It’s a Beautiful Life

My life is beautiful.

Constancy, variety, clutter, simplicity.

Because my life is beautiful, I take pictures. I take lots and lots of pictures. I take lots of criticism for taking lots of pictures. But that’s what I choose to clutter my life up with; pictures. I take pictures of everything I eat, for example. I do this for two reasons; to kind of keep a journal of my dietary escapades in pursuit of a healthier lifestyle and, because, frankly, I think food is beautiful. I take pictures of all the places I go, all the things I see, the people I love, that is the diary of my life and, as I am lousy with dates, it is also a record of events I oft refer back to. I can remember the month and the day, almost to a freakish degree, but don’t ever expect me to remember the year without referring to my pictures! They bring me joy and they are a ready and practical guide to my history.

I experience a certain level of frustration with some of the pictures I take, my food pictures, at home, in particular. There is so much “ugly” and so much “sameness” in my home environment, I feel they compromise the beauty of the subject matter, food, or otherwise. Like power lines across a lovely landscape, I am challenged with finding varied and lovely backdrops for the food I consume several times a day, several times a week. At home. It’s not that the kitchen, or the house, is unattractive, it’s that it is always the same tablecloth and there are cords and phones and appliances always visible in the background. There are the little piles of papers on the table I can’t seem to omit from the frame no matter how I aim the camera. Petty annoyances. Very petty. But, annoyances all the same.

When I take pictures of my meals in my room, my office, or while dining outside on the deck, I have many, I think, lovely options for backgrounds, for landscapes, to enhance the beauty of my feast. This is of my choosing and by my design. This is my beautiful life.

I believe, to my core, that I have a beautiful life, literally and figuratively. True, I am always seeking change, but I like change, I crave the excitement, I flirt with the variety, I tempt the adventure. Whether that change is moving to a new city or using a tablecloth different today from yesterday, it is change and it is welcomed. So, as beautiful as my life is, I’m counting on it to change. You can look out the same window or at the same painting, every day of your life, and it is no less beautiful, but there is so much more to see. My beautiful life, by design, will be ever changing, and this, I wish to collect in photos. Photos are the only clutter I wish to keep, and digital, at that.

What it is about the kitchen I often eat in that I abhor is the clutter and the constancy. Clutter and constancy are two things I try to hold at bay in my beautiful life. It is not my kitchen, it is my mother’s, and, as I currently live with her, in her advanced age, it is the kitchen I use to prepare and, sometimes, consume my food. My mother loves constancy and allows clutter. I’m not standing in judgement, she has a beautiful life that just differs from mine. I am mostly tolerant, but dream a different dream.

As an example of our differences, for the brief and lovely time I lived alone, after leaving my husband and the kids went off to college, and before returning home to accompany my mom, I had a few lovely tablecloths and a variety of colorful napkins and placemats. No two meals were on the same combination of linens! Each was unique and lovely and fun and stimulating. Beautiful.

Different plate, different napkin
Different plate, different napkin

Variety.

My mom has two tablecloths for daily use, oil cloth and elasticized about the edge, big floral patterns that remind me of what interior designers crammed homes with in the 1980’s. There is one tablecloth for winter and one for summer, exactly like the bathroom décor for the past twenty years. May I also confess to you that beneath the everyday tablecloth is a second tablecloth, for padding, and beneath that is the most beautiful, solid oak table, cut on the quarter grain, that you will never see, like the special occasion tablecloths that only adorn the table briefly if company is nigh, or the stacks of lovely china and the sterling silver that have only seen the light of day twice, ever, that I can recall. But, really, you will never see the oak table in the buff, no matter how special a guest you are.

Same tablecloth.
Same tablecloth.

I came home from a business trip to find a package on the back counter. Contained in clear plastic wrap was a tablecloth, an exact replica of the tablecloth presently on the table. With grave concern for my mother’s mental acuity, thinking she had ordered the tablecloth not realizing she already had it, I inquired. She said the elastic on the old tablecloth was stretched out, had I not noticed? So, a new, an exact duplicate, was ordered as an improvement to our well-being and lifestyle.

