Every Friday night, we would put a tray of tater tots in the oven. We had a vintage alarm clock that was a little funky, in that the alarm dial was more of a vague suggestion, like “swing by later,” rather than an appointment, like “I need to get up for work.” We had a deck of playing cards and a rack of poker chips. We also had the sort of competitive drive that meant we could never play a game like Diplomacy or Risk or Hi Ho! Cherry-O together. But Chore Poker was different.
First we made a list of every possible chore that could be done in our 500 square foot apartment. If we’d had a chandelier, dusting it would have been on there, as well as sweeping the chimney, cleaning the sump pump, or oiling the Jefferies tubes. It wasn’t so much that either of us wanted to do these things – we wanted the other to do these things.
Next, a point value had to be ascribed to each chore, weighted against the others. Taking out the recycling was 1 point, because it merely involved walking a few feet down the hall of our apartment building. The top chore was 20 points for vacuuming the coils behind the refrigerator. Yeah, we were hard core.
How often did everything need to be done? Obviously we weren’t going to pull out the fridge every week. Okay, that wasn’t obvious. But we did decide on what should be done once a week, once a month, once a quarter, or once a year.
Whatever was getting done that week was written out, and the total number of points was tallied. Then we counted out the amount in poker chips and divided them equally.
The moment had come. We set the alarm, knowing it was impossible to tell within 20 minutes when it would go off, and started to play. At the point that the alarm sounded, we finished the current hand and swapped our stacks of chips. Then the winner got to buy his or her least undesired chores off the list, leaving the remainder to the loser. Yeah, we said loser.
Usually it worked out about even. We wound up gravitating to the same chores week after week, with slight variation, and that’s why we eventually quit playing. There was one weekend, though, when he had to do everything except take out the 1-point recycling bin. I wasn’t so smug after our positions were reversed a few months later, and I got everything the same weekend I had invited my parents over for dinner for the first time.
We never did figure out a way to score Chore Poker for more than two players. There were a lot of things we never figured out – we divorced after three years – but it was fun while it lasted. Plus: tater tots.
Recently I saw a meme of this quote from Helena Bonham Carter:
“I think everything in life is art. What you do. How you dress. The way you love someone, and how you talk. Your smile and your personality. What you believe in, and all your dreams. The way you drink your tea. How you decorate your home. Or party. Your grocery list. The food you make. How your writing looks. And the way you feel. Life is art.”
It blew my mind. Where were these words when I was… 5 or 6 years old? My whole life would have been different!
Now, one of the most interesting things about social media is that it allows us to compare social groups to each other. I have seen different people get completely different group responses to the same link. That’s what happened with this particular meme. One of my friends shared it, and one of her friends responded:
LAUNDRY IS NOT ART.
Well, all righty then! Tell us how you really feel.
To be fair, folding laundry is my least favorite household task. I did a time study and it turns out that putting away a load of laundry takes twice as long as any of my other tasks. I really want to wander away and pretend that basket isn’t there for a while. Unfortunately, my dog’s answer to What is Best in Life is to snag socks or underwear and run around the yard waving them over his head, only to leave them tangled in a bush. (Actually, that was my husband). (J/K)
Compared to all the other scutwork involved in running a household, laundry is perhaps the least gross.
Scrubbing the tub or toilet: kneeling, unspeakableness, soapy drain hairball so gross you can rob a bank with it, that strip of tile where even the Roomba refuses to go
Taking out trash: occasional ripped bag, hissing possum near trash cans
Washing dishes: because really
Cleaning the bird cage: yeah, that’s exactly why you don’t have a parrot
Laundry can be art. It can if I say so! I try to think of it as “reverse shopping,” where I fill up my closet again and it doesn’t cost anything. I’m one of those people who hangs clothes by color, function, and sleeve length, which is a lot easier than it sounds if you get rid of half of them first. Clean laundry smells fresh. It can be moderately interesting to match up the seams. Looking for your favorite shirt, finding it right away, AND discovering it is ready to wear is way more awesome than finding it at the bottom of the laundry hamper, smelling like it just traveled cross-country via bus. I don’t know about your dirty laundry, but on distance days, I run faster toward the end because I’m trying desperately to escape my own shirt. One night it was so bad I had to get out of bed and drag the laundry hamper out of the bedroom closet and down the hall so I could get some sleep. After that, I started stomping my running kit in the bottom of the shower as a sort of pre-wash. I was afraid it would inadvertently summon a demon. THAT laundry was definitely not art, or if it was, it belonged in an installation by Damien Hirst.
Attitude is a choice. Choosing resentment is a choice. The result of that choice is that every day, you get the same things. 1. A pile of laundry. 2. Resentment. 3. The inconvenience of not being able to wear stuff when you want it. 4. (Optional) Defensiveness. 5. (Optional) Occasional interference by pets.
Choosing acceptance is another choice. (Nudism would be yet another one, but hey, clothes are cheaper than sunblock in the long run). The result of choosing acceptance is that 90% of the time, the thing you want to wear is ready to wear. Also, you occasionally have days when everything is clean at the same time.
Everyone who wears clothes eventually runs into the problem of where to get more clean stuff. It’s just a part of being a human. We tend to forget how lucky we are that we don’t have to go down to the river and beat them on a rock. We don’t appreciate our appliances enough, and we won’t appreciate our laundry-folding robots when they come, either.
Languages: Ich habe deutsche studiert. But I'm realizing I need to work more on composition and speaking! I'm almost done with the A2 level in both German and French. I've passed A1 in Spanish but I'm still only on the second of six modules in Italian. I can sound out anything written in Cyrillic but I can only pick out one or two words of any given conversation in Russian. Most of the words I have learned have been English transliterations of words like "DJ" and "backstage." It's almost like a trick, like you have to know the secret handshake to learn actual Russian words. I'm looking for news radio and podcasts in my target languages, so I can listen to longer sections of natural speech.
Books: I keep reading books with the same title as the book I actually intended to read. I've ordered the "real" I Married Adventure from the library. I read two versions of a book called Note to Self, neither of which I loved, only to see the cover of the book I actually wanted to read when I went to review one. Note to self: take better notes to self when browsing in bookstores...
Downsizing: Mysteriously, there seem to be just as many books in the house as there were at the New Year. Must investigate. Starting to feel concerned about my old writing notebooks, and the fact that they only exist in one format that has no backup. This may be a canard of my subconscious mind to prevent me from thinking about the bookshelves. Still on track with getting rid of one item per day, which I started last fall.
Health: I've been using my food log to monitor my potassium consumption, which was a bit low. It occurs to me that planning a diet that was sufficient in either dietary fiber or potassium would almost certainly result in weight loss for most people. The list of symptoms of potassium deficiency includes a lot of very common complaints that always seem to befuddle doctors: numbness and tingling, fainting, digestive problems, muscle aches, and frequent urination. According to the USDA, the average American intake of potassium is only 56% of the recommended amount. About 98% of Americans don't hit the target. So I don't feel that bad that I was low - I was still doing significantly better than average - but I'm glad I have the information. Most people seem to think keeping a food log is too much work. In actuality, we tend to eat the same things over and over, so after the first 2-3 weeks almost all the information is collected in one place. What did I add? Half an avocado in my sandwich every day, and melons and dates for snack time. Beans are one of the most concentrated sources of potassium.
Fitness: My PT has ordered me to walk more while testing a new kinesiotherapy taping technique on my ankle. Spike and I are up to a little over 4 miles now. He's happy but my lungs are burning! Last year I barely considered 4 miles enough to qualify as a "distance." Many, many, many floor exercises with rubber bands and a yoga strap. A few thousand "bridges" later, my lower back no longer touches the floor when I lie on the ground. The power of physical therapy - what else can it do?
(that weird mark is the tie to my shirt)
I Married Adventure; Looking at Life Through the Lens of Possibility, by Luci Swindoll.
The title of this book appealed to me immensely. Marriage is an adventure in its own right, and even more so when you marry a man who is willing to live in a tent with you for weeks at a time. Luci Swindoll’s book is actually about choosing adventure instead of marriage. Awesome, right? Considering that she made that decision circa 1950, with an engagement ring on her hand, it is astounding.
What I liked best about this book is that it was published when the author was 70, and she’s 82 now and has written other books since. It’s a sort of scrapbook, with pictures and illustrations and journal entries from her entire life. She reflects on her conscious decisions to be independent, to get an education, to have her own career, to sing in the opera, to travel the world, to write books, and to buy her own house. She writes about how journaling and making written goals helped her live her dreams. Much of the book is filled with her testament to her Christian faith, which made me a little squirmy, although I had to ask myself if I would feel the same discomfort if she wrote about being Hindu or Buddhist or Baha’i or anything else. I definitely felt like we were kindred spirits.
One chapter of the book discusses Swindoll’s regrets about her life. She regrets not getting more formal education, not having a pet, not learning other languages, never living in Europe, and not learning to play the piano. Then it transpires that she’s started taking piano lessons. This chapter was very moving for me. I’m 30 years younger than she was, and that’s enough time to do all those things. (I have almost always had pets, and it’s hard to imagine not having animals around. The holes they make in our hearts when they are gone… ) I would also love to get a master’s and live in Europe. Instead of piano, I’m planning on the guitar. I’ve been working on the foreign language part. As I imagine myself in Luci Swindoll’s place, I imagine looking back and wishing I had learned to draw and paint like she can. It’s so important, SO IMPORTANT, to live our dreams.
Some quotes I wrote on my bookmark:
“There is much about me that is not transferable to anybody else.” – Luci Swindoll
“Generally people do what they want to in life if they want it bad enough. In time, we’ll see how bad you want it.” – Florence Bergendahl, Luci’s music teacher
“Should I have been a mud wrestler?” – Luci Swindoll
Yesterday I heard a strange jangling sound come from my bedroom. I went in to check it out. My dog was hiding under the bed. I couldn’t find anything out of order, so I chalked it up to his collar jingling.
This morning, I discovered what had happened. The hook holding my race medals had pulled off the wall, dumping everything on the floor inside the closet. One of them evidently gouged the baseboard. Remind me never to drop one of these things on my foot!
I took a picture and then picked up the medals and spread them out on the bed. It seems like I can still remember every step of each of those races. There is still mud on the ribbon of the Warrior Dash medal, a surprisingly small amount of mud considering the state of my clothes that day. These gaudy chunks of metal have no real purpose other than as reminders of mornings when I woke up unusually early and ran in what have been referred to as the most boring parades ever.
I’ve never earned a trophy. I was 36 before I got my first medal. I was always one of the smallest kids in my class, definitely always the last picked for every team. I was awkward, uncoordinated, and seemed to have no depth perception or hand-eye coordination or ability to remember the rules of whatever sport we were playing. I’ve been hit in the head with almost every possible ball. I was once tackled in the mud by one of my own teammates. Given the choice, I would absolutely have chosen solitary confinement over a PE class. Why on earth would I set out, of my own volition, on any course of action that might result in a medal? Especially when mud might be involved?
What happened was that I got thyroid disease at age 23, the same year I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia. (There is probably a connection between these). I spent years trapped in chronic pain and fatigue. Gradually, I began stumbling across combinations of behavior patterns that led to some relief. I started running at age 35 and finished the first mile of my life a few weeks later. In my adult life, I have worked to build my fitness level from what I would call a zero to maybe an 8 out of 10. I can climb a fence, carry 1/3 of my body weight through the woods for four days, run a half marathon any time I feel like it, and do a full Bikram yoga session. There are no medals given for most of these things, but if there were, I would hang them on a hook in my closet and fawn over them every now and then.
My husband has a whole box full of medals, ribbons, commemorative coins, and perhaps a couple of trophies from sporting events starting when he was 4 years old. He was going to throw them out. I made him keep them. It’s a pretty heavy box. It represents many years of commitment and duty and determination and teamwork and effort. It’s a monument to an ethos of perseverance and fairness. I didn’t fully understand it until I came home with a few medals of my own.
I’ve never seen Frozen. I don’t know the tune or lyrics to Let It Go, and I don’t know whether Elsa or another character sings it.
I’ve never seen an episode of Mad Men, although I know Don Draper is in it.
I’ve never seen Breaking Bad, although I know who Walter White is and I know how the series ends.
I’ve never seen Lost, although I know not to bother because people hated the ending.
I’ve never seen Orange is the New Black or House of Cards or Supernatural or Sherlock and I haven’t seen an episode of Dr. Who since 1983.
I’ve never played Skyrim, Angry Birds, or Candy Crush either, but that’s a different topic.
The Nielsen report of 2014 shows that adults aged 35-49 watch an average of 33 hours, 40 minutes of television every week. I’m 39 and my husband just turned 47. Clearly we are doing something wrong, because we watch zero hours. (What we are doing wrong is continuing to pay for Netflix, because in any given month we probably haven’t used it once).
Here is the chart, for comparison:
2-11: 24 hours, 16 minutes.
12-17: 20 hours, 41 minutes.
18-24: 22 hours, 27 minutes.
25-34: 27 hours, 36 minutes.
35-49: 33 hours, 40 minutes.
50-64: 43 hours, 56 minutes.
65-plus: 50 hours, 34 minutes.
It shows that with every decade we age, we add significantly more TV viewing to our schedules. At our age, that’s enough hours to start earning benefits on the job. By 50, we should be earning overtime! In fact, we probably should be paid to watch TV because the purpose of it is to get us to sit still, watch advertisements, and buy things.
What can be done with an extra 34 hours a week? How do we possibly fill all those empty hours without the cold blue glow of TV?
Sleep. I sleep 8 hours a night. My husband gets more like 7, but he naps most afternoons while I read a book.
Exercise. Last year I trained for a marathon. It took a maximum of 8 hours a week, including stretching.
Clean the house. I use a time-tracking app, so I know I spend an average of 45 minutes a day, 5 days a week doing housework. That includes dishes, laundry, and deep cleaning like washing the couch cushion covers and cutting hair out of the vacuum. So that’s 3.75 hours per week.
Cook meals from scratch. We take turns cooking and cleaning up, and go out one night a week. According to my time tracker, I’ve spent a total of 16 hours, 37 minutes cooking so far this year. That’s about 90 minutes a week, or about 30 minutes per day, 3 days per week.
Learn a foreign language. Right now I’m studying German, Spanish, French, Russian, Italian, and Japanese. I alternate days and I spend anywhere from 5 to 15 minutes each on lessons. (I use the Babbel app and some days I only review flash cards). That’s usually 30-60 minutes a day. My husband is studying Spanish. According to my time tracker, I have spent about twice as much time this year on language study as I have on cooking.
Write a book. That’s where the majority of my work time goes. Most people could find 1-2 hours a day to write.
Play a musical instrument. I’m learning the ukulele and it’s amazing how quickly you can progress in 20-30 minute sessions.
Go to the park. We’ve been having a picnic lunch on Sundays. We bring the dog and walk around the duck pond, which is just over a mile. So that’s about 90 minutes total.
8 hours marathon training + 4 hours housework + 90 minutes cooking healthy meals + 3 hours foreign languages + 1 hour playing an instrument + 90 minutes having a picnic = 19 hours.
Hmm. That leaves a lot of time unaccounted for. What do we do with the rest of our time? We usually go to a movie every weekend, we spend Saturday mornings at Starbucks having our status meeting, and there’s about half an hour for grocery shopping. Most of the rest of our free time goes to talking, playing with our pets, reading, working on projects, and hanging out on Facebook.
Where does your time go?
When we got married six years ago, my husband and I had both been maintaining our own households for years. We each had our own furniture, lamps, kitchen utensils, books, tools, and pets. Yet somehow, adding his houseful of stuff to my houseful of stuff resulted in one houseful.
Our new house was slightly larger than the square footage of both our previous places put together, and cost exactly half our previous combined rent. It was really more space than we needed, so there was no obvious reason to get rid of anything. Having a “living room” and a “family room” (although arguably, we lived in both and were a family in both) meant we could both keep our couches. We both kept our dining tables and chairs. We both kept our kitchen appliances and favorite knives and pans. It was a houseful, all right.
We answered a call for donations from a friend who was coordinating a group home. Four men in transition would be sharing a house, and they didn’t have a single stick of furniture. In under an hour, we had a stack of boxes for “the dudes,” with pots, pans, pot holders, and extra kitchen stuff. We never missed it. We removed a houseful from our houseful, in the same way that a glacier calves an iceberg. It was like mitosis, or brushing a cat until the pile of hair is the same size as the original cat.
After four years, we had to relocate. We had just two weeks to find a house and complete the move to our new city. We looked at five houses in one day, before finding the disclaimer on the application that the rental agency did not accept “exotic pets,” including my parrot but not, say, a donkey. (A donkey might have been a better choice, since it could help with the move and mow our lawn, too, but there is a certain charm in having a pet that can whistle the Indiana Jones theme). Through the miracle of social networking, we were able to connect with a friend who had a house to rent, took it on the spot, and were done in time for dinner.
The new house was half the size of our first house. Most of the missing space came from the kitchen and garage. The move was a disaster, including setting off the security alarm, stacking boxes on the lawn just in time for the sprinklers to go off, and watching a puddle form under the washing machine minutes after the installers drove away. Professional movers are great for packing and hauling, but unpacking is left to the end user. This is understandable, as there are no easy ways to fit a houseful, x, into a house that is .5x. The dining table filled the dining room from wall to door; if we put in the leaves to have extra guests, latecomers were going to have to climb in the window. Over the next couple of weeks we calved off another iceberg of things that weren’t going to fit, wasting an entire Saturday to hold a yard sale that grossed us $4/hour apiece.
Three months later, we got the notice that we were going to have to relocate again. To Alabama. 2300 miles by moving van. An entire region where we knew nobody and had no family within hundreds of miles. Neither of us had ever lived in tornado country, although a tornado would surely be within an order of magnitude of the chaos of our most recent move. Learning about the coral snake and the way it demonstrates its personal charisma gave us the motivation to seek out an alternative solution. My husband negotiated a competing job offer, and so we moved again, to our new home in SoCal: A home with half the garage and half the kitchen of our second house.
This time, we had three months to plan, and we spent much of that time going through the house and giving away everything we didn’t think we needed. It wasn’t enough. After a few weeks in the new house, we had another stack of boxes in the hallway for donation. The glacier had calved again. Yet somehow, with a garage and kitchen ¼ the size of where we started, we still have a houseful.
For the last few years, I have been writing about clutter and other topics on Facebook. These posts have been available only to a restricted list. I've decided to start sharing my work with a wider audience.
These are my interests:
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.
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