Merry, Merry, Happy, Happy?

My paper mosaic Nativity.  All paper shapes, pieces, hand cut by me.

It’s that time of the year, again.  The Holidaze are here.

Please don’t read into this blog and think that I’m depressed.  Maybe I am, but I don’t really see it that way.  And if I am depressed, it has more to do with S.A.D. (Seasonal Affective Disorder) than the actual holiday.

First of all, I work in retail.  Sure, my shop is a niche market, but that doesn’t mean I don’t feel the rush and hubbub that is the end of year gift giving frenzy of the retail sector.  What it does mean, however, is that just like most who work in retail, my holiday spirit spark of joy fizzles out before December.

My solution to this, is that next year I’m going to try and do the bare minimum for all the holiday stuff happening in the village, but not much else.  The gifty ideas and inventory will arrive in November, and I’ll showcase it starting around Thanksgiving and through early January.  At least that’s my plan right now.  

Also, I’ve noticed that in the past that the gift idea bits and bobs don’t really do well for me, so I didn’t order any this year.  Maybe it’s the new location and the growing patron base, but I’ve had more requests for those things this year than I ever had before.  So I’m going to try and up that next season – I wrote both these ideas on my 2019 calendar, but actually remembering it and following through will be the hard part.  

Then there’s the fact that neither The Goat nor I have family locally.  That in itself isn’t unusual anymore.  What is unusual is that we don’t “go home” for Christmas or have people visit us here, which makes for a nice, quiet Christmas without the rush of trying to cram all the family visits into a 48 hour period and overeating because one or more family member will be upset if you aren’t at their house for a meal.  But once again, all of our gift giving and celebrating is over before Christmas even arrives.  We see The Goat’s family over Thanksgiving, and my family all live far enough away that gifts are sent via the post.

Then there’s the whole religious aspect of Christmas.  Even as a pre-teen/ young adult, I didn’t understand why Christmas was often a bigger “event” than Easter.  They both have ties to Christ, family dinners, and fictional benevolent beings bestowing gifts. 

Christmas, however, has a perceived necessary larger monetary gift giving tradition, while most adults never even think about what they’re getting for Easter.  Radio stations don’t play Easter songs for weeks prior to Easter.  Can you even name an Easter song that is’t a hymn?  Peter Cottontail is the only one that comes to my mind.  Many have started decorating for Easter, but not like they do for Christmas. 

And have you ever heard anyone claim there’s a War on Easter?  No.  Because most people understand that it’s a (mostly) religious holiday, even non-Christians who still give their kids Easter Baskets.  Many people even accept the religious aspect while acknowledging that many of the Easter traditions are mash-ups of pagan or other religions’ traditions related to Spring and rebirth.  Yet, for some reason, these same people often get angry when you suggest that Christmas traditions are also a mash-up of pagan and other religions’ traditions related to Winter and they “death of Mother Nature”. 

Why has this always bothered me?  Because from a religious standpoint, Christmas is essentially, at its most basic, a really big birthday party.  While Easter,  is a celebration of what makes Christians Christians – Jesus’ final act as a human on earth, the resurrection and redeeming of humanity.   To me, everyone has to be born (even if it a miraculous virgin birth), but resurrection and redemption of the human race?  Now that doesn’t happen every day!

I’ve come to understand, more fully, now that I am learning to live with S.A.D., why the lights and festivities surrounding Christmas are so important for our morale, especially in cold, dark, winter climates.  And maybe that’s the sole reason for the difference in celebration exuberance between Easter and Christmas, but it still always leaves me wondering. 

If you live in a warmer climate and Easter is the bigger holiday, please let me know!  I’d love to hear about it.  After all, Christmas and Easter don’t fall during the same seasons everywhere on the planet, and there are even places that don’t celebrate them as a legal holidays.

All of these factors, and the glum weather, have compounded this year and have made me less enthused about Christmas than I usually am.  After all, I love listening to Christmas music, wrapping gifts, Christmas trees, and Christmas cookies (that’s another thing, you know you can make “Christmas Cookies” any time of the year, right?).

