Tuesday, December 22, 2015

The Grinch at Toys are Us.

dones't come from a store, dr suess, grinch

I met a real life Grinch.

The Grinch was obsessed with material things.  The Grinch thought the number of packages and piles of presents was the most important thing about Christmas.  The Grinch also thought that my idea to focus my energy this Christmas and reduce the amount of 'stuff' was stupid and awful and would ruin my kids' Christmas.

The Grinch showed me all of the toys in all of the aisles of Toys R Us and pointed to carts overflowing with shiny gadgets and gizmos.  The Grinch reminded me that Alex loves trucks and there is an entire aisle of them!  And if I'm going to get a train toy, shouldn't I get mega wooden  set that looks so perfect on the box and will last for years?  The Grinch looked at the two small boxes I had chosen and scoffed.  How could an amazing Christmas morning come from those?

"Don't you want Christmas to be magical? A Christmas morning that's beautiful and abundant?" The Grinch hissed at me.  "Your kids are too little to understand the concept of "Less but Better" or the idea of being intentional, all they will think is you don't care or are stingy."  Then the Grinch took an even lower blow.  "Other people have gotten your kids all kinds of things, they might like them better than you."

In case you didn't know, that Grinch was me.

As I walked out of Toys R' Us I was almost shaking with anxiety and conflict. the heart of which was this:

I want my kids to understand my values of people over things, quality of quantity, and owning only what we love and can manage.


I want my kids to have a beautiful, and fulfilling Christmas.

I want them to receive gifts they can love and cherish and enjoy, and not more. And that's harder than it seems.

I don't want to be the counterculture hipster family that doesn't 'do' presents, and like most parents I don't want my children to feel deprived.

Almost everyone agrees that the meaning of Christmas, even beyond its celebration as a Christian holiday, is not material things.  I have yet to meet anyone who proclaims to celebrate Christmas as a time to frantically buy material objects to give to other people who may or may not want or need them.  Yet it seems that's how many people experience it.

Even the quote I shared at the start of the post...  Maybe Christmas doesn't come from a store, but have you tried participating without visiting a store (Amazon counts!).  After my toy exchange I was happy and excited.  These are toys my children will enjoy!  These are good toys that will get a new life!

But as I stood in line at Toys R Us, all I could think was 'who gives used toys to their kids for Christmas?  You aren't that poor! Are you really that cheap and lame?

The logical side of my brain reminded myself that the VERY first thing I would do with a package was tear it off and throw it away, but the ingrained consumer in me balks.  Not only that, logical engineer brain said, my kids are getting an absurd amount of awesome toys, one of which is huge and big and awesome and will last for years!

This year, I was able to walk out of Toys R us and eventually recover.  I was able to wrap the gifts with love and anticipation and I'm looking forward to celebrating with my family.  Still, I know that this is an internal struggle that is far from over.

I'd love thoughts and advice from others struggling with these issues.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Pumpkin Dinner Party

When it was safely a month away I dreamed of how fun it would be to host a Halloween dinner party to kick off my favorite holiday!  I am so fortunate to be surrounded by an incredible group of women in my community and we regularly get together for wine and snacks and conversation.  I've also been to lots of wonderful potlucks and realized there is nothing quite like sharing a meal to bring people together.

For this meal, I really wanted to prepare the meal and have my guests sit at the table.  I think there is value to sitting at the table, but as a mom with little kids, I eat most of my meals sitting on the edge of my chair and dashing back and forth to get things.  I wanted it to be a treat for my friends and a way to say thank you. One of the most challenging parts was deciding who to invite.  I had so many people who I'd love to share with, but I wanted everyone at the table (so a max of six!).  

I wanted food that was easy to serve and wouldn't require much prep once people had arrived, so the next challenge was developing a tasty but easy menu.

I ended up serving 4 pumpking themed courses.

1. Kale and Pumpkin seed Salad

2. Roasted Squash and pumpkin soup with homemade bread

3. Baked Pumpking Ziti (with sausge and veggie for each person's tastes)

4. Pumpkin Whip Pudding

I also served pumpkin mimosas when everyone arrived and wine with dinner.

The night before the party I did a trial run with our family  The boys LOVED our spooky candlelit dinner.  

I made myself a little schedule for the day to make sure all of the food got done on time and that I had an idea of how I wanted the evening to flow.  I deckd ou the room with candles and my Halloween deco and I played the Haunted Mansion Theme track.

My biggest unknown was the kids.  They usually sleep, but there was always the possiblity they would sense my excitement and refuse to settle down, but they were fine! :)

I'm always so nervous right before hosting an event, so I made a rule for myself that 10 minutes before people are scheduled to arrive, I sit down and have a glass of wine.

Then my friends came.  And they ooohh'ed and awww'ed and made me feel like I'd done a great job before we even sat down to eat!

It went so wonderfully that I think I'll try to make it an annual tradition!

I can't believe it took me 2 months to get around to writing about it!  Oh well!  Happy very late Halloween!

Friday, December 18, 2015

Books, books, books.

I hadn't yet asked Gavin to read my current project book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing when I asked him what he thought abuot the idea that childrens literacy was directly proportional to the number of books in their home.

His thought process was simliar to mine.  "Seems reasonable."

But we also agreed that it's likely that the actual causation is that people who like to read have a lot of books and are more likely to teach their children to read.  Or people who are better educated have more books and are more likely to teach their children to read.

We concluded that, with the exception of having available age appropriate material, the addition or removal of books with no other changes to a household shoulnd't have an effect on a literacy.

But Mom Guilt is real so I had to do some pretty dedicated logical thinking to overcome the following thoughts.

"Oh no! I've ruined my children by reading digital books!"
and more relevant to my current project
"I can't declutter my books! How will my kids ever get into College??"

After my rallying against ever folding my clothes, getting rid of books was my next biggest complaint.

But once again Kondo won me over. "Imagine a book shelf with only books you REALLY love." And that made me realize that deep down I don't really LOVE books.  I love reading, but I honestly prefer digitial books both for ease of use and not having to touch paper.  I know I've offended book lovers everywhere, but it was an entirely new realization I made about myself.  I love to visit bookstores.  I have very found memories of visiting a used bookstore regularly with my mom, and I can enjoy both of those while still letting go of objects that are cluttering my space.

Then it was time for the kids books.  My primary goal was to get all of the books in one place.  On one hand, I love having books all over mt house. I love that the kids can pick up a book in almost any room.  On the other hand, they frequently can't find their favorite books.  So I decided to combine all of the books.

Well almost, I decided both boys should be able to keep some books in their room.  My goal is 10.  I will almost certianly fail as my son is a major book hoarder.  I'm fairly certian he will continue to collect books from the cabinet and his brothers room until he once again is drowning in them. Time will tell!

We have a lot of books.  And I'm almost certain we will continue to collect more and we will have to evaluate the space for them and method for them.  But for now, at least the books are (mostly) in the same place.  (I also forgot about the piles in the car!)

I've also come to realize that almost everything is better shared.  The books we are done with (or more likely were duplicates) I passed on to my friends and neighbors to use and enjoy.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

The Art of Tidying Up, Intro

I get most of my books from the library.  Consequently, I'm often late to the party when it comes to the book everyone is reading.

I'd heard people mention this book and how it had affected them.  I knew I wanted to read it.  I read almost everything, but self help books, specifically self help books abut organizing your life and mind, are my favorites.

I've had a slightly unique experience reading this book because I read it right on the heels of  "Getting Things Done" by David Allen,  "Essentialism" by Greg McKeown, and "7 Habits of Highly Successful People" by Stephen Covey.  Apparently the last two months have been about simplifying for me!

I will admit, I almost put the book down when she insisted on folding clothes.  I don't fold clothes. As silly as this sounds, I'm adamant on this point.  Still, she made a compelling enough point for me to reconsider.

I'm glad I didn't give up on the little book.  I read it quickly as it's not very long.  And then I thought about it for a few days.  I decided I'd try it, although I wasn't going to dive in, I certainly wasn't going to start talking to my clothes and I wasn't going to undertake a life changing Tidying Event.

But I might have done all three.

I have a very large, mostly organized closet.  Still, when I actually took everything out I was kind of surprised at how much I had.  As instructed, I picked up every single piece of clothing, including socks, stockings, and coats and made a decision.  And as promised, it got a little easier as I went along.  At the end, I bagged up four bags of clothes and set about to fold my clothes.

The book is adamant.  Discard 1st, organize 2nd.  But I couldn't very well live with the remaining contents of my closet on the floor, so I organized them. 

 It was true.  I looked at my closet and saw only things I loved.  And it is also true that despite my fears, I have yet to find myself without something to wear and it's been over a week.

But it was a lot of work, and did I really need to process EVERYTHING I owned? 

So I googled "People who failed at Konmari" "Konmari Critics," and other random phrases like this.  I found almost no one.  Those I did find often didn't try the method, but discounted it ahead of time.  No easy out, I guess.  

For me, the book has provided a fundamental shift in the way I view my relationship with my things.  I don't hope to become a extreme minimalist, but I do want to own only things I love.  I want my house and my head to have room to grow and explore and love and live.

This book is not for everyone.  Some people love things and being surrounded by them.  But as I just started reading it for the second time, apparently it is for me.

Wish me luck as I dive in to the next categories!

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

The Toy Swap

I hosted a Toy Swap.

Inspired by a man who hosted a community wide clothing swap earlier in the year, I decided I'd do the same for toys.  My house is full of toys that are in great condition that are outgrown or just not appreciated at our house anymore. 

I sent out an interest email.  I was half expecting to get no responses, but the opposite was true.  People were really excited so I decided to go for it.

The general idea was that I'd invite over a bunch of my mom friends.  We'd all bring our excellent conditione (fully functioning, all pieces present) toys.  We'd drink wine and trade toys.  

So we did!

I had about 30 RSVP.  My kitchen filled with friends and my entry filled with toys.

I decided the best way to organize the event was to have everyone write their name on a slip of paper, I put all of the names in a vase and drew the first name.  As soon as that person chose her toy, she came back and selected the next name.  I continued until everyone had a turn and then I dumped the names back in the vase and started again. It was a great system because it was fair, easy, and allowed people to hang out and enjoy conversations. 

It was amazingly fun.  It's hard to capture in words the feeling of a house full of good friends laughing and sharing.

I wanted to keep things simple, but at the last minute I did decide to add a prize for 'best toy' and for last mom to choose.  A giant stuffed giraffee won best toy.

At the end of the night, there was a small collection of toys remaining that will find a new life at a Children's home nearby.

The event was incredibly successful.  Everyone found a few new to them things, but more importantly we strengthed relationships and had fun.  I'm planning to make this a yearly tradition!