Archive for the 'Chucking the stuff' Category

“Who knows what evil lurks under the bed? The Mama knows!”

Okay, so my title is a corny spoof of a classic radio show, but it seemed really apt, given what we did today! Now, reader, beware — if you get queasy at the site of unadulterated clutter, you might want to reach for the airsick bag or click away to another, safer blog. This one’s not for the faint of heart! 😉

boysroom1While we do a thorough house-cleaning every Friday, we also have a once-monthly “deep clean” to kill the Clutter Monster in the children’s rooms. I can always tell when our once-a-month date has rolled around by the level of frustration in my children’s voices. I hear laments like the following:

  • Where are my pajama pants? I haven’t seen them in two days!
  • But I can’t find my church shoes! I’ve looked everywhere!
  • OUCH! OUCH! OUCH! I just stepped on that Lego in my bare feet!
  • How come I have no clean shirts?
  • I’d rather sleep in another room; my bed is too lumpy (followed by the revelation of what lies beneath the covers — and it’s always more than just the child in question!).

Last week I helped the girls tackle their room, but I didn’t think to photograph the process.  This week the lightbulb went off, and I reached for the camera. Hold your hats, folks — we’re about to have full disclosure of just how cluttered a room with four little boys in it can be! I used to scratch my head and wonder how on earth it could get so mind-bogglingly messy, yet the boys would confidently assert that they had “cleaned” their room each week. Once I found out that clutter-blindness is inherent in males (who just don’t notice the stuff piling up and over and under), I got over it and learned to show the boys the “leftovers” they’d missed!

The first photo above shows the view under the bed of my third son. Shadowy and mysterious, eh? Not for long! The first order of business for my boys is to pull every last bit of stuff out from under the two bunk beds. They started with this one. I lifted the mattress back to give them better access, and here’s the pile that resulted after five minutes of “fishing” beneath Bed Number One:

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And we were only just beginning! Now I jumped in to help, removing the bed slats so the boys could really see what was under the bed, and Son #3 pulled out still more:

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Now it was time to vacuum under the bed. I sent my second oldest son for the Kirby, and he asked, “How on earth can you vacuum under the bed, Mom?” I gave him a raised eyebrow and said, “Watch me!”

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Where there’s a will, there’s a way! With all the dirt and crumbs sucked up and out of the way, we had a nice, clean canvas for our next work of art:

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Cleanliness — it’s a wonderful thing! What actually belongs beneath this bed is a pup tent in a carrying bag and two sleeping bags. So we put them there and carefully replaced the bed slats:

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Now this bed could be made up with fresh sheets. Ah! Wonderful feeling!

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A little side note here: It is very encouraging to children (and even mamas!) to meet little goals in the process of running toward the big one. Having the bed freshly made is a small goal in the plan of the whole-room overhaul. It really feels great to be able to turn toward the next section, knowing that what’s behind you is clean and neat. The boys and I high-fived at finishing this first part of the room, then turned toward the next bunk:

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This bunk has a small mattress under it for guests, so you’d think it wouldn’t hold as many “surprises” as the first one. But that would be incorrect thinking! Not only was there a pile of gunk under this bed, but there were interesting “treasures” stowed down between the bed and the wall:

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We found missing laundry, dirty socks, a ziplock bag full of long-lost Legos, and all kinds of books. We tossed all of this into the growing pile in the center of the room, bulldozing it all into a heap to make room to walk. Then we made this bed:

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Now we moved over to the bookcase and pulled everything out from under it (yes, all this stuff fit into that tiny wedge of space!):

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Finally, we pulled the junk out from under the dresser:

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It was time to confront The Pile, so the boys and I began sorting it into different categories–dirty laundry, books, Legos, pencils/crayons, misc:

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My older son had since moved on to his other big task of the day–cleaning out our 14-passenger van–so my 8-year-old son and I dove into the job of sorting and putting things away in their places. Starting in the far corner of the room, we got all the loose Legos back into the big military footlocker in the closet and vacuumed the closet:

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Next we made a “garage” for the amphibious tanks under the desk at the window, vacuuming before the tanks were “parked”:

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I tackled the bookcase myself, as it really is full to bursting (there is no such thing as too many books in this household!):

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We high-fived each other for these met goals and kept backing our way toward the door, putting things away and vacuuming as we went. By the time we got to the door, the laundry and missing shoe pile had really grown:

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My older son had come back in to report that he’d finished the van, so I asked him to take this pile to the laundry room, putting the dirty clothes in the hamper and the shoes away in the utility closet. I gave one last swipe with the vacuum where the laundry had been, and we stood back to survey the morning’s work (all two hours of it — this once-a-month thing is intense!):

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Is that a collective sigh I hear? Yes, there really is something wonderful about a freshly cleaned room! Everyone notices. The stress level drops perceptibly. My daughters came in smiling, and the eldest said, “This looks like a home now!” I chuckled and asked, “Why do you say that? Wasn’t it a home before?” She grinned and shrugged, then pointed at the neatly made beds and clean carpet and said, “But now it feels like a home!” I smiled back and nodded my head. “Isn’t it nice to know where things are and have everything in its place?” My third-born son ran over to the cleared and dusted desk and declared, “This is the nicest spot for making Lego sets!” So out came the Legos, and a happy 8-year-old busied himself building. In a month’s time, we’ll no doubt be ready for another deep clean. That’s just the way it is in a house full of children…and I wouldn’t have it any other way!

Post Script: Remember the boy I sent to put away the shoes in the closet? Well, when I went to start a load of laundry, this is what I discovered:

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Ahem. I called my son back to have another go at it, explaining that just making sure the shoes arrived at the closet wasn’t the point. 😉 Five minutes later, he had rectified the problem nicely:

boysroom22That’s more like it!

Oh, and we managed to get rid of one full bag of trash and fill one bag for Goodwill in the course of the morning. Well worth all the effort!

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It’s official: We’re rednecks…and we love it!

cimg1805I wish I could paint a word picture to do justice to the goings-on in our trailer tonight. It almost requires a video, but I’ll do my best to give you the sights and sounds from memory. But first, there’s a bit of a back story:

After enjoying two full months of country life in our trailer-cottage, we decided to go back to suburbia to visit old neighbors and help them with some pressing projects. We packed ourselves up, lock, stock, and schoolbooks, then crammed ourselves and our necessaries into our old faithful van and headed down the road, anxiously hoping we’d remembered everything on the to-do-before-we-leave list:

* Turn down the thermostat? Check.
* Leave food for the yard kitties? Check.
* Turn out all but the kitchen night light? Check.
* Lock the doors? Check.
* Leave the note for the mail lady? Check.
* Ask the neighbors to keep an eye on things? Check.

Everything was closed up, and our house looked like it missed us already. But we really looked forward to our visit with friends, so off we drove. The children worried that the kitties would miss us, that our country neighbors would miss us, that we’d miss important things happening while we were gone — the list went on. But the closer we got to our old stomping grounds, the more excited they became. They wanted to see friends in our old neighborhood, and they soon forgot what we’d left behind.

Arrived at our destination, out we tumbled, dragging what looked like half our household belongings with us (our friends are perennially tolerant of our entourage and are so gracious that we always feel like family in their home — that sure is a wonderful thing when you have a large family with all its nicks and nacks!). We settled in for what was only supposed to be a five-day visit…that grew into ten…and then sixteen. I told you they were family to us! We got so much done, and we had a wonderful time, but being back in suburbia reminded us of all the reasons we were so glad to downsize and move out to the country. It turns out we were closet rednecks all along.

chatsAnd this brings me to a big revelation I’ve had since moving back to the country after a six-year hiatus in suburbia: I do better living small than living large. Oh, I’ve always entertained fantasies of living in a big, sprawling English manor — or a columned Southern country house with more doors and windows than a body can count. I’ve done my share of drooling over 3500-square-foot homes in house plan books. Yet, when it comes down to it, for me, a big house is just more house to clean. It’s more to keep up with, more to manage, more to repair, and more to stress over, particularly if you have a neighborhood association breathing down your neck.

