The Elegance of (Finally!) Organizing Our Family Photos

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Did you hear that deep sigh of relief? It was just me, basking in the satisfaction of finally organizing heaps and heaps of family photographs into labeled storage boxes that fit perfectly in a single living room cabinet. I’m feeling as light as a feather and breathing deeper than I have in a long time.

I like to keep a home that is fairly minimal and well-organized, but our messy stash of family photos became my dirty little secret, much like Monica Geller’s closet on Friends. I think what pushed me to finally deal with them was a book on Swedish death cleansing. Don’t worry, it’s not as morose as it sounds. The idea left me totally inspired to get all of my personal things in order. (Look for an upcoming post on the topic.)

I did make cute scrapbooks for my children as they went from birth through their high school graduation, but that barely made a dent in our photo collection, and another decade has now come and gone. I’ve tried to tackle the ever-growing heap, but I get overwhelmed by the sheer volume of the photos and the emotions that inevitably come along with a trip down memory lane.

After our last move, all the photos ended up hidden away in six deep drawers of a large bedroom dresser. We’ve since randomly tossed in more and more photos, greeting cards, notes, and special memories.

But wait, it gets worse.  When my mother moved in with us, she brought along a big cedar chest filled to the brim with thousands of loose photographs spanning more than 100 years. Stick your hand in the chest and it might come out with a picture of my grandfather as a baby, my parents’ wedding, my first loose tooth, my sister’s prom date, a pet from 1972, my daughter’s college graduation, or someone nobody knows.

If you can relate and could use some inspiration, let me share my process. It’s certainly not the only way, but it got the job done.

Sort Photos:
This took me a full week. I dumped manageable-sized heaps of photos on the floor where I sat sorting into piles around me. Me…my daughter…my stepson…my husband…my mom… my sister…my grandmother…my niece…my son… my step-daughter…my dad…with a cadaver! (Seriously, he was in dental school.) Everybody’s family is different, so just start making piles and see how they start to shape up. Take a break when your head or back starts to hurt or you feel emotionally drained. It can be an exhausting process even without pictures of cadavers.

Purge Photos:
While you go through each and every picture, have a criteria for what to keep. I decided to immediately toss photos that are:
*duplicates of the same event/people
* blurry, dark, or unclear
* unflattering of the person in the photo
* shots of nature or tourist sights
* of people you barely know
*of cadavers

Give Photos Away:
I don’t think we are obliged to run around giving people photographs we come across during our sorting. However, since I was doing this project on behalf of my family, I was more than happy to box up and ship hundreds of photos to my two sisters who live in other states. I told them the photos were coming and to feel free to do with them whatever they wished.

Organize Photos: 
There are lots of ways to organize photos. After careful consideration, I think I did the simplest thing. I went to Hobby Lobby and bought all of the large-size photo storage boxes they had. It turned out fourteen boxes worked perfectly for us. In case it might help, here’s how they’re labeled:
*Alicia – childhood photos & personal pursuits
*Mike – childhood photos & personal pursuits
*Woodward – family photos
*Fry – family photos
*Alicia & Mike – our photos together
*One box for each of our children and grandchild
*One box for each of our daughter’s weddings
*Alicia’s Keep – special cards, notes, and letters
*Mike’s Keep – special cards, notes, and letters

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My Thoughts On Digitizing Old Photos:
I know a lot of people recommend scanning and digitizing old photos to get rid of the physical clutter. In fact, that’s what I was going to do, but I decided against it for several reasons.
*Services like Legacy Box are expensive.
*We have photos from 1900 that still look fine, so I’m not particularly worried about our photos aging.
*I love the idea of pulling out a box and looking through the photos.
*I suspect any digital format available will eventually become obsolete.
*I like the ease of having the physical photos and not having to log on to a computer to find the photo I’m looking for.
*We can easily add to the boxes or add more boxes, if needed.
*Finally, I like knowing that upon my passing from this realm, our children can easily take the boxes they are interested in.

If your family photos are in order, I applaud you. I know it’s a huge job. If it’s something you’ve yet to do, I hope this encourages you. It really does feel great to have it done, and I was surprised by something unexpected. I truly feel I’ve honored the people in those photographs, especially the ones who are no longer with us, by making it easy to open a box and see their smiling faces again. §

“Photographs and memories
Christmas cards you sent to me
All that I have are these
To remember you”

~Jim Croce

The Elegance (and Poetry) of Space Clearing

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The beautiful change in the weather energized, motivated, and inspired me to take care of two projects on my list ~ refresh our home for fall and prepare for a haiku workshop I’m teaching this weekend. I didn’t expect the separate to-do items to intermingle, but that they did.

