How I Finally Won the Fight Against Clutter and Learned to Love Housework: Part 2

In yesterday’s post about the KonMari Method, as told by Marie Kondo in The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing, I talked about embarking on a decluttering program that finally got my chaotic house in order once and for all. In case you missed it, here’s a recap:

  1. Focus on what to keep, not what to get rid of
  2. Keep only things that bring you joy (unless it’s something like a toaster, because untoasted bread is pretty joyless too)
  3. Work category by category, not room by room
  4. Don’t get hung up on saving things for future use because chances are you’ll never actually use it in the future
  5. Discard first then organize
  6. Tackle sentimental items last

Because the post was super long, I didn’t spend much time talking about how truly and unbelievably changed my life has become since doing this program. That’s what this post is for, as well as to give you some insight into organizing your newly decluttered home and learning to embrace housework.

How I Won the Fight Against Clutter and Learned to Love Housework

So, onto organizing. The way I tackled it was to organize directly after I finished decluttering a certain category. Since you’re supposed to bring all the items from a category to one specific location and go through each one, I figured it was easiest to then organize while it was all there. I also didn’t want it to just sit in piles all over my house while I finished the rest of the decluttering since I knew it could take weeks. 

One of the things Kondo cautions against is running out and buying fancy storage systems for your remaining items. She stresses that these are not only unnecessary, but they cost extra money and, a lot of times, end up complicating organization more. As I discarded, I found that I had tons of little boxes, bins and baskets that were suddenly empty and could be repurposed elsewhere in my house. I did buy a few new baskets and other organization tools, but for the most part, everything I needed was already in our house.

Clothing

My clothes were easy to organize because I’m fortunate enough to have a walk-in closet as well as a chest of drawers just for my clothing. That means my stuff is segregated from Adam’s and I can keep mine neat and tidy even if he doesn’t do the same. I followed Kondo’s advice to keep all clothing out instead of packing away whatever is not in season and found I had plenty of space because I’d gotten rid of so much.

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Fringe Benefit: Now that we have less clothing overall and there is plenty of space in our drawers and closets, laundry is such a breeze. I fold one load immediately after waking up in the morning then put it all away as soon as the boys are awake. Once they take off their pajamas from the night before, I add those to the washing machine with anything we wore after the previous morning’s load was folded and start it before going downstairs for the day. I switch that over to the dryer right after it’s done, then add clothes right to the washer that are taken off throughout the day/night. Adam does his laundry separately (always has) so I make sure the washer is free for him to use overnight. I used to have ungodly amounts of laundry piled up and never put the clothes away once they were folded so this is one of the most drastic changes I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing post-KonMari.

Accessories:

I stored my earrings in a cheap but cute divided organizer from TJMaxx I’ve always had on my dresser and plan to hang necklaces on a new set of wall-mounted decorative hooks once I find the perfect one. (We’re in the process of trying to spruce up our very boring bedroom right now.) Belts and small purses hang on a set of hooks inside my closet and shoes are on a designated rack below my clothes. Underwear, socks, tights/leggings and bras are all in separate drawers in my dresser. Bathing suits are in a little basket on the shelf in my closet.

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Travel Items:

I wish I had taken a before picture, but the closet in our upstairs hallway was completely non-functional before I discarded 98% of the items stored there. It was a repository for anything and everything that needed to be out of sight but didn’t have a place to go and it was a huge waste of space. Since I have a lot of trouble with rounding up all the million various items needed to travel with a family of four, I decided to dedicate that entire closet to anything we’d need to bring on a trip. I hung front packs, large duffels and cooler bags from coat hangers, stored both kids’ Play and Plays as well as the travel highchair, added sleeping bags and the air mattress to the top shelf and found a home for our luggage. There’s very little in there now but it’s a functional and practical use of the space. I also used it to store the vacuum we use upstairs (we have central vac downstairs for the hardwood/tile so the hose is stored separately.)

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Fringe Benefit: I now know where every single thing we need to travel is in our house. I’ve yet to pack for a major trip since finishing KonMari, but I’d be willing to bet that it will be infinitely easier the next time.

Toiletries/Bathroom Items:

We use a hanging shoe organizer in our bathroom to house all our various toiletries and medicines, which has always worked well for us. With the exception of a few little items like toothpaste and a bin full of sunscreen/bugspray that we wanted locked up under the sink away from the kids, our vanity drawers are almost completely empty now.

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I have a separate vanity area with a sink and its own drawers, so that’s where I keep all my makeup (I’m a huge makeup lover and even though there’s a ton here, I got rid of probably ¾ of my collection.) I was given a Birchbox subscription for my birthday last summer and I had a bunch of those decorative little boxes taking up space under the sink with no purpose earmarked for them. I ended up using the boxes and even the lids to store my makeup plus some items in the office. Even if it looks disorganized, I grouped them by category so I know exactly where all the eye makeup, hair products, makeup brushes, etc. go when I put them back after using them.  The white plastic media storage containers were 97 cents for a pack of 3 at Walmart. All that’s below my vanity sink now is my hairdryer and straightener.

We added a shoe organizer to the door in the boys’ bathroom as well. The one in our bathroom was getting ridiculously full since we had all four family members’ items in one place. Dividing up our bathroom stuff and theirs has proven to be much more practical.

Fringe Benefit: Our countertops and shower were always filthy in each of our three bathrooms. Now that we don’t have a million things stored on the countertops, it takes two seconds to wipe them down. Everything in the shower fits into one organizer that hangs on the showerhead, so I don’t have to move anything in order to clean the shower either. I literally cleaned the shower once every 6 weeks maybe. Now I do it weekly.

Kitchen Stuff:

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The pantry is my crowning KonMari achievement. This space used to be a freakin disaster. I never knew what groceries we had because everything was hastily stuffed in there and stacked in front of or on top of each other. I often bought duplicate items because I didn’t know we already had them at home. I got these little baskets at Target for around $7 apiece and divided them into categories:

  1. Snacks
  2. Oils and dressings
  3. Large baking items (flour, sugar, etc.)
  4. Small baking items (vanilla extract, sprinkles cupcake liners, etc.)
  5. Rice, pasta and other starches
  6. Canned goods
  7. Sam’s baby food

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I also used our old fruit bowl to store onions and potatoes and bought a clear container at Walmart for our spices so I can take the whole thing out and look for what I need. Meal planning is infinitely easier now because I can make a meal centered around the items left in there at the end of the previous week or easily consult the correct basket to see if I have rice or diced tomatoes for a particular recipe I want to make the upcoming week.

The rest of the kitchen was very easy to organize. A couple utensil holders, more of those small media bins and a few Birchbox lids went a long way. I added a basket from another part of the house for hand towels and face cloths for the kids and made sure all of the items in the drawers/cabinets were very easily accessible. As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, emptying the dishwasher now takes literally five minutes. Everything has a place to go and I’m not shoving things into spaces where they don’t belong.

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This is our old junk drawer!

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Fringe Benefit: Oddly enough, my sink is almost always empty now. I’m sure it’s a psychological thing, but the fact that everything has a place to go makes it so that I don’t mind handwashing a dish or cup after it’s used and immediately putting it away. I used to run the dishwasher daily and now it sits for most of the week only half-full. Since the sink being empty or full was usually my gauge of whether our house was on the verge of disaster or not, I feel so at ease seeing an empty sink all the time now.

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Cleaning Products:

 We’ve used the shoe organizer for many years for cleaning products (thank you, Pinterest!) and have had great luck with that. We kept that solution and just decluttered the rest of the closet so it’s used solely for cleaning and paper products. We plan to get some kind of hanging organizer from Home Depot on which we can hang all the various mops and brooms to get those off the floor too.

