A Season of Less

I’ve always been kind of contrary. I like the idea of doing the opposite of what’s expected or what everyone else is doing. It usually puts me in a place where it’s less crowded and less chaotic and I like places like that.

Being on the verge of Christmas Chaos had me thinking today–thinking about what I could do to feel good and not overwhelmed and spent by the end of this month and the end of the year. I looked around the house and it hit me, I want less. I would love to start 2016 with less.

So here’s my plan, everyday in December I will throw out one large trash bag worth of stuff and fill another large trash bag of stuff to be donated. By the time January rolls around I’ll be ready for the new year, new projects, new ideas. I’ll have a clean (or at least cleaner) slate.

The more I thought about it the more I saw the modern logic to my plan. December used to be a time of filling your house with stuff; food stuff, indoor projects, stuff you needed to get through the long winter. Homes were literally stuffed to the rafters with the provisions needed to last until spring. It was a great idea for a little house on the prairie.

But for a modern, post-industrial household it’s not only unnecessary, it’s demoralizing and frustrating. With so much cheap (really, really cheap) stuff available we’ve filled our houses to the rafters with knickknacks, geegaws, gag gifts, maybe-someday clothes, etc. Today, Cyber Monday, my email inbox was overloaded with millions more items I could add to the pile, each for a price so low it was hard to say no. All that stuff looks great until the boxes arrive and you realize you have no place to put it.

I’m not religious and don’t really celebrate anything this time of year but this year I’m changing all that. 2015 is the start of Declutter December. Anyone and everyone can celebrate but it works especially well for contrarians, people like me who tend to run in the opposite direction when I see the crowds approaching. Something tells me I won’t have to wake at 2 a.m. to go battle someone for the last box of trash bags.

So, who’s with me? Who else wants to declare today the start of Declutter December?

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Is That in My Job Description?

It’s both a benefit and frustration of the job that being Chick in Charge (aka Mom, homemaker, etc.) has no real job description.  Most days I get by on a combination of stuff I learned from my mom, advice from magazines and friends and just winging it.  There are are also no annual reviews or pay raises to let you know if you are doing a good job.  Occasionally you get a customer satisfaction survey, but that often comes in the form of teenage kvetching or flowers on your one holiday in May.  It’s hard to know if I am doing a good job or even exactly what my job is (or isn’t).

I’m a very analytical person.  I like numbers and solid proof, but I’m not sure what data I would or could use to verify my effectiveness as CIC.  Did my family eat this week (check) was it nutritious (ummm, most days, half check), did my kids show up at school everyday (check) on time (check) with the stuff they need (ummm).  

Women’s magazines seem to be very clear on what makes a “good” mom.  She goes above and beyond, always.  Her family always eats home-cooked meals that feature balanced nutrition, organic ingredients and come in under budget.  Not only do her kids have perfect attendance records at school (because she would never let them get sick), she is always at their school.  She’s a room mom, PTA volunteer and lunch monitor so she can spend more time with her kids.  

I see two HUGE problems with that job description.  First, if she does everything for her kids, they are not learning to take care of themselves, which leads to problem number two, eventually (hopefully) they will leave home and she will be out of a job that has consumed her life.  

There is a part of me who feels great when I do everything for my kids, when I make their life easier, softer, sweeter.  But, the reality is, I’m not doing them or me any favors if I don’t teach them to stand on their own and take care of themselves. If they don’t do their laundry (or don’t bother to put soap in when they do) the result is stinky clothes and friends who avoid them, a good lesson to learn.  Natural consequences are great at teaching life lessons, IF I can get out of the way and allow the natural consequences to happen.  For me, the hard part is ignoring how much it looks like I am failing at my job when I do this.  

This morning was typical.  My older son couldn’t find a belt (required at his school).  I knew he had left it in a suitcase so I told him where to find it.  It sped up the process, but he has come to rely on me knowing where all his stuff is (and he is definitely not the only one in this house guilty of that).  It’s hard to know when to stop; when to let him think back to the last time he saw it and find it himself or take the consequence of not having it on at school.  

In the next month both my kids have birthdays, moving one step farther away from me and toward independence.  My job is being slowly phased out and I’m being eased into mommy retirement.  My heart tells me to hang on, do nice things for them while I still can; but my head tells me to keep pushing them away, let them try and possibly fail, learning life’s lessons.  In the end, I will be the only one to decide if I’ve succeeded or failed at this job.  I’ve created my own job description and it looks something like this:  launch two happy, productive adults into this world and leave one satisfied, relieved CIC behind. 




Leaning Into Letting Go

I hesitated to write on this topic.  Not a lot of Joie in letting go.  But letting go has been all around me lately, so I feel like it is important enough to include in my blog.  It’s part of midlife, so it’s part of what brings us together on this blog. 

Facebook has had a rash of postings from friends who are sending their last baby off to college.  The pictures of dorm room decorating and suitcases and packed cars are all bitter sweet.  It is exciting to see your kids head off in a positive direction, as much as it hurts to let them go.  I am years away from this event (with high hopes that it will happen), but I empathize with them.  My boys pull away from me a little more every year, like they are supposed to. 

A close friend lost a parent recently.  We all feel her loss.  Logically we know our parents are not going to live forever, but that does nothing to reduce the sting when it happens. The grieving process from losing one of the most important people in our lives can take years.  Birthdays, holidays and other special events can set off a fresh round of tears and memories. 

This post was also inspired by my own letting go.  My father’s death three years ago started a chain reaction of mourning for me; for the relationship we didn’t have, the one we did, and all the hurt in between.  Most days I don’t think much about it.  I have enough on my plate to keep me busy and I consciously lean toward joy.  But sometimes, I’ll hear a song, or read something in a book and be hit with a flood of memories.  That’s when I need to set aside time to grieve, to let go.  

My favorite life-lesson guru, Danielle LaPorte, tells me to start each day asking how I want to feel that day, then what actions I can take to feel that way.  This plan is fantastic till I come up against a day of letting go.  I don’t want to feel sad or lost, but I do, and there is no getting around it.  So I decided to lean into it, just dive right in.  If I was going to cry, I would really let go; take some time, curl up with my son’s teddy bear, put on a sad song, open a pint of Ben & Jerry’s, and really have a good cry.  Those days are just as important to me as the ones where I accomplish 15 things before noon.  They clear the dark places out of my soul.  

As I said, not a happy topic for a Friday morning, but an important one.  Some days that’s just the way it is; not much joie, but a whole lot of vivre.