The Dollhouse Effect

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I was tidying up the playroom at my mom’s house and had sat down for a minute in front of her giant three-story-plus-an-attic dollhouse to put the furniture back where it belonged and straighten up the mess.

“How ironically funny,” I thought to myself. “This is basically what I do all day, every day, but on a teensy-tiny miniature scale…”

Put the chairs back in place. Straighten up the slipcovers. Gather up all the tiny bits and pieces and put them in bins or buckets or baskets. Move the porch swing out of the master bathroom and put it back on the porch…

just kidding. That last thing only happened in the dollhouse and has never taken place in my actual house. Yet. 

But, you know what I was really struck by as I sat on my bottom in front of that precious particle-board construction?

If I’m being completely honest, sometimes I can flip this dollhouse anaIogy around, treating my homemaking duties just like I’m a silly little girl arranging her toys.

Meaning, everything must be in its place and look a very certain way or I will go to bed that night concluding that I am a failure on the housekeeping front. And, sometimes, on my most controlling days, after I deep-clean and tidy everything up “just so”, I will have this desperate urge for us all to just leave the house until bedtime so we won’t mess it up again!

“Let’s go drive around, kids,” I’ll be tempted to say. “We’ll, you know, go…look at stuff?…until it maybe gets dark outside?… and then we’ll order take-out and eat it in the car before going home and going STRAIGHT to bed. Yay! Fun times! Family togetherness!”

All because I have arranged my dollhouse how I want it and I don’t want anyone else to play with it for the rest of the day. 

Now, I don’t know if this is a natural inclination that women have wrestled with for centuries, or if it is a new issue that we have picked up in the age of catalogues, television and, oh yes, you KNOW I’m going to say it, Pinterest, but it really does cause a girl to wonder…

When did we start seeing our homes as dollhouses?

When did the roofs we live under become anything other than a shelter to keep us warm and dry and safe from the outside world?

Did Father Abraham’s wife, Sarah (who ALSO had many sons), get bent out of shape when her tent was messy? Did she stay up late arranging her silk, tasseled floor pillows and dreaming of a day when no one would sit on them and smush them out of shape? Did she think her tent looked its very best when it resembled a showcase tent, or a tent-hotel that no one had checked into yet?

And when it boils down to it, is this a neatfreak issue or a “keeping up with the Jones’s” issue or a materialism issue?…

You know, I honestly don’t know the answers to those questions, but I DO know this. Regardless of its origins or motivation, the dollhouse effect feels so very wrong.

It is one thing to express creativity in our homes and work hard to produce a place of beauty to please our eyes, but we can get so weird about it.

For example, while knowing it isn’t true that houses really look like the ones we see on television, we fight for such a house, anyway. And even though it is obvious to us that the dwellings we admire in magazines are nothing but gussied-up dollhouses that have been “staged” for a photo shoot, we continue to compare our homes to them, allowing a needless root of discontentment to spring up in our hearts at how miserably our own castle holds up.

And before you know it, we’ve gone and modeled every room in our home after houses that somebody else told us we should have…

There should be five perfectly fluffed pillows on the couch and a basket of neatly folded throw blankets nearby, and there should be shoe cubbies that keep all of our footwear organized, and the dining table should be gleaming and featuring some sort of gigantic seasonal centerpiece, and the sink should be glistening with nary a dish in sight, and the laundry baskets should be completely empty, and all the clothes in the closets should be organized by color, and there should be a line-up of bright, shiny rainboots at the backdoor, and the toys in the playroom should all be in labeled bins, and there should be three blankets of varying textures and prints layered on the master bed (along with a gazillion shams and throw pillows artfully arranged at the headboard), and the bathroom should be completely untouched with a shelf boasting a giant glass canister of bath salts that we never use because they make the bathtub feel icky and gooey and another canister holding twenty bars of soap, and oh!, then another one filled to the brim with those natural-looking sponges that look so darn pretty in a jar (even though no one in our family uses sponges!), and…

and…

and in the midst of all this stagery, I think we can somehow forget what the purpose of a house is.

To LIVE in, you dummy.

(Sorry, I was talking to myself there, but feel free to include yourself if it applies).

And all the stuff that is inside a house is supposed to make the living more enjoyable and/or comfortable, not become the source of our insanity and stress.

Now, before I go on, I have to assure you that I am not advocating laziness or carelessness, nor am I bashing home decorating and organizing; I deeply value hard work and I love beauty and I crave order and I believe in taking good care of our things and I want to continually teach my kids to respect their loved ones by helping and doing their part around the home.

But I also never, ever want to forget that my family does not live in dollhouse.

We live in a people house, and we’re kind of supposed to live here. And if houses are for living in, then…

couches, by golly, are for sitting on.

Pillows are for smushing up into a ball to make the small of our back feel more comfortable on the couch.

Throw blankets are for unfolding and curling up in.

Dishes are for eating spaghetti on.

Napkins – even the cloth ones! – are meant for wiping our messy spaghetti mouths on.

Tables are for catching the extra spaghetti that falls off of our plate.

Floors are for walking on (and catching the spaghetti that fell off the table).

Beds are for sleeping in.

Laundry hampers exist to hold dirty clothes; no dirty clothes in the world? No laundry hampers.

Bathrooms were created to be the epicenter wherein every manner of our dirtiness is purged and cleansed.

Closets are for hiding our piles of clothes.

Toys are for playing with!!!

And this precious lil’ white farmhouse we built five years ago and moved into with our budding family? This is our home, one that, for the love of Pete, I want to live in and let my family live in.

Which leads me to what I set out to write about today in the first place. With all these things in mind, by the grace of God, I am learning to see the difference between a lazy mess and a beautiful mess, a dollhouse and a real house. Lazy messes are sickening – they make your stomach turn because you know that you can do better and that your family deserves harder work than that.