Planning to get a set of hooks to hang the mops and brooms on.

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Fringe Benefit: I used to HATE vacuuming the floor in our house because the central vac hose is really long and used to knock over a million other things in the closet every time I took it out. Now that we’ve moved all the coats into the upstairs hall closet and taken folding chairs, the extra dining room table leaf and a bunch of other unrelated things and moved them to separate areas of the house, there’s nothing in the way when I need to take out the vacuum. I have no problem vacuuming or even just sweeping daily now. In addition, I am mopping the floors MUCH more often (my personal Everest) because the sink is free of dishes and I can use it to wash off the mop while I’m cleaning. All of these little things seem so simple, but it’s totally changed my this-is-too-hard-so-I’m-not-going-to-bother approach to cleaning.

Office Products:

As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, we have a small home office next to our living room. It used to be just a dumping ground for random things from the rest of the house, but now is a very functional space I use for writing and office work related to blogging. It has a desk, small chest of drawers and a bookshelf plus a file box and the box where I keep my sentimental items like photos and cards. All office items are stored in the chest of drawers now, with the exception of the scissors, which I keep in a Mason jar on my desk so they’re out of Chase’s reach.

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I found all those rolls of tape in various parts of the house while we were decluttering. Apparently we just kept buying more thinking we didn’t have any.

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I found an old receipt organizer in my decluttering which I’ve been using to keep receipts that are needed immediately. It’s divided by month so I’ll go through at the end of each month and clean out whatever is no longer necessary to hold onto. As per Kondo’s suggestion, we also have exactly one file folder for items that must be taken care of immediately (right now it contains an invitation I need for which I need to RSVP, a lab slip from Chase’s pediatrician and a check for the septic company that is coming to pump our tank tomorrow.) I’ll check it weekly to make sure I’ve done everything that needs to be accomplished and leave or handle whatever is still outstanding.

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I also have a box on my desk (I used a pretty decorative one that my Erin Condren Life Planner came in) for pens, stamps and notecards because I’ve always wanted to be the kind of woman who sends cards to family and friends often. We’ll see if this helps motivate me!

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Fringe Benefit: I haven’t actually worked at my desk in years. This is forcing me to sit and write at my actual desk instead of on the couch, in the dining room, or my former favorite workspace: my bed. I’ve been so much more productive and organized with my daily tasks now that I have a space to call my own.

Kids’ Belongings:

Our kids’ stuff used to be allll over our house. Like everywhere. Now pretty much everything is housed in the playroom, with the exception of the books in the kids’ rooms. If you don’t have a playroom, the bulk of your kids’ stuff is best kept in their individual rooms with not more than they’ll reasonably use. If you need to, put out only certain toys to cut down on clutter and switch them out every couple months or so when they get bored with what’s there. (I have a whole shelf in the basement for toys to swap out.)

We have a large toy organizer for wrangling stray toys in our playroom and it used to just be a place to dump any toy, regardless of what other pieces belonged with it. Now, I try to keep them fairly organized, with separate bins for things like small cars, play kitchen food and utensils, stuffed toys, baby toys for Sam, Chase’s play tools, etc. That way, he can take out a whole bin, bring it to his table and play with it there. I’m also encouraging him to start cleaning up his own toys, so categorizing them helps.DSC_5831

I’d like to print out some pictures of what each bin contains so Chase can start associating the bins with whatever goes inside when he’s cleaning up. Same for the bins we keep on the other shelving unit. I store puzzles in an organizer from Melissa and Doug and craft stuff I don’t want them getting into unassisted is kept on a high shelf. It’s not a perfect system, but it’s miles better than what we had before.

The kids’ rooms are very bare bones now in terms of storing things. Each of their closets has a big box of diapers, some blankets and their hanging clothes. Everything else was moved to appropriate places in the house. I no longer keep any toys in the boys’ rooms because, at this point in their lives, all they do is sleep there. If they want to play with their toys, they have a whole playroom where they can do that. I moved most of the books from the playroom to the shelves in their room because we typically read upstairs before bed. I will be adding a couple low shelves to the playroom for beloved books we read all the time so the boys can get/put back their own.

Fringe Benefit: Chase is actually playing with his toys now. He used to play with something for 30 seconds, throw it on the floor then run off to grab something else. It’s the weirdest thing—as soon as I finished getting rid of all the other stuff he didn’t use, he suddenly started playing with his toys in the playroom for hours each day. I absolutely did not expect that, but I’m so happy it worked out that way.

So How Do I Keep from Re-Cluttering?

Kondo states in the book that her clients who follow the KonMari method to the letter have a 100% success rate with not re-cluttering. When I read that, I was pretty happy about my odds. Which is why I decided with the exception of two small things (taking things out of the shower each day and removing items from my purse each day) that I would follow her method exactly as she laid it out. It doesn’t mean I bow to my house when I arrive home or thank my shoes for their service when I take them off every day (she’s into some real crunchy stuff that you’d never catch me doing in a million years) but I did follow the decluttering/organizing exactly as prescribed.

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Important rules to follow once your stuff is decluttered/organized:

  • Keep all items from one category in the same place so you know exactly what you have available and you’ll know if you run out
  • Return things to their designated place immediately after use
  • Think carefully about each item you buy post-KonMari and only purchase that which you really need, can fit in your home and brings you joy
  • Make a habit of keeping your house clean and not just uncluttered

I truly believe if you stick with this set of rules, you’ll be able to successfully avoid recluttering.

Cleaning

The biggest benefit of KonMari by far is that I suddenly enjoy cleaning. This is hugely shocking to me because I loathed cleaning before. I’m sure the excitement will wear off after awhile, but I’m finding that I’m truly motivated to clean our house because I want to keep it exactly the way it is now. I’m probably going a little overboard at the moment in an effort to keep from returning to our former state and I’m sure that’ll settle down as I come to realize that this is here to stay. But I’ve found that keeping our home clean is a result of actually valuing and respecting our space; I love our house now, so I’m making the upkeep of it a daily priority instead of a joyless burden that I drag out for weeks on end.

I’ve been using a version of this cleaning checklist I found on Pinterest, but you can do whatever works for you. I make sure that no matter what I do these things daily:

  1. Fold/put away one load of laundry and wash/dry another
  2. Wipe down the countertops and kitchen table
  3. Do all dishes or put them in the dishwasher
  4. Vacuum or sweep, if it’s necessary

These few things take me very little time now because the house is so functional (I don’t have to clean up all the clutter on the floors before I vacuum or remove all the old dishes from the table before I wipe it down) and I can easily fit them into my daily schedule. I’m finding that not having to clean and re-clean all day long is also leaving a lot more time for my weekly cleaning tasks like deep-cleaning the bathrooms or wiping down appliances.

Even you never truly learn to enjoy cleaning, I can almost guarantee you’ll find it MUCH easier once you’re finished with KonMari.

***

So that’s it, in a very big nutshell. I know I was long-winded, but I’m so thrilled with how functional my life feels right now and I want to spread this good feeling to anyone who is willing to try it. If you do try it, please PLEASE let me know! I’d really love to hear everyone’s results.

Happy KonMari-ing!

Melissa
Continue Reading 2

How I Finally Won the Fight Against Clutter and Learned to Love Housework: Part 1

Right off the bat I wanted to let you know that I was not paid or perked in any way for writing this post. I bought the book myself and no one asked me to write about this. I just wanted to share my experiences with anyone who will listen because I feel so completely changed by this process. I really hope it helps some of you, too. 

