In the spirit of self-improvement, self-awareness and other things that sound impressive, I’ve selected the word “lighter” as my word for this year. I am striving to be “lighter” in several aspects of my life, including (but not limited to): belongings, attitude and of course, my physical weight. As of late, my primary focus has been on the belongings category. And by belongings, I mean “things” – the mountains of items that find their way into my home by way of school paperwork, fast food meal toys, clothes, trinkets, craft supplies, junk mail and coffee mugs. Okay, the coffee mugs thing, I own. I created that problem. But the rest? Ugh.
I have managed many challenging projects in my life and my career. I have coordinated national tours, I have chaired and emceed a black-tie awards event, and I have launched a new national benchmark program. I rocked them all. But when it comes to managing the “things” in my house, I fail. It’s not easy, friends, to manage things.
The cycle in my house goes something like this: stuff piles up gradually, I shove stuff into every possible storage device or cabinet, then stuff overflows, then I get cranky and throw nearly everything away (recycling or donating what I can, judgers) and then the whole glorious process starts all over again. It’s akin to shoveling with a spoon during a blizzard, only less fun.
Shockingly, the humans who share this house with me don’t care. I CREATED three of them – how can they not care?! I hate clutter and I have created three humans and married another – none of whom care in the least about piles and piles of stuff. I love decorating and therefore have lots of pretty tables and dressers. My family doesn’t view these items as decorative, however: they view them as opportunities – dare say I challenges – to pile stuff on top of every available horizontal surface. Why put two gloves on one table? Spread the joy and put one glove on ONE table, and then, inexplicably, put the other glove on ANOTHER table, in an entirely different room! Brilliant! Let’s watch mom’s head explode! You see my problem.
For those who are going to unhelpfully suggest that I read “The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up” by Marie Kondo, spare yourselves. I’ve read it. You have not lived with the beasts that I do. This book’s principles are about as realistic as me giving up carbs. Plus, this system would suggest that I do not need the approximately 500 Sharpies that I’ve accumulated, and anyone who would suggest that is dead to me. SHARPIES ARE LIFE. Plus, getting rid of things that don’t “spark joy” only resulted in me getting rid of some cleaning supplies and the scale in my bathroom.
In the spirit of full disclosure, I too, am part of the problem. I like shopping, and I like pretty things. This is a challenging combination. That, along with newfound free time (youngest just started kindergarten, see previous blog post), and I am in a dangerous predicament. Shop, buy, decorate. This has not helped either the amount of stuff in our house, nor my already egregious coffee mug collection.
So, this brings me to today, where I find myself in a clean, yet continuously cluttered home that simultaneously brings me joy and drives me nuts. What to do?
A friend of mine suggested that instead of shopping, I go to the gym, and now I have one less friend.
Another friend, whose kids are grown and gone, unhelpfully said “one day you will miss this mess.” Friends – here’s one thing not to say to someone in the thick of it – “one day you will miss this.” My kids? Yes, I will of course miss my kids. Their slovenly ways? No. Once my kids are grown and gone, I will bound gleefully around my clutter-free home that actually STAYS clutter-free. I will then go to their homes, bring piles of things, and leave them on every available horizontal surface. Payback time, kids.
Yet another friend said that every time I feel like yelling at my family about the mess, I should drink some wine and find my happy place, and then she and I became best friends.
The moral of the story? I have no answer. Like every complicated problem, the causes are varied and so, likely, is the solution. And so, I take baby steps to have a “lighter” life – slowly getting rid of things we don’t need that I’ve hung onto for years, shopping a little less, ignoring “sale” emails, and helping my kids have more respect for their many belongings. The husband, dashing and handsome and charming as he is, may be a lost cause in this department, but I’ll still keep him. He buys me Sharpies.
About the author: Kara Roberts is in the “just thrilled to be here” camp – amongst these many accomplished, talented female authors. Kara has a background in marketing, advertising, copywriting, event planning, and photography. She enjoys writing about the joys and challenges of parenting, adulting, and other (sometimes dreadful) experiences.
Kara has a BA in Film Studies and English from Willamette University, and an MBA from the University of Colorado. A Seattle native, she now lives in northern Colorado with her dashing husband, three charming yet exhausting children, and beloved 13 year old chocolate lab named Finnegan.
