Getting rid of things is not getting rid of people

Anyone else get paralyzed by decluttering?

By staring at that old, ratty thing that you’ve had in a box for years, but can’t throw away or donate because of memories, guilt, or because you’d hauled it around for 28 years and it seems ludicrous to finally dump it now?

On the other hand, I look around my house and think, “If that were lost in a fire, would I try to replace it?” The only things I’d want to preserve, aside from my family, are our photos.

Everything else? Nah, they can go.

So why can’t I just chuck them now?

My kids will have to, in a few years. I should save them the hassle.

When my parents started to decline about six years ago, we began the first of many moves, putting them progressively into more intensive care, and also smaller rooms. The first time my siblings and I walked through our old house, which could have served as a backdrop for “That 70’s Show,” I was a little weepy.

Until I took a good look at the green shag carpet, which had been there since my parents bought the house in 1978.

(Not my parents’ old house, but could have been.)

Hideous.

The longer I looked at items my parents no longer needed in their new residence, the more I found myself wanting to chuck them. We preserved photos, journals, my dad’s paintings, and a few books. But everything else?

Within an hour we were tossing the majority into a dumpster. And we couldn’t do it fast enough. Who really needs Tupperware that’s forty years old?

We had to go through the process three more times, as they moved again, and finally as they passed. Each time we took home fewer items, until when my dad died all I wanted were his scriptures. My siblings took a few items, and the rest we donated. It filled the back seat of a car.

As I looked around his room, I realized that he lived quite well with very little.

The entire tiny house movement is based on this: the fewer items we own, the freer we are to live. The less house we own, the more money, time, resources, and peace we have.

I’m fascinated by minimalist movements, like Becoming Minimalist , full of advice to getting rid of all of the stuff we accumulate, thinking it will bring us joy.

(From the Becoming Minimalist Facebook page.)

Or Marie Kondo’s konmari approach to keeping only items that “spark joy” and releasing all those things that no longer do. She suggests giving them to find a new home, to bring joy to someone else.

I did that a few years ago with a china set my parents bought me before I was married. I used it exactly twice. Then I sold it, 25 years later, to a family in our neighborhood for $50. I felt simultaneously guilty and relieved; guilty because I thought it was so important that I never used it (and took it with us on a dozen moves), and relieved that someone else could enjoy it.

Probably 1/2 of all I own I wish I could “send on its way,” but guilt holds me back. My husband made this, or my deceased sister bought me that, or my mom used to wear this, or I read this once, thirty years ago.

I need to remember that the love and memories associated with that person or event don’t leave with the item.

They’re just things I’m throwing away, not the people.

High Polish Tatra mountains

Writing Book 5, and forcing characters to leave behind all that they own, made me wonder how I’d face the same situation. I admit, it’s left me mixed. I want to be able to toss it all, but irrationality holds me back.

A friend told me of her parents’ house—true hoarders—and their many packed sheds in their backyard. They’d asked their grandson to pull some weeds so they could open the door again (it’d been that long since they’d been in there), and as the brawny boy leaned against the shed for leverage, the entire thing crashed down. Everything was destroyed.

The boy’s father cheered.

The boy’s grandparents mourned.

Nothing was salvageable, nor could they remember what they had stored in there for many decades (mostly old paint, it turned out). But they resented having to throw it all away anyway.

(Don’t let this be your children’s fate.)

The rest of the family was thrilled when that shed came down. In fact, they had the grandson lean against all of the other sheds, hoping for a similar result. When my friend’s parents finally die, they’ll need at least three dumpsters, she estimates, to unload all of the stuff no one—not even her parents—can use.

There’s some strange pride in not letting things go, in holding on to something beyond its usefulness.

In not allowing anyone else to have it.

In not acknowledging that you never needed it in the first place.

Some psychiatrists suggest it’s a mental illness, or maybe conditioning from grandparents who endured The Depression nearly one hundred years ago. I remember well the “get more attitude” of the 1980s, where acquiring stuff was all the rage, where your value was based upon what you owned. I think a lot of us in my generation still suffer from this early programming.

