More sparks of joy

My baby is turning one, that alone is throwing off my week. There is an unexpected set of emotions I am experiencing as their born day creeps closer. This is my last baby, at least I am 99% sure. As a result, the need to capture every second of every moment is very present for me. “They will no longer be a baby this weekend,” is what I keep telling myself. As if their body is going to change overnight into something I am unfamiliar with. As if their daily playing, feedings, sleep will shift into adulthood.

I am also experiencing an immense amount of joy as well. I am celebrating that we have managed to parent two children for nearly a year. All have survived and we have evolved as parents. Who we are today is vastly different than who we were last year, or even yesterday. We celebrate the birthdays of our children intensely focused on them, and often forget to celebrate ourselves, our success in raising little humans in this world. So this week, we are celebrating our parenting and also this little person finishing their first revolution around the sun. The amount of growth we have had as parents is striking. The amount of living, processing, existing that is happening for them is remarkable, it’s amazing, it’s a miracle.

To celebrate this miracle, we have invited a few family and friends over in celebration. Nothing fancy, just a gathering of people we love. Whomever can make the trip, and doesn’t mind the cold. In order to remove the pressure of a first birthday party with the bells and whistles…oh I love the bells and whistles…we are approaching this calmly and over time. And specifically, I mean prepping the house for guests.

We moved about 6 months ago, and are still unpacking. Also, last month, we took on the KonMari method and are still working our way through it. I have felt nothing but accomplished in how well we are tackling the project of tidying. Not only do things feel more manageable and predictable for me in simple tasks, but it’s starting to make this home into mine. The entire process of sorting through my things, our things, has made it so I can appreciate each one. It’s no longer about putting it out of sight so that people (including me) believe that we are tidy people, but instead we are asking, “How does this fit into my life? How do I want to appreciate it?”

It’s a long process to tidy your house, not just in actually finding the time to do it, but also in the emotional piece. I have had to walk away a few times as I couldn’t make a decision when the emotion, sentiment became too hard to work through. But so far, we’ve done clothes, most books, our kitchen, the toy room, the bathroom, and the kids’ stuff. The kids are completely done.

My daughter even worked through the process with me. It started off a little rough, mostly because I was figuring out how to handle it and not make it too overwhelming and upsetting for her. When I first mentioned we were going to do it, I wanted to start with her room. This includes all of her stuffed animals. When I said that we were going to sort through them, I could see her little body tense up in defense, and she quickly named that she was keeping them all. So, I instead went to something easier. We went to the toy room and worked through categories based on what she picked. Then, this past weekend, she asked me if we could do her stuffed animals. She let go of more than 20. Overall, she let go of so many items, and I am so proud of her. Not just because she did it, but because she did it so thoughtfully. She did it based on her own attachments, love for her things and with reasoning that worked for her.

And I let go – I didn’t interrupt, provide feedback or show emotion. Even when she said goodbye to items that I had attachment to. I quickly was able to see how many things she still had because of me, not her.

I was able to see how we are working towards a different relationship with her things, one based on love and joy rather than want and need. And I am so grateful for that. We’re still working on the feeling of joy in tidying though. The other night at the table, when I reminded her of the upcoming gathering for her sibling, she said, “We can’t have a party, the house is a mess! Where will people sit? Right now, people can only sit on the couch and blue chair, not even the orange one!” And she said this with hand emotions, heightened voice, and persistence. I literally heard myself speaking through her body.

That moment was tough. For so many reasons.

First, I have spent so many of my days hating my way through cleaning. I mean angry cleaning. I usually huff, puff, grunt, growl my way through things. I pick up with emphatic frustration, grumble my way through it all and usually complain about everyone’s else’s messiness all while ignoring my own. My favorite things to say are “This house is so gross,” “Why are we like this?,” “I hate cleaning,” “I am just going to throw everything away,” “This house is a mess.”

So her statement made me realize a few things. First, when she said it, I quickly thought that the “mess” she mentioned was not really a mess and we’re fine. And I also thought, “wow I wish I hadn’t taught her to say that.” What I am so proud of myself for not immediately saying…which would have been my first thought every time before the last few weeks…was “If you and your dad would just be cleaner, then this house wouldn’t be a mess.”

