Search and destroy becomes find and preserve

blog412Everywhere we turned, there was chaos.  The task before us seemed insurmountable, but it was time to roll up our sleeves and face the challenge head on.

It was a dirty job.  It was a tiring task.  It seemed like there was no end in sight.  But, we finally succeeded and conquered after two laboring days of toil.

Yep, hubby and I finally tamed the too-much stuff monster in the basement of our home.  We cleaned, we sorted, we organized, we tossed.

We managed to corral the stuff into four categories: keep and organize; haul out to the garbage for disposal; cart off to GoodWill for someone else’s use; and burn, baby, burn!

I still believe way too many items lurk in storage bins and boxes, but resting on shelves and nesting on top of each other, at least it looks manageable.  And items can be more easily found now.  Our grown-up children’s belongings are neatly stacked in boxes in areas reserved just for them.

Christmas decorations have found a new home, no more climbing up a ladder to retrieve them from the attic.  Come late spring, the basement will look even roomier when all of our deck and front porch furniture move back outside.

This task may not sound like something worthy of writing about on this ninth page of Chapter One (January 9th) in my book of Opportunity, but accomplishing it provided a chance to reflect on some food for thought.

Working side by side, hubby and I tackled the chore together, so much more enjoyable than attacking it alone.  We enjoyed the opportunity to talk as we toiled, we reminisced, we discussed, we laughed, and yes, we even disagreed.  But it felt great to complete the job as a team.

The second opportunity presented itself in boxes of memories.  Hubby discovered a forgotten box of some personal effects from his parents’ house giving him moments to remember and reminisce about his boyhood and his parents, who have been gone for many years now.

My opportunity for blessing came in the form of cherished letters written while hubby served in the military stationed on the other side of the world for a year while I, pregnant with our first child, tried to hold down the home front.  Today I read each of those letters in an effort to decide what to do with them – keep or destroy?

I decided to preserve those priceless memories written on paper, hopeful that someday our adult children (especially oldest daughter since she was born that year) may want to read them and get a glimpse at a year in the life of their parents.  Perhaps my opportunity will become their opportunity to understand how very much their parents loved one another and the struggle we endured being apart for an entire year.

So on this day, in the age of emails and text messaging, I will take the opportunity to save some good old-fashioned hand-written love letters.


Some homes look like “Better Homes and Gardens,” mine looks…lived in


Not my house!

Wouldn’t it be nice to come home from work one day and find your living space as calm, neat and uncluttered as all the home magazine photos gazing back at you from the grocery store check-out line?

I’m not sure why I get a primal urge to purge my household in January, but obviously, magazine editors believe most American women get the same impulse.

Pick up any women’s publication and you will be bombarded with “10 easy tips” to organize your space so it will look like a photographer’s dream shot.

Pristine counters.  Neatly organized desk.  Uncluttered family room.  Carefully cleaned closets where everything is perfectly poised on shelves.  Supposedly.

Organizing your home takes time.  I wonder how many women have time to properly clean their houses, let alone time to stash everything in neat little rows of containers.  And that’s another thing.  Who can afford all of those nifty, spiffy bins, boxes and binders that perfectly match your décor?

I recently read an article in Better Homes and Gardens entitled, “25 Ways to Declutter for the New Year.”  Organizing experts provided the tips; some were useful, some I thought lacked practicality (my middle name!).

One guru suggested setting up a bookshelf perched by your front door with labeled pails (yes, buckets!) “for each family member’s shoes and other equipment.”  Hmm, ever tried getting pairs of size 11 men’s sneakers and soccer cleats in a bucket?

Do you know how many buckets – excuse me – pails it would take to store shoes for a family of five?  And might I add, that’s certainly what I want guests arriving at my front door to notice – buckets of smelly shoes.  Here’s a novel idea instead.  How about everyone pick up their own shoes and take them to their respective closets?

Is it me or is this idea just plain kooky?  Another expert suggested you arrange two coffee dates with a good friend, apparently one at her house, then one at yours.  Forget about a relaxing moment of peace with your friend and your favorite beverage.

Nope, on this visit, you should clean out her kitchen cabinets and get rid of her clutter.  Then on the next “date,” your friend should clean out yours.   Yeah, that sounds like (major sarcasm here) fun. I don’t know about you, but I’m not up for snooping in my friends’ kitchen cupboards nor am I crazy about them checking out mine either!

To be fair, some ideas proved winners.  If toys threaten to overtake your house, “quietly tuck a few of them away in a box. If kids ask for a specific item, retrieve it.  After a month, donate what’s left in the box.”   When three rambunctious young children squandered their toys all over Mama’s Empty Nest back in the day, hubby and I employed this technique…sort of.

