December 12, 2018 § 2 Comments
If you’re a sugar-avoider at this time of year, it’s hard not to feel like the Grinch. If you’re a clutter-avoider, you may well feel like you’re channeling Scrooge. So if you’re like me you’re a… a Scrinch. Basically, this time of year represents a nexus of everything I’ve ever written about. Too much sugar? Too much clutter? It’s all here. No wonder celebrants suffer from “holiday hangovers” and vow a slew of New Year’s resolutions. The problem with too much is that it never feels like enough until… it feels bad.
My goal at Christmastime is to have fun without ever arriving at the hangover part. An important part of this is practicing what I preach and avoiding excess sugar AND excess stuff in my gift-giving.
The holidays are tricky in this regard and Christmas is super tricky. This year I got a request to write about Christmas stockings in particular, which might be the trickiest of all. In a holiday that is chock-full of deeply weird traditions- trees in the house, shrubbery on the ceiling- the tradition of hanging our socks up for Santa to fill with treats is so especially strange that I am particularly fond of it.
But there are several key considerations with stocking stuffers. Firstly, no matter how big your stocking may be, there’s always a clear size limit. (I’m a stickler on this: in order to be a “stocking stuffer,” it must actually be physically stuffable in the stocking. Sorry, wall calendars.) Also, stocking contents are usually in addition to whatever “real” gifts are waiting under the tree, so probably there is a real budgetary limit as well. Santa has his work cut out for him, right? We need cheap, we need special and fun, we need small. And if you’re like me, and a Scrinch, then pile on top of those considerations the fact that you’re not wanting to overdose everyone on candy and chocolates either, OR wreck your home or the environment with crappo, plastic, break-in-five-minutes toys and hilarious, but-they-end-up-in-the-landfill joke gifts. (Seriously, no one really wants that taco-flavored coffee.)
If you know me, you probably have already guessed that I have given an inordinate amount of thought to The Stocking Problem. Before we go any further let me point out that yes, if you are avoiding sugar (which is cheap) and avoiding plastic crap (which is also cheap), it is going to be very, very easy to spend more money in the process of trying to avoid those things. So I recommend trying to work the problem backwards: decide how much money you want to spend on a person and then set aside some portion of that to spend on their stocking. No matter how much you set aside, of course, it won’t be enough, but that’s the nature of Christmas, so we’re used to it.
In the stocking stuffer category I’ve found most solutions to avoiding both sugar and clutter fall into two main groups. They are: No Sugar But Still Special Food, and Nice Versions of Small Things They Really Do Need/Will Use. Below are a few ideas I’ve used over the years… website links are beneath each idea. BTW no one is paying me to say any of this because I’m simply not that big a deal.
- No Sugar But Still Special Food:
Dried Cherries: Shhhhh! Don’t tell but I am totally doing this this year. I mean, Santa is. I hear. Chukar Cherries offers dried Rainer, Tart and Bing Cherries without added sugar in 6 oz bags for
about $10 each, or in tiny 1.85 oz. snack bags coupled with pistachios, cashews and almonds, 12 pack for $39, so $3 each. Other dried fruits or freeze dried fruits can be great too, just be sure to check that they don’t contain added sugar, artificial sugar or sugar alcohols (if advertised “sugar free” be on the look-out for sucralose, erythritol, mannitol, isomalt. I’d avoid these things as well.)
Tea in a Tin: Not so much a kid gift, but adults hang stockings in our house too. Try: Harney and Sons Hot Cinnamon Spice Tea, which, due to its combination of spices, tastes as if it is sweetened… but it isn’t. Seriously, I wouldn’t kid you about this. $8. Also consider hot sauces, little jars of special olives stuffed with garlic, fancy French mustards, olive oil so prized it comes with an eyedropper… anything you can’t buy at the supermarket automatically counts as “special.”
Popcorn: There’s just something fun about the idea of food that explodes. Unflavored, unpopped popcorn is your best bet in the no added sugar department, so ignore the millions of “gourmet” flavored varieties that include everything from maple bacon to booze… instead how about corn still-on-the-cob? All you need is a brown paper bag and you can pop it right off the cob in your microwave. It really is kind of fun and you’re avoiding PFOAs! (The very nasty chemicals coating microwave popcorn bags.) At $5 for a two-cob bag you are paying a premium per cob for the novelty of it of course, but then again it’s the cheapest thing on this list so chalk it up to the Elves’ Union or something. Or, if you have more stockings to fill, they also have a package of ten cobs for $17, giving you a much better deal per cob.
