Embrace chaos

My craft room has always been the messiest spot in our Alexandria home, but now it  has lots of company.  January, 2014

My craft room has always been the messiest spot in our Alexandria home,
but now it has lots of company. And this is a censored view. January, 2014

“I finally figured out that not every crisis can be managed. As much as we want to keep ourselves safe, we can’t protect ourselves from everything. If we want to embrace life, we also have to embrace chaos.”Susan Elizabeth Phillips

My name is Julia and I have too much stuff.  Most of the time, I keep it at bay by confining it to just one or two rooms in each home, but in the past few months of spending most of my time away, in hospital settings, things have gotten a bit…shall we say, out of control.  My piles of stuff have begun to migrate out of closets and into maybe half the rooms of our homes.  It’s making me a little bit crazy, but I’m also too exhausted to take anything but baby steps right now to clean it all up.

I’m in recovery, though…and with the “calm, caring and nonjudgmental” encouragement of Alys and others, I do look for big improvements in 2014.  Meanwhile, I’m trying to give myself a bit of a break and embrace chaos.  Much of what surrounds us in both our homes right now is the inevitable flotsam and jetsam of crisis and its aftermath; backlogged piles of mail, medical equipment and supplies to store or sort, and papers to file; cards and gifts to acknowledge and answer; growing to-do lists filled with cumulative weeks of neglected tasks as well as added obligations related to our “new normal.”

So, I’ve had to remind myself of some priorities. First priority: survival, for all three of us.  Second priority: sanity, ditto.  Third priority: rest and recovery, especially important with more chemo for Jeff and Matt’s 5th open heart surgery on the near horizon.  Given all this, we have accepted that things will be chaotic for awhile.

I’m almost certain that we aren’t the only ones feeling a bit overwhelmed by our blessings right now.  If you find yourself in a similar situation, I hope you will join me in using this chaos as an incentive to welcome a new way of looking at things.  As irritating as the mega-mess is, I can sense that it will act as a catalyst to pare down to something more closely resembling simplicity.  I know I’ll never live a minimalist life, at least not anytime soon, but I also know I’m ready to make some significant changes in what I keep, where I keep it and how I think about it.

For now, though, I’m embracing chaos.  I hope it’s a farewell hug and a kiss goodbye!

One year ago today

Primitive purity


  1. rayanard

    Julia at least you’re not like Scotty from the old Star Trek TV show going Captain Kirk I can’t give you anymore power! The dilanium Crystals are about to blow! I digress if your smoke and carbon dioxide sectors are working and you ain’t tripping over anything you are fine.We still have large Tupperware bins and two of mine have combined 7 -20 years of papers and magazines. Now if I only had a used BBQ grill or pit. My luck Smokey the bear would appear and say if its too hot to touch then its too hot to leave blah blah blah yadie yadie yadie lol. Do they still call garage/yard sales rummage sales? I digress. Do what you gotta do to be safe and not have any tripping hazards.. Be blessed

    • Raynard, I’m pretty good on keeping the tripping hazards cleared away – I have to be, because I am known to trip without any hazards whatsoever! I have heard garage sales called all kinds of things, from the upscale (“estate sales”) to the down to earth (“junk sales”). I like what the Brits call them – “jumble sales.” In California they were called “swap meets.” Whatever they are called, I have to stay away from them because so much of it looks like treasure to me, particularly if it’s any form of print. How I wish I had only two tupperware bins of papers and magazines! If anyone wants an old magazine article from the past 30 years I just may have it someplace. I admit I am powerless over my addiction and I’m going to start pitching things left and right, as soon as I read through them all (Hee-hee). I do think we are pretty safe as most of what I keep around is not underfoot and does not have anything toxic or bacterial about it as far as I know. Beam me up, Scotty!

      • Rene

        “…as soon as I read through them all…” 😀

        • Heh-heh. That’s like a coded message to those of us who totally GET IT about being addicted to print! I’m learning to “skim/scan” as an old professor of mine used to call it, but I hate doing it, and if an article interests me, I’m going to read it. That’s how I got into this mess, but I’m allowing myself to take baby steps for now. I’m working on comprehending that I WILL NEVER BE ABLE TO READ EVERYTHING THAT INTERESTS ME. Not sure if I need to cut down on what interests me, or just keep print materials totally out of my house!!