As I sit here writing this, there are exactly two pieces of laundry waiting on me. Yes, I said two. I don’t mean two baskets or two weeks’ worth of laundry; I mean two actual items—the pajamas that each of my two sons wore to bed last night. Every other item of clothing belonging to the members of my household is currently washed, dried, folded and put away.

Whaaa?

I realize this sounds kind of braggy and if you’re sitting there with seven baskets of unwashed/unfolded/yet to be put away clothes in your laundry room, then you’re probably hating me a little bit right now. And I don’t blame you because three weeks ago, I was you. In fact, let me show you a little bit of what my “before” life looked like, in case you don’t believe me. (These photos were taken professionally as part of an ongoing project.)

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I’m not exaggerating when I say that I was absolutely DONE with housework. It had gotten to the point where I just could not stay on top of the clutter, the laundry, the cleaning, the chores. Every available surface in our home was used as a dumping ground for our clutter: bills, toys, dishes, keys, recycling and dirty clothes; our belongings were stacked and piled absolutely everywhere. In an effort to stay on top of the growing problem, I bought baskets and bins for high traffic areas into which I’d herd things like stray toys and dirty laundry to at least keep them off the floors, tables, chairs and countertops. The bins I bought were full almost immediately. Then piles started forming next to them. I told Adam that I just couldn’t keep it up anymore. I only have an hour or two a day to myself and I was spending all of it cleaning up, only for it to be undone minutes later. It wasn’t worth my time and energy, so I was going to just stop trying. And for a few weeks, I did. I let the dishes pile up higher than usual. I didn’t wash the floors or vacuum the carpets for almost a month. I only washed what items of clothing I needed immediately and left the rest. Our household was like the fish tank in Finding Nemo when the fish try to make it as dirty as possible so the dentist will have to clean it. We were living in our own filth and it was everywhere.

(Does this sound like you? Read on.)

I grew up in an immaculately clean house, so it’s hard for me to let things spin out of control like that for too long. I can ignore it for awhile, but eventually I go on a rampage and tackle everything at once, usually while sighing loudly for all to hear. The problem was that one cleaning session was never going to solve the underlying problem. Our clutter. A friend of mine had told me a month or two before this about a decluttering program she’d done with her family. She talked about how life-changing it had been for them and how much happier they were since they finished. At the time, I was in the middle of finishing my book and not in the right place to embark on such a huge undertaking, so I told her how happy I was for her and then immediately forgot about what she’d said.

A few weeks later, I visited a friend who had recently done the same decluttering program at her house. I had never been to her home before, but when I walked in, I immediately felt calm. Everything was in perfect order; no stray toys or shoes or half-eaten granola bars anywhere. At first, I figured it was because she knew they were having us over and all of the lovely, orderly spaces of their home that were visible were just part of the story. I assumed that, like me, she probably wiped down the countertops, vacuumed the floors and shoved all the random clutter into closets and drawers 10 minutes before we arrived. That’s what everyone does, right?

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Several times during our visit she casually referred to the KonMari Method; just as part of everyday conversation, not as a way to get me on board. When I got home, I started to think about it. Was it actually possible that the way her house looked when we were visiting is the way it looks all the time? If that was truly the case, I needed that book and I needed it fast.

I bought The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing on a Wednesday, finished it by Friday and was already implementing the program that night. As I was reading, I got this feeling like I was going to jump out of my skin if I didn’t start right that minute—that’s how much sense the whole thing made to me. Still, I knew I had to finish the entire book before I started anything, so I devoured the rest of it and set to work.

How IFinally Mastered our Family's clutter

If you haven’t heard of the KonMari Method, which is what the book is all about, I’ll give you the basic rundown of it here. The idea is that, unlike other decluttering programs where you focus on what you need to get rid of, with this method you focus on what to keep. Here’s the interesting part: you only keep the things that bring you joy. My friend who first suggested this to me is somewhat of a hippie. She uses cloth diapers and has a yard full of chickens and I think she might even make her own yogurt. So when she told me the crux of this whole, big operation was based on the idea of joy, I was highly skeptical. It seemed a little too crunchy, even for my tastes (and I lived in New Hampshire for years.) But once I read the book and heard about how functional the author’s house and life were as a result, I was willing to put aside my skepticism and go all in. I was in desperate need of a solution and in no position to turn down any potentially worthwhile advice.

That Friday night, I grabbed several trash bags and started in on my clothes, which is the first category of items to declutter. (The author, Marie Kondo states that those who go room by room instead of category by category are doomed to re-clutter. I knew I had to do it right or I’d surely be a repeat offender.) As she suggests, I gathered together every single item of clothing I own from my drawers and closets, bins in the attic, hooks in the entryway, underneath the seats in my car, etc. etc. and brought it all to my bedroom floor. Then, one by one, I held each item in my hands and decided whether it sparked joy within me. I realize you’re probably not sold on this whole joy thing yet and that’s OK. I wasn’t either. But, surprisingly, it took only a few items to find my groove. As I went, I began to realize just how many items of clothing I either don’t wear at all because I hate the way they look or make me feel or only wear because they’re functional (even though I hate the way they look or make me feel.) These things cost me actual money and I hated 90% of them.

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Over the course of a weekend, I tackled clothes, shoes, purses, belts, jewelry, scarves, hats, mittens, coats, lingerie, socks and bathing suits and ended up filling six trash bags with items I no longer even like, nevermind love and look forward to wearing. How insane is that?? All of those clothes were just sitting in my drawers taking up space when I truly loathed most of them. This may sound terrifying to those of you who are on a budget like I am. How do you just get rid of things that you don’t have the money to replace? For one, you can consign your old clothes and try to make some money to buy new items. You can also save up and buy only items that you really love and feel are worth the expense. In the past, I was in the habit of going to relatively inexpensive stores like Old Navy or Kohl’s and stocking up on three or four plain, boring long-sleeved shirts in various colors just because it was quick and easy. I didn’t actually like any of them, but with that money, I could’ve bought one really beautiful shirt that I truly wanted to wear. Now that I only own things I love, I will be much more selective in the future about what I let join my wardrobe. (Come winter I’ll be in trouble though, since I got rid of every single sweater I own. That’s not an exaggeration.)

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Note: Kondo has a very specific style of folding clothes that I will fully admit I haven’t done yet. Not because it doesn’t make sense to me (it totally does) but because some of my drawers literally have four shirts left in them and I can easily see everything that’s available to me. If you still have a lot of clothes leftover, I would highly recommend using her clothes-folding system. If you find yourself unsure how to do it after just reading her description, search on YouTube for videos of people folding using the KonMari Method.

Next up was books. I thought I’d have a hard time with this one because, as a writer, I am also a huge book lover. Kondo cautions that keeping books that you might read or re-read is a trap. She urges readers to think hard about which books from their collections they will truly read in the future or read again and get rid of the rest. I wish I’d counted, but I would estimate that my book count totaled somewhere in the 150+ range. What you see on this shelf is all I kept.

I donated six huge bins of books and then my husband got rid of three bins of his own. I’ve read almost every book I discarded and, at one time, most of them brought me a good amount of joy. But would I re-read them? I knew I wouldn’t. The titles I kept are ones I’ve read several times and know I will revisit again or are books that have proven practical for my writing career. As Kondo says, if someday I realize that I would really love to re-read a book I discarded, I will search for it on Amazon and download it in 13 seconds. It’s that simple.