Same tablecloth. Different plate, different bowl, different napkin.
Same tablecloth. Different plate, different bowl, different napkin.

Constancy.

As for clutter, I find it tiring, truly, it drains my energy and zaps my enthusiasm. I am not immune from clutter, none of us are, I have my own clutter, and pots calling kettles black, Mom and I are always intolerant of the other’s clutter. I truly believe mine is to a minimum. I moved five times in five years, I have kept only what I’d be willing to move again. I have made continual and concerted efforts to further declutter, on a regular basis. I have limited space in my rooms, my storage unit, and my life, for anything, much less the unnecessary. I find a great deal of satisfaction and a real sense of freedom in letting go of things I truly don’t need or use on a regular basis. I love to liberate things that weigh me down to become someone else’s stuff.

Same tablecloth.
Same tablecloth.

Mom’s clutter consists of unused items that have just always been there, décor and dated electronics, and paper. Lots and lots of paper. She carefully writes the date on each and every piece of mail that is received and files it for further handling at a later date. Further handling may consist of paying the bill within, ordering the items advertised, sending the donation requested, or letting it pile up precariously in “the office” until shredded. She shreds junk mail. She spent an entire day, a full eight or ten hours, shredding the accumulation of worthlessness one day last week. What doesn’t make its way to the pile in the office, resides on the kitchen table or on two of the four chairs around the table. It was occupying three of the four chairs until I moved home and wished to sit to eat. When company threatens, the piles are shuffled away to the office at the very last moment before the doorbell rings and are quickly returned to their respective kitchen resting place as the front door closes behind them upon the guest’s retreat. The company only tablecloth as quickly disappears. I don’t even see it happen, it just occurs, quickly, as if by ninjas.

Different plate. Different napkin.
Different plate. Different napkin.

Until I required two of the three bedrooms this house affords, those two bedrooms were for overflow. When company came, all that was about was put within and the doors were closed. I have no idea where all that stuff has made its way to, with my occupancy, but I am certain it is somewhere.

I’ll admit, I’ve lived similarly, but not entirely by choice, when I was living with my husband, who I would have to say is as close to a hoarder as I’ve ever known. Entire rooms in our various homes were “off limits” to guests, and every surface was filled to capacity with all the things. The accumulation. The stuff to be dealt with at some later date. Like when we moved, but, even then, most of the stuff, including piles of long dusty, faded mail, was tossed into a cardboard box, taped shut, labeled, moved, and never again reopened. If something of importance was buried in such a box, a copy was requested from the original issuer and then piled somewhere until dusty and faded, boxed and moved. I’m breaking out in hives at the recollection of this.

Different plate. Different napkin.
Different plate. Different napkin.

Clutter.

“My” kitchen, my beautiful kitchen, is in storage. All of my beautiful things, my pretty plates, my beautiful bowls, my lovely linens, and my special serving pieces. I don’t have a lot of things, just a few carefully selected pieces. Please. Remember, I moved five times in five years; I’ve kept only the very few things I absolutely adore! And, in “my” kitchen, I only have an item or two out at a time. In “my” kitchen, there are so few things, in total, that all the things have ample and generous space in a few cupboards. In “my” kitchen, one beautiful piece or another is brought out to compliment the meal of the moment, it is put away when the dishes are done, which is immediately, and the next meal is entirely differently accompanied.

Kitchen appliances bore me. True, there are some I find indispensable, a couple I don’t have I find highly desirable. But kitchen appliances, like Victorian children, should not be seen or heard, unless or until absolutely necessary. If the appliances don’t have a place in a cupboard, they don’t have a place in “my” kitchen. I honestly think I could keep kitchen appliances to a toaster and a coffee grinder. I might enjoy a really nice espresso machine, but that would be an obscene luxury item and it would require quite a bit of real estate in a cupboard. And constant care and cleaning. I gave my last not very expensive espresso machine to my son, but then, for a bit, moved in with him and had to endure its very infrequently used existence on the counter top. It required dusting. I loathe dusting.