As part of my seasonal cleaning routine, I did some space clearing. Space clearing is the art of removing stagnant, negative energy from a building. It’s not as woo-woo as it sounds. There are many techniques, but it can be as simple as opening all the windows with the intention of releasing stale, heavy air and replacing it with bright, positive energy.

After cleaning, decluttering, and opening all the windows for a couple of hours, our home was absolutely sparkling with clarity and good vibes. I felt a boost of creativity, and planning for my poetry workshop was a breeze.

Here’s a simple haiku I wrote to express the feeling ~

open window day
breeze floats in on angel wings
heart and home renewed

“And the sunsets of autumn – are they not gorgeous beyond description?
More so that the brightest dreams of poetry?
~Charles Lanman

Come Sit With Me

Welcome to our backyard ~ I’m so glad you stopped by. Won’t you sit with me for a minute? My husband designed and built this little goldfish pond and waterfall especially for summer evenings like this. As the sun lingers on these longer days, shade trees fan us with a light breeze. Birds sing their own songs while Consolation No. 3 by Franz Liszt accompanies the simple beauty and elegance of summertime. I hope a minute’s rest with me brings you some serenity. Come back any time ~ I’ll be right here. §

“In summer, the song sings itself.”
~ William Carlos Williams

(Please click on the white arrow for a one minute video. Music available on YouTube at 30 Most Beautiful Pieces of Classical Music.)

Chinoiserie Chic

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Like many of you, my home is my favorite place in the world, and I’m always looking for ways to show it some love. I was recently inspired by a magazine cover featuring blue and white chinoiserie vases. I love the crisp, classic look of blue and white together. I happened to have a couple of porcelain vases stored in the attic, so I decided to re-decorate our fireplace mantle. I was very pleased with the results, especially when I found an inexpensive piece of chinoiserie-inspired art to complete the look. (See photo above.)

Every time I see the word chinoiserie, I question how to say it. The word is correctly pronounced shēēn – waa -zr – ēē. The emphasis is on the the first syllable and the e-sounds are long. That reminds me of a great line in a not-so-great movie in which Mike Myers’ character says, “I put the emphasis on the wrong syllable.” Most English teachers find that line absolutely hilarious, but I digress.

Chinoiserie comes from the French word for Chinese. This 17th and 18th century design style represents a European interpretation of Asian culture and decorative arts. It includes much more than blue and white patterns on jars and vases, and I’ve discovered I am particularly drawn to its bird and floral motifs.

My grandmother had two deep orange chinoiserie vases in her home that came from her travels. Thankfully, we can all mimic this style from our local home decor stores for a fraction of the cost. Chinoiserie has become a timeless style that can add elegance to our homes.

Even if you don’t choose to use this style in your house, you can always enjoy it by thumbing through an art book or magazine. I’ll leave you with a few beautiful photographs to look at while you practice saying the very tricky word chinoiserie. §

“Home, the spot of earth supremely blessed, a dearer sweeter spot than all the rest.”
~ Robert Montgomery

Five Simple Steps to an Inspiring Spring Closet

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The only place in the world we might be able to create complete peace and harmony is our own clothes closet. Overwrought by the chaos in the world, I decided this week to tweak my closet so opening its door would bring me a fresh boost of organization, color, and inspiration.

I spent most of a day and just a few bucks creating my happy place. I’m not offering extravagant ways to design a celebrity dream closet, but I do have a few specific ideas that can help you turn an ordinary closet into one that inspires your own brand of elegance.

Five Simple Steps to Creating an Inspirational Spring Closet ~

  1. Take everything out and clean every nook and cranny.
  2. Take stock of your clothing and accessories and pull out those items you know you will absolutely love wearing this spring.
  3. Store everything you won’t be wearing this season. I stored all off-season and less-than-loved items in bins on the top shelf or in a bedroom dresser.
  4. Display your spring wardrobe in your closet as if it is your own little boutique.
  5. Now, here’s the most important part. Carve out a little space for inspiration. Depending on your closet, this could be a shelf, a wall, or door. I used the back shelf and wall area. Here’s specifically what I did to add some personal inspiration.