Now on the third phase, I found things getting markedly easier. My husband, Adam, is the financial person in our household, so he and I went through the papers together. He’s all about saving things just because they might be useful someday, so I urged him to take Kondo’s advice into account when he was deciding what to keep: hang onto only that which will be needed in the short term (in the case of a receipt for an item that must be returned within 90 days) or that which is absolutely crucial to keep long term (in the case of the deed to your house or your car loan paperwork.) He tossed old manuals we could now find online, expired receipts, taxes from our college years, bank statements we could also find online and many, many other papers that we’d never need to reference again. What we kept fits in one small file box and is organized into labeled folders. Now when I need to access Sam’s birth certificate or the contract for our rental property, I can find them quickly and easily instead of wading through a huge stack of unrelated papers to find the one I need.

Since the next category was komono, which is Japanese for miscellaneous, I decided to tackle office items first because we were already in there doing the papers. We have a small home office, but for the first year that we lived in this house, it was simply used as a dumping ground for all manner of things, some related to office work and some not. I also had a giant tote bin filled with office items from our first home’s much larger office that never fit into our current office. In my early 20s, I had gone through an experimental crafting phase and had held onto all manner of card-making supplies, rubber stamps, glue dots, ribbon and a million other things I haven’t used in the last five years. All but two rolls of tape from that bin were trashed. Fighting my urge to organize (Kondo is very clear that organizing must come AFTER decluttering,) I herded all the remaining items into our one small set of drawers and left it to deal with later.

Don't mind my note to myself. I'm practicing putting my intentions into the universe. Or something like that.

Don’t mind my note to myself. I’m practicing putting my intentions into the universe. Or something like that.

I decided to tackle kitchen items next, starting with the pantry. Since we’re constantly replenishing the items kept there, I figured I’d have very few extraneous things to toss.

I was wrong.

I threw out a whole garbage bag’s worth of expired food, teas I don’t drink, rotting onions that were lost behind boxes and bags and huge boxes of disposable utensils that we buy for every single party, forget we have and then buy more of the next time. I didn’t discard many actual kitchen appliances, but did find that there were a lot of duplicate items I’d never need several of at a time. For instance, I discovered that I had exactly six pie plates. I kept two and figured if I ever have a reason to make more than two simultaneously, I’ll cross that bridge when I get to it. Same with bread pans, pizza pans, cheesecake pans and skewers (of which I had 36.) I did the same with my formal dishes and serving pieces in the dining room and realized there were quite a few things I never used in there, despite hosting parties often. With more space in the drawers, cabinets and pantry, I now had room for items I use often but always keep buried behind less used items. Everything is so accessible now and unloading the dishwasher is a breeze because every single item has a place to go.

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After this I moved onto bathroom items. This included cosmetics, medicines, lotions and sunscreens, hair care products, linens and other grooming products. There is nothing emotional about bathroom items, so the discarding was quick and easy. Expired medicine? Gone. Old, dried up nail polish? Gone. Makeup I never wear? Gone. I won’t say that Adam’s contact solution brings me joy, but I’m happy he can see, so we did keep the practical stuff in there. Linens were similarly easy and quick. We had tons of sheet sets we never use, towels from old sets we never liked and more tablecloths than a family could ever need. Since the boys have their own bathroom, I put all of their stuff together and segregated it from our stuff. In both bathrooms, the majority of the drawers and cabinet space underneath the sink are unused since we got rid of so much and only kept what we really need and use.

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Next was cleaning supplies. I’ve always been pretty good at keeping those stored in one place (a small coat closet next to our kitchen) so that was also painless. I threw out bottles of things we don’t use, decluttered the closet of other items that aren’t related to cleaning and freed up space for all of our brooms, dustpans, mops and the central vacuum hose. Now the closet houses all of our cleaning products and everything is totally accessible for easy use.

Planning to get a set of hooks to hang the mops and brooms on.

Planning to get a set of hooks to hang the mops and brooms on.

The last of the komono before tackling the attic, garage and basement was the kids’ stuff. I put this off until the end because I was dreading it. They both have tons of toys they don’t use, clothes that neither of them will wear again and just huge amounts of STUFF everywhere in our house and cars. We have a playroom where the majority of their toys and books are kept, so I decided to start there. As I was going through their toys, I realized just how many they never even play with. I’m talking about the little throwaway toys people give kids for random occasions that they never actually need in the first place.

Chase loves trucks and is given them often by friends and family (we almost never buy the kids anything because they get so much from other people) so I donated/consigned some of the little ones he never plays with and kept several bins full of ones I know he really loves. I removed things like LEGOs that he’s not quite old enough for yet and retired some items to the attic that he’s outgrown but Sam is not yet old enough to use. They still have what I would consider a lot of toys, but everything has a place to go and get this: they’re actually playing with their toys now. Before the decluttering, Chase would go in the playroom, throw a bunch of things on the floor and leave 30 seconds later. For the past several weeks, he’s been actually playing in his playroom for hours each day. I had no idea that this would be a result of the decluttering since Kondo doesn’t touch on tackling kids’ stuff at all, but I’ve been totally thrilled with this fringe benefit.

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I did their clothes next and, I’ll fully admit, that was a bitch. We’re not sure whether we’re going to have a third child someday, so I was saving all these clothes for a potential third member of our family that could realistically be a girl and never wear any of the boy clothes we currently have. I didn’t want to get rid of everything, so I went through each bin and donated or consigned anything I thought was past its prime (we buy almost all our clothes used so some of these items had been worn even before our two boys wore them) or that I just plain didn’t like and knew I’d never dress the kids in. Then whatever was left I organized by size and season so that when Sam or a third child is moving into a particular size, I can check and see if I have it, then donate whatever is in the bin if those clothes aren’t needed.

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Since I was up there getting the boys’ clothes, I started on everything else in the attic next. We moved to our current house about a year and a half ago and got rid of quite a bit of stored items then, so we didn’t have a ton up there. Still, there were a lot of disorganized holiday decorations, outgrown kids’ toys and various sentimental items that needed to be weeded through. Kondo is very specific that anything sentimental (notes, pictures, cards, etc.) need to go last because they take so much time, so I set that stuff aside for another day. The rest was pretty quick but did require me to take everything downstairs, assess what we owned, discard and re-organize. It ended up being a full day project just because of all the steps required to finish.

Last before sentimental items was the garage and basement, which I was dreading. I did most of the other areas of the house by myself while Adam took care of the kids or did other house projects but I knew I needed him to tackle the remaining two areas since most of the items there were his: tools, yard maintenance items, car maintenance items, etc. We live in the house I grew up in after my parents moved away and we moved back several years later, so we also had some of their stuff to contend with. (I threw out a bottle of Armor All from the year I was born. I wish I’d taken a picture of that one.) The garage went surprisingly fast. It was very cluttered and not the least bit functional before, but there wasn’t that much actual stuff in there. We tossed a few bags of things, but mostly just organized what we needed to keep with a new shelving system and some wall hooks.

The basement was also fairly quick since we decluttered that several months ago. Still, I found myself negotiating with Adam about things he’s owned for years that I really don’t know anything about, so I decided to leave him to weed through his own things in peace without me breathing down his neck. He still needs to organize his tools, but in general, the basement is very functional now.

Last came the sentimental stuff. I knew this one would be hard because I am an admitted hoarder of sentimental things. I keep every card, note and photo ever given to me by anyone and I had the bins upon bins of that stuff to prove it. Since I was done with everything else and my parents were watching the kids for the day, I let myself take my time with the sentimental things. I read every note, laughed and cried a few times and bid farewell to a lot of it. Adam and I are high school sweethearts, so we have a ton of memories I wanted to preserve for our kids to look through someday. I kept almost all of that. What I didn’t keep were cards in which people just signed their names and let Hallmark do the rest of the talking, duplicate photos, old Christmas cards and notes from people who are no longer in our lives for whatever reason. What I ended up with is one medium sized box divided into lovey stuff from Adam and I, photos, cards and one stack of Christmas cards from last year when many of my readers sent cards to me through the mail. For those, I took the advice of one of my readers and punched a hole in each one, then put them on a ring so I could keep them all together.