Truthfully, as for pots and pans; I could thrive with my cast iron skillet, a high quality sauce pan, and a stock pot. The cast iron skillet serves for everything from Dutch oven to sauté pan. I yearn to keep it simple.

Different bowls. Different napkin. Same tablecloth.
Different bowls. Different napkin. Same tablecloth.

Knives and forks and plates and bowls and chairs and napkins; in my dream kitchen, there’d be just enough for me, for mine, and for a bit a bit of company, and no two items would match! They’d be eclectic and collectibles, new and ancient, and I’d let each guest select the color and pattern that struck them! And, when not in use, they’d be tucked in a neat stack in their appropriate cupboard or drawer.

“My” spaces would be decorated only with flowers, an ever changing bit of art or whimsy, a seasonal and varietal splash of color from a valance, a pillow, a candle, a picture book, a cozy throw, and a few photos.

Clothes and shoes, if they don’t fit in the closet or I haven’t worn them in a year’s time, off they go to Goodwill. I caught myself, only once, replacing my thick plastic hangers with thinner wire hangers so as to fit more into the closet. I can be cagey like that, brilliant, but devious.

Books are down to just the ones I am likely to refer to or reread, and, unless of a whimsical, interesting, varietal, and only occasional coffee table picture book, they are being replaced with electronic versions as can be afforded.

I am as paperless as this still paper dependent world will allow. I scan and shred daily. Mail that is not vital or relevant does not even enter the house. I subscribe to electronic statements and no print literature, and I call catalog companies who send me print catalogs and beg them to stop. I threaten to stop doing business with those who will not honor my “paperless please” requests, and I follow through.

As Mom and I “clutter bash” each other I have to remind her, like dieting versus a healthy eating lifestyle, simplifying and decluttering is a lifestyle. Simplifying and decluttering is a lifestyle you choose and that you live, each and every day of the rest of your life, it isn’t something you do for two weeks and then pray for lasting results, like the cabbage soup diet. Like choosing wholesome ingredients and carefully planning and preparing healthy meals, keeping the clutter that accumulates in our lives to a comfortable level takes commitment and a permanent change in behavior.

My beautiful life, in its perfected form, is a life where company can arrive unannounced and my world is clean and inviting, simply, effortlessly. Simple, uncluttered surroundings require so much less effort; less dusting, less scrubbing, cleaning happens daily with a quick swipe of a cloth across a smooth, empty surface. Dishes are done as they are used. Nothing accumulates. Everything has a place and is replaced in its place after use. This is so exciting to me I can barely contain my glee in describing this! This is my beautiful life, I have lived it briefly and yearn for it again.

Simplicity.

My life now, in my childhood home, beautiful in execution, but not in aesthetics, with all that I need and all that I use, quartered in two bedrooms, with the exception of one of the two closets, and some highly contentious space in the middle of the garage floor. My beautiful things that do not fit into Mom’s home, that I don’t require regularly, are stored, at a huge expense, in a storage unit a couple of miles away. Were this house, or a house a fraction the size, vacant, my beautiful life would easily fit within, without clutter. Simply. This is my vision, it has been my reality, and it is what I lust for now. It is the lifestyle I choose, like being active and eating clean, it’s what makes me feel joyful. I love my life. It’s a beautiful life.

Eat That Frog. Just Do It.

I’ve been putting off writing this, or any article, all week. My creativity has been focused on other things and I just really haven’t felt the urge to write. Sue me. No, don’t. It’s not that I have nothing to say, I just haven’t felt like sitting down and putting it all into words. I decided I just had to “eat that frog”.  That’s right, eating the frog. The frog is the thing you don’t really want to do, but you should, or must, or ought to, or you really, really, deep down inside want to, you just haven’t focused any intent or energy to it, whatever “it” is. For me, this week, this article.

The concept of “eating the frog”; it’s horrible and slimy and gross, but if you just eat it first thing, it’s over with and the rest of the day is like cake! It becomes a mindset, a lifestyle, even.