- Nice Versions of Small Things They Really Do Need/Will Use
Personalized Pencils: School supplies that are fun but usable can be great. Scented or shaped erasers, a stapler that looks like a man-eating shark- you get the idea. I love personalization as a way to make something mundane into something special- and kids LOVE having their name printed on things. You can get 24 in a variety of colors or designs for around $10.
Big Fluffy Slipper Socks: Last year I found some super-fluffy, plush slipper socks for my two daughter’s stockings. At $20 a pair, they were on the expensive side, however the upside was that they took up a lot of room in the stocking. YES! This year I found this site (below) and I love both the slippers and the socks which are priced between $7 and $12. However- be careful of buying Santa-themed items- how much use will these really get after X-mas day? Instead I’d go with cuddly polar bears and penguins which are good all winter long.
Fun Soaps: Soap is so great. It can be made in so many shapes and scents, and everyone needs it (unlike, say, scented candles or potpourri, which really aren’t for everyone.) Best of all, it’ll eventually get enjoyed and used up all at the same time. The Vermont Country Store has wonderfully cute animal-shaped soaps on a rope, for about $15, as well as soaps shaped like the gang from Peanuts. Please tell Santa I want the Snoopy.
So let me know: what do you think?
What other No Sugar/ No Clutter stocking stuffers have you found?
September 10, 2018 § 2 Comments
Garfield has been staring at me reproachfully all summer.
It all began so innocently last April when I had a seemingly brilliant idea… on my blog I would feature some of the more bizarre items I was having trouble parting with and my faithful readers could help me to shed them.
(Remember: I am, what one might refer to as a Clutter-Monger, so even after writing an entire book on the subject of clutter, the struggle continues. By the way “Proto-hoarder” is also a term that works. I tried the term “Baby-hoarder” but that just sounded like I hoard babies, and that would be a different conversation entirely.)
So… in theory: an entertaining subject (my strange things) with a noble purpose (both getting rid of it and showing it can be done. Hopefully.) Perfect, right? To that end you may recall I took what was intended to be the first of many reader polls, regarding one unfinished latch-hook rug of Garfield, the famed cartoon cat, that had been leftover from my youth. What should I do with it?? I implored blog readers. Tell me!! The verdict returned resoundingly, and perhaps unsurprisingly: Get rid of it Eve!
The majority instructed me to donate Garfield to some appreciative cause, so I settled on our local library children’s room as an ideal recipient. (Cause “Garfield” is kinda literature…. right?) Then came the difficult part: in order to make this item something anyone, anywhere, might actually want, I had to finish it, even though I had never done anything of the sort before.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m crafty as all get out; I love making stuff. That’s part of the problem… I can make stuff out of other stuff all day long, which leads to keeping all manner of weirdo orphan objects in the vain hope I may someday get around to turning them into something wonderful. So yes, I sew, BUT- I am entirely self-taught. Because of this fact, I am still trying to figure out things like the proper, non-Eve-improvised way to incorporate a zipper, or what the hell “ease” is, or why the automatic buttonhole foot looks like a little tiny medieval torture device for mice. This all leads to the occasional moment of distress when I am attempting anything more complicated than a Halloween costume.
So, every time I glanced in the direction of Garfield-the-Latch-Hook-rug there was this big, fat, I don’t know staring me in the face. If you have a clutter problem in your life, then you know that the emergence of an “I don’t know” is more than enough to halt everything— EVERYTHING— indefinitely. Perhaps forever. So all summer long, no matter what I did or where I went, when I got back home Garfield was there waiting for me, staring at me from the chair where I had draped him, with that grumpy look on his face, awaiting the answer to I don’t know.
Which brings me to the fact that, after weeks of truly Olympic-level procrastination, about two weeks ago I found myself at our friendly neighborhood Jo-Ann Fabrics, and I realized the moment had arrived. Having pretty much no idea what I was doing, I purchased what looked like the right zipper and a half-yard of some black velveteen.
Yes, I was now spending actual money in a quest to make someone take this item from me. But never mind that- I brought the items home and laid them out on the sewing table and stared at them. Garfield looked dubious. You are going to kill me, aren’t you? he murmured balefully.
No. Yes. Maybe, I replied. I pulled up a series of YouTube videos on the subject of zipper sewing and got to work.