But there’s simply no good reason to hoard stuff. No one needs 12 hammers, as one elderly man I know possessed (among a great many other things). He said someone might need to borrow one. In the thirty years I knew him, no one ever came looking to borrow a hammer. Or one of his 15 hand saws. Or 20 screwdrivers. He could have given them away long before they became rusty, to someone who truly would have appreciated them. But no.

I have a friend who has an entire bedroom stuffed with bins and boxes, all for Christmas. It takes her a full week to decorate her house, inside and out, and three Christmas trees. She admits it stresses out her family, especially since every surface is covered in something breakable, but every item is wrapped up in memories, she insists.

The memories of her children, however, of their anxious Christmases, may not be so favorable.

Why do we keep old furniture that’s damaged or even moldy, clothes that don’t fit, knick-knacks that went out of fashion years ago, paintings that no longer interest us, and books we’ll never read again?

Stuff our kids will throw out in another generation with alacrity?

For reasons I don’t yet understand, we often choose to remain burdened and laden by all that we own.  I want to empty out my bedroom closet, but that means tossing a stack of yearbooks. All I need to do is scan in the handful of photos I appear in, then throw away the books I have never, ever looked at since I graduated in the 1980s.

I also have several paintings I did in high school, which I’ll never display because they’re pretty poor, but which I can’t bear to give away. I’ve needlessly hauled them around for decades.

Sometimes I wish we could have a random fire, hitting particular items so that I’ll be forced to get rid of them. Moving many times has helped; each time I had to throw away boxes of destroyed stuff I thought I couldn’t live without I was relieved that I had a reason to get rid of them.

I have to admit, I’ve purposely dropped one or two items during a move just so that I didn’t have to find a shelf for them later.

I’m slowly sliding closer to minimalism. Each shelf that gets emptier, each old box that vanishes, each bag I bring to charity lightens my heart and eases my conscience.

By the time our youngest leaves the house in 15 years, we anticipate we’ll be moving into a tiny home, and that should force me to get rid of the last of the crud. I hope that by the time my husband and I die, our kids will need only an hour to clean up what we left behind. 

Doesn’t this just feel so clean, so simple, so serene?

Until then, I’ll try each week to toss out 10 items I don’t need. That’s my goal for the summer, and we’ll see how it goes.

If you happen to be good at separating things from those who gave them to you, tell me how you did it. I’m gonna need some motivation by August!

Why in the world am I giving away my books for free?

As I’ve done with my other books, I’m offering Book 5, Safety Assured Leaving East of Medicetti for free as a .pdf file on my website.

Book 5 FRONT COVER kindle

Click on the image above to access the .pdf file. Yeah, for free. Seriously. No strings attached. (I’m not that kind of a girl.)

No, this makes absolutely no financial sense whatsoever. It’s the second place I’m offering it for free (Smashwords has the download for free) and when Amazon notices, it too will make it for free (maybe in a week or so; I have no control over that).

So why in the world am I doing this?

Because it’s not about money. Nothing, really, should ever be about money.

It’s because in many ways I feel I was given this book, like a rough blueprint, along with a pile of supplies, and told to “Go for it.”

I’ll be the first to admit I’m a clumsy builder, but for the past few years I’ve been constructing a book series I’ve absolutely loved! Writing and rewriting has brought such immense joy, and I want to share it, with as many people as possible. I don’t want a few bucks to come in the way of someone accessing it, and while the paperbacks cost a bit, I literally do not make anything from them. The prices are set to the barest minimum I’m allowed to set them to. (Even I have to pay to get them!)

You see, years ago the phrase, “Freely given, freely shared,” came to me, and while I’ll average about 30-40 hours a week writing and editing and working on this series and website, I don’t feel right about profiting from them. The reasons why are explained in detail in Book 5, as you’ll see.

