The Satisfaction of Uncluttered Space

 

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Blooming jade plant, California. My friends were amused by our surprise at flowers – outside – in January. We do have a cactus in our yard, though (under the snow).

It was cold last weekend – even for Minnesota in January. All of us, including the dog, were more excited about getting home than about taking a walk. I can never just sit around for very long, though, and with the outcome of our hygge conversation fresh in our mind, I began working on what was obviously needed around the house – tackling all the piles.

Maybe you know the ones I mean.

The basket of clean clothes, the hamper of dirty clothes, and the pile of worn-but-not-dirty clothes.
The papers to be filed, the papers to be shredded, and the papers of undecided future.
The random things that never got put away after the last two trips.
The piles of books on either side of the bed.

While I was at it, I vacuumed and dusted and washed the newly-visible surfaces. I took care of various small tasks, too. I cooked some new recipes and made foods for the week. I washed a stain off a lampshade that had been there, turned to the wall, for an embarrassing length of time. I turned some random soft fabrics into small blankets for the cat shelter. I changed the battery in my grandmother’s clock, which has been running slowly for a month (yes, I was procrastinating on a 5-minute task).

By the time I was done, the house had a whole new vibe – more peaceful than it’s been since… well, probably since the last time we had houseguests.  And when I sat down to read that evening and caught a glimpse of the room, I felt very satisfied and relaxed.

I am always gratified by the results of an organizing or decluttering afternoon, and I always imagine that someday, I will manage to always keep spaces in that condition, from the kitchen cabinet that always becomes disorganized to the dusty, cluttered laundry room.  And maybe I will.  While 10 minutes each day could greatly reduce the need for a monthly cleaning event, the truth is that many days I’m too tired after working, driving, and cooking for even those 10 more minutes.

So, to resolve this ironic loop of clean house is self care, but self is too tired to clean, I’m going to look to my family.  If 10 minutes will make a difference, that’s just over 3 minutes each – roughly one quick chore for everyone.  And here’s where I can use one of my strengths – designing a system.

 

Simple Winter Pleasures

snow-river-and-trees-with-sky-and-clouds-in-temperance-river-state-park-minnesota.jpgThe bluest sky over glittering, crystalline snow

Ice skating, skiing, snowshoeing

Reading by the fireplace

Silent nights, save the owls

Simmering soup and baking bread that scent the house

The silence of a snowy day

Slow days at home, avoiding cold or ice, puttering in pajamas

Studying the amazingly beautiful snow crystal shapes

Walking on a frozen lake

Neighborhood snow shoveling nights

Chili & game nights with friends

Reaching for another blanket

Planning the vegetable garden

Hot tea or coffee on a cold morning

Watching the cardinals in the bare trees

Walking in the winter wonderland created by fresh snow

Coming inside after a long walk

Snow sculptures

Indoor projects

Last year’s harvests – strawberry jam or frozen raspberries – brightening a meal with color, flavor, and memories

Thoughts on Planning

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I’m feeling a need to do some reflecting on the practice of planning.

I am a member and/or current devotee of three main personal growth programs.  First, The Life Coach School’s Self Coaching Scholars program (owned by Brooke Castillo) which has a monthly mindset focus.  Secondly, the 40 Hour Teacher Workweek Club, a year long cohort program to help teachers maximize their time to find peace and be more efficient.  I’ve completed the year but it is so dense and amazing I have rejoined the Graduate program to eek out more value.  Last, I also closely follow Phit N Phat, a weight loss coaching program whose Queen Corinne trained with The Life Coach School, so the philosophies are similar.  While these programs may vary in topic, there is a strong thread connecting them:  effective, intentional PLANNING.

I hate to think of all the years I wasted pursuing a willy nilly approach.  And really, I actively pursued it.  In fact, in college I was a good planner, kind of natural.  The problem was that I also overdid it.  I overpacked my days and I got shit DONE.  I was in a go-go-go mode from about 18-25 years old.  Folks, no one should be burned out at 25.  So I turned to voluntary simplicity readings and study.  And I started cancelling things.  And scheduling less.  And slowing, and flowing.  And often, not planning anything.  And some of that was a gift – until sometimes it wasn’t.  Because in teaching, you can’t really just wing it.  And I tried.  (My poor students.)  I even left the classroom, thinking in a coaching role I could be less regimented with time during my workday.  It was somewhat true, but I also felt I was doing nothing many days.