It’s amazing to me the enormous, paralyzing power of I don’t know. Throughout the entire process I could feel my brain resisting, earnestly trying to talk me out of this… I ended up having a weird conversation with myself as I tried to install the zipper.
My brain: Hmph! This is ridiculous. What if you ruin it?
Me: Then at least I’ll have tried. If I ruin it then at least I’ll finally feel justified in throwing it away. Either way my problem is solved.
My brain: Don’t you feel stupid spending time on something you aren’t even keeping?
Me: It’s my time to spend how I like. Some people carve soap. Some people dye eggs. Some people do whimsical taxidermy.
My brain: You are so going to muff this up.
Me: Well, okay, but what’s the worst thing that could happen? I mean, besides sewing my finger to a cartoon cat? At least then I could claim the title of the weirdest emergency room visit that day.
The voice in my head was right on at least one point though— I did feel supremely stupid. Who did I think I was kidding? I couldn’t do this! As I tried for the third time to install the zipper the velveteen began to unravel in places. Crap! Then, just as visions of making another trip to the fabric store to spend even more time and even more money on something just so I could get rid of it were dancing in my head, at last, the zipper was in. I wasn’t winning any prizes in Home-Economics class mind you, but it was in. I had a look of rather grim determination on my face and the thought occurred to me that my expression was beginning to resemble Garfield’s.
Last came the pinning and sewing of the pillow to the backing fabric. And here, I was totally making it up- I hadn’t even watched a YouTube video on this. But you know what? Turns out there really aren’t all that many ways to make a pillow. It worked! I did have to undo and resew a few bits, to make the latch-hook canvas less visible and to get the ears properly pointy but once that was done, and stuffed with filling, I was amazed. Garfield actually looked just as I always imagined he would, way back when I first made him as a kid. Just like a latch-hook rug looks when you have it made into a pillow.
I brought Garfield-the-Now-Pillow to the living room and displayed him, trophy-like on the ottoman. Everyone humored me by ooh-ing and ahh-ing. What’s funny is how ridiculously proud I am of this irrelevant accomplishment. You’d think I’d found a cure for ear hair or something.
I think what I’m proud of is not the fact that I’ve made a halfway decent pillow. What I’m proud of is that I didn’t let that voice in my head stop me. The fear of “making a mistake” can be a blind-sidingly powerful fear, and these days I understand that it is that fear which is at the root of all my clutter. Letting go of that fear, or at least refusing to listen to it, is the very best thing I can do. If I can overcome my fear, then I’m pretty sure I can overcome my clutter. Even if it doesn’t all happen to have reproachful eyes that can follow me all summer long.
All that’s left now is to contact our local library. And break the news to our cat. She’s taken rather a liking to Garfield. Hmm. Do you think she could be considered an appreciative recipient?
May 7, 2018 § 3 Comments
Do you or a loved one suffer from OCS? (Overstuffed Coffee-table Syndrome)? I know I do. Research suggests that 107% of depression is directly attributable to overstuffed coffee-tables. Clearly, it’s a silent epidemic.
But there are cures in development. To that end, I wanted to share my adventure of the other day, when I didn’t just clean off the coffee table, I freaking deconstructed it. I was like a woman possessed. I’m actually kind of lucky to even have a coffee table left at this point, given the fervor with which I went after this thing.
It all began in the morning when I realized that the table had disappeared under a pile of random stuff several weeks ago, and somehow hadn’t managed to get any better despite the fact that I’d been persistently ignoring it. We had just returned from vacation, which made the noticing all the more acute: what I had managed to not-see in busy pre-vacation weeks now seemed to be glaring like a neon sign flashing helpful questions at me:
This is okay with you?
I mean, I was just wondering if you like living like this, I mean is it a conscious style choice on your part?
Is it like shabby chic, but you know, without the chic?
So I made the decision that I was going to clean it up. And not just the old musical-chairs-trick where you put the difficult things in another room and shut the door so you’re just not looking at it anymore, but really, actually clean it up. It might take all morning— in fact, knowing me it might even take all month— but I was determined: I would do nothing else until it was a completely clean surface, damn it.
Of course, projects like this are always easy… at first. I start by picking off the low hanging fruit. Anything that belonged to an actual person in possession of a bed in our home got their belongings transferred to that location. Greta’s craft project, Greta’s knitting, Ilsa’s school supplies, all quickly departed the scene. The table went from looking like this (left), to like this (right):
Next, I rolled up and put away all the cloth napkins and dishtowels that had been sitting half done for never mind how long.
