Everything In Its Place ~ moving in with Mom

Thomas Kinkade oil painting of a 19th century English cottage

In what seems like a quaint Jane Austen novel or a zany nineties sit-com, depending on the moment, my husband and I now live in the same house as my 82-year-old mother in the small town where we grew up. The decision to move back to our hometown to care for Mom was an easy one. More difficult was the logistical issue of combining two very different households into one.

Imagine moving the contents of an average home and times that by two. For someone who values simplicity and order as I do, it was almost too much. For a month before the move, my fitful dreams were filled with visions of multiple toasters, sofas, blenders, ironing boards, pianos, and hangers…so many unmatched hangers!

I made the executive decision to pack up everything from both homes and, in one fell swoop, move it all to the new house on closing day. From there, we would choose what to keep and what to donate. Since Mike and I lean toward minimalism, our mostly functional possessions took up substantially less space than my mother’s.

As box after box was unpacked, each item met its fate. What Mom lacks in simplicity, she makes up for in good taste. In nearly every case, her things trumped ours. Our bed, books, photographs, and collection of heart-shaped rocks were just about the only things that made the cut.

Once we pared down, it was time to put things away. My mantra has always been “a place for everything and everything in its place.” Houses have a way of telling their owners where things naturally belong. Pots and pans go near the stove. Hats and gloves go near the front door. Once you find a perfect home for something, that’s where it should stay.

Within a couple of days after moving, I took Mike and Mom on a walking tour of our house. As I opened every cabinet, closet, and drawer, I proudly waved my hand and said, “Dish towels go here, wine glasses go here, cleaning supplies go here, snacks go here, office supplies go here …” Their eyes glazed over after the wine glasses, but they graciously humored me.

Much like my mom, the new house is more elegant than the contemporary lake house where we used to reside. Her Royal Doulton and Hummel figurines look beautiful on the living room book case. My grandmother’s china cabinet and sparkling crystal are perfect in the traditional dining room. More importantly, I know it all makes Mom feel happy and at home.

A week after moving into our new house, the three of us prepared for dinner as if we’d lived there for years. Mike cooked in the kitchen with ease. Mom gathered placemats and silverware to set the table. I pulled plates and glasses from their rightful spots.

We sat at the dining room table in our usual places. Mike was on one side of me, and Mom was on the other. We clinked our glasses in a toast. I looked around our cozy home and had no doubt everything and everyone was in exactly the right place. §

The Joy of Housekeeping – finding focus, meaning, and gratitude in routine chores

There was a time in my life when I got excited to take a personal day from work just to catch-up on housekeeping. Full-time jobs and kids’ busy schedules meant there were never enough hours in the day to keep up with cleaning, cooking, laundry, and yard work. Now that I’m a retired empty-nester, I have plenty of time for routine chores which have always offered a comforting, grounding rhythm to my life.

As a college student, I couldn’t settle in for a serious study session until my dorm room or apartment was spick-and-span. I wasn’t just procrastinating. Getting my environment in order was part of my study ritual. Doing basic household chores can help us practice the focus required for other areas of life.

In a wonderful little book called A Monk’s Guide to a Clean House and Mind, a Shin-Buddhist monk shares how cleaning methods employed in Zen temples can be used “as a way to cultivate the mind.” It’s a similar lesson to the one we learned from the karate kid’s Mr. Miyagi when he instructed, “Wax on. Wax off.”

After years of unavoidable multi-tasking, I enjoy giving my full attention to a specific task such as cleaning a window, ironing a shirt, or filling the birdbath. It’s during that time when I often come up with my best ideas.

Especially as we get older, routine chores can give structure and meaning to our days. My husband and I both love creating a happy, welcoming home for each other, as well as for friends and family.

Since retiring, my husband has taken over the cooking. He plans the menus, shops for the best ingredients, and takes his time in the kitchen to lovingly prepare delicious and healthy meals. My domain is still cleaning and laundry. I have a daily schedule that helps me accomplish all of my housekeeping within the week.

We both have our own interests and hobbies, but cheerfully doing our daily chores is part of our love language, and they get us up and going when motivation is running a little low. During the pandemic, when nothing seems normal, routine chores add some consistency to our days.

Going about my housework, I can’t help but be filled with gratitude. There’s so much for which to be thankful. Floors to sweep. Clothes to launder. Dishes to wash. Pillows to fluff. Leaves to rake.

As we get older, we naturally have more time to take care of our homes and, I’ve found, more appreciation for each and every day of our life. I recall folding my children’s tiny clothes with only a vague understanding of how quickly they would outgrow them. I held the soft cotton onesies to my nose and inhaled their sweet smell, pausing for just a moment before rushing off to do something more pressing.