But beautiful messes, once you learn to let go of that stinky quest for magazine-quality perfection, cause your heart to quicken inside of you as you realize that this…this!…is the reason you work hard as a homemaker in the first place, to give your family the room and the freedom to live.

Beautiful messes happen around good food and lively conversation.

They happen when siblings are taking a splashy bath together.

They happen over art supplies and blank canvases or an empty table and a couple of jars of Play-doh.

They happen over movies in the living room, throw blankets and pillows and popcorn all over the floor.

They happen in a room full of toys that inspire the imagination to soar, where dinosaurs can play with Calico Critters, even though they don’t match.

They happen in sandpiles and mud puddles and snow-covered yards.

They happen when all the decorative pillows are off the bed and families are cuddled up to sleep together.

They happen when we are living life with the ones we love.

And, sometimes, they happen over afternoon cookies and coffee, inspiring you to sit down and share what you’re learning about homemaking with the world.

Grandmother (or “Mother Bear”, as 3-year old Betsie has dubbed her) had come over for the afternoon, and the three of us had sprawled out in the schoolroom to enjoy a snack together. We talked. We laughed. We read books. We lounged. We made crumbs. We made spills. We lived!…

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It was beautiful.

And it reminded me that this is why I buy pretty decorations and sweep the floors and keep dishes clean and fluff the pillows and wipe off the table, not so our home can look like a dollhouse or the latest issue of the best home decorating magazine…

but that I might make room for the next beautiful mess.

~

p.s. If it makes you feel any better about your life, this is what our shoe cubby looks like. I just don’t know where we’d put that one flip flop if we didn’t have it. I’m super glad we paid money for it.

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How to Iron Without Having to Iron

How to Iron

How many of you have little girls?

How many of you love to buy precious clothes for your little girls?

How many of you have been sad to realize that the most precious clothes usually need to be ironed?

And so how many of you let those precious clothes hang in the closet because you never have time to iron?

Yeah, me too.

Until my mom showed me this mind-numbingly simple tip that has completely changed all of the above.

It is so simple and so obvious, I just want to slap myself on the forehead everytime I realize that I never would have figured this out on my own, but would probably have kept hanging up those beautiful wrinkled-up dresses and looking at them forlornly every Saturday night when I laid out church clothes because I knew I didn’t have time to iron them.

“Next week…” I’d think.

But no longer!

Every single dress that hangs in my daughters’ closet is ready to wear and generally wrinkle-free, and in case you need a little boost like I did, here’s how that happens without ever plugging in the iron…

This is what a typical dress looks like when you pull it out of the dryer. Obviously, this is unacceptable.

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But ironing this tiny collar and bow just isn’t at the top of my priority list. Plus that’s a great way to burn my most important blogging fingers.

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That’s why my girls’ nice clothes (and some of my boys’ clothes!) never make it to the dryer anymore. Straight out of the washer, I place them on a thick, plastic hanger and, using my fingers, I smooth out the wrinkles and straighten out the collars and bows until they are ready to air dry.

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Here’s the bow before I “iron” it with my fingers…

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and here it is after…

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And, just like that, this sweet little sailor dress is basically ready to wear (minus the fact that it is still wet). Mind you, it isn’t perfectly pressed, but for this frazzled mama of four children, it’s like Proverbs 31 praiseworthy.

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Here’s another example of a tricky little girl’s romper that, if put in the dryer, would be a mess. Ruffles are the worst, are they not?

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But after hanging up the romper and smoothing out the ruffles with my fingers, they look tidy and spiffy!

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Here’s the bow on the romper’s pocket before I “ironed” it…

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and here it is after…

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Every little dress in our collection receives this exact same treatment, and believe me, it makes my laundry room very happy.

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I hope it makes your laundry room happy, too!

(But don’t thank me, thank my mom).

~

If you are like me and need to really have things spelled out for you, here are a few more tips, in detail:

  • Sometimes it helps to toss these clothes in the dryer for about five minutes on your lowest heat setting before you attack the wrinkles. It will get out a few of them for you!
  • Now, grab the top of the article of clothing with one hand and the bottom with the other and pull, firmly enough to beat the wrinkles, but gently enough to not rip anything. What are you, a backwoodsman? Do this all over the article of clothing, smoothing out all the fabric with your hand. Then, smooth out the bottom hem. Then, smooth out the panel and all buttoned areas, pull out pocket flaps and smooth them down, put your hand in the pockets to straighten them, smooth out any sashes and pull them taut, and fluff up any bows. Lastly, do the collars and, after placing your hanger on a hook or doorknob, give everything one last once-over. Basically, however the clothing looks when you walk away from it is how it will dry.
  • Don’t do all of your high-maintenance clothes in one load. I’ve done that a few times and it feels so overwhelming to see all of them lying in a heap that I have to “iron” before I can move on to another chore. I have instead started a habit of keeping these items in their own hamper and, with each load of laundry I wash, I throw in just a couple. Doing it this way is practically painless, and it ensures that clean dresses are being hung back in the closet almost every day.
  • And you know what that means, right? We are actually WEARING all the pretty clothes we have purchased instead of letting them go to waste! Hip hip hooray!!
  • If you aren’t too picky about perfectly ironed duds yourself, you can do this with your own clothes, as well. It gets the major wrinkles out around hems, collars, pockets and panels and allows you to look presentable enough. I do all of my button-ups this way, and it keeps me wearing them, even though they sort of look like I took a nap in them.
  • Go fix yourself a tall glass of sweet tea and congratulate yourself on being the QUEEN of the laundry room!!

~

If you have any questions or just want to tell us how brilliant we are or how we’ve saved your life, feel free to comment below!

My Sweet Home: Junk Be Gone! (Part 3)

After an entire week of procrastination, I’m finally posting the next installment in this “decluttering” series, and I’m going to hop right to it!