Of course, we didn’t do it quietly.  When our kids delayed picking up their toys, we yelled, grabbed up all the toys and dumped them into a garbage bag which was deposited in the garage.   And it stayed there, promptly forgotten, until we found the “lost” toys when we prepared to move a couple of years later.

I don’t have to contend with toys any more, but a stockpile of too much stuff still overloads our basement.  How pleasant it would look organized in tidy fashion with shelves and color-coded storage containers like all of these pretty magazine pictures.   Oh well….no photographer will be taking pictures of my basement anyway!  At least I hope not!

So in Chapter 1, Page 7 (January 7th) of my book of Opportunity, guess where I spent a good portion of the day?  You guessed it, cleaning out the basement.  Hey, I can walk through it now!


Garden Gone Wild!

blogDSCN6791The girls are busting out of their green tops.  Red polka dots are strewn all over the ground.  It’s literally a jungle out there.  Of course, I’m describing hubby’s garden, which really has gone wild!

Hubby’s been working a lot of hours lately, so his garden is starting to look neglected.  His garden plot is not large, but the weeds infiltrate it and threaten to overtake it.

This morning, I glanced out the kitchen window while I filled the tea kettle for my morning cup of hot tea.  The garden plot pleaded with me to come out and tidy up or at least pick the cheery cherry tomatoes that burden the plants to such a degree that they are leaning completely over their cages and fallen fruit dots the ground.

“We’re so tired of holding up this thriving throng of tomatoes.   Please come pick them,” the plants seemed to call to me.

blogDSCN6792But first, I wanted to attack the kids’ bathroom sink, or I should say under it.  Remember I’ve declared war on all the stuff that’s harboring in closets, cupboards, nooks and crannies.  So first thing this morning, I wanted to accomplish eradication of stuff from that bathroom sink cabinet.

Oh,  the items that were hiding in there!   Long ago used retainers; denture cleaner to clean those forgotten retainers (can’t imagine how old that is!); bottles with what I assume used to be lotion but now thickly gelled goo that doesn’t smell so nicely; remainders of mostly used toothpaste tubes; combs and brushes; hair pins and fancy hair accessories from proms; hair gel, pomade, and mousse; Sephora body polish and body butter (what?? — remember I raised two girls) still proudly packed in its original container; and the list goes on and on.

And that was just the girls’ side of the cabinet.  It was just as bad on son’s side.   Believe me.

I brought the discards downstairs to place in the garbage can and again I glanced out the windows.   It’s fairly difficult not to see outside in the kitchen and family room of our house because there are five windows and a set of French doors.   Again the garden beckoned me.

blogDSCN6781This time it was the lovely sunflower girls.   They have just started blooming out of their green pods at the top of their sturdy stalks and they do present a lovely sight with their happy yellow faces turned towards the sun.

Oldest daughter has always loved sunflowers..  Once her bedroom was totally bedecked with sunflower paraphernalia everywhere.   So naturally, I thought, “What a shame that oldest daughter who lives in that far-away state can’t see these beautiful sunflowers.”

Time to take pictures!  I’ll just slip on my sandals and run out to the garden to snap some photos of those perky plants to send to oldest daughter!

One hour later.  Although the temperature is a nice 72 degrees, it’s sunny and humid outside.  I trudge back to the house, dripping with sweat, thirsty for a Big Gulp sized glass of ice water, laden with a basket of garden bounty, back aching from all that bending over.

What a man needs in gardening is a cast-iron back, with a hinge in it. ~Charles Dudley Warner, My Summer in a Garden, 1871.  You said it, Charles!  Can’t agree with you more!

blogDSCN6799That was probably the last picking for green beans and cucumbers.  Broccoli and lettuce are already finished.  Brussels sprouts popping out along the base of the stalks will need picking later.

In the next couple weeks, it will be time to dig up the carrots and sweet potatoes.  Green peppers, banana peppers, and cherry tomatoes still produce.

And of course, the weeds complete the jungle.  They’ve gone wild.  I gave a few of them the heave-ho, but my back started protesting….and that stuff in my house still snickers at me.


I Declare War!

blogDSCN0197You know that near-empty room in my house…middle daughter’s bedroom after she moved out last week?  Yeah, that one.

It’s not empty any more.  The other day I embarked on a mission to clean that room, and I’m a little ashamed to admit that a fully clothed bed and a refinished antique dresser now occupy that previously empty space. 

Hubby visited the basement and emerged with an extra bed that we just “happened” to have stored down there.  We moved the dresser over from another smaller bedroom that…wait for it….had too much furniture in it.

If you’re reading this blog, you know by now this is Mama’s “Empty” Nest.  Well, mama’s nest apparently may be empty of people but unequivocally is not empty of people’s stuff!  

