Get Out!

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Photo by Anika Huizinga on Unsplash

When my kids were toddlers, distraction was my most useful parenting tool. If you’re in a store with a 3 year-old and he suddenly wants a 5-foot stuffed bunny that the store so kindly placed right at eye level of your little darling, you know just saying “No” isn’t going to cut it. If he wants that bunny more than anything, on top of being tired and hungry, things are going to get ugly quick unless you come up with a distraction. There’s going to be a scene.

“Look!” you say with feigned enthusiasm. “Look over there!” (What’s over there? I don’t know. Anything: a picture of a puppy, a balloon, a flashing light … whatever gets the focus off that 5-foot stuffed bunny.) If you use just the right lilt in your voice and swing the cart in the right direction, you might make him forget that he was about to scream bloody murder about that bunny. Take that moment, multiply it by 100 times a day, and there you have the life of a toddler.

But maybe it’s not that different for adults.

Maybe I’m tired and hungry, but I’m feeling frustrated today. Irritable. I’m thinking about events currently in the news, thinking about work and family obligations, and today is a day I just wanted to relax. I wanted things to go my way. But they didn’t. Same goes for my husband. We spent a good amount of time this afternoon complaining to each other about the maddening things that hijacked our plans for a relaxing, stress-free day.

The more we talked, the more we were getting upset: not at each other, really. We were just feeding off each other’s frustrations, and as we counted the ways things had not gone our way, our voices got louder, and tone got sharper, our blood pressure was mounting.

Time to get out

We’ve been here before. Life is stressful. A lot of times it’s just little stuff, but even a tiny pebble in your shoe can be maddening sometimes.

Our little house, only two bedrooms, a living room and a kitchen, and my beloved reading porch, sometimes isn’t enough to contain the mounting frustrations of every day life. Today is one of those days.

So we got out. We walked right out of our house and distracted ourselves, the way we distracted our little toddlers for so many years in the past. Now, as I write, I’m sitting at a table at our local library, in front of a gorgeous window overlooking a park. It’s so quiet here. There’s free wi-fi and a coffee shop downstairs. Bathrooms I don’t have to clean. Looking across the table, I see my husband’s face. He’s happily clacking away on his laptop. The creases in his forehead that were there just a few hours ago are gone.

A change of scenery, a change of pace, is good for all of us. In fact, it’s necessary. And for some reason, living in our small house has amplified that lesson for me. For one, the small house has fewer chores that demand my time. It takes just a few minutes to tidy it up. And because it’s so small, it’s taught me that my whole life can’t take place inside the walls of my house. I have to get out some times. I have to walk out the door and see new views and meet new people.

Sometimes I need quiet. Sometimes I need noise to drown out my worries. But the point is that a change of scenery can be good and give us a much-needed change in perspective. Today, getting out turned I-can’t-believe-that-happened into I-feel-so-lucky-to-be-here-right-now.

Attitude adjustment achieved. Adult temper tantrum thwarted.

 

Thank you for airing your clean laundry in public

There are a lot of things we don’t talk about with our acquaintances. Certain things, like money, or sex, or illness, or past traumas. Or mistakes.

The line, “Please don’t air your dirty laundry in public” is one of those idioms addressing this phenomenon of secrets. “Please, we don’t want to hear about that unpleasantness.”

(Just to be clear: airing other people’s dirty laundry? That’s a no-no. Keep your hands in your own laundry, please.)

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Photo by Karen Maes on Unsplash

I, for one, am a fan of hanging out laundry in public. And by that, I’m referring to actual laundry. You know: sheets, and pillowcases. Towels and underwear. Years ago, I heard a rumor that in the somewhat conservative suburb where I live, there is an ordinance against hanging your clothes out on a clothesline. It prompted me to immediately purchase a clothesline. Consider it my own form of suburban civil disobedience.

The laundry police have never stopped by my house, even though I religiously hang freshly cleaned laundry out on the line to dry. I love the ritual of pulling out cold, damp clothes from my basement washing machine, carrying them upstairs in a clothes basket balanced on my hip, then shaking them out on my deck and attaching them to my line with wooden clothespins. Almost immediately, you can feel the moisture from the fabric being pulled out by the warmth of the sun. All that free energy, plus the added bonus of being outside and hearing birds sing in the back yard while you do a mundane chore. I don’t often compare myself to Snow White, but my clothesline does make me feel a bit like that domestic Disney waif.