  2. Michael

    I shudder to think about moving and what to do with the accumulation of stuff over 40 years. I remember going to grad school with one small roof top carrier on top of the car for both of us. Maybe moving is a good way to” reset,” organize, and begin again. Perhaps I am a closet hoarder, no pun intended.
    It was very painful ,l leaving my son and family at the Atlanta airport-Hartstene. I felt I was going to collapse in a puddle of tears. I did tear up though and that was kind of obvious. No need here for analysis- I had a plane to catch. No time for tears.
    Nouwen says “If the goodbye is not painful then the hello can’t be joyful.” I think this is in reference to the Holy one, but it works on several levels.
    Oh- we also went to Dawsonville, home of Nascar with roots to mountain moonshiners in the 30’s and 40’s. They also have a small distillery there we toured and I tried a shot of “white lightning.”

    • Mike, I agree that it’s a good sign if you had a hard time saying goodbye. It would have been worse if you were thinking “GET ME OUTTA HERE YESTERDAY!” Moving is a great way to lighten up. A large part of our problem is that we’ve had our York home for nearly 10 years, a record for us. The closest runner-up is our NorCal home which we had for 5 years. Stuff really does start to mutate into huge masses of junk if it’s left too long. Speaking of mutating stuff, I can say in all honestly that I never had any moonshine but I do remember at the state fair, how they used to have these huge “Moonshine Kills!” displays meant to scare people to death. It worked on me but I was not exactly the intended target. In between the displays about how many people get killed at railroad crossings, the “moonshine kills” type displays about what NOT to eat and drink, the dicey-looking rides that had that “just-assembled” look, and the scary midway barkers, the fair was a pretty terrifying place as far as I was concerned. No wonder I loved the animals!

  3. My name is Amy and though I tend to throw things out I am married to Steve who has too much stuff and frequently “rescues” what I have thrown away. Sometimes I am glad he did. I wish I had some calm, caring advice for you. I guess you better keep reading that blog. Ha ha. Seriously life piles up around us and we just have to calm down and begin with little things like a drawer or bag and then be very proud of ourselves for that. I have been laughing a bit at Aaron this break. He and his sister made fun of me and were often angry with me all of their growing up years because I would do a regular purge on their stuff. Once they went away to college I quit and when Kat got married I hauled ALL of her stuff to her house. She was a bit dismayed and said, “I don’t want all this stuff.” Well guess what baby girl, I don’t either. I have too much of my own stuff so I suggest you get on top of it now so that 30 years from now you and your husband are not looking at piles of boxes of stuff and wishing you had thrown it away. Back to Aaron (sorry I digress) he has spent several days this break going through piles of “flotsam” and he was complaining about how boring a chore it is. Hmmmm now you begin to have a glimmer of why momma hates it when you collect papers and stuff without a “plan” for what or where. Anyhow, I think he got it mostly under control although it would be a controlled chaos if you looked in his room. I so understand how you feel but I think you are right on track with your priorities. The rest will take care of itself, or not, but it doesn’t matter. You can always try my personal approach. I am a bit of a pharisee housekeeper. Looks good on the outside but don’t open the cupboards. 🙂 Please pass that on to Jeff since he thinks I am such a great housekeeper. Love you all.

    • Amy, I love this! Let me tell you, you did the right thing with Kat. My mother just pitched all my stuff one day and a lot of my scrapbooks and treasured mementos were gone for good. Luckily I still have some which was salvaged (I recently excavated some old Barbie dolls and their clothes, as well as some dolls from Germany our friends sent me when I was young) but a lot of it “disappeared” when I was gone. I have been gradually throwing stuff of Drew’s away for years. It took me awhile to realize I’m not the only one in our family who has a hard time throwing things away. What Jeff and Drew like to do is leave stuff around for me to throw away. I try to tell Jeff that’s like giving a drink to an alcoholic. If you are the Pharisee housekeeper I am the publican housekeeper, I can’t say much except “LORD have mercy!” Fortunately that’s been enough so far. 🙂 Did I hear someone say “Go, and sin no more?”

      • OHHH!! I am glad you saved some of the stuff. Especially the dolls. I do have a lot of dolls and stuffed toys. Don’t know if they will ever be played with again but couldn’t bear to part with them. Lots of history there and while I hate clutter I appreciate history. I found a box or two Kat has “snuck” back in here on her various trips home. She says my house is bigger. OH Brothers. Oh well, it’s all hers one day. 🙂 Yes, I too heard the admonition.

        • Amy, I will have to remember that “history” line next time I’m trying to figure out an excuse to keep something. My childhood stuff is now old enough to be “vintage.” Jeff tells me the same thing Kat tells you – when I try to get rid of Drew’s stuff he says “our house is a lot bigger than his.” I say “that didn’t stop my Mom from throwing my stuff away!!” However, they do have a point. Noblesse oblige etc. as HM might say.

