Monthly Archives: January 2013

Clutter Busting

clutterClutter can cost you, both in time and in money. When we spend so much time taking care of stuff that we get little pleasure or accomplishment from, when we spend money to house items that we don’t need, we can’t soar in our lives. Those things creep in, usually slowly, and rob us of family time, financial security, and a sense of home as a haven.

Simplifying can be freeing.

Most of us have way too much stuff, too much clutter, so much that we would never be able to catalogue everything we own from memory. Yet, despite this, we tend to feel as though we constantly need more. I don’t think that there is anything wrong with owning things that we love, but what about the rest? Do we love the junk mail and school papers that accumulate on the kitchen counter, or the stack of books that we may read someday, or the clothes in the back of the closet that we never seem to want to wear?

Chances are, if you sit down with your computer or pencil and paper and start writing down what you own, being very specific, you’ll quickly find out which things that mean the most to you. The rest might just be too much.

In order to make room in our lives for the things that do fulfill us, we have to get rid of the things that serve as distractions. Clutter can hold us back.

I am by no means a master of this, this removing the excess from my life. In fact, I have a long way to go. I look forward to the day when we can look around at my home and really love everything that our eyes see.

Here is a list of my clutter busting accomplishments this week, so far.

  • One large food pantry
  • Magazines
  • Flat surface one
  • Toys (one large contractor bag–whoo hoo)
  • Children’s books
  • Children’s videos
  • Adult Books
  • Cookbooks
  • Adult medicine cabinet
  • Children’s medicine cabinet

Have you been getting rid of clutter? Please comment with your accomplishments. Do you have any questions about where to start? Post them as well.

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De-cluttering Toys

De-Cluttering Toys

Helpful Tip: When de-cluttering toys, remember to remove any batteries. Otherwise, a rogue toy may give you away. Oops.

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January 21, 2013 · 1:25 pm

Organizing and De-cluttering This Week

Organizing and De-cluttering This Week

The secret stash of books in my nightstand. Apparently, I’m worried about suffering that terrible fate of being trapped in my bed by a roving band of maurauders and having nothing to read.

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January 20, 2013 · 1:54 pm

Joining the Circus

Photo of the old railroad tracks in Long Island City, New York

© Frank Carrado

When I was five, I wanted to join the circus. When I turned seven, I actually did it. Or, at least I tell myself that I did.

Unfortunately, the circus had no use for a small girl-child whose own previous claim to fame was a photo in a New York newspaper, taken at a Santa event at the local post office. Still, no one could pull a present out of a Santa sack as well as I could. I still have the clipping and may show it to you someday. There I am with badly cut homemade bangs, my mouth gaping open seemingly in wonder at the magic gifts in Santa’s sack, when in reality the gifts felt hollow, too light, too soft, to actually have anything inside.

That is okay. There was magic elsewhere.

I grew up in an industrial area of Queens. For $64 a month, you could get an apartment with a million dollar view of the Manhattan skyline. It wasn’t until decades later, when urban development encroached and the corner bodega was turned into artsy six-dollar-a-cup cafe, and the sooty wild weed fields were turned into man-made sandy beaches fronted by high-rise apartments (with view), that I realized that we had lived in the slums. I still can’t wrap my head around that one. It is just something that is assumed. By others. I am not resentful.

One of the benefits of living nowhere anyone wanted to be is that all sorts of outlier things would come into the neighborhood  with hardly any ripple effect to the outside world. Oh sure, that broken-down apartment building that we lived in just might find its way into a bad but popular 70s movie, but for the most part, the neighborhood just didn’t exist unless you really went looking for it.

One of those things that did come looking was the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Baily Circus train. It pulled in to the mostly abandoned railroad tracks, where the city kept mountains of salt so high that they easily dwarfed our fifth floor apartment building. On non-windy days, the kids in the neighborhood would use the giant salt mountain as a slide, burning skin and corroding tears into the bottoms of brown corduroy bell bottoms.

The circus had a gig at Madison Square Garden, but its home base in New York was less than a block away from the building. Years of penny-candy-money saved wouldn’t afford a ticket, but we had something better anyway. The night before the first performance, when dusk turned toward night, the circus people would march themselves, their props and their animals out of the train yard, down the block and right past the building on their way through the Midtown Tunnel. The elephants were bigger than anything  we could have imagined, and Michael Gomez dared me to touch the tiger’s cage.