Eating the frog is a lot like I eat my meals; I eat what I know is healthiest, and usually least tastiest thing on my plate first, like kale, then move to the next healthiest, like zucchini, and leave the least healthiest for last, like the meat, or the pasta, hoping I might be too full to eat it all. Hardly ever the case. I have the appetite of an elephant, I don’t know the meaning of the word “full”. In several respects; my calendar, my closet, my plate, my glass, my suitcase, my iPhone, my hard drive. I could go on. I shan’t.

I attend a local MeetUp group, WINN, Women in Napa Networking. We are “WINNers”. We have a monthly “Eat That Frog” gathering, at a local coffee shop and we talk about our “frogs”, our obstacles, our hold ups, and we share ideas for resolving our little issues. The next month, we report back on our progress. There’s some accountability, which helps, sort of like having your junior high peers jeering you into eating a frog!

Remember the Nike ad campaign “Just Do It”. Did you? Do you? So simple, how can you not just do it? Whatever it is. Doing it should never be that difficult. The key may be in breaking it down into manageable pieces and prioritizing them, perhaps the awfulest, the frogiest, first. Unless it were a really puny frog, it’d probably take more than one bite to eat it, right? Well, there you go! Take those insurmountable tasks or goals, and break them down into manageable pieces, bite by bite, the frog will be easier to eat.

How much do you enjoy the thing you really want to do when you know you have to follow up with all those things you really don’t want to do? Doesn’t it steal some of the joy? It does, and you know it. How many times have you put something off until it could be put off no more and you missed doing something amazing because you were stuck doing that dreaded thing? The dreaded thing that you should’ve done last night, last week, or last month, or last year.

I’ve been eating frogs for a while, now, and think I’ve got it down to an art form. Mostly. I usually have a frog or two on my plate, but I used to be knee deep in frogs.

What are your frogs? Mine? Usually returning the phone call I don’t have an answer for, the desired answer, or that I know is going to take three hours to conclude. Likewise with emails, returning emails without being able to totally thrill, excite and satisfy the recipient’s request, need, or desire. Another frog, rescheduling appointments! I don’t know why it’s a frog, but it is. Vacuuming is a frog, but dusting is the biggest, ugliest, wartiest frog ever. I’ll do dishes, wipe down the stovetop and scrub the sink after every meal. I’ll clean the shower after every use and keep my stuff organized and in its place. But dust? I’ve given up brick-a-brack and knick-knacks for the sheer joy of never having to move anything to dust. Dusting, for me, is best accomplished if I can sit my butt down on the dusty surface and kind of slide across from one end to the other. Then I just toss my jeans in the wash! Vacuuming? If I had my way, I’d have no carpet and just wear socks with a little lemon oil spritzed on, and dance, all over the house. Then, of course, I’d toss my socks in the wash. I rather like doing laundry. I even like to fold, hand and put laundry away. No frogs there! Mailing birthday cards, another frog. I love to buy cards, but I wait until the very last moment to write the sentiment inside. I have no problem addressing them, and even plastering a stamp on the envelope. It’s the act of mailing the card that presents a problem. I just buy a stack of funny cards, sign them all at once, seal them up and at a family or friend get together, everyone gets their card for the year. All at the same time. I bring extras, even, in case there are unexpected guests!

Eating frogs. An analogy. How about this? Would you rather brush your teeth for two full minutes, at least twice a day, floss every tooth once a day, and go to the dentist for a quick, painless cleaning twice a year, or spend many torturous hours over several days, weeks, months, even, and possibly thousands and thousands of dollars because you just couldn’t make yourself do the easy, little things? Tender little tree frogs or a big, bastard of a hairy toad? The choice is yours, my friend.

On a larger scale; what stands between you and, well, you? Are you all that? Are you really the total picture of who you thought you’d be? Or do you have a list? A bucket list? A to do list? Are these lists, in life, getting any shorter, is anything ever getting crossed off? Why not? Is there a frog, or perhaps a whole pond full of frogs, that need to be devoured?