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Now that I’ve weeded through all of those sentimental items and have them in one accessible place, I can easily grab the box when I want to locate a specific picture or just take a trip down memory lane. It actually feels like I’m doing a service to all those photos and notes having only the most special ones stored together in one place where they can be relived often instead of stashed out of sight in the attic. 

***

All of that was done over the course of two weeks. My parents came to watch the boys during both weekends, so we had four solid days to dedicate to just decluttering. During those two weeks, I did little else with my free time: I ate, slept and breathed KonMari. I realize for many people, this isn’t possible and it may take (much) longer to accomplish. I’m also only 28 so I don’t have several decades of stuff to wade through. I figured I’d still give you an idea of the time frame on my personal decluttering so you can figure out what’s realistic for your family.

This is only the first part of the book. The second part tackles the actual organization of your house once all the joyless items are gone. Since this post is already super long (if you’ve stuck with me this far, I give you major props!) I’m going to deal with the organizing part tomorrow. Here’s what I’ll cover in that post:

  • Tips for organizing your newly decluttered house
  • How KonMari makes housework a breeze
  • Fringe benefits of KonMari-ing
  • Establishing a manageable cleaning schedule

Hop over and check out the second post here (because that’s really where the good stuff is.)

Crazy love,

Melissa
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Dear New Mom Friend

Dear New Mom Friend:

So far, we’ve only had a few play dates and we’re still in the process of feeling each other out. The first time we met—that day at the playground when you caught me lusting after your top-of-the-line double stroller from the other side of the swingset—I liked you immediately. You didn’t panic when your 2-year-old ate the mudpie my son offered him and I saw you sneak a glance at your phone a few times, the way I can’t help but do, too.

Our friendship is still in that beginning phase where it could go either way: we might wind up becoming lifelong friends who eat dinner at each other’s houses once a week or the kind of acquaintances who do nothing more than like each other’s Facebook posts for the next several years. But I think there’s potential for us. And because I do, I want you to know a few things before we delve any further into our friendship.

Right off the bat, you should know that I will be horrendously late to absolutely everything we do together. I will try like hell to keep that from happening, but it’s a reality I’m better off admitting now than trying to cover up later. I have good intentions and I don’t mean to let time get away from me, but suddenly my keys are missing because they’re buried in the toy box or the baby naps longer than 15 minutes for the first time ever and then, unintentionally, we’re leaving our house 10 minutes after we said we’d be at yours. But I promise that on the rare occasion when I finally show up on time to the play gym and you’re still at home nursing the baby, I’ll tell you to take your time; I’m in no rush.

I have a spotty track record when it comes to answering text messages. (I’m great at answering them in my head, but that probably doesn’t count.) Sometimes I’ll think I’m waiting on you to respond until I realize I didn’t hit send three days ago when I was interrupted by my toddler pouring honey on the Blu-ray player. Please don’t take it personally, I do it to everyone; even if the Pope or President Obama texted me, I’d probably forget to respond. When I send you an adorable picture of my kids playing at the beach and I don’t hear from you, I’ll just assume you saw it, smiled and have a half-finished response sitting in your inbox.

There are times I’ll be clingy; days when I desperately need a friend to assure me that I’ll make it through in one piece. I’ll want to commiserate with someone who understands how hard it is to function on three nonconsecutive hours of sleep or how frustrating it can be to potty train a reluctant toddler. I won’t always want advice or a solution to my problem, I’ll just need you to tell me it’s OK to cry in front of my children and eat ice cream before noon. I’ll send you a recap of my awful day and accept your offering of wine glass emojis and then, in turn, I’ll let you complain about your lack of thigh gap and tell you you’re beautiful.

Occasionally, I’ll need to break our plans because I’m just not feeling the idea of getting out of my bathrobe. I’ll hate to flake out on you because I know how much it sucks to suddenly have a huge hole in your day, but I won’t want to lie to you and blame it on my kids when it’s really me who’s tired and cranky. Just know that I’ll extend you the same grace when you’re having an off day, too. We’ll catch up with each other when we’re both up for it and have double the things to discuss then. 

My house is dirty. Pretty much all the time. I don’t wash my floors nearly as often as I should and you might have to brush graham cracker crumbs off the couch to sit down. I tidy up (read: shove everything in the hall closet) for company, but if we’re good enough friends, I’ll know you won’t mind our mess. When we come to your house and there’s a week’s worth of dishes in the sink and a weird smell in the front hallway, instead of grossed out and horrified I’ll feel comfortable and right at home.

Despite my (many) flaws, I’ll be a fiercely loyal friend to you. I will never judge you or make you feel like you can’t be yourself around me. How you raise your children has nothing to do with me and I won’t tell you what I would do or offer up suggestions you didn’t ask for. I don’t care if you breastfed for five minutes or five years; if you let your baby cry it out or plan to rock him to sleep until he’s 17; if you ate soft cheese when you were pregnant or buy generic Oreos or put clean clothes back in the washing machine because you don’t feel like folding them. As long as you accept me exactly as I am, I will do the same for you.

I know this is a little premature. We still don’t know each other very well and you might decide after this letter that I’m an overbearing, unreliable lunatic with way-too-dirty floors that you’d rather not spend your days sitting on. I’ll understand if that’s the case. But if you decide that I might just be your preferred brand of crazy, you’ve got my number.

I’ll try to remember to text you back.

Sincerely,

Your New Friend

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Little Green Light

“You have to see this video,” my husband says one weekend morning as we linger over breakfast. He hands his phone across the table and punches the play button; the screen comes to life with the sight of my older son doing countless laps around our kitchen like a squirrel who’s just inhaled a line of Pixie Stix. He squeals with barely contained laughter as he prances and struts, riding a sugar high from the cake he ate at a birthday party earlier. I watch the video until the end, but can barely focus on my son. What I notice instead is me. Me sitting on the couch directly in his running path, tapping away at my phone while I hold the baby whom I am also ignoring.

The clip is nearly two minutes long and, in it, I don’t break my gaze the whole time, even when my son pauses to hug my legs during his third lap. It is sobering to see myself from an outsider’s perspective; from my son’s perspective. When I was engrossed in whatever was happening on my phone, I was oblivious to everything else around me: the oven beeping repeatedly to signal that dinner was ready, the baby bouncing on my lap, my son giving me the affection I crave that he so seldom bestows.

Judging by what we are all wearing, this was just two nights ago but I truly do not remember any of it happening. The realization is eye-opening. Even days later, the sight of me hunched over my phone, blocking out all that was transpiring mere inches from my face stays with me, haunting me every time I pick up my phone.

I wish I could say that it was a one-time occurrence; a moment of weakness in an otherwise unplugged day where my sons were always my main focus. And I suppose I could say that, but it would be a lie if I did. The truth is, this sort of thing probably happens much more than I realize, where I lose whole chunks of time absorbed in a virtual life that’s happening somewhere else entirely.

Meanwhile, my real life—the one I wax philosophical about here online—is happening just beyond the six inches in front of my face and I can’t be bothered to pay attention. I truly loathe the person I am with a phone in my hand, so easily distracted by the white noise of a thousand status updates and filtered selfies. It’s heartbreaking. I want to be better than that.

