Category Archives: daily life

Spilling coffee, working unpaid, and all those little things that make up a life.

tidying, day 30

It’s been about 30 days since I picked up the short and lovely book titled the life-changing magic of tidying up, by marie kondo. The book’s rather intriguing promise is that if you complete the full decluttering process, you won’t rebound. I think it’s true, for two reasons: 1) The tidying method changes your relationship to your possessions; and 2) If you’re going to rebound, you probably won’t finish in the first place anyway. Will I make it to the finish line? Well, I do intend to, but even if I don’t, my home and my heart are already breathing easier.

I haven’t been tidying for 30 days, mind you. There are some mega-tidy days in there, where I might spend 6 to 8 hours in a day — maybe 2 for the clothes and 2 for the books — plus some “I have a couple hours here or there” kind of days.

I’m going forward mostly in the order she recommends. First I went through and tidied my clothes — I took down and handled every last scrap, using the touch of my hands and the feeling in my heart to decide whether I wanted it or not. Next, books. Books, as you might imagine, are extra complicated for a writer. I wrote abut those here and here.

Next, papers! The short version of the story is that I’ve spent about a week, on and off, and our four-foot-tall recycling bin is full. I still have two filing cabinets to go through, plus some stack files. Oh yes, and multiple boxes of kids’ art and schoolwork. All these years, I’ve done a fabulous job of organizing a whole lot of papers . . . papers that I’ll probably never need! I didn’t realize I was setting myself up for hours and hours of archaeology — the meticulous digging for the papers I actually do want or need.

In the years before I had my last child, I taught a number of technical and business writing classes at the UW and local community colleges. I saved a whole lot of papers. I need to save some of them. But which? And for what purpose?

What I have now, more or less, is one file cabinet full of teaching portfolio materials and course materials organized by subject matter rather than course. More importantly: an easy mind. I know I haven’t left a difficult task for later.

Oh, and as a bonus: I found a super awesome handout called “Calculating a Fog Index.” It’s a simple method for taking a writing sample of but 100 words and finding out the reading level by grade (7th through college graduate). Now, where was that SBAC practice test again, hmm?

three days of book tidying

Day three and I’m halfway through the process of tidying my books. I’ve gone through about half my books, and six boxes have left the house. I’m so glad they’re gone — not because they were taking up space, but because they were sucking out psychic energy and dragging me down. Now they will enjoy a new life in somebody else’s hands. And I will enjoy new books.

This tidying process is from the book the life-changing magic of tidying up by marie kondo. I have written more about it here and here. I followed the process as closely as I could, but because I’m a writer, and books are my business, it was not entirely applicable. It’s right for me to keep many books that don’t “spark joy.” So, I substituted some of kondo’s rules for my own.

What I did:

Day One: I gathered every single book I owned from every corner of the house. We have fourteen bookshelves altogether–three in my office, two in the kids’ rooms, and nine in other parts of the house. I got all the books that were outside my office and put them on the floor of my office. Then I got two boxes of books from the storage room and put them there too. It was mighty crowded by then!

Day Two: I got myself into a good psychic space and started going through my books, one by one, sorting them into categories and handling them to see if they sparked joy. Quite a few of them did the opposite! So I put them in boxes to go. I erred on the side of keeping books I wasn’t sure of, but even so, I filled six boxes. As I filled them, I put them outside my room. I took frequent breaks, but even so, after about four hours I was fried! I took a good long break, ate a bunch of food, and then started up again in the late afternoon. Another hour or two and I was done.

Only trouble: the rest of the books, from all over the house, were on the floor of my room! I spent an hour trying to shelve books, but they won’t all fit on my own shelves, and I don’t know yet which ones I want to keep outside my office. To make matters worse, those other nine bookshelves are crowded with other people’s books.

Day Three: I stopped worrying about where to put my books and focused on getting those six boxes out the door. It was harder than I thought. If I had it to do over again, I would have just put them in the trunk of the car and driven them straight to a thrift store. Instead, I took them to a local to sell. They took a lot fewer books than I had expected, leaving me with five boxes I still had to take to the thrift store.

But now they’re gone, and I feel great!

I’m going to wait a week or so before I finish up the rest of my books. It’s been emotionally difficult and I’m fried! But the rest won’t be anywhere near as hard.

