooks, pulling them free one by one; Kate attaches a hook to each ornament and passes it to me; and I select the perfect spot for each and every ornament. Along the way, I tell the same stories year after year after year.

“This doll is the from the set of six wooden ornaments I sold in high school to raise money for my cheerleading team. This is the dough ornament I made in middle school, the only one Grannie saved. This is the cross stitch ornament my sorority sister at TU gave me my junior year. This is the first ornament I purchased for Kate after she was born. This is the first ornament Parker made and brought home from Kiddie Kollege. This is the ornament I bought on the trip to Yellowstone – remember how sick Parker was with chicken pox on our trip?”

Besides my own enjoyment, the annual recitation is likely a thinly veiled stab at maternal immortality.  If I keep telling the stories, as my rationalization goes, my kids will remember them and pass them on. And some December day, four or five or six generations from now, my timeworn ornaments will hang on a tree and remind a great-great-great-somebody of Joan-Marie. Sometimes I think that’s all a mother really wants. To be remembered.

But this year, for the first time, we broke with tradition. I was at the dining room table sewing up a birthday quilt for a friend back home – too busy to pause I declared – so Kate decided to take charge. Parker fell in line with the hooks and Kate carefully curated my collection with a discerning eye.

“I’m done,” she declared, far too soon to have paid proper homage to each of my ornaments. “What?” I said. “You can’t possibly be!” “Come look,” she teased. “It’s beautiful. And not at all like your tree.”

And there, in our den, was a Christmas tree straight out of a magazine. “Look how balanced it is,” Kate said, beaming. “It’s a perfect mix of white, gold and red. Not cluttered. Not overdone.”

I was speechless. There were no popsicle-stick stars with plastic beads hot-glued on. No Hallmark/Disney frames with faded photos of every deceased but beloved pet in our family’s history. No tiny coffee mugs with each of our names painted on, purchased on family road trips from roadside souvenir joints. It was if our ornaments held a beauty contest and only the loveliest and most elegant made it on stage.

“It’s beautiful,” I said, surprised by an unexpected dose of equanimity. “Really, it is. I can’t believe I like it, but I do. You’ve done a lovely job.”

“I like it, too” Parker added quickly. “Since we’re finished, can I go hang with my friends now?”

And just like that, this old dog proved she could learn a new trick, even on the touchiest of topics, on the most sentimental of days. Instead of insisting my children watch “It’s a Wonderful Life” with me (another of Joan-Marie’s treasured traditions), we turned down the music, turned up the college football game, and settled into a new holiday rhythm, one no less modulated by a mother’s heart, but newly attuned to the vicissitudes of family affections.

With gratitude {for holiday family time, whether by my own design or another’s},

Joan, who likes her Christmas trees like her baked potatoes — loaded

I’m not sure what this means, but I’m going to run with it.

Dear friends,

I’ve been in a phase lately.

And in this case, phase means obsessed. (Because I’m known to be a little OCD that way.)

You see, this has become a metaphor for my life:

Source: New York Times

I find myself drawn to this photo because it represents what I want my life to look like.

Spare. Minimalist. Clean. Uncluttered.

For a woman who called herself the Magpie for many years (with good reason), this turnabout is odd. After years of collecting every shiny thing that caught my eye, I’m suddenly looking at things with a new eye. And my new eye wants less stuff hemming me in.

I don’t know why. I just know it’s calming me to pare down.

I spent a few hours on Sunday editing. Editing tabletops. Drawers. My purse. The fireplace mantle. And even, gasp, the kitchen desk.  (Everybody knows the kitchen desk is like a junkyard of clutter. A single piece of mail can live a long and happy life on the kitchen desk.)

It’s not easy. Even though we downsized last year, this Magpie has years worth of stuff tucked away. And my changes are small. But I can feel the tide turning. I can feel it in my bones.

It’s almost as if my soon-to-be-empty nest is becoming literal.  I’m looking at every single surface and asking myself “Is this pleasing?” And if not, are there things here I can do without? Clutter I can remove, objects I can find new homes for in my my quest to pare down?

I’m not sure what this means, but I’m going to run with it.

With gratitude {for the inclination, momentary or otherwise, to take stock, clean up, and streamline at least a little corner of my life},

Joan, who always believed for everything there is a season, but isn’t sure what the reason for this season is