But there’s also another side to that story, the side that I don’t often hear acknowledged. Social media is dubbed as a time waster, a distraction, something you do when you should be doing something else. And, those descriptions are pretty accurate. I can’t begin to put a number on the amount of times I’ve checked Facebook while I could be unloading the dishwasher or browsed Instagram while I should be tackling the mountain of laundry on my bed.

But for me—and probably for a lot of other moms—social media is also a lifeline, a way to bridge the gap between the loneliness of motherhood and the inclusion of personal connection. It’s why pages like Scary Mommy and Pregnant Chicken are popular among moms: we want to share motherhood with people who understand what it’s like to be eight months pregnant while chasing a toddler or how exhausting it is to do battle in an IEP meeting. Those incidents can feel oppressively isolating if experienced in a vacuum with no one around to sympathize or understand. But the second someone else likes or comments, it’s like salve on a burn; it soothes the sting of loneliness and calms the ache of isolation.

Though I’m loathe to admit it out loud, there have been many times when I’ve been bored or lonely at home with my kids, staring at my phone across the room, willing the little green light to begin blinking. That notification is my connection to the outside world when we haven’t left the house in days; a reminder that there is a life independent of sleepless nights and Thomas the Train marathons, where people have adult conversations and shower far more frequently.

Just the other morning, one of my best friends uploaded a picture of us from years ago, in our childless days. It was a particularly rowdy New Years Eve party and everyone was in various states of inebriation, with bottles and shot glasses littering the foreground of the picture. I smiled as it rocketed me back to that time and place for just a second. Moments later, when I was called back to the puzzle my son was assembling, I was ready to focus on him again. But that small spark of connection stayed with me.

To me, the time I spend online is comparable to logging 20 minutes on the treadmill or cracking open a novel. Though admittedly less ambitious, it’s still a little slice of self-care that I desperately need to help me limp through the long days of mothering. My real life is fulfilling without question. My children are my world and they deserve my full attention. But sometimes I deserve a break too. If someone’s comment on my status or share of an interesting article is able to afford me the connection to the adult world I so crave at times, then I’ll allow myself that one indulgence.

Will I still feel guilty about it? Probably. Is there such a thing as overindulgence? Absolutely, and at times the lure of that virtual connection is stronger than the far more important life taking place right in front of me. When that happens, I feel genuinely remorseful. I don’t want to waste the years when my children still crave my attention buried in my phone.

Thankfully, a few minutes here and there is usually enough to fill my cup. As long as I can keep the cup from overflowing, I figure I’m doing okay.

Photo courtesy of Whittney Myers Photography, 2015. 

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Holding It Together

Today, I am tired of being the one who holds it all together.

Maybe that sounds whiny or accusatory. It’s not meant to be either of those things. I am unbelievably grateful for the gift of motherhood and I am appreciative of all that my husband does to keep our family afloat. He is exceptionally generous, endlessly supportive and wonderfully helpful.

But he is not me.

He is not the one with a finger perpetually in the dam, holding back the flood, while balancing a baby on one hip and preheating the oven with the other hand. He’s not particularly bothered if the upstairs carpet hasn’t been vacuumed in three weeks or if our toddler doesn’t have a clean pair of pajama pants to wear to bed. If things start to fall apart, he doesn’t see it as a personal failing. To him, it’s just life happening. His attitude is the one I want to have, the one I know is healthy. If I allowed certain things to fall away, I’d probably be happier overall.

But what would happen if the one who holds it all together just decided to let go?

This past weekend, the four of us joined Adam’s mom and siblings for our annual family ski trip. It was a four-day, three-night excursion, which meant I had my work cut out for me when it came time to pack. As is customary, my husband packed for himself: a small duffle bag with his clothes and toiletries plus his winter gear and skis. As is also customary, I took care of the rest.

Clothes and toiletries and winter gear for myself. Onesies and diapers and sleep sacks and pajamas for the baby. Sippy cups and jeans and granola bars and a teddy bear for the toddler. Backups of everything, just in case. A cooler full of newly purchased groceries. Two Pack and Plays. A Pyrex dish for Sunday morning’s French toast casserole.

Six assorted chargers.

Seven car trip distractions.

Four pairs of mittens.

Two tiny snowsuits.

And a partridge in a pear tree.

About 90 minutes into our trip, I realized I’d forgotten the spices for the beef stew I was supposed to make for dinner Saturday night. They were at home in the spice rack, having never even crossed my mind. As we passed into New Hampshire, I remembered that my snow pants were still in a box in the attic, the lone uncrossed item on my three-page list. My husband turned to me on the second day of our trip and asked, “Did you happen to pack the Bluetooth speaker?” I hadn’t.

In those moments, it didn’t matter that I’d remembered to bring approximately 8,000 other items. All I could focus on were the ones that I’d forgotten. I am the keeper, the list maker, the executor. If I drop the ball, everyone pays. Sometimes in small ways, like in the case of a forgotten speaker. Sometimes in much larger ways with much farther reaching consequences.

This struggle is nothing new to me. It’s something I wrestle with constantly, careening from one extreme to the other without warning. Some days, I am absolutely at ease with all that I’m responsible for as a mother. I feel capable. Chest-poundingly proud. I am woman, hear me roar.

And other days? I feel utterly crushed by the weight of it all.

On days like today when I’ve felt more of the latter than the former, I’ve fielded advice from others about just “letting it go” and “focusing on what’s important.” The “important” being my kids.

“The dirty floors can wait,” they tell me. “Children won’t.”

They’re right. My boys are still young, but they are growing up faster than I’d like to admit. I know it’s important that I spend the years when they still want my attention giving them just that. But here’s the thing I can’t reconcile: what happens to all the rest of it when the one who holds the pieces together decides to just stop?

Does that mean everyone in the house gives up on wearing clean clothes? Do we just cease caring that we’re out of toilet paper? Do I stop calling to schedule doctor’s appointments and let the bills go unpaid? Is dinner a free for all every night because shopping and meal planning and cooking are just too time consuming?

How do I know what to let go of and what to hold onto?

There must be mothers out there who have figured out the balance between total chaos and rigid structure. They’re the ones who don’t mind messy houses because it means their kids are happy. They’re the ones who don’t sweat it if appointments are forgotten or the week’s meal plan flies out the window by Tuesday. They’ve let some of the balls fall and managed not to interrupt the rest of the juggling act.

I have yet to join their ranks. I hope to someday, but today, I’m still a long way off.

 

 

(Top photo courtesy of Whittney Myers Photography, 2015.)

Continue Reading 9

The Full

My coat pockets are stuffed with used wipes. There’s a blanket of crushed Goldfish and limbless Teddy Grahams covering the floor of my Jeep. My wallet is crammed with receipts for things I’ll never return: a half-used lip gloss, a quarter tank of gas, a drive-thru muffin I’ve already consumed. Of course, it contains none of the receipts I actually need.

The sink is piled high with crusty dishes and the dishwasher is full again; no one remembered to run it last night. The hampers are overflowing and the dryer can’t accommodate one more load. The recycling bin is no longer accepting new wine bottles, the Diaper Genie is maxed out and the kitchen trashcan is one banana peel away from a revolt.

My phone keeps alerting me that there’s not enough space for one more photo—it doesn’t care that the baby is looking especially adorable today. There’s a waiting line for the DVR and no one is getting in, regardless of how tantalizing she seems (I’m looking at you, New Girl.) My inbox is on the verge of implosion.

There are so many days when my life feels too full. Full to the brim. Full to capacity. Full to bursting. All I want is fewer. Thoughts in my brain. Bills in the pile. Appointments on the calendar.

I long for the simple. The straightforward. The empty. I wonder if there will ever come a day when I will be caught up on all that’s outstanding; the myriad tasks that just never seem finished no matter how often they’re done.