In my last post, I shared some principles that are motivating me to simplify our home and our lives…

Today, I want to share with you some practical tips that are helping me accomplish my decluttering goals, but I have to be honest first: I’m just now getting there. For instance, this is our living room…

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It has been pared down and simplified to bare bones and is a DREAM to keep clean. In five minutes, I can completely tidy the room up, and that includes sweeping.

This, on the other hand, was the hallway outside of our kids’ nursery, taken after I removed every toy, blanket and extra article of clothing that was littering their floor and piled it up for sifting and sorting…

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Night…mare. But I received a shipment of pretty storage containers shortly thereafter, and this room is being completely defeated. I promise to finish it, and I promise to share my progress here!

I share that to assure you that I am learning these things right alongside you, and that I am most certainly not an expert. However, I am determined to grow, I am determined to develop a better attitude of hospitality and servitude in my home, and I am passionate about encouraging you in your journey, as well.

And so here are my personal tips for getting rid of the excess that already resides in your home:

1. Make sure you are sufficiently motivated.

This might seem redundant in light of my last post, but it’s foundational: the most important tools for defeating bad habits and giving up worldly excess are godly motivation and biblical principles. Until I have an eternal purpose for doing things, I have trouble really caring much or persevering.

2. Read housekeeping blogs and articles and do what they say.

Most of the things I’m doing in my home were not my original material and have most likely been gleaned from others. Some books and blogs that have helped me along the way:

  • Simple Country Wisdom: 501 Old-fashioned Ideas to Simplify Your Life. I love this book, not only for its charm, but for the common sense that is found within its pages. Click on the picture to find it at Amazon:

  • Living Well Spending Less: I have only just discovered this blog, but I am already a huge fan and am finding guidance and encouragement for my clutter-conquering journey, as well as a good dose of transparency.
  • The Time-Warp Wife: Another blog I have only recently discovered, I LOVE the faith-based principles that serve as its foundation, as well as all the handy (and cute!) printables and charts. I can’t wait to read and learn more!
  • The Fly Lady: I came across this blog from my internet friend, Leslie. It is chock-full of tips and help, not only for decluttering, but for cleaning and developing good homemaking habits.

You would do well to learn from these ladies, each of them far more experienced than I am when it comes to housekeeping and decluttering. They will cover all the important steps for you, and now I’ll just share a few things I have personally picked up along the way…

3. Make lists.

Before you start, make itemized lists of what you really need and intend to keep, and be determined to get rid of what is not on the list. With my list in hand, I knew going into my kids closet exactly how many sets of playclothes and pajamas I intended to keep, how many toys they would be allowed to keep, how many pairs of shoes they needed for church and play…

Preparing beforehand when you are not actually looking at your stuff helps you to be objective.

4. Try to find time to declutter alone.

It is nigh until impossible to sift through excess when you have little hands and voices nearby, and I have found that this kind of work is best done when my children are out of the house. Don’t have any baby-sitters available? Do a work swap with one of your friends. She’ll keep your kids one day so you can work, and then you can return the favor.

5. If you don’t have adequate time to completely finish a phase of sorting, don’t even start.

I can’t tell you how many times I have randomly started going through a drawer or a toy box, organized everything into piles…and then it’s time to start supper. Or the kids wake up from their naps. Or I just run out of steam. When I return the next day to finish the job, it has been scattered to high heaven, and all of my work is left undone. Thus, I have learned to schedule my decluttering, and I no longer start jobs I know I can’t finish.

6. Enlist a helper.

Two are better than one, and while I personally find more success when I declutter alone, some of you might need a buddy. For instance, my Mom has a lot of trouble getting rid of things because, once she holds an item in her hands, she immediately wants to keep it. Now that she has enlisted me as her sifting buddy, though, I hold her clothes up for her from across the room, and she can objectively decide if it is something she needs to keep or not. In other words, do whatever it takes to conquer your excess…even if it looks a little like an intervention.

7. The cardinal rule: if you don’t love it or use it, get rid of it.

There are, of course, exceptions to this rule, but for the most part, this is the best way to determine what you should keep and what you shouldn’t. Stop holding on to the things that don’t make your heart go pitter-patter. (Important side note: this rule ONLY applies to things, not people…). My husband and I just narrowed down our movie library to the truly defining and timeless ones, transforming our entertainment center into a treasure trove of films rather than a place where we store all the cheap movies we’ve bought over the years. It’s crazy what a difference these sorts of simple changes can make in your home, bringing meaning and fluidity into what was just random and pointless and hoard-ish before.

8. Make designated piles.

Sometimes it can be so overwhelming when you are staring at a mountain of stuff and you don’t know what to do with it; narrowing your items down to “keep” or “don’t keep” can be impossible. So create specific piles (or bags…or empty diaper boxes…), and be as creative with them as you want to be.  Here are some I frequently employ:

  • Keepsakessome things just need to be kept, and that’s okay. Put them in a safe box and store them forever in your attic and let your kids deal with them after you die.
  • Family, Friends or Church NurseryI often remove toys and play-clothes from our house and take them to my Mom’s where all the grandkids can enjoy them…and oftentimes, our kids are much happier giving up their toys when they know they’ll be going to someone they love. This is also true of the church nursery, a perfect home for your excess (but not junky!) toys, books, outgrown diapers, and play clothes, for those times when kids at church have ‘accidents’. I have a friend who used to take her son’s stained or outgrown playclothes to the local daycare for that same reason, and I thought that was such a good idea!
  • PurgatoryI have learned the hard way that my children either completely forget about crafts they made or junky toys they’ve acquired…or they ask for them out of the blue and I discover that they loved that item more than anything ever in the entire world and now I’m the bad guy who threw it heartlessly away. Thus, rather than trashing those types of items immediately, I have a special box that I call “purgatory” where they can secretly hang out for a couple of months until I know for sure it is safe to send them out the back door. This box has served me VERY well.
  • TRASH! (My favorite). So easy. So quick.
  • Garage sale or Goodwill. I don’t keep a separate pile for Goodwill, because if is is not quality enough to sell, it is not quality enough to donate. If you wouldn’t sell it, trash it immediately. Goodwill (or anyone else) doesn’t need our t-shirts with the armpit stains. Then, whatever I don’t sell at our garage sales goes immediately (like, that day) to Goodwill or to someone else who could benefit from it. Just don’t under any circumstance bring that stuff back into your house!!!
  • Consignment. I have a special section of my garage sales dedicated to consignment quality clothes, with firm and appropriate prices. It is easier to give up quality clothes that I don’t wear when I know I might be properly compensated for them. Or you could make it even easier and actually take them to a consignment store! (I just like cutting out the middleman…)

