Thursday, July 5, 2012

I'm Back -- And A Lesson in Multi-Tasking

I've been away for awhile, juggling three part-time jobs, and finally, at last, found a job with health insurance, decent pay and good benefits, all in one place.  

So it's time to dust off the blog and start posting again.

Thanks to you all for your patience.  I hope I will not disappoint you again in the future now that I can pay my bills and things are looking a little more predictable from day to day!

Today's topic came to me easily, and I plan to revisit it often:  possessions which can multitask or be used for many purposes.  

For example, if you own a good, large Thermos, you really do not also need a teapot, and large, white bowls can be used for any occasion -- no need to have special bowls for party or holiday themes.  The Swiss Army Knife or the Leatherman tool are other multi-tasking miracles which need no introduction.  Any item which serves many purposes saves space and prevents clutter.

Lately it's been hot, just brutally hot around here, and we have been raising the air conditioning as warm as we can stand it, while still keeping the air just dehumidified enough for comfort ... and when my T-shirts started sticking to me, it struck me:

I have a few sarongs.  So I dug them out.

Sarongs were my hippie-skirt of choice back in college.  Whether paired with a tank top and Birkenstock sandals in summer, or cowboy boots, leggings and a sweater in chilly weather, a sarong is a flattering skirt or sundress on almost anyone for causal wear.  They fold up flat, take up very little space, and can be used for so many things.

My first encounter with a sarong was during moving-in week at my college dorm during the fall of freshman year.  I arrived early and unpacked, and as I stood chatting in the hall with some other young women, here came a slender figure down the hall toward us, a petite girl wrapped in a stunning green sari, carrying a bookbag and pushing a small footlocker on wheels with a single suitcase balanced atop it.  

We met, and it turned out she was assigned to the room across from me.  After we visited for awhile, she began to unpack, and I sat enchanted as sari after sari came out of her small items of luggage, one after another, like a magician's handkerchief trick.  She also had some western clothes -- a few jeans, tops and sweaters, as well as a winter coat, spare shoes, books, personal items and the few dishes and pots needed by a dorm student to use the hall kitchenette when the cafeteria was closed on weekends.  I was amazed at how efficiently she had packed all her things, considering that she did not expect to visit her home and family in India again until graduation -- four years later -- due to the expense.  

We became friends, and in time I learned that some of these garments were called "sarongs," and she was kind enough to show me not only how to properly tie and wear both a sari and a sarong, but at the end of the semester, she left me with a lovely batik sarong as a very gracious gift.  

Over the years, I have accumulated a few more sarongs in different colors and prints, but after more than three decades, I never cease to be amazed at the versatility of this garment. 

This simple cotton, hemp, or silk rectangle can be worn as a dress or skirt ... it can be a tablecloth or curtain ... it can serve as a light blanket or be rolled up to serve as a travel pillow.   It can be a shawl, headwrap, scarf or or bathrobe.  It can be tied into a bundle to carry purchases ... used as a nursing shawl or baby wrap ... draped over a branch as a sun shade ... laid on the ground as a picnic blanket ... tossed on the couch as a throw ... and many more uses.

A nice sarong costs about $10-$25 USD online.  Three or four sarongs can get a lot of mileage as a summer wardrobe basic, yet they will fit in a shoebox or a small drawer or basket.  They can even serve as curtains when not being worn.

I carry a sarong with me anytime I travel, winter or summer. I fold it into a long, narrow rectangle, then roll it to the size of a soup can, secure it with a rubber band and toss it in my purse. By doing this, I never have to pack a bathrobe, beach towel, pool cover-up, travel pillow or shawl -- the sarong does it all! And if I get separated from my main bag, or delayed overnight with a cancelled flight, I always have an emergency dress or skirt right there in my purse (I also carry toiletries, prescriptions and a change of underwear in my purse when I travel).   

Sarongs are not just for women.  A sarong in a solid color or a "manly" print takes up very little space and also works for men as an after-bath wrap, summer wear around the house or if you are working outdoors or on the beach (men in Thailand wear them all the time), or a beach towel.

If you learn to wrap and tuck them properly -- it just takes a little practice -- they really do stay firmly in place and do not fall off.  

Consider the possibilities of having so many dresses, skirts, bathrobes, curtains tablecloths and more tucked into a shoebox-sized space in a drawer.  Try to imagine how many items you could do without if you had a few sarongs of your own.


