Category Archives: Home

“The Soul-Crushing Futility of Tidying Up” or “Making Peace with our Beautiful Mess”

Last month I was sitting with KitKat, having a glass of wine and catching up, when I glanced down at her coffee table. The New York Times bestseller, “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up” by Marie Kondo was sitting on top of another book (ironically titled, “A Beautiful Mess”).

I had read reviews of the book and its controversial “KonMari” method for determining what to keep and what to discard—so I asked KitKat what she thought of it. She said, “I haven’t had a chance to read it, and I won’t get to it for a while since I’m leaving on vacation. Why don’t you read it and report back to me?” I accepted the assignment and am sharing my findings with all of our readers for your collective organizational edification. KitKat, what do you think of these tips?

Highlights of the Book:

Go big or go home – Unlike many books on organizing that advocate tackling decluttering bit by bit (for example, one closet or drawer at a time), the author insists that the key to success is to do your whole house at once. “Tidying is a special event, not a daily chore,” she states. (If this sounds daunting, keep in mind that Marie Kondo is a professional declutterer based in Japan. This is important context because the average Japanese home is much smaller than the average American home so the average Japanese person has fewer possessions.) Even though this sounds ambitious, her rationale makes sense. By doing your entire home at once, you’ll experience the benefits of organized living and won’t want to revert back to your cluttering ways. Whereas if you just tackle clutter one drawer at a time, you’ll never experience the “life-changing magic” of an organized home.

KitKat: I understand how this would make sense. Take for example, cleaning. I never get to enjoy the true experience of a clean home since I only have time for a room or two each cleaning. By the time I get through a full round, the rooms I started with are messy again. The few times I splurged on hiring house cleaners, it was a magnificent feeling walking into a completely clean house. (I may have actually heard background music and saw glowing lights as I entered my home those magical days.)

“Getting rid of clutter would eliminate 40% of the housework in the average home.”  

-National Soap & Detergent Association

Does it spark joy? – This is the aforementioned controversial method of determining what to keep and the part of the book that most reviews focus on. Although a bit limiting, it’s an interesting way to look at one’s possessions. (Disclosure: I don’t think a toilet plunger will ever spark joy for me, but I intend to keep one around anyway.) A better way I’ve heard this stated is, “Don’t keep anything that isn’t beautiful, useful or preferably both.” This is my new litmus test and in my newer, smaller home, I’m working on “upgrading” my possessions rather than adding to them.

KitKat: It sounds like a logical test but I am not sure it would be that straightforward for me. Depending on my mood the day I do it (if doing it all at once, as advised), I will either have nothing left in my house or I will get rid of nothing. I function on extremes.

Sort by category, not location – Kondo’s method recommends that you start by discarding all items of a similar type and that what’s left should be kept together, not necessarily where the items are used. This seems practical in a small Japanese apartment, but maybe less so in a three-story home.

KitKat: So if I was sorting vases, they would all end up on one floor in one room? My hair accessories would have to live with my daughter? All kids’ entertainment lumped together? I don’t think this one would work in my house. For both visual pleasure and family peace, we do better with separation.

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Lucky needs more clutter like Stormy needs another pair of boots

Don’t force your clutter on other people – My girls could tell you all about this one. Lucky, Blossom and I are approximately the same size for tops and every time they come see me, I’m offering them my clothing discards. For some reason, it’s easier for me to part with something that I like (but never wear) if I’m giving it to one of my daughters. But the truth is, they’re in a very transient stage of their lives and the less “stuff” they have to move with them, the better.

KitKat: Agree! My grandma keeps sending me old artwork and cards and my mother-in-law brings a new bag of stuff she found cleaning out her place with her each time she visits. As everyone else is decluttering, I am drowning in stuff. 

Thanking items for their usefulness – One of Kondo’s more interesting points is that it’s hard to get rid of something if you don’t understand its purpose in your life, but its purpose may not be what you think. For example, you bought a beautiful sweater on sale but every time you go to wear it, you end up taking it off again. It’s beautiful, but for whatever reason, the color doesn’t suit you. This is the kind of thing people have trouble getting rid of. Kondo suggests you hold the item, recognize that it’s purpose may not have been to keep you warm, but rather to teach you that you shouldn’t buy chartreuse clothing, even if it is 100% cashmere and 75% off. Thank the item for the lesson it has taught you and let it go.

KitKat: Thank you super-expensive, camo mini-skirt for teaching me that there is a time where age comes into play with what you wear. You have done your duty and now it’s time to find a millennial who can pull you off.

Sorting clothing – Kondo recommends putting every item of clothing you own on the floor to see what you have and decide what to keep. I don’t have enough floor space for this.