So yes, I am so proud of myself for not going there. Such a simple bit of growth, but also so momentous. And, I didn’t even realize I hadn’t gone there until hours later when I thought again about that moment, which also feels like a success because I didn’t even to think to not say it.

But, what I am thinking is that I can turn this around. If I can no longer see a “mess” as a fault of people, but instead a manageable collection of things yet to be assessed, it feels different. In that moment with her, I knew that the house would be tidied up for folks. She was right, we need places to sit. And what I also noticed was that the task felt much less overwhelming because so much is already in order and cleaned up. My kitchen drawers are organized, my clothes are folded, the toys have a home. I can manage cleaning up old papers and craft items off of the bar because I have been able to release so many feelings already.

And here’s the key for me, it’s not just about knowing things have a place, but it’s about knowing that there are places in this house only filled with things we like, want, or need. It’s about knowing that the sense of clutter, which is really my sense of having too much, is released from my body. So the actual clutter, by definition, is simply something to be picked up. And it’s not urgent. Important yes, but not urgent as it has always felt in the past.

The next step is to help her see that the cleanliness of the house is not attached to my duty as the mom, first and foremost…in case you missed her subtle learning of sexism in all of this…but instead attached to celebration and joy. Marie Kondo emphasizes that everything has a place in your life, and the idea that something should bring you joy is a key piece to recognizing something’s place. It’s not about whether or not you will or won’t need it, it’s about whether or not it fits into who you are right now. It’s also not about who you want to be. I have learned this as I let go of things like fancy cooking tools, exercise equipment, pants that are much too small. Instead, it’s about what makes me happy in this moment.

So of course we will tidy as we prepare for this celebration. And this time, I will not angry clean. In fact, this is a great opportunity to merrily clean the house with excitement about the party. And to say things out loud like “Where should we put the cake? This will be the perfect place. Let me just move all of these craft items so we have space.”

Already so much better than my typical, “What am I going to do with all of this crap?” cleaning mentality.

So what is all of this about, what am I learning? Besides the fact that I can live life with so many less things, I am learning that this attachment and change in mentality is only my own. She will be as tidy as she wants to be. She will treat things as she wishes to based on her attachment to them. In minimizing her things, I hope she starts to see her value in them. Too often, I have asked her to stop playing so rough because something cost a lot of money. I wrote it off as I am teaching her the value of money and things. But in reality, I already valued that item enough to pay for it. Otherwise, I would not have bought it. The talk about money is my own regret and feelings about capitalism, not hers.

In reality, if she breaks something expensive, yes I would be mad. But I also wouldn’t replace it. And also in reality, she places no more value on an Ipad than she does a hatchimal because she has no concept of the difference in how you get them. She’s too little for that. Instead, I can only hope that she is starting to be surrounded by items she loves and in turn will treat them with love. And, she will learn what happens when she doesn’t. I also hope that because she has less and only what she’s chosen, that if she mistreats it, she’ll have a feeling around that. Not the feeling of “Oh well, I have 100 more,” but instead maybe “Ugh, I liked that, maybe next time I won’t throw it on the floor.”

Marie Kondo, I am grateful for you. I am grateful for the way you approach your things, your life, the way you have shown how your way of living, your embodiment of your culture, your people, your religion, speaks so loudly as something so full of love, that I have not been able to ignore it.

My house is not only more tidy, but my heart is more calm, my stress of being perfect is releasing, and the notion that I am the keeper of the house is fading away.

Today I have a house that is still in process, I have kids who are learning to see cleaning and housekeeping in a different way, and I have folded clothes. They even feel softer. And I find many sparks of joy in that.

Note: I wrote this before the party, and now after the party I want to admit it was still so hard. I didn’t live all of these things as I had hoped, but I still gave it what I had. I am grateful to have had the help of my partner, my kid who was excited to help out, and my own patience and resilience for getting through it. This house was not perfect, but it was a reflection of us and I am proud of that. And the party was a success. 

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