Monday, February 27, 2012

"Use The Good Stuff"

I follow the philosophy of, "USE the good stuff.  Use it now. What are you saving it for?  Get rid of your mismatched plastic plates from college and use the china you inherited from Grandma.  You're a grownup.  You can do that."

But sometimes we end up with more of the "good stuff" than we can actually use.

Tonight's post will be brief.  I recently spoke to a woman whose elderly mother cherished, but almost never used, her own wedding china and crystal, and the china and crystal she inherited from her mother, and the set she inherited from her grandmother.  She used these things less than one hundred times in her long life: for Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners.

The very last time this lovely lady's cherished dishes were used was at the reception given by her daughter at her mother's home after her mother's funeral.

And now the daughter wonders what to do with all these things she has, in her turn, inherited.

Think of the cubic feet taken up by generations of china, "good towels," and "good linens."  Things "too good to use."  Think of the extra square feet in the house you bought, the extra dollars on the mortgage you pay, the extra cubic feet of space lost to relax in, the extra expense of cabinet work or china cabinets to house these collections, and the extra utilities consumed in heating and cooling these storage shelves decade after decade, while you follow the tradition of using the "good stuff" only on major holidays and use yet another set of "casual" dishes for daily meals.

Wouldn't it make more sense to keep one favorite dinner seating -- perhaps up to eight people, no more?
Few people entertain huge numbers of people on a regular basis these days.  If you have an occasion where you simply must have dessert cups and wine glasses for fifty, rent plates and glassware!

Meanwhile, scout out children, nieces, cousins and nephews of marriageable age.  Talk about how the various sets of china and crystal have been in the family for generations, and wouldn't it be nicer to have a complete set of granny's lovely old dishes, and keep them in the family, than to hope their wedding guests purchase some of the new china and crystal they chose for their wedding registry, and then inevitably have to fill in the missing bits at great expense?

If you have a family which passes on a lot of these things, imagine how much clutter you could eliminate from your home if you matched up ancient china sets, cleaned them properly, and passed then on to the next generation.


Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Low-Tech Task Management

Everyone has their own method of organizing their daily tasks, and many people today use electronic organizers and smart-phone applications to manage their daily tasks.

I've tried a few electronic calendar applications, and find some of them useful for reminding me of things like doctor's appointments.

But nothing I've found in the world of electronics surpasses the organizing tool I've been using for decades.

1. It's small.

2. It's cheap.

3. It fits in a jacket pocket or in your purse.

4. You don't have to do a lot of data entry to reschedule events.

5. You can re-prioritize tasks in seconds.

6.  No batteries required.

7.  No membership fees.

It's called:

A packet of index cards held together with a stout rubber band.

And this is how it works:

Rather than writing a daily things-to-do-list, I make an individual index card for each task that needs to be done.

Some of these individual cards may contain a list: for example, the "GO TO GROCERY" card will include the grocery list, or "GO TO DRUGSTORE" will include a list of things to be obtained there.   When I am done with each card, it will be discarded, and a new grocery list will be compiled when needed.

Most other cards will contain one specific task:  "Dentist appointment at 2:00pm, October 21,"  "Meet with sales rep at 3:00," or "Pick up dry cleaning."

Cards for  task on a specific date and time are discarded after use.

Cards for tasks with non-specific times and dates are replaced in the deck and are re-used: for example, "Pick up prescriptions," "Get gas," "Go to bank," and "Book club meeting first Wednesday of each month."

And here is how I manage the cards: while I have my morning coffee, I go through the cards and put them in order based on either importance or by the time of day they need to be done.   The first OR most critical thing to do for the day will be on top of the pile, and so forth.  But I always carry the entire pile with me.

For example, I had a day off work today, so my pile included some "standard" cards as well as some cards specific for today, in this order:

"Put garbage out"

"Go to bank" (I needed to cash a check)

"Buy heartworm medicine at vet's office"

"Go to post office" (I had two packages to mail, and I needed stamps.  I could remember that, and did not need to write a list).

"Go to grocery" followed by a list of things I needed there

"Pick up prescriptions"

"Get gas"

"Meet Janet for lunch."

"Return library books."

"Bring box to Goodwill"

"Get car inspected."

These cards were placed in the front of the deck of index cards, in that order.

Most tasks on my list were not for a specific date, so as I completed each tack, I moved it to the back of the deck. When I finished at the grocery, I discarded that particular card, because, of course, it was a very specific list for today's needs.

But as it turned out, the weather turned bad after I went to the library, so I went home.   Tomorrow, I will make another attempt to get the car inspected and stop at Goodwill.  All I needed to do was replace those task cards in the front of the deck, since those tasks were not urgent.  Both tasks could be postponed a day or two.

Simple, isn't it?

Likewise, if you are especially efficient one day and finish your priority tasks earlier than anticipated, you can flip through your deck for something else to do.

The deck of cards also allows you to easily re-schedule your day if something unexpected comes up, or to route your errands for maximum gas efficiency.

Try making your own deck: one card each for tasks you must do daily, weekly, monthly, and specific tasks, lists, and appointments for specific days.  You will find yourself continually adding and deleting cards in your deck.

Please tell me if you like this method after you try it.  I hope you find it helpful.

I've done this for many years and it really, really works.  It's better than any day-planner, personal organizer, or other system I have ever tried.

What tips and secrets do you have to share to manage your own time?  We can all learn from each other's ideas.


Monday, April 18, 2011

S'More Decluttering Ideas From Maggie -- Linens

Some ideas for managing sheets, towels, washcloths and hand towels:

--If possible, have all the beds in your house the same size, or at least no more than two sizes (perhaps a large shared bed for the parents and individual single beds for the kids).  Kids really can go straight from the crib to a regular single bed!  They did since they dawn of time, before "kid stuff" manufacturers and marketers invented increasingly large sizes for growing kids, trying to force consumers to buy first a crib, then a toddler bed, then a junior bed, then, finally a "single" bed -- which means that in addition to special furniture and special-sized mattresses, you have to buy all the special-sized sheets and blankets and coverlets.  Aargh!   People only think of this to get money away from people like you and me.

But if everyone in the house has a full- or queen-size bed, kids and adults alike, or at least if all the kids have the same size bed from the time they graduate from the baby crib, then you can have far fewer sheets, especially if you stick with white, or, for the kids, solid colors that can be mixed and matched.  You really don't need more than one change of sheets at any given time per bed, and if each bedroom gets a sheet change on a different day, you can get by with even less, assuming one set is always being washed.  Having all your sheets the same size  and color (white, like a hotel, or solid colors that can mix and match) eliminates time spent searching for the "right" sheets for the "right" bed and simplifies your storage and laundry.

--The same with towels.  Stick with white or an array of solid, light colors that coordinate rather than having a "theme" for each bathroom that needs to be matched.  All of our towels are white hotel towels and all of our sheets are white hotel sheets, bathmats and washcloths.  Not needing separate sets of "decorator themes" for each bathroom means fewer towels and bathmats, and even if you repaint the bathrooms or hang new wallpaper, white goes with everything.

--For the kitchen, we also use white terry "bar rags" from Sam's and thin white cotton dish towels from Sam's (restaurant supply stores sell them too, and so do Walmart and Target and other discount stores.)

--The bar rags are a good size for bathroom hand towels and all purpose cleaning, too.

--White napkins from the restaurant supply store can greatly reduce paper towel use and paper napkin use (and storage) and add only a small amount of additional laundry.  White terry washcloths make good, absorbent napkins for kids (or sloppy adults).

As a result, at our house, we only use paper towels for the icky things (like pet accidents or cat hairballs) or things that would not be safe to launder and put in the dryer (like spilled paint or cooking oil).   This has saved us lots of money on paper towels and the small basket for hand towels, restaurant napkins and washcloths to replace the paper towels has created only one more washload per week.

Sticking with white or an array of solid neutral colors eliminates the perceived need to buy more "stuff" to "redecorate" every few years.  It really does.  For Pete's sake, how "exciting" or "cute" do your towels need to be?  Sheets and towels are just sheets and towels.  The important thing is that they are clean.

Applying the same rules to blankets and coverlets helps keep things simple, too.  That handmade quilt from your crafty best friend, or the afghan crocheted by your sister, will show off nicely when placed on a neutral or solid-color bedcover or on top of white sheets.

It seems like a little thing, but when we got rid of all of our odd-sized linens and bought all white, we somehow ended up with about 40% more storage space for linens, but we still had clean sheets, blankets, washcloths and towels all the time.

