On Monday night we had to move Stella’s bed out of the kids room, the shoe baskets, roller skates, hobby horses, LeapPad, princess books, floor puzzles, and some other stuff we keep in that corner had to go too (yes all from one corner. It’s New York, remember? And we have three kids in there now). We had to so they could remove the windowsill from, hmmm- maybe 100 years ago. The last swipe test the city did came back positive for lead paint. So, for two days I had to be home from 9-2 so a couple of employees from the Housing Preservation Department could come and go seventeen times, carry in supplies and tools, put a plastic barrier floor to ceiling, tear off wood, clean up all the lead painted parts, take it out to dispose of it properly, put up a new frame, re-plaster the wall where it came undone during the dismantling, clean-up, then paint it all cream, even though the walls are white. Better them than me. Better them than me. (Why does that feel like it always needs to be said twice?)

To move all of the stuff out of that corner was simple enough, except that the only place to move it to was the living room. The room where we usually do most of our living, but had to do all of our living in while the workers were here became the dumping ground for all of it, with the exception of Stella’s bed, which we put in our room. So for two days we had toy baskets and shoes, books and dress-ups in the living room. I started sorting through some of it and my three-year-old Cole and I decided to give some stuff away. We found a conveniently handled recycled brown paper bag from Trader Joe’s and started filling it up. I found it fitting to be recycling in a recycled product. It gave me a good feeling all around.

If you’ve ever sorted and purged you know before it gets better it becomes a much bigger mess than you started with. In our small room where we needed to be doing all the living we emptied baskets and containers and started making piles. Before long the entire room, including the table in the corner, the entry way and most of the hall were covered in piles, making it virtually impossible to cross any area without some kind of puncture wound to the foot (kids toys are like weapons when you step on them, even the ones that look harmless, like plastic beads, they’re round, but when you put 100+ pounds of pressure on that one tiny spot, okay 150+ pounds of pressure, Ouch! But I digress–). The only living we were doing was the get organized kind, and the keep Stella alive by swiping her mouth for choking hazards every ten minutes kind.

After finding containers for the keep toys and putting the others into additional bags, (two more Trader Joe’s and one big garbage sack-oh yeah, that’s what I call progress!) we went to put stuff away. The neatly organized toys couldn’t very well be put back into that bedroom. After taking so many things out of their usual homes I realized how much work still loomed before us. There were dust bunnies, grimy blinds, toys, play money, broken dress-up beads, stray feathers from the costume box, scraps from last year’s art projects, crunchy leaves off the bottom of shoes, a bird could have built a comfy nest with everything on the floor in just that corner.

And so the sort and purge continued. We decided to move everything and really show entropy what we’re made of. We took the rest of the toys into the living room, scooted furniture into different places, swept and scrubbed, dumped and containerized. Even after a full day of working yesterday we have stuff left to do. As soon as I publish this, I hope to wrap up this battle on clutter and get done in time for pizza and a movie night.

‘Tis the time of year for reflecting, and I couldn’t help but notice some parallels between this week of reorganizing and cleaning the kids bedroom and a week ago when I spent seven days on complete vocal rest. (I was recovering from a vocal surgery to remove a polyp, a benign growth brought on by allergies and coughing. I’m all better now, so no worries.) As you can imagine a week of not speaking is challenging. It’s especially challenging with three children under five. But as you might also imagine it sure gives one time to think.

With the kids room we had to get out of our norm, create a mess so we could make it better, cleaner, and easier to use. Now we know what we have; we’ve decided what we value most and want to keep.

Not speaking gave me something similar. I didn’t vocalize for a week. (With very few exceptions, when I was alone with our three-year-old Cole trying to get him dressed and out the door on my own, there were moments when our mutual patience for the longest game of charades ever had run out and I just couldn’t remain silent. And then there was the time I thought my heart might actually break if I didn’t tell Stella I love her as she sat screaming in her bed. This ordeal took a toll on my sweet baby. She just didn’t know what to think of my sudden muteness and though I worked extremely hard, I did have a weak moment on day five when I held her and looked in her sad beautiful face and told her right out loud how sorry I was and how much I love her. The rest of the week, when we didn’t try to go anywhere and my kids watched an unsurpassed and undeniably unhealthy amount of TV and movies it was much simpler.) Being out of the norm allowed me time to reflect on all the things I would normally say and the ways I usually parent and communicate.

So I had a chance to mentally sort and purge. I highly recommend this, if you ever get the chance (I don’t want to do it again, ever, but still if you need to have a polyp removed, know you’ll get more than a clean voice out of it).

The things I am now trying to purge are:
• snarky comments to my husband, usually meant to be funny, but always create more damage than laughter
• judgements and criticisms
• threats
• pointless arguments and parenting tactics that overemphasize having my kids do what I want, rather than focusing on what needs to get done and letting them figure things out on their own

The things I now know I have (aka the things I really missed while silent):
• ability to comfort my baby
• laughter
• singing
• apologizing
• giving compliments
• others understanding of me, two-way communication
• telling my kids why I love them
• time to teach and reason with my kids

What a couple of weeks it has been! I’m happy the kids’ room is almost finished, glad to be sharing the love by giving away what we don’t need and trashing the stuff we don’t use and no one else would either. And I’m so grateful I could do this little project while speaking and being understood. Mostly I’m grateful that as this New Year begins I’ve had a chance to reflect. Now I know what I value most and want to keep.

What about you?

16 Comments

  1. Melissa

    January 9, 2009

    Wow, Heather. So glad your voice is better and that your apartment is clean to boot. I “lost” my voice last month for a couple of days due to a cold, but I could still speak. Complete silence would be tough.