The next day, I packed a bag and headed down into the train tracks, hoping to stowaway on one of the train cars, maybe the one where the acrobats lived, or maybe the dancers. Not the clowns, though. Never the clowns. But, the cars were all quiet in the middle of the day. Passing over a discarded snake of rope, I made my way around and behind the first car that caught my eye, a blue one. The door was closed, and I turned some metal that was sticking out of the undercarriage into a step-ladder, my head dizzy from looking up at the blue sky and my nostrils picking up a slight scent of rust.

I remember the smell, because it reminded me of scraped knees and the time I cut my head open on that traffic sign at the entrance to the Long Island Expressway. My father had them cut the corner off of the sign. The sign has since been replaced.

I yanked, I kicked and the door never moved. I wandered around the train yard, looking for treasures that might have been dropped, a spangle from a costume, something to take the glamour back to my second floor apartment. All I found was a penny, which I carefully placed on a section of the tracks where the train would pull back out. I would return later, hoping that the train wheels would stretch the copper into something beautiful.

–Mary Ann Carrado Romans

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How to Deal with Your Children’s Fears

This post originally appeared on eFoods Direct

How to Deal with Your Children’s Fears

by Mary Ann Romans

From the state of the economy to the Mayan calendar, from zombies in popular culture to deadly diseases, our children get exposed to a lot of negativity and hysteria. Here is how to quell the fears and leave your children confident and prepared.

Understand the Fears

Children, especially young children, view the world very differently and often with limited understanding. That is why it is so important to take the time to discuss and understand any fears that your children might have.

For example, after hearing about the US heading toward the fiscal cliff, a young child may envision the entire country or world physically falling off an actual cliff. Pretty scary.

For children with limited verbal ability, ask them to draw what they are afraid of. Make sure you are in a well-lit room and you stay by their side as they do this. Not only will a discussion or drawing help you understand the fears, but it can also be cathartic to the child.

Strongly Remind and Reassure Them

Explain to your children that it is your job to take care of them and protect them, and that you will do everything in your power to keep them safe no matter what. Most children need to be reminded of this at least once in a while. Explain that you are taking steps to make sure that their fears never come true. Obviously, this will depend on the particular fears, but a general statement should reassure them now and in the future.

Address fears of the fictitious with sensitivity. Even though you know the walking dead don’t exist, your children may be firmly convinced otherwise.

Empower Them

My youngest son read a book in school about the polar ice caps melting and the polar bears dying. An animal lover practically from birth, this greatly upset him, and he feared that there will be no more polar bears left. In this case, we talked about energy conservation. He now is in charge of shutting off unused lights, reminding his siblings not to leave the water running, and thinking about ways to reduce energy usage in our home.

Other ways to empower a child might be to let them help you with food storage and preparation or other prepping tasks. For an older child, learning a new skill, such as animal husbandry or carpentry may make them feel empowered to tackle anything.

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Naked People on Our Windowsill

My husband and I have given up on having anything nice until the kids are grown. Someday, maybe, we can go out on a crazy shopping spree and furnish the house the way we want. Like with furniture from a catalogue and stuff.

Once in a while we forget that as parents of young children we aren’t entitled to have nice things in our home. Like the time we bought $90 worth of fancy candles for our bay window only to find that the kids had scratched their names in the sides. And carved little naked people. With big smiles.

That is okay. I’m hoping that there will be real linen and polished wood at the end of the tunnel.

Images of what are home will look like some day when the kids are grown…

Great room of the HGTV Dream Home 2012 located in Midway, Utah7-10-disney-dream-home-3

…and also when someone gives us 10 million dollars tax-free.

And not one of those fake lottery tickets, cause people, we don’t play the lottery.

Until that time, I’ll settle for the ugly countertops put in during the 1960s, complete with curvy groovy shapes in a dark yellow on light yellow motif.

Don’t worry, some progress has been made since we bought the house. We did, after all, get rid of the blue shag rug in the bathroom that mysteriously collected dog hair when we didn’t own a dog.