In the same way, this blog is a way for me to air a little of my “clean” laundry. The process of downsizing our home began four years ago when a combination of a pay freeze, bad financial decisions, consumerism, and valuing things over experiences and peace of mind resulted in us living in a house that was beginning to feel less and less like home and more like an albatross hanging around our necks.

Three times now, I’ve spoken in public about our family’s experience of downsizing to a smaller home. There are a couple things that always feel a little embarrassing to say out loud: that in the process of moving, we not only donated a bunch of stuff, but we additionally filled two dumpsters of stuff from our home! That is hard to admit out loud. But it’s true.

The other difficult thing to say out loud: our monthly mortgage payment used to be nearly 50% of our monthly income. We thought that was normal. We thought that was the price of the American Dream! Then, when we attended Financial Peace University and started working toward financial wellness, we learned that our mortgage payment should actually be closer to 25% of our monthly income.

(By the way, the first time I heard that 25% number, I scoffed. I thought it was impossible to achieve. But I’m here to tell you it IS possible, and WOW, does it make a difference in the way you sleep at night!)

But I want to say these things out loud now. I’m compelled to! Because not too long ago, we thought we were doing the right thing. We thought we were keeping up with the Joneses, even if we were feeling exhausted and worried all the time.

Our little house has taught us so much. Our lives are more balanced. We’ve had some rich experiences in the past few years that have happened as a direct result of our move to a much smaller home.

So this is why I air my laundry, and I encourage you to, too. Clean up the messes in your life the best you can, then talk about it! Encourage others who may be silently suffering, wondering, or searching. Be honest and vulnerable and human. We aren’t all that different from each other.

Porch Life

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Visible across the way from our house are two homes that cause a lot of discussion when my husband and I take the dog for a walk. For 3-1/2 years since we moved into this neighborhood, we’ve passed these two homes countless times; you could say they are part of our daily scenery.

The one house is what you’d call a farmhouse style: it looms large with lots of sunny windows. It’s a newer construction boasting all the amenities, conveniences, and 21st century square footage coupled with old fashioned curb appeal. The best thing about this house, to me, is the lovely wraparound porch. Hanging between the porch posts are lush, green plants in baskets. Those plants are never dried up or wilted! The porch has wicker furniture, bedecked with luxurious cushions and throw pillows. If there was ever a place to flop down on an August afternoon into a soft, fluffy cushion on a wicker chair and fan yourself with your wide-brimmed hat while saying, “I do declare, what I wouldn’t give for some Sweet Tea right at this moment!” it is on that porch.

Never, not once, have I seen anyone sitting on that porch!

Beside the Sweet Tea house is a 50s ranch, utilitarian, small in size, but neat as a pin. The owners, let’s call them Tony and Flo, keep the sidewalk swept, the grass mowed, and the shrubs well manicured.

Tony and Flo don’t have a porch. They barely have a stoop. From their house, they could practically reach out and touch the Sweet Tea porch, but they’re probably too polite. Instead, Tony and Flo get two lawn chairs from their garage, set them up on their asphalt driveway, and sit, happy as clams, living their best porch life on a makeshift, asphalt driveway. They always wave to me when I’m out walking the dog, and I often see them talking with neighbors passing by. They look positively serene out there.

How can a Sweet Tea porch sit empty, while a slab of asphalt is the site of so much contentment and community?

This is the lesson our little house has taught me. I’ve only just learned it and I suspect Tony and Flo have known for much longer: It’s not about chasing after the bigger, better stuff. It’s about having just what you need, then taking time often to slow down and celebrate and feel gratitude for what you already have.

Summer is coming to a close: the cicadas’ song tells me so. Find your porch, whether you have a Sweet Tea spot or just a patch of grass or asphalt big enough for a chair. Have a seat, look around, smile at your neighbors, and tell yourself, “Aren’t I lucky?”

xoxo,

Carol

 

 

IKEA: Deconstructing My Feelings

All I wanted was a lamp.