Staying away from novelty items and impulsive seasonal redecoration really does simplify your storage and your daily chores.  If you really do feel the need to keep up with decorating trends for a change of appearance, maybe you can opt to buy only new curtains, lampshades, bedside rugs or throw pillows (the white sheets will go with anything) and give the old curtains and pillows to Goodwill or Salvation Army right away.  

Just a few ideas.  Hope these help!


Saturday, April 16, 2011

Spring Cleaning Tips from Maggie -- Books

Half of "Spring Cleaning" is getting old junk and trash thrown away or recycled, donating those "gently used" items to charitable organizations, and giving the house a good, detailed, all-around scrubbing -- more detailed than the weekly sweeping, vacuuming, dusting and mopping.

For example, at our house, dusting is my Number One Most Hated Chore Ever!  I vacuum weekly, sweep the kitchen and traffic areas almost every day, and mop every week.  But I hardly ever dust because I hate it.  This also applies to cleaning woodwork and baseboards, and shining windows.

Now, two things I have learned about dusting are:

The less stuff you have to dust, the less of a pain in the butt it is.

And also:

If you can think of a way to keep dust OFF your stuff, the less often you have to dust it.

I didn't come to these amazing realizations overnight.  And one of these realizations is that while both my cousin Julia and I don't have much in the way of knick-knacks (almost nothing, really), we both have a lot of books to dust off.

A couple of years ago, my husband and I did a major attack on our bookshelves after Julia and I were talking about our hoarding relatives.  My husband and I read a lot, like Julia and her husband, and she said that she had her "AHA!" moment when she asked her husband, "why do we keep so many books?  Just to prove that we can read?"  Their house is really tidy, even though they have several pets, but they have a lot more books than the average person.  All on shelves, but a lot of books -- it's one thing we have in common.

It made me laugh, but I understand.  Our grandparents, who were not hoarders, taught us to prize books, and take good care of them.  Books were much harder to come by when our grandparents were young, and better made than most books today, so most people took good care of them.  We've inherited some of their old books.  I have Grandma's copies of T.S. Eliot and Jack London's work, among others.  These antique classics make me happy to see on my shelves.  Julia has some of Grandma's old books, too.

But why do we save last year's paperback best-sellers that we bought to read on the beach or on our lunch breaks at work?  That makes no sense at all.  And why do we have yellowed, dog-eared copies of paperback books we read in college?

Although we both keep our books neatly shelved, and only have about five or six average-sized bookcases in each of our homes (not that much, really), we both realized that our bookcases were pretty much packed full, so we set out on a mission a few years ago.

Every spring, we clear our bookshelves of pop fiction and other "light reading."  You know, the books you'll read once, but probably never again.  We also take a long, hard look at old favorites, and at books many people have duplicates of -- for example, I am a Stephen King fan, and I married a Stephen King fan,  so we had a lot of duplicates.  And then family members who know we love Stephen King gave us even more, for birthdays and holidays.  So we had even more duplicates.  And we aren't even hoarders.  So every spring, part of spring cleaning goes to book organizing, looking for duplicates and keeping to our commitment to keep only one copy of each -- preferably the hardback, or if it's a choice between paperbacks, we keep the one that's in best condition.  We also take a hard look at the ones we probably won't ever read again.  For example, we thought "Cell" was not one of Stephen King's better offerings, and neither of us plan to re-read it ever again.  So out it went.

Julia is a Tolkien fan and last year she realized she had duplicate, ancient, tattered copies of various Tolkien books, so when her Mom asked what she wanted for Christmas, she asked for a hardbound set of the Lord of the Rings trilogy.  She threw out her falling-apart paperbacks.  Now she has one, good-quality, boxed hardback set that looks nice on the bookshelf.  And yes, she does re-read them now and then.  She's a science fiction fan in general, and she ends up with duplicate copies for the same reasons we do.

Anyway, we put our heads together, and we do this one weeekend every spring:

We empty all the bookshelves in our houses, dust, wipe down and polish the shelves, and dust off the books.  Before we re-shelve the books, we make piles by author or by type -- my husband and I reshelve most of ours in alphabetical order by author, she does hers by general category (science fiction, history, etc.)

And here is what we ask ourselves:

1.  "Last year I re-shelved this book because I thought I might read it again, or my husband might read it.  I didn't.  Neither did he."   Keep or discard?

If it's a classic, we keep it.  If not, out it goes.