In our little piece of suburbia, we found out after the fact that outdoor clotheslines were no-nos, that vehicles should not be parked in the driveway but in the garage only, that bicycles and scooters had to be kept out of sight, that trash cans could sit here but not there, that your mailbox had to be kept painted, and the list goes on. The minutiae were enough to kill the most fastidious homemaker. Yes, people in the neighborhood did cheat on the rules and regs (lots of people had above-ground pools, which were a no-no, and most people parked in their driveways), but that didn’t stop the association from scolding (and even threatening one family with a lawsuit if they didn’t park a travel trailer somewhere else than their own driveway — who knew?). In short, living in suburbia with a large family was a little like trying to keep all the brand new Crayolas in the 64 colors box pristine and newly sharpened — and in rainbow order. That just doesn’t happen in our house.

clotheslineSo by the end of our first two months in the country, we all felt like we were finally breathing again — all the way to the bottom of our lungs. Our children could leave all their trikes and balls and army men out in the back yard, and no neighbors tsk-tsked at the sight. I could leave newly-washed rugs out to dry in the sun on the front deck railing and no one raised an eyebrow. We could park our vehicles anywhere we felt like it. We all felt like we were able to stretch, move, and run again after being leashed for several years. Going back to suburbia was a little like trying to put a leash back on a dog who has tasted freedom for two months and isn’t interested in the kennel life any more. Our children felt the leash more than my husband and I did. We couldn’t just open the door and let the littles run into the back yard (there was a lake nearby and a road very close to the house). We couldn’t just turn the girls loose; someone had to be out side to keep an eye on them–and big brothers don’t always like to babysit sisters who aren’t interested in the charms of army men and the vacant lot next door! The freedom of 13 acres and a quarter-mile-long driveway came to a screeching halt, and it was tough on our little folks. Okay, it was tough on Mama, too. 😉 I will freely admit that it is so much more difficult to manage lots of energetic little people when there isn’t room for them to roam, to climb, to jump, to run, and to yell and whoop.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m not condemning everyone who doesn’t live in the country! We should all bloom where we are planted. There are seasons where living in town is the best option for many families, and there are most assuredly drawbacks to living in the sticks. But the revelation that has come to me has been the mental leash that we put ourselves on during our Neighborhood Days. I think there’s got to be a way to make suburbia work (I know families who do), but it would take great mental awareness and vigilance to do it. For us, suburbia became a drug. We slowly oozed into the soporific stupor of convenience and forgot so many of the things we took for granted back when we had to be more self-sufficient in the country. I pride myself on being frugal, but it has been a sobering reality check to realize how wasteful and careless I became while living in suburbia. Downsizing on purpose has forced us to wake up — and that waking up is what has shown me that, deep down, I’m a redneck. 😉

cottagegardenI’m not the English manor type at all–much as I once loved to imagine I was. I’m a cottager. If I lived 200 years ago, I’d be the gal in the apron in the low stone cottage, churning butter and humming in the doorway, watching the lady of the manor ride by in her coach with the footman standing up behind. My children would be the ones tumbling about in the dust of the side yard, climbing the ancient apple trees, and chasing the dog into the cow pasture. And tonight’s escapades convinced me once and for all that this beautiful smallness is exactly where I belong.

That brings us back to the beginning of this post. Picture thin slices of chicken, freshly battered, frying up in a pan of olive oil and butter, while I stand mashing potatoes with garlic at the counter. In the background, my oldest daughter slips a favorite family CD into the player in the living room. All of a sudden, the house is alive with the sounds of banjo and fiddle, and my daughters (one wearing a favorite “princess dress”) are clapping and giggling and whirling to the strains of … “Zip Coon” (What? You expected Mozart or Swan Lake?) 😉 Pretty soon, we’ve got half a dozen children clapping, stomping, and dancing in circles to the music:

Round in a circle!

Round in a circle!

Jump in time!

Jump in time!

Old zip coon, he’s a learned scholar,
Old zip coon, he’s a learned scholar,
Old zip coon, he’s a learned scholar,
Sings possum up a gum tree, coony in the holler.”

Take your sister by the hand!

Take your sister by the hand!

Swish your skirt, and...