  4. I can see how things piled up for you during months of 2013. But I have no such excuse.~/
    But I’ve discovered the befits of consignment shops, Salvation Army and FBC clothes closet.
    I set up an account with a consignment shop for items I no longer use or want. I donate clothes to the clothes closet or Salvation Army. I plan to redo our bedroom, will donate the comforter and curtains to Salvation Army. I give my extra books to Library or take them to the Consignment shop for resell. I have to be careful in the Consignment shop or I’ll bring some treasure home with me!!
    Most important, you need to rest and recover. Oh, Cindy of UR blog has asked about you. I did post your blog address.

    • Hi Merry, thanks so much for posting my blog address over at UR. I really need to get back over there more. I miss our online “cyber chapel” when I’m not there! I was wondering how Cindy was doing since I knew she hadn’t had the chance to get over to UR much lately either. I am so grateful for places like Goodwill and Salvation Army that provide such a good service through their re-sale stores. I try to send loads of stuff to Goodwill or ReStore (which is run by Habitat for Humanity, and carries only home improvement stuff; a great place to donate used sinks, faucets, light fixtures, building materials etc. that are still in good shape). I agree with you, I have to be careful to stay out of such places myself since I find too many goodies :-). Hope you are doing well and staying warm. We’ve had a couple of days with MUCH warmer weather here.

  5. My name is Kathy & I have too much stuff, some of which includes books on organization and (more interestingly) books on the psychology of why I like my stuff! I SOOOOO relate to your post! Currently, I’m in a frantic balancing act because some of my “stuff” has become living beings (7 week old litter of kittens I’m fostering and the plethora of supplies they “need”), in addition to my own two canine friends. I’m trying not to test the patience of my husband and son too much, so I’m actually going to get off the computer and go tackle one counter top of accumulated junk (includes Christmas card project I never accomplished) right now!

    • Kathy, that is too cool that you are fostering kittens! I so wish I lived nearby so I could come play with them! How do Molly and Kayla like them? Any jealousy? Good idea about getting off the computer…I need to do that too…more later!

  6. Sheila

    Julia, I am practicing “wants and needs therapy”. Certain things do need to be replaced over time, but I’m trying to replace with one instead of one dozen! I refer to half of my closet as the archives section but traditional is hard to part with. Actually it’s half traditional, half vintage. 🙂 Clutter and stuff is really the topic for everyone right now, it seems. I wish you success as you take your daily baby steps! Sheila

    • Sheila, we are all so over-privileged that we are finding ourselves completely surrounded with too much of many good things. Often when I mention possibly buying something Jeff will ask “do we need that” and I reply (truthfully) “We don’t really NEED anything!” So I guess I can use that as an excuse NOT to buy, as well as an excuse to buy! I am also gradually learning how to throw away stuff that needs to be replaced. I get comfortable with my old walking shoes, jeans, jackets, house slippers, etc. and will wear them until they are threadbare. Hey, I keep seeing jeans WITH HOLES in them that are FOR SALE IN STORES at HUGE PRICES — so it must be stylish! But perhaps there’s a fine line between “funky” and “bag lady,” especially at my age! 🙂

      • Sheila

        Julia, I do love denim and I prefer mine intact! 🙂 Sometimes when at the mall, I wonder who wears the outrageous clothes that are on most racks. You’re right about the jeans with holes…. the more holes, the more expensive!

        • Sheila, I am sure this is just one more sign of my having reached an age to be proud of, but I just can’t see any common sense whatsoever in selling worn out jeans for those prices. I would applaud Goodwill or Salvation Army for doing the same thing (I often hold onto old worn-out, very comfortable jeans and say “they’re for gardening! 🙂 so far be it from me to deny others that comfort) but in a high-priced store selling “NEW” clothes? Have we finally passed from over-abundance into collective insanity or what??!!

  7. MaryAnn

    Yet another trait we have in common! I, too, wish to rid myself of the PILES! For now, I require that you rest & care for Julia in any quiet moment you can grab!!! (with a book in a room that is the least overrun w/ “treasures”.)
    Do you know the difference between stuff & junk?
    Stuff is the junk you keep & junk is the stuff you throw away. One of Paul’s favorite quotes, since he sees most things as “treasures”.

