Holiday Deconstruction

It’s beginning to look a lot like two days after Christmas.  It was WAY more fun to decorate than it will be to take stuff down and put it away, I know.  This year Boo is not-quite-four, and she was very much a part of things this year.  She has a teensy tree of her own which provided endless entertainment (plus the whole “don’t touch the big tree! you can play with your own ornaments on your own tree” strategy…).  She put the little colored birds on the ceramic light-up tree

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Note how all the red birds are together, all the green birds are together, etc. That’s not an accident.

and she totally bought into the whole Santa thing this year.  A good time was had by all

But now it’s time to start taking it all down.  UGH.  Naturally, I have a plan for this.  This morning I pulled all of the bins out of the closet under the stairs.  First up? Candles.  I love me some Christmas flavored candles.  I have one that smells just like peppermint bark and it makes me so happy.  Candles are a big part of the holiday decor, so putting them away first puts a big dent in the whole job.  This is also a good opportunity to throw out any that are done.  You know the ones, right?  They kinda sorta smell like something, but the jar is all sooty and it’s just not nice anymore?  Yeah, that one’s done.  Last year, I threw away all of the heavy glass lids to the candle jars, which was sort of angsty for me,  But they took up space on the counters when the candles were lit, and they made the box too heavy when the candles were put away.  Much better now.

This morning I also took down the stockings and holders, and all of the little Santa doorknob covers and bells and twirly things (what are they called? you light the candles and it makes the windmill thingy spin and it’s lovely?  Yeah, whatever that thing is.).  I washed the Christmas candy dishes and cookie plates and they’ll be ready to put away when they’re dry.

That’s all that’s happened so far.  I’m off this week (and Boo’s at school so let the vacay HAPPEN), so there’s time to do a little every day without being overwhelmed.  I’m cleaning stuff out as I go, too.  Anything that we don’t use or love is OUTTA here.  Some things don’t get put out anymore but they make us happy so they get to stay.  Nothing gets a free ride, though.  We’ve all been through too many drama-filled family holidays, and sometimes just looking at the things that were surrounding us at those times is enough to bring it all back.  As my good friend Sweet Brown says, Ain’t nobody got time for that.

There’s no small amount of relief when the whole holiday season is over, I know.  Yes, it’s fun and full of joy and laughter (or it should be… ) but there’s a lot of pressure to meet expectations.  Christmas cards have to be sent by a certain day or THEY WON’T GET THERE IN TIME!  I ask you this:  in time for what?  Most of my cards were delivered yesterday, and it’s fine,  really.  I didn’t do a lot of baking this year because I don’t really enjoy baking so I leave it to the experts.  The Christmas that we had was the Christmas that we needed, and that’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.

The Craft Gene

Ugh.

I am not crafty.  I do not make stuff.  I do not create.  My home is not festooned with things that I have made.  I walk into Michael’s or JoAnn and I wander around like a zombie for twenty minutes and then I just give up and do the DIY Walk Of Shame back to my car, empty handed.  I have no interest in becoming a crafter, either, and I tend to make fun of those who are really into it.  The words “country crap-fest” are a part of my lexicon.

Growing up, this was a source of scorn in my family.  My mom was a serious crafter.  I have three crocheted afghans, an Amish quilt, and countless things she painted  in my home.  Seriously, there was a period of time in the late ’70s when no flat surface went unadorned by yellow glossy paint and orange rick-rack trim.  She put a lot of energy into cultivating this hobby with my sister and me.  Latchhook (omg do you remember latchhook?) rugs and pillows were our summer projects.  She would give me a size K crochet hook (I just had to google the sizing system, and K was the Big Fat one for noobs) and a remnant of yarn (usually in some brown/yellow/orange combination) and patiently sit with me while I painstakingly made three feet of awkward single or, in one blaze of glory, double chain stitches (again, googled to confirm terminology).  My entire body would clench up.  The yarn would be so tight around my hands that the end product appeared to be felted.  Hated. every. minute.

