Clutter

Clutter

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A few weeks ago, we threw out a ton of stuff. I don’t mean we threw out a lot of stuff. I mean we threw out 1 Ton of stuff. The Big Guy and I filled a one ton container with odds and ends we’d collected over our seventeen years together, and, I’m ashamed to say, we’ll probably be able to do it again in another month. I don’t mean to imply that our house is filled with trash, but the purge was a stark reminder that I need to look before I leap more often.

A week earlier, I had queried my writing group as to whether or not I should put some of my doodles on T-Shirts. I had an idea, not just to make money off my work, but for a line of fitness wear and T’s for plus-size women (google “plus size fitnesswear” and you’ll see there’s a market there for someone). This particular leap was inspired a sour grapes moment that resulted in my own fruitless search for running wear, and the first few responses were encouraging.

The Big Guy is always encouraging, and I began researching ‘how to print your own T-shirts’. When I the writing group page later in the day, however, a-look-before-the-leap had appeared. It was from our group’s fearless leader:

“I would finish your stories,” it said. “Then move on to other projects”

I was still determined to have something fun and different for my first race in 3 years, and I had a few pieces of T-shirt iron-on paper, but the words “Finish your stories” stayed in my head the rest of the day and the rest of the weekend.

I made my T-shirt and put a few up on CafePress (just for fun), but with the race behind me, and pre-holiday fall cleaning in front of us, I knew the last thing I needed was one more project or hobby – however good an idea it might seem. Filling that one ton container was suddenly more than a way to de-clutter our house. It was a reminder that to win the important battles, I needed to stop collecting projects and just finish the ones that matter.

What Works

What Works

 

Elbow grease

In my online search for flea killing and excavating solutions, I found just about everything.  I found people who’d salted their carpets to dehydrate the little monsters to death.  I found recommendations for different flea collars and pills for the cat and dog.  I found the community of pet owners besieged with these demons and offering advice is bigger than I would have imagined, and, after trying numerous cures with varying degrees of failure, I found that sometimes this mother does know best.  At least when it comes to conquering fleas.

Early my war, I stumbled onto a flea forum wherein a debate over natural vs. nuclear solutions had raged for several years.  I had been bombing and cleaning and laundering for a few days already, so my preference leaned toward any idea that involved a quick, painful, poison-filled death for the vermin.  While mine was not the prevailing sentiment on the forum, one post stood out not only because of the poster’s willingness to experiment with any carcinogenic flea solution, but because his query had, in less than 100 words, evolved into a complaint.  

The rant was an exclamation-filled diatribe decrying any natural or ‘hippie’ solution as the poster prayed that someone knew of an effective solution for fleas.  If a post could sound like a whine, this one did.  I knew it because it was a sound I had indulged in a few times over the last few days as I fantasized about a magic cure. 

But like anything in life, there was no magic.  Ultimately, there’s been experimentation and cleaning and vacuuming.  Every surface of our house has been vacuumed and dusted and mopped and then vacuumed again.

We don’t live in filth, but our house has long been an homage to clutter, so daily cleaning (as opposed to the pre-company preparation our house sees once every month or so) has been a big change in my routine.  It’s also been incredibly effective – as evidenced by the now-empty DIY flea traps I’ve set around the house – and it’s made me think about a response I would give to that angry post if I had energy or desire to confront anything but flying dust specks. 

I wouldn’t have the hippie solution.  I’d have the mom solution – probably the one my mom would have suggested.  It’s the stop-whining-buy-a-case-of-vacuum-bags-and suck-it-up (literally and figuratively)-until-the job-is-done solution. That’s the kind of advice I would have once received when faced with a  bedroom to clean or a mountain of homework to do, and it still works.  Score one more point for Mom.

The Ministry of Organization

The Ministry of Organization

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This may come as a shock, coming from someone who blogs (I don’t brag about it either) about being a bad housekeeper (blogs – not brags), but I am not naturally organized.  Staying organized always seemed like a juggling act that required advanced skills.  I pick my battles, but the need to organize my day is forcing me to pick a new fight with my life.

There are certain balls I can always keep in the air.  Apparently having kids endows you with some hormone that keeps you from letting their priorities slip through the cracks (thank goodness), and the desire to eat regularly keeps me signed in at work on a daily basis.  But the house, writing and fitness are a few things that tend to hit the ground more often than I’d like.  

The house has always been the lower priority, but almost a solid week of intense cleaning and vacuuming dictated by a sudden flea infestation put it at the top of the list.  With kid not yet in school, I’ve been able to juggle a few things, but fitness and writing have become casualties more than I wanted them to.  A few days ago, out of desperation, I pulled out my organizer and created a weekly schedule. 

