Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Due North: finding direction in the front room

In January or February, Hubbs and I were talking again about our frustration with the disorder in our house.  We were driving somewhere, probably to a family gathering, and I assured him that I was not in the same place I used to be towards our possessions.  After a few years of reading about minimalism and hoarding and consumerism, my mind was finally reworked enough on the topic that I could begin to make changes and start getting rid of our (mostly my) excess possessions. 

“This is the year,” I said dramatically, “that we clear out the house and garage and make real changes.”  I think I added something about literally wanting to talk about every single thing we own.  “Maybe not everything,” he said.  “No,” said I, “every single thing.”  He did the ok-honey thing he does when he realizes I  have the crazy eyes and will not be dissuaded.  After my little experiment last post, I have less bravado in regards to how possible it would be to actually do that, but I think a lot of people who are interested in minimalism share a certain concern for knowing exactly what they own and decreasing it.

If you knew me personally, you would know that declaring the problem will be solved this year indicates quite an ambitious undertaking.  Once, when my depression was especially bad, I remember not knowing what I would do if Hubbs told me it was either him or the possessions.  Our place was smaller then and every room really looked like something out of Hoarding: Buried Alive.  I felt paralyzed.  I imagined I would have to move out with all my stuff and go somewhere to deal with my issues alone for a few years before I would be able to rejoin him.

Luckily, it never came to that.  Though my relationship to my stuff is not the same existential problem now (thanks, garage, for freeing up our living space), I haven’t got rid of much in my three decades of life, and I suspect that it will take all year to get where most people already are. 

For instance, any time we go over to someone else’s house (especially those of our parents’ generation or older), we are calmed by the clutter-free surroundings and relaxing atmosphere of their accessible furnishings.  One can sit on the couches; furthermore, one can always sit on the couches. 

As a side note, a friend recently told me she was impressed she had somewhere to sit every time she came over recently and that we didn’t even need to move anything to make it that way.  She was comparing me to me, but also to herself, which made me feel better about life and wonder if this is not a generational issue we are all having.

In addition to free couches and chairs at the homes of our relatives, tables and counters and sinks are free of dishes and readily available to use.  You can walk through the space without encountering obstacles.  Because none of them are especial neatniks, this experience says a lot more about us (me) than about them.

Though Hubbs and I have both made promises we have not been able to keep, in terms of housekeeping, it does feel different this time, and I am serious about my attitude changing.  In addition, my work schedule has changed and working not more than about 30 hours a week has definitely spurred transformation.

I remember when I was in high school and I had read so much about writing that I got fed up with articles on characterization or voice and decided to just dive in and write a novel.  In the summer before college, I suddenly had a lot more time and committed to writing a few thousand words a day.  What I came up with wasn’t very good, but it was a completed first draft and it was definitely something worth doing. 

This feels similar.  I feel like a convert, almost, with a strong inner conviction despite a lack of outward signs.  My parents would probably treat this conversion with intense skepticism and laugh if some poor soul on the internet thought I was a minimalist.  What’s frustrating is that I cannot magically make my surroundings compute with my inner reality and prove it, but then again, that’s kind of the point, isn’t it?  There isn’t magic in minimalism, just a series of connected, consistent choices.

If my train wreck of a last post taught me anything, it’s that I have already started this long overhaul of our living space with our front room.  This is the direction that I am referring to in this post’s title.  The room itself does face north, which is a nice little metaphor, perhaps.  As far as a moral compass, though?  I don’t feel I am without one, but it’s pretty nebulous.  I keep reading others’ blogs and seeing a lot of talk about making surroundings more consistent with one’s values and purpose and I realized I am not really sure what my values are.  My goals, too, are all over the place, because I struggle with priorities.

If I think of values as things/ideas/concepts/people that are important or worthwhile to me or useful to my goals, it’s not hard at all to name these people or things, but for some reason the word “values” itself has a lofty connotation.  I feel like a phony (or a politician) using the word.  I love my family and friends and I appreciate creative pursuits, but are these really values?  At one point, I was thinking of developing a family purpose statement, but again, I think I need more time.

At the very least, I have definitely started to make some value-based decisions.  Things that feel right and that lead to health and growth.  An inkling of how I want to live has started to come through, and my surroundings are starting to support me, rather than hinder me, in that pursuit.  Because the front room is the room in which my son and I spend the most time, it was only natural to start my whole project of decluttering there.  Another part of the appeal was starting with baby steps (another pun, sorry), because the room was already the cleanest and most organized and decluttered out of all the rooms in the house. 

After Bubbs was born, we spent a lot of time watching Hubbs’s computer, which was set up on a corner desk with a sectional couch facing it.  We watched a lot of football and movies while Bubbs slept on one of us or I fed Bubbs for hours.  We have not had a television for several years, but the orientation of the room started to creep up on us and it became a problem when I had to face the screen even when reading or trying to do other things.  So out it went!  The sectional got thrown haphazardly into the loft, along with the desk, and Hubbs took his computer back downstairs.  We can still watch shows, but it’s a lot less accessible and tempting.  That was the second real change.