KitKat: I am with you, Stormy. I couldn’t test this one out. My clothes-to-floor ratio doesn’t work out, even if done in categories of clothing.

Treat your socks with respect – One of the more amusing chapters was on the topic of socks, which featured this gem: “Never, ever ball up your socks.” The author described her conversation with a client who had done just that, “Look at them carefully. This should be a time for them to rest. Do you really think they can get any rest like that?” She then explained that socks and stockings in your drawer are essentially on holiday from the difficult chore of protecting your feet and the time they spend in the drawer is their only chance to rest… As much as I like the idea of my socks having a secret life in my drawer that is unknown to me, I opened my sock drawer quickly at several random times throughout the day and was never able to catch any of them with an umbrella drink in their hand, so I’m questioning this one a bit.

folded-socks

Who knew KitKat was a sock sadist?

KitKat: I can’t do this one. One of my weird pleasures when sorting laundry is finding matching socks and then balling the pair up. It’s the only part of folding laundry I enjoy. When I end up with no single ones, it’s like I won the game. If a sock doesn’t have a match to become a ball, it has to sit on the dryer waiting for its mate. (Another bonus of this method is I don’t get called into my kids’ rooms during our rushed morning chaos because they can’t find matching socks.)

Unread books: Sometime equals never – If you have a book that’s been lying around for more than a month, thinking you’ll read it someday, you’re lying to yourself. Just get rid of it. (Note: This may apply to the book I’m reviewing, KitKat!)

KitKat: Very true. I love reading and am usually searching for new books to read. But if I haven’t picked it up in a month, then it hasn’t caught my interest enough. Usually the fiction books are devoured, while self-help books on getting your shit together, self-improvement, or organizing all lay around mocking me.

Decorate your closet with secret delights – This was just an interesting note that if you have something you love that doesn’t fit anywhere else in your house, you can decorate your closet with it. Love posters of kittens or your Best Thespian certificate from high school? Put them in your closet! I actually have some little star shaped mirrors that I put in my walk-in closet (to remind myself that I’m a superstar, naturally) and of course, this is a perfect place to keep a vision board.

KitKat: I have kept my vision boards there! It is a perfect spot. I also put up photos I rip out of magazines of cool ways to style my hair or pull together an outfit. I used to keep them in a file, but never looked at them. Yet I didn’t want to throw them away because they inspired me. Now I actually sometimes even try to pull off the looks I see when opening closet doors.  

Your possessions want to help you – Again with the anthropomorphism. Kondo must spend a lot of time alone, because she has a very rich imagination. She believes that “Everything you own wants to be of use to you. Even if you throw it away or burn it, it will only leave behind the energy of wanting to be of service. Freed from its physical form, it will move about your world as energy, letting other things know that you are a special person, and come back to you as the thing that will be of most use to who you are now, the thing that will bring you the most happiness.”

KitKat:  Hmmm. She may have have poured one too many glasses of wine at this point in her writing. Plus, I don’t want to imagine that the energy of the life-sized doll I “decluttered” when my daughter was at camp is haunting us. 

The big payoff – One of the more grandiose claims of the book is the transformational power of tidying. The author asserts that once you’re no longer distracted by the clutter in your house, you’ll be able to see other parts of your life more clearly and may end up changing self-defeating personal habits, your unfulfilling job, maybe even your deadbeat spouse! 😉

KitKat: The clutter does distract and overwhelm me. Then, add in holiday decorations or bags of items collected and waiting to go up to the cabin, and I have actually lost it from being inundated by all the stuff. If I had time, let’s say I could send my family away for a month or have a paid week off to focus just on decluttering, I think it would be transformational—at least for my temper.

Stormy’s Summary – Having downsized a year ago, I find that much of what the author says is true. It’s amazing to think about how many things my husband and I got rid of that we have not missed one bit. I hope those objects were able to “spark joy” (or at least be useful) to someone else and sending them off to their new homes enabled us to make room for some new things (not necessarily “stuff,” but concepts, hobbies, habits) in our new life.

KitKat: We took your extension ladder and it was very useful. We used it to change the light bulb in our cabin garage that was out for over a year, so we could see the ping pong table we added. And the light sparked a lot of joy (and competition).

Chasing rainbows

I know what some of you are thinking… “I started reading this blog because Stormy and KitKat promised they are more messed up than me. But now all I’m getting are introspective posts on world politics, brain surgery and death. I want to know how is Stormy handling being 50? What about the move? Is she still crazy?”