For now, we’ll put up with plastic baskets to corral the toys, and we’ll deal with the floor-sale couch that after repeated jumping upon looks more like a melted puddle of denim fabric than some place to sit. The plastic won’t mould when a peanut butter sandwich is left in it, and the couch, well, we don’t entertain much anyway.

Plus, if the house was “finished,” there would be no more dreaming, would there?

Ha ha ha. You bought that right? Maybe for a second?

The truth is that I complain about the house all of the time. And then I feel guilty. Must be the upbringing. I can almost see legions of Italian Aunts with New York accents waving their underarm jiggle at me because I never did put plastic slip covers on the couch or get into the habit of waxing the linoleum once a week. Cause the state of the house is a reflection of the woman, even if we say it isn’t. Even if we don’t want it to be. Which is why you’ll never see a man making a mad dash through the rooms with a plastic garbage bag of things to stuff in the closet when the doorbell rings.

We carry our culture norms with us, even as we rebel against them. Plus, it is true; I do like a nice scented candle on the windowsill.

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Backyard Residents

Backyard Residents

My husband took this photo of some of the newest residents of our backyard.

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January 14, 2013 · 2:36 pm

Sacred Marriage

Sacred Marriage

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January 11, 2013 · 11:57 am

Overwhelmed with Goodie Bags

goodie bag

This article originally appeared in the Minimal Mom column in Western New York Family Magazine.

After a sometimes frustrating but ultimately positive week of de-cluttering several areas of our home, including the play room, one of my three kids came home with yet another goodie bag. That makes seven goodie bags in the past week so far. School, church and other activities are all wrapping up for the summer, and apparently each seasonal good-bye requires not only a party, but a goodie bag as well.

These goodie bags are filled with a number of small toys and things that will either break within a week, get lost under the couch or wind up crushed underfoot in the car. We have enough rubber bracelets, bouncy balls, plastic rings, sticky creatures, fancy erasers, pencils, trading cards, noisemakers and stickers to fill a typically large grocery store vending machine or a piñata made in the image of Paul Bunyan.

The little gifts are appreciated by my kids for maybe an hour or two before turning into clutter. In spite of this, once a goodie bag item is given to a child it is owned by that child, who swears heartbreak, if I even suggest that the plastic spinning top with the sharp edge gets tossed.

How on earth did we parents get into this madness? Why is it that every event requires a bag full of colorful junk that costs a small fortune?

Someone I know well, who AHEM shall remain nameless, considered moving out of the neighborhood after she dared to throw a birthday party for her daughter that did not include goodie bags. After several guests asked where the goodie bags were, she caved and sent her husband out to the store to scour the aisles for something appropriate. He came back with some plastic clothes pins and leftover Fourth of July decorations. clutter

Sigh. Poor guy was raised during a time when there was no bling at birthday parties. Cake and ice cream maybe, but no bling.

I worry that these goodie bags are reinforcing the message to our children, from a young age, that they cannot be happy unless their personal spaces contain a large quantity of stuff.

So how do we get out from under all of this goodie bag clutter and teach our children to go against the cultural message of more is best? It is really up to us, the parents, to stop this clutter and commercialism from overwhelming our homes and our kids. Here are some options:

  • Instead of handing out goodie bags, choose gift cards that can be redeemed for experiences, such as an ice cream cone at the local shop, or a game of laser tag or mini golf. As a bonus, you’ll probably wind up spending less money overall. A single game of mini golf costs approximately $2. A goodie bag averages $8-15.
  • Get the goodie bag stuff out of your home. Donate the better quality items. Consider Samaritan’s Purse or another organization that collects shoeboxes filled with toys and clothing to distribute to poor children around the world. I’ve found that my kids are much more likely to part with something if they picture another child loving it. It is an important lesson for them to learn. Those who have too much should bless those who have too few.
  • Petition your home and school association, church and other organizations to skip or replace the goodie bags with something more meaningful, such as a mini yearbook of photos or a personal letter from a teacher. When you child is a teenager or young adult, which items will be the most valuable? Which should be?
  • You serve as a model to your children. Consider thinking twice before loading up on samples and freebies whenever you can, just because they are free? Do you have a purse full of lipsticks or a desk full of the latest gadgets? These are your own versions of goodie bags. Ask yourself if they really add significant value to your life.

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Through the Looking Glass

Through the Looking Glass

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January 10, 2013 · 1:58 pm