    • Hey, I like that definition! I definitely have too much stuff, most of which would likely be seen as junk by someone else. BUT I’m also a tad OCD when it comes to throwing papers away – I have this unreasonable fear of losing some document I might need – but it seldom occurs to me that I’m no better off having it in a pile somewhere that I could NEVER find it without looking for for hours (simply because I never got around to filing it) than I am throwing it away in the first place. I’m using my shredder a lot more, going to e-delivery of most documents, and signing off all the junk mail lists — never get any catalogs — but it still seems to go on endlessly! There is something so scary to me about throwing away mail without opening it! I’d rather let the phone ring without answering it than throw away papers without looking at them. But I’m gradually getting better.

  8. I definitely have plenty of stuff and junk! Books and shoes are my weakness…especially red shoes. 🙂

    • Books and shoes…sounds great to me! But I finally got to the point where I wear mostly “sensible” shoes. There are still plenty of cute ones that fit that category, though! Definitely my favorite item of clothing.

  9. Michael

    Thanks Julia. We have been in this house since 85- only 27 years. So it will take some time. A friend said,” If you did not have the item would you rush out and buy one.” Is it something you have to have- or just something it might be nice to have? Lots of good comments on your blog. I always learn something.
    Last weeks NPR puzzle killed me. Have you ever heard the term- daymare? One of the answers and I had never heard of it. Oh well.

    • Michael, I’m with you, I learn a ton of great stuff from these comments (though I’ve still not been able to find any horchata tea that the Zeebra, aka Lisa, told me about – but I’ll keep looking…) Now you are adding one more. I have never heard the word Daymare but I note that it goes all the way back to the 1700’s?! I have always heard the term “waking nightmare” which to me carries more punch, but “daymare” would be more concise and therefore probably more along the Strunk and White mentality. I wish I had more time to listen to some of the programs on NPR. A lot of them can be accessed by podcast, but I still probably wouldn’t get around to listening to them (although I did download a lot of Piano Puzzlers for Matt, who can often solve the hardest part for me, which is what composer they are trying to sound like).

  10. Carlyle

    An orderly desk is the sign of a cluttered mind..:-)

    • Well, THAT’s a relief! I guess that must mean my brain is a regular filing cabinet. 🙂 Although I must confess, this is one of my very favorite cartoons and I’ve had it on my fridge for years…it always seemed to be more likely how the comparison works with me…
      Favorite cartoon

  11. Brian

    Julia, my name is Brian and I have been reading your posts in the UR Chapel and recently started following your blog, let me say thank you for sharing and for the positive view of your difficult situation. Two years ago I went through a cancer battle with my Dad. Like you, the piles of “to-dos” quickly overwhelmed me, and I am a neat freak at heart. I realized after much angst that the piles of stuff could wait, time, once spent, is forever gone. Spending time with my Dad, my family, God, and rest were far more important than the piles of clutter. So hang in there and keep the big picture in mind! Thanks again for being such an inspiration.

    • Thank you, Brian, I am so happy you found the blog! And I appreciate your visiting with us here. If you read UR much you probably already know Michael, Raynard, Merry, Jena and some others here. I need to get back over there and say hi to everyone but as you say, things tend to really get backlogged at times such as this. Thanks so much for your words of encouragement, and for being with us here!

  12. Well, I wish I had some good tips but up until a couple of days before holidays, I just adopted the ‘Shut the door’ policy. I normally like to clean up after each project. Given they can take a week or two, it does look unorganized for a spell. When I’m starting something new, I can’t seem to think if it’s too messy. I’ve also adopted this thing where my storage containers are mostly old collectables and somehow that helps me because I like when it looks pretty as well as functional. Looks like you’ve got a good start there. Maybe a narrow wall shelf? I have refrained from hanging anything on the walls because we’re renting, but that leaves a lot of useful vertical space un-used.

    As you say, some things aren’t that importance when your priorities are family. I just mailed Christmas stuff before holidays. Ya it’s very late but I did things on my own time and kept them fun instead of sweating it. I like that ’embrace the chaos’, works for me lately too.

    • Boomdee, great thing about mailing Christmas gifts late is that they are a nice post-holiday perk, when everything has calmed down again. I love old tins (or new ones that are made to look old, which is mostly what I have) and I do use them for storage. I have to put a tiny post-it on the bottom until I can remember what is in them, but since each one is unique, I eventually learn. I too just love the old “shut the door” policy! I go back and forth about whether to hang anything on the wall. I sort of like the blank look that offsets the busyness of all the clutter, and once I get started putting things on the wall, as with any other bare space, I tend to fill it up! But I’m leaning toward using those walls a bit more. I’m still not to comfortable embracing the chaos but if I try to avoid it, it chases me down the hall and grabs me! 🙂

Thanks for encouraging others by sharing your thoughts:

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: