Monday, January 28, 2013

The Year of Not Putting Up With Things

Sometimes I make New Year's resolutions; sometimes I don't. I usually ask my students if they've made any because I think it's good for them to be prompted to think about making helpful changes in their lives. And because I asked my students this year, I had to think about my own resolutions. Beyond the regular "be more organized" and "try to exercise more" and whatnot, I've been noticing a trend in my approach to daily life over the past month. I don't know what caused the shift in the way I think about and interact with physical objects, or why it seems to have taken place only in the last few weeks, but I'm pretty positive that this is going to be The Year of Not Putting Up With Things. Let me 'splain.

Maybe we should blame it on the practice of frugality that seems to have come with my German heritage, but I've put up with a lot of minor inconveniences over the course of my life...little things being not quite right, particularly in my home or in my wardrobe. A belt doesn't fit quite right. A dress rides up funny on one side. A shirt feels a tiny bit too short. The trusty black pumps I've owned and worn for years have started to separate from their strap on one shoe. The toilet in the guest bathroom splashes the lid when you flush. The rug in our living room is too small for the space. Our air conditioning has never worked.

Little things--pinpricks of discomfort and annoyance. I've been noticing them especially of late. Normally, I'm of the work-with-what-you-have-and-make-it-last mentality: frugal, German. I try to fix things when they break. I use shoe glue, and superglue, and all the other glues, not to mention needle, thread, wrench, hammer, and screwdriver. But this month, these little annoyances have been compounding for some reason, and within the last few weeks, I've found myself saying "Life is too short to _________________" more times than I can remember. Life is too short to put up with ill-fitting clothes. To keep wearing shoes that squeeze your big toe. To live with toilets that splash when you flush them. And so on. There are some things that we must endure in this life, but none of these need be on that list. Revelatory.

On top of this, I've been thinking a lot about everyday aesthetics. Not everything needs to be mind-blowingly beautiful in life, but there's something to be said for cultivating neat, tidy, clean, simple, quiet beauty. I've done a decent job of cultivating this in some areas of our home (I should post a picture of our mug collection sometime--it makes me glad every time I open the cabinet in the morning), but in other areas, I've barely even thought about it. Only now, I'm realizing: life is too short to put up with ugly, shedding doormats.

Now, if we were wonderfully wealthy, having come to this realization it would be all too easy to fall into the trap of blowing wads of cash on new things to replace the stuff we don't like, but since we don't have that kind of money (hello, school loans!), we don't have that temptation. Also: frugal, German. That's not gonna change any time soon.

So the trick now is figuring out how to Not Put Up With Things while still managing to not be wasteful. I can send clothes that don't fit well off to the thrift store because I don't really like wearing them anyway and someone else might. I don't need to replace them, at least not yet. (Once glance at my closet will show that I am not likely to experience a shortage of clothes any time soon.) The black pumps will be replaced, hopefully by another pair that will last me equally as long or longer. I'm researching how to fix the toilet. I don't have to put up with these things. I can change them. I can fix them.

It's going to be a year of purging, simplifying, fixing, saving, and thoughtfully replacing. It's the year of actively seeking to make our daily lives more simple, more orderly, more beautiful.


Tuesday, January 8, 2013


Confession: we never got around to decorating for Christmas this year.

I felt slightly bad about not decorating all throughout December. We got a Christmas tree for free from a neighbor this year the last week before Christmas, and it went out onto our balcony and never made it inside. There was no nativity to set up. No stockings. No wreath. It was the season of almost-but-not-quite, the year of we'd-really-like-to-but-we-don't-have-time.

There were lots of reasons why it didn't happen this year, but the biggest reason (and the gladdest one, too) was because so much of our time and energy this Advent season was devoted to launching our new church. The Anglican Church of the Epiphany came into existence on December 2, 2012 this year after months of planning and a lot of hard work by a lot of people. We looooooooove our little church. We love singing in the tiny choir. We love getting to know all the people there. We love after-church potlucks. We love having a local church (finally!) just down the street. And we love having a place to serve. I was confirmed by the bishop on December 23. I have a Book of Common Prayer, and I'm not afraid to use it. This church is (in my reckoning) the best thing that happened this year.

Christmas was wonderful. We went to church in the morning, hung out with both sides of the family, and feasted on delicious food. I didn't really miss our decorations much at all. We'd carried Advent with us on our lips as we rehearsed the songs for choir all December long. I read Advent and Christmas poems to my students. We lit the candles in the Advent wreath at church each week. And when Christmas came, it came joyfully, with a pianist who played so exuberantly that I couldn't help but laugh out loud while singing "Joy to the World."

This Sunday was our patronal feast day. Epiphany marks the end of the Christmas season, and looking back on this year, this might be one of my favorite Christmases yet. Even if the only sign of it in our home was a humble vase of holly branches on the kitchen counter.