But because this blueprint and supplies were “Freely given” to me by our Creator, I feel He wants me to “freely share” them with you. Yes, I’ve put in a ton of labor, but I’ve been compensated in other ways, if not monetarily.

No, I’m not independently wealthy. Our income qualifies us for a variety of social services which we choose not to accept, because we can get by just fine since we’ve learned to temper our desires and we don’t chase after the trends of the world.

I feel deeply, earnestly, about the messages of these books, and Book 5 in particular, which I spent a year studying and researching before I attempted to start writing.

So share freely, enjoy, and get the word out: “There’s this slightly mad woman giving away her books. Snatch them up, quick, before she comes to her senses!” (No worry there; I’ve never come to my senses. I have no idea where they are, and they aren’t too worried about looking for me, either.)

Book 5 IS HERE! Get it in e-book or paperback!

It’s HERE! Safety Assured Leaving East of Medicetti, Book 5 is now available as an e-book ($.99) and in paperback ($13.50) (soon to be as a paperback on Amazon, too).

You can also find it on Smashwords for FREE!  

(Why for free? When you read Chapter 13, I think you’ll understand. “Freely given, freely shared.” And where the heck is Medicetti? You’ll find out . . .)

book 5 published announcementThank you for your patience, and enjoy! (I’m gonna take a nap now . . .)

Book 5 teaser–Refuse to see the shining light

High Polish Tatra mountains

They will also refuse to acknowledge the darkness, even as they crash around blindly. 

The ancient Israelite prophet Isaiah wrote:

Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter! (Isaiah 5:20)

I can’t bear to list all the ways the world is spinning in the dark right now (Obama’s recent declaration that all restrooms and locker rooms–even and especially in public schools–be “gender neutral” has me too nauseated to write about it).

However, even though our governments and our so-called leaders may be waaaay off the mark on many issues, we as individuals don’t need to follow. We each have our ability to think, to ponder, to declare that we will continue to see the light, that we will recognize the darkness, and that we will not–no matter how many times everyone tells us otherwise–we will NOT see that the sky is merely blue.

Take a good, hard look at it. Today, the tiny section I see out my window is blue, but when I get up and view the entire sky, in the distance there are huge clouds, billowing and approaching.

See the entire sky, and the entire world, for what it really is. Identify the light. Recognize the darkness, and don’t let anyone with power, or money, or charisma convince you that you see otherwise.

Three years ago I wrote about the strange habit we have of thinking that “the sky is blue.”

It isn’t.

My first book, The Forest at the Edge of the World makes the argument that while everyone thinks the sky is blue, that’s only an illusion. It’s actually black. (So quit telling your kids it’s blue.)

We have to be brave enough to take a good, hard look at the world, and to make a judgment about what we see. Oh, how we’re so afraid to do that! We’re so afraid of offending the world that cares nothing for us. In the meantime, we offend our Heavenly Father, who truly loves us.

We need to not be afraid to declare, “No, this is wrong. I will not agree, I will not give in, and I will not refuse to see the light.”

I won’t guarantee there won’t be repercussions for going against the world. You will be knocked down, likely not by some high government official, but probably by your social media “friends.” I’ve taken to hiding in my closet on a regular basis when I, once again, write up something that, as the comments and railings pour in, I regret . . . but only for a moment. Every time I think, “Oh, why did I put that out there? Look at the conflict it’s generating! I hate that!”

I hate fighting. I hate arguing. I hate thinking that people don’t like me. (I’m such a 7th grader sometimes.)

But I hate more seeing the good in the world being labeled as evil, the bitter replacing the sweet, the darkness trying to smother the light.

Here’s the great thing about our world right now: all of us can find a forum where we can stand up and declare where the light really is, and what the dark’s trying to do. Most of us won’t shine too brightly. I know I’ve personally got the illuminating power of a penlight on aging batteries, but that’s ok. I borrow strength from the many brave bloggers and writers and religious leaders of many faiths who boldly shine their brighter lights on the darkness.