The plan was to get up early and write, then exercise and then clean before the kids got up or had to go to school.  The morning writing is relatively new – the morning thing is new.  I’ve traditionally been a night owl, but last winter decided to try and change my body clock.  It worked – sort of. 

At the time, I was a serious caffeine addict.  Over the summer, a change in my diet helped me mostly kick that habit.  At first, I keenly felt the absence of my old stimulant, but better nutrition and fitness helped to compensate during the day.  The one time of day I still notice the dearth is in the early morning, and I finally realized that maybe even moms need more than 4.5 hours of sleep a night.

Last night my body, intensely aware of that need was not able to convince my brain that it was time to shut down.  Minute after minute passed as I watched my planned six hours of sleep dissolve into five and then four.  In the past, I’ve gotten up and written, but the last few days worry has inspired my insomnia, and I did what I do best – worried.  About braces for Jack, about the lemon I call a car sitting the driveway, and – naturally – about every flea (phantom or in-the-flesh) that might still be crawling toward our beds.  

Finally, I picked up my alarm/organizer and, surrendering the idea of writing or doing yoga this morning, I set the alarm to go off an hour later.  Then I scrolled over to the organizer trying to find another hour in the day.  It took an inordinate amount of time to remember that once I would have used this kvetching time for creating, but when I did remember, it was an ‘A ha’ moment (the nearby slumbering Big Guy just incorporated it into a dream).  Fortunately, I hadn’t scheduled worrying into my night yet, so the slot was free.  Suddenly there was time in the morning to walk the dog, clean, get exercise out of the way, eat, get the kids out of the house, and get to work.  And there was time to sleep.  

This morning the alarm went off an hour later. There was an actual to-do list (something that’s only existed in my imagination until recently).  Another hour later, the must-do’s were done.  The worry was gone, and there was an unscheduled hour, so I sat down to do what I love to do best  – write – and what could only have happened when I started to what I hate to do most – organize.

A Flea Ring Circus

A Flea Ring Circus

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“That looks like fun,” I said, pointing to the placard for the upcoming Bondville fair.  The Big Guy barely registered heard me over the din emanating from the diner into the waiting area, and I let it go.  There was already a circus waiting for us at home.

We had come home from vacation the night before already a little deflated from a two hour delay on our train ride, but we were still looking forward to a family evening of sloth on the couch.  Then thirteen-year-old Jack began yelling from the bathroom, and our homecoming was upended.

 I got to the end of the hall just as Jack raced out of the bathroom, his legs dotted with fleas.  Our dog, still at the kennel for the weekend, had left the larvae as a welcome home gift. Without a furry nest, the pests targeted each of us as we entered.  Fortunately, the upstairs of our house was still closed off and flea-free and, doffing our clothes downstairs, we scuttled out to the car for a hose down and wardrobe change before plotting our next steps.  

Hoping that Google satellite didn’t work too well by twilight, I rummaged through my bag for a clean pair of jeans as the Big Guy and I debated who would carry the best flea remedies at eight o’ clock on a Saturday night.  Three hours and four stores later, we rolled back down the driveway armed with fogger and traps and a strategy, but the vacation aura had seriously begun to fade.

We spent the night camped upstairs, slapping at phantom fleas.  I woke early on Sunday and went for a run, hoping to restore some of the restorative I’d been creating over the last two weeks.  Returning home refreshed, the Big Guy and I commenced the first battle of the day  – fogging the fleas.  The need to get out of the house for a few hours was the perfect excuse to head to the diner for our favorite breakfast, and my spirits continued to rise.  I knew we had a day of laundry and cleaning ahead of us, but nothing is quite as restorative as a meal with no dishes to do.  

Then we walked in the the door.

Almost immediately, I was assaulted by the little vermin.  Yelling to the kids to stay out of the house, I forgot about restoring sprits and began collecting washables while the Big Guy vacuumed up the pests – dead or alive.  For three hours we cleaned and scrubbed, preparing another round of fogger and traps.   All through the day we laundered and cleaned and vacuumed, and it was dark again before we cautiously declared “Mission Accomplished.”  It was a dubious victory – I had cleaned before the vacation, and a day of scouring left us with basically the same house, minus the invaders.  The fleas had rallied once or twice, but by the time we sat down for dinner, any itches were caused by our imaginations.  

More licentious than the itching, however, was the impact a day of hard labor had had on our moods – or so I thought.  Our previously-planned evening of sloth began late, but our boys were still ready for a snuggle on the sofa.  The Big Guy and I were starving and exhausted, but quietly pleased with ourselves.  More than once during the day we had remarked to each other that we make a good team, and that’s not something you always discover on vacation.  It’s something you find out when you’re standing in your underwear the middle of your driveway, frantically trying to find some peace in the chaos.