No one is faultless here, I’ve my own list. Believe me, there are some pretty old, big, scary frogs in my pond. But every day, I at least poke at them a little. I’ve got my frog-gigging fork out and I’m taking aim, each and every day. Every now and then, I gig a frog, gulp it down and I start jabbing at the next one. I am sometimes chided for being a compulsive goal setter, for always trying to make progress, for never sitting still, for never just letting go. And to those who notice, I say “thank you, that’s the way I want it, now put the toaster away, we won’t need it again today and I don’t want to have to dust it next month.”

I think a lot of our frogs result from living “beyond our means”. I don’t mean that strictly monetarily, either. Time is money, money is time. I lie. Truthfully, I believe time is more valuable, more precious, than money, in the grand scheme of things. If we live in a home that’s larger than we need, and have more stuff than we require, and commit to more obligations than we can manage, and keep all the catalogs the postman delivers in case we might want to order more stuff we don’t require, pretty soon, we’re buried. In more ways than one. We don’t have the time to catch the frogs we need to eat because we’re over-committed and over-burdened. And the frogs can hide in all that stuff we don’t require! This, in my experience, closely resembles the contemporary, American, family life. I’ve been there. And everyone suffers as a result, whoever is involved; kids, husband, wife, the couple as a couple, the family as a family, friendships, extended family. Cut back, cut out, eat frogs and prosper.

If I had to recommend some resources here, and I’ll keep the list short and manageable, because I know you’ve got other frogs to eat, I’d have to say the three most valuable resources I’ve run across, thus far, would be:

  1. “Eat That Frog” by Brian Tracy
  2. “The Joy of Less, A Minimalist Living Guide: How to Declutter, Organize and Simplify Your Life” by Francine Jay
  3. “The ONE Thing” by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan

Well, it’s 10:36 PM and I really, really want to go to bed. My face is washed, moisturizer applied, teeth brushed, really, really, well, flossed, and my breath is all minty from mouthwash. Oh, but I have a load of wash that just finished up sitting like a big, soggy frog in the washing machine. I washed my favorite jeans, which I’d like to wear tomorrow. Unless I hang them up to dry tonight, they’ll still be wet in the morning and I won’t be able to wear them. There’s my frog. So, nom, nom, nom. Done. And good night.

See, laundry all hung up. Tonight's frog.
Article done AND laundry hung. Tonight’s frog.

Ribbit. Now go eat those frogs.

For the insanely curious, I actually found recipes for frogs, not that this is what this article is really about. I just HAD to know, and now, so do you!

Slavery

slav·er·y  

1. The state of one bound in servitude as the property of a slaveholder or household.

2.

a. The practice of owning slaves.

b. A mode of production in which slaves constitute the principal work force.

3. The condition of being subject or addicted to a specified influence.

4. A condition of hard work and subjection

 

Slavery. I’m against it on every level. I am a proponent of personal freedom, independence and autonomy. My very strong beliefs go well beyond just the exploitation of individuals for the benefit or gain of another.

I am also opposed to enslavement by possessions or by lifestyle. I realize it is not possible to be completely free of your possessions, or of your lifestyle, but you are in control your level of enslavement to those things. And a lifestyle that may seem enslaving to one is an expression of freedom to others. To try to explain:

I have worked full time, or nearly full time, for most of my professional life, spanning over twenty-five years. My work hours ranged from thirty hours a week, in the good old days, to upwards of sixty or seventy hours a week in many years, some quite recent, like most of last year, and probably the remainder of this year. When evening rolls around and I finally turn my back on my work for the night, or when the weekend comes along and I have the opportunity to be home, rather than travelling to or from home for work, the very last thing I want to do is housework and yard work. I do thrive in a clean, neat, tidy, organized home and loathe and despise an unkempt yard. How to manage? One must be both clever and extremely well organized.

There was a time when my children were small and my husband and I were both working hard building our young careers. We cherished our “free time” with our children on evenings and weekends. The house was getting messier than I liked, the yard was overgrown, and tensions were high. During a “discussion” of the state of things, sort of a “state of the household” speech, by yours truly, my husband declared that he would “take care” of the yard and I should take care of the house. He hired a gardener. Never one to be outdone, I hired a housekeeper. Our weekends were ours, and the house and yard were always neat as a pin. This peaceful balance and accord lasted for several years.