Everything was going great! In no time at all I had gone from Ugh. to Much Better, but my momentum was about to hit a wall. The reason why had to do with a realization I had come to during my Year of No Clutter which was this: there is a big difference between clutter and a mess. A mess is composed of things we know what to do with, but we just haven’t gotten around to doing yet. Clutter is composed of things we don’t quite know what to do with, or for some reason can’t quite get to happen yet. Comparatively speaking, cleaning up mess is easy (if annoying). Clearing clutter, on the other hand is
damn near impossible hard.
Keeping this distinction in mind, its easy to see why I got half the table clear so quickly, and why on any given day I might get this far and then go no further (only for the table to fill right back up over the rest of the afternoon and evening, am I right, people?)
So I took an inventory of the objects that remained, and the unanswered questions that made them clutter:
- Box and info booklet from new camera Steve bought… are we keeping these? Where will they live?
- Stack of CD-less jewel cases (some broken) and case-less CDs… what does one do with stuff like this? Is it just landfill material?
- Two non-functioning meat thermometers… one broken and one needs a new battery. No one knows which is which.
- Ilsa’s broken earring (in the tiny glass bowl)… Fixable, or garbage? No one knows.
So, like most clutter, what these items needed was a little extra time and persistence. I tackled them one at a time.
- When Steve came home for lunch I explained that I was writing a “blog about the coffee table” and reminded him that the new camera box had been sitting there for never mind how long. A few minutes later the information booklet was on the bookshelf and the box was in the recycling. I’m not above using internet blackmail to get things done here, people.
2. I was reminded that empty jewel cases are, in fact, reusable, so I recycled the liner notes and posted the cases as “free” on a local online marketplace. Within a few minutes I had a taker! Someone wanted my 12 empty, scratched CD cases! Hooray, no landfill! But what about the broken ones? It turns out that broken cases are recyclable, but not in curbside recycling. Instead I’d have to take them to a Best Buy, which for us is about a 45 minute drive away. All the broken plastic went into a paper bag marked “next time anyone is in Saratoga drop these at Best Buy” and put it by the door. The CDs themselves? Sadly they were garbage and garbage only- so in the bin they went.
3. After figuring out how to open the meat thermometer battery thingies (that’s a technical term) I ran out and purchased new batteries. Within minutes I had fixed one thermometer and placed the broken one in our pile of electronics recycling in the basement.
4. At last it all came down to this: one tiny little broken faux-pearl earring. Literally, this earring had been migrating around our house for at least the last year in its little glass bowl, in search of someone to make a decision about it. Every single time I looked at it I had the exact same series of thoughts:
- I should throw that thing out. It’s not like it’s worth anything.
- But Ilsa loves those earrings.
- I should try to fix it.
- I don’t think I can fix it, though.
- Oh look! It’s time to… pick the girls up/make dinner/teach myself harmonica
This time, however, I did not head out in search of a harmonica. This time I got out the super glue and right there and then glued that little earring sucker right back together. But not before I managed to spear myself with the sharp little Krazy Glue pin head.
No one said clearing clutter was without peril.
Now. Can I just TELL you how proud I am of that beautiful, clean coffee table surface? Not to mention how delighted Ilsa was to at last have her beloved earring back, and the fact that I no longer have to worry about giving my family horrible, multisyllabic diseases via undercooked meat. It’s really quite unreasonable, how happy that beautiful, open surface in the middle of my house makes me.
Now that I have explained how hard-won such small victories can be, perhaps those who do not suffer from OCS can glimpse an empty coffee-table from a brand-new vantage point: that of a time-honored battlefield in the war on mess and clutter.
The struggle is real.
April 25, 2018 § 1 Comment
True confessions time: I’ve actually been kind of afraid to check the results of the What To Do With Garfield?? poll. I mean, what if the winning answer was “Chuck It!”? Was I really gonna be able to put him in the trash? After all, this is me we’re talking about, who is utterly horrified by the concept of landfills. Who tries in vain to figure out how to repurpose hole-y sweat socks and who devotes actual brain space to whether or not toothpaste tube caps are recyclable. Besides, no matter how lame the project, I’m pretty sure I have never, ever thrown out something I’ve made… and I’ve certainly never thrown out anything I made that had a face.