To make matters worse, my sister became a champion crafter.  Her medium was counted cross-stitch, and she became quite a skilled cross-stitcher (is that what it’s called?  I’d ask her but, um, we’re not close…).  When I last crossed the threshold of her home, the decor consisted mainly of her intricately stitched masterpieces (and brass and glass, but it was the 90s and I assume she’s redecorated by now, because really?) and I firmly believe that our coming down on opposite sides of the crafting divide predicated our current distance.  I digress.

Crafting was a big deal going back generations in the family.  When my mom’s grandmother passed away, the embroidery she was working on at the time was lovingly placed, unfinished and with the threaded needle still where she put it last, in the cedar chest.  I have a quilt that my own grandmother and her sister in law sat down and made together.  Stuff like this was how the women in my family expressed themselves.

So every summer, my mom would come across a craft thing (pattern? idea? template? whatever.) and she would make dozens of them and those would be Christmas gifts for everyone we knew.  One year, everybody got these amazing Christmas tree angels that still take my breath away.  And this time of year when I’m starting to put our gifting lists together, I spend at least an hour or so wishing I was crafty so that I could fill my own stupid Pinterest board with my Wonderful Handmade Gifts and ideas.

I have other skills, yes, but when people ask what my hobbies are, I’m kind of stumped.  I love to read.  I watch movies.  I…. um….. I’m actually sitting here trying to come up with more “hobbies”.  I don’t have them.  I don’t have time, and I don’t say that in an attempt to convey how Very Busy I am, because I’m really not so much busier than anybody else, but I’d rather fritter my time away in a quiet corner with a trashy romance novel than making or collecting or whatever it is that hobbyists do.

My daughter is now of the age where she wants to make stuff.  She wants to draw and paint and glue and string beads.

Exhibit A:

Boo and Auntie Shae make a bracelet.

Of note, this picture was taken yesterday at my friend Shae’s fabulous bead shop, Sweet Beads.  Go check it out!  We’ve added this activity to our rotation of Things to Do because Boo sat there for a good thirty minutes, quietly yet enthusiastically stringing beads.  Awesome.

I wish I could teach Boo how to make stuff.  I wish I’d had the patience/interest/ wherewithal to pay better attention when Mom was teaching me how to do this stuff.  In the years since my mom passed, people have given me the things she gave to them (not in a “OH GET THIS OUT OF MY HOUSE” kind of way, either) and that’s why I have 3 Christmas angels and two magazine racks and a crocheted Ernie doll, among other things.  Her summer projects became her legacy.  When I see them, I remember exactly what was going on in the rest of the world when they were being made.  I want to give that sort of memory to Boo.  She helps me bake bread (she can stir like a champ) and we do puzzles but that’s really as far as we’ve gotten.

There’s more to come on this topic.  What do you do with your kids?  Are you crafty (and not in a Beastie Boys way…)?   What are some easy starter projects that maybe we could learn to do together?

Guest Post! Movin’ on up

My friend Christina offered to lend a new voice to Get A Grip.  Her background is in Interior Design, and her current status as a bona fide New Yorker give her serious space management cred.

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Hi.  I’m Christina, and I’m a fan of the folks over at Get A Grip.  You know, there are days when I read the blog and see the Huddle Up and I say “Amen, sister!” and there are others when I learn something new.   I’m big on organization over here too, even though we’re kind of messy. Messy, but hey, I know where pretty much everything is.  To be honest, my organization happens mostly behind closed doors.  Our closets and drawers are freakishly neat. Most of the time.

So why am I here? A little bit of a different perspective, some of my own organization tips, and most of it in the context of moving.  You see, we over here are “movin’ on up”.  We, my little family of 3 and a dog, are living in New York City (East Coast, represent!) and while we aren’t moving to the East Side, we are moving “up” – 10 blocks north, to be precise, and we are doubling our space.  This move will happen in about 3 months, and in the meantime we are trying to sell our current home and I am obsessively planning everything ahead for the new place.  The Get A Grip folks and I thought that sharing the experience with you, the lovely readers, might be worthwhile.  They help you get your life organized, and maybe, just maybe, I can help with ideas to get your stuff organized.  So let’s humor each other a bit, why don’t we?