And here’s the awesome thing: light, shining together, gets brighter together.

And here’s the even more awesome thing: it takes only one light to dispel absolute darkness.

Book 5 teaser–Good way to burst?

High Polish Tatra mountains

I’m ready to burst too! And I think it’s in a good way!

The paperback proof for Book 5: Safety Assured Leaving East of Medicetti will be in my hands by the end of the week, then it’s one more read and edit, some formatting for the ebook versions, and then PUBLISHED! My hope is to get it out before Memorial Day, if not sooner. I’ll keep you posted!

(In the meantime, I’m already working on fine-tuning Book 6. Yes, there are books 6, 7, and 8. All of them are drafted, and all of them will be out in the next three years. Oh dear, I’m so giddy that I feel a burst coming on! I better get a sponge. And by the way, sounds like Shem’s got an admirer in Book 5 . . .)

How to cancel your Mother’s Day Guilt Trip with “Moments of Perfection”

The following was written by my mother,  Yvonne Neufeldt Strebel, in 1984. She delivered this talk in church on Mother’s Day.  I found this speech in my dad’s journal, and reproduced it here, to show that fear of not measuring up as a mom has been around for at least 32 years.

“Mother’s Day”—the very word awakens feeling of appreciation, gratitude, and love, and rightfully so. I am grateful to be a wife and a mother and to have a good family.

Yet Mother’s Day in our home is known as “Guilt Sunday,” the date for my annual guilt trip.

Beautifully rendered Mother’s Day speeches have left me with a depressing feeling of inadequacy. I have often asked myself, “Could it be possible that my family is succeeding in spite of me?”

I do not measure up to the ideal motherhood, the Supermom. I know that, because I have tried to be Supermom and failed. I am not alone in my plight. Actually, I am in very good company. There are other mothers who have expressed the same sentiments concerning Mother’s Day and Supermom. 

Supermom—you know the type. She gets up very early, every single morning. Go, call on her between 5 and 6 a.m. She will greet you with a radiant smile and will be beautifully dressed, perfectly groomed, unhurried—yet lively—although she has been up for hours.

She has exercised, written in her journal, perhaps even composed music or written poetry.

She in now preparing not only a nutritious, but also an appetizing breakfast, which she will serve on an elegantly set table. No lumpy oatmeal or cold cereal for her family.

Supermom never ever loses her temper, and if she is in pain, she hides it. She always sings while doing chores. She loves and supports her family 100%, does her church and community work exceptionally well—better than anybody else—and never tires. Evening meals, always served punctually, are gourmet delights.

At night, when the day is done, Supermom lovingly turns to her husband and with a brilliant smile, accompanied by a demure sigh, says, “Darling, I love all my challenges. I only wish I could have more.”

I identify with Supermom in only three categories:

  1. I am, by my Prussian nature, punctual: dinner is always served on time, or else we eat out.
  2. Church and community work are very important to me. I love both. But I, unlike Supermom, do get exhausted.
  3. Most importantly, I love my husband, children, in-laws, and grandchildren with all my heart and I support them to the very best of my ability. Although my very best could not ever match that of Supermom.

Other than that, I do not qualify. And I had to come to terms with that. (I also had to prepare this talk.)

Does Supermom really exist, or is she the sum total of imaginations of many kind Mother’s Day speakers?

If she exists, could she perhaps step forward and tell me how she does it?

I suspect Supermom is a myth. I am no longer willing to compare myself to a myth.

supermom myth

In the 1984 April General Conference, Elder Marvin J. Ashton pointed out that,

“comparison is another tool of Satan. Many [mothers] seem to put too much pressure on themselves to be a Supermom or Superwoman . . . A good woman is any woman who moves in the right direction.”

The foundation of motherhood is nurturing love. If we keep this in mind, we need not compete in the motherhood Olympics in order to find the perfect mother.

