Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Monday, June 05, 2023

The Boxes are Just Packed

Darwins, after the funeral.

Are the days just packed? Is it accurate to say that, when I'm sitting here writing on a quiet Monday mid-morning, when one of my children hasn't even tumbled out of bed yet? The cumulative feel of life right now is that there are so many balls in the air, one doesn't even know which one to grab. At most given moments, however, there is time to stop and think, if one will take it.

I type this as I am sitting in a chair in my front hall. This is not where the chair belongs, but it has been dragged there by my almost-6yo, who is performing as The Brownie Band on a stage made of the piano bench, also dragged into the hall. I don't particularly want to watch The Brownie Band at this moment, even though the son is very cute playing guitar on a foam sword and singing about how the brownies are cooking in the oven. (This solves the question of what meaning of "brownie" was implied -- I thought it was the little household elves, and someone else thought it was Girl Scouts, but of course it's dessert.) I am at the tail end of a great household clothing sort, the thing we now call "Kondo-ing", where just about every item of wear has been washed and assessed, and now umpteen bags sit in the hall along with the stage and chairs. 

This great sorting was precipitated by the amount of laundry following our trip to New Jersey for Baby Josh's funeral, but the urge to clean house was in general was a direct result of the AirBnB we stayed at with my sister's family. It was a trick to find a multifamily house in the area on short notice for the Memorial Day weekend, but we found a place in the Poconos that was open. It was suitable for our needs: a place to park our sleeping carcasses within an hour's drive of my brother's house. But as a vacation house, it was DIY hell. "This place looks like a 5-Minute Crafts video," my oldest observed, looking at the cheap glam finishes and the atrocious quality of the work. Every fixture looked like it had been acquired at the last-chance table at the Habitat for Humanity ReStore. Nothing was level, nothing was even. All trim looked like it had been reused. The neighborhood was a gated mountain enclave of architecturally insignificant houses from the 80s and 90s, and even by the offensive standards of taste on offer, this place was appalling. 

So we returned home with renewed drive to do justice to our lovely old pile with our bathroom renovation. But laundry was an easier task to dive into immediately, and it relies only on my availability. Time is money, friends, and my financial contribution to the household economy is my full-time presence. I don't pay someone to sort clothes or cook meals or clean house or care for children because these things are within my purview as the full-time household-managing member of the family. I am no great shakes as an organizer, but I'm here. And I have the authority to dragoon the non-contributing financial members of the household, otherwise known as my children, to help me by sorting their own clothing. (This is not quite fair to the gainfully employed children, but in the first week of summer break, everyone's time is a bit fluid anyway, so I simply commandeered it.)

The amount of clothing in storage has been vastly reduced, because we also went through all the boxes. There are now two boxes between sons 1 and 2, and one box between sons 2 and 3. There is one box between daughters 3 and 4. Daughters 1, 2, and 3 are in their adult sizes and are stylistically different enough that they don't pass clothes between each other. Daughter 4 can take clothes from 2 and 3, and anything she rejects goes in the donate bag. I don't keep clothing that Daughter 4 or Son 3 have grown out of. This isn't even a fate-tempting strategy any more. If (have mercy, O Lord!) I ever end up needing children's clothes again, I don't know that having a decade-old box of hand-me-downs in the closet will do much. 

I am not a hoarder by nature. I love clearing things out of the house, and the danger I run (and why I don't do wholesale reductions more often) is that I throw out things that have been sitting around for years, and a week later need the one thing I got rid of, or find the missing part that makes the trashed item operational, or discover that I finally need that school book I donated because it had been gathering dust for years. We have a large house and so are privileged to hold on to things against the day of their use. The challenge, as in so much of life, is not to be complacent, but to be always reexamining what we truly need, now or in the future. Do we need to keep this item because of nostalgia, because of inertia, because of a misplaced sense of gratitude? Sometimes the answer is yes (and the gratitude is merited). But often a thing around the house has outlived its usefulness, or requires more work than we have time or ability to give it, before it can be useful again. 

Time is the key word here. We are pulled in many different directions, with obligations to church and to work and to theater and to the Brownie Band. Summer is a season in which some of those daily obligations (to formally educate the Brownie Band) give way to a more freeform use of days (such as a week of clothes sorting). Jobs such as the bathroom renovation, which requires more of Darwin's time than mine, are of their nature prolonged because most of Darwin's productive hours go to the day job that keeps us in tea and crumpets and toilet paper and mortgage payments and college savings. The time we would spend on the job is a function of how much we love our house, and our desire to live with beautiful craftsmanship that does not look like DIY hell. But there are also professionals who could achieve the same fine results, in far less time, for money. A quantity of money, granted, but money that buys us time: another functional bathroom months or even years sooner than we could finish it, while we have a houseful of people who need that right now.

Meanwhile, other boxes sit packed: boxes of elegant subway tile, ready to be applied to walls not ready for it yet. What can I do to hasten this process, what time can I spend? One thing that needs to happen is that a bathtub full of debris needs to be bagged up and dumped in the trash. I can do that right now, instead of writing, or I can set my 14yo son to do this job that requires no special training, only work ethic. Time to get up and get moving, before we hit the evening window in which our time is suddenly packed with dinner, rehearsal, scouts, obligations. The days, and the trashcan, and the donation bags, are just packed.

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