Friday, October 31, 2014

Maybe you've noticed,

My house has become a bit lighter in the past few weeks.

No, if you've been here, you probably wouldn't notice right away.

It's a bit vague, but I can tell, in every room that I've terrorized, I walk into it and feel calm. The cupboards close, drawers are not overstuffed, every thing has a place--a file, a basket, a drawer, a holder.

It's as though I've had an invisible hand pushing me through my house, forcing me to ask the usefulness of the things that are in it. I've been through parts of my kitchen, the entire office, the craft supplies upstairs and my sewing stuff all over. We've even started cleaning/sorting/selling/purging things from Eric's shop.

Part of this stems from the fact that we are drowning in stuff--meaningless stuff. I know this problem is not unique to our family.

But lately, I've been asking myself some tough questions: what does the stuff in my house say about me? (And since we're studying archeology and ancient history) I wonder, if we abandoned our house and someone came to study us by what was left, what would they decide? And, in the final analysis, is this really all that important?

By and large, I've been able to free myself by freeing my connection to things I thought I would need again. The couple years of Cooking Light and Eating Well magazines, the CD games that we haven't played since the kids were born, the leftover documents from our adoption.

This hasn't been an entirely cheerful process. I've come face to face with my wastefulness and my lack of follow through. Today, as I cleaned through my sewing stuff, I found a pinned and cut-out dress pattern that all of my girls are too big for. It is humbling to realize how much I have and how little I really need to be content.

But, on the plus side, I discovered stuff for two Christmas presents. One of which I can complete in a day or two--and will be the best gift for a daughter who loves to dress up.

So maybe, you might want to do this too--to be freer to live instead of tied to your stuff.

Let me tell you where I started: with this list from the becoming Their main idea is that you don't have to live on nothing, you could probably make due with less: less vases, less mis-matched cups, less meds. It simply gave me permission to start, to not feel bad for having too much, and to get rid of stuff that was too much. (And no, I didn't need 10 vases--I whittled it down to the five I use most. Do I really need five? Probably not. But this is a journey and I'm at the beginning).

Next, I've also worked hard to find good places for my stuff. Just because I don't need it doesn't mean that it would be a huge help to someone else. In a few instances, the things that I am purging have been perfect for another's need. I love that: God's provision at my obedience.

Of course there are the good old standbys, Goodwill and the Salvation Army. In our area, there are about 25 non-profits that re-sell as well. Find one whose purpose you admire and go with that. Of course, you could always go the selling route: craigslist or whatever. But that created more hassle for me--so not for this clean out.

But here are some fun organizations that i have found.

Now that my kids are past the baby blanket and 10,000 stuffed animal stage, SAFE (Stuffed animals for emergencies) will clean and redistribute those items to fire & police departments, hospitals and other first responders to be given to kids in a time of crisis. There may be a chapter near you.

Old electronics waiting for recycling
In our area, the local county recycling plant accepts a huge amount of electronic material for recycling. Like old VHS and cassette tapes, VCRS, broken handhelds, old CDS, and random cords. I would much rather them be salvaged and re-used than just sit in a dump for the next 10,000 years.

This last one is one that I am a bit conflicted about. I like the idea, but it has issues. There is an organization in California, Donate your old Shoes, that accepts used shoes and redistributes them throughout the third world. It was started as a small project by a family and has grown into something bigger. On the one hand, I like this. Our shoes aren't worn out, they are just grown out of. BUT, I understand that it's not good to just give my old crap to someone in need just to make me feel better. That person has dignity and deserves respect, not my crap. In the end, it was too expensive for us to justify, but, hey, maybe it works for you.

Maybe you can help me too. I have extra office/school supplies: three-ring binders, file folders, rubber bands. They need a new home. I can't use them. (Like seriously, two full boxes of decent-shape, various-sized three-ring binders) Who needs them? Who wants them? A school? A non-profit serving the city? A church? An after-school organization?

I have to admit, I never quite finished the office. And right now it's covered in the pen stuff that Eric is selling, but even in this frenzied state, it's calmer than ever before.

And I could get used to living like that.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Room to breath

Josh--5th grade
For the first time in a very, very long time, life feels good.

It's not perfect, but good.

My bedroom has been clean for more than a week. Nary a pile has been left on the floor in that entire time.

The basement, which is usually the pit of junk and despair, has maintained a rather neat appearance for almost two weeks.

I've had moments where I thought, huh, I have nothing immediate to do right now.

What has brought about this new, most wonderful state of mind?

Two things (and you bet I'm going to tell you about them):

Katie--4th grade
1) In my homeschool, the big three are mature enough learners to not need me to hold their hand as they work through their assignments. I don't need to look over their shoulder to watch every math problem or listen to anyone sound out each agonizing word. In general, I can give assignments and help as needed (and sometimes, not at all needed, which is a new feeling altogether). Having a 5th, 4th, and 2nd grader means that I am past the most intensive, hands-on times of learning and into much more interesting and fun discussions and connections and projects that don't make me want to pull my hair out.

Also, as we planned this year, we built in significant breaks for me. I love my kids, but need a bit of space. So, every Monday they go to 'school' with a bunch of other homeschool kids and do all the fun stuff that I totally ignored (let's be honest). They build friendships, are challenged in a school setting, and round out their education in one day! Last week, OG kept speaking in Spanish to me all afternoon. And J dismantled an object today to get at the electronics of it. Life without teaching phonics is wonderful!

Olivia--2nd Grade
2) The biggest improvement (Glory, hallelujah!) is that Mali is in preschool--EVERY SINGLE DAY--from 8 until noon. She is in a great classroom with a teacher who is willing to work with us to teach and parent Mali well. And in her classroom of 15 kids, she is not the only one with brown skin, which in itself is beautiful to me. So for these four hours every day, we all get a little space from each other.

I have to admit, that as a homeschool mom, I had beautiful but naive pictures of our family cuddling on the coach reading stories--and in this way our new daughter would assimilate into our family. But the truth of the matter is this: I have a daughter from a hard and traumatic place. It is hard work to be her mom, it requires patience, diligence, and a special set of parenting skills. She needs structure, and clear order and expectations. And while I can do that in some ways, our homeschool doesn't work that way. She needs structure and order and direct teaching in order to overcome her gaps and become the best Mali she can be. And I can't provide that for her. In this way, in a new way, I've learned, it really takes a village. Although no one is going to do the hard attachment work that we are in the midst of, Mali needs all kinds of love and support, from many people.

And don't be mistaken that just because everything is going well that we don't still struggle with sibling rivalry and attachment issues and bad attitudes and defiance, special learning challenges and anger.

But there is much more peace, calm, laughter and even, dare I say it, moments of Joy.

We have travelled a long journey in the past year and half.

And after tears, my own anger, questions, I can truly say this:

I am blessed woman.