home is where the mess is

A friend and I recently got into a discussion about hoarders and hoarding. I’m a little fascinated by it, and she had me enraptured with a story of her firsthand experience. I know you’re curious too. It goes like this:

Her neighbor’s front door was ajar for two days. My friend eventually knocked, received no answer and went inside, praying that she wouldn’t find the neighbor dead on the floor. The woman was nowhere to be found. Even if the old lady was there, however, my friend would have had no idea where to find her—trash and debris were stacked to waist-level. Newspapers three years old, mail from 1962, books and soda cans littered the floor. Narrow pathways flanked by hills of garbage meandered through the house. Greasy handprints smeared the wall where the old lady had tried to stabilize herself while navigating her living room. One lone burner was available on the stove; the rest were stacked with garbage and splattered with cooked food. A small worn spot on the couch and a ratty blanket served as the woman’s bed.

My friend left, baffled and a little sickened. The neighbor eventually returned from a long weekend. She never told her neighbor what she had found. My friend later realized that in all the time that they had lived next door to this woman, she had never seen her take her trash or recycling to the curb. Stuff and more stuff kept coming into the house, but nothing ever left.

As much as I was entertained by this story (the A&E show got me a little mesmerized by hoarders), I must admit that I could relate to this poor woman who was being swallowed, quite literally, by her house. The last few days, Husband has been laid up on the couch from surgery. I’ve been the sole Lucy caretaker, nurse to a sick husband, cook, maid, garbage taker-outer, toy putter-awayer, and general clutter master. The thing that has overwhelmed me the most has not been getting breakfast, lunch and dinner on the table or getting my daughter bathed and to bed on time. It hasn’t been being on my feet 10 hours a day or trying to find a half hour to have a cup of coffee and read.

The things that have been the toughest are doing the dishes. Getting the bath toys in the tub. Getting the bath toys out of the tub. Hanging the wet towels. Washing the pajamas. Losing my shoes. Finding my shoes. Tripping over my shoes. Rinsing the coffee press. Locating my book. Locating the page that Lucy ripped out of my book. Trying to make my way through an obstacle course of toys so I can reach the couch so I can read my book. Getting frustrated with the sea of toys. Picking up the sea of toys. Watching my daughter create another sea of toys in 5 seconds flat. Going to Costco. Trying to fit the stuff from Costco into the car on top of the stroller. Unloading the stuff from Costco. Putting away the stuff from Costco. Realizing that I just brought a bunch of stuff into my house that I’ll only have to take care of, put away, recycle, throw out or use up. And the cycle continues.

I realize that I am nothing like a hoarder. If anything, I am a neat freak in a toddler’s world: there is a slim chance of survival. But what all of this fascination with hoarding got me wondering is this: how much of our stuff do we enjoy, and how much of it becomes a burden?

I enjoy reading books, but do I need to keep a collection of 700? Having a book collection means buying lots of bookshelves. Installing them. Organizing them. Dusting them. Lucy loves her toys, but does she need stuffed elephants and monkeys and bears and bunnies? I spend half my day plucking stuffed animals from every corner of the house. What about all of the other miscellaneous junk? Boxes full of office supplies, random electronics, old clothes that I “might” wear in another season. A million board games, ten tons of magazines, CDs up the wazzu. I feel like every year I pare down, making trips to Goodwill and donating stuff to friend’s garage sales. But when you’re constantly bringing more stuff that you don’t really need into your home, it’s a losing battle. It’s a war between what you use everyday and the items that you might use given the right circumstances.

I realize that what I’m complaining about is really a bourgeoisie dilemma. I am so lucky to have the money and the space to have all this stuff. Millions of people around the world would happily enjoy all of the comforts and pleasures that a home filled with stuff provides, or even a home with very little stuff. But are we, the lucky ones who have a world of merchandise at our fingertips, really any happier than the folks who have little? Besides the necessities: food, water, heat, a roof and a place to sleep, what use do we have for all of the other things?

I sound like a hippie. And for all of the fun I make of hippies, in certain areas they’re onto something. Less is more. Waste not, want not. Live Zen. Dog is my copilot.

