I just celebrated a milestone birthday, and while some people dread these milestones, I’m actually very optimistic about the decade ahead. There is a ritual I do every year on my birthday that makes me look forward to it every year, even as my age climbs.
Traditionally, I put up the Christmas tree, decorations, and lights on my brother’s birthday, December 3rd. There has always been a mild day approaching this date to be outside putting lights up, and a cold day or snowy/rainy where we (my kids and I – this is my husband’s busy season, so the holiday preparations are on me) move the toys, sort some into a donation pile to make room, and assemble our fake, but beautiful, Christmas tree. Every year, without fail, there are either extra branches or missing branches. I’ll never understand how that happens but accept it, just like socks disappearing in the wash.
Then from December 3rd on, I may add some accouterments, but we’re well decorated for a good three weeks before Christmas and by my daughter’s birthday, December 10th. With her birthday and then Christmas, space is difficult to find. We live in a small rancher (with a full basement – full in that it is the size of the first floor, but also full in that there isn’t much space down there.) By the time my birthday hits, I’m anxious to have more space. I at least need to do yoga without stuff invading my peace of mind.
While I appreciate white wall space and clear counters and tables, my husband is an accumulator. He’s one of 10 kids, and it never fails when I clear a space, he tends to fill it. We have accumulated a lot over the past 17 years in our house, and even though I started to get much better at cycling more out than in, we still have a LOT of stuff.
For my birthday every year, I make sure the outside decorations come down and get put away, the tree comes down, and the inside decorations go back down in the basement. We manage to find places to put some of the toys the girls received, and get a good idea of what still needs to be donated, which is my Martin Luther King, Jr. project.
I have heard, even recently when reading a blog about the secrets of tidy people, that some people attribute a clean home and empty space to a high-functioning mind, a moral person, or even a “good” family. I don’t make that connection. That seems very superficial and arbitrary to me.
My reality is, I don’t always have space. It feels like an everyday struggle to create space. I value empty space, organization, and order. At the same time, I love my husband, my kids, and my pets and I have had to compromise. My threshold for what I can tolerate in chaos an disorder is much higher than it used to be and probably higher than most. While the life I love to live doesn’t always afford me the time to create or maintain order among my things, I give myself the gift of space every year for my birthday, and it’s a ritual that makes my birthday something to look forward to even as I get older.
When I can’t create order and space in my physical space throughout the year, I meditate to create order and space in my mind. Sometimes this is a ridiculous endeavor – I mean, I do work at home with my kids. This means I have to take time out of my workday while they are in school to meditate, get up before they do (which does not always work out,) do it after they go to bed when I’m sure to fall asleep early and then wake up at 3 AM, or attempt meditating with them at home, or with them. I know meditation is great for them, but I don’t get the benefit of meditation when I do it with them; they can’t sit still, not just because one daughter has ADHD, but because they’re kids. I find if I can manage to take a shower without interruption, it has a meditating effect. I tend to come up with the best ideas in the shower. I’ve even written songs in the shower.
My daughter’s doctor, upon her diagnosis of ADHD, actually suggested that, when they weren’t looking, we get rid of ALL toys in our house, leaving them with wooden spoons and pots and pans. It’s some school of thought she subscribes that associates toys with the death of creativity or the birth of consumerism. I have tried to have my kids participate in the project. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t. One daughter can function at a very high level in the middle of chaos, and while I’m sure this will serve her well someday, she tends to not notice the mess, even when she is expected to help clean it. The ADHD daughter doesn’t love to clean, sort and organize, but does get a sense of joy when we are able to achieve it, however how long it lasts. I have learned that they are much more engaged in tidying when there’s something in it for them, like a play date.
I won’t deny them toys – I have uncovered beliefs around worthiness in myself stemming from not having the same toys as my peers and being treated poorly by said peers. I don’t want my kids to grow up thinking that they aren’t worthy of good things, as in objects. I have faith that they have very strong imaginations and make sure they spend time creating, not just consuming. One of my common questions to them, however, is, “What’s more important, people or things?” I say this a lot when they fight over things. I always want them to value people over things. My ADHD daughter will sometimes play with a new friends’ toys rather than the friend. I watch and manage this thoughtfully.
I’m not sure how I’ll manage it with all of my other priorities, but I have created an intention and vision of more space in my home, and believe that by making more space, I am making room for new good things to come into our lives. While I can tolerate a mess and function just fine, I recognize how much better I feel when I can close my drawers without grunting, locate my brush on the bureau, just push play on the yoga video without taking an extra 20 minutes to tidy up, and have room to chop vegetables on my counter and a place to craft and create. Of course, there’s having a home where other people feel comfortable, too.