Or is it? I'm not sure...maybe...what do you think??

Friday, 25 March 2011

A clutter free legacy

I'm not a great clutter clearer.   Let's be honest, I'm pretty awful at it.   It's not that I don't enjoy it when I can manage it - I love the feeling of clearing out, making a fresh start, making more space in my home, my life, my head.   It's just that when it comes down to each individual item, I find it hard to let go.   There's always that what if moment - what if I miss it, what if it turns out I really did need it etc etc.    Then there's the emotional, sentimental side of things - and trust me I can get sentimentally attached to a wide range of objects.   My brother could gleefully tell you numerous stories from my childhood: of my reluctance to say goodbye to our old cooker, to eat the chocolate parrot, to throw away the lamb's tail my grandad had found for me (mum put her foot down on that one, thankfully).  I have hardened my heart a little bit since those days, but old habits die hard...

But one thing that does really help me overcome my natural hoarding instinct is thinking about what clutter I'm piling up for my children to inherit.    I'm not planning to shuffle off this mortal coil any time soon, but when the moment comes I don't want to leave my boys to sort through my piles of "useful papers" or stash of strange sentimental items, their significance known only to me.

Having been through the experience of clearing out my parent's house, I know what an arduous task it can be.   And yet we were lucky: my dad was a man who lived a fairly simple life, who didn't hoard possessions or insist on tangible representations of his life history.   But in sorting through what he did have, I became acutely aware that every piece of paper I stow away in the back of the loft cupboard will have to come out again at some point to be considered and decided upon - either by me, or by those I leave behind.

If that wasn't enough, the mere fact that we have chosen to save something makes the next person's decision even harder - if mum saw fit to save this, they might think, then it must have great significance.  How can we throw it away?   And so a momentary decision not to send that ornament to the charity shop carries the danger of it being passed down through the generations, a testimony to hoarding and indecision.  

As Lake Wobegon's Clarence Bunson says "Damn souveneirs are like mercury in the bloodstream, except they're hereditary too.   You suffer from it and then give it to your kids."*

I'm pleased my dad didn't throw everything away - it is nice to have a few pieces around my house that speak of home, of my childhood.   Maybe my boys will want to be able to do the same.   But ultimately I know that what I want to leave my children is an understanding of what was really important in my life - and I hope that will be found in a head and heart full of happy memories, rather than the box of junk in their attic.

*in "A Glass of Wendy", from Leaving Home by Garrison Keillor 1987

Thursday, 17 March 2011

Bad jokes for a good cause

This week's a bit different here at Ambivalence.   One thing I'm not ambivalent about is how fortunate my family are: we have health, a home, water, heating, food, education and work - not to mention all the other luxuries we enjoy such as cars and computers.

Tomorrow in the UK is Red Nose day, a campaign of Comic Relief which aims to raise money for those who aren't blessed with the same opportunities that we have, to create a just world free from poverty.  So far they have raised over £650million to change lives in 76 different countries around the world.

To join in, here are a few of my family's favourite awful, corny, Christmas-cracker-style jokes.   When you've finished either laughing or groaning at them, please go to http://www.rednoseday.com/ and make a donation, to help other people have something to smile about (plus they have much funnier stuff!!)

What do you call a bear stood on a mint?
A polo bear

What do you call a gorilla with a machine gun?

What do you call a gorilla with a banana in each ear?
Anything you like, he can't hear you.

How do you start a rice pudding race?

Why did the hedgehog cross the road?
To see his flatmate

What's brown and sticky?
A stick

For something much funnier, and to help make the world a little bit better, go to http://www.comicrelief.com/ or http://www.rednoseday.com/ right now...

Thank you.

Friday, 11 March 2011

Creeping my way to victory

I'm an all or nothing kind of girl.   Its one of the faults in my thinking (I've read my CBT self-help book so I know this kind of thing).   It means that I like perfection, want to be the best and only the best, and if any imperfection sneaks in, I tend to think its ruined everything.

