Thursday, December 30, 2010

There's got to be before and after. My New Year's resolution? Out with the old.

I recently had a sit-down with my professional organizer friend, Deb. You might recall; she gave me all kinds of good information about hoarders. And not unlike being pulled over by a cop and just getting a warning or finding out everything looks good (as good as it can) after a colonoscopy, learning that I wasn't actually a hoarder was somewhat redemptive.

Deb actually shed light on the fact that there are fewer true hoarders than the television show and occasional odd news story would suggest. Most of us fall somewhere along a very succinct clutter continuum.

I learned so much that day with Deb. And even though I was casually interviewing her about what life is like creating order out of chaos, talking shop with Deb definitely compelled me to take a look in the mirror.

Not really.

It actually made me take a look at all the crap I keep and never use, specifically in the prime real estate known as my kitchen drawers.

I have 10 drawers in my kitchen. It's safe to say that well over half of those drawers are affectionately considered junk drawers.

Stuff accumulates. Crap has no distinct place to be put. Life twirls in a fashion that doesn't sometimes afford the opportunity to put things away with precision. And in that spin cycle, junk drawers are born.

But Deb motivated me, not with a pep talk or a shaming lecture. She just told me about her life, her clients, some of her wacky experiences introducing calm in peoples' lives where there once were piles of clutter. Deb's so passionate about what she does. She's loving, non-judgmental, understanding.

That being said, spending time with my old friend made me feel the need to clean. I wanted become less chronically disorganized. I wanted to be able to find a screwdriver or a hammer without using a swear word in the process. I never wanted the passport fiasco to happen again (I won't relive that crazy time, but you can: I want to be able to find my 2009 tax return before I need it.

So I channeled Deb one afternoon. I decided to start this Out With the Old decluttering project by cleaning out a few kitchen drawers. Ready for some before and after pictures?

So. The top drawer in the first photo looked like this. It was filled with spent Starbucks cards, old ishy chap stick, dental floss containers, hair accessories and other stuff that I can't even remember due to their complete inconsequentiality.

Now it looks like this. I still have the bowl of paper clips, nails, thumbtacks and other incidentals, but now this drawer just has fabulous note paper, extra glasses. I'll add the other photos with minimal explanation. Suffice it to say that I threw out a whole lot of stuff I hadn't looked at for years. Keys to cars I no longer own. Pokemon cards. It goes on and on.

Over to the right is what Drawer Numero Dos looked like before.

And now, it looks like this, filled with fabulous cloth napkins, all an arm's length away from the kitchen table.

The third drawer down was like a middle child; appreciated when noticed, but easy to overlook. It used to be filled with this stuff....

And now I honestly don't know what to do with this free space. See what I mean?
Then there's the bottom drawer. It used to be filled with a vast, mangled mess of cords and connectors and wires to equipment I probably don't even have any more. And the dog leashes were the cherries on top of this crap sundae. 

This bottom drawer used to be called the Toy Drawer when the boys were little. They'd toddle over to the drawer, which housed an ever-changing sparkly, magical world of tiny, fun items. It was empowering for them and convenient for me, to have the fall-back Toy Drawer. Eventually it became the cord drawer, when their toys became more electronic and complicated.
There's not much measurable outward change to this bottom drawer, which is now just known as the bottom drawer. Or the leash drawer. 

But none of these four drawers are junk drawers any more. Most of the stuff in these drawers was sentimentally, reverentially tossed. All of this old stuff once had some meaning, held some feeling of necessity. And like a hairy mole on an old man's chin, this collection got bigger year after year. Because one of us thought these things would someday acquire importance or function.

But it's time to say goodbye to the old. Of course the random photos and special treasures I tripped upon while cleaning out these drawers found an appropriate new home.

It was so easy, cleaning out these drawers, breathing new life into old spaces. It only took about an hour. And I owe my new drawers to Deb's refreshing influence.

I don't usually make resolutions. I generally approach resolutions more flippantly than resolutely. 

But I would like to clear the clutter this next year, on so many levels. 

Here's to finding order in chaos, calm among disarray. Equanimity. Let's toast to equanimity. 

Let's also celebrate four fewer junk drawers. 

Monday, December 27, 2010

What's the coolest thing you got for Christmas? I got a goat!

Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.
Chinese proverb

I got something for Christmas that I never ever thought I'd get. And it's among the coolest gifts I've ever received.

I got a goat!

My dad and his groove thing Vel bought me a nanny goat.

No, it's not grazing in my back yard, annoying my dogs, upsetting the children, confounding the neighbors.

It's being sent to someone who's facing bleak times, somewhere far away.

Stop. What's this It stuff? I need to give my nanny goat a name. I think I'll call her Anita.

So Anita is a productive, scrappy upstart. My dad found her through Heifer, International

It's a grassroots organization that helps the desperate and hungry. In Haiti. In Africa. In Romania. All over the place.

I'm sure that precocious Anita will definitely not disappoint, wherever she goes.

Because lovely Anita is a giver.

She can produce up to a gallon of milk every day.

Which means whoever she winds up with might decide to make some cheese, too.

Eventually, charming Anita will find her billy goat soulmate, thanks most likely to Heifer, International.

Anita will be coy and charming at first, and yet ultimately she'll relent to the seething, brooding yet whimsical charm of Tim (that's what I've decided to call Anita's billy goat gruff).

Tim and Anita will get right to it, to put it delicately.

And before you know it, Tim and Anita will be surrounded by their offspring. Because Anita can have two or three kids every year. Unlike the humans who are benefitting from her bounty, Anita apparently has no memory of the pain of childbirth.

Good for her.

And good for Tim! Because he's productive, too! And let's not even get started on the kids. So helpful, so charming, so many.

Which is good for the impoverished community where Anita and Tim have found themselves.

They're a happy goat family.

But Heifer, Intl. isn't just about goats. My children received flocks of chicks from dad and Vel.

Imagine the possibilities. The usefulness.

Imagine all the names we'll have to come up with.

And there's more.

Llamas. Sheep. Trees. Bees. Hogs. Water buffalo. And, of course, heifers.

Heifer, International teaches people to fish with all of this amazing livestock.

So little means so much to so many.

Which brings me back to Anita.

She's just a goat. But she represents sustainability to people who consider living without hunger their greatest gift.

You go, Anita. Kick some ass. Make some milk. Have some fun with Tim. Churn out those kids.

Make a difference.

Monday, December 20, 2010

I'm dreaming of a full mailbox: Acknowledging the slow death of the Christmas card tradition

I don't get very many Christmas cards any more, and I refuse to take it personally.

I choose instead to blame it on the economy and the internet.

Also, I guess the axiom of reaping what you sew also seems appropriate.

I used to send out Christmas cards religiously, so to speak.

But times change.

Back in the day, I sent about 50 Christmas cards, complete with detailed Year in Review letters.

But then the magic of sending Christmas cards was slapped with the Scroogy open hand of pragmatism.

I did a bit of math, and came to the conclusion that, between purchasing cards and postage, it was costing approximately $120 to send out Christmas cards.

The internet solved the financial dilemma.

So for several years, instead of sending cards with a letter stuffed inside, I opted for sending out a holiday email, which featured the highlights of a fictional, fabricated family: the Seracinos.

In her Christmas letter (which I channeled), Jackie Seracino vigilantly recounted the year's highlights of her kids Billy and Sue - classic underachievers -  as well as observations about her inattentive, problem-addled husband Stan. The Seracinos' dysfunction is their charm. But Jackie looked through the black. She consistently, lovingly annually painted her family with the warm watercolor beauty of holiday optimism.

I created the Seracinos because I figured that my manufactured family was much more interesting than what I could come up with about my own clan. And over the years, I grew to love the Seracinos.

Making up a family was so much fun. But admittedly, I haven't even done that for a few years.

So. I dropped the shiny Christmas card ball.

I'd like to assume the dearth of holiday cards I get is a reflection of the times. Spending a ton of money on sending out cards has become discretionary, and there are a ton of websites that offer a wide range of holiday cards for free.

People are busy. Times change. Priorities shift.

And maybe some folks took umbrage to the spirit of the Seracinos. Who knows.

Maybe some have opted out of sending Christmas cards because cards and their requisite envelopes produce a huge amount of waste, unless you're a hoarder, and you keep every card you've ever received.

Christmas cards, at least in my world, seem to be going in the direction of land line telephones, soap operas and being referred to as Ma'am instead of Miss.

Oddly, those realities don't make me feel better. Because my mailbox has lost the magical sparkle it had when it was filled each day with warm holiday wishes. Now I have nothing to look forward to when it comes to my mailbox but the inevitable trickle of bills and junk mail.

I certainly don't want to take it personally.

Admittedly, I love getting Christmas cards.

I look forward to digging my mail out of the box, especially this time of year, and I love every card that's shuffled among the bills and junk. I have a few days to go before Christmas, so I'll be dreaming of a white Christmas and a full mail box.

I get the feeling that Christmas card nostalgia has become just that. I love my trips to the mail box, but I have the sense that receiving a profusion of cards in these odd, tumultuous times is the definition of a Christmas miracle.

But I can dream....

Friday, December 10, 2010

Let there be twisty, cheap, efficient, compact fluorescent light.

I went to Ace Hardware yesterday, ostensibly to go to the post office. 

But who doesn't like to browse the merch at Ace? Ace has almost everything a person needs to fix, to clean, to create. The store even has that OCD aisle of nuts and bolts, each housed in a little teeny bin, marked with an informative visual rendering of the bin's contents. 

Solvents. Ace has lots of solvents. 

And seasonal stuff. As well as furnace filters. Tissue paper. Barbeque grills. Paint. 

An incongruous panoply of useful items.

Plus, Ace has that seemingly Prozac-addled helpful hardware man. 

And as I mentioned, the Ace right up the street also has a post office, tucked way in the back. So yesterday, my intention was to mail some stuff. 

But then, on my way back to the post office, I saw a dizzying display of compact fluorescent bulbs. Let's call them CFLs from here on out.

The CFLs were on sale, each bulb a mere 99 cents. Each.

So I bought six.

The cost of each bulb, when they're not at this freakishly low less-than-a-buck price, is 6.49. Each.

So essentially, I got six bulbs for the cost of one.

I call that a bargain.

But there's more!

I not only saved at the point of purchase. Once I twist these swirly bulbs into their sockets, I'll save even more.

Each CFL uses a fraction of the energy than their bottom-heavy incandescent counterpart. And CFLs have the lifespan of Superman, providing light where once there was none up to 10 times longer than incandescent bulbs. This translates into approximately $30 a year per bulb in energy savings.

There's no down-side. Especially when each bulb can be purchased for less than a buck.

Of course, like people who think global warming is a hoax or Elvis is still alive, there are folks who refuse to take a peek at the evidence. There are people who actually hoard incandescent bulbs, refusing to see the obvious benefits of CFLs. 

Let me shed some light on what I think of incandescent bulb lovers. They're dorks. They're the ones who'd bitch about how cashmere is just too soft, or baby kittens are cloying, manipulative attention-seekers.

But soon, these incandescent-hoarding naysayers won't have a choice.

Not unlike placing a high priority on education or the eradication of poverty, America is behind the curve when it comes to transitioning from incandescent to CFL bulbs, despite the data.

The change is coming, people.

Other countries are mandating CFLs and eliminating the availability of incandescents within the next year or two. America, in all its progressive glory, will mandate the change very gradually, state by state, and eventually, most likely by 2020 (irony not intended), we'll all be hooked into the twirly goodness of CFLs. 

Change is hard when it comes to light bulbs, apparently.

But really, there's no boogie man in the closet when it comes to this innocuous switch. Especially when you can catch a bargain like I managed to find yesterday.

I bought a whole bunch of bulbs yesterday, and their combined cost was comparable to a venti whatever at Starbucks.

I'd say that's nothing less than illuminating.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

A dream is a wish your heart makes.

So I've written about how we shop, and why we shop. I've just barely scratched the crusty surface when it comes to why some of us surround ourselves with way too much stuff. But there's another very compelling chapter to this stream of entries about acquisition.

Retailapalooza has kicked in. Christmas is coming, and that means it's officially okay to go shopping. In fact it's kind of weird to most people if you don't choose to darken the door of a store between now and December 25.

What better time ask yourself what you really want? If you could do anything - anything - what would it be?

I'm speaking of the things that don't fit in a cart. You can't shove these things in a bag. This brand of product has no maker, other than you. Of course I'm referring to the conscious accumulation of experiences.

So let's replace the shopping list with a bucket list, shall we?

A bucket list is a list of wishes, really. I've got one that's now on paper. Until recently, these savory dreams were nothing but passing thoughts; whimsical wishes.

Most lists of this nature are not unlike mine. Mine is an outline of things I'd like to do; not stuff I want to get. They're potential accomplishments, experiences, events that ideally will be achieved before I take my seat in the alto section of the Choir Invisible. It's essentially a list of stuff I want to do before I die.

I'm not the only one who has a list like this.

In addition to the Bucket List movie, which I must honestly say I never saw, there's a tee vee show called The Buried Life. The show follows the exploits of four young men who have compiled a list of 100 things they want to do before they die, and collectively they go about trying to accomplish what's on their list. Get married in Vegas. Make a million dollars. Get in a fight. Learn to fly.

Self-indulgent? Sure.

Experientially cool? Completely.

The redemptive element to the concept these four people have created is that they're givers, too. For every item they cross off their list, they also help a stranger accomplish something on their list. Today I watched as the lads reunited a man with his estranged family. I did a bit of boo-hooing at the episode's conclusion.

It wasn't just because they'd been instrumental in changing the lives of a vagrant father and a hopeful, receptive daughter. It was also because they care enough, are aware enough, to see that this crazy Game of Life isn't all about what we get out of it; it's also about what we give back to it.

And their tasty experiment has very little to do with procurement. It's about participating in life. It's about making a list, checking it twice, jumping into the moment regardless of the outcome.

So what's on your list? What would you love to do/see/accomplish/experience/fill-in-the-blank before you leave this lovely planet?

I asked a bunch of people what was on their list.

Bucket. Not shopping.

Travel. Learn a different language. Climb every 14er. There are so many wishes, so many dreams that so many people are quietly contemplating every day.


I want to travel. I'd like to take my kids to New York City, and introduce them to the places I visited when New York was a frequent destination. I'd like to show them San Francisco. I'd like to take them to France. Just because France is so beautiful and old. Perspective is everywhere there.

I'd like to take a trip by myself. I'd start in South Dakota and see Christine. Then I'd visit Mark in Hollywood, make a stop in Portland so I could spend some time with Miriam and Sage. I'd swing up to Seattle and drop in on Scott, scoot over to Minnesota and gab with Dave, head over to New Jersey and chat with Jane, go across the pond to London and have some face time with Mike. I'd see people I love, in their elements. I can't think of a better vacation.

I'd get a book published. And a fabulous, whirlwind book tour would follow.

I'd make a record. Of the album variety. I don't care if it goes platinum.

I'd be part of a flash mob.

I'd hire someone to clean my house.

I'd go to the world's largest yard sale. It begins in Michigan and ends in Alabama, and it takes place every August.

There are so many more items on my list. Too numerous to mention.

Are any of these goals, these wishes, these dreams unattainable?


Nothing's stopping me. Nothing, with the exception of my other lists.



Integration. That's what I'm aiming for - I'd love to pour my To-Do list into my bucket list and see what happens.

A dream is a wish my heart makes, in the form of a list. None of the items on any of my lists are impossible.

I'd love to accomplish a few more of the items on my wish list than I seem to regularly complete on my To-Do list.

I guess I have something to add to my wish list.