I know this isn’t always possible. For instance, it is not a possibility for me now, as income, while more plentiful, my expenses are far, far greater. A college education for two grown children is not cheap and my disposable income has been disposed of for a very long time into the future. So, how to manage both my time and my home? Simply by making the appropriate choices based on my resources and my preferred lifestyle.

First, my preferred lifestyle; I want to be free when I’m not working. I want to go places, visit with friends, dine out, wine taste, travel, run, hike, work out at the gym, etc. I do not want to clean house or do yard work. I do want my house to be spotless and ready for friends to drop by at a moment’s notice. Yes. I want it all. And I’ve got it ALL figured out. Normally. Up until recently, I have chosen to live in places where the yard maintenance has been included with the rent or payment. As far as the inside of my home, I like a more minimalist lifestyle, no clutter, a place for everything and everything in its place. I have given away and sold most of the things I no longer need, want or use. I am vigilant in identifying things that are eligible for purging. I make frequent trips to Goodwill and to the dump. I clean my bathroom and kitchen after every use, vacuum now and then, and have a strict no knick-knack policy. I don’t mind running a dust rag over a nice, sleek surface. I do mind having to dust little bits and things, removing them, replacing them, and having to dust underlying surface in the few brief moments it is exposed.

To further my blissful, stress-less home environment, I don’t even bring junk mail into my house; I enroll in paperless statements and billing and shred anything that HAS to come in paper as soon as I’ve scanned it. Stephen Covey in his “7 Habits of Highly Effective People” suggests that you only ever touch a piece of paper one time. That is my goal, if I have to touch it at all.

I am reading an awesome book right now that I highly, highly recommend for anyone trying to live a more organized, less cluttered, life; “The Joy of Less, A Minimalist Living Guide: How to Declutter, Organize, and Simplify Your Life” by Francine Jay. Everything the author says resounds with me. I have accomplished much of what she recommends in advance of reading the book, but, of course, could evolve a little more in my efforts to be freer.

So, if I already have a plan, I already have it ALL figure out, what could my dilemma possibly be? I’ve moved in with Mom. She is in complete, total and bonded slavery to her house and her yard. She always has been. Whether by choice or out of duty, I don’t know. She does seem to derive some kind of twisted pleasure from vacuuming for hours on end. And she should really consider wearing a tool belt from which she could hang her Windex and 409 bottles and holster her roll of paper towels. True, I did move in to “help” her, but I don’t remember signing any kind of agreement that said I would be available to clean house and do yard work, to her standards, which, by the way, are impossible to meet and even harder sustain.  Her “system” is impossible for anyone, an able bodied person, but especially for a frail, octogenarian. It is absurdity.

Let’s start with the yards. Front and back. Both really large. Mostly lawn. She has a gardener, now, finally, that comes once a week and mows, blows and goes. For any extra fee he will trim fussy hedges, forming them into right angles unnatural to any growing thing in nature, he’ll prune trees into unrecognizable stumps and things like that. The yards, front and back, both look good. Good enough for company. In fact, her yards look like something straight out of Sunset Magazine from the 1960’s, and therein lies the problem. Her yards, while they do have automatic sprinklers, they harken back to who knows when and are wholly inadequate. She lives in a city with outrageous water rates, and has landscaping that requires “hand” watering several times a week. Which she does with a cane in one hand, the hose in the other. Windex and paper towels close by, I’m certain. She has all kinds of planters and areas that require constant and diligent weeding. This is not the type of yard someone who travels 70% of the time (me) can even begin to maintain, even with a gardener.

