“Time is a relentless river. It rages on, a respecter of no one. And this, this is the only way to slow time: When I fully enter time’s swift current, enter into the current moment with the weight of all my attention, I slow the torrent with the weight of me all here. I only live the full life when I live fully in the moment. And when I’m always looking for the next glimpse of glory, I slow and enter. And time slows. Weigh down this moment in time with attention full, and the whole of time’s river slows, slows, slows.” ~Anne Voskamp, One Thousand Gifts
Most mornings I start my day sipping my coffee and scrolling through my phone. One of the first things I check is my Facebook Memories. I’m always blown away by how quickly my babies seem to be growing. Seemingly in the blink of an eye, chubby baby legs are transformed into long lean legs, squishy cheeks and double chins into a sweet but mature child’s face, who I vaguely recognize from those squishy baby days. I usually gush something along the lines of, “Johnny, look at this! The Summer we went to the Zoo was an entire year ago! Can you believe that? And look at Jesse! He’s wearing the same shirt but look how big he is now!”
I feel a pang of bittersweet adoring pride, and longing for days past. I wonder to myself how a whole year has already passed. What did I do with all those days?
I know I don’t savor every moment in my life, and cherish every moment with my kids. The ladies in the grocery store aisles always told me it all goes by so fast and next thing you know the car seats are gone and you have teenagers.
The midst of a pandemic quarantine may be a strange time to write about slowing time. Maybe we’d rather hit the fast forward button right now rather than soak it all in. But in mid-March 2020 when I realized I’d be stuck at home for two weeks or more (it has now been nearly 2 months) I asked a friend if she could lend me a book. Along with a 12 pack of Cottonelle toilet paper, she brought me Ann Voskamp’s One Thousand Gifts.
That first week of quarantine I would sit outside on the back deck and as I started reading I would take deep breaths, to calm the nerves inside. Amidst the uncertainty and fear we all had when faced with the news of the virus coming to the U.S. inevitably each family is also faced with big what-ifs, canceled plans, and all sorts of huge life changes that occur when you must pause your life and stay home. My nerves were jumbling inside and I had this uncomfortable feeling. I felt conflicted because I knew that in this moment I was okay. My husband had just retired from the Marines and we were in a transition phase anyway, we could stay home easily.. so I wondered why I was feeling so uncomfortable with it. Aside from the anxiety and doom of a deadly virus the uneasiness was simply the discomfort of having to wait.. instead of charging forward and making plans, we had to hit pause and just be— stay in the uncomfortable in-between.
The book couldn’t have come at a more appropriate time. (I’m sure my friend knew this) Voskamp describes making a list of 1,000 gifts— not just a list of things she loves, but seemingly small moments that when paid close attention to, can clearly be seen as gifts from God. He put the birds in the sky, the breeze in the trees, the freckle on the baby’s thigh. And when we notice them, pause, admire, and give thanks for them it matters. The second week of reading I began compiling my own list in my mind. When I sat down to read I was no longer A ball of nerves. I was eager to open my book, and learn how to appreciate small gifts in every day moments of life. Every day. Even on a bad day the sunshine is still warm on my legs, the sound of the breeze rustling the leaves brings peace to my soul. Because when I feel that breeze on my cheek, hear that bird tweeting up in the tree, see that moon sliver shining in through the window I am reminded of God’s creation and all the good gifts he has for us here.
At the time of this writing I finished reading Ann Voskamp’s book. I do recommend it. It is written in an unusual poetic style that some may not like, but I found enjoyable. The book is also on Hoopla and Audible and is read by the author herself. People will glean different things from the book— for me it inspired me to write my own list of one thousand gifts on my iPhone notes. I am at 299 and try to add at least 3 a day if not many more. Ive found its easy to sit outside and write about the obvious beauty in nature, but I’m trying to challenge myself (as Ann does in the book) to also be thankful for unusual gifts, hunt for beauty in the mundane within the house, and most difficult of all hunt for the beauty present during frustrating moments in parenting and other relationships. (Maybe a sliver of grace, or if nothing else a cute whispy hair on the forehead of a child who may be misbehaving) This process of pausing, taking a moment to be quiet and still and noticing, then giving thanks to God several times throughout the day has drastically improved my mood and my outlook each day. I’m glad I’ve discovered this little trick during this time of having to pause plans- while I’m in pause mode I may as well look around and soak in the beauty.