Okay, scratch that last one. But seriously, people. I’m like two seconds away from selling this joint and moving into a tiny, tiny condo with one closet. My job, besides mother, wife, and blogger off her rocker, is manager of stuff. And it’s not a happy job. It’s messy, frustrating, time-consuming and tests my patience. And we’re not even close to being hoarders; we have very little stuff compared to most American households. My point, friends, if there is one, is how do you strike a balance between the enjoyment of the stuff and the managing of the stuff? Lately, because I’m worn down, worn out, and totally frustrated, I can’t seem to find the Zen. I feel like that old woman, wearing paths around her living room, hands reaching out to the walls to catch my balance.

feeling lucky

We watched the Golden Globes last night. Award shows are like catnip to me–the dresses, the upsets, the embarrassing drunken ramblings of celebrities who’ve had too much Moet. It’s perfection. Superfluous, irrelevant, gaudy, over-the-top perfection.

But this year, it all seemed a little lackluster. A little sad. And for good reason–every Chanel gown and Armani suit was adorned with a ribbon of support for the people of Haiti. Everyone from George Clooney to Sophia Loren seemed like they weren’t really having a good time. Their minds, like the rest of America’s, were elsewhere.

I am not a celebrity. I make no money, and use more of my own than I should, to write this blog. To all twelve of you who will read this today, I want to say thank you. You remind me everyday how lucky I am to be able to have silly hobbies, to amuse myself on a daily basis and to worry about how much garlic should go into my next meal and not about where it will come from.

I am so incredibly blessed to have a warm house with running water, a supportive husband who loves me unconditionally, and a daughter who makes me laugh and cry everyday.

If you have kids, you probably have been cringing at every televised newscast as I have. It seems like every scene is a child being pulled out of the rubble. An infant whose mom was buried. A starving band of orphans. My heart breaks and I feel like I should keep watching. Like if I can get through the newscast, I will be a better person or have proved myself strong in some twisted way. But mostly I feel helpless, sad, forlorn, and there’s nothing I can do but watch.

I know that donation ads are being thrown at you left and right. I’m not going to tell you where, when or how to donate to the cause. That’s your choice to do or not do. For Husband and I, it’s all we can do. We’ve chosen to help in the only way we know how (and, btw, if you work where he does, don’t forget to get it matched). We are not all Brangelina—able to donate millions, adopt refugee children, travel to promote non-profits. But we can do a small thing and hope that our $5 or $50 might bring a moment of solace, a drink of water, or a can of formula to someone in need.

If you’re sitting here reading this blog, you are as lucky as I am. Do what you can, when you can. Hug your kids. Kiss your spouse. Feel lucky. Because we all are, really. We’re here. Alive, safe, and blessed. Able to watch the Golden Globes and think about silly things like how drunk Julia Roberts made a total ass out of herself.


ways in which i am like santa claus

I’m gettin in to the christmas spirit.

Yesterday, with no extra caffeine, no superfluous alcohol consumption, and no one sticking a hot poker at my rear end, I decorated the house. Yep. You heard me correctly. After last week’s excess laziness and much complaining, I miraculously bucked up and took on the whole house in one fell swoop.

Mantle? Done. Big red bows on the front doors (have I told y’all I have two front doors? Odd choice, whoever build this place. Odd choice.)? Check. Lights strung over every eve? Well, no. Husband will do that this weekend. Christmas tree? Umm….not exactly. I got the stand though.

Okay, so I didn’t do the entire house. But during this barrage of decorating, I got to thinking. That is, when Lucy was not tugging at my jeans, eating Cheerios off the floor and biting the cat.

I got to thinking…I’m kind of like Santa Claus.

And here’s why:

1) My belly shakes like a bowl full of jelly. Moms, you know what I’m talkin about. Even after all the pregnancy weight is gone, it’s still…less than taut.

2) I carry around bags of goodies all the time. Sacks of dirty diapers to the trash. A big ‘ol purse full of Cheerios, toys, lip gloss and maybe my wallet and phone. They’re bound to be in there somewhere.

3) Red makes me look fat.

4) I grow white facial hair. Some would call it “blonde.” I call it “a $20 wax.”

5) I make naughty lists all the time. There’s usually only one name on it, though. And it rhymes with “goosey.”

6) I always wear fur. Courtesy of my cat.

Happy getting-ready-for-the-holiday-season!