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Dinos, decluttering, contraception, and the life-changing magic of tidying up

Last night I officially hung up my speaking hat for the foreseeable future, knocking off my last “public appearance” before baby. Handily, in the humidity of the basement our torrential summer rainfall exiled the crowd to, I looked ready to hit up labor and delivery by the end, so I don’t think any invitations will be forthcoming for the time being. It was an immense privilege to be invited to speak at my own parish, and I think it was my favorite public speaking experience to date.

I’m going to be using the text from last night as a starting point for a week-long series on the hows, whys, and whats surrounding the history and the theology of the Church’s teachings on sex, so tune in on Monday for round one. (I may eventually post the audio of the talk here, too, and the great Q&A session that followed.)

But let’s talk really important stuff now, like how tonight at 6:30 pm a dream 22 years in the making will come true when I settle into my overpriced reclining theater seat for a luxury showing of Jurassic World.

I don’t know about your family of origin, but mine is straight up dino crazy. Jurassic Park is literally a cult classic between the 9 of us, and my adult siblings have been known to hold entire conversations using only dialogue from the film. (I’m sorry for the still-single Senour siblings I just publicly outed. Hopefully your romantic prospects don’t drop off too sharply.)

Suffice it to say we’re a leeetle bit excited to get our paleontology nerd on tonight, and the reviews I’ve read so far are encouraging that this summer blockbuster, with the assistance of one raptor-training Chris Pratt, is finally going to do justice to the cinematic masterpiece that is the original.

I understand if you need to stop reading now. There’s a lot of embarrassing self revelation going on at the moment.

But! Pressing forward, I want to share some tips and tricks that have been absolutely transformative to our home life and for my motherly mental health of late, and they have nothing to do with dinosaurs.

Perhaps you’ve eyed the NYT bestseller list lately, or seen Marie Kondo’s name making the rounds on social media? Her odd, fascinating little book “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up” is one of those rare occurrences where the title completely and accurately sums up the content within.

Life changing. Magic. Tidying.

While there is a fair bit of bizarre, Eastern-style anthropomorphism intrinsic to the text (thanking your ratty t-shirts for their service as you trash them, for example), the takeaways from this handy little book have honestly been life changing. And I’ve talked to so many other mom friends who feel similarly.

Her premise is basically thus: If you have something in your home, it should “spark joy,” otherwise it does not have the “right,” if you will, to occupy physical or emotional space in your little world.

My takeaway? Throw out all.the.crap.

Kids’ dishes in a quantity greater than the number of children currently living in this house? Gone.

Next-size-up hand me downs given to us by neighbors, friends, family, etc. but not our taste and not in the greatest shape? Smell ya later. (Literally, in many cases.)

(I’m a firm believer in passing along baby gear as needed, as soon as your present need has abated and you see a friend or sister with their own immediate need. Baby gear is cyclical in nature, and it will always come back to you when you need it. The only things we hang on to between kids are our stroller, high chairs, Ergo, and car seats. Everything else is transient, and meant to be poured out into the great, procreative collective of child rearing. It takes a village, etc.)

Random knickknacks from travel/school/another lifetime? Bye bye.

Clothes which do not currently fit AND will probably either a. never do so again or b. are cheaply made/out of style? To Goodwill you go. (Take heart here, I’m actually giving stuff to charity, not straight up landfilling it.)

Endless piles of paperwork that are either available or already duplicated electronically? C ya. Except for tax documents and the current year’s bills. You can stay. But no more school notices, paid utility receipt stubs, random insurance mailings, etc. Gone. All if it.

Home goods or decor that were never my style to begin with? No more. You don’t deserve to be here if you don’t fit our design aesthetic. I can easily replace you at Saver’s with enough patience and persistence, and I’d rather look at an empty table top or a clean white wall in the meantime. Even if somebody gave it to us. Which was so kind and generous! But it doesn’t mean you have to keep it if it doesn’t work for you.

Since we’re big into thrifting around here, it’s very easy for me to detach from furniture/clothing/toys to begin with, so it has been such a relief to say, actually, you know what? This doesn’t work for us right now, and it’s not “sparking joy” (whatever the hell that means, precisely) and so since I am annoyed and frustrated and harried by its continued occupation in my domicile, I actually do have the right to (literally) kick it to the curb.