Once I had kids, I started to really realize I had to make some changes.  I HATED planning meals, planning activities (especially on the weekends), planning basically anything.  And what that got me was being on childcare duty all the time, because my husband DID make plans, and have ideas of what he wanted to accomplish in a weekend, and since I didn’t, he went ahead and did his thing.  And I didn’t like that.  I was also rushing, frantic, and unprepared most of the time at work and at home.  I had to make a change.

It started about a year ago, first with the 40HTW Club.  I was also part of a mandatory coaching program that all probationary educators go through at work, so there was a huge focus on planning there.  We grouped our tasks by time periods (before school, mid day, after school, evening) instead of making strict appointments for each task.  We identified the main task to be done in order to do it first to feel the pride and reduced stress around having that done.  And that started to work!

In the spring, I found Phit N Phat and started planning what I would eat the next day and evaluate how well I’d stuck to the current day’s plan.  And I started to lose weight!

I was starting to like planning again!  It was getting me results, reducing my stress . . . then came September.

I joined Self Coaching Scholars six months ago and the whole focus of one month – September – was to plan out an “impossible” task per Brooke’s scheduling and planning system.  Basically, in this system you break down the whole task, you schedule every component into a set time, and you don’t allow yourself to exceed the time scheduled.  So I did this.  I scheduled the whole ambitious task for the month, and right away realized I hadn’t planned enough time in each slot, and also who-knows-what happened with the kids and I started to miss slots (ANATHEMA to the approach because really, that’s not honoring myself and my word) and got hopelessly behind and did NOT accomplish my planned goal.  So instead of having the desired effect, which was that we would build a ton of confidence and buy in for the planning system, it had the opposite effect for me, which was to confirm for me what I had been (mis)thinking for years – that planning is hard, that it is impossible to follow a plan, and that if you have kids you can forget even trying to have a plan.

I kind of threw up my hands on all personal planning, but did stick to the work stuff.  Thank God, because one day in October or November, I had nothing to do.  Unheard of.  I was caught up.  I was planned ahead.  And I knew I had to revisit planning once more for myself and my outside-of-work dreams.

Well, a few months later, I am realizing I perhaps overdid it in September.  I think I tried to do WAY too much, and didn’t acknowledge my limitations.  I have a new “impossible” goal, and I want to keep making progress toward it, even if in baby steps.  So I’m studying Brooke’s approach further.  She advocates:  scheduling your free time FIRST.  So one thing where I was mistaken in September was that I scheduled the whole month solid – not only did I choose that “impossible” task but it was our first month back in school!  What was I thinking?!  Ok, so now, there will be no scheduling of anything after bedtime.  It just won’t get done.  Or in the morning before school.  And, I don’t want to work all weekend on regimented stuff.  So that will be protected too.

One confusion I have looking forward is that also in Brooke’s system is that you weekly do a brain dump of all the to-dos rattling around in there, and then you schedule time on your calendar to do it throughout the week.  And then you throw away the brain dump list.  Well, I did my first one and cleared out SEVEN PAGES of to-dos.  I can’t do that all in a week – so then what?  Do I put it all back in my brain?  So another part of my planning evolution is that I need to make it work for me, not blindly adhere to any guru’s approach.  So, I need to have a running to-do list bank for a while until I whittle it down/eliminate some stuff from it.  That’s ok.  I will do that.  I had one going that I hadn’t updated in a while and so it must be time to do that if I had seven pages worth in there!

I think my very biggest thought work and logistics item is where to actually find time to do anything beyond my 8-4 and co-run the household.  We have two young children, and three aging parents – and two of them live an hour away.  I have an autoimmune disorder that is under great control right now and sleep is paramount in maintaining that.  My personal goals feel so insignificant in comparison to this day to day pressure.  I am puzzled about where to find more time.  I may add an afternoon a week of after school care for my oldest who is at my school so I can have an hour to do some business work.  I may do a go-out session every weekend to get some focused work time on it.  So I have a few ideas, but they involve escaping my family, so I don’t feel great about that.  But I also think it could be preferable to what I’m doing now, which is trying to sneak time, diverting my attention from them, parking the kids in front of the TV, and really getting not much of anything done anyway in the end.

Also, I need to make the weekly scheduling process inviolable.  If I reference my brain, my bank of tasks and actually DO make a realistic weekly schedule, I WILL start to honor it, make progress, reduce the amount of pending items, and feel better overall.

I’ll keep you updated!  Thanks for reading my novel!  It helped to write it.

 

Thrifty Thursday: Finding Rewards

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Small thatched cottage on Wellington Road near Church Aston
cc-by-sa/2.0 – © Jeremy Bolwellgeograph.org.uk/p/3128236

It’s been a thrifty week. We’ve all been at work or school for long hours, and it’s been fairly cold. None of us has any desire to go out in the dark and cold for anything unnecessary or superfluous. I’ve been so pressed for time that I was utterly thrilled to find two jars of soup in the freezer last night to finish out my workweek lunches.