Too much stuff!

You may have heard of a honky-tonk music singer-songwriter named Delbert McClinton.  Ten years ago or so, he released an album with a catchy little tune called “Too Much Stuff” on it.   Some of the song lyrics go like this:
“Well, it’s way too much.
You’re never gonna get enough.
You can pile it high
but you’ll never be satisfied.”

“Yeah, too much stuff.  Too much stuff.
Too much stuff. Too much stuff.
You never get enough ’cause there’s just too much stuff.
You know you can hurt yourself, fooling with too much stuff.
Yeah, it’ll tear you down, fooling with all that stuff.”

No kidding!  Delbert, did you sneak into my house when I wasn’t looking?  Now honestly, I truly do not want more stuff.  So I’m not trying to satisfy my inner child or something by acquiring more stuff to pile high like the song says.  On the contrary, I’m trying to eliminate most of this stuff! 

And the fact that I can furnish an empty bedroom in less than a day from stuff already in my house just doesn’t make me whistle a happy tune, no matter how catchy it is.   Sorry, Delbert.  Having three different choices of comforters to dress up that bed should have been my first clue that “Houston, we’ve got a problem here.”

So let’s take inventory.  Oldest daughter “moved out” a few years ago.  So why is some of her stuff, including formal dresses and little boxes full of who knows what,  still taking up residence in the smallest bedroom closet?  And why is there a moving box labeled “Daughter #1’s stuff” hogging floor space?   And shall we discuss her abandonment of that 7 foot long couch, small dinette table with two chairs,  and other assorted odds and ends in my basement?  Of course, we can’t find a good home for this lost and wayward furniture yet because son may need this stuff when he finally moves into a place of his own (more on that later).  

Too much stuff!

As you know, middle daughter moved out recently.  Of course, she left behind her childhood memorabilia, scrapbooks, pig collection, and reading books on the bookshelf.  But wait,  that’s not all!  When I slid open her closet door, a few hanging clothes waved hello to me, along with fancy shoes from some high school  prom or something or other, a pair of ratty old slippers, and more formal dresses. 

If I combined all the beautifully beaded and bespangled  prom and bridesmaid dresses hanging forgotten and forlornly in those two bedroom closets, I could have my own formal dress consignment shop!  On top of that, middle daughter’s closet shelves are still loaded and guess what’s lurking in my basement?  More of her belongings including college textbooks, microwave, and I can’t even speculate what else.

Too much stuff!

More inventory.  How shall I describe son’s bedroom?  For the most part, it looks like he still lives in there…somewhere.  Okay, I must be fair, right now he resides in temporary housing until he finds a place of his own over there in that state next door, so technically he has only moved some of his clothes and personal items out of our house.  That’s why his room is still full AND there are boxes and bins and storage containers and exercise and sports equipment and chairs and tools all belonging to son in the basement.

Too much stuff!

The problem as I see it is this middle age scenario in which hubby and I are held captive.  When you arrive at this magical age, the kids are moving out, but they only pack up what they want to take with them.  The rest of the junk – “Oh no, you can’t throw THAT away!”  — gets to hunker down at home and keep Mom and Dad company!

We’re like the cheese squeezed in the middle of the sandwich.  The bread on one side of the sandwich represents the kids and all their belongings.  [Yes indeed, we spent a lot of “bread” on all that stuff too!]  The bread on the other side represents the items you “inherit” from your parents when they pass away.  “Well, someone has to keep those things! Oh yes, we can certainly use this thingamajig and that whatchamacallit.”  So you wind up squeezed into a house – on matter how big it is — with everyone else’s stuff.

Too much stuff.

The daunting part is I’ve already been de-cluttering our house, donating items to charities and garage sales, cramming the trash bins full.  For two-thirds of our marriage, hubby and I moved around the country every few years. 

When you move a lot, you tend to purge your household and shed unwanted, unneeded items easier.  You know the old saying, “A rolling stone gathers no moss?”  Well, my saying used to be,  “A moving mama gathers no stuff!”  But not any more!

We’ve resided here the longest we’ve ever lived anywhere during our marriage. That’s 12 years of acquiring, accumulating, storing, inheriting, preserving, organizing, categorizing too much stuff!  And by the way, I haven’t even addressed hubby’s stuff yet.  Oh boy, that one’s going to be tricky!

Watch out all you stuff lurking in my basement, hiding in closets, lounging in the garage, burrowing in boxes.  Mama’s gearing up  for the three E’s:  expulsion, elimination, and eradication.  Too Much Stuff, you are forewarned; I’m throwing down the gauntlet.  Only one will reign triumphant and that’s gonna be me!