I wanted this to be a weekly blog but I may take a break from it for now. Since the co-vid outbreak in the U.S. I haven’t felt like writing a blog post. You’d think it would be the time to be inspired to write something meaningful, but I wanted to keep this blog light. And this is such a heavy time. I don’t want to obsess over writing a meaningful blog post. But I feel like I need to post something, so I will keep it at this. Our big plans have changed and there is much uncertainty right now. But I am hopefully confident that it will all be okay. I am staying home, trying to see the silver lining, spending time with my babies, and praying. In every quiet moment I am praying for you. I am praying for my family, friends, community, my country and for people around the world. Stay safe and God bless.
I found this letter to my middle child in the notes on my phone. It is from 3 years ago.
A lot of us deal with mommy guilt and parenting guilt whether we have 1 child, 2 or 3 children, or more! At the time I wrote this my oldest was 4, my middle was 2, and my youngest was a baby. It was a really rough time figuring out how to balance it all and I was also struggling with postpartum depression and anxiety. It’s pretty raw and honest and a little embarrassing to share. But I think it’s beautiful too, and when I re-read it I am reminded how important it is to step back sometimes and evaluate how I am living, how am treating others, and how I can love my family better.
Dear Middle Child,
I’m sorry. I’m sorry, sweet middle child that your baby books pages were scribbled quickly while I was chasing a two year old. Most pages were probably filled in a year later, and the details may have been fudged. I’m sorry your bigu sister, the first born, has 2 baby books, whose pages are overflowing with extra pages stapled in. I’m sorry that I savored and enjoyed every moment, every day with your big sister, and that you seem to be in the background of my days, not in the center. I’m sorry, sweet middle child that you don’t get the one on one adventures with mommy that your sister got. I’m sorry middle child, that your babyhood was cut short when I found I was expecting another baby, when you were only 15 months old. I’m sorry, middle child, that when I came home from the hospital, you suddenly seemed too large to carry around. I’m sorry middle child, that my arms are already full with this new baby now so you have to walk. I’m sorry that your big sister gets twice the one on one time with baby brother as you, because you, dear middle child, are too wild and rough and your sister knows how to be gentle, because she already practiced on you. I’m sorry, middle child that you are going into your “terrible twos” while my oldest is flourishing and becoming such a big girl, so well behaved and mature, and your little brother is a precious newborn, enchanting us with his sweet coo’s and first smiles. I’m sorry that when we want to go do something as a family, my first thought is, can we get a babysitter for you and leave you behind. I’m sorry middle child, if you feel isolated, ostracized, left out. I’m sorry I am not giving you enough one on one time. I’m sorry I’m not giving you enough love.
