I’ve decided that September is a good time to make resolutions, rather than New Year’s, because it’s when the kids all leave the house for a few hours a day and I have some space to think about how I might make life improvements. Also, it’s nearing the end of the year, and if my September resolutions fail, there’s always New Year’s just around the corner.
This decision comes after months of procrastinating–no, make that years. Years of procrastinating getting on with my life now that I’m no longer changing diapers and breastfeeding and cutting up people’s food all my waking hours. Well, I sometimes still cut up people’s food. But not as much as I used to. Technically, I’ve made this decision about a billion times since my youngest started first grade, but it’s the implementation that I’ve procrastinated. Of course, the resolutions are always changing. One day they’re modest, the next unrealistic, the next somewhere in between. The problem is that I can’t seem to accomplish anything, regardless of how small the as-yet-hypothetical accomplishment may seem.
Which means that while I started this post with the intention of talking about resolutions, writing that last paragraph pretty much talked me out of ever trying to do anything ever again.
So if you’ve been wondering what I’ve been up to since I got jaw surgery and fell off the face of the (virtual) earth (or, you might say I virtually fell of the face of the actual earth, I don’t know), that’s pretty much it. When I’m not numbing my pain with frivolous, non-productive activities or the reassuring routine of laundry and dishes, I am more or less losing hope of contributing meaningfully to society ever again.
Since my family is supposed to be more important than anything else I have to do with, hopefully my children will do better with their lives than my own example has taught them. (That was meant to be a sardonic comment, although I do hope my children engage life more successfully than I have. Fortunately, only one of them seems to have inherited my mental instability so far. So, you know, #hopeisalive.)
I’m afraid they’re all going to turn out to be crappy housekeepers. Let me give you a quick update on our experiment with firing the housekeepers: All of my worst fears have come true. I’ve known for the last several years that the main argument for keeping the housekeepers rather than doing the housekeeping myself was the enforced schedule. I knew I could never maintain a schedule on my own. I would need the support of everyone else in the family, and since that support did not seem to be forthcoming, I kept paying professionals to come clean my house even though they sometimes didn’t do such a great job and preparing for their visits was causing me to have mini-nervous breakdowns fortnightly. When the kids took over the bulk of the chores that the housekeepers once did, it seemed to work out pretty well for the first five months. I was astonished, actually, at how well it was working out, and I was so much less stressed than I was when I had the housekeepers.
Then in June I had the jaw surgery, and that was the week I stopped vacuuming regularly. I was absolutely unable to vacuum that week because I was unable to do just about anything but drink things through a straw and lie in bed and be miserable. That was okay. Anyone can afford to skip vacuuming for a couple weeks. Unfortunately, two weeks later I was physically able to vacuum but still very tired and psychologically depressed because I was still in pain, not sleeping well, and the only thing I had to look forward to was drinking chocolate protein shakes. HIGHLIGHT OF MY DAY. So vacuuming was not on my list of things to do because basically nothing was on my list of things to do, including the tidying that should have preceded the vacuuming, including the nagging and threatening of the children that could have substituted for doing all the tidying. If I were a good parent, instead of a hopeless one, I would have insisted that children could not do x (desirable task) before doing y (undesirable task). The trouble was, it was summer, and the kids were always around, and the only thing I wanted more than for them to do their (and my) chores was for them to get out of my face for a while. So if they got invitations to go with friends somewhere, off they went, even if they hadn’t done their chores, because I was too tired and unhappy and hungry to listen to them whine and complain about anything, let alone EVERYTHING.
Eventually, after what felt like the longest six weeks of my life that didn’t include high school P.E., I was able to eat real food again, and that’s when things should have gotten better, since at least I was no longer hungry. If you have enough to eat, you should have enough energy to do whatever needs to be done. Unfortunately, by that time the house was in so much disarray and the constant presence of other people was driving me so crazy that I didn’t even know where or how to start getting everything under control again. The thing about dependent children is that they always need things (hence the term dependent). Every time I thought about cleaning the kitchen (or whatever), I’d think about how I would start doing something and someone would inevitably need me to drive them somewhere or make them a sandwich or play Monopoly with them or explain the meaning of life or whatever, and that would disrupt my flow and everyone’s-just-going-to-mess-it-up-anyway-so-why-bother–and I just wouldn’t begin. Well, there’s no surer way to accomplish nothing than by not beginning in the first place, so you see where I went wrong. I’m not making excuses. I’m explaining myself.
The solutions to my problems are obvious. Even I can see them. It’s the execution that’s elusive. Probably because I’m deliberately avoiding it.
The thing I hate about housework is not the cleaning and scrubbing. (Well, except for the shower and the bathtub. I freaking hate cleaning the shower and the bathtub. I’d rather scrub a million toilets.) Cleaning and scrubbing feel like actual accomplishments. It’s the management of possessions that overwhelms me. Six people live in this house, and I’m in charge of managing all of their possessions. I can already read the comments: “You should not be in charge of managing all of their possessions. Everyone should be responsible for managing their own possessions.” Yes, but you’re describing the world that ought to be, and I’m describing the world that is, so bear with me.
Earlier this year–or maybe it was last year–I read somewhere about a book called The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing, and I got it into my head that I should read it because maybe, unlike every other book about organizing and changing your life, this one would actually be magical. I don’t know what hallucinatory drug I was under at the time–aside from the fact that books about organizing rarely tell me anything I don’t already know, I learned from actually visiting Japan that I don’t have a culturally-Japanese bone in my body–but whatever it was, it couldn’t have been too debilitating because I didn’t actually buy the book, but I put myself on the three-mile-long waiting list at the library because let’s face it, the odds were against it being actually magical. You might say I left it to fate. By the time it was my turn to borrow this allegedly-magical book, I was already completely free of my delusion. In fact, I’d considered taking myself off the waiting list several times, but for some reason I didn’t, and because I actually had the maybe-magic book in my possession now, it seemed foolish not to actually read it.
Well, I read it, and let me tell you, this woman has a lot of great ideas for decluttering and organizing your life if you live alone. I can see it working perfectly for someone who only has to manage her own possessions. It is completely unworkable for someone who has to manage (to at least some extent) six different people’s possessions and whose management style of her own possessions is partially dependent on the fact that she has five other people’s management lifestyles to compensate for. The guiding principle seems profound and life-changing, initially: Don’t keep anything in your life that does not spark joy. Well, sure. Why would you want anything in your life that doesn’t spark joy? Unfortunately, sometimes you don’t have a choice about keeping things in your life that don’t spark joy. She acknowledges this, I think, at some point. I would hate to mischaracterize her writings or her philosophy. I think she accounts for things like toilet paper by reasoning backwards that a life without toilet paper would be significantly less joyful. Not that she actually writes about toilet paper. I’m just giving you an idea of how she might have dealt with such mundane essentials. Unfortunately, there are things other than mundane essentials that must stay in one’s life despite their failure to spark joy and despite their tendency to provoke actual sorrow. Here’s what’s on my living room floor right now:
A socket wrench–does not spark joy, but I assume my husband would be very upset if I just tossed it. I have no idea if my husband is responsible or not for it being on the floor, but there it is.
A three-hole punch–does not spark joy, but my joy is significantly dampened when I find myself, from time to time, needing a three-hole punch and being unable to find one. Up until looking down at the floor just this minute, I had been wondering where this particular three-hole punch had gotten off to. There isn’t a particularly good place for storing it because it’s kind of bulky and doesn’t fit in any drawers because there’s too much other crap in my drawers. I don’t know who left this three-hole punch on the floor, but I would be curious to know where they found it.
A USB cord–does not spark joy because I don’t recognize it as a USB cord to one of the devices that I use. I assume it belongs to one of my husband’s devices, but I don’t know which and I also don’t know why it’s on the floor, unattached to any device.
Princess Zurg’s jacket–sparks joy for Princess Zurg, but often gets left on the floor because it’s too much trouble to put away in the actual coat closet, which is jam chocky full of jackets and coats that spark varying levels of joy among different household members.
A Scooby-Doo Monopoly game and a Duckopoly game–spark joy for Elvis, who loves Monopoly in all its forms. Does not spark joy for me personally, as I dislike Monopoly more than almost any other game on earth, but I assume it’s on the floor because there is not enough room in the game cabinets (yes, we have more than one) to fit all of the Monopoly games we own, let alone all of the other board games we own. Some games are just always going to live on the floor, until we get rid of some games or get rid of some bath towels and bed sheets and convert the linen closet into a game cabinet.
Mister Bubby’s leather portfolio–does not spark joy for me; used to spark joy for Mister Bubby, even though the zipper broke on it about a year or so ago, but he had to switch to an ordinary three-ring binder because the Organizational Nazis at his high school have decreed that everyone needs to have the same organizational system regardless of personality or preference. Granted, this new organizational systems is probably better than his previous organizational system (stuff everything in the leather portfolio until it gets too full and then cull and start over again, looking classy all the while because it’s leather and doesn’t fall apart like your traditional three-ring binder, except for the zipper thing)–but MB has always been very sentimental and doesn’t like to let things go, even after they are no longer of use to him. He also doesn’t like to put things away.
A children’s magazine–does not spark joy for me, but sparks some joy for Girlfriend, who actually reads it. Unfortunately, she likes to keep all of her magazines rather than recycle them (unless she’s actually outgrown them, like with her Thomas the Tank Engine magazine–I tossed a bunch of them last spring, it was awesome). In her defense, she does actually re-read them. However, there is not enough space in this house to store all the reading material any one of us might re-read someday. This is the number one reason I bought a Kindle. Actual books used to spark joy for me, before I started drowning in my own (and everyone else’s) possessions. My Kindle is probably the one thing standing between me and literal suffocation. (Yes, literal. I was an English major. It’s been good for one thing.) It is the one area in which I have been able to stem the tide of material acquisition.
Princess Zurg’s old tap shoes–have always sparked joy for me because they’re cute and remind me of why I took up dancing late in life, but I should probably get over it because Girlfriend’s feet finally got too big to wear them (and theoretically learn to tap dance) and they’re just taking up space on the floor because there isn’t room in our shoe shelves to hold all the shoes we actually wear, let alone the shoes no one can wear. So here is the one object I have named thusfar that actually sparks joy for me, and it is the one object I have decided I should actually get rid of.
I see that this post is now over 2,400 words. If it were hard copy, it would be sucking the joy right the hell out of me.