Five Cups of Coffee: Confessions of a Compulsive Home DIY-er

Courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net
Courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

I don’t typically drink coffee.  I enjoy a mug on occasion, but I’m a non-caffenated herbal tea gal.  However through last night and today, I had five cups.  It was simply a dangerous experiment on staying awake…

You see–when you are pulling away at  or removing the layers that make a life so very discombobulated–that life seems even more frazzled and hectic at the time (like mine right now).  It’s like spring cleaning–pulling out drawers, opening cabinets, pulling it all out to remove the unessential, and then scouring and shining all that is left…it is messy, hectic (your room is disarranged) and then as stuff is eliminated the important things regain their sparkle, importance and you see the “beauty in what remains.”

I live in a house that needs work.  I own a house (my previous residence) that needed a huge amount of work.  My friends call it insanity.  My dad told me it is simply good economics (most economists would disagree).  We are a D.I.Y. family–four daughters of a contractor–we married our beloved husbands because they get our D.I.Y. nature…they get the nuttiness of it all and they sort-of understand the economics (the housing market in the last decade has made the math fuzzy).  Often, we buy the least desirable homes in our communities and remake them–rework them to be beloved and magnificent.  It is hard work.  Camera crews don’t follow us around and makeup artists don’t make us beautiful (but our husbands think we are kinda of cute with paint in our hair).  We know our way around a hardware store.  We lift 5 gallon buckets of paint, flooring and roofing materials.  We get our hands dirty, we get frustrated, we get mad, but underneath the heavy emotions and broken fingernails of it all we love it.  It is our family work–our business.  I’ve been married for 12 years and have upgraded/restored five (now working on six) houses with my husband and parents.  Today, I am one week away from letting go of number 5–getting it ready for its future family.  I’m the finisher in this marriage (the one with patience to use the tiniest paint brush in an tight corner).  I paint, stain, polish, get lunch ready for my family, and bless and curse the house that is still ours but not really ours.  Last night on a deadline, I grabbed for coffee and went through the night.  Five cups later–I’m back in my home state and in my new house that needs its own level of work (it is the ugliest house we’ve bought so far…but we don’t say it very loudly–we don’t want to hurt its feelings).

Courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net
Courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

So I’m left to ponder after the sawdust settles, “Is this real estate passion simple, minimalistic, what I want?”  “No” and “yes” all at the same time.  I am tired.  We live our lives in the houses that we give a huge amount of spit and shine–living in a remodel is not for the weak (but it is strengthening).  If you’ve done the math you can see we’ve never stayed much beyond two years.  Now we want to plant roots and  have a family home.  But I love the challenge of a new vision, the aching back (albeit my husband’s back aches far more than mine), the solution of reworking materials to save the earth and the budget…it is a different sort of fun, but the point being it makes one discombobulated and life really messy…  And as nice as HGTV makes it seem…it is never easy.  Worth it?  Sometimes.  Simple?  Never.

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So in my life right now I’m pulling back the layers…leaving one place…and really not seeking anymore D.I.Y. adventures.  The walls of this house–the one that I live today–a little crooked and things are far from perfect, but I’m accepting of that for now.  Pulling back the layers…I can see that I want more time for my kids, more time with friends, more hours in the sunshine, and our house is just fine for all of those things… Will I completely stop living a D.I.Y. life–nope (it is part of who I am)–but I am taking (for me) a radical step back and making sure my personal community of people (family and friends) know me better and see me often.  Unlike my life now–where I hung out with Al at the local hardware store this past weekend and we discussed painting, electrical, and the trends on the stock market on my five different visits.  I’ll miss Al, but to be honest my son has a way cuter smile.  Those kids of mine are the “beauty in what remains.”

smiling kids

Minimalism: When the heart is onto it but life is a little behind

Baby GoatsOpening day at a local farm venue–the activity was free and the weather almost balmy for the beginning of April.  My sweet sister and I took our children to gawk at the chicks, feed the baby goats, and learn about Native American culture.  The rest of the families in the city had the same notion, and we were met with crowds.  The day didn’t turn out quite as blissful as planned, but the kids had fun–success.