These days, there isn’t so much tugging for my attention. As I dust the piano, prune the geraniums, and hang up my husband’s shirts, I’m intensely aware of the simple pleasure it brings me.

Our lives go through dramatic transitions, but one thing that never changes is the necessity of household chores. There were times when I desperately needed a maid or a fairy godmother to keep it all together. At this stage in my life, I’m glad for the time and perspective to view housekeeping as something that brings me focus, meaning, gratitude and, yes, even joy.

The Minimalism Game – what I decluttered in 30 days

The Minimalism Game was invented by a couple of guys named Joshua and Ryan, better known as The Minimalists. The object of their game is to declutter unnecessary possessions over thirty days. The rules are simple. The first day you get rid of one item. The second day, two items. The third day, three items and so on.

I heard about the game years ago, long after I’d set on my own path of simplifying my life. Honestly, I was never interested in playing; it was for amateurs. After all, I’ve been simplifying longer than The Minimalists have been alive! There couldn’t possibly be 465 useless items cluttering my tidy house.

Every shelf in our home holds uniform boxes whose contents are identified by my handy dandy label maker:  Lightbulbs, Stationery, Extension Cords, Makeup, Cold Remedies, Office Supplies, Tools, Hair Accessories, Craft Supplies, Holiday Decorations. You get the idea.

Last month, I decided to play The Minimalism Game. I quickly realized just because everything I own has a place, doesn’t mean I don’t have too much stuff.

For example, I’ve always had a big box labeled “Markers.” Since there was room on the shelf and room in the box, I found no reason to question whether I actually needed three large zip-lock bags filled with colored markers, even though I’m not an artist or a fourth grader.

Thanks to The Minimalism Game, instead of opening my closets and admiring my organizational skills, I examined the contents of each bin, box and drawer searching for broken, duplicate, ineffective, unnecessary and unwanted things. Surprisingly, I decided to let go of some categories entirely, including nail polish, necklaces and DVDs.

I think The Minimalists would agree the real point of the game is to build awareness of our possessions and consciously decide if we want an item to take up space in our life. I’m glad I finally decided to play those boys’ silly game. I might even play again next month.

Here’s exactly what I decluttered playing The Minimalist Game during the month of June.

1st – one picnic cooler
2nd – two book ends
3rd – three expired over-the-counter medications
4th – four power-surge strips
5th – five books
6th – one decorative wax burner and five refills
7th – seven autumn decorations
8th – one shower cap and seven towels
9th – nine magazines and catalogs
10th – ten holiday cookie tins
11th – eleven packages of light bulbs that don’t fit any lights in our home
12th – four shoes, one coffee mug, two bathmats and five mismatched hangers
13th – thirteen cooking utensils and kitchen items
14th – three dog brushes and seven articles of workout gear
15th – fourteen articles of clothing and one pair of winter gloves
16th – four lipsticks, two eyeshadow palettes, two blush palettes and eight hair accessories
17th – two bracelets, three necklaces and obsolete earbuds
18th – twelve bottles of craft paint and six cheap paintbrushes
19th – nineteen Christmas decorations
20th – twenty miscellaneous buttons
21st – twenty DVDs and one DVD player
22nd – ten notepads, two binders and ten non-functioning ink pens
23rd – twenty-three sketchy pantry and refrigerator items
24th – twenty-four notecards with envelopes
25th – twenty-five free return address labels
26th – three bottles of nail polish remover, twelve bottles of nail polish, a five-piece skin care system, six sample-size anti-aging products
27th – twenty-six more DVDs and another DVD player
28th – a box of twenty-eight holiday greeting cards
29th – five shot glasses, four terra cotta pots, two can koozies, three wall decorations, five cans of spray paint, three struggling houseplants and (with a little arm-twisting) seven articles of my husband’s clothing
30th – way more than thirty colored markers §

This article was recently published in Minimalism Life’s Mindful Moments. Click here to read this and similar articles: https://minimalism.substack.com/p/mindful-moments-1ef?utm_campaign=post&utm_medium=email&utm_source=email

 

 

 

Staying Home Brings the Joy of Nesting

My usual enthusiasm for spring cleaning had so far eluded me this year, clouded by cold dreary weather and, oh yes, a pandemic. Fortunately, a lovely pair of doves offered just the motivation to do a little nesting of my own.

As I pulled into a long line of cars at the pharmacy drive-up, I caught a glimpse of an iridescent mourning dove through my rainy windshield. He flew straight into a large evergreen tree carrying something in its beak. Moments later out he darted out on an obvious mission.