“How is it possible that the trashcan gets this full in two days?” I inquire of my husband several times per week.

It’s rhetorical, but I really do want to know. As I stand before the sink with water-shriveled skin, I contemplate how it can take thirty minutes to get to the bottom of the stack of dishes and three minutes to fill it to the top again. Each time I begin folding yet another tiny tee shirt I absently wonder, Will I ever find the bottom of the laundry pile or is empty just an illusion?

The full is usually positive. We all want full hair. Full bellies. Full hearts. I’m happiest when many aspects of my life are full, especially my wine glass and my wallet. But, sometimes, the full is too much. I find myself full of stress. Impatience. Anxiety. All at once, everything is overflowing, overwhelming. Bursting, breaking, busting at the seams.

I love the full. Right up until I don’t anymore.

Recently, I was commiserating with a girlfriend about our too-full lives. We are both the type that habitually bites off more than she can chew then wonders how she wound up drowning in the stress of too many obligations. “I want to book two solid nights in the resort by my house and drink at the bar and order room service and go to the spa and not speak to one effing person I don’t have to for two full days,” she said. “I’m just tapped. Completely tapped out “

I know exactly how she feels. Constantly wondering when that last little something will finally give. When the full will officially become too much to bear.

But then there’s the empty. A word that, at times, seems so tempting. An empty schedule. Empty sink. Empty dryer. Empty purse. Empty mind. I want so badly to experience empty for just one day; 24 hours where everything is clear and simple and uncluttered.

But I know empty has a dark side. By its very definition, it’s devoid of, deficient in, lacking something. Empty promises. Empty wallet. Empty arms. The substance is missing, the life drained out.

The full is hectic and stressful and crazy-making, but it’s also beautiful and rich and alive. It’s muddy shoes in the entryway and petrified spaghetti in the garbage disposal, backpacks abandoned on couches and smudgy fingerprints on the stainless steel. It’s evidence of life—a life packed with so much substance, it’s ready to burst at the seams.

The empty can be so enticing. It’s quiet houses and clear schedules, a fresh start, a clean slate. When the full becomes too much, the empty is a comforting notion, a pleasant daydream.

But it’s just that: a dream, an illusion. Because the full is messy and complicated, but it’s also tangible and real. The proof is stacked and smushed and crammed and piled all around me. It’s the thing that makes it all worth it.

How lucky I am to have a life so full.

Continue Reading 3

A Single Snapshot

The distracted mother tapping away at her iPhone screen while her son calls for her from the swingset. The family of five whose children howl and throw food like wild animals in the quiet restaurant. The harried young mother who loses it in Walmart at the slightest provocation from her brood of children. We’ve all seen them and we’ve all judged them.

Pay attention to your son! You’re missing out on all these great moments with your child while you’re buried in your newsfeed.

For the love of God, control your kids. Everyone else in this restaurant is paying for their meal and would like to eat it in peace without the likelihood of a buttered roll striking them in the back of the head.  

Your kids are just being kids. You need to learn some patience. I don’t know why some people bother having children if they can’t even be nice to them.

At one time or another, I have witnessed all of these familiar glimpses into another mom’s life and have, in turn, formulated similarly judgmental responses in my head. I was particularly critical of other moms before I became one myself; if asked, I could come up with a mile-long list of things I’d never do once I had my own kids.

But here’s the thing I learned in time: eventually we all become that mom or that family or have those kids that other people believe are worthy of judgment. We spend all day being tolerant and forgiving despite how many times our patience is tested. And then, when we finally lose it after the billionth incident, everyone in Target is witness to our meltdown and we are pegged as the monster mom who probably spends all day yelling at her poor, innocent children.

When we see another mom in a situation like this, we have no idea of her backstory. Maybe that mom is buried in her phone Googling ways to help her autistic son whose school has all but given up on him. Maybe this is the first time that family ventured out to eat all together because they were so worried about the judgment from other patrons in this exact scenario. Maybe that mom snapped because it’s her 386th day home alone with three kids while her husband is deployed. Most of the time, we only see a brief moment; a single snapshot of another mom’s life rather than what happens in all the moments before and after the snapshot is taken. We jump to judgment of the immediate circumstance, but know nothing of the rest of her life outside that moment.

The solution is so simple and yet so hard to put into practice at times: give that other mom the benefit of the doubt. Show her compassion instead of judgment. Remind her that we’ve all been there. Your kindness might just be the one thing that saves her day.

Some days, motherhood feels all but impossible to me. There’s no big, horrific circumstance I can point to that makes it feel that way—my kids are healthy, we have enough money in the bank to afford groceries, we’ve got a good support system that helps us when we need it—but sometimes the little things pile up until they seem insurmountable on a particularly hard day. The epic tantrum or the act of disobedience that seemed totally innocuous the day before suddenly becomes the last misplaced card that sends the whole shaky house tumbling down.

But, sadly enough, the thing that really has the power to make or break my day? A total stranger’s words or actions regarding my parenting. On the days when my toes are dangling over the ledge of insanity and someone scolds me because my son isn’t wearing a coat? I feel like they’ve just given me a big shove right over the edge. But when my son is lying on the ground in the middle of the post office parking lot while I yell at him to get up rightthisminute and then a stranger offers to help carry the baby’s infant seat to the car? Well that person is the force that pulls me back, dusts me off and reminds me that it’s nothing more than a bad moment. (By the way, if you were that person: THANK YOU.)

There is nothing to lose from being kind to someone else. Of course, it might go unappreciated or unacknowledged, but then we’re basically in the same position as we were before we offered up our kindness. More often than not, though, we’re in the position to hugely influence the trajectory of someone’s whole day. There’s also good chance that, someday, we will see that compassion paid back to us when we’re the ones in the middle of the parking lot with the screaming kid lying on the ground. And, I speak from experience when I say what a beautiful thing that turns out to be.

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Breaking My Last Remaining Parenting Rule

Last week, my husband and I went out for a date night while my parents watched our boys for a few hours. It was the first time in quite awhile that we’d gone out just the two of us; though we try to do something sans children at least once a month, it often ends up being dinner with another couple, an adult-only wedding or drinks with friends. As we sat across from each other in the restaurant sipping our cocktails, I realized how rarely we get to talk to each other one-on-one these days.

Sure, we talk every night when he calls on his way home from work, but there’s usually a baby crying in the background or a toddler eating toilet paper while trying to climb inside the oven that forces the call to a hurried end. We often chat in the morning while I’m showering and he’s shaving at the sink, but it’s that hasty shorthand of couples who are always crunched for time—“Yep, sure,” “Loveyouhaveagoodday.” When we finally wrangle both kids in bed at night and crash on the couch, one (or both) of us is usually asleep sitting up before we’ve even selected a movie on Netflix (“Just pick a TV show,” I often tell my husband. “I doubt I have more than 20 minutes of battery life left in me.”) Yes, we talk. But we don’t really talk.

So when we finally got the opportunity to do so without interruption or a deadline, I discovered how much I miss our pre-children conversations. We debated Trump vs. Hillary, mulled over his recent job interview, speculated on the trajectory of my budding writing career. I felt like an adult again, discussing things that never once necessitated using the word “poop.”

But then, as our entrees came and we shared forkfuls of risotto across the table, the conversation took a meandering turn back to our favorite topic: our children. On the heels of an offhand remark about an upcoming family Christmas party, I casually mentioned that our toddler had identified Santa on TV that morning. “He’s so smart,” my husband said, his eyes lighting up the way they do when he talks about our boys. “I can’t believe how much he learns every day.”