We are all on the road to perfection. Along the way, we gather what I would like to call “moments of perfection.” These are occasions when we do well and achieve, usually in quiet ways. There are no headlines, no fanfares, but Heavenly Father approves.

When my own children were small, they would bring me the most beautiful bouquets of dandelions. It was better than their previous practice of beheading our neighbor’s prized tulips. When I treated these dandelions as a bouquet of roses, then this, in a small way, was a “moment of perfection.”

I made myself a questionnaire befitting my own situation:

  • Do the women I come in contact with know that I am not their critic? That I will not give unsolicited advice?
  • Do they know that I accept them and their uniqueness as I hope they accept mine?
  • In admiring another woman’s accomplishments, can I do so generously and from the heart, without making it awkward by adding, “You’re so gifted! I could never do that. You have all the talent, and I don’t.” If I can be positive, then I can gather another “moment of perfection.”
  • When receiving a compliment, can I thank graciously without belittling myself? “Oh, it’s really nothing, just something I shipped up quickly,” although in reality I have slaved over it for hours by the sweat of my brow.
  • In serving others, do I do so out of a good desire and because it is needed?

These could all be “moments of perfection.”

If I am not motivated by guilt or fear of what others might think or say, then I have created another “moment of perfection.”

When reporting back to my Heavenly Father at night, I may have had a disastrous day, in part caused by my own weaknesses. But when I repent and ask forgiveness, and I can feel the comfort of the spirit, I know that my repentance has been acceptable to the Lord and I express my gratitude to Him. This then is a very good “moment of perfection.”

“Moments of perfection” can be gather by us all, regardless of whether we are parents or not.

In the final analysis, as I understand it, that which is really crucial to my being a good mother can be summarize in three points:

  1. My obedient to the laws and ordinances of the gospel. I need to keep my covenants faithfully. This makes a closeness to Heavenly Father possible, a closeness I desire.
  2. My nurturing love for my family. I need to learn and practice unconditional love.
  3. My integrity toward myself and others, which I must learn to perfect.

With this in mind, I can learn to eliminate fruitless comparison and cancel my guilt trips.

True personal liberation can only be achieved through genuine gospel living. Heavenly Father lives and loves us all, and recognizes our honest efforts.

1969 Yvonne and Trish, 1969 (2)

My mother and me, 1969 (I’m the small one.)

Yvonne Neufeldt Strebel was born in 1927 in Neisse, Prussia, Germany (now Poland). She endured WWII as a child, losing many of her family to the war, then escaped alone as a refugee fleeing from the Soviet army when she was 17 years old in 1944. She eventually met Rudolf Strebel in Munich, and in 1954 they immigrated to America and married, settling in Utah until their deaths. Yvonne passed away in 2014, at the age of 86. She had four children, 23 grandchildren, and many more great-grandchildren.

 

Book 5 Cover Reveal!

Book 5 Front Cover

Woo-hoo! One huge step down, about a dozen more to go until I can launch Book 5: Safety Assured Leaving East of Medicetti.

It WILL be out before May is over. I don’t yet dare set a date because then the Anxiety Gods see that number and take it as a challenge to thoroughly undo me before then.

But I’m deep into final edits and formatting which, because there are three completely different platforms for print and ebooks, with each taking about 10 hours for someone technically-disabled such as myself to properly format, means I need lots of chocolate chips to get me through and I’m trying to give up sugar right now. Yeah, I chose a bad time for that.

But it WILL get done!

In the meantime, thanks again to my oldest son for standing in for the cover, even though he and his siblings keep saying, “What did you do to him? It’s Teagan, but it’s not Teagan.”

“I know,” I tell them. “Because now he’s Peto.”

“Who?”

That’s when I remember they haven’t bothered to read the books. If it doesn’t have a Star Wars character on the cover (Happy May the Fourth everyone!) they won’t touch it.

(For my next book cover, I’ll put a Wookiee in the background so it’ll trick my family into reading it. Actually, a Wookiee would fit pretty good on this cover . . . I think I need to do a bit more photoshopping.)