Fortunately, weighing in at 27% of the vote, “Chuck It!” was juuuuust edged out by “donate to a school or library or….?” which garnered a very respectable 30%. So here’s what I am going to do: I will finish the pillow and donate it to our local library, where I might go and pay Garfield a visit whenever the mood strikes which will be, of course, exactly never. But it’s the knowing that I could that definitely- if inexplicably- helps.
The key element here is that I really do have to actually finish the pillow in order to make this into an object our library, or anyone for that matter, might actually want, and- surprise!- I don’t know how to do that. Which come to think of it is pretty much how Garfield and I got into this mess to begin with. Back to square one?
No! Or not without a fight anyway. I’m determined to break the cluttering cycle, and if I learned anything from my experience in the Hell Room, it is that indecision and inaction are the loving parents of each newborn piece of clutter. So if you’ll pardon me, I have a date with my sewing machine…
in the Hell Room in the Art Room. Wish me luck!
Or Garfield, wish him luck. He might really need it.
April 12, 2018 § 3 Comments
So I’m currently taking a poll to determine the fate of Garfield the latch-hook rug. Yes, when it comes to getting rid of things, I’m that desperate- apparently certain items require a crowd-sourced intervention. And let me tell you, Garfield is terrified. Or maybe it’s me. Hard to tell.
Ever since I cleaned out my own personal Hell Room, he’s has been scrunched up on an armchair in the library-hallway-room tormenting me. Yes, through a display of sheer Herculean willpower on my part I did manage to part with many terrible, horrible things during my Year of No Clutter, but Garfield was clearly not one of them. I mean, he’s juuuuuuust weird enough to be intriguing. Just random enough to be endearing.
Plus he has a face. Which is always hard.
Do I want him? Need him? Have any idea whatever to do with him? No. How do I feel every single time I lay eyes on him, messing up my armchair, cluttering up my tiny little reading area? Annoyed. Irritated.
For many people, the answers to those questions would be enough. They’d toss him in the trash or charity donation box and that would be that- not another thought would be given to the matter.
I am clearly not one of those people. Instead, I second guess. I think about how Garfield was, for a time, an extremely cool cartoon character. Really! If you were there, you’ll back me up on this, I know. In the late seventies when Jim Davis came out with the comic strip, Garfield represented a totally new idea: the Uber-Anti-Cat, the exact polar opposite of say, Hello Kitty. He was decidedly not cute. Not affectionate. Not demure and purring and sweet. Instead he was grouchy, lazy, and possessed of a propensity to eat all the lasagna within the nearby vicinity. He was a cat with chutzpah.
As a kid I read the strip religiously in the Sunday funnies, on the floor, by the heat grate, competing with the family dog to see who could sit most directly in the path of the intermittently blowing hot air. I had a t-shirt that my mom bought me when she went back to school with a picture of Garfield on it. He was unenthusiastically holding a college pennant in his hand with the thought bubble “So this is Pace University. Big, fat, hairy deal.”
In the early eighties, this qualified as highly sophisticated humor.
(That is until Bloom County came in and took over in a walk. Don’t even get me started. I still miss Opus.)
And then I think about all the many, many, MANY latch-hook rugs I made as a kid. I was an artsy-craftsy kid born to decidedly not-artsy-crafty parents, so I was constantly trying to learn new crafts, and yet there was no internet to teach me. !!! Instead of learning the complicated things I longed to know such as knitting or sewing or embroidery, I made ropes and ropes of macrame, dozens of wonky little yarn pom-poms, piles and piles of latch hook rugs… projects that were as easy as they were purposeless. My mom kept buying the latch hook rug kits because they were cheap, but once they were done I always wanted them made up into little zippered, decorative pillows for my room, which was expensive. In the interest of not having to take out a second mortgage on our house, she decided to stop having the rugs made into pillows right around the time I finished Garfield, which is why he remains unfinished to this day.
So. Now that I’ve told you all that, if the poll tells me to, can I really bear to pitch Garfield? Or maybe it’s the other way round: now that I’ve told you the story, maybe I’ll be released from my obligation to him, like a character in a fairy tale who has broken the magic spell. Hard to say. I keep imagining myself at the charity shop, trying to donate Garfield the Latch-Hook Rug and being violently overcome with remorse, much to the surprise and consternation of the little old ladies who take donations there. Hopefully (are you listening, Clutter-Gods?) HOPEFULLY that is not where this is all going. That would not be fun for anyone, you know.
By the way, have I mentioned that I also have latch-hook-rug Odie?