Binge & Purge. Clothing, that is.

A couple of weeks ago I bought a new dress.  A really cute one too.  I needed to hang it up, and when I stepped into my closet I realized that not only were my dresses crammed into the dress section, but some were forced to share hangers.  Quel horror!  So the dress stayed folded in the shopping bag, which sat on the floor of my closet.  This is never good.  I mean, why would a new dress want to be hidden from view?  It should be out there, looking at me, saying “wear me!”, and not in seclusion waiting to be forgotten.

So then one fine rainy Saturday, I found it: my Motivation.  The voice inside my head was screaming at me to go clean out the closet.  And I listened.  And once I was done I had a big pile of stuff that I wasn’t going to keep.  And herein lies the problem: what to do with it all.  Sure, Goodwill comes to mind, but that’s too easy, and let’s be honest, not always the right place for everything.  Why don’t we discuss our options here, of where to send those old friends of yours who you are sending out into the world.

Resale/Consignment

I have some stuff that is on the ‘nicer’ end of the spectrum, clothes that maybe I can make some money back on.  It’s not like I’m running around in Chanel over here (I wish), but there are some “ready to wear” brands that you’d find in the fancier sections of your local department store.  One never knows – they might be worth something and don’t I owe it to myself to find out?

One thing I have learned is that there are resale and consignment shops for every level and price range of clothes.  Even if you can make just one dollar on something, isn’t that better than nothing?  It might seem like a chore, hauling your stuff to the shop on the off chance they will want your stuff, but you know what? Just do it.  You may have a local shop where you can do this, or you can find a shop that is part of a larger chain, such as Plato’s Closet (for your clothes-horse teen) or Second Time Around (for your fancy department store stuff).

Charity shops

Goodwill and the Salvation Army are the biggies here, but you might also look at donating your non-resalable clothing to a local church or other charitable organization.  Here in NYC my preferred donation location of choice is Housing Works, which provides services, advocacy, and housing for those in the community suffering from AIDS.  The shops don’t just accept and sell clothing – they take books and some furnishings as well. (I bought our AMAZING Danish modern dining set there for a relative steal).   Bottom line, if your can’t get money back from your clothes at a resale shop, you may as well send it out into the world to do good for someone else.

Recycling

I read a shocking statistic that, at least here in New York, textiles make up almost 6% of landfill waste.  SIX PERCENT! And as much as we like to tell ourselves that the stuff we throw out is biodegradable (or whatever) the truth is that once something is part of the landfill and is buried under other Stuff and deprived of light and air, well, it’s just not going to break down and become on with the earth.  It’s just not.

Here in NYC we are lucky to have textile recycling available to us, and I can drop off stuff at any number of local farmer’s markets.  What would you recycle?  Anything you might not know what to do with that you might be sneaking into your Goodwill bag with the hopes that they will figure it out.  “Who me?”, you say. Yeah you, you know what I’m talking about.  The t-shirt with a hole in it, or the duvet cover that has ripped at the seams, or the favorite pyjama pants that you split the seat on thus rendering them unwearable, even in the privacy of your own home.  The damaged stuff that still has large areas of good useable fabric, that’s the stuff I’m talking about.

If you can find local textile recycling, then this is an awesome option.  The sad truth is that I have seen torn-open garbage bags on the sidewalk outside of some charity shops filled with clothing that they didn’t deem acceptable.  You think you are asking them to deal with it so you don’t have to, and they’re just throwing it in the trash anyways. This bums me out.