Since moving to the Cozy Cottage, IKEA has become a champion for my journey to minimalism. Their furniture has clean lines, and a lot of it is built for small spaces. And it’s affordable. For example, our IKEA bed is the bomb. It has four huge drawers beneath the bed. It’s brilliant! We don’t even need a dresser.

But this last trip was … not good. It started out on a bright note, but by the time we got home, we were tired, frustrated, irritated with each other and … still didn’t have a lamp. It started me thinking … is IKEA really a champion for minimalists? Or is it the bane of our existence, with its labrynthian layout and low-cost/poor quality items that aren’t finished until we lug them home and pour our own sweat equity into the construction via Allen Wrench? It left me feeling confused.

I decided to work out my feelings about it on Facebook. This is my post from last Sunday:


TRIP TO IKEA IN 13 EASY STEPS [a love story]

1. OMG. We’re at IKEA! I love IKEA
2. Look at all the great stuff!
3. Where am I? Didn’t I already pass this display?
4. OMG! I love this [thing I have to assemble myself]
5. Where are you?
6. Do you like this [thing I have to assemble myself]?
7. Why don’t you like it?
8. What do you mean? I don’t think it looks like that.
9. Well, if you don’t like it, then I’m not going to get it.
10. Fine.
11. OMG. I hate IKEA
12. Are you mad? I’m not mad. I think I’m just hungry and tired.
13. I’m sorry. But I still hate IKEA.


What followed was a very boisterous exchange of ideas and commiseration from many of my Facebook friends:

From Suzy: “The problem appears to be you missed a step–sit down at the restaurant and eat meatballs somewhere between Steps 6 and 11. Meatballs make everything better.”

From Amarelis:  “Too accurate. IKEA is always a good idea until you actually start shopping.”

Shannon: “I’m going tomorrow but have the item # and bin so I will be in and out! I’m convinced this is the way to do IKEA!”

Liz: “I bought glasses there once. It’s true, you get what you pay for. They were broken by the time I got home!”

Kathy: “I buy lingonberries by the case (way cheaper than anywhere else) because I make lots of Swedish chili in the winter!”

Mmmmm, Kathy, you tempt me with your talk of Swedish chili! Tell me, are the lingonberries kept in stock near the exit, or do I have to search for them somewhere on the third floor between duvet covers and the wine racks?

While I’m still left sorting out my feelings about IKEA, I do know one thing: I have some pretty awesome FB friends.

Rob sums it up best:

“I always get so Sklerf when I go there–at first it is Ploog, and then it gets Flurgen.”

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Three Things I Don’t Need (Since I Bought a Small House)

The greatest lesson the Cozy Cottage has taught us is the lesson of letting go. Letting go can be a joyful thing. Letting go feels like removing weight from your shoulders. Each day, we’re walking a little lighter and more freely in our little house. I’ve compiled a list of three things I can do without. I don’t need them! I’m free!

1.) Microwave To be honest, this one scared me. I mean, who doesn’t love the smell of microwave popcorn? Or the satisfaction of heating water for your tea right in the mug? And what about re-heating leftovers? No, I definitely wasn’t ready to give up the microwave. And still … it took up precious room on the counter. And how much did we really use it? So I carried it down to the basement. It wasn’t plugged in, but it sat down there, just in case. A week went by. One night, my son brought it up to heat up some water for hot chocolate. But then I showed him how to heat it in a saucepan on the stove. It didn’t take that much longer than the microwave. Mind. Blown. The microwave is gone now. I make popcorn on the stovetop. It’s delicious. I make tea in a kettle. And leftovers get re-heated in a pan. Except for pizza. Have you ever re-heated pizza in the oven? It’s heavenly. Try it. You’ll thank me.