Here are some of the upsides that we’ve observed since I read this book early in the Spring:

Fewer toys = happier mommy and more creative and generous children. I would say we’ve gotten rid of 60-70% of our toys, and we didn’t have a ton to begin with. What we kept:

  • Legos/Duplos
  • Costumes/dress up clothes
  • Matchbox cars and ramp
  • Melissa and Doug train set, latch board, auto carrier with cars, and horse trailer (thank you Grandma and Grandpa!)
  • Small box of musical instruments
  • Bikes, chalk, balls, and other outdoor toys
  • Toy cradle with 2 dolls
  • Miniature trampoline
  • Wooden shapes and tray for assembling
  • Little People nativity set

And that’s it. Seriously. Except for a handful of stuffed animals special to each kid, that’s our entire inventory. There’s no more yelling about cleaning up, nobody feels overwhelmed by the mess in the playroom (including mommy) and everyone is dwelling in increased harmony. It’s amazing. (and yes, I realize as my kids get older they will acquire more crap, and I will have less and less to say about it, but for now I control the inflow and the outflow, and we’re hoping to teach them quality over quantity so that we don’t end up looking like Sid’s backyard in Toy Story.)

Outfits that look good on everybody, all the time.

We’re kind of doing capsule wardrobes, I guess? Mine certainly is, anyway, as I round the bases for home plate with quattro bing. I culled all my non-maternity and doesn’t fit (I’m wearing way more non-maternity this pregnancy, because flowy tops are in and workout clothes streeeeetch just fine) and boxed it for later use or (ding ding ding) gave it away.

I assembled a small postpartum capsule as well, one small plastic container full of flowy tops, a pair of yoga pants, my skinnier maternity jeans, and the requisite postpartum unmentionables, so now I can just pull that down after baby arrives and avoid the heartache of trying on “normal” clothes too soon/continuing to live in blown out 10th month stretch shirts.

master
dim, poorly composed cell phone pictures are my medium.

The best part about curating our clothing content by far has been the kids’ wardrobes, though. I’m not completely heartless, so I allowed each of the boys to keep 3 superhero t-shirts, but other than that they have really cute, limited wardrobes for the summer consisting of a swimsuit and rash guard, 4-5 short sleeve tops (polos and t-shirts), 2 button down dress shirts (1 l/s 1 short), 5 pairs of shorts (cargo, bermuda, khaki, soccer), 2 pairs of jeans and 1 pair of khakis, and a pair of sandals, running shoes, and dress shoes, each. And that’s it. Everything else is either boxed up for another season, given away, or stashed for a future sibling of the male variety. (And I didn’t stash much at all, only about 1.5 plastic tubs worth.)

kids rooms
She was so sure she was helping.

Now when I send them to get dressed, they almost always come out looking just fine, if not a little pattern-confused. And I’m no longer peeling 2T Lightening McQueen jammie pants off the resident 4-year-old to coax him into a more Costco-approrpiate uniform. Because they’re gone. Cackle.

In short, my life has been changed, the change has been magical, and we’re all having a much better time of it when it’s time to tidy up.

End novella. Because it’s almost time to start primping for tonight.

Hold on to your butts.

15 Comments

  • Amy

    i will admit, my kids are probably 10 times messier than yours, but the idea of 5 tshirts only makes me think (at going through at least 1, probably 2 shirts a day) much more frequent laundry! Have you faced this yet? Wearing pjs all day, or naked, because literally there are no clean shirts (except maybe Christmas sweater) and boys done even have the option of a dress, or gym leotard, or swimsuit serving as “shirt” for an outing… This happens to my son already had he has atleast double your 5 or 6 shirts, and I do do laundry, feels like always but probably more likely 3x a week.

    • Jenny Uebbing

      Great question. I do 1-2 loads of laundry most days (probably 5 days a week) because I really don’t mind doing laundry, and I’d rather wash a handful of stuff every day than a humongous mass of it once or twice a week.

      Dishes, on the other hand…(if it were socially and fiscally responsible, paper4life)

  • Rosemary

    Good to hear your take on this! I am really torn about toys. If my boys play with it semi-regularly it is reeeally hard for me to throw away without feeling guilty. I mean, it’s sparking joy for them, right?? (Unless it’s a toy I really hate or that they always fight over. It can spark all the joy for them it wants, but out it goes.) I’ve made a little progress but I can definitely donate more than I have.

  • Missy

    I have cleaned out my boys clothes and kept it more like 7-9 shirts/shorts for them. But that’s because I HATE laundry with a passion. As is the other day my 5 year old came up to me and said, “mom, someone is stealing all my clothes. I don’t have any shorts in my drawer.” I told him no one stole anything and to look in the dryer!