First, I cut thick foam poster board to fit the wire shelf and create a sturdy flat surface. (This is also a great way to prevent folded clothes from getting indentations.)Then I decorated the shelf with things that inspire me.

I included a weekly calendar, a daily devotional, a vase of flowers, a necklace holder, and a floral reed diffuser. There’s also a tray to hold earrings. On the top shelf, I arranged decorative boxes to add a dash of spring color and charm. Just for fun, I tied grosgrain ribbons on my plastic storage bins.

In what is probably the nerdiest feature of my closet, I printed out and framed my personal style guidelines. After getting dressed for sixty years, I should know what colors and styles work best for me, but I still get woefully confused. So I compiled a checklist to use before I hang something in my closet more suitable for someone else. I’m certain this guide is going to save me loads of time, money, and frustration, and help me step out of my closet each day feeling my most authentic self.

Finally, I hung a framed poster titled Making It a Lovely Day. It happens to be from the book Lessons in Loveliness which my friend, Natalie, and I wrote and published a few years ago. The section outlines simple ways to make the most of each day from morning until night. (Please come back next Wednesday when I share more about this.)

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve opened my closet door the past few days just to get a peek inside. Hopefully, there are some ideas you can use, too. Creating an inspiring closet isn’t going to change the world, but it just might bring a little joy to your corner of it. §

“Opening up your closet should be like arriving at a really good party where everyone you see is someone you like.” ~ Amy Fine Collins

The Elegance of the Lenten Rose

img_1010Easter has arrived, and our table is set with a vase of exquisite little flowers that have been miraculously blooming in our backyard since February. This enchanting flower has a rich history that includes mystery, danger, and above all, the promise held in the breast of this beautiful season.

Shortly after we moved into our southern Illinois home last winter, I noticed an odd patch of deep green foliage. I did a double-take when, through a frosty window, I thought I saw a flower blooming. I put on my boots and trudged through several inches of snow to investigate. Sure enough, a dark mauve blossom was peeking out under a thick blanket of white.

I gasped at the sight and was filled with curiosity. I knew the flower wasn’t an early-blooming snowdrop or crocus. A little research revealed the mysterious flower was a Lenten rose, known to gardeners as hellebore from the Latin hellenborus orientalis. Not a rose at all, this hardy perennial with evergreen leaves and a variety of colorful blossoms is part of the buttercup family. What a story this flower tells!

Helleborus means “injure food” in Greek. Yes, this pretty flower is poisonous. The Greeks were known to use it in battle to poison another city’s drinking water. Many scholars believe Alexander the Great died from a poisonous dose of hellebore. It’s also said that King Arthur’s sister, Morgan Le Faye, made an evil concoction of hellebore and gave it to Guinevere to prevent her from being able to conceive.

In ancient times, smaller doses of hellebore were used to treat a range of illness including insanity. In Greek mythology, it’s told King Argo’s daughters were driven so mad by Dionysus they ran naked in the streets mooing like cows. As time passed, the madness increased and spread to other women in the village. The healer Melampus gave the women hellebore in milk to restore their sanity. (Something tells me a ladies’ night out would have had the same effect.)

It seems our tenacious little flower was also a favorite of witches during medieval times. Old world witches were famous for using it to make their magical flying ointment. They rubbed the hellebore salve all over themselves and took off flying. Of course, the poisonous herb has hallucinogenic effects, so it’s possible they only thought they were flying!

Certain there was some dark magic involved in a flower that bloomed in winter, people in the Middle Ages threw hellebore on their floors to drive out evil influences. Many herbalists at the time believed powdered hellebore could be scattered on the ground and walked upon to render invisibility. Though they had to face east on a moonless night and hope not to be spotted by an eagle thus sealing their fate of death.

Thankfully, Victorian gardeners rescued the innocent hellebore from its more sinister and gothic attachments. Because the flower blooms during the season of Lent, the hellebore became known as the Lenten rose and was a favorite among the Victorians. In their language of flowers, known as floriography, the Lenten rose represents serenity, tranquility, and peace.

Once again our patch of Lenten roses is faithfully in full-bloom. The old palm-shaped leaves have fallen away and sizable clumps of new green foliage surround an abundance of flowers in white, yellow, pink, and purple. On sunny days, butterflies and bees dine on the yellow centers of flowers that will last well into May.