She has an affinity for dogs, wine, witty coffee mugs, sarcasm, and has an unhealthy obsession with Grey’s Anatomy. Despite being from Seattle, she loathes the rain, doesn’t eat seafood, and didn’t drink coffee until well into her 30’s.
I’ll be honest … I’m glad we’re firmly settled into February. I always breathe a sigh of relief when those first thirty-one days of the new year have taken their leave and I can say goodbye to January. It’s an emotional thing, really. By the time January comes around, I’m still on a happiness high from autumn, which is my favorite season. I’m still giddy with the memory of a million shiny Christmas lights and brightly wrapped packages. January comes around and all that fades away. Sure, it’s the beginning of a brand-new year. Clean slate, right? Time to start over and make the best of the next twelve months. I get that. Still, I find January somewhat bleak, and maybe a little empty.
I’m not all about bleak or empty, so this year I decided to find a silver lining in this cold, less than fluffy January cloud. It didn’t take me long to come up with something that made me smile, something that helped redeem this month … even if only a little bit.
I was always a very frugal homeschooler. I worked as a writer/editor for an independent publisher during the first year and a half of my daughter’s life. When my kids were a little older, I went back to work for another magazine. I now own my own editing business, but for most of our homeschooling years, we lived on a single income. We were a no-frills kind of operation. We didn’t pay for cable television, I acted as barber for the entire family, I bought store brands, and one of my biggest resources for both homeschool curriculum and childhood entertainment was the library. I was a pro when it came to doing a lot for very little. We traveled this way, too.
In early 2011, my husband’s company enrolled him in a week-long class in Hanover, Maryland. He’s an IT guy. I have no idea what he does at work. He has a handful of different security clearances, and even if I had the patience to try to understand his job, he’s not allowed to tell me about it anyway. I didn’t know what the class was for, but still, I was intrigued.
I’d never been to Maryland and neither had the kids, and the fact that Washington, D.C. was but a short train ride from Hanover had not escaped my notice. I couldn’t ignore the poke and prod of a possible adventure, so I took it upon myself to do a bit of research. I was ready to present my case for tagging along with Steven by stating that it wouldn’t cost any more money in gas to have the three of us strapped into the car alongside him. There was space in the room for all of us to sleep, it was equipped with a kitchenette, and the hotel offered a full Continental breakfast every morning. Who needed to buy souvenirs? I had my camera, and most of the things I wanted to see were free. Either Steven was already prepared for me to take full advantage of his business trip―I was a pro at this sort of thing and had done this more than once before― or the horrible head cold he’d been suffering from for more than a week had weakened his resolve. The four of us packed ourselves up, loaded up into our little sedan and our (mis)adventure began.
I was an avid blogger back then. My blog was called Wing’in It―because I’m clever like that―and I chronicled everything to keep grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins who lived more than 1,600 miles away up to date on all that was happening in the kids’ lives. The number of photos I uploaded during those six days nearly herniated Blogger as I sat in our hotel room writing my daily posts.
“Our first day in D.C. was amazing! It’s really cold here right now but we got to visit the Smithsonian today. We saw the skates Brian Boitano wore in the ’88 Olympics! The dinosaurs were incredible at the Museum of Natural History, and we got to see Dorothy’s ruby slippers, the original Kermit the Frog puppet and C3PO at the Museum of American History. We even met up with my friend Beth, who I haven’t seen since high school. She had lunch with us at the Old Post Office building. The elevator ride up to the clock tower was a little scary, but the view was spectacular. Steven’s not feeling great. I took him to a clinic today. The doctor says he has bronchitis, but he’s on antibiotics now, so hopefully he’ll start feeling better soon.”
Blog post day two:
“Woke up to snow. It’s beautiful but icy. The kids and I decided to spend the day at Arundel Mills mall near the hotel. This was the biggest mall I’ve ever seen. It has more than 200 stores and a passenger train that runs through the main common area. Maya and Scott rode a roller coaster simulator and ate Dippin’ Dots before we went and saw a movie at the huge Egyptian 24 theater.”
Those first two posts were lengthy; pages of text interspersed with a million photographs. I’m a writer, after all. So far so good, right?
Blog post day three:
“The kids and I went back into D.C. today. The sun was shining, but it was still very cold. Our first destination was Ford’s Theater. We saw the Presidential box where President Lincoln was sitting with his wife when John Wilkes Booth shot him in the head. It was very sobering to see the derringer pistol Booth used before jumping twelve feet down onto the small stage on which actors still perform today. We ventured past the White House and had a late lunch when we made a second stop at the National Museum of American History before heading back to the Smithsonian metro station.”
Okay, so, there may have been more to that post. I’m sure I mentioned the fact that the contact in my right eye began to fall apart somewhere between Ford’s Theater and the White House, and that Scotty, who had been acting a bit off since earlier that morning, dropped his nine-dollar chicken strips on the shiny tiled floor of the Stars and Stripes Café at the museum before we called it a day and lumbered back in the bitter cold toward the train. Oh, and I know I wrote about Maya’s fever that grew increasingly higher as she sat in the passenger seat of our Audi while I white-knuckled my way through rush hour traffic on I-495. To the kids’ dismay, I chronicled the assault of Q-tips up their noses and down their throats when we made a return trip to the clinic later that determined neither one of them was suffering from the flu. They were both diagnosed with bronchitis, though, and Maya wound up with a double ear infection.
“They’ve got their antibiotics and after a good night’s sleep, I’m sure they’ll be ready for more sightseeing,” I blogged, still as optimistic as ever, even though by that time my contact had torn completely in half and I was wearing glasses with a prescription that hadn’t been updated since I’d been pregnant with Maya almost twelve years earlier. At least that’s what I think I typed. Honestly, I’m not sure. It was kind of hard to see.
I was still flying the positive vibe on Thursday, although, admittedly, things were starting to feel a bit heavy. They grew more so when Steven got a phone call from his boss telling him that they had a company car for him there in Maryland, and he could just pick it up while he was there. The issue of a torn contact and out of date glasses grew to much more than an inconvenience when I realized that we’d have two cars to take home, and that I’d have the responsibility of driving me and the kids back to North Carolina.
Since the kids were lounging on the recliner and the couch in the hotel room, binging on episodes of Supernatural and breathing loudly through open mouths, I set about figuring out my contact dilemma. There was much red tape to cut through when it came to getting a copy of my current prescription, and once that feat was accomplished, no one was willing or able to get a pair of contacts or glasses ready for me within a day or two. The positive vibe, while more than a little strained, held steady. There was a solution. I just hadn’t found it yet.
Blog post for day four:
“I met one of Steven’s bosses today at breakfast. He seems really nice. The kids are still sick, and I’m unable to drive, but the hotel room is comfortable. We’ve got movies and TV and good food to eat. I have a new pair of contacts on the way, and hopefully we’ll get to see a bit more of D.C. over the weekend! “
Again, the devil is in the details. I did meet one of Steven’s bosses―when I went down to the dining room that morning to gather breakfast for my sick clan. I wasn’t prepared for such a meeting. I was wearing the sweatshirt I’d slept in, my unruly hair was piled in a teetering mess atop my head, and the only makeup I wore was what I’d applied the day before. Apparently, Steven had mentioned the fact that his family had come to D.C. with him during class one day. I’m not sure how this guy knew who I was―I stop myself from contemplating that every time it comes to mind―but when he approached me, his arm outstretched in an attempted handshake, I just smiled. I think I offered him an elbow because my hands were full. I remember feeling embarrassed as I was making my way back to our room with my arms loaded with cereal, pastries, juices and milk. “Way to make an impression,” I thought.
As you might have already guessed, our sightseeing had come to an abrupt halt. The kids were still feverish, coughing and droopy eyed, and Steven wasn’t doing much better. It had been decided that there would be no extended stay over the weekend, and that we’d be leaving on Friday as soon as class ended … or as soon as I could see again. I’d arranged for our good friend and neighbor who was taking care of our dog to overnight a pair of contacts to me. I was bummed about missing out on some of the places we hadn’t gotten to visit in the city, but I pushed that aside. I was determined that this trip would end on a high note. Things might not have turned out exactly as I’d planned, but in my way of thinking, the trip hadn’t been a total failure. At least not yet. At this point in time, I was willing to concede a win if I was able to see out of both eyes and get the kids and I back to our house successfully.
You can be optimistic and realistic at the same time.
I did get those contacts, and we were on the road just as soon as I popped them into my eyes. Thinking back on it now, I wonder if traveling to Washington, D.C. in January was the best idea. Maybe travel―or anything―isn’t good in January. I don’t know, but there is one thing I’m sure of. Even though that trip was an utter disaster, there was a silver lining. At least I got through it without getting bronchitis.
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