  • Ashley

    Yes to Kondoing!!! I’ve already kinda been living this way (myself) but this book gave me further ammunition to get.rid.of.everything. I loved the reasons she gave for being ok with getting rid of it all. I now recognize that the item has served its purpose (whatever that purpose may be) and I feel so free to ditch it all.

    The only thing that has stumped me was how to approach this with my kids – because, let’s be honest, their stuff doesn’t exactly spark joy in me! But all.the.crap sparks joy in my 6 year old. So I felt a bit conflicted. But your post made me realize I just need to enforce the clean out. Because everybody really will be happier. (And really, our kids don’t have that much. It’s mostly the little pieces of drawn on paper that “are really special to me, mom!” All our toys fit in two small baskets in the living room. Seriously.)

    Enjoy Jurrasic Park! The head paleontologist who consulted on all the Jurrasic Park movies lives in my town, so he’s been all over our local news talking about the newest movie. And I guess they did a special screening here!?!? I’m a bit out of the movie loop – the littles make movies a bit impossible right now

  • Dixie

    I took some good things away from that book when I read it a few weeks ago. It reminded me that I need to treat my clothes more carefully and be willing to clean and organize more slowly rather than always rushing (because there’s always a small person who needs me, but — still! Chillax, Mama!). Doing a good job is worth it sometimes!

    But I really don’t like how she basically ignores that her system is hard to follow if you’re low on $ or otherwise in an imperfect situation (sidenote: she says her clients are mostly SAHMs, but how the heck do these moms find the hours to do what she suggests?). It is easy enough to get rid of things that don’t spark joy, but what if that leaves you with nothing to wear except one pair of jeans and three T-shirts, you can’t afford to go on a shopping spree, and you can never find anything at thrift shops because your nursing boobs are just so damn big?

    Okay, I guess I’m just mad at the book because I have an unusual (I think?) body type and also not much cash. I guess most people don’t have a hard time finding affordable clothing that fits?? I find it almost impossible.

    But really, I do think she overlooks the necessity of sometimes being satisfied with “good enough” (not that you do, Jenny!! I’m sure you don’t). What about finding some way to take pleasure in in an item that isn’t perfect, but is what we have?

    • Jenny Uebbing

      Great, great point and good question. I guess what I took from it was, unless something is absolutely necessary (so clothes, if you don’t have enough) then we’re free to get rid of them if they’re not to our taste/style/usefulness. I was really excited to let go of stuff that I had just because it was cheap/gifted/thrifted/etc., because there really is something to be said for just owning less, period, and being happy with fewer things (even a smaller wardrobe) than having a bunch of ill-fitting or out of style options that don’t suit.

      I do find a lot of my own shirts and tops at thrift stores and (oddly) sometimes Costco (should I be embarrassed to admit that?) which are usually of a higher quality, cheaper, and the range of sizes is greater since there’s not just what the particular store carries by brand. And right now, in my current temporary state of big and pregnant, I only have about 8 shirts total, maybe 4-5 of which I actually wear. So I’m totally comfortable wearing the same shirts week after week if they look good and fit right now.

      • Alice

        Yes! I haven’t read the book yet, but have heard a lot of talk about it … and I am SO much more comfortable with the William Morris quote, “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.”

  • Kris

    I knew we were soul sisters! LOVE Jurassic Park! Can’t wait to see the new one. And I’m reading that tidying book as we speak and have some motivation for the summer, as soon as I get past swim team season and next week’s VBS. Our toys are already culled – did that last year, to the same happy results.

  • Erin

    YES! Internet-fives all around. “NO MORE TOYS” is kind of our mantra. Our kids just don’t respond well to them. First, they fight over them (even if we get them each one of exactly the same thing) for about two days. Then they forget the toys exist and go back to playing with unmated socks or my mixing spoons or Red Solo Cups. Then the toys wind up in the trash, even those oh-so-carefully selected Christmas gems.

    The only “toys” my kids enjoy consistently? Their siblings. (: Best gifts ever.

  • Diana

    You are the second blog I follow to post about this book recently which makes me even more excited to read it (have had it on hold at the library for 3 months and still #70!). I try to limit all our belongings anyways because I hate excess but I am hoping this book helps me find even more to get rid of! I don’t know about the kid clothes though…maybe I just don’t like laundry enough?? I generally like our son to have 10 t-shirts for any season (a few that are solid or just stripes so church appropriate with the right bottoms) and maybe 1-2 other church shirts. I wish I had a formula to calculate the exact optimum amount of clothes to buy for him to minimize all costs – purchases, water, soap, etc. and a time factor. Haha…for now we’ve settled on 10. But toys, yes. We’ve kept those pretty minimal at this point which really helps my sanity!

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