Other things for the more ambitious 

I can’t exactly throw up a sign and have a garage sale here on the island of Manhattan.  Sure, people have “Stoop Sales” or hold sales in their apartments, but I just don’t think that would fly in my co-op building.   But you suburbanites out there, this might be a great option for you.  From what I gather, yard sales can be a lot of work, but if you’re up for it, then go for it.    There’s ebay too, though I’m not sure how effective this is for grown-up clothes.  For kid stuff I hear it’s great – put your child’s outgrown clothes up for sale in groups, rather than as individual pieces.  Or host a clothing swap!  Among my friends we have little kids of all ages and will sometimes host a swap – set up tables by size, toss your used clothes in the pile, and pick up some new stuff in the sizes you need.  Combine this with brunch and a playdate and you’ve got a fun and productive Saturday morning!

It’s a lot of information, and maybe the thought of multiple piles of stuff going to different places overwhelms you, but it’s easier than it looks.  So go purge that closet and make room for some great new stuff!

You know, I’ve never figured out what is the best way to get rid of old undies.  If you figure that one out, please let me know.

Stuff I love and with which I cannot part.

I talk a pretty good game.  I make a pretty big deal about how I’m not a collector, and that if I don’t use it, it’s OUTTA here.  Right?  Yeah.  Well, I have my Achilles heels just like everyone else.  I’d like to share the Top Five Things I Will Keep Forever.

1.  Books.  Oh, the day I discovered amazon.com was the best day in the history of ever.  I looooooooooooove me some books.  I love good books and trashy books  and shameful books (that last one is the hottest three bucks you’ll ever spend, and Gideon Cross makes Christian Grey look like an underachiever).  My current favorite genre is biography/memoir.  I love reading people’s stories.  From Jack Benny to the delightfully sordid complete collection of Kitty Kelley tomes that I keep close at hand, there is nothing more fascinating to me than the lives of real people.  So the 7-foot bookshelf next to my side of the bed that is busting at the seams?  The three more just like it downstairs?   Let’s just assume they will be all full for the rest of my life.  I’m resisting the siren call of the e-reader, but the space-saver in me sees its appeal.  I fear I’ve passed this trait on to Boo, and I’m not one bit sorry :).  She takes so many books to bed with her that she falls asleep on top of them.  Parenting victory, there.

2.  Boo’s Artwork From School.  I never thought I’d be That Mom.  I don’t keep stuff.  Bits of paper and non-specific artistic renderings of nothing in particular?  Good heavens, why would I keep that?  Well I’ll tell ya.  If my daughter made it, it is precious.  And for this reason, I have a bin that contains every.single.piece. of art that she has made at school since she was 3 months old.  It’s probably some subconscious working mom guilt manifesting itself because these were created when she was not in my care, or some such twaddle.  Whatever.  If she stuck a piece of glitter to a paper plate next to a googly eye, you better believe that it’s in that bin.

3.  Shoes.  Oh good heavens.  I’m a shoe girl.  When I find a pair of shoes that makes me happy I must have them.  I must wear them down to nubs until they are mere shadows of their former fabulous selves.  I must have them resoled.  And then I wear them down to nubs again.  And then I keep them because I can’t possibly get rid of something that has been with me through such joys and wonderful memories.  I have shoes that people remember more than they remember me.  And that’s fine.

4.  Greeting Cards.  Shocking, I know.  You’d think this would be a no-brainer for me.  But the occasions on which we are given cards are so fleeting, and cards are so intentional.  In the age of email and texts and Skype where it’s so easy to just reach out wherever you are whenever the whim hits you, the act of going to the card aisle (or a stationery store *swoon*)  to pick out a card that reminds you of the recipient has such weight for me.  I have a friend who sends me just the most amazing cards.  They’re perfect.  They’re SO funny or touching and just perfect for our friendship.  We’ve been friends since Fall 1991 Sorority Rush (go Gamma Phi!) and I have every card she’s ever sent me.  They are the story of our friendship and I treasure them.

5.  Random Useless Artifacts That Strike Me As Ridiculous.  I have a copy of our local power company’s safety guide from the 1950s when the Nevada Test Site was doing above-ground testing.  It talks about how nuclear energy is our friend, but hiding under a desk will protect us.  Last year, we had a required exorcism all-staff retreat, and 200 people were given a 75-page, single-sided handout, and no more than five pages of it applied to anybody.  Stuff like this?  Priceless.  It reminds me of who I don’t want to be, what I don’t want to do, and to keep perspective about who I DO want to be.  I don’t want to take myself too seriously, because when you do that, the people around you wait until you leave and then they laugh at you.  Not with you.  AT you.

We’ve all heard the stories about people who can move across the country and everything they own fits in their cars.  That’s never been my goal. I can’t imagine having this as my living room.

There’s not enough going on in there to stimulate even the most boring conversation. There’s no sign of anyone ever having passed through that space.  When the stars align, our homes are a reflection of who we are.  Not who we want people to think we are, or who we hope we are, or even who we used to be.  When you walk into the house of someone who knows who they are, it just flows.  You know where to put your purse, you sit down in a chair that is in just the right spot. and it just feels right.  That’s my decorating style, and I hope it can be yours as well.

Write Your Own Rules.

My inspiration for getting organized was my grandmother.  When she passed away in 2002, my father and I spent 6 months clearing out her single-wide mobile home.  At the time, “hoarding” wasn’t part of the mainstream lexicon like it is now.  We didn’t have a way to categorize what we were dealing with.  We just knew that something had to be done with all the stuff in that trailer.  It was overwhelming.  It was right out of the TV shows with which I’m now so obsessed.  In fact, it’s the reason I’m so obsessed with them.  What causes a person never to be able to let go of anything, ever? How does it get that far?

As we sorted through this mountain of boxes, we kept an inventory because ultimately a lot of what we unearthed was donated.  The nearby battered women’s shelter benefited the most–she had made hundreds of pieces of clothes, each one sealed in one of those plastic produce bags you put your lettuce in at the store, folded three times and then sealed with four straight pins (yes, 10 years later I still remember this).  Never worn; just… saved.  Saved for what?  We’ll never know.  She never talked about what was in the boxes that filled her home floor to ceiling.  She would just smile and say that all of it was for us.  Boy, she wasn’t wrong.

When we were finished, I began to look around my own house.  I had recently moved out of my childhood home and into my own, and I didn’t really have a decorating plan so I just put stuff in that I already had, or that my dad wanted out of his house (he’d learned his lesson too, for the most part).  All of the family heirlooms that You Do Not Throw Out Ever ended up with me.  Overwhelming.  There was such weight attached to every piece of it.  And we couldn’t use that stuff–the cedar chest of linens that were last laundered and ironed by my great-grandmother who died in 1971?  Good lord, that stuff is sacred!  What if something happens to it?

I decided to break that cycle.

Sure, there’s stuff that is so precious and so single-purposed, that of course it remains in its pristine, preserved state.  But table linens?  Fair game.  That bolt of wool some great aunt brought back from Scotland that’s the ancient family clan tartan?  Oh that’s totally going to be a blanket (I’m not so handy with sewing, or it would be a skirt).  A hand-crocheted tablecloth that was a wedding gift to my grandparents in 1938 that I can guarantee was in the original tissue paper?

Totally on our Thanksgiving table last year.

And the rest of the stuff?  If I don’t love it, it’s gone.  Simple as that.  Usually donated, but sometimes eBay has lent a hand.

It’s not always easy to let go of stuff, especially if you’re just the latest in a long line of relatives to whom it has been bequeathed.  The heaviest words in the world are “It’s been in the family forever” and “I remember when [insert name of random/little known/disliked ancestor] did/made/bought/gave/took/stole this whatever-it-is.”

But it’s OK to use Great Grandma’s china on a non-holiday.  It’s OK to refuse to put something in your house that isn’t something you love.  It’s OK to pass these things along to people who will actually use and enjoy them (they’re out there–again, eBay’s in business for a reason).  It’s OK to create your own rules for what sort of stuff is allowed in your home and to let go of everything else.