I’m reading James Clear’s Atomic Habits in an atomically slow fashion – about 3 pages/day during my work lunch (I’m guessing I’ll beat my coworker, who is reading Chernow’s Hamilton in the same manner). Today I was reading Clear’s summary of the cue, craving, response, and reward progression that everyone consciously or unconsciously experiences many times each day, and it occurred to me that Thom and I both find rewards in our frugality.

What are the rewards to which we have conditioned ourselves?
The challenge of making something by hand
The security of savings
Creating things that are better in some way – unique or tastier or containing our favorite materials – than we could purchase

Some might say that I need more excitement in my life, if leftover soup is that exciting.  But why would I want to change the ability to experience happiness over such little things?

 

Finding Hygge… a conversation that led us back to basics.

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Photo by Jenna Hamra from Pexels

(Ilse) Hygge is all over the media these past couple of years and our library has some lovely books on the subject, but I think I’ve known about it most of my life… it just didn’t have a name and wasn’t practiced to the extent that it is elsewhere. After reading about hygge, I realized that this is what I always loved about my visits to family in Germany – the focus on simple pleasures such as friends and family, the outdoors, and good food. All were often combined in a leisurely midday dinner or afternoon coffee outside. My grandparents’ house on Long Island was full of hygge, but somehow it always felt to me that it ended when I left… I didn’t feel the same anywhere else.

Before hygge awareness arrived, I had already adopted the “home as cabin” mindset. I think that some of my friends understand this, but not all. Honestly, we’ve mostly quit hosting since my return to full-time work, primarily because of my schedule, but also because I became aware of some house snobbery among a couple who are otherwise good friends. They do have a nice house, but I don’t feel a lot of hygge there.

What makes me feel a sense of calm and wellbeing in our house?

Good aromas… baking bread, spices, fresh air in the summer
Sounds of nature… owls in summer, rain in spring and fall, wind in winter
Snoozing pets… they are so easily pleased – a fleece blanket, a sunbeam, a lap
Coziness… in winter, ample warm blankets and throws, throughout the house
The right lights… reading lamps, LED candles on timers

(Kelli) I love it when it’s quiet.  Right now I’m up past my bedtime to get it.  With my kids at 4 and 2 right now, I’m craving quiet and introspection.  They are at a really fun age and I love it when they will snuggle me, which they will do with book after book (hygge) or with the TV (not so much).  We have a wood burning fireplace and it is sooooooo cozy when we have a fire! We’ve only done so twice! I really want to do that a few more times this winter.

I also finally figured out how to get my own little spot in the house, which is a little writing desk in our sun porch.  No one messes it up, or leaves junk on it, or litters it with crumbs. Since it’s very drafty I’ve put on a heater and usually use a blanket and light a little candle in there.  (In fact I just got up and moved so I could sit at my little desk).

Speaking of candles, I’ve come to embrace aromas a bit more, but I’m picky.  They have to be oh-so-subtle.

One million blankets?  Seems that’s yes. 😉

(Ilse) Ooh, quiet!  Yes. There is not enough of that in the world and it is so necessary after a busy workday.  In the summer, our screened porch is my refuge, and I love to sit outside but out of reach of the mosquitoes.  In the winter, I sometimes have difficulty finding quiet in the house and retreat to the library instead.

What would my dream house have that would increase hygge?

(Ilse) A windowseat looking out on the back yard, large enough for 2, or 1 and a very large pile of books.   An indoor garden of some type – some houses in warm climates have large planting areas inside the house (but I don’t intend to move for that feature!). Less clutter.

(Kelli) I think I’d live in the country so I could have a big bonfire area, or be outside under the stars.  I miss that about my childhood home.

What can I do in my present house to increase hygge?

(Ilse) We actually priced adding a bay window for a windowseat in our living room when we replaced our windows. Since it cost as much as all the other windows together, it was an obvious decision.

I’d like to figure out some way to arrange my houseplants to appear more garden-like. They are all in disparate pots all over the house.  I’ve recently seen some articles about houseplants being the new decorating trend, so I’ll look for some ideas. (whoever would have guessed that a small house filled with houseplants would become trendy?)

We could decrease clutter. This is a constant goal and we’ve made a lot of progress. The clutter takes a few predictable forms in our house: books, footwear (particularly in winter), and papers. Happily, decreasing clutter is almost always free except for the time. Here’s where to focus my energy!