2.  "Somebody gave us this, but neither of us read it and we aren't likely to read it."   This is often something like a cookbook or travel book.  Both Julia and I have very few cookbooks.  We both know how to cook very well.  The cookbooks we keep are for cooking styles we don't do very often at home, like Middle Eastern or Asian.  And Julia has a couple of historical cookbooks, really more of a history of local cooking.  That's all.  But for some reason, lots people love to give cookbooks -- I guess they make good, all-purpose gifts .  For us, these are easy decisions.  Keep what few we will actually use, and discard the rest.

 3.  Coffee table books -- also, usually gifts.  Really,  you leaf through it once or twice ..."Streets of San Francisco," or "Castles of Europe."  Okay, nice book.  But do you really need it?

Why not donate them to  a senior citizen's center or a nursing home, so people who can't travel anymore can enjoy them?

4.  Mulitple books about general things you're interested in.  Does my husband, who is into the paranormal, really need every single book ever written about ghosts?  Out of this pile of 30 ghost-hunting books, how many of them are good references and how many are just re-hashing old legends that are better documented in another book?  How many offered no new information, were poorly written, or just plain sucked?  Likewise with the horror novels -- "honey, you remember you said this book was awful?"  Out with it!

5.  Worn-out copies or multiple copies of classics.  Can't these be replaced with single-volume, hardback anthologies?  We did this with our big stack of worn-out Shakespeare books from various college classes.  Of course you should have Shakespeare in the house, but instead of a box full of individual paperback plays and sonnets, with yellow-highlighted parts and notes you scrawled in the margins in 1977, how about just one big, thick Shakespeare anthology instead?   Really, when we pulled out all of our Shakespeare paperback books, we had 37 little paperbacks from my college English classes and from his (more, because he majored in English).


Out they went.  I gave him a Shakespeare anthology for his birthday.

We set a goal to get rid of at least 15-20% of books every time we clean out.  Last year, when we downsized enough to have a whole empty bookcase -- YAY! --  we bought an IKEA bookcase with glass doors to replace our oldest, most worn-out bookshelf, and we put out best books in the new one.  With the glass doors, the books don't get dusty.  We've decided that we will do this every years until we only own three bookcases with glass doors, and then the rule will be that we can't have any more books than will fit in those bookshelves.

In the meantime, both Julia and I got our husbands an e-book for Christmas.  Both of us got the Nook from Barnes and Noble, mainly because it allows you to download books from your public library.  So now we will only but hard copies of books that have real meaning to us -- no more money spent on books that are just entertainment or light reading!

All of the books we discard are donated to charity if they are in fairly good shape.  If they are too worn out, we recycle them.

P.S. - My husband just reminded me that we recycle the old phone book the very minute the new one lands on our doorstep in the fall.  Not a "regular" sort of book, but a big one anyway!

Next time:  what we do with DVD's, records, tapes and movies.

Have a great spring, whatever you celebrate!


Friday, April 15, 2011

Spring Cleaning

I've had a lot of extra work lately, and have been remiss insofar as keeping this blog up to date.

Today, I want to talk about spring cleaning.

When I was a kid, most people used the first warm days of spring as an opportunity to clear their homes of clutter, clean their interior walls, clean rugs, wash and wax wooden floors, scrub the grout in the bathroom tile, clean woodwork, and donate surplus items to charity.  After the house was decluttered, cleaned and aired out, people would go to work in their gardens, putting in flowers and plants for summer vegetables. 

Before Easter, our urban neighborhood would be bustling with activity as people threw open their windows, washed curtains, and let the fresh air and sunlight have free run in their homes.  The dust and soot from winter fireplace usage was scrubbed from the walls near the hearth, and a fresh coat of paint was applied if needed.  Winter clothes were washed, hung out to dry in the sun, and put away until the next year.

Most people would drag their household rugs outside, throw them over the fence, and beat the deeply-embedded dirt out of them (although most people had vacuum cleaners, wall to wall carpet was not yet common in our city).  After the rugs had been beaten senseless, they were hosed down to remove any remaining dirt or grime, and lightly scrubbed with a brush and soap before being rinsed and allowed to dry in the sunshine.

Meanwhile, floors were waxed and polished.

By May, most people's homes sparkled.

As a child, I was in awe of our neighbors who, over a mere few weekends,  refreshed and detail-cleaned  their homes to welcome the springtime.     