Swish your skirt, and...

Possum up a gum tree, coony on the stump,
Possum up a gum tree, coony on the stump,
Possum up a gum tree, coony on the stump,
We could overcome our troubles if coon will jump!”

...follow the leader 'round the room!

...follow the leader round the room!

It was a regular hoe-down in our trailer tonight. Daddy came out of his office to join in the fun, twirling little girls and foot-stompin’ with the toddlers. I turned around from all the cookery at the stove and felt a big grin steal over my face. This is it! I thought. Look at this! I stood barefoot in the kitchen, frying up chicken and mashin’ taters while my barefoot offspring had a regular hootenanny in the living room. The giggles and shrieks of laughter were as contagious as the foot-stomping music from the 2nd South Carolina String Band on the player. I called my husband over and said, “See? We were rednecks all along!” He laughed and nodded, his eyes sparkling as he watched the children dancing up a storm.

I think I’ve finally come back around to my roots. I don’t know about you, but I do better with less. I am happier in this little place with our younguns all around us, the music playing, the chicken frying, and the love as warm as the fire crackling in the hearth. I don’t miss the square footage. I feel like I’m finally truly enjoying what I do have and not wishing for what I don’t. I think I’ve learned that, while there are blessings that come with a big house, there are also the worries that crowd in with the responsibilities. It really is possible to pitch the stuff and keep what’s important. How I hope I can remember this lesson. Mr. Darcy can have Pemberley; I’ll keep the cottage. 🙂

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Nearly unpacked…and some musings…

We did find the keys. I had a “Eureka” moment when I remembered laying them down on the counter at the neighbors’ before church on Sunday. My husband had started the van with his set of keys that afternoon, so I never felt the need of my set until it came time to unlock the POD! Thankfully, I found them Tuesday morning, so we had all day (and ample help) to get the POD unloaded.

Let me tell you, it is a real adventure to forcibly downsize yourself–going from 2200 square feet to 1700 is truly revealing. I’ve prided myself for years for not being a pack rat, yet I have to ‘fess up to some pretty wacky things that have come out in this move. In our last three houses, we’ve either had a huge attic or a storage building out back, so I think I just lived in denial, believing we really didn’t have that much stuff. ::Cough:: We have enough stuff to choke a small army.

With the contents of the POD emptied all over the front deck and the lawn and stacked inside the house, I felt a slightly grim foreboding coming over me. There was no way all that stuff would fit into our trailer. No way. I got back to feverishly unpacking things that could go where they belonged–like pots, pans, dishes, clothes–daily stuff we use all the time. A sudden thunderstorm forced us to run out and schlep a whole bunch of stuff back into the POD to avoid a drenching, so I just focused on unpacking and settling what was in the house. Felt pretty good, as long as I could forget what lurked in the POD.

But I had to face it eventually, and I started thinking about storage buildings. I decided to look online to see if it was cheaper to just go ahead and buy one rather than renting storage space. If you go on a monthly payment plan, you can get a nice 12x8x8′ building for about $39 a month over a year’s time. Sounds pretty reasonable compared to $69-119 per month for similarly sized storage at a rental place. So I decided to be a smart shopper and actually go check out these handy dandy sheds. Both Lowe’s and Home Depot have over a dozen sitting in the parking lot, so my oldest son and I walked through a few. The pricier ones with real windows and lofts we ignored. We finally ended up at the bottom rung of storage building Hades in an 8x8x6′ metal shed with no windows. Hey! Only $199! We could just buy that outright! So we headed inside to ask about ordering.

No one seemed to know who was in charge of buildings, so I got passed around to three different people before an indifferent cashier finally handed me a phone and asked me to talk to whoever she had called about buildings. The rather testy lady on the other end informed me that the particular model I had looked at did not come with a roof or a floor; I’d have to buy those separately. WHAT? You mean what I see isn’t what I get? Nope. “Oh, and you have to put it together yourself,” Testy Saleslady said. “It doesn’t come built. None of them do.” All righty. So, now we’re looking at having to purchase flooring and roofing materials and build this thing from a kit. Now I understand the Glory of Storage Rental Units. But I’m not willing to pay over $1000 a year to store things. We made this move to get seriously frugal and save money–not blow it out the window by giving the Christmas tree an air conditioned apartment!