In terms of my approach to work, the house etc. it just tends to increase my procrastination.   If I'm going to do anything I want to do the whole thing, there and then; I like to feel I can do a massive job, a big noticeable task that will give me a real sense of achievement and hopefully be appreciated by everyone else.   Not some minor, every day task that feels like just the tip of the big lurking iceberg.

So I don't sit down and write any of my novel because I might only have time to do 100 words and what I'd really like is to solve all the plot glitches and write at least 3 chapters.  Why not wait until I can set aside a whole morning to the task, when I'm feeling fresh and full of inspiration?  Of course the problem is I never actually achieve the latter, wherease if I actually did the former twice a week then by the end of the year I'd have written over 10,000 words.   Maths and reality suggest this would be more promising approach, and yet than annoying little bit in my brain stops me.

In terms of jobs around the house I have to confess I take a certain satisfaction from taking a real mess and transforming it into beauty.  (I blame it on too much childhood reading of The Secret Garden).  In a perverse way I quite like it when the house is really untidy, the washing overflowing, and everything needs sorting and I know I can take a day to transform it.   It is sort of comforting to reach a low point and know that the only way is up.   I suppose I like to see where I've been.   So much more rewarding than the approach I know I should do - a bit of dusting each day, a load of washing, picking up a few things as I go round.  I know, deep down, that this is the answer, that it would save me having to have those awful late night cleaning sessions before the in-laws come, or panicking when someone unexpectedly calls round.   But it would still take a lot of my time, and a lot of ongoing will power, and who would notice??

But enough is enough, and so I am starting to change my thinking, to adjust to a new way of looking at things.  I am coming to realise that the all out battles often leave me feeling exhausted, frustrated and no closer to winning the war.   So I'm trying to adopt the long term trategy.   I like to think of it as "creeping death" (where death is a good thing you understand, in terms of the clutter in my house and my in-tray).  

Every toy I pick up, every piece of clothing that goes through the wash, every item that goes to the charity shop, every little phone call I finally get round to making, however small, is a point scored for me, a cause for a small inward celebration; they are all invading the enemy's territory, undermining its foundations, and bringing my victory a little nearer.

Friday, 4 March 2011

More confessions of a domestic deficient

I discovered today that my children actually have affectionate terms for our over-flowing washing basket.

"Look" said the younger to the older one, as he crammed an armful of dirty clothes on top of the already erupting collection.  "It's got its hat on again!!"
He then took the time to explain to me that when the basket is over-full and the lid perches precariously on top, they have decided it looks like a face with a little Chinese hat on.
I felt a slight twinge of self-awareness and shame that this is an event that happens so regularly they have had time to speculate in this way.   Surely they should be outside, wholesomely employed deciding if the fluffy clouds look an ice cream or an elephant, rather than debating the ethnicity of the laundry container's headgear??

I was slightly comforted by a friend's confession last week of similar laundry inefficiencies.   Her son, she explained, loves the smell of musty towels, burying his head in them and breathing in what he considers to be the lovely aroma.   She can only assume that he finds the smell comforting and familiar - which would be sweet if it was her home baking, rather than unwashed cloths.

We might feel slightly better if we were both captains of industry, flying the flag for women in the workplace whilst juggling our home responsibilities with our marathon running and saving the world.   Instead, we are two partly employed mums whose children are busy at school but who still find it hard to fit in the housework around all the other things we would much rather be doing!

As I'm trying to weigh up where I should go with various different work options I've been considering if I would indeed be better off using my time to really "get on top of the house" - something I promised myself would happen once my youngest was in full-time education.    I actually quite often enjoy the days I do spend doing housework, but I wonder if that is only because I don't have many of them.   And there is also a lurking suspicion that even given an infinite amount of time I would still never quite "get on top of things" but would always be thinking of new house-related projects that would of course give great benefits (if I ever actually finished them) but would mean the ironing could wait just one more day...