So for those of you looking for some shallow reading—the beach blanket chick-lit version of this blog—Stormy is happy to oblige. It’s the middle of summer and I’m exhibiting my usual, “Wait! Slow down!” despair as I contemplate the dwindling number of free weekends in which to schedule my summer must-dos. For example, I’ve had my boat for four summers now, and have yet to get KitKat and family out on it!

popeye-I-am-what-I-amI’m also in a weird mental place right now. There is so much that’s going well in my life, but for some reason I’m feeling aimless and dissatisfied. Do I need a new job? Do I need a new hobby? Do I need to just quit bitchin’ and appreciate my blessings (my money is on the latter). I need to figure out what the next phase of my life looks like.

It turns out that being 50 is okay (well, I’m actually 51 now). I still can’t believe I’m in this decade, but I just try not to think about it (denial is my friend) and keep doing what I’ve always been doing and wearing whatever I like. I believe in being comfortable and true to myself, yet I don’t want to get a lecture from my girls (“Mom, what are you wearing?… Really?”) so I try to temper my need for self-expression with a little common sense. I trust that they’ll tell me if I push the limits too far.

mature?I had an epic revelation the other day: I looked at my husband and said, “Woah. I just realized that I’m as mature as I’ll ever be. I probably am not going to mature any more than I am!” He laughed, but I pointed out the irrefutable truth of the situation: By the time a person turns 51, that’s pretty much it. That individual isn’t going to get a whole lot more mature. For some reason, I found that oddly comforting…knowing I’ve reached an age where I no longer have to worry about trying to be older or more sophisticated or younger or hipper. I am what I am (a favorite saying of both God and Popeye). In other words, this is it, folks. Move along, there’s nothing more to see here.

On a brighter note, Oskar and I are celebrating the anniversary of our move into our downsized digs. This was a monumental effort last year—I still get exhausted just thinking about it. On the other hand. I L-O-V-E LOVE our new home. It’s the perfect size. It’s in a perfect location. I love having a new space to decorate. I also love having very little maintenance work. And although I had a tough transition in seeing my little chickies fly the nest, now that we’re out of their childhood home, I love living the life of an empty nester. It’s sort of like being newlyweds again except now we have more time (we were only married for a little over a year when I got pregnant with my oldest) and more money.

shark5Which brings me to the last update—you’ve already read about my husband’s successful surgery, so the big question on everyone’s mind (well maybe not, but it’s on my mind, at least) is what’s next? I wish I knew. I know myself well enough by now that I realize I always need some type of project to keep me focused and happy, and right now I don’t really have that and I feel like I’m floundering as a result. It’s an uncomfortable feeling, and I’ll keep searching for that “thing” that will make me feel grounded. I’m not sure if it will be work, school, a hobby or volunteer work, but I’ve always lived my life like some species of shark—that is, I need to keep moving or I know I’ll drown—so I’ll keep chasing rainbows until I find that emotional pot of gold. I haven’t figured out the answers yet (another example of “easier said than done”), but as soon as I do, you can be sure I’ll let you know!

A Charity Case or a Case for Charity?

It’s a bad sign when KitKat asks me, “…any blog ideas?” which happened just this morning. If you look back at our postings, you can see that the longer gaps between posts are when we’re waiting on KitKat. Of course, this is justifiable because she has school-age kids and other obligations that keep her very busy. I have way more time to write. Usually, KitKat’s thrilled to have the blog-ball in my court because it gives her more time to work on her next post. But even she can tell I’m in a serious drought—and when she starts gently prodding me, I know it’s time to settle on a topic and get to work.

It’s not that life has been boring. On the contrary, there have been a lot of serious issues consuming my thoughts lately. However, both KitKat and I have noticed that the more something is on our mind, the harder it is to organize our thoughts on the topic and write about it. Consequently, you’re not going to hear about my challenges with my parents (although I’m sure that will be a future topic), or my thoughts on the recent terrorist activity in Paris (my brain will never be able to organize such a cowardly, inhumane act into a coherent post).

Paris_attack

There’s plenty of fodder for a blog post in this situation, but I can’t eloquently articulate this level of evil… I don’t think anyone can.

I’ve mentioned before that I’m an introvert and the worst part about that is it it’s easy for negativity to get stuck inside my head. That’s what’s been happening lately, and I know what I need to do in order to counter that: Turn negative inward thoughts into positive outward actions.

For the last couple of years, ever since my youngest flew the nest, I’ve been aware of a lack of purpose in my life. Raising three kids has been my primary activity for the last 26 years and now that they are largely independent, I’ve felt a void. I’ve been seeking out a volunteer opportunity where I could feel like I was doing something worthwhile and after a couple of false starts, joined a program that provides mentors to unemployed/underemployed women.