Your piles might look completely different than mine, but…you get the point. Make lots of piles.

9. Declutter often.

Sad news. This kind of work doesn’t last as long as you think it will. You have to stay on top of it, and expect decluttering to be at least a monthly, if not a weekly, chore. Yay…

10. Put kids toys up. The higher the better.

Best thing I’ve ever done. Organize most of your kids toys into separate bins (with the exceptions of their stuffed animals and such), put them somewhere out of reach, and hold the key to what gets played with, when. The benefit of this is at least threefold: a) Their room stays clean, except for daily maintenance like making beds and putting away clothes, b) they actually play with the toys you get down for them rather than getting everything out at one time and wandering around aimlessly in the wreckage (I know you know what I’m talking about!), and c) more often than not, they wind up using their imaginations instead of relying on toys for entertainment. And guess what? You don’t have to clean up after imaginations! Just when I was looking for the courage to take this step, I came across this blog post: Why I Took My Kids Toys Away (and why they won’t get them back). And I have to concur with everything the author says: this really works, and our entire family has profited from it.

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Again, nothing new or revolutionary here, but if it any of the above tips help you in your decluttering process, I will be so pleased. And if you have any tips or ideas or blog posts to share with us, please do so in the comments section – we’d love to hear from you!

Coming up soon in the “My Sweet Home” series…”Junk Be Gone: When You Live with a Hoarder”

My Sweet Home: Junk Be Gone! (Part 2)

Last week, I made the case that the #1 problem housekeepers face today is the excessive amounts of “stuff” we have in our houses.

Today, I want to share with you some things that are helping me tackle this problem, but after some serious thought, I’ve decided to break this list up into two parts: in my next post, I’ll share practical ideas for how we are paring down the excess that already lives in our home. Today, however, I’ll be discussing principles for keeping the excess out in the first place…

Before you bring things home:

1. Make wishlists.

I know this seems counter-productive, but believe me, it works: set up an online account at your favorite stores and make detailed lists of what you’d like. I have a list for each of my children, for homeschool, for my personal wishes, for our house, our yard, our wardrobes, our library…pretty much everything! “How does that possibly help with excess?” you ask? Simply this: it prioritizes my spending and challenges me to think about the things I’m buying rather than nickel-and-diming my budget away when I’m out and about. I now rarely buy things unless they are on my list. That means when we are at the grocery store, I buy groceries. That’s it. And the only way I will ever buy a book from the bargain bin at the bookstore is if it is already on my list at Amazon; otherwise, I pass those tempting sale aisles by, at any store. You have to ask yourself: would I rather buy these 5 discounted books that I’ve never heard of, or the 1 hardcover book that would add to my collection of Junior Illustrated Classics? Would I rather buy 3 of these inexpensive shirts that match nothing in my daughter’s closet or get her that one complete outfit on her list that I know she’ll wear and will hold up well?

The only time I veer from this principle is when I am at an antique store or among one-of-a-kind products, but even there, I try to exercise great caution and refrain from grabbing stuff just because I like it. I think the fastest way to deplete your budget and bring stuff into your home that you don’t need is to shop without thinking first.

Wishlists are also very helpful, in that, when your young kids are dying to buy at toy or a book when you’re out running errands, you can say, “We’ll add that to your list when we get home and maybe you’ll get it for your birthday.” It has to be a really special day for us to buy a toy on a non-holiday…little indulgences like that pile up fast, especially when you start adding multiple children to your home.

2. Stay home.

A really great way to bring a bunch of stuff into your house is to frequent places where stuff is sold. Those trips to the mall where you just meander around all day, going in and out of every store, will pretty much ensure that you’ll come home with bags of excess that you don’t need. And its funny…everytime I go to Anthropologie, I realize that there are at least 10 new items that I feel like I can’t live without. Staying home pretty much completely solves this problem.

3. Realize that you are a marketing target.

I used to see shopping as a quest where I could use my prowess and be a mighty hunter of great bargains and deals, but when it began to dawn on me that I was less hunter and more prey, it took a bit of the sparkle out of my shopping adventures. I could no longer view those $5 movie bins at Wal-Mart as just happenstance, but saw them for what they really were: a marketer’s snare to catch me and entice me to spend hard-earned money on things I didn’t need.

This knowledge has given me the discernment to look past that pretty packaging and see a bar of plain ol’ soap, and to pass up every “clearance sale” and “buy 3-get-1-free” promotion that catches my eye. I tote home far less “bargains” and “treasures” as a result, thank God!

And don’t even get me started on outlet malls…

4. Likewise, protect your children from consumerism.

I used to love, love, love poring over the J.C. Penney Holiday Wishbook, circling anything that called out to me as I made birthday and Christmas lists galore. Thus, when he was just a toddler, I was so excited to introduce my son to his first toy catalogue. But even though his eyes lit up at the pretty pages and he enthusiastically circled toy after toy as he kept himself occupied for about 30 minutes, the entire experience surprisingly left me a little saddened…

Because what had I really just introduced him to? Pages and pages of unimportant stuff that lit a fire of desire in his little heart. Since that time, the conviction has grown that I need to work at sheltering my kids from commercials, catalogues and even stores that would awaken in their hearts a longing for the unending supply of worldly goods available to us today. I must guard their hearts, even as I work at guarding mine, and teach them where true joy and fulfillment is found.

6. Change your gift-buying and gift-giving mentality.

My husband has really helped me with this one. I used to buy such-and-such amounts of gifts for this-and-this-and-this-and-this holiday because that’s they way things were done. Mr. Gore, however, is an objective thinker and never does things “just because”, which has led us to this point: as our budget allows, we buy special things for the ones we love to show them love, whenever we want or whenever we see something that makes us think of them. That means that we might buy one really special present for a loved one for her birthday, but if nothing strikes us, we don’t just go to Bath and Body Works and grab something for $20 so she’ll have something to open. Replace hastily bought and unthoughtful gifts like that with perishable gifts like flowers or baked goods, things that will be enjoyed but that won’t add to the piles of stuff in your house or in the homes of your loved ones. Even our tiny little daughters are so thrilled to receive a little bouquet of flowers on special occasions…it makes them feel loved, and that’s the point, right?

This is really important when it comes to filling up Christmas stockings and Easter baskets or when purchasing little sibling gifts on birthdays. Refrain from just buying nonsensical filler, again, opting for perishable goods such as special candies or fruits, or even better, practical things, like cool new toothbrushes or underwear or a Chick-fil-a giftcard or pretty pencils for school. I gave my daughter some special undershirt/panty sets in her stocking this year, and I think it was her favorite gift of the season. Those little cheap toys that call out to us at holiday time are just absolutely the worst thing to bring into our homes.

Just ask the nightmare that awaits me upstairs…

6. Likewise, change your gift-receiving mentality.

Just because it is a gift, doesn’t mean you have to keep it forever. Gifts are supposed to make you feel loved. So take a moment, a couple of months, even, to feel that love, and then decide…do I want to keep this? Sometimes the answer is a resounding “yes!” and you know in your heart you will keep it for the rest of your life. But sometimes the answer can be no. You have to be discerning here, and you should always keep a grateful heart, but don’t feel like you have to keep things around for the rest of your life just because someone gave it to you.

This is especially true when you are getting married or having baby showers. You will likely receive a mountain of stuff from friends and family. Keep the things you love and will use, and exchange the rest for gift cards. I know that seems harsh, but remember what you’re working toward in taming the excess in your home: hospitality… comfort… organization… peace… again, this calls for discernment and tact, but for the most part, your loved ones are giving you gifts to help you, and they won’t have  a problem with you exchanging or returning them.

My personal rule of thumb is to keep at least one thing I really love from the people I really love, things that suit me while reminding me of them. Otherwise, I feel pretty free to eventually let those things go.

7. Examine your lifestyle and your motives for living the way you do.

Hoarding (and I’m not talking, like, “Hoarders” hoarding, but typical American hoarding) is not necessarily an innocent personality trait. In many cases, it points to something deeper. A root of sin, even. Some of us may be living like this world is our home, storing up as many treasures as possible. Some of us may be making idols out of possessions, acquiring more and more and more because it makes us feel good and excited and momentarily fulfilled. Some of us may make more out of ourselves than others, spending all of our extra money on our own homes and families without looking for ways to share it.

These tendencies must be uprooted and repented of, and then replaced with things that are good and true and eternal.

And then some of us might just have that Depression-era attitude that says “keep everything because you might need it someday.” But I told my Mama this, and now I’ll tell you: we aren’t living in the Depression. And while it was a good rule at the time that you should keep your floursacks because you might need them to make dresses, more often than not, Americans today need to do a lot less keeping and a lot more tossing (and there are so many ways to “toss” without adding trash to the heap – we’ll go over some of that in my next post). My personal rule, and one you’ll find in almost any blog post or article on organization: if you don’t love it or use it, get rid of it.

8. Stop being thoughtless.

But then much of our excessive lifestyles are simply nothing more than a failure to think about what we are doing. We are on some sort of  twisted, commercialized American autopilot, and we never consider whether we need to be or not…

We have such-and-such amount of things because everyone else does. We buy cards and gifts on this day because it is a holiday! We have a son and so we need legos and cars and dinosaurs and armymen and Lincoln Logs and erector sets and a train and baseball gear and football gear and basketball gear and building blocks and toy tools and cowboy stuff, and we have a girl and so we need at least 3 baby dolls and baby doll clothes and diaper bags and a stroller and a toy kitchen and tea sets and pretend food and dishes and cooking sets and aprons and a dollhouse and stuffed animals and dress-up clothes and 50 hairbows and 20 plastic strands of beads and some Barbies, and we have a homeschool and so we need stacks of construction paper and lined paper and unlined paper and cardstock and posterboard and crayons and markers and colored pencils and watercolors and fingerpaints and play-doh and boxes of safety scissors and 500 books and…

oh. my. gosh. When are we ever going to stop?!

It would behoove all of us to put on the brakes and free ourselves from this never-ending cycle of consumption. For more, I highly recommend reading Jen Hatmaker’s “7: an experimental mutiny against excess”. Warning: it will probably change your life.


9. Use history as a measuring stick.

Just ask my husband. I am kind of obsessed with comparing our lives today with those who have walked before us. But even though I get carried away sometimes, it has served me well, allowing me to objectively see the world while helping me to realize that I don’t have to buy into every aspect of our culture today.

Let me explain: realizing that life and love existed for centuries before ours and that those people survived (and possibly thrived) on far less than we do gives me the confidence to let go of the indulgent and dangerous lifestyle that America constantly parades before my eyes. Most of our forerunners had hundreds-less toys. No television or movies. Zero electronics. A handful of outfits, probably. Two or three pairs of shoes, at the most. A few oft-read books, perhaps…

I’m not saying that I want to live like a pioneer or a pauper, but my goal in decluttering is to keep my favorites (and even indulge in a few luxuries!) while freeing my family and my own heart from the pressing weight of an excessive lifestyle. The sooner, the better!

10. Use a pared-down lifestyle to preach the gospel.

A life in Christ enables us, in a world where we could “have it all” to say “no thanks. I have everything I need.” What an unprecedented opportunity we have to display our set-apartness. Let us show by our spending, our collecting, and our acquiring that this world has not bewitched us, and that we can enjoy the pleasures afforded us without becoming their slaves.

I think, more than any of the other principles listed here, this one excited me the most.

~

Oh, my dear readers, what an earful that was! But if it encourages any of you to take that first step toward breaking free from an excessive lifestyle, I will feel it was time well spent. I wrote this especially for my young mamas and wives and graduates just starting out in this world in the hopes that you will employ these principles early on, saving yourself a lot of frustration  in the future! I’m rooting for you, with all my heart.

Want to remember this? Pin it!

"A life in Christ enables us, in a world where we could “have it all” to say “no thanks. I have everything I need.” What an unprecedented opportunity we have to display our set-apartness. Let us show by our spending, our collecting, and our acquiring that this world has not bewitched us, and that we can enjoy the pleasures afforded us without becoming their slaves."

My Sweet Home: Junk Be Gone! (Part 1)

It is incontestable.

The #1 problem facing housekeepers today has to be (drumroll, please!)…clutter. Overconsumption. Excess.

In an unprecedented age of convenience and innovation, the American homemaker should have it so easy…

key word: should.

We throw dirty dishes into a machine and push a button to wash them. We do the same with our laundry. We have airtight windows and doors, keeping more dust out of our houses than ever before. And cooking can be as easy or as difficult as we want to make it.

But we also have an unprecedented problem…

Junk galore.

Knick-knacks in every available space.

Stuff everywhere.

Toys.

Toys.

Toys.

Toys.

Toys.

Did I mention ‘toys’?…

Whether we intend for it to happen or not, the modern American family is the recipient (and usually also the pursuer) of unending goods, and even if we’re trying to keep our spending and our consumption to a minimum, there is so much stuff floating around out there that we end up with it in our houses anyway. Gifts. Hand-me-downs. Osmosis, maybe?…

All of which can be blessings (except for osmosis…I actually don’t even know what that is so I don’t know if it is a blessing), but if we don’t learn to master them, they can positively enslave us.

Slowly, I am becoming aware that, the less stuff we have, the happier we are.

The less stuff we have, the more time we spend together as a family.

And the less stuff we have, the cleaner our house stays. Even when it’s dirty…

Because I’m really not looking anymore to have a spotless house. My floors will not always be shining, because I have 3 children who drool and spill and drop raisins and Cheerios and track in mud and dirt and grass nonstop. I’ve come to grips with the fact that a perfectly shining house just isn’t in the stars for me right now. But regardless of how young our kids are or how many we have or how dirty they keep our floors, we can have a neat house…

and let’s face it, we have to be able to walk through our rooms, and the fact that we can’t sometimes is a ridiculous situation that we have created of our own accord. And you know that whole routine of freaking out when someone unexpectedly knocks on the door because the house is a wreck? It is becoming less and less acceptable to me.

Because of this reason alone: I’ve been convicted that this sort of lifestyle doesn’t seem to mesh with the biblical call of hospitality. How can we have open homes and lives when we are appalled for anyone to see them? How can our own children feel comfortable in their house when they are tripping over toys with every step they take?

Something’s got to give, Mrs. Gore!

And so I wanted to share some tips with you over how I am defeating, room by room, this seemingly epic problem. My goal in decluttering is that, by truly simplifying our life, I will take full advantage of the ease afforded to a homemaker in my position today, using all that spare time that my dishwasher gives me to read to my kids or do something truly useful, rather than forever finding hidey-holes for the massive amounts of junk we have. What a waste of time and energy, spending it all on things that are flammable and fleeting.

It is a never-ending and sometimes exhausting process, but it has already been well worth my time, thought and perseverance.

However, to keep this post from being twenty thousand words long, I’ll have to share that list with you in my next post.

When it comes to words, I will obviously continue to be excessive.

But until then, be mulling some things over, won’t you?…

Do you spend a frustrating amount of time putting things away that aren’t really useful to your family?

If someone walked into your house right now, would you be embarrassed?

Are you a slave to your possessions, or master? 

Are your children slaves to their possessions?

Think about the time you dedicate each day to housework. How much of that time is spent simply putting things away? 

~

Part Two, coming up…soon! Maybe tomorrow? Maybe not.

My Sweet Home (Prequel #2)

Our family loves the song “Ho Hey” by the Lumineers.

We sing it at the top of our lungs in our old gold minivan, and even Baby Betsie shouts out the “ho!” and “hey!” parts like a champ.

But watching the Lumineers perform live at the Grammy’s, I grew slightly suspicious and devastated as the camera cut to Taylor Swift singing along in the audience.

Why?

Because…

During my favorite part of the song – the chorus – where the band sings “I belong with you, you belong with me, in my sweet home…”, Taylor, who I am confident is very proficient in memorizing popular song lyrics, was clearly singing “I belong with you, you belong with me, you’re my sweetheart” as she made a heart shape around her heart.

And I knew…

I had the lyrics wrong.

A quick internet search proved this to be true, and I now know that this song is talking about young, unrequited love, and not me and my husband and our kids and our little white farmhouse on the hill.

Bummer.

But then I decided that, since I will never be on the stage or in the audience of the Grammy’s, I can sing the song however I darn well please.

And so I have made it our banner song once more, and I sing it at the top of my lungs and with all the love in my heart…

I belong with you,

You belong with me,

In my sweet home…

There is nothing sweeter than the comforts of home, is there? I grew up in an extremely home-y home. My Mom is gifted at making others feel loved and comfortable, and when I still walk into her house today, my heart relaxes with me, and I feel like I can take on the world.

Though much younger and less experienced than she, this is what I strive to do in my own house today.

Make it a home.

Make it a place where my kids feel brave and content and whole.

But that’s just it…

These things don’t happen naturally or of their own accord, and you can’t be a home-maker without the making; neither can you produce a place of warmth and love by sitting on your bum all day, blogging and eating onion rings. (Sorry, that’s just my guilt talking. I ate one too many…).

I will admit, it took me a few years to get over the fact that I am no longer the recipient of all the home-making and am now the home-maker, but I have found that, though the work is nonstop and very taxing, the entire family benefits from the hard work of my hands and my mind, including…me!

When the house is tidy, and when there are tokens of beauty and love surrounding us, I feel serene and content and happy to be here. On the other hand, when things are a mess and I have been lax in my duties and nothing is organized, well, I feel crummy and uninspired and my attitude pretty much matches my house.

All that to say, homemaking might be work, and it might be nonstop work, and it might be really taxing work, but…it is good work.

Tomorrow, I’ll begin periodically sharing with you some of my favorite components of our home, and some tips I’ve picked up in my 8 years as a homemaker. Some are tiny and obvious, some are sizable and profound, and some would never be noticed if I didn’t take a picture and blog about it.

But together, they are beginning to make  a seamless and fitting backdrop to the place where we live, move, breathe, eat, play, work and sleep.

Our sweet home.

My Sweet Home (Prequel #1)

I’ve wanted to do something here at my blog for the longest time, but until now, I didn’t really feel free to do so…

mostly because of the state of my heart.

Anyone who knows me well knows that I have bratty tendencies, and it is no secret that I love compliments and feeling important. I used to think this was just “how I was” and I even kind of cherished that part of me and thought it was cute…

but once I became aware that this inherent nature of mine was rooted in sinfulness and pride, it didn’t feel so cute anymore.

Mind you, this was not always my motivation for doing what I did and wearing what I wore and buying what I bought. Even on my least bratty and most humble days, I have always loved beautiful things, and I love fine fabrics and I identify with Betsie Ten Boom, in that, if I were to find myself in a prison camp, I would do whatever it took to decorate my cell. I see no problem with this shade of my personality, and actually see it as a gift from God; that said (and this is where what could be beautiful can turn ugly)…

I can sometimes feel myself veering off course and caring more about receiving accolades than glorifying my Maker. You know…my chief end. The reason I’m here. What I was created for.

God has had mercy on my sinful state, however, and over the last decade, He has continually tweaked me into a person who at least hates that side of myself rather than revels in it, and more and more, I try to put a lid on the brat in me and lock her up inside my coat closet where no one can see or hear her.

Especially when it comes to this blog. It is so important to me that what I share here is genuine and I take extremely seriously my responsibility to the younger women in my church, my readership, and eventually my children (who will be forced to read Mrs. Gore’s Diary for their 12th year of homeschool), and I therefore doggedly strive to keep my motivations for writing and sharing pure and honest and, most importantly, God-honoring. Thus, if I feel like I’m sharing party pictures to be a show-off rather than a help to other party-planners, I shut that post down, as quickly as I do the ones where I find myself ranting or spewing bitterness about past struggles. And if I don’t, my husband (who graciously edits everything I write) does. (Thanks, Mr. Gore!)

Alllllll that to say, I haven’t felt 100% free until now to share, from a pure and happy and non-show-offy heart, aspects of our home life that might inspire other homemakers.

Why? Well…I’m 31 now, and I haven’t changed my razor in like, 8 months. My house is most usually a wreck and I have finally come to grips with who I truly am and what I was truly created for. In other words, I’m content right now where I am, and have lost most of my former self-absorbed aspirations to BE somebody and to make it to some unforeseen tier of importance and acceptance.

I am happy at home, and I’m happy to be Mrs. Gore, whether thousands of people ever recognize my name or not.

From this place of genuine motivation, I find myself making a living place for my family rather than for the editors of Country Living magazine, and as a result, I think what I have to share will be much more important than it ever could have been when I was trying to make much ado out of Mrs. Gore.

And allllll that to say, there will be a new tab in my blog called “My Sweet Home” where I will share ideas and tips and photographs of how I try to make the house we live in a place of retreat and rest and comfort. It will be positively random, but if it helps especially my younger audience, just starting out in this world with a tiny budget to work with and with no idea how to keep a house, I will be too, too happy.

~

Coming up tomorrow, I’ll share why I call this series “My Sweet Home”. Is it because my home is “sweet” and beautiful?…probably not. Stay tuned!!

On the Front Porch With You

Please tell me you have seen the Hayley Mills movie Summer Magic? Sweet and wholesome, it stole my heart the first time I saw it. Especially when Burl Ives pulled out his guitar and started singing “On the Front Porch with You.”

All I wanna do-oo-oo, when the day is through-oo-oo, is linger here on the front porch with you…

In fact, I love that song so much, I included the scene in a classic movie musical numbers montage that was played on a big movie screen hung between two trees at our wedding reception. (did ya get that?…) When this particular song began to play, my new husband spontaneously grabbed my hand and pulled me into our first dance. (Or at least that’s the way I remember it. It is, however, highly likely that I coerced him to do so). Regardless here’s proof of our impromptu romantic moment:

Me, Mr. Gore, dusk, Burl Ives…talk about your Summer Magic! We danced to that same song several times in our tiny little seminary kitchen, and now I often find myself singing it to my children as I rock them to sleep.

Tonight, even though we are in the middle of another frigid Oklahoma winter, our family had a little front porch magic of our own. Sandwiched between what was a freezing week spent hibernating inside and a foreboding forecast of winter storms ahead, was a weekend out of heaven, coaxing all of us pasty-faced, fresh-air deprived Oklahomans out-of-doors.  We were away for the weekend, but managed to spend every spare minute soaking up the sun at Grandpa and Grandma’s house, playing t0y-free outdoor games and getting enough dirty fingernails and fresh air to hopefully last us the rest of the winter. When we returned to our own home as the sun was setting, I fully expected we would begin our Saturday night grind, the one I assume is typical of pastors and their families – bathing the kids, ironing and laying out church clothes, packing diaper bags and making last-minute tweaks to sermons.  But I was surprised and thrilled by what happened instead…

We lingered, on the front porch. Let me give you a glimpse of what it was like:

I looked down with delight at my little 19 month old girl, sitting in her white Cracker Barrel child-size rocking chair eating a jam sandwich. Her body is in that perfectly chubby stage, her cheeks, her fingers, her hands, her legs – they all beg to be squeezed, no longer infantile, but nowhere near slender and grown. And a jam sandwich! Does that not scream “tender years”?! I just about died as I watched her, grape jam oozing out of her sandwich, oblivious to all the cares of the world.

And there was Gideon across the way in his matching rocker, looking more and more like the four-year old he will soon become, but with the tiniest hint of the baby still left in his features. His napkin was laid neatly across his lap as he studiously and deliberately ate his peanut butter and jam sandwich and looked out across the yard, his curious mind taking in all the sights and sounds of the great outdoors.

Soon Papa brought two shiny red apples to Rebekah, who happily did his bidding of keeping one for herself and giving the other one to “Bubba.” “Sanks!” Gideon said, setting the apple next to him on his chair. Rebekah toddled over to crawl into my lap where she began to eat her apple to the core. There are days when a Mother like myself cringes and pulls away from messy baby hands, but tonight, there was something so delightful about the sticky fingers of my Sunday-girl as they took turns holding her juicy Red Delicious apple and my arms, my hands, and sometimes my face. I embraced the smell of her, the feel of her, even the sweet taste of her, kissing her sticky cheeks and hair at least a hundred times as I absently rocked her in my own Mommy-sized  rocking chair.

Papa soon joined us with his leftover pasta, sitting in the last available rocking chair, reserved just for him, and we lazily brought a weekend worth remembering to an end…

Just a glimpse, a tiny moment in Mrs. Gore’s life, but the kind that I like best. The sun went down, eventually ushering us inside to our duties, but the memory of this uncommon night in January will surely warm our hearts through February and March. For an uneventful evening, it sure was special.

How the hours fly as the moon drifts by, how sweet the air as we stare at the sky…oh how I love to linger here like this, hold your hand and steal a kiss or two…

On the front porch with you.

Babies don’t keep

I was sitting here wondering why I am uninspired today. Both kids are asleep, the fireplace is roaring, I have on make-up, and then I realized…my house is messy.

When my house is clean, and I’m talking right after a good and thorough scrubbing, I feel like a million bucks. I dance around with my children, I could write a sonnet (and I’m not even a poet!), my soul just positively soars. But when the house is messy, I find myself shuffling about, my hair and clothes as unkempt as my kitchen.

I think the source of this displeasure is a keen disappointment that my resolve to keep things continually tidy did not pan out – again! Every time I do a deep cleaning/junk overhaul, I think to myself…will this be the last time I have to do this? Will this be the time that I, along with my husband and children, begin to pick up every piece of trash, put away every article of clothing, and sweep away every crumb on a minute-by-minute basis so that the house never gets really and truly dirty again?? The possibility dangles before me with promise, looking so wonderful and even achievable that I can actually convince myself it might just happen.This time!

Two days later, I look around, and the shining floors that reflected my joy are smudged, crumby, and dusty, the kitchen sink that implied that no one ever eats or has eaten here has a topsy-turvy stack of dishes just threatening to topple over at the slightest disruption, the pile of toys at the bottom of the stairs has become positively perilous, and the wind slowly but surely seeps out of my sails…

I was describing this type of distress to one of my senior adult friends at church one day, a beautiful widow in her 80s. She smiled and looked at me with that wizened gaze of hers and said “Someday your house will be really, really clean.” Her smile held a hint of sadness in it, and the meaning behind her words slowly dawned on me…

I thought of her house, always pristine, always sparkling, nary a crumb, toy, or dirty dish in sight. She is known for her immaculate home. And she lives there alone. Even though she wasn’t scolding me or offering obvious advice, her warning was implied, and I immediately wished I could take back my words of complaint.

She raised a family once, too. She had a husband that she spent a near lifetime with. And all of those beautiful blessings were gone from her life, leaving behind a very, very clean house. Makes my life look downright inspiring.

And it brings to mind the following poem by Ruth Hulburt Hamilton:

Mother, O Mother, come shake out your cloth,
Empty the dustpan, poison the moth,
Hang out the washing, make up the bed,
Sew on a button and butter the bread.

Where is the mother whose house is so shocking?
She’s up in the nursery, blissfully rocking.

Oh, I’ve grown as shiftless as Little Boy Blue,

Lullabye, rockabye, lullabye loo.

Dishes are waiting and bills are past due
Pat-a-cake, darling, and peek, peekaboo

The shopping’s not done and there’s nothing for stew

And out in the yard there’s a hullabaloo
But I’m playing Kanga and this is my Roo
Look! Aren’t his eyes the most wonderful hue?
Lullabye, rockaby lullabye loo.

The cleaning and scrubbing can wait till tomorrow
But children grow up as I’ve learned to my sorrow.
So quiet down cobwebs; Dust go to sleep!
I’m rocking my baby and babies don’t keep.