I don’t enjoy the expectations that every Christmas is a perfect scenario of family and friends, sparkly things, and amazing gifts.  In the movie National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, Clark Griswold had this idealized, perfect, Christmas in mind.  If you’ve seen the movie, you know how that ends.

Often, many of us do the same.  And in doing so stress ourselves out over what is supposed to be a birthday party for a saviour that’s been gone for over 2,000 years!  I’m not trying to trivialize it, I consider myself a Christian.  But seriously, is there anyone else who’s been gone for even 100 years for whom you’d throw this kind of a birthday party?   

Again, try not to read to much into this blog.  I’m not trying to be a Grumpy Gus, I’m just trying to think things through and come to terms with the fact that my expectations surrounding Christmas need to be reexamined.  After all, Christmas isn’t the only thing celebrated during the time surrounding the first day of winter.  Why should any of us expect Christmas to outshine all the other traditions of the season?  In examining my expectations and rethinking everything else happening at this time of the year.  I’m hoping to relight that spark that gets extinguished so early in the season of light, hope, and love. 

Merry, Merry, Happy, Happy to you and yours.  May 2019 bring many good things into your life.



Dream House is (Almost) Home

It’s a funny thing, when I picture my “dream house” I often envision one of four scenarios (I love old buildings!) – a big old Victorian home, a smallish Arts and Crafts style bungalow, an above the store apartment, or a nonconventional building turned house (barn, church, gas station, etc.).  But they all have a few things in common:

  • It’s in a community where I can walk or ride a bike to most every place I’d need to get to, including work and the grocery.
  • It would also be as energy efficient as possible.
  • It would have a space that serves as a library and/or office.
  • There would be a space for all of our various creative supplies.
  • There would be a garage-like space in which The Goat could work on our bicycles and we could store our outdoor gear and tools.  If this space is an actual garage, it would be large enough to also include space for a car.
  • The kitchen is large enough for both of us to cook, can, and brew.  It would include a pantry and a place for the few appliances we do have.  It would also be large enough to be an eat-in kitchen.

Taking all of this, and the few necessary rooms (living room, bedrooms, laundry and bathroom) into account, our current home could come pretty close.  Some of our current spaces just aren’t being used well – like our dining room.  We don’t use it for eating in, entertaining, or in any other “dining room” capacity, so why do we keep it as a dining room?  Would it be a better library/office for us?

One of the big issues for me right now is our stuff.  We’ve got a lot of stuff.  Not enough to be hoarders or terribly cluttered, but enough that it’s not practical to rearrange and repurpose rooms without seriously considering each item and its purpose in our home.

I’ve been really trying to push myself into decluttering and reorganizing.   So far I’ve donated countless boxes to Salvation Army, and am slowly working my way through the house decluttering what I can.  This is difficult because we’ve been married for 20 years (when did that happen?) and items belong to me, both of us or The Goat.  I can only critically sort through those items that are specifically mine or that are broken, beyond repair, or no longer of use.

I’ve also been reading books or listening to podcasts about decluttering, minimizing, and downsizing.   One of the books I just finished reading is “Letting Go: Downsizing Your Way to a Richer, Happier Life” by Peter Walsh (Rodale, 2017).  While this book was more situational because it was assuming there was a life change forcing you or your parents to downsize, it reiterated  a common theme from other books and podcasts – we are not our stuff.

Compared to the KonMari Method, the “Letting Go” method is more unstructured.  Which made the book seem more vague, but not any less helpful, in my opinion.  I realize that sounds like a contradiction, but if the structure of the KonMari method seems strange and unlikely to work for you, a book like “Letting Go” may be more helpful.  While I enjoyed the books by Marie Kondo, many Americans find it unreasonable because of the amount of stuff we tend to accumulate, the “Letting Go” method is a bit more “lax” and never even touches on things like paperwork or discarding family photos.  (See my previous blog to learn a bit more about the KnoMari method.)

However, like Marie Kondo’s books and many minimalism books and podcasts, Walsh’s book, repeatedly reminds the reader that it’s not one’s material possessions that make us who we are.  He also states that downsizing is actually a normal part of life, and that we should view it more as an opportunity.