    I’ll have to think about how this relates to the quiet voice of the Spirit.

    I love sorting and purging. It’s my absolute favorite.

  2. Maryanne

    January 9, 2009

    There are so many wonderful things in this post, but this: “pointless arguments and parenting tactics that overemphasize having my kids do what I want, rather than focusing on what needs to get done and letting them figure things out on their own” is an answer to a prayer this morning. Thank you.

  3. courtney

    January 9, 2009

    I feel so motivated to go clean out the closet! I like the idea of a purge list and a valued list for starting the new year. What a great way to resolve but be grateful at the same time. The biggest thing on my purge list this year is negativity– particularly self-directed negativity.

    Now, off to the closet I go!

  4. Brooke

    January 9, 2009

    i love to purge our house of things. lately i’ve been trying on the other end too: to just not add to the clutter, the stress, the mess of life. at this point it has to be something very treasured to want to keep it, and something treasured to want to add it to the mix: whether that be a thing or a new activity or a playdate or a lunch date or whatever.

    and i don’t know how you did it without your voice. i wonder over that and imagining you i think that so much could be said with your eyes– the way you would look at your kids, your spouse… i think of how i can read my own children just by looking at their eyes. the story about sweet stella broke my heart, but i know she knows you love her!

  5. Sue

    January 9, 2009

    My husband is a sort-and-purger from way back, but I’m just learning. My tendency is to want to hold on to things far too long, often without realizing they are no longer important to me.

    Fortunately I am learning to be more mindful about what I keep and why I’m keeping it (or not). This process includes slowly learning to let go when the time is right, and it feels great!

  6. Carly

    January 9, 2009

    This post really hit me in a way that I am having a hard time describing. It was deep and poignant and made me think. In short your words left me without any. Thank you Heather.

  7. jendoop

    January 10, 2009

    Throughout our marriage my husband has commented about my “tone”. I’ve tried to tell him that he’s imagining things or misunderstanding but the truth is I would probably be horrified by the sound of my own voice while under stress. As far as the actual words that I speak, I could do less criticizing.
    Your post made me wonder if my family would be happy not to hear my voice for a few days.

  8. Daina

    January 10, 2009

    What a challenge you have had with your surgery and recovery. I’m glad you’re better. As for purging, since my Grampa died and we had to purge his home, I have come to realize even more how little material things mean. You can’t take them with you! So I am a strong advocate of purging regularly of material things you don’t need. Live simply.

  9. Leslie

    January 11, 2009

    I have to laugh because I have been on a 2009 organization kick (one project per day)- which with a baby is easier said than done- I too am swiping for choking hazards, and leaving half done projects all in my wake as I stop to wash underwear, pick up whining baby, meet the bus etc.

    If purging my self of all my flawed elements were as easy as the toy bin sort– what a heaven life would be

  10. Emily

    January 12, 2009

    I knew you would make some beautiful pearl out of your affliction. I’m looking forward to seeing the new arrangement.

    My friend has a cartoon depicting a man on his deathbed gasping, “If only I could have bought more crap!”

    My priorities this year have shifted even more towards nurturing relationships, knowledge, skills and habits that I can carry with me when I die. Ever notice how we use the term “trappings” of wealth. I don’t want to spend my time being responsible for stuff that needs upgrading, repairing, dusting… Simplicity has come to represent abundant living to me now.

  11. carrie

    January 13, 2009

    wow- I need to do that- both the no speaking and the house purging. Wish I had something that would force me to!
    Love you miss you

  12. Kim

    January 13, 2009

    You are so wise and beautiful. I miss seeing you guys but love reading your reflections & still having a window into the Herrick experience. Thanks for sharing. Miss you!

  13. mormonhermitmom

    January 13, 2009

    Huzzah! Love to purge once in a while. Unfortunately hubby is a pack rat and I can’t purge his. “Thou shalt only purge thine own stuff”.
    Same with habits huh?
    Thanks for the post!

  14. Lori

    January 16, 2009

    I almost always have a tear or two when I read your blog. I sometimes lately, when Megan screams at the top of her lungs for no reason, wish she were silent for a day. I don’t know how to get her to stop. I am only living in hope that she is frustrated and when she begins to speak better she will stop the screaming. Aghh I am going crazy but I know she will grow out of it and am still trying to love all the rest of the cute stuff about her.

  15. Katie Lila

    January 21, 2009

    OK, if I checked email more regularly I might be involved in some great, uplifting conversations. Hopefully your still thinking on this vein. Note: to leave Carly speechless is quite the task.:) I sulked to a friend the other day about my 2009 goal of being an orginized person, already in shambles on Jan. 15th. She said, “when are you going to realize happy people don’t make goals.” After a good laugh and a week of feeling bumbed about all my aspirations sinking back into there old worn in places, I read your entry. So alas, I must give it another go. One happy thing about last years goal list just occured to me. I wanted to have a good hard laugh with my kids each day. Who knows if we did it perfectly but at least it was in the for-front of my mind. I remember many afternoons stopping what i was doing and trying to make them laugh. The funny thing is it never took very long. Life makes more sense with you in it. Thanks for all the good thoughts ladies, hooray for simplicity!

  16. Katie Lynn

    January 24, 2009

    Everyone told me I needed to come and read this entry, so do know that even though you are thousands of miles away, your family still loves to read your amazing thoughts. I still wish I had you closer to inspire me on a daily basis! It seems like since I’ve had kids all I wish for is a little peace and quiet, not remembering that noise too is a blessing. Here’s to remembering our blessings!

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