What I learned:

  • Books hold emotions and memories and have a physicality of their own.
  • It matters where I put my books. There are some spots on the bookshelf I look at every day. Those are not the places to put the books I keep meaning to read.
  • Some books are the wrong size for their text. For instance, I had two copies of Vonda McIntyre’s The Moon and the Sun, one hardback and one paperback. Before I started the process, I figured I would donate the hardback and keep the paperback. I did the opposite.
  • I don’t much like dust jackets. If a book has a dust jacket that’s torn or fading, the book is doomed to leave my house.
  • I’m under no obligation to read any book I own.
  • If somebody I know and like has written a book and I have purchased it, I am under no obligation to read it, and I am also under no obligation to give it away. I can keep it on my shelf and feel pleased for my friend.
  • My collection of books has some gaps I didn’t see until I got rid of what I didn’t want. I owned some books by authors whose books I read and enjoyed twenty years ago. But I didn’t own those exact books. I’m sure they’re out there somewhere.

Enjoy yourselves, dear books, and farewell.

from Pinterest/wimmink

from Pinterest/wimmink

on tidying books

Yesterday I spent several hours finding every single book that I own (except all the ones my family uses and all the children’s books) and putting them on the floor of my room. Now I’m sorting through them, and it’s excruciating. Not because I don’t know which too keep and which to give away, but because I’m actually sorting through twenty-five years of my past, and not all the memories are happy ones. I have little resentments and disappointments — not a big deal all in all, but all piled on my floor . . . ugh.

I’m doing this as part of the process in the book the life-changing magic of tidying up, which I posted about yesterday. This is the second stage of tidying. The first was clothes. I gathered every last item of clothing I owned and decided whether or not they “sparked joy.” Taking the time to consider each item one by one was indeed “life-changing magic,” because it tuned me in to my emotional response to all the times. Turns out, some of them just made me feel bad about myself. They’re gone now, and I wish them well in their new life!

The same is happening with books, but it’s much stronger and harder. Once I’m done, though, I’m going to look at my bookshelves and feel good about every single thing I see!


on tidying

There I was at the bookstore, haggling with my children over how many books they were allowed to buy, knowing that most likely my daughter’s books would be read before the weekend was out and they would just hang out on our bookshelf as clutter . . . and then I saw this lovely little title.

tidying up

the life-changing magic of tidying up, by marie kondo.

It feels good in the hand, with just the right heft. The front cover is clear and lovely, and the back cover has poetry and a pretty woman. A sneak peek inside showed me prose that was clean, smooth, and encouraging.

I bought it.

There’s a paradigm shift here. You don’t do it a little at a time, and you don’t focus on what to get rid of, and you don’t use reason to decide what to toss.

Instead, you tackle items one category at a time, in marathon sessions. You decide what you want to keep, rather than what you want to get rid of, and you make that decision by feel. Her rule of thumb is to touch each item to see if it sparks joy.

Most importantly, though, you change your relationship to objects. You treat them like living things, thanking them for what they have done for you. When you discard them, you are releasing their energy.

I’ve seen a lot of people talk about her book as “new agey” or “woo woo.” Actually, though, it’s influenced by the ancient Japanese practice of Shinto, which includes the concept that objects have souls, or energy. This is a very practical way to think, because it helps us treat them respectfully.

If you asked me if I thought objects had souls or feelings, I would have said no. But the reason I kept all that stuff in the first place was that I felt guilty for throwing it out. And why did I feel guilty? Who would it hurt for me to discard something that only I used? For good or ill, I have a relationship with my stuff. We all do. We anthropomorphize our objects.

Once I realized that, I was ready to go.

Two weeks later, and my relationship with my possessions is different. My closet and dresser are filled with only the clothes and shoes I want and no more. (About fifteen bags of clothes and shoes went to Value Village.) At the same time, I found all my nice dresses! My pantry doesn’t scare me any more. I can open two of my kitchen drawers without yanking. This is a good start.

The next step, according to Kondo’s recommendation, would be to go through the books. But I would really want to set aside a whole day for that, and I’m not ready. So I’m working on papers. Forty pounds recycled today, along with some emotional baggage they’ve been carrying. But within those forty pounds, I found some buried treasures. I revived good memories of courses I taught at the community college, and I found an article that is of immediate use to me.

I feel different in my own skin, too. I feel more free.

So would I recommend this book? It depends on what you want. I was the poster child for needing this book. When I got toward the end and read this passage I had to smile.

“Although I have spent this entire book talking about tidying, tidying is not actually necessary. You won’t die if your house isn’t tidy, and there are many people in the world who really don’t care if they can’t put their house in order. Such people, however, would never pick up this book. You, on the other hand, have been led by fate to read it, and that means you probably have a strong desire to change your current situation. . . ”

Yes, that’s me. Clutter has been in my top three list of stressors ever since my son was in preschool, and I was absolutely ready to let it go. This was just the right book, at just the right time.