My first mentee match was unusual, to say the least. I looked up my match on LinkedIn before meeting her—a native of Zimbabwe, spoke multiple languages, won several scholarships, was working on an advanced degree, had previously been Miss Africa, and had started a couple of businesses and non-profits. I met her and we had a great conversation; however, I wasn’t sure how much I could help her. She was a force to be reckoned with and it was clear she would go far in life. In fact, she made me feel a bit inadequate about my own achievements: I had done far less with far more. We tried to coordinate our mentoring sessions but she had too much going on in her life to meet with me. (She was interested in public policy and had been chosen for an internship with the United Nations—seriously!) So while I was happy to have met such an ambitious young woman, I didn’t get much personal satisfaction from “helping” her.

Enter Ellen, my second match via the mentoring program. As with my previous match, I tried looking her up on LinkedIn beforehand, but there was no profile to be found. We met at a coffee shop. I was surprised to see that she was older than me. And then she told me her story. Her first son had died quickly of a brain tumor at the age of four and that sent her into an emotional tailspin (which anyone who’s a mother can understand). She became divorced and later became pregnant and had another son. She never married the boy’s father but supported him by cleaning houses. (After losing her first child, she wanted to make sure her schedule allowed her to be there for her son, as caring for him was her top priority.) Now her son had graduated from high school and she wanted to find a better paying job with benefits so she could start saving money for retirement.

floppy-disk-iconNow here was someone I could help. We talked about how to translate the skills gained from her house-cleaning business into marketable experience—managing a staff, scheduling, selling her own cleaning products. We talked about online applicant tracking systems and how to best present your information to potential employers. (When I suggested that in addition to completing the online application, she also should attach a PDF of a nicely formatted version of her resume, she asked, “You mean put it on a floppy disk?” That’s when I knew I had my work cut out for me.)

volunteerAt our next meeting, she excitedly told me about a job interview she had the next day. I told her what I knew about the company and helped her research the position online. I gave her tips on what to do/not do during the interview and stressed the importance of sending a thank you note afterward. Driving home, I thought about how the mentor/mentee relationship was benefitting both of us. Although I have been frustrated with my job of late, from Ellen’s perspective I was living the glamorous life—a well-paying job, an experienced team, global responsibility, fulfilling work—and I was reminded how fortunate I am to have all those things.

Meanwhile, I realized that the value I was bringing to Ellen wasn’t in the employment-seeking pearls of wisdom I was bestowing on her (those could be found in any job-hunting book), but in the faith and encouragement I was bringing her: From my vantage point, she was a strong woman who had overcome a lot of challenges and was willing to work hard. I believed in her success, but she needed encouragement.

At one point she said to me, “There’s no dignity in being a housecleaner” and I immediately disagreed: “You provided for you and your son by doing honest, hard work—there’s plenty of dignity in that!” And hearing it from me, she started to believe it as well.cleaning supplies

I’m happy to report that Ellen got the job for which she was interviewing. While it’s starting at the bottom of the company and her shift begins at 3 a.m., she was thrilled to have benefits and hopes to work her way up to a customer service job with regular hours. With some help and support, I have no doubt she’ll get there.

And I gained something from the mentorship as well. I learned that getting out of my own head for a while is as restorative as any vacation—not to mention cheaper—and what I take for granted can make a difference for someone else.

Stormy learns to “move it or lose it”…but mostly loses it.

bicycleWhen you last heard from me, two months ago, I thought I was through the worst of moving…However, downsizing is a gift that keeps on giving. We had a month of overlap with our properties which allowed us to make a few updates, but also dragged out the “fun.” We’re not home free quite yet, but we’ve been through enough where I can see a shimmering oasis of calm ahead, and I’m driving toward it with single-minded dedication. Here are some things I learned along the way:

Moving is when you learn who your friends are – The physical act of moving was an exhausting one after 25 years of accumulation. A well-meaning friend suggested I hire someone to pack everything up, but that was impractical for my situation. Each item needed to be evaluated—something that movers couldn’t do: Should it go to the new place? Do the kids need it? Could any of my family use it? Should we donate it to charity? Is it garbage? Sometimes the answer came quickly: Of course my bunny collection is going with me. No, we don’t need the cassette tapes. But others were tricky: I love my curio cabinet and TV stand, but there’s no place to put them in the new unit. And—in a situation I’m guessing was not unique to us—we eventually ran out of time and began throwing things willy-nilly in boxes. (This explains why, at our new condo, I spotted a box whose labeled contents included “Wii box.” Not the Wii IN the box, mind you, but rather a box for a video game system we bought in 2008, that my youngest has since taken to college. Really? Moving a box for an obsolete and relocated gaming system? Really?) As I was lamenting all the work involved in this process, I was genuinely touched when several friends offered sincerely to help move, pack and unpack. There’s a joke about finding out who your real friends are when you need to move—but it’s a joke based in truth.

We all have too much stuff and the 80/20 rule generally applies – Attempting to unpack was a lesson in humility. Who needs all this stuff? I thought of an article I read where a photographer took photos of people with all of their possessions laid out beside them. I was embarrassed by the sheer volume of riches I take for granted. We were buried in boxes for a solid week and had to move some into a storage unit just so workmen could get at our floor to replace it. Yet, somehow we managed to find the really important stuff—and survive without the Belgian waffle maker or ice cream maker. I’ve tried to live by Thoreau’s mantra, “He who owns little is little owned,” but clearly I’ve failed. My stuff is dictating how I live right now. I’m totally owned.

Organization is expensive—but worth it – People have varying tolerances for clutter, but I’ve found the older I get, the less I can tolerate living in a mess. My brain jumps from thought to thought and I become mentally exhausted trying to find things. One day, I returned home to find that my husband had been unpacking and attempted to organize the kitchen. Here’s his idea of a good location for a pantry:

If you can guess what's up there... well then maybe YOU can make me dinner!

If you can guess what’s up there… well then maybe YOU can make me dinner!

Yes, it’s the cupboard above the refrigerator, where one usually stashes the roaster, the crockpot and other rarely used items. I had to text a photo of this to several girlfriends for sympathy and laughs before pulling out all the foodstuffs and relocating them to a more accessible location. (By the way, re-doing unpacking is even more annoying that regular unpacking.)

After four trips to The Container Store, I’m starting to bring order to my chaos, but at a price. That stuff ain’t cheap. But at least it matches, which brings me to another lesson:

Warning: Companies that make plastic totes are evil – That’s right, I’m talking to YOU Rubbermaid, Hefty, Sterlite… At one time, I had a vision of a perfect storage area with nicely matching totes, either clear or nicely labeled, but I’ve come to understand this Nirvana will never be realized unless I’m willing to buy all 20 totes at once. Why? Because companies that make totes change their design every two weeks. So if you buy a few at a time (like most normal people), the next time you go to buy them, they will be different—color, size, lids, something. (And good luck if you need to only replace a lid—it’s just not happenin’… Accept it and get on with your life.)

Summer is fleeting, take the time to enjoy it – The worst thing about moving in the summer is missing out on what is an already too-short season in Minnesota. Therefore, my husband and I have been trying to work in little bits of summer fun wherever we can: an impromptu boat outing, dinner on a rooftop patio, even listening to a local band performance while unpacking (our new home is next to a park, so we can hear music from the amphitheater when our windows are open). It was particularly inspiring when one of the bands started playing the theme from “Rocky.” Any daunting task seems more doable when accompanied by “Gonna Fly Now” performed by a live orchestra outside your window! … It’s a trade-off between wanting to make my current living situation more tolerable now and not wanting to wake up in my beautiful new home in September, wondering where my summer went. Somehow, I’ll find that balance, but it’s easier said than done.

Getting to “Sold”

Dear Readers, It’s been a while since you’ve heard from me, but I don’t want you to think I’ve taken this absence lightly. We know our legions of followers depend on our dysfunctional tales to help them feel good about themselves, and KitKat and I are loath to disappoint. I want to take this moment to thank you for indulging me in my prolonged absence and assure you that the dry spell is nearly over. I hope that when you read what I’ve been up to, you can forgive me my negligence… And now, where has Stormy been the last three months?

Moving prep can kill you.

Moving prep can kill you.

Well, last year I mentioned that my husband and I were going to downsize. Part of this is just due to entering a new phase of our lives—our kids are grown and starting their own lives. At the same time, it’s also a concession to my husband’s Parkinson’s Disease. Twelve years into this disease, certain things have become difficult—and although he’s still able to do quite a bit when his meds are working, we’d both rather he didn’t have to spend his “quality time” doing routine household chores and yard work. After the holidays, we consulted with a realtor friend of my brother’s and decided we’d try to list our house in the spring. (In Minnesota, there’s a definite season to house-hunting and it peaks in April/May.)

Originally, I had a very pragmatic outlook to moving and told myself (and my husband) that we’d first focus on selling our house and then take our time finding the perfect new home. After all, we have a vacation condo (“urban cabin”) about 40 minutes away that we could live in temporarily if needed. Well, this strategy lasted about one week. I started thinking about the limitations involved in moving to our vacation condo—impossible for my husband to drive to his personal trainer appts., harder to see my elderly parents, farther away from other friends and relatives, longer drive to work—and decided I just wanted to get the process over with. (As I like to say, I’m fine with change—it’s changing, I can’t stand. Yet that’s the action verb that gets one to a new stage in life. It’s unavoidable—like death and taxes.)

I think that the power is the principle. The principle of moving forward, as though you have the confidence to move forward, eventually gives you confidence when you look back and see what you’ve done.

– Robert Downey, Jr.

It’s also a fact that I tend to become a little obsessed over things like this—as my husband could attest—and so I started poring over online listings looking for our new home. This process was both exciting and frustrating. After so many years in the same house, it was exhilarating to think, “I can have a big walk-in closet!” “I can have a big master bathroom!” But it was also discouraging to realize that my husband’s illness meant we couldn’t pursue some properties—like the cool old brownstone in St. Paul with tons of character that required the owners to walk a long flight of stairs to reach the house from the detached garage out back (a perilous journey in the winter for someone whose meds aren’t working).

In mid-March we went to an open house for a property that showed promise. It was in one of our favorite areas of town and, although it wasn’t perfect, it “ticked enough of the boxes” to warrant serious consideration. Unfortunately, there were two major problems for us. 1) They didn’t allow dogs and 2) We were about to leave for a week long trip for Mexico. I decided I would just relax, enjoy our vacation fully and reassess the condo situation once we returned (if the unit had not been sold by that time).

Ziplines in the jungle were a fun distraction from house-hunting.

Ziplines in the jungle were a fun distraction from house-hunting.

However, during our vacation I found myself keeping one eye on the listing, and during the week a couple of additional properties popped up that were worth looking into as well. I was starting to feel more confident that we would ultimately find something that would work for us.

The morning after our vacation, I emailed our realtor three properties that we wanted to see. We wanted to go back to “the one that ticked the boxes” for a closer look, and there were two new places we wanted to check out. He responded that the two new ones were already off the market, but he’d scheduled a return visit to the condo we had seen before vacation. It seemed like a sign.

Blossom and Pixie in younger days

Blossom and Pixie in younger days

When we went back the second time, we took a closer look at the place and started talking about how we would redecorate, where we would put furniture and what we would do to make the condo “ours”…We were both able to envision ourselves living there fairly easily, but we still had the issue of our dog. I asked my youngest, college-age Blossom, whether she’d consider taking our elderly Westie. (In Pixie’s eyes, Blossom has always been her one true master.) And she graciously agreed to help us out her by taking on custody of her childhood companion. After that was settled, we made an offer on the condo that was under the asking price and were thrilled when the buyers accepted it quickly. One half of our journey was complete!

However, there was still the small detail of selling our house. So we dove headfirst into the arduous process of getting our house ready to list. This was no minor task. After 25 years, there were a myriad of small repairs needed: painting, pintucking our bricks, replacing fixtures and outlets, staining woodwork. Fixing the broken windows, quite literally. And cleaning, cleaning and more cleaning. (Our realtor recommended everything be “surgically clean,” which is a notch or two higher than my personal bar: “the illusion of clean.”)

Our realtor always lists on Fridays and holds an open house the first weekend—part of a strategy to generate interest quickly—so we set a personal deadline for listing our house. A week before our self-imposed deadline, we knew we wouldn’t make it. My ADD was kicking in, so if I had to go into a new room to find a paintbrush or tape, I’d be distracted by 10 other things that needed doing. This meant there were half-packed boxes and half-finished projects EVERYWHERE and the clutter was stressing me out, making it even harder to focus. There was still way too much to do. Moreover, we were both incredibly tired, and I hadn’t been feeling well either—but since we now had a closing date set for our new place, we were determined to push through and finish.

The Lean Mean Cleaning Machine (Will work for food!)

The Lean Mean Cleaning Machine (Will work for food!)

I sent a “HELP!” text to my two sisters who live closest and they both volunteered their services immediately. I’ve mentioned before that I have a challenging relationship with my mom—but my sisters make up for it in love and support. I know that I can call on them for anything and they’ll be there. Because most of them were already teenagers when I was born, they did a lot of the heavy lifting involved in raising me when I was little and served as great sounding boards when I was a teen/young adult myself. After buying my sisters a nice breakfast, I proceeded to work them like slaves the rest of the day. But by the end of the weekend, we finally turned a corner and I could see that we would in fact make our deadline. We were ecstatic to actually see the finish line ahead.

First thing Friday morning, I searched the Internet for our listing and there it was: For Sale. The professionally taken photos of the surgically clean rooms—completely devoid of any family photos or usual signs of life (like ironing boards and dirty laundry)—looked nothing to me like the house I had lived in all of these years. But it looked good, nonetheless. So much so that text messages for showing requests arrived all day and over the course of the first two days, there were about eight private showings in addition to the open house. By Sunday morning we had FIVE offers—the best one a full $20k over our asking price. Even better, when we received the paperwork for the offer, we discovered that the buyer was the son of one of my husband’s college buddies. It was the icing on the cake to know that our house was going to a young couple, just starting out, that seem to love it as much as we do.

This impending move has been weighing heavily on my mind for the last five years or longer. To have everything turn out better than I expected was a much-needed reminder that in this dog-eat-dog world, sometimes life throws you a bone and it’s best to just wag your tail and savor the sweet taste of success. 😉

Saying “YES!” to 2015…

Our readers know that one of my standby topics is self-improvement and New Year’s only adds kerosene to those flames of obsession. So it’s no surprise that I’ve been thinking a lot about this year’s resolutions lately. But ultimately, I decided that last year’s goals were pretty solid—I just need to master them. (Full disclosure: Although I’m awesome at coming up with resolutions, I’m much less proficient at living them.)

So that means that 2015 will find me once again striving to:

  • Assume the best
  • Make my own happy day
  • Turn negative inward thoughts into positive outward actions

This first one requires an attitude change. While I think I’ve made some progress in this area (with the help of pharmaceuticals), I still have a ways to go. The second and third resolutions are more action-based. As a control freak, one of the challenges of getting older is realizing all that I can’t control, but these resolutions help me focus on the things I do have control over.

However, if you’ve learned anything about me it’s that Stormy is never content to merely stay the course.

2015 will be a significant year for me because I was born in 1965 (you do the math). If you think KitKat was a little wigged out over turning 45, that’s nothing compared to the massive denial that I’ve been experiencing. Such a momentous event, coupled with my unresolved empty-nest syndrome, has led to the Mother of All Mid-Life Crises.

"My birthday wish is that I'll stop aging at 39..."

“My birthday wish is that I’ll stop aging at 39…”

In addition to a Milestone Birthday, the coming year will also bring another big change—selling our house of 25 years. So, I’m starting this new year knowing that I’ll end it in a very different place. In other words, 2015 is A Perfect Storm for Stormy. Therefore, in anticipation of all that is to come, I’m going to add two more resolutions to my earlier list:

1) Just say “Yes!”

Just after a really impressive spin... Trust me!

Taken just after a really impressive spin…trust me!

A month ago, I was at a party talking to a friend who lives out of state. She had found herself unemployed about the same time her father’s health declined, so she moved back to the Midwest and spent a couple of years taking care of her elderly dad. After his death, she returned to California to reinstate her former life and find a new job. During this process, she adopted the above philosophy—to Just Say Yes to any invitations, ideas, concepts and be open to whatever life had in store for her. As we were talking, she was waiting to hear about an exciting job opportunity that she probably wouldn’t have heard about if she hadn’t said “yes” to an invitation she otherwise may have turned down.

I mentioned I was feeling at a crossroads myself and had adopted a similar philosophy toward my future. And so far, JSY has yielded some interesting results. It’s led me to discover paddle-boarding, start a gourmet dinner club and even take some pole dancing classes. Trust me, despite the stripper pseudonym, that’s something that a younger version of myself never would have considered doing. (Fortunately, my husband is very supportive of all my craziness. When I was thinking about backing out of the “free” introductory class, he encouraged me with, “You have nothing to lose but your dignity.”) I plan to ratchet it up a notch in 2015, so look out.

2) Acceptance 

I was visitserenitying my favorite hairstylist this week, and we were talking about how this is one of the hardest lessons to learn—acceptance—but it’s also one of the most critical. Despite all we can control and change in our lives, there are certain things we just cannot do. We can influence our health by making smart choices, but we can’t safeguard ourselves against heart problems, cancer or Parkinson’s Disease. We can choose to treat people with kindness, but we can’t make others love us. And we can try to be good sons and daughters, but or we can’t keep our parents from aging.

Serenity 2

Yet, I know that the happiest people are those who learn to accept the cards they’re dealt—especially when no other options exist. So that’s my overarching goal for the coming year: To accept 2015 and all the change it will inevitably bring… while still saying “yes” and having a little fun along the way. Here’s wishing you all a year of acceptance, discovery and peace!

“He who owns little is little owned” (Learning to let go…)

I came across this quote by Henry David Thoreau when I was going through a simplification phase in the mid-90s. It struck a chord because I was at a point in my life where I realized that acquiring “stuff” was not the key to happiness.

Let’s back up a bit. Remember that I’m one of nine children and even though my parents did fine by us financially (we had all the basics covered and enjoyed some modest luxuries as well), I frequently heard, “We can’t afford that” as the response to whatever I was asking for. (Looking back, I think it was just my parents’ go-to excuse—not necessarily rooted in lack of finances, but invoked whenever they didn’t want to do or buy something.)

Regardless, my reaction to this childhood “deprivation” was the desire to buy whatever “stuff” I wanted once I had the money and independence to do so. And for a few years, that’s what I did. I’m no candidate for an episode of “Hoarders,” but I have accumulated enough stuff to overwhelm my fairly small home.

kids08-mary_033

For Sale: 24 years’ worth of memories

I fell in love with my little Cape Cod when I was 25. When we moved in—Mom, Dad and new baby boy—everyone exclaimed, “What a cute little starter house!” They were expecting us to stay in it for a few years and then “trade up.” But I knew we’d be in this house longer than anyone suspected—it looked like where “Happily Ever After” should take place. Although not large by modern US standards, it’s a near duplicate of the house in which 11 of us lived until I was seven, so surely there would be sufficient room for my small family to grow. And there was. That’s not to say that it didn’t become crowded at times, especially during the teenage years, but I believed in what a member of my congregation once observed, “The closest families I know all come from small houses,” and we never traded up to a larger house.

I don’t consider myself terribly materialistic, but over the last two decades, this smallish house has become filled with “stuff.” Stuff that holds memories, stuff that I think my grown kids might need some day, stuff that I feel guilty adding to a landfill, stuff that reminds me that some phases of my life are over.

And it turns out that our cozy house isn’t adequate for the unwelcome guest that arrived 11 years ago and shows no sign of leaving. So, I’ve reluctantly concluded that, as my husband’s Parkinson’s continues to progress, we should find a home that’s more conducive to his lifestyle, with an attached garage, smaller yard, fewer stairs and other features that can make his life easier and more enjoyable. At the same time, if I’m going to leave this home I love, I want to gain some benefits from moving as well—things like a master bathroom and walk-in closet.

Although I’m trying to be optimistic about our next home, the thought of moving is overwhelmingly stressful. Over the last 24 years, we’ve made a lot of home improvements, but there are also a lot of little things we’ve let slide. Dozens of small repairs that need to be made and other tasks that will either fall to me or have to be contracted out.

Love me, love my floor (but don't cry over spilled milk!)

Love me, love my floor (but don’t cry over spilled milk!)

Then there’s the issue of my rather eclectic taste. My home is uniquely me. My husband retains veto power, but gives me a pretty free rein. Consequently, I’ve never really considered other people’s opinions in my decorating choices. But I know that to put my house on the market, I need to tone down certain aspects of my style. For example, I accept that my living room and dining room need to be transformed from a sociable, lively pink (which I spent hours rag-rolling to achieve a very subtle textured effect) to a more crowd-pleasing neutral tone. I also have a lot to do in “de-personalizing” my home, as it’s filled with photos and mementos. However, the new buyers will need to love the gold metallic cove around my ceilings, as well as my checkerboard kitchen tiles as there are some things I refuse to change. After all, I need to ensure my beloved house ends up in worthy hands.

IMG_0413I’ve set a deadline of next spring to put the house on the market, since my little house is most alluring when you can see my great backyard with multiple gardens, two patios and a fire pit. It’s a backyard just made for entertaining and we’ve had some wonderful parties there in the past. I know I’ll miss that yard, but this year as I was pulling weeds in the various gardens I thought, “I’m not really going to miss this part.” So I’m thinking maybe I’ve turned the corner and can now dive into the rest of the process with less sentimentality.

Another important step for me has been renting a storage locker for our excess belongings. I know that to show our house, we’ll need to stage it properly and that requires some extensive decluttering. I don’t want to fall into the same trap my parents did when selling their last home: My mother refused to do any staging and left all of her clutter and outdated décor intact. My parents ended up paying double mortgages for months when the house wouldn’t sell. And a lot of those same musty, dusty items are sitting in my parents’ current basement—waiting to be dealt with all over again. I like to think I can learn from others’ mistakes.

Even so, it’s been difficult for me to part with some of my own stuff, even when I know I’m unlikely to need it again. But when I’m considering what to put into storage, I’ve found it’s much easier to ask myself, “Will I need this in the next year?” than to ask, “Will I want this again at some point in the future?” It seems like about half is going to the trash or charity and the other half is going into storage. And hopefully, when we’re settled in our new place and moving stuff out of storage, the answer of whether to keep X or Y will be much clearer and even less “stuff” will find it’s way to our new home.

It’s a little exciting (and a lot scary) to think that a year from now I’ll likely be living somewhere else. I want our next home to reflect a positive change and a new chapter in our lives, rather than feel like a concession to my husband’s disability. But I know it’s up to me to make that happen. I have to clear out the past to make room for the future. Wish me luck!