According to Walsh, what often makes downsizing so difficult for many of us is that we are often forced to downsize due to a major life change, and even if that change is positive, it comes with it’s own stressors and uncertainty.  That in turn makes sorting through our possessions stressful because of all of the “what-ifs” (What if I need this later? etc.) and memories associated with our stuff.

One of the major themes that runs through “Letting Go” is to keep only the “best” of an item.  For example, if someone you loved had a collection of items and you’re now tasked with downsizing their belongings, only keep one or two items from their collection that you feel represents them best.

He also suggests letting go of anything that brings up negative emotions, like sadness.  If and item makes you sad because it reminds you of the loss of a loved one, get rid of it!  It’s likely that you have good memories of that person too, so why hang onto something that makes you sad instead of happy when you think of them?

He also states that your home is your home.  Items that made your parents or loved ones happy don’t have to make you happy.  It’s ok to accept this and find other homes for items that belonged to them – you don’t need to take everything.  Only keep items that bring you joy and mean something to you or that you will use now.  It’s ok to let everything else go.

Sounds simple doesn’t it?  But we all know how hard it can really be.  We tend to attach a lot of sentiment to items, whether we want to admit it or not.  Our homes are full of things we worked hard to purchase, items that were gifts, mementos of long gone family members.  It can be overwhelming to go through it all.

This is where I find myself mashing the information I’ve recently gathered about decluttering.  “Does it bring me joy, do I treasure it?  Does it serve an immediate purpose or function?   No?  Then let it go!  Yes?  Where does it belong or live in the house?

I don’t think I’ll finish this task anytime soon.  It’s exhausting.  But I will keep trying, after all, it’s not about getting rid of everything or living with less.   It’s about creating a living space that helps one live their best life.  For some, that’s a clinically modern apartment, for some, that’s a cozy cottage.  For us, it’s pretty close to what we’ve got.


Toys Will Be Toys

I recently read “The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up; The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing” and it’s sequel, “Spark Joy” by Marie Kondo.  Is it going to change my life?  Probably not in the big ways suggested throughout the book, but I’m really glad I read it, and I’m already trying to put as much of it’s information to use as I can.  And believe me, combined, there is a lot of information in these two tomes.

If you’re not familiar with these books, the first one was originally released in 2011.  It’s been a best seller, and has made waves in the news as a revolutionary way to declutter and as an abject failure as a decluttering method – depending on which review or article you read.  Her books have been so popular/ successful that the system she outlines in the books is now referred to as the “KonMari Method”.  Go ahead, Google it, it really is a “thing”; spell check even accepts it.

The naysayers tend to expand upon common themes.  Most of them say the KonMari Method won’t work for Americans.  We have larger homes.  Most of Japan is urban.  At the time of the first publication, the author didn’t have kids, kids come with stuff. We cook differently.  We prioritize things differently based on our cultural norms.  We have larger (generational) families and therefore more family heirlooms.  You get the idea.

To be fair to Ms. Kondo, it says right in the title, “The Japanese art of decluttering and organizing”, so you know starting on page 1, that there may be a few things that don’t make sense to someone who isn’t Japanese.  For me however, that was one of the reasons I wanted to read it – that and I’m feeling overwhelmed by stuff right now.

As Americans, we tend to live in a culture of stuff.  Advertising is constantly telling us we need to upgrade gadget X, replace unit G, eat the latest super food to live a better life, and change our wardrobe for the latest colors of the season.  McMansions are an everyday sight.  Many Americans believe that cars are a right, rather than a privilege of those that can afford them.  Then there’s the whole “He Who Dies with the Most Stuff Wins” attitude that so many of us have.  So sure, for the average American, her books might be an affront to what we don’t realize are cultural ideals.

I’m not saying that if you think her books are hoey that you’re being ignorant of cultural differences or that I think your lifestyle should be criticized.  You’re right.  Her books won’t make sense to many people because of a number of cultural differences.  It’s likely that a similar book on decluttering written by an American author wouldn’t make much sense to the majority of a Japanese readership either.

