I’ve been whacking away at this long and unfocused ramble of a blog essay for well over a month now. But as I don’t know where it was meant to go, I don’t know how to edit it down. I think I’ll let it stand and finally just post it; but put it up it in a few consecutive posts so as to keep it a bit more manageable.
Yes, I suppose it’s that time again. I’m in the midst of the second trimester (Or I was when I started this. Now I guess I’m firmly into the third. See what I mean, this is something I’ve been writing for a while.) and have a greater measure of energy and my only physical ailment is that my back only aches most of the time. Now I find myself obsessed with to do lists and organizational schemes and the like. People keep telling me I’m nesting. I’m not sure why. My house is not all that clean. (Oy you should see my muddy kitchen floor!) I still have so much to do before baby Benedict gets here in July….
Nesting is more than just cleaning, though. It is preparing a space both physically and spiritually for a new person, for Benedict, to join our family. In the next few months I plan to move furniture about, pack away all the girl baby clothes we obviously won’t be needing, clean the house, create a space to welcome our family’s newest member. Once he arrives we know that everything will reshape itself in subtle and not so subtle ways to take him into account.
Turning to the Self-Help Gurus
During this time of waiting I find myself stumbling again and again upon all sorts of books and blogs about housekeeping, time management and uncluttering. Generally my first reaction when I find myself reading these things is to dismiss them offhand as not applying to me. Then I reconsider and realize that I’m desperately in need of the solution they’re peddling. Then I realize that their solution isn’t me at all. And so goes the see-saw of my love-hate relationship with the volumes of advice that is very seldom crafted to be easily adaptable to a wife and mother who is in the midst of having crises at irregular but frequent intervals that amount to dramatic upheavals to her entire family situation, i.e. I’m on my fourth pregnancy since I got married less than four years ago.
As I prepare for this new birth I start to question everything and the advice gurus don’t help. All my routines, what we eat, the rhythm of our days, it all gets tossed into the ring to be reconsidered as I try to think how we can possibly accommodate a new baby. I find myself increasingly wanting to organize and make room for him and increasingly frustrated by my own limitations. We have a not very large house and not very much storage space. How is it going to work to fit in another person, even if at first he will only be a very small person?
I Just Can’t Fly
Of course the best known self-help guru is the Fly Lady and I have looked at her page. Several times over the past few years. Let’s just say I’m very glad she works for some people but her way is not my way. She lost me at the whole putting on shoes thing. I’m not a shoe wearer, I’m barefoot woman. Yes, I get that it’s symbolic but she still loses me there. And the kitchen sink thing too. I tried it. Just doesn’t do it for me. I’m not eager to let her start cluttering up my inbox with emails I’m bound to ignore and set up a guilt avalanche for myself. So I decided long ago to stay away. Far away.
Two Kinds of People?
It occurs to me as I go rambling down this path—I’m not sure where I’m going here but please bear with me—it occurs to me that there are two kinds of people in the world: those who despise clutter and those who are packrats. I am a packrat.
There, I’ve confessed it! I want to get rid of at least some of the clutter in my life. But I can’t quite get past all these emotional attachments that I know are ridiculous and yet that always seem to stay my hand at the crucial moment of truth.
All the books and methods I’ve ever encountered for decluttering and household organization seem to be written by the first type of person. They declare: Just do it! As if it were that simple for us poor packrat types. They never tell you how to deal with the sentiment that always creeps up and catches you in the moment of resolve.
The Fly Lady, for example tells you to just start going at a room and tossing everything that doesn’t make you smile. Yeesh. If I tried to use that criteria I’d be stuck in one corner for forever trying to analyze my own feelings. If it were that simple I’d have done it already!
My Dirty Little Secrets
But perhaps I should provide a few examples to illustrate my point.
Exhibit One: Moldy bath toys covered in patches of black mildew and filled with ick inside their hollow bodies should be a simple one: Just toss them! We can always get more. Heck, we actually have more bath toys that have never gone into the bath—most of them hiding in the basket of toys in the living room.
Yet just when I think I can do it, sweep them up into the garbage and dump them in the outside barrel while the girls are napping, I get second thoughts: Perhaps some bleach and a toothbrush and a bunch of elbow grease can revive them? Why? Because that shark is the one that first got Bella to stop crying in the bath. I used to always play “shark attack” with her, having it swim under the water making dum dum, dum dum sounds from the Jaws soundtrack and attacking her belly, feet, and knees with cries of “Shark Attack!” And there’s the turtle. Dom used to put him on the faucet and Bella would call, “Ready, set,” and then Dom would flip him into the water to shrieks of laughter. And there is the pelican with his song: “Crazy, crazy pelican, he’s going to eat your belly again.” And Bela naming each one as she helped to put them into the bowl at the end of bath time, “Can you put the manta ray in the bowl? Can you put the puffer fish in the bowl? Can you put the crabby in the bowl?”
(I did eventually toss them but I had to let them get so disgusting that I couldn’t convince myself they could be cleaned. Anything less than that and I couldn’t break up with them. The thing is that as nasty as they were they did make me smile. And I’m still kinda sad they’re gone.)
Sacrament or Sentiment
The memories are in myself, though, and not in the things. And yet it is human nature. Isn’t it the same impulse (or at least a kissing-cousin to the bath-toy hoarding impulse) that leads us to venerate relics of saints? The awareness that as physical beings we need the physical to help us make connection, to keep memory alive and to confront the past? The Church has never taught a dichotomy between the material and the spiritual worlds. It has never taught that material things are bad. And yet we are told to seek detachment. Jesus points us to the lilies of the field, the rich young man goes away sad because he cannot give away all he has, St Francis does give away all he has, monastics take vows of poverty.
I know there’s a distinction here somewhere, but it’s hard to grasp. Especially when in the grips of all these raging hormones. And so the sentimentalist undoes all the work of the unclutterer and I get caught up in webs of philosophizing and theologizing instead of just tossing things into trash bags and boxes.
Listening to The Return of the King one day in the car I came to the point where Sam is unloading all the last things out of his pack to prepare for the final ascent of Mount Doom. He finds himself attached to things if for no other reason than becasue he’s carried them so far and through so many adventures. Tolkien understood how difficult it is to relieve ourselves of things that any sane person would consider burdens.
Here I am toiling up a mountain why can’t I join Sam in a clear-eyed triage and jettison everything we don’t really need?
Don’t turn that dial, I’ve got still more thoughts on this subject but it will have to wait until I can get them into a bit more coherent shape.
Here’s Part 2: In which I Depart on a Tangent