How beautiful that during Lent, a forty-day time of contemplation and preparation for Easter, the cold, dead ground can produce such a lovely flower. The bright little blossoms that fill a crystal vase seem too pretty to have such a storied past. Today, in celebration of Easter, they offer an elegant symbol of rejuvenation, renewal, and resurrection. §

“Let us rejoice!” – Psalm 118:24

The Elegance of Winter’s Simplicity

Just outside our upstairs bedroom window, winter trees stand like elegant steel sculptures against a silver sky. As I awaken, my eyes trace the trees’ bold, black branches. The bare winter trees inspire me to simplify.

Based on the popularity of books and television shows on the subject, I know I’m not alone in my urge to simplify, nor am I the first to be motivated by nature. Isaac Newton wrote, “Nature is pleased with simplicity.” He was referring to mathematical principles and philosophical reasoning, not kitchen cabinets and sock drawers, but I think his point remains.

During his time at Walden Pond, Henry David Thoreau observed, “Every morning was a cheerful invitation to make my life of equal simplicity, and I may say innocence, with nature herself.” Wouldn’t we all accept an invitation to more purity and ease?

Inspired by the winter landscape, I am beginning the new year by simplifying. Like beauty, simplicity is in the eye of the beholder, but maybe you can relate to my goal of tackling the following areas.

Physical Possessions ~ I’m reconsidering every item in every drawer, closet, shelf, box, cabinet, glove compartment, and secret nook and cranny. I’m keeping only things I love and that align with my idea of a simple, elegant life. Uncomfortable shoes, be gone!

Health and Finances ~ I don’t know about you, but during the winter months I tend to put such things on the back burner. I have experienced the relief of being on top of my game in these areas, and I’m not going to wait until spring to feel that way again.

Digital Footprint ~ Newton and Thoreau didn’t have to worry about this one, but it’s a struggle for me. Photographs, emails, documents, passwords, downloads and “the cloud” hang over my head. I hope to take control of my technology before it changes, and this old dog has to learn more new tricks.

Activities and Pursuits ~ Just as we have limited space in our cupboards, we have limited space in our days. I’m letting go of vague dreams to travel the world or become a gourmet cook who is fluent in French, but I am fully committed to a small number of true passions.

Thoughts and Emotions ~ Sometimes intangible baggage prevents us from simplifying. Just like physical clutter, we have to let go of the stuff in our head and heart that keeps us from living our best life.

I hope you will join me in answering Thoreau’s call to simplify, simplify! If we get stuck, winter’s elegant inspiration is right outside the window in the clarity of a shaft of sunlight, the peace of dormant fields, the freedom of geese in flight, and the beauty of a snowflake. §

“In winter, the stars seem to have rekindled their fires, the moon achieves a fuller triumph, and the heavens wear a look of more exalted simplicity.”
~ John Burroughs

The Elegance of Housekeeping

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that in 2020, women spent an average of 2.4 hours a day doing household tasks, and men spent 1.6 hours. Let’s put aside any gender issues for now, and consider the fact that most of us spend a good deal of time every day doing household chores. Is it really possible to find elegance in something as seemingly dull and mundane as housekeeping? 

Everyday elegance is all about infusing deep beauty and meaning to the simple, ordinary rituals of our lives. No matter our situation, most of us have at least some homemaking tasks to do each day. Besides the pleasure of living in a clean and tidy home, housekeeping can provide a daily rhythm, clear our minds, and fill us with gratitude. 

Our housekeeping routine can add the elegance of structure to our days. There was a time in my life when a full-time job and active children left little time for housework. Now that I’m a retired, empty-nester, I have plenty of time. In either case, I benefited from a daily housekeeping schedule. Author and pastor John C. Maxwell said, “The secret of your success is found in your daily routine.” 

What does your housekeeping routine include? Do you make the bed as soon as you get up? Is the kitchen swept right after dinner? Does the bathroom get cleaned on Tuesdays? What have you decided to delegate or pay someone else to do? There’s comfort in having a predictable plan and schedule. Decades ago I taught with a delightful gentleman who told me he wound his grandfather clock every Sunday night before going to bed. It was a soothing ritual he enjoyed each week like clockwork. 