As mentioned, I’ve been feeling overwhelmed by stuff lately.  Our house, which is plenty large enough for The Goat and I, is still considered small by many Americans’ standards.  Because of this, we naturally don’t have as much stuff as some people simply because we lack the space to keep it.  However, I don’t want to give the impression that we’re minimalists.  I’d say we fall somewhere smack in the middle between hoarder and minimalist.  Which is likely a good place to be if you’re trying to declutter – there’s bound to be some excess, but not enough that the excess will be overwhelming.  Which also means, I was likely at a good place, mentally, to read these two books.

Did I agree with everything in the book and feel the need to jump head first into tidying our home using the KonMari Method?  Yes, and no.

She offers a proper order of attack by categorizing your belongings and working on one category at a time, in a specific order.  For example, start with your clothes, then move on to the other categories, with sentimental items always being last. Which makes some sense, but to my mind, leaves out a lot, or rather, the KonMari Method has really large categories.  She does expound upon the order in the “Spark Joy” and acknowledges that there will be subcategories or additional categories added or removed from each person’s list based on their life and lifestyle.

Based on my personal schedule and obligations, I’m not likely to follow the order given, however, one of the big takeaways from this categorical listing is that we should declutter by use, not by location.  All that means is that if you’re sorting your books, you do ALL of your books at one time, not the ones in your office one day, and the ones in your living room the next time you’re cleaning the living room.  By conquering them all at once, you get a better understanding of how many you actually have and it makes it easier to edit your collection in a methodical manner.

Simple idea, but it made sense to me, and I needed to hear it – especially as someone who keeps shoes by the door and in the closet, books in just about every room, medicine in the kitchen and the bathroom, and cleaning supplies in the pantry, bathroom, and kitchen.  Having to remember where all the same items are, also helps me realize how many of them we have and if they’re being stored in the best place possible.

Which brings me to another idea expressed in the books – the idea that every object “lives” somewhere.  I have a number of family members, myself included, who have been known to say something like, “That doesn’t live there.  I need to put it away.”  Because for some reason, and I don’t know where it comes from, we have a strong sense of where we think things belong, or “live”.  We often us “lives” the way many use “goes” (“The soda lives on the bottom shelf”, for example.)

Another interesting idea expressed in Ms. Kondo’s books is the idea of inanimate objects “wanting” to be of use.  Basically, every item was created for a purpose, and every item wants to fulfil that purpose.  Receipts want to noted, books want to be read, clothes want to be worn, bowls want to hold things, greeting cards want to say “Hello!”.  And once they have fulfilled their purpose for you, it’s ok to thank them and send them on – be it by disposing of it or donating it so that it can serve its purpose for someone else.  Sometimes this is a long term thing, such as with clothes or furniture.  Other times it’s a quick process, like with receipts or magazines.

This is a cultural thing, and she does explain that in one of the books, so it might sound a bit odd, or even new age-y to some.  To some it might even sound a bit sacreligious or as if we’re giving objects souls.  However, as someone who has been known to name and talk to her cars, trees, and appliances, it made sense to me.

Reading about this concept made me mentally sigh in relief while picturing Disney’s Belle chit chatting with a tea cup, candlestick, and other furniture and household items.  I realized that it’s ok to pass along something that I once loved but no longer wear or use – think Jessie the yodeling cowgirl from Toy Story 2, all she wanted was an owner.  These two children’s movies exemplify the same idea, our stuff wants to be of use.  Is it really so simple that children understand it innately, but we dismiss it outright as we get older?

With minimalism being a huge trend of late, there are many people searching for a method of clutter management that works for them.  It is quite possible that Ms. Kondo’s tidy little self help empire (yes, the pun was intended) may have been the result of being in the right place at the right time.  Even though I don’t plan on following all the steps and tips in her books, I would recommend the books to anyone feeling overwhelmed by their stuff.

I know the concepts and ideas she covers may not be new to many, and many of them weren’t new to me either.  It was reading about it from a non-American point of view that helped reinforce a few counter cultural ideas that tumble out of my brain occasionally.  Getting another culture’s overall perspective on something as personal as one’s home and belongings was both inspiring and interesting – I can do something to manage this chaos we call home, even if we don’t have any enviable Japanese style closets.  And I really should pass along a few of my toys, afterall, they just want to be toys.

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