He soon swooped back into the tree carrying a twig and a piece of grass. Again he disappeared into the dense foliage for a few seconds, flew out, and returned minutes later carrying more building supplies. Deep in the tree, I spied the bird’s mate busy at work. I watched the pair’s efforts continue for nearly ten minutes until it was my turn at the pharmacy window.

I returned home with the perfect prescription for the blahs. I was inspired to feather our nest! I shared my new-found enthusiasm with my husband by telling him what I’d learned about the nesting habits of mourning doves.

The female dove actually builds the nest with twigs, conifer needles and grass gathered by the male. In an impressive act of teamwork, the male stands on the female’s back and gives her the supplies while she assembles the nest. (I’m not suggesting this exact process, but teamwork is always a good idea.)

Our orders to stay at home during the Coronavirus outbreak is the perfect time to do what comes naturally in springtime ~ nesting. I don’t know what’s on your home to-do list, but it probably falls into similar categories as ours.

Tidying ~ Cupboards, drawers, closets, shelves and surfaces in every room can use a once-over to straighten and reorganize for the new season.

Cleaning ~ In addition to routine cleaning, spring is a good time to do those annual or bi-annual chores we tend to put off. Cleaning behind the refrigerator isn’t very exciting, but it might be more rewarding than another show on Netflix.

Decorating ~ Simply rearranging what we already have can help us appreciate our treasures even more. A few cut daffodils or budding limbs from the yard add a pretty touch of spring.

Indoor Projects ~ We all have those nagging little tasks that need to be done such as patching nail holes, painting chips and tightening loose screws. Make a list and tackle them one by one.

Outdoor Projects ~ When the weather cooperates, get outside and sweep the porch, do some yard work or take on a bigger job. Mike and I are tearing down an old shed and building a new one.

It’s a project that requires teamwork. He tried standing on my back, but it’s easier if I just hold the ladder. §

Letting Go of Leaves and Things

On a crisp autumn morning I shuffled into the kitchen in my robe and slippers and stopped. Something was different. Our home was flooded with bright golden light. Through the glass doors, the rising sun, usually filtered by thick woods, was in full view. Falling leaves cast confetti-like shadows on the floor and walls. They danced and swirled through the air singing, “It’s time to let go…”

I was suddenly inspired me to let go of a few things myself. The trees showed me the way. I remembered how their budding leaves thrilled us when they appeared in the spring. How they shaded us all summer and graced us with their autumn colors. Soon their leaves would lay on the ground like faded and forgotten toys.

I was reminded most things in life aren’t meant to hold onto forever ~ that’s what people and memories are for.

I spent the day searching our home for things to let go. By afternoon the pile on our kitchen table included a cheap shirt that looked shabby after one wash, a miracle cream that wasn’t, two scratchy throw pillows, an avocado slicer that works no better than a paring knife, old towels, a pair of uncomfortable shoes, a couple decorative doodads, a stack of magazines and a few good books someone else might enjoy.

Are there things in your home you’d like to let go of? Worn-out things. Useless things. Ugly things. Broken things. Meaningless things. Uncomfortable things. Too many things. Perfectly wonderful things that don’t suit your season of life.

Don’t over think it. It’s kind of like raking leaves. There are lots of ways to tackle the job. Just start somewhere.

It’s amazing how letting go of a few things can change our perspective. With the clutter gone, I saw our home in a new light. I appreciated its bones. I noticed a subtle shift in the way the rooms felt, in the way I felt. I think I even found a little clarity under some of that stuff.

That evening I watched the sun sink below the horizon. The clear autumn sky seemed endless, and my view of the lake was unobstructed. Bare trees stood like graceful sculptures, and I thanked them for showing me how to let go. §

The Simple Swan Movie Premier (sort of)

I wanted to share this beautiful short video I wrote for a popular YouTube channel, Inspired by Nikki!

Nikki Moreno, a lovely and talented videographer, filmed this stunning four-minute video at Mount Charleston, Nevada and narrated it with words from my recent essay, “Winter Inspires Simplicity.” Nikki directed and starred in this video which premiered on her YouTube channel today. I’m excited to collaborate with Nikki on more projects in the future.

To receive an email of each new blog post, please subscribe at http://www.thesimpleswan.com. If my writing offers you inspiration, encouragement or joy, please consider becoming a patron for as little as $1 a month. Go to http://www.patreon.com/thesimpleswan.

Have a wonderful day! I’ll be back with a new essay or story on Sunday. ~Alicia

P.S. If you have trouble seeing the video, try this link instead. https://youtu.be/KlY4yMClEE8

City Mouse, Country Mouse

 

The past few years my husband I had many discussions about our retirement plans. Consideration of family and budget helped narrow our choices, but we were still undecided. The question remained ~ did we want to live as the proverbial city mouse or country mouse?