At the same time, I’m pretty sure I’ve doomed myself to six months of intensive tidying! If that’s not what you want, don’t read the book.

Fascinating book about our genetic heritage

For those who are curious about humanity’s common genetic origins, may I introduce the book Mapping Human History by Steve Olson. Here are three quick factoids from the book:

  • We all came from Africa. That may come as a surprise to many, but unless you want to throw science out the window and cosy up to creationism, that’s as much of a scientific fact as anything.
  • It’s impossible to accurately trace our family trees, no matter how well written records are kept. Why? According to medical research, there’s about a four percent chance of mistaken paternity. And the more generations you go back, the wronger it gets.
  • On the other hand, if you go back far enough, it is very likely that any one particular ancestor is your ancestor. Keep in mind that as you go back in time, the number of ancestors increases exponentially. After a certain number of generations, the number of ancestors you have is greater than the number of people living on Earth at the time. How is this possible? We’re related to each other through multiple lines of descent.

Don’t believe me? Read the book.

Mapping Human History by Steve Olson

What other secrets does the past hold?

Last time I wrote about my family history in the context of the greater US history of colonial times.  The more I learn, the more questions I have!

Take the Ohio Bethesda church of 1808.  I found a lot of information about it through my ancestor Johan Mathias Noah. I started looking at him and that branch of the family because I was wondering about all the Old Testament names. Where did they come from?

So then I came across this, one of the initial Bethesda covenants: “We do solemnly promise not to divulge the secrets of the Church to the world, and to keep the concerns of the House of God completely within itself.”

I’m so curious. What were the secrets?

So then I came across this, another account of Johan Mathias Noah and his wife, Elizabeth Schmidt. Maybe they were Quakers, or maybe Mennonites?

So then I wondered: what are Mennonites?

The Internet is so sneaky. It leads you off in all these different directions. I came across this page on connections between Mennonites and Jews. There are a lot of similarities between the two faiths, apparently.

Now I’m thinking, where did the similarities come from?

And also: I learned about Crypto-Jews from the amazing author Kathleen Alcalá. Is it possible that there were other kinds of hidden Jewish communities throughout history, yet to be discovered? Did Mennonites start out as Jews, for instance?

Oh, curiosity. Good thing I’m not a cat, or it would kill me!

Guess I’ll keep on digging.

breaking down the wall

Stuck at Sears and Followed by a Rude Stranger

Blast from the past: Here’s a post from several years back, when Boy was a rambunctious three-year old and Girl was a rambunctious baby.

On Being Stuck at Sears and Followed by a Rude Stranger

My plans for Wednesday morning: hang out with M__ and N___, who will be moving to Cambridge all too soon.

 My car’s plans for Wednesday morning: produce for my enjoyment a dead battery and alternator.

 It was too late to call the car dealership, which is an easy 10‑minute bus ride away. Alas, I wasted twenty minutes on the phone trying to get through, then felt rejected because no one wanted to talk to me. So I decided to spend “a half hour” at Sears.

 Oh, sorry, I meant to say “two and a half hours.” Yep, that’s how long it took before I was outta there. What exactly do you do with two small children for two and a half hours at Sears? I found a long, narrow hall and let Boy run down it, then clapped as he reached the end ‑‑ but after four or five times, he was done. We hung out in the women’s sitting room, but then Girl played the “I want to touch the outlet cover” game, and Boy followed suit. We had lunch, and Girl played the game of “I don’t want pizza, crackers, or water, no, no, no! I want pizza! Please put me down, I want to be picked up!” while Boy played the game of “feed Girl,” which is okay as long as Girl wants to eat but turns into my game of “Mommy sits between the two children” after that.

 In the middle of all this, Boy ran around a corner and I followed, leaving Girl by the stroller. Not the sort of thing I would normally do. Then I heard a man say, “Excuse me!”

 I grabbed Boy and returned to the stroller. “Yes?” I said.

 “You need to be watching your baby!”

 “I was,” I said.

 “No, you weren’t. You were behind the corner. Somebody could grab her and run!”

 “Thank you,” I said, in a firm conversation‑ending tone, then shepherded the kids out of Sears to get lunch.

 The man followed me!

 He sat at a table facing mine throughout the whole lunch. I watched him while pretending not to, ready to yell for help if he approached, because any way you slice it, that would have been a really aggressive thing to do. Fortunately, he finished lunch, went out to the parking lot, and drove away.

 Was he a scary creep or just a jerk? I don’t know, but overall, I’m creeped out.

 So . . . where exactly is the balance between letting your kids roam at will, and attaching them to you with a tot‑leash? If I let Boy run down the aisle at the supermarket, might someone grab him and run? What if I let Girl play in the wood chips at the park while I go down the slide with Boy? Et cetera? 


The Frozen arts festival

Yesterday our elementary school had a fantastic arts festival. It happens every year — volunteers work hard to put it on. Art gallery, craft and activity tables, bake sale, lemonade, performance stage. Kids sign up for song, spoken word, instrument — whatever they think they want to do. This year, right about half of the songs were from Frozen.

If you missed it, go see it, rent it, watch youtube videos of the songs, or whatever you’re up for. I love it. It’s the anti-Disney-princess Disney princess musical. I mean it takes all the horrible tropes of fairy tales and subverts them. Prince and princess who fall in love and get married and live happily after? In one glorious song, they head toward that ending, and then the song is over and the whole thing turns out to be a con. And by the way, men pick their noses. The kiss of true love? Not what everybody expected. (Oh, and did I mention, it turns Hans Christian Anderson’s Snow Queen upside down too?)

Anyhow, the story isn’t about a prince and princess. It’s about a princess and her sister. Passes the Bechdel test with flying colors. It’s going to influence an entire generation of girls, but even more than that, so are the songs. My daughter and I have all but memorized “Let it Go” and “Do You Want to Build a Snowman?” — and it’s those two songs that made an appearance at the festival.

Couple lyrics from “Let it Go”:

Don’t let them in, don’t let them see
Be the good girl you always have to be
Conceal, don’t feel, don’t let them know
Well, now they know

Let it go, let it go
Can’t hold it back anymore
Let it go, let it go
Turn away and slam the door

I don’t care
What they’re going to say
Let the storm rage on,
The cold never bothered me anyway

Here’s a link to the singalong youtube video.

This taps in to something so deep: the expectation that girls hold in all their feelings and act like perfect little goody-goodies, and the passion that’s let loose if we decide to throw it all to the wind. I feel it myself and that’s why I keep singing it. 

Anyhow, it was performed three times at the arts festival.

“Do You Want to Build a Snowman” must also tap into something deep, because it was also performed three times. In it, a little girl keeps knocking on the door of her moody teenage sister asking her to come out and play. Maybe it’s about girl friendships generally.

Here’s a link to the singalong video.

A bonus, and not from Frozen, was a performance of “Brave.”

Say what you wanna say

And let the words fall out

Honestly, I wanna see you be brave

This was especially cool because I am so conditioned to hearing sappy love songs that I always thought it was “I wanna see you tonight!” But nope, like “Let it Go,” it’s a song about letting out what we think and feel.

Anyhow, it was a great arts festival all around, and . . .

girl power!

The author versus the person

It’s nature’s joke that introverts should be authors. We don’t want to be the center of attention, but at the same time we’re compelled by our art and craft to lay out our dreams on the page to be seen by friends and strangers alike. So far, a fair number of people have bought my book and are reading it. Success! says the author. Um, are you sure you wanted to let everybody see that story? says the person. I’m getting more and more queasy as my first reading approaches. It will be so exciting to see so many people I know, and I’ll have a great time up in front of the microphone bringing my characters to life, but the anticipation is rough. Antacids ahoy.

Incident in the bathroom

So I was at a restaurant with my family, and I had to use the bathroom. It’s a simple process, really: you go into the stall, lock your door, do your business in private.

Well, not this time. I walked into the stall, started to close and lock the door, and felt a hand grabbing my foot! I looked around, disoriented, and saw the hand was coming from the next stall over, and now it was patting my foot insistently. “Excuse me!” the person said. “Excuse me!” As it turns out, it was a girl, maybe eleven years old, and she found it very important that I know right away that my stall was out of toilet paper.

While I was still processing this information, and before I managed to lock my stall door, a second person entered the bathroom. She must have had to pee really badly, because she barged in at top speed, clocking me in the forehead with the stall door. She was aghast. “I’m really sorry,” she said.

I just stood there with my hand on my forehead, mouth gaping open, saying, “Wh–“, and the woman who had hit me with the door must have thought that she had injured me seriously. She made a tearful apology and fled.

I hope that somebody, sometime, will have enough presence of mind to let that girl know that you really shouldn’t oughta grab people’s feet when they’re going to the bathroom. As for me, I’m going to be paying much closer attention to the lock on the stall door!