The first was designating one of our bookcases to be our “poetry bookcase,” so that poetry would be as accessible to us as the computer screen.  It would greet us when we walked through the door.  Set up next to the sectional originally, I definitely browsed the books we had when sitting nearby.  This corresponded to my goal of reading Bubbs a poem every day as well. 

Somewhere along the way, I declared this to be The Year and really thought about how I wanted the room to be.  Our friends babysat our son a couple of times in this period and we added their furniture arrangement to our list to lust after.  They had a large open space they had sectioned off for their own daughter to play in and I wanted a space like that for our son.

We got an end table to replace the baby bathtub box we were setting our drinks on.  It was getting warmer and I no longer wanted to reach over things to get to our generous windows, so my desk made its way from blocking a window to the sun room.  The poetry bookcase got moved into a corner so a different couch (the green couch) already in the room could face the windows instead of a screen.  One the furniture left the area, almost half of the large room was open, creating a space to play, even with the large baby swing still in the area.

We bought an antique small bookcase to house our son’s books, using the same concept as the poetry bookcase.  If the books are there, ready to go, it leads to reading more books.  Simple as that.  We also acquired a rocker and glider.  Once we moved the green couch, there was plenty of space for these baby-friendly chairs. 

I wanted the chairs instead of the extra couch, because they are more flexible and can be easily moved to accommodate a number of convivial arrangements if we have people over.  And because of the decluttering we did, we can have and have had people over!  My parents usually sit in these chairs when they visit from Cleveland and it’s good to have them available.


There is a lot we cannot do, as well.  We haven’t the means to replace the carpet at the moment and when we bought the house, it was already in bad shape, worn by foot traffic and pulled apart in the middle where two separate pieces were attached.  It was further ripped up near the bedroom door by Angel Baby, who we nicknamed Demon Baby shortly thereafter.  We had originally wanted the hardwood endemic to the houses in our neighborhood, but the wood underneath looks unfinished and is likely a hundred years old.  So the old carpet will have to do for now and it’s not really a bad thing for a baby learning to crawl to fall on.


We have plans to move the big brown couch to my husband’s basement room, but it is so heavy I cannot help him move it, so part of the issue is that we need to bribe a male friend to help move it.  The other issue, a la Vexatious Concatenations, is that the space to which it is going is not ready and everything currently in that space needs to travel to the next place and so on, so I have to put up with the couch being there a little longer.  The couch is currently blocking a window I cannot open easily while leaning over.  I also just don’t like the feel of the couch and find it collects papers and books and such as a result, becoming a clutter black hole.  Hubbs likes it, however, and it pulls out into a bed, so he can have it.


Once we can manage to move that couch, the two chairs will face the fireplace and what we call the bobby table, currently overflowing with stuff in the sun room, will sit between them.  We acquired the table after our roommate Bobby moved out of a house we were living in and never came to get the table from the house or from us afterwards.  I want to put our comic collection on it and add more light to the area, so we can use it for reading.  If you can’t tell, reading is important to us, and reading poetry and comics and reading with Bubbs are all at the top of that list.

Everything else feels like finishing touches.  I need to reconsider the stuffed animals on top of the poetry shelf, because one of them was knocked by a cat behind the shelf into the corner where I can’t get to it.  The mantle is overflowing and needs to be cleared off to focus on my glass pumpkin collection.  I would like to hang more paintings and pictures and add a wall shelf to display our all-time favorite books.  I even talked with my husband about the grey-blue color I want to paint the room and it feels a lot more possible now.  There are fewer things blocking the walls, so that we could actually move it all in a day and move it back. 

In short, it feels more like our house than it ever has and I feel like I have a clear picture of what it will take to make it a functional room consistent with how we want to spend our time and feel in the space.  I am actually encouraged to keep working on the room and don’t think I will have to do a whole lot more to finish the room and move on to the next one.


  1. Very interesting to know how a few changes in furniture arrangements can help to focus more on the things we really want to do. Waiting to see what you are up next. I am trying to reduce a lot of clutter in my place.

    1. I think furniture is like the bones of a room - you can't really put a lot of muscle into decluttering effectively until you have the room's basic structure sorted out. It was definitely an illuminating process. Thanks for commenting!

  2. It looks lovely - I love the beams by the way! De-cluttering is my fav thing. My mother in law is the opposite! I just try to imagine having to move house and packing up all of the stuff, makes you want less! :-) x

    1. Thank you! The beams literally hold the hold the house up and the high ceiling is definitely a plus in our small space.

      Moving is terrible, so imagining packing up is a great idea. I would love to have so little I could throw it all in a small van and leave tomorrow.

      I could also pretend we need to stage the house to sell. A friend of ours is selling theirs and it looks amazing. Having seen it cleared out, they will be getting rid of half the stuff currently in storage.

  3. That room has a lovely light and spacious feel to it! You've done a great job. I love the beams as well.

    1. Thanks! Light and spacious are two words I never thought would apply to my house. The room is definitely much better with less furniture and a larger open area.