My non-hoarding grandmother was also one of these people, and from her, I learned how these things were done.  I thought it was fun to beat great clouds of dust out of the rugs, to tuck scented soap in with the winter garments before wrapping them carefully in moth-resistant cotton sheets and packing them in the trunk until next winter.  I enjoyed helping Grandma wax the floors -- when the floors were clean and dry, she invited the grandkids over for a "waxing party." All you had to bring was a pair of old socks. She would mop Johnson's Wax onto the floors and the kids would "skate" around the rooms until the floors shone like mirrors.  Older kids would help with the details, like shining the floor inside the corners.  After the floors were waxed, she'd make cookies, popcorn and Kool-Aid in the kitchen.  

Another thing Grandma did every year was to go through her house, looking for things she could donate to charity, or things she hadn't used in a long time.  The latter would be boxed, and would go into the attic.  If, by the following spring, she hadn't needed to retrieve anything from it, that box (and others like it) would be donated to the Salvation Army.

It was a good system.  Although Grandma was far from wealthy, her house always sparkled. Everything was mended and well-maintained, there was no clutter, everything had its place, and everything went back to its place after use. 

Life was good at Grandma's house.

Not so much at our house.

Sometimes Dad and I made a game of seeing how much we could clean on Saturday afternoons,  when Mom and my aunt sometimes went grocery shopping together.  But we never managed to make much of a dent in the piles of "memories."  We had to shift the stuff around to clean the floors and walls, to wash the curtains and clean the baseboards.   What I remember most is the dust, and how amazed I was at the amount of dust that could accumulate from one year to the next.  

More importantly, I didn't understand why Mom kept some of the things she held onto for dear life: yellowed newspaper clippings from the wedding announcements of co-worker's children ... broken china figurines and novelty coffee cups which had been birthday or Christmas gifts from acquaintances ... cracked picture frames ... broken rosaries ... plastic Easter eggs ... old ribbons from birthdays and Christmas gifts.  You name it, it was there.  All precious somehow, yet all jumbled together in uncovered boxes, gathering dust.

I often wondered how it could be possible for a box of oddments to be treasure and trash at the same time.

If I picked up one of these boxes, and fished out a newspaper clipping, asked my mother "whose wedding announcement is this?".... well, I would get an answer along the lines of, "don't you remember Miss Patty's niece? Bridget?"

(For the benefit of readers outside of the Southern United States, all adults a child is acquainted with are referred to by "Mr.," "Mrs.," or "Miss," followed by the first name.  It is a way of acknowledging familiarity, while at the same time reserving a certain degree of respect for one's elders).

If I looked puzzled, or shook my head and said "no," Mom would answer with, "I can't believe you don't remember Miss Patty's niece!   Her name was Bridget.  She babysat for you sometimes when you were two. She was a cute girl with red hair."

"No, Mom, I don't remember.  I was only two.  Why did you save her wedding announcement?"

"Well, for goodness sakes, she was your babysitter one summer!  I have to save that!  Don't you have one sentimental bone in your body?  You do remember Miss Patty, I hope?"

"Miss Patty .... oh, she lived down the street when I was little, but I don't remember much about her."

"Good Lord, how can you forget Miss Patty?  She used to sing for the church choir and she was in Little Theater and ...I just can't believe ..."   Mom would walk out of the room, mumbling and shaking her head in amazement that an eleven-year-old did not remember a temporary babysitter from nine years previously, or her babysitter's aunt, who used to live down the street.

One Saturday, when Dad and I were attempting some spring cleaning while Mom was out shopping with her sister, we broke a vase.  Not a valuable Victorian antique; not a priceless Chinese ginger jar.  Just a regular stoneware vase with a pretty design on it, which someone had given Grandma as a Christmas gift in the 1940s.  It sat atop a crowded bookcase, among dozens of other vases and figurines.

Dad turned around in the crowded living room with a mop handle in his hand.  The handle hit the vase.  I tried to catch it, and missed. The vase hit the wood floor and fractured into several pieces.

My Dad picked up the pieces, found his jar of epoxy, and together we carefully set to work reassembling it, all the while watching the clock for the hour of Mom's scheduled return.

We finished half an hour before Mom was due home.  We turned the vase carefully from side to side.  The cracks were not noticeable; they resembled the hairline "crazing" one often sees in pottery.  We set the vase back in its place, and settled down to listen to a baseball game on the kitchen radio.  I had a Coke.  Dad made us a snack, and opened a beer.

Not long afterward, we heard Mom come in, heard the keys jingle in the lock, heard footsteps ... and then she stopped.  Dad and I stared at each other.

She had seen it.  And she knew it was broken.

Had she noticed the cracks?  No.

It was turned the wrong way around.

The vase had a different design on each side.  We had set it back in position the wrong way.  And, in a quick glance around the living room as she walked in the door, out of all that apparent chaos, she had noticed that tiny detail.   And she had investigated.

She cried.  It was as though we had broken it on purpose.  A story poured out, about how that vase had been given to my grandmother by some friend or neighbor who used to be so kind, so very kind, so long ago, during the Depression, the neighbor who shared backyard gardening chores and the resulting produce with Grandma, the neighbor who once drove Grandma to the doctor when she sprained her ankle.

And we broke that nice lady's vase.

Sometimes it all seemed so pointless, even to try to help.

Do any of you have stories of cleaning attempts gone awry, or going unappreciated, as you were growing up?  I'd love it if you would care to share your own stories.

In the meantime, have a happy spring season, and enjoy cleaning your own homes.

Friday, March 4, 2011

I'm About to be A Lab Rat!

I will soon be a taking on a six-month-long, part-time job as a lab rat, but in a nice, and I hope, helpful way.

Along with many other Adult Children of Hoarders, I will be taking part in a study headed up by Dr. Suzanne Chabaud, whom you may know from the "Hoarders" television series.  She is the nice, calm Southern lady who calls it like she sees it. It takes old-school Southern manners to hold out her hand to help and, simultaneously, not to hesitate a moment to point out how awful a house smells, with the same sincere smile on her face and the same willingness to help. 

Her team will be studying the effects of growing up in a hoarded home. 

I have to admit that I am just a little bit nervous.  Although I know that the study will be completely anonymous, with participants' identities scrupulously protected, I nonetheless expect that answering the surveys and  talking through the interviews will stir up a lot of emotions I thought I had repressed or otherwise dealt with in some other way.  I know that there are some things in my life which are still terrible sore spots, but I also know that I have forgiven a lot, and that I love my mother and my other hoarding relatives and only want to see the best for them, especially my mother, in the long run.

A few things I am concerned about: 

-- although I grew up in a hoarded home, I was not verbally or physically abused, although my parents were very controlling people.  I know that our house was mostly about a 5 or 6 on the hoarding scale, and it was a "clean hoard" (no garbage, feces, etc), while other people grew up in much filthier homes and in very abusive situations, and I don't want to sound like a whiner.

-- there is that nagging sense of betrayal of the hoarding parent, just as with Adult Children of Alcoholics when they reveal their secrets.  The strict anonymity of the study will help me get past this, I am sure.

-- I want to tell my mother's story and, as I have all my life, try to ferret out why she holds on to so many things that only evoke negative memories.  It is as though she has a "Museum of Failure," jam-packed with Things That Might Have Been.  This aspect of her hoarding causes me the most pain -- listening to her re-live bitter family feuds when she touches certain objects that remind her of certain places in time, or sitting patiently as she tells, in excruciating detail for the umpteenth time, about incidents in which she was taken advantage of by certain of her relatives.  Why would she want to be reminded of them, and re-tell the same stories time after time with the same hurt, as fresh as when it was new, forty or fifty years later? Why does she want to hold on so tightly to the "Library of Hurt Feelings of the Past?"  Unlike some hoarders, she rarely picks up an object to tell a happy story about it.

-- I am also wondering if I will be able to discuss plans for the future.   Specifically, even though I love my mother and hope she lives to a very healthy old age, when she finally does pass on, I will need to be able to get rid of everything except photos, a few real heirlooms and other objects with positive family memories, and a few items of furniture ... and to get rid of these things without guilt.  

-- but my biggest concern?  I am afraid that the interviews will not give me enough time to tell the whole story.  I hope that is not the case.  

The researchers are also interested in identifying what strengths, if any, we feel we may have gained from growing up in such environments, and in fairness, they are also seeking information about any good points or character strengths our hoarding loved ones may possess. 

This is going to be interesting, and I will keep you all posted on any parts of the study I am allowed to blog about.

Have a great weekend!  Here in the South, the trees are budding, small animals are coming out of hibernation and the birds are singing.  Time to let some fresh air into our own lives as well.  Has anyone started their spring cleaning yet?