Caleb and Adi 2


Days later, I am still pondering the life of Native Americans.  The guide for the Native American lodge was very knowledgeable about her people’s traditions and tales. She offered a glimpse into a culture that survived communally and washed in a belief that the natural world should be respected and cherished.  Each plant, animal and season had a purpose, a message, a cause to exist, and therefore was worthwhile.  But I digress.

The housing–I can’t stop thinking about their houses.  You see right now as I type this, it is late Sunday night and I’ve crossed over back to my home state line with a trailer full of stuff– small tools, boxes of garage items that haven’t been opened in three years, golf clubs that I haven’t used since before my first child was born, and a few lonesome house plants.  Yes I declare myself a minimalist, and my extended family laughs at my paltry pieces of housewares that I make do with because I want to live with less and a kitchen knife is my type of food processor (I’m good with having just enough…I thought).  But right now I’m cleaning out what remains in my former home, and it is too much.  Too much of my weekend has gone to digging through stuff.  Too much money has been wasted on buying this forgotten stuff.  Too many earth’s resources eradicated and redirected to creating this stuff.  Too many people injured by the unethical work conditions or pollution created so I can have more stuff.  And my children spent their weekend mostly absent from me and their dad because we had to deal with the stuff.  How ridiculous it all sounds when I write it out, but here I am in a truck with trailer attached trucking past America’s Main Street in middle states hauling stuff…junk…and then I think about the cool walls of the lodge, the dirt floors, the multiple families that would have lived, loved, and survived under its thatched skyline and I envy them.

Courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net
Courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

When I was 16, I stayed on the Navajo reservation working and worshipping with this tribe.  They were then and are now few in number.  Separated, desolate, and  living in poverty under horribly harsh and unfair conditions.  These are not the Natives I envy–this scenario makes me angry, sad (but again I digress).  My admiration is for the ancestors of a people who took from the earth only what they needed, who worked as it was needed, who lived in a time of kinship and community ( and no I’m not completely deluded–it was far from perfect).  Life was real and imperfect, but it was not a residence like this Skype-d up alter-egoed FaceBook fairyland where modern man resides.  They were flesh who lived in the flesh.  I envy that while some groups did travel with their houses tied to dog or horse, they carried only what they needed.  They did not travel carrying a trailer full of junk wondering where to store it in an overburdened garage.  I envy that they some tribes thought beyond to the seventh-generation, and well I’m just praying we don’t pop a tire on this burgeoning trailer tonight…  Yes, I’m a minimalist–unfortunately my life hasn’t completely caught up with my heart…

Why I Didn’t Write a Blog Post (sort of…)

Spring Horses 2

“Spring is nature’s way of saying, ‘Let’s party!'” –Robin Williams

You see I had penned a post on clutter and how to take it out like yesterday’s garbage (because a lot of times that is what clutter is).  However, it didn’t seem right to burden you with thoughts of manmade stuff when if you look beyond your window or even in the cracks of your sidewalk there she is–glorious, beautiful Spring!  Today friend, step outside (even if it feels a little chilly) and look for her–small signs can be so uplifting.  Today, clean out the winter ‘bluck’ in your soul and allow spring cleaning to come to your mind, your heart, and finally your soul.  This is the season for renewal, rebirth, and redemption–bask in that for at least 20 minutes –I promise you it is just what the doctor ordered.  Cheers

Spring Trees

Spring Shot 3

Overcoming Perfectionism

Courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net
Courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

 Perfectionism is self-abuse of the highest order. – Anne Wilson Schaef

Childhood–

Since I was a child, I have always tried very hard to make everything just right and just so, and when these attempts at perfection did not live up to my inflated expectations I gave up.

Teenage years–

When I was a teenager, I aimed for perfection, failed to reach it, gave up…dropped the ball…said, “It was a dumb (fill-in-the-blank) anyway.”

Today–

Still trying to make everything just so…still not reaching expectations…giving up?  (Sadly, giving up more often than not.)

As a teacher, I often told my students to “embrace the stick people.”  You see often in class we made pictorial graphs to add to an idea, and like me many of my students were not artistically gifted.  I didn’t care about the pictures they drew.  I just wanted students to show their thoughts however messy or unattractive it may have been–stick people would do the job of depicting whatever needed depicted.  I never just “do the job.” I only do the job if it can be veiled underneath the cloak of perfection, and so I often I let the “job” fall to the wayside because I simply feel I can’t try.

Courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net
Courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

Perfection has debilitated me–weakened my potential for growth–made me appear to be thoughtless and a flake to others (and myself).  It has harnessed me and imprisoned me as it tightened its grip on my mind and even body.  Ironically as a young 20-something years ago, I touted perfectionism as my strongest attribute in job interviews–sadly, how wrong I was and have been, but this past week when I didn’t have much for media noise (just a radio and a bad television signal) a message kept coming through in books, a shoddy television set, an ancient radio, and especially in my humbled heart. It went something like this…

“You don’t have to be perfect–but you have to try–even when it doesn’t come out the way you planned.”

{But I’m scared.}

“That’s okay.”

{But I might fail.}

“That’s okay. In failure you learn and grow.”

{But I’m not good enough if I’m not perfect.}

“That’s a lie.”

{What if I waste my life in failing so often?}

…And then on my old dusty radio the DJ quoted, “Anything worth doing is worth failing at.”

{Point taken.}

For me perfectionism has risen to become an all-encompassing excuse for not trying, for stepping down, for giving up anytime it gets hard, for not really living.  For me perfectionism is about fear.  Perhaps, I could be describes as a“maladaptive perfectionist” (encompassing an unhealthy form of perfectionism) or a “atychiphobic” (someone who is afraid of failure).  However, I don’t know that I need to spend time doing biofeedback and other psychological work to get to the core.  I think I need to find my “grit.”

In her Ted Talks Angela Lee Duckworth defines grit, “Grit is passion and perseverance for very long-term goals. Grit is having stamina. Grit is sticking with your future, day in, day out, not just for the week, not just for the month, but for years, and working really hard to make that future a reality. Grit is living life-like it’s a marathon, not a sprint.”

This is something I never discovered as a child or young adult–something I rarely have experienced as an adult in sprints but never in marathon form.  I have done only those things that came easy–things I could be successful in–things I could be perfect in.  How tragic all this time wasted trying to be too perfect.

But I am learning that perfection isn’t what matters. In fact, it’s the very thing that can destroy you if you let it. – Emily Giffin

Courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net
Courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

So if you see me and I’m down on my bum, dusty, ragged, and spent–don’t help me up.  I’m down there building grit, embracing my stick people–I might fail, but that’s okay.  My life will surely be more passionately lived because of it.

Happiness Files

“And every day the world will drag you by the hand, yelling, ‘this is important!  & this is important!  & this is important!  you need to worry about this!  & this!  & this!’  And each day, it’s up to you to yank your hand back, put it on your heart, & say, ‘NO.  this is what’s important.’”
— Leonie Dawson.

Courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net
Courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

This week, the days may seem hard–the weather may be improving, but work may be difficult, and your private relationships may be strained. Life in its complicatedness can be tough, but life in its lovely simplicity can wrap it arms around you.  Sometimes those arms are not as comforting as you would like, and a person has got to stake their own claim on finding relief and a little morsels of happiness.

Gretchen Rubin with her infamous Happiness Project has brought much attention to self-propagated happiness. Rubin a former resident of Kansas City (like myself) realized that we very much choose to see the glass half empty or half full—but Rubin argues that if it does appear to be half empty we can move ourselves to a more full existence. While I appreciate Rubin’s work some of her ideas didn’t seem to fit my life, and though she totes the idea that every plan should be individualized–to me a happiness project is too overwhelming.  So I continue to use my happiness file–it’s quicker, easier, and I can access it easily.

THE HAPPINESS FILES

The happiness file can be real or imagined—mine is both.  It simply is a procurement of stuff–articles, events, or ideals that make me feel a little better when the world is less than friendly or less than forgiving.  I have a happiness file on my computer, in a shoe box, and in my cranium.

Computer File

The computer file is simply happy quotes, pictures, videos, or articles that let me realize (again) that there are many people in the world who are trying to do good, make a difference, and struggle just like me.  A lot of these good feeling bytes come from The Foundation for a Better Life or Proverbs 31.  In fact, both groups drop good thoughts in my email box daily, and you can signup to for this bits of inspiration on their sites.  Really exceptional quotes, articles, and pictures go in a saved file on my computer.  When I’m feeling  a bit blue I take a moment to read through those things that have inspired me in the past.

Gummy Lump File

AllIreallyneedlrnkindergarterUnder my bed is my version of a “gummy lump,”  which was first introduced to the world Robert Fulghum of “All I Need to Know in Kindergarten” fame.  He kept a box artfully made by his child in a closet.  It was filled it with all sorts of special things that made him feel good about his children.  I have a “gummy lump” under my bed with pictures, handmade cards, drawing, notes, love letters, bits of this and that–all of these remind me that I am loved and I love others.  Mine includes things from my children but also items from friends, family, and my husband.  A cup of tea and a moment with my “gummy lump” can make a “Jonah day” so much better.  Get yourself a “gummy lump” and let feeling good begin.

Brain File 

Finally, I have a file in my head (and so do you).  When your child smiles and it touches your heart–ingrain that image in your head.  HOLD ONTO IT.  The sunset that takes your breath away–HOLD ONTO IT.   The delicious strawberry you eat out of the garden on a warm June day–REMEMBER IT.  Then on dreary, hard, unfulfilling days go back and hold onto those moments again.  I won’t quote existential philosophers, poets, or spiritual leader but instead tell you this works because it worked for Leo Lionni’s beloved character, Frederick the mouse and it works for me.  Frederick captured the warmth of the sun, the colors of the season, and stories.  He used them to uplift his fellow mouse and himself when the world felt bleak.  Holding onto those happy moments can bring you back when you most need it.

Frederick

“‘And how about the colors, Frederick?’ … And when he told them of the blue periwinkles, the red poppies in the yellow wheat, and the green in the leaves of the berry bush, they saw the colors as clearly as if it has been painted in their minds.” — Frederick by Leo Lionni

So find that quote that inspires you (save it), the letter your mother wrote you last week (keep it), the smell of your newborn baby (remember it)–we all need gummy lumpies(in whatever form they come)…just about everyday…

* I will be away from technology next week–so enjoy these first moments of spring (fingers-crossed) and we’ll catch up soon.

Simple Parenting: Am I Enough?

CalebandCourt9.2010Sometimes I’m too tired. To be a good mom.  To be a good wife.  To be a good daughter, sister, niece, friend…  Still, I lay awake in this overwhelming tiredness and I can’t sleep.  There are lists of thoughts ( things to do, worries, hopes, and the guilt) that spin so quickly they push forward and corrupt a dream-filled night.  It is the guilt though that pushes through the most.  The constant belief that I’m not good enough to be the above honorable titles.  Most painstakingly, I worry that I am not enough to be mom or wife.  I’m not giving enough of myself (even though some days I feel like I’ve given every sliver I have leaving none for myself) to nurture and love my beloveds.

The voices from media and the mommy wars would indicate that I am mostly not enough for my kids no matter what choices I make.  If I work , I’m a wicked Cowbird.  If I stay home to raise them I’ll become jaded in my mommy martyrhood.   But here is the thing–I’ve done both and both situations are exhausting. I think we as women (and parents) have done ourselves a disservice. We are trying to do it all and we can’t–and so we become exhausted with worry over being enough to all.

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Picture it–a warm summer decades ago on an afternoon in a middle income neighborhood.  The Jones didn’t live here, just Joe and his everyday friends.  Lawn chairs are stretched out on a shaded driveway.  Kids run haphazardly through lawns and mothers (all who work in either their homes or industry) share in neighborhood gossip and watch each other’s children.  They are relaxed and happy.  So are their kids.  These moms may have been tired–life always has hard seasons–but I never questioned if these women were enough for their kids.  The fact that one of my buddies or enemies (depending on the childhood rivalry of the day) called one of these persons mom meant they were surely a special person.  I never as a child questioned if my mom was enough.  She was my mom, simply that was enough.

Today, this worry exhausts me.  Is my child flourishing or am I limiting her potential by not enrolling in x,y,z program?  Am I emotionally present for my children or am I damaging them by being involved in my own personal pursuits?  Am I giving them enough nourishing foods? Enough free play? Enough stimulating learning activities?  Am I doing a good enough job at this job of Mommy CEO to create productive and happy adults in the future?  I have to stop myself and say what the hell is happening here?!  My mom made sure I got a bandaid when I needed one and a drink of water when I was thirsty from play, but she didn’t micromanage my time and the few mothers in the community who did were considered odd.  Today it is quite the reverse, but why?

Has the world become that competitive so we must get them started by reciting Shakespeare’s sonnets in the womb?  Are we worried that our children will get left behind in this age of intrastate and international economics?  Are we worried about how are children will hate us if we don’t find and cultivate their talents?  Will other parents judge us as failures?  I believe fear is the strongest catalyst in the mommy wars and in my own fear that I am not enough.

No wonder I’m tired.  Under this new parental dogma nobody could be enough.  I would need six of me to succeed in being this organic farmer, chef, chauffeur, classical educator, child psychologist, and of course housekeeper.  Why has raising a prominent, prepared child become the status symbol of keeping up with the joneses? Does everybody need to be Ivey league to matter?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

So I’m playing the worst case in my head…  What if my kids sought and cultivated their own talents, made their own play, developed their own relationships with peers, ate junk food (once in awhile), learned how to do their own laundry, and even sought out travel experiences or community college instead of Ivey league.  Wouldn’t then the natural process of growth and development that occurred within my kids be the best case scenario?  My exhaustion is self-induced and that has got to change.  Things must be delegated and dropped.  I’m going to allow my kids time to be, and I will be there when the growing pains occur, but I can’t prevent the growing pains by being a micromanaging mom.  Time will allow growth to take its course, and I need to be a spectator as often as I’m a participator.  So it’s time for this mama to let go just a little bit, to take a breath, and rest a bit because while I will be there I can’t do it all for them. They must do for themselves and that is enough.

The Legacy of Owning Stuff: Be careful what you don’t purchase

Courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net
Courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

I will call her Mrs. Denial. This hardworking American mother never bought herself a beautiful dress.  She made do with what she had, what was passed-down to her, or what she found on clearance.  The kids are grown and she can afford more, but still she does not buy the dress that makes her feel the loveliest.  The reason she states are plentiful,”The grandkids may need something, the kids inheritance….”  She sacrificed and continues to sacrifice because that is what moms do.

But is it right?

Sadly something happened in Mrs. Denial’s methodology, her children didn’t witness this as selflessness.  Instead these actions made them see mom as not valuing herself.  The message got mixed up, “If Mom can’t have what she needs or dreams–neither can we.”  Today, her adult children all struggle with valuing themselves, and there may be a myriad of reasons why. Mostly, children emulate what they see and not necessarily what they hear…

I talk and write a lot about simplifying and minimizing what we own.  I think that message is important–we can’t continue to consume at the level we are in our nation and in the world and possibly sustain it.  I’ve wanted to live what I preach and I make do with what I have a lot.  It is a game to me, “How long can I go without, how can I use what I have to get the job done, can I borrow it, can I buy it used….”  I call it being resourceful and my children participate in the “game” with me and often it is very fun for all of us.

However, something has changed in the past few years and I’ve stopped consuming to the point that buying the shoes I badly need has become unbearably hard.  I have the money and yet I haven’t purchased them…do I deserve new shoes when others have so little and think of the resources, the questionable labor…?  Seems crazy doesn’t it–this self-created martyrism?  But there it is in my head this very instant…and the thing is I think others who journey through voluntary simplicity or minimalism struggle as well. It is a tricky business owning and consuming things.  The wants and the needs get confused, the voices of humanity and fairness echo in your head, and with so much vying for our money and time it is almost easier to completely deny ourselves than have to deal with figuring out what has true value or what is truly fair.

But shouldn’t we value ourselves?

If we cannot value ourselves then how can we value others in this world around us?  Maybe it’s about making ethical choices in our purchases and finding quality and not succumbing to the quantity.  It is the quantity that is the problem–we as a world own too much stuff, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t own anything?  (And yes I know the idea of “owning” can be philosophized to death–so let’s skip that part.)

If Mrs. Denial had bought a beautiful, solidly made dress that made her feel lovely…maybe she would have smiled more…her children would have echoed that smile…maybe their stories would be different…a different legacy.  Perhaps, some will think how stupid a dress is a thing and it can’t bring joy–no, it can’t…but sometimes our minds can be altered because of the way we perceive a thing…

Courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net
Courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

It is a tricky business owning and consuming things, but I can’t talk about it anymore…I’ve got to buy some solidly made, lasting shoes…and I might just smile about it.