2.) A Fence Our dog Baxter is an active guy. He loves to chase squirrels, rabbits, and squirrels. Oh, and squirrels. Our last house had a nice yard that was entirely fenced in. The Cozy Cottage does not. Before we moved in, we thought, “Of course, we’ll have to put up a fence for the dog.” Well, we haven’t, and we’re not going to. We love the way our back yard opens up to our neighbors. We’ve had so many wonderful conversations with the folks on either side of our house, and many of those conversations wouldn’t have happened if we had a fence. Also, we walk more. Baxter refuses to let us laze on the couch. When he’s gotta go, he’s gotta go! So we get up, and we take a walk. A lot of times, my husband and I walk together, and we have uninterrupted conversation! Or sometimes I’ll grab one of my kids, and I love hearing what’s going on in their world. Best of all, sometimes I walk alone. I have real thoughts, and I can finish them. I’m getting closer to solving the planet’s problems and world domination. Fence? No thanks.

3.) Master Suite In the near future, I’m going to devote an entire post to our “Master Bedroom,” because even I can’t believe in our bedroom setup. Our house has two bedrooms. That’s right! So it’s taken a little creativity to make sure everyone has a comfortable place to sleep. I used to think I wanted a giant bedroom with a sitting area, maybe even a couch and a desk, and an adjoining bathroom with two sinks so my darling husband could brush his teeth at his sink while I washed my face beside him in my sink. Our reality is nothing like that. Our Cozy Cottage has one bathroom, and sometimes it gets a little crazy, especially when five people are trying to get ready at the same time. But our little “master” bedroom is just enough for our queen-size bed, a lamp, and a little bookshelf. We have one closet and no dresser (but thanks to IKEA, our bed has four spacious drawers beneath it). You know what? My tiny bedroom is awesome! It’s pretty easy to keep neat, and there isn’t room for a lot of extra junk in there. Therefore, it’s a very relaxing place to be. When I go in there, I know I have a lamp, a book, comfy pillows, and my jammies. Turns out I don’t need the other stuff.

 

 

 

Learning to Get Lost

Let’s get lost
Lost in each other’s arms
Let’s get lost
Let them send out alarms
And though they’ll think us rather rude
Let’s tell the world we’re in that crazy mood …

IMG_2677We weren’t really lost this weekend, but we did take the wrong subway. For the second time in as many months, my husband and I, like giggling teens, packed an overnight bag and got on a Metra commuter train for a weekend getaway in the city. And despite the fact that we love Chicago, and we consider it our city, we are just as suburban as one would expect. So when it was time to get on the “L” to reach the theatre where we had tickets to see my favorite comedian, Maria Bamford, we were a little out of sorts. Can we use our debit card at the ticket station? Do we even know how to transfer from the Blue Line to the Brown Line? Was it Division Street we wanted, or Diversey?

 

Our new house, the Cozy Cottage, is responsible for all of this. Moving to a smaller house has given us a smaller mortgage, and a smaller list of worries, but we are thrown into a big new world of re-learning how to do things. After so many years of putting off our own dating life in lieu of child-rearing and bill paying, Cozy Cottage has freed up some of our time. And so we find ourselves, holding hands, sweating in the August heat, laughing that we must look like tourists, studying the map, checking our GPS.  I’m not even ashamed that I stare up at the skyscrapers and gasp. I feel small and insignificant. I’m learning to get lost. I like it.

via Daily Prompt: Learning

Starting Over

I love calendars, and crisp new calendars with empty squares gets me feeling all tingly with the thought of new possibilities and open-ended adventures.  We are five days into a new year, and I’ve already pored over my calendars: all of them! I have iCal, Google Calendar, then the good ol’ paper calendar that hangs on my kitchen wall. We call that one “Command Central.” But all those open squares! I want to fill them with new experiences.

I’m taking a firm stance on New Year’s Resolutions—what are they, other than a checklist for my future failings? I won’t make any resolutions. Instead, I’m just taking my first step into 2016 feeling positive that something will happen. I just hope that whatever happens, I’m ready for it.

IMG_1347 All I know, is our family’s decision to move to a small house has been life-changing, which is what this blog is all about. The less space for living has allowed more space for living. It’s been eight months since we’ve moved to our little house of less than 1,000 square feet, and already, I can breathe easier. I feel better about the future, and find that my smaller house is opening doors for bigger adventure. As I write more about specific changes our family has undergone to declutter and pare down our belongings, I hope to connect with others on the same journey.  Even more, I hope to give encouragement to someone who is feeling overwhelmed right now and are ready to make a change. You can do it! It’s never too late to start over.