The house has always appeared very neat. To guests. When guests are not scheduled to arrive, the house is under constant attack from paper and organizational systems that have never been completely thought through or fully implemented. Things have places but aren’t always in their places, or the proper place for a thing has been forgotten because it is infrequently accessed. Every closet, drawer and cupboard is packed full of items that never get used, but for some reason get kept. Then I move in, and even with my pared down pile of possessions, they look overwhelming piled in the middle of the garage and in the middle of my rooms. I have been provided one very small closet, mostly, and two partial shelves in a cupboard in the garage with the warning that rat turds have been spotted in the vicinity. I keep my food with the rats and have hung clothes in the closet. Everything else remains in boxes. There is a dresser in my bedroom I could put clothes in, but the drawers are completely full of stuff that hasn’t seen the light of day since I vacated the drawers thirty some years ago to go to college.

The house is large, for its era. It was built in 1967 and is probably upwards of fifteen hundred square feet. It is a split-level, so two partial flights of stairs, one seven steps, one eight steps. I count steps. This I learned during my wayward teenage years, trying to sneak in and out after curfew without being detected, interrogated and grounded. The front room is Mom’s “formal living room” with a “formal dining room” adjacent to it. We have never been allowed to set foot in there. Ever. Unless there is company. Then we pretend like we use it all the time. She actually takes one of her four vacuums and “lays the nap down” on the carpet, so if anyone does set foot in the living room or dining room, there is, literally, a trail. There are shelves in the living room and a library table, a coffee table and three end tables, all with decorations on them that require dusting. The rooms do look nice, in the way a furniture catalog does, but they are just big, uninviting, uncomfortable and useless spaces that require way too much effort to maintain. I’m thinking warm, wood floors, large comfy couches and chairs, a coffee table with an interesting book, a picture and a flower.

The guest bathroom is also “my” bathroom. It is always appointed for guests, in that, there are towels on the towel rack that are not to be used or touched, and like the couch and chairs in the “formal living room” are dreadful to touch or use, anyway. Very uninviting, very firm, very uncomfortable.  In addition to the fussy, stiff towels I don’t dare touch, there is a basket that occupies one corner of the bathtub. It is lined with a crisp, eyelet napkin or handkerchief or some fussy bit. Inside the lined basket there used to reside little bottles of shampoo and lotions my parents schlepped home from all three vacations they took in their lifetime. Now those pretty little bottles are aged and yellow, and to them have been added the little squeeze packets of free shit that comes in the mail, and weird stuff that was brought home from the hospital after each and every one of my father’s numerous admissions in the latter years. There is also an odd, gold encrusted bottle full of water with bright green food coloring added to it stationed in the other corner. And a candle perched on the ledge, even though we aren’t to ever burn candles. My mom believes that all candles are made of intuitive napalm that will explode into gelatinous flame the instant we turn away for a moment and will take the house down in a furious infrerno. Hey, at least we wouldn’t have to clean! We just buy candles for the edge of the bathtub and the back of the toilet, I guess, to look like a “normal” house on the cover of Martha Stewart Living. All of these oddities require being moved and replaced every time I shower. The shower is tiled, the original, from 1967. It is in fairly good shape considering I used the shower daily as a teenager and didn’t follow the rules. The rules; you have to first squeegee the shower immediately after use, then towel it down. And, truthfully, I am fine with it. I admit, though, just toweling it down is fine, I’ve been doing this for years and I never, ever, ever have to clean my shower or bathtub! It’s the odd decorative inhabitants of the shower, I guess, that I am objecting to.

All three bedrooms have lovely hard wood floors that have been all covered up with the most hideous floor coverings money can buy. Rugs. Strange area rugs that require care and vacuuming. As do the floors underneath. Twice the work. There are shelves of every shape and size, desks and dressers, all burdened with an army of odd little knick knacks that sort of make the house look like the Goodwill store, or Dollar Tree. There are strange little plaques “decorating” the walls that must have been crafty little gifts from well meaning and not terribly talented friends that remind us that we are “special” and such. All of these artifacts require dusting, individually. They need to be removed from their station to dust beneath them all, and then they have to be replaced. Dusting, alone, must take eons.