Stuff, As Managed By A Three Year Old

My daughter Boo turned 3 last week.  For weeks we’ve been struggling with her emerging personality (because of course she doesn’t act like me or my husband AT ALL oh no not even a little…) and we’ve just been worn out by the effort of Having A Child Who Is Three.

We were doing it wrong.  Totally.  100% Not Right Even A Little.  Last night, we got schooled.

Backstory:  Boo has a lot of stuff.  She has an area in our house, just off the kitchen, that will someday be a breakfast room or something but right now it’s where her stuff is.  Our expectation is that at the end of the day, before bathtime, she will pick up her stuff and put it away.  We’ve asked around, and this is not an unreasonable expectation.

But she wasn’t doing it.  We’d set the timer for a VERY generous amount of time, and she would just not pick up.  Anything that was left on the floor or wherever was “taken away” (read:  tossed into spare bedroom with exasperation and frustration).  About a week ago, I had HAD.IT. and I cleared out her playroom.  There was not a single toy in that room.  It was like after the Grinch Stole Christmas.

And she didn’t care.  She was fine.  She didn’t seem to miss her stuff at all.

We were devastated.  HOW did we get to this point, where our child was so S-P-O-I-L-E-D that she had no regard for her stuff; she had no concept of what it meant to take care of her stuff.  Her stuff was important, dammit, and HOW were we going to make that point?  How is she ever going to learn to appreciate and manage Her Stuff?

Last night, Mr. Incredible reached his limit and pulled out a big black garbage bag and started putting stuff in.  She wasn’t going to pick up?  Fine.  She was going to watch AND HELP her stuff be put in that bag to give to other kids.  Fast forward 10 minutes, and all of her baby dolls (probably 5-6?) and their stuff, including the cradle, all of her dress-up clothes, some stuffed animals, the dollhouse that she’d received as a birthday gift the day before (?!) and on and on.  And she was fine.  No trauma, no meltdown.  She was fully aware that this bag of stuff was going to be given to other kids.

We were speechless.  I was in tears.  We CANNOT give all of this stuff away.  I was sad, and I told her that.  She was sorry I was sad, but was not sad herself.

Just after we’d tucked her in with more stern words about Learning The Value and Appreciating The Effort and all sorts of other BS that seemed important, she emerged from her room with a big smile, and said she needed to go to the bathroom.  She went, and I asked her why the Pink Bear she wanted to sleep with was so special, but the other stuff was not.  Here’s what she said, as best as I can remember it, with no elaboration or embellishment by me:

“Mama, Pink Bear be’s special because he’s soft <insert cuddle of Pink Bear>.  The toys in the bag for other kids are for the other kids because the other kids can play with them and I have Pink Bear and Monkey and my stories and I like when we read stories and have songs and go places and that’s good and tomorrow daddy’s going to give the bag to other kids and I’ll got Pink Bear and that’s good.”

Our jaws were on the floor.  Our three year old daughter was giving us a lesson on the value of the time we spend with her, the things that are important, and how we share with people who aren’t as lucky as we are.

I was suspicious, I admit.  “She’s setting us up,” I told Mr. Incredible.  But she wasn’t.  She was just telling us that the stuff is just stuff, and the things that were important were the things that make her feel happy.

Tonight we’re going to go through the big black garbage bag together, and the stuff that she’s ready to give to other kids?  She can (within appropriate reason, of course…).  The stuff that’s important to her, that makes her happy, that she loves?  She will keep, and I’m interested to see how she takes care of it.

The lesson I took from this is that sometimes, it’s just stuff.  When you’re unable or unwilling or uninterested in taking care of your stuff, it’s time to go through and keep what you love and pass along what you don’t.

I’m reminded of George Carlin’s fantastic bit about Stuff:

 

That’s powerful stuff right there.