Routine housekeeping tasks can offer the elegance of mindfulness. As a college student long ago, I couldn’t settle in for a serious study session until my dorm room was spick and span. Getting my environment in order was part of my study ritual. My daughter, a successful lawyer, calls it “productive procrastination.” We both find clearing our space helps clear our minds.

In a wonderful little book called A Monk’s Guide to a Clean House and Mind, a Buddhist monk shares how cleaning methods employed in Zen temples can be used “as a way to cultivate the mind.” After years of unavoidable multi-tasking, I now enjoy giving my full attention to a specific task such as cleaning a window, ironing a shirt, or filling the birdbath. It’s during this time when I often come up with my best ideas. Agatha Christie said, “The best time for planning a book is while you’re doing the dishes.” 

Housework can fill us with the elegance of gratitude. Caring for our home and possessions reminds us of all we have. Furniture to polish. Clothing to launder. Dishes to wash. Trinkets to dust. Whether we live in a rented apartment, a tiny house, or a grand estate, we can be thankful for a roof over our head and a pillow to rest it on. 

We can’t overestimate the importance of home, and therefore, of home-making. Winston Churchill said, “We shape our homes, and then our homes shape us.” Rather than thinking of housework as drudgery, we can learn to view it as an opportunity to add everyday elegance to the place we call home and to the lives of the people who live and visit there. §

“When all else fails, cleaning house is the perfect antidote to most of life’s ills.” ~ Author Sue Grafton

The Elegance of Decorating Like an Artist

There are many famous paintings of home interiors, demonstrating the importance houses have had to people throughout history and throughout the world. These beautiful paintings of bedrooms, parlors, dining rooms, powder rooms, and kitchens are as different in style as our own homes. Inspired by paintings such as Henri Matisse’s Interior with Phonograph (below), here are ten ways to add beauty to any room. 

  1. Color ~ The most striking aspect of Matisse’s painting is his use of bold bright color. Every memorable room has a distinct color palette. You may prefer pastels, earth tones, rich shades, or even a monochromatic look. Study paintings, magazines, and friends’ homes to find a distinct color palette that speaks to you.
  2. Music ~ Matisse named this painting Interior with Phonograph, even though the record player is only partially seen to the right of the painting. I wonder what album was turning on that phonograph the day Matisse created this masterpiece. Music fills a house with beauty and emotion. 
  3. Flowers ~ Notice the flowers on the table. Are they pink roses, carnations, or maybe azaleas? I wish I could lean in and smell them! The tablescape wouldn’t be as attractive without that little vase. Flowers always make a house feel like a home.
  4. Food ~ Fruit, bread, wine, and cheese are often included in paintings. The big pineapple and peaches on the table make Matisse’s room come to life. Food represents comfort and joy. The sight, smell, and taste of delicious food should be a central feature of our homes.
  5. Decorations ~ In this scene, we see a gold tray, a basket, a decanter, and the flower vase. Each object adds to the beauty and function of the room. Think about the decorations, accessories, and art in your home. Does everything serve a purpose and make you smile? 
  6. Textiles ~ Imagine this room without the yellow swag curtain, the red and white striped tablecloth, the rug in the far room, and the patterned wallpapers. Textiles make any room more comfortable, warm, colorful, soft, and welcoming. 
  7. Light ~ Whether a room is lit by a candle, a lamp, or the bright sun streaming through a window, lighting makes all the difference in the atmosphere of a space. In this painting, Matisse captures the cheerfulness of a sunny day. Adjust the lighting in your home for the purpose and mood you’re trying to create. 
  8. Composition ~ Just as every painter must make decisions about where to place objects in a painting, we must decide where to place things in our home. Don’t be afraid to move around furniture, art, and necessities until you have everything arranged in the way that’s most practical and pleasing to you.
  9. Cleanliness ~ Let’s face it, no matter what style it is, a dirty home isn’t elegant. Pay someone, bribe someone, or just do it yourself, but the cleaning must be done if we want our home to sparkle like this Matisse painting.
  10. People ~ Not all paintings of interiors include people. Often it seems as if the homeowner has just stepped out while we get a glimpse of their private dwellings. However, if you look closely at the center of this  painting, you’ll see the small face of a bearded man, perhaps approaching an open door to the home. Matisse reminds us that homes are nothing without people. Those who live in and visit our homes are what truly fill a room with style, beauty, and love. §

“Some people look for a beautiful place. Others make a place beautiful.”
~
Hazrat Inayat Khan