It was like dipping a toe into the ocean and finding it pleasantly warm; once we’d silently agreed it was okay to venture out, both of us dove right in. Conversation flowed easily as we discussed our younger son’s newfound ability to sit up unassisted and our toddler’s proclivity for mimicking every four-letter word that accidentally pops out of our mouths.

As a second round of drinks was delivered, we slowly waded into deeper waters; I spoke of my uncertainty about having a third child someday while my husband revealed that he feels guilty when he’s relieved that it’s my turn to put our older son to bed since he sees him so infrequently. It was the kind of subject matter we’d never tackle sitting across from each other at our dinner table as I nurse the baby one-handed and he mops up spilled milk from the highchair tray. After we returned home and retired to our respective sides of the bed, I felt a lingering gratitude for the rare opportunity to talk deeply about raising kids together.

And yet, I also felt a nagging guilt at breaking one of the cardinal rules of parenthood: don’t talk about the kids during rare alone time. I’ve not only had this advice dispensed to me on many occasions, but I’ve also doled it out myself (early on in my blogging days, I wrote an article about keeping your marriage a priority after kids that touched on this very subject.) I understand the logic behind the sentiment: if all we ever talk about is our kids, what will we have left in common when they’re grown and we’re back to life as a couple? What will remain of our marriage when we subtract our greatest commonality from the discourse?

I remembered well our first ever post-baby outing when our now toddler was just a few weeks old. We went to a restaurant less than three miles from our apartment and ate mediocre Italian food while artfully dodging the topic of our brand new baby. After the dessert dishes were cleared and I finally brought up our son, it wasn’t because I’d run out of other things to say; I just really wanted to talk about him. But I saw the slippery slope I’d begun tiptoeing down—soon enough we truly might have nothing else to discuss. I made a mental note to hold out longer next time.

For nearly two years, I’ve carried this nugget of wisdom with me, trying to observe it every time my husband and I go somewhere without our kids. But, at that moment, lying there in bed, a more forgiving train of thought finally presented itself. Our children are easily our best shared interest: how realistic is it that, during our rare alone time, we wouldn’t talk about them? Yes, we both also happen to love the Foo Fighters and peanut butter cup ice cream, but Dave Grohl’s facial hair is decidedly less interesting fodder for discussion than our toddler’s ever-expanding vocabulary. For us, the latest pop culture developments or the splashy political headlines are no match for the news of our baby’s recently acquired dimple or his growing little belly. It sounds boring, but it’s our kind of boring. Mutual mundaneness.

At times, it’s almost like having our own secret language that insulates us from everyone in our immediate vicinity. We gesticulate wildly while telling stories that involve our kids, pantomime their habits, mimic the charmingly incorrect way they pronounce certain words. It feels natural and easy, like speaking one’s native tongue again after returning from a foreign country. The language of our children is the one we both speak the best, so why bother ourselves with the ones to which we have grown unaccustomed over the years?

The woman I was before kids cringes at this realization; I thought we’d never become that couple who had nothing better to talk about than our kids. But then again, the woman I was before kids didn’t understand that there actually is nothing better. My husband and I have more than a decade of shared history and a million little things in common, but, right now, in this season of our lives, our children are our one BIG thing. In some ways, it feels like a natural progression; a coming to fruition of the type of people we were bound to become. I might just be okay with that. 

At this point, I’ve thrown every other parenting rule I had before kids out the window. I suppose it can’t hurt to get rid of this one, too.

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Town Hall Meeting

Friends,

I wanted to do a little Town Hall meeting, so to speak, in which I could talk to you about some of the things that have been on my mind lately. None of it is cause for concern—just some general things I wanted to keep you in the loop on.

I’ve flip-flopped on the direction of this site/page for awhile. In all the writers groups I belong to and in all the blogging how-to’s I’ve read, the goal is to make money from blogging. Otherwise it remains a hobby with no real legitimacy. I’ve toyed with the idea of selling advertising space on my site, doing sponsored posts, putting affiliate links in my articles. I’ve submitted my work here, there and everywhere and been published on a lot of wonderful sites that I’m still proud to have my work featured on. Some paid a little bit; most paid nothing. After a year and a half of blogging, I’ve still only made about $300 total and spent far, far more than that.

But here’s the thing: I love this community and I don’t want it to change. I don’t want to compromise the good thing we have going to make $50 on a sponsored post. I don’t want to jeopardize the trust you have in me to talk to you honestly and candidly by taking advertising money. I don’t want to worry about pageviews or social media stats. (For the record, I’m not saying that other bloggers shouldn’t do this. I really believe everyone does what’s best for them and that’s the bottom line.) Every avenue I’ve considered has been the wrong fit for OMTA , which is why I’ve let it just continue the way it has been, steadily growing and getting more and more supportive, honest and real because of the women who contribute to the conversations I’ve started.

So, for the foreseeable future, I’m going to stop trying so hard. I’m going to stop posting recipes unless I really want to because I’m not, by nature, a food blogger. I’m going to stop holding myself to an every other week newsletter. I’m going to write only what’s in my heart and let go of the rest. One mom who reads OMTA recently said this to me: “I don’t come to this page for Pinterest projects or recipes. I come here because you make motherhood feel better.” I felt like her words smacked me over the head with their truth. The thing I enjoy doing the most is talking to you through my writing about what motherhood is really like. I love our conversations and the answers you give to deep questions I ask. I love that you support me 100% with none of the judgmental, nasty feedback I see so many other bloggers get on their pages. I think you love all that too. 

What I don’t love is busting my ass to take pictures of projects that Chase hates anyway or staying up past midnight to finish a newsletter that only 20% of people open. I don’t love warring between guilt that I’m on my phone while my kids are awake and guilt that I no longer have time to respond to the 200+ comments/day that the Facebook page often gets. None of that is meant to be a judgment on my readers at all—it’s just me saying I have my priorities a little skewed; I tend to really load up my plate for no reason other than to be constantly busy. I don’t think you love those things either. If I’m being honest, I don’t enjoy the tedious parts of it and, I’ve come to the realization that, if I’m not going to make money off it and consider it a job, then I should let those unpleasant parts go. Hobbies should be fun. I want One Mother to Another to remain around for a long time, but I know burnout is a very real thing in blogging. 

So I’m looking toward the long game. I will consider this a hobby for now and continue to put money into it the way one would with a hobby like skiing or knitting without expecting anything back but personal satisfaction. I am truly fulfilled by what this site has become and I hate the idea of it ever changing, especially by something I’ve done to try to make extra cash. It’s not worth it. (I’ll just hope I sell lots of books someday!)

That being said, a hobby is something that I have to do in my spare time. Until now, I’ve spent 25 or more hours per week on OMTA, which is basically a part time job. But I can’t support a job that doesn’t pay while also trying to be a great mother. So, as you’ve probably noticed, I’ve stopped being able to respond to all the comments on the page. Sometimes it takes me a long time to get to them; lately, I can’t get to some at all. I hate it because it makes me feel ungrateful for the fact that you choose to spend your time with me, jumping into a discussion on my page, but I know you understand. I try very hard not to have my phone out when my kids are awake, so I have very limited time to respond these days. And a lot of that is taken up by my family and actual writing, which are the things that feed my soul and make OMTA what it is. So I’m trying to let go of the guilt of not responding to each and every comment and sincerely hope that you will stick around and continue to contribute to the conversation. I really believe we have something special and unique here. 

Anyway, I just had to get all that off my chest because it’s really important to me that you understand my reasoning behind the direction OMTA is moving. I deeply appreciate each and every one of you for sticking with me, supporting me and sharing your life with me. I hope we can keep doing that for a long, long time.

Crazy love,

Melissa
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