So I head back home, my brain on overdrive, thinking, thinking, thinking. There’s no way around it. All that stuff in the POD isn’t going to fit into that trailer. I park the car, walk through the front door, and announce to my husband, “We’re selling it, giving it away, or throwing it away.” He raises his eyebrows, surprised that I’ve come to this conclusion so quickly and decisively. He’d had that idea all along, of course. So we roll up our sleeves and attack the contents of the POD. Here’s where Embarrassing Confessions of a Closet Pack Rat come in to play. Wanna know what I found?

  • Two boxes of letters and notes dating back to high school and college. Drum roll: These boxes had not been opened or looked into since at least 2002. They had come through more moves than I want to admit and were filled with stuff I have no intention of keeping. What on earth did I think I’d need my eleventh-grade biology notes for? This coming from a woman who has laughed at her mother for saving her fourth-grade spelling tests in the attic for 20 years!
  • One box of items complete with price tags from a yard sale we had in 2003. This box of leftovers was supposed to go to Goodwill after the sale and somehow ended up in our moving pile. Go figure….
  • Two boxes labeled “scrapbooks” that contained photos I haven’t organized since I was a newlywed. The boxes had been taped shut in 2001 and never opened since. I managed to consolidate all of the scrapbook stuff into one nice plastic bin for the “someday” when I have enough time to put pictures in cutesy arrangements on pretty acid-free pages complete with captions (that is, if I can remember the captions by then).
  • Two bags of clothing that should have gone to Goodwill two moves ago–including a cap and gown from college graduation.
  • Three boxes of paid bills and bank statements dating back to 1995.

The list goes on, but we haven’t finished yet. We do see the light at the end of the tunnel, though! The POD gets picked up empty Tuesday, after all, so we have good motivation to keep at it. My husband has been happily shredding the old bills and statements, since you don’t have to keep those for thirteen years, and I’ve been ruthlessly putting things in the Giveaway or Sell Pile. Today I managed to clear out a large corner of the utility closet here to fit four boxes of books that we cannot fit on our shelves but don’t want to part with. I also managed to go through three boxes of fabric, dumping all the scraps too small to use and organizing all the ones I want to keep or give away. Oh, and does anyone need five rolls of black and white toile wallpaper?

Though it hasn’t been easy to go through everything (especially in 95-degree heat and dripping humidity), I am very thankful that moving into a smaller place has forced us to actually look at what we’ve been schlepping around all these years. There have been surprises and there have been moments of hilarity, and, at the end of it all, there is deep satisfaction in knowing that what is in our closets now is stuff we really do use. No storage buildings for us. No paying rent so our boxes can sit for another year. Paring down can be painful or it can be an adventure…or it can be a painful adventure. But it is well worth it. We’re excited to see that our family actually can fit into our cozy, double-wide cottage and live on less.


About the Queen…

Amanda Livenwell is the pen name of a stay-at-home mom who shares the adventure of living large on one income in, yes, a double-wide trailer! Join our family as we say goodbye to suburbia, trim down, and start saving to build our own home. We're going to talk about doing it yourself, living beautifully on less, making do or doing without, and counting it all joy in the process. We'll cover prep-work and painting, refacing kitchen cabinets, flooring on the cheap, tiling over laminate, upholstering furniture, and just rolling up our sleeves in general. If you love home improvement, this is the place for you. Let's get cracking!

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What Inspires Me Most!

"She seeks wool and flax, and willingly works with her hands. She girds herself with strength, and strengthens her arms. She perceives that her merchandise is good, and her lamp does not go out by night. She stretches out her hands to the distaff, and her hand holds the spindle. She watches over the ways of her household, and does not eat the bread of idleness." ~ Proverbs 31:13, 17-19, 27

"Do you see a man who excels in his work? He will stand before kings;he will not stand before unknown men." ~ Proverbs 22:29

"The soul of a lazy man desires, and has nothing; but the soul of the diligent shall be made rich." ~ Proverbs 13:4

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