(Kelli) I agree with the clutter.  It is just such a mental energy suck.  Looking around I feel overwhelmed almost all the time, which makes it hard to relax, be present, want to have people over, focus my thoughts on other things.  In one aspect, though, I want MORE items – and that’s to have more on the walls. We have had pretty spare walls for a few years after I put my foot down in this house of no “man cave” decor such as our former teeny little home had (vintage Northwoods, but still.  SO. MUCH. NORTHWOODS.). I want more family photos, and photos from our trips, and, ok, a few vintage northwoods items would be kinda hyggetastic.

(Ilse) Until I get back to creating a photogenic hygge-ful space, I’m going to channel my inner cat.  Sylvester finds hygge everywhere, and he spreads the hygge spirit with his rumbly purr and physical and temperamental warmth.  Warm blankets, fireplace, family, book, tea, purrrrrrrrrrrrr.

Welcoming the Long Winter

book_pages_reading_fireplace_flame-892494.jpg!dDecember was busy. Somehow we fit all the activities and travel preparations for the holidays into our usual routines, and that time had to come from somewhere. I know that one place I skimped was meals. No one complained, and maybe they didn’t even notice, but I did… I noticed in my added few pounds, in my craving for green vegetables, and in having to dispose of a few things from the refrigerator, which is never necessary when I’m on top of things.

But all of that busy-ness is long over now.. and I’ve even undecorated. The winter months are upon us, and it is likely that this weekend’s thaw will be the last until April. It’s time for those braising, roasting, and simmering recipes that heat and scent the house. Since we returned from our holiday travel, I’ve cooked more than I did for most of December, when I nearly emptied our freezer and pantry. The freezer is again full and our weeknights should be easy for a few weeks.

I spent about 4 hours cooking this weekend and turned out a large loaf of bread, a quart of homemade yogurt, pasta with broccoli pesto and chickpeas for lunches, raw vegetables for this week’s lunches, and a cabbage-potato dish. Our Sunday dinner was the rajma recipe from Merra Sodha’s Fresh India, and it was delicious. There’s another meal of that in the freezer, along with chili, lasagna, black bean soup, scalloped potatoes, and various cooked beans and grains awaiting some type of quick preparation. I am feeling caught up.

The biggest bonus of cooking ahead is the time to focus on other projects. And sometimes, especially this dark and cold time of year, a project is as simple as a good book.

Thrifty Thursday

a_traditional_cottage_garden_-_geograph.org.uk_-_829164
Evelyn Simak / A traditional cottage garden (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Most days are thrifty at Cottage Berg, so I admit succumbing to alliteration, but I do find regular reminders to be helpful when working toward a goal. Today’s thrifty habit is Meals that Clean Out the Fridge (or Freezer). Having learned to make use of random bits and scraps of leftovers has been a key skill in reducing food waste in our house. They are all either refrigerated or frozen in containers, and about once weekly I make a meal that can use up random vegetables, legumes, potatoes, or meat.

This is probably where casseroles originated. My mom never really made them, so the first time I saw a recipe I was stunned at all the work involved. But when everything is already made and leftover from another meal, they are very cost- and time-efficient. And that is true of most of these meals. Most are adaptable to use either cooked (neutrally seasoned) or raw vegetables; cooked vegetables should be added just in time to heat through.

Sometimes little containers get shoved to the back of the freezer or fridge.  I really hate to throw out food or clean moldy containers, so nearly emptying the fridge between shopping excursions is a good habit, and if I don’t have an idea for how to use something within a few days, I move it into the freezer.  The things that get lost in the deep freeze may become dessicated over time, but are still perfectly useful in a soup or chili.

Examples of perfect vehicles for random leftovers:

Frittata or omelet
Fried rice or bibbim bap
Soups (minestrone, for instance)
Enchiladas
Chili
Stir fry
Flatbread with toppings, or filled crepes

And then there’s always the Leftover Buffet.

Tonight I drive the carpool, and I need a quick meal to cook when I get home that will use up about two cups of cooked cabbage.  Soup is a good candidate, but I won’t have time to cook it after I get home, and am gone far too long to consider the slow cooker (after about 6 hours, in my opinion, it just tastes overcooked).   Plus, it’s Thursday night, the Night of Greatest Fatigue (I completely understand why Thursday night was meltdown night in Mari’s first years of school).  So, it will be simple: an unfilled omelet with green onions and Jarlsburg cheese, with leftover roasted potatoes and cabbage.  And then I will don my pajamas and read with a purring cat.

How have you reduced food waste? What are your weeknight go-to meals?