Sometimes we dreamed of living in a sharp condo in the city. “We could go to concerts, sporting events, and restaurants,” Mike said. “You know how I love the arts,” I added. “We could be patrons of the theatre, ballet, and symphony.”

Yes, we would enjoy the life of a city mouse.

Sometimes we dreamed of living in a secluded cabin on a lake. “We could hike, kayak, and swim,” Mike said. “You know how I love nature,” I added. “We could be surrounded by peace and quiet.”

Yes, the life of a country mouse would be wonderful.

On little more than an instinctual whim, this past spring we moved to a lake house in woods. Recently, we spent a weekend in Chicago visiting our daughter who lives and works amid the hustle and bustle of the city.

We sipped champagne in a swanky bar while listening to a jazz trio play Etta James. We strolled through a museum, standing inches from beautiful works of art. We dined at hip restaurants and tasted trendy cuisine. The city was exciting and energizing.

From inside a taxi, I watched throngs of people rush past each other. The driver blared his horn and braked sporadically to avoid unpredictable pedestrians. It reminded me of driving the winding roads near our house, stopping for animals that run out of the woods without warning.

The crowds in the crosswalk turned into forest animals. Deer tottered in high heels, foxes talked on cell phones, and hipster turtles strolled slowly across the road. I shook my head to stop my silly imagination and realized I was a little homesick.

We were sightseeing at Navy Pier, Chicago’s busiest summer tourist spot. To escape the crowds, we found a table tucked in the corner of a restaurant patio. Instead of looking at the magnificent view of the Windy City rising up from the shoreline of Lake Michigan, Mike and I quietly watched a handful of birds enjoy a pile of discarded French fries.

He looked at me and said definitively, “Honey, I’m a country mouse.”  I smiled and winked, “Me too.”

The city will always be a nice place to visit, but we’re thrilled we followed our intuition and retired to the country. True, there isn’t nearby shopping, restaurants, or cultural entertainment. But we drift to sleep to the soothing sound of crickets and bullfrogs in the still, starry night. We rarely find ourselves in a line of cars or people. And we will never tire of working and playing alongside our forest friends who live in our neck of the woods.

And so, in the simple life of a country mouse, they lived happily ever.

 

Accepting the Nature of Things

Nature invited us to move to the boonies of southern Indiana on a snowy winter day. As we drove the hilly, winding roads, a captivating mist rose over the frozen water, a deer’s marble brown eyes stared into our own, and the first bluebird we’d ever seen sang us a cheerful song. It was nature that brought us here, and it is nature that offers us daily inspiration and wisdom.

About The Nature of Things~ 

Seasons come and go, and no amount of wishing will speed them up or slow them down. As much as we longed for spring to arrive, the bare trees took an extra long time this year to fill with tiny, promising buds. Day after day, we dipped our toes in chilly lake water, anxious for it to be warm enough to jump in. Now, as we bob around on rafts in the hot summer sun, it’s difficult to imagine the lake covered in ice, or the trees without their vast green canopy. Much the same, it’s hard to fathom we’ve reached the season of having adult children and retirement plans.

Houses are built with a certain nature that should be honored. When I pictured my dream home on a lake, it was a quaint cottage much like the one Snow White stumbled upon. It took me a little while to accept that our home is a funky, contemporary design with straight lines and sharp angles. This house isn’t cute and charming. It’s bold and earthy, and I love it.

Like houses, people are built with a certain nature that should be honored. Nature reminds us that a rose doesn’t try to be a daisy, an oak tree doesn’t try to be an evergreen, and a woodpecker doesn’t try to be a hummingbird. Why do we so often try to be something we’re not? I own that I’m a friendly introvert who wears my heart on my sleeve, and I’m fully aware I do quirky and annoying things in search of peace, beauty, and simplicity. As we learn to accept and honor our own nature, we have an easier time doing the same for others.

Nature can be messy, wild, and unpredictable. When Mike sees me picking up sticks or pulling weeds on our property, he shakes his head and teases, “It’s the woods!” I’m slowly learning that trying to control mother nature is futile. As cute as forest animals are, they can present problems. Cold, heat, sun, rain, and wind can ruin our possessions and our plans. That’s just the way it is. Nature can bring magnificent beauty one minute and utter chaos the next. Isn’t that just like life?

We live closer to nature here in our house in the woods. Cohabitating with trees, water, and wildlife has convinced me that everything in life expresses a certain undeniable nature. I’m grateful to be reminded of the wisdom in accepting, appreciating, and honoring the nature of things.