Windows; there are lots of windows. I think windows are great! I love natural light. Mom has a compulsion with windows that I fail to understand. I know windows need to be washed, inside and out. I think once a quarter is about right. She has washed them, inside and out, three times this week, because company is coming two weeks from today. I’m quite certain the “smudges” she sees are where the glass has been worn thin from the years of exuberant window washing. I’m quite certain of this fact, I really don’t remember being able to hear everything going on outside from inside, while growing up in the house. I think the glass windowpanes are actually thinner! I can hear everything! Well, perhaps the forty six year old windows just need to be replaced, but that’s a subject for another time.

I decided to flee today; the Windex fumes and the relentless roar of one of the vacuums were not conducive to working, even with the door shut. There must be some expectation of shared enslavement to this inefficient lifestyle and compulsive Sunset magazine cover status. I did not agree to this. I am happy to clean up the kitchen to a sparkling shine every time I use it. I am delighted to clean up my bathroom, all the way down to replacing the fussy little basket, the grotesque green liquid filled bottle and the decorative napalm candle after my shower. I will vacuum on occasion, sooner if I notice a rat turd, which, thankfully, I haven’t. I think the Windex fumes probably killed them. I will dust sleek surfaces I am in control of. I do not have clutter to chase, as long as I have dresser drawers and a closet floor for my clothes and shoes, that currently reside in boxes I have to stack and restack to access the contents of. I will even wash windows, inside and out, once a quarter, with non-toxic and Earth friendly products.

So, I moved in to help, and here I sit at the Oxbow Public Market, across town, I’ve finished my work and have chosen to write from here, too, rather than return home. So what happens when Mom can no longer care for the house to her liking, be that next week or in another decade? If we keep it, it will become mine. I’m about ready to call the realtor now! But, if it were my house, or I were placed in charge of the house, I would break the chains of enslavement. Beginning outdoors, assuming I didn’t have tens of thousands of dollars to replace the lawns with an attractive, low maintenance, drought tolerant yard, I’d at least re-do the sprinklers. I’d replace the planters requiring weeding with low maintenance patios that could be populated with chairs and a container garden, maybe, with easy to care for and very hardy plants. Maybe a fire pit and a water feature. The rest would be left to nature, as there is a creek full of oak tress that offers a lovely, serene and natural backdrop. I would leave the leaves on the ground, rather than pay someone to make them go away, so they would provide a natural mulch in that area, preventing the growth of weeds and nourishing the soil, keeping it moist without as much water. The hedges and fussy trees would be replaced with things that didn’t require constant pruning into weird, contrived and unnatural shapes for growing things. When have you ever seen a shrub with right angles in nature, let alone an entire fifty-foot row of them?

Indoors. I would rent a dumpster and conduct a knick-knack holocaust. I would have the industrial shredding company pull up their largest truck and haul away every scrap of paper. Every closet, drawer and cupboard would be completely emptied and only those items that have been used in the past year would be replaced into them, and then, only after very careful consideration. It if isn’t loved, it isn’t kept. We owe no duty or obligation to any inanimate object occupying a space in our home.

Sounds great! I’d like to do that now! But it is my mom’s home, her pride and joy, and I think a very real reason she is still ambulatory, I think it provides her a sense of purpose. So, out of respect for her, I don’t want to force any issues. Tensions are rising, though; an air of martyrdom has developed relating to her “having to clean the house”. The house is as clean as it’s going to get for the impending company. We just need to stuff all the shopping lists, catalogs, and scraps of newspapers into one of the drawers, cupboards or closets. The carpet couldn’t be much cleaner, the windows most definitely are not capable of becoming any cleaner. I could offer to mop the floors, I have no problem with that. But, I really, really doubt that my mom’s twin sister and her husband, who are failing in sight, are going to notice that the floors aren’t waxed. Personally, I think it’s borderline criminal to wax floors when ninety-year-old people are going to be walking on them!

So, with that, I suppose I’d better head home and get to mopping. It’s Friday night and I’ve been working hard all week. I’m ready to relax with a glass of wine and a good book before getting a good night’s rest before a very long training run very early tomorrow. Is it bad I have plans other than vacuuming, mopping, dusting and washing windows tomorrow? The dirt, real or imagined, will wait. I’m no slave.