Middle child, while i do rejoice when it is 1 o’clock and enjoy every moment of your nap each day, and perhaps dread when 3:30 rolls around and it’s time to get you up…. I promise you are precious to me. You were and still are my baby! I nursed you, I carried you around, I cuddled you and kissed your fuzzy head, just like I am doing for your baby brother now. I am amazed and amused as I watch you learn new things every day. Every new sentence you utter, I am in awe! Watching my baby become a big girl! But my heart breaks when I see the hurt we cause you, sweet little middle child, sweet wild baby. I’m sorry we may treat you more like a creature to be tamed, than a child in need of training, nurturing. I’m sorry at the end of the day I feel sorry for myself, how tired I am, how emotionally drained I am after “dealing with” you all day. I know it’s hard to be you too, and I often forget that. To be rushed, when you’re still new at this whole big girl thing. To be compared to your big sister- to hear us groan, why can’t she behave like her big sister? To see your baby brother in that coveted position, by mommy’s side, being snuggled for hours each night, while you are hustled off to bed, to cry in your crib. While your sister sleeps in the big girl bed- she is free to get up and ask for a drink of water, one more kiss, one more hug after a scary dream- or even to sleep on our floor early in the morning, maybe even to get early morning cuddles. All the while you listen from your crib, perhaps in a soggy diaper, because mom hasn’t found the time to potty train you yet. Sweet baby-big-girl, I’m sorry I take you for granted, I’m sorry I forget you, leave you out, don’t consider your feelings. But I promise you, dear middle child, you are JUST AS PRECIOUS TO ME! I promise you, sweet baby, that this phase WILL pass. Your brother will be the next one to drive us nuts in his terrible two phase. Your position in the family, while difficult, maybe painful at times will shape who you are. It makes you all the more special, all the more precious. Of your siblings you are the Only one to hold the title of “BIG sibling” AND “LITTLE sibling.” You will learn to be thick skinned, to be independent, to lead, to follow orders, to teach, to learn and to mediate. Your unique position and timing in the family will shape who you are- God designed you, and is molding you in His own perfect way. But in the meantime, dear middle child I will try harder. I will be more sensitive to your difficult position. I will try to tame my temper when I’m overwhelmed and you misbehave. I will try to be patient. I will try not to tune out your cries when I am busy. I will listen to your small voice, I will watch my mouth around your little listening ears- you understand more than I realize. I will watch you, enjoy you, adore you, and savor the precious little details of your childhood- the way you pronounce these first words, the feel of your tiny hand as you go for a high five, the look of your big green eyes, the way your silky hair feels on my cheek, the pitter patter of your little feet down the hall, your giggles.
I now have 4 children. So I have 2 middle children! Four is a lot of work and man does it get loud around here. But I do feel so far having a fourth has balanced the middle child issue out. There are always issues and changes in family dynamics though as they get older and things change. I think each child goes through different phases that are difficult, and their birth order position makes some experiences better, and some worse. I am learning it is never going to be fair. But that’s okay. I think it’s okay for kids to learn life isn’t always fair. They each have a unique personality and their experiences, struggles and position in this family is forging them a unique story. I look forward to hearing their point of view of what it was really like to be a Hilderbrand kid someday when their older.
As we prepare to pack up and move I am trying to downsize significantly. I plan to aside the things we are going to need for the next several months, and then let the movers come take the rest away. The military is paying for this final move. That means the moving company will come and pack up our entire house for us. They will actually wrap up and box every single item in our home. What I’m trying to avoid is whenever we arrive at our new house and the boxes arrive, I realize I have let the packers pack a bunch of junk, unorganized mess, and extra nonsense I don’t need. I want to excitedly open up those boxes, put things where they belong and be done with it. I don’t want to sort through lone puzzle pieces, trash, shoe laces, lint balls, and broken crayons and feel just as overwhelmed in the new home as I do in this one. I really want to make a big change this time around and have our home be more simple. I’ve been researching minimalism, and I’ve really felt inspired when I see posts from Joshua Becker http://Becoming minimalist.com and “The Minimalists” Joshua Fields Millburn & Ryan Nicodemus http://Theminimalists.com. I first heard of minimalism when Joshua Becker came on Focus on The Family a few years ago and he described this epiphany he had when he spent his entire Saturday cleaning out his garage while his son played by himself in the backyard. I related to that story so much and his words have revisited me several times as I’ve sorted laundry, toys, and junk for hours, and spent entire days rearranging my laundry closet shelves, while my kids are in the backyard or upstairs playing. It is that feeling of being left behind and missing out. The worst is when I put the TV on to keep the kids out of my hair while I organize. I feel so guilty about doing that. It must be possible to simplify things so I can feel more at peace in my home. I have been like the lady on the infomercial who opens the cupboard to be hit with an avalanche of Tupperware lids, “There’s gotta be a better way!” The Minimalists have a wonderful documentary on Netflix called, Minimalism: A Documentary About the Important Things. I watched this recently after Joshua Becker popped into my head again. You know how documentaries are sometimes. They were really speaking to me! This was the moment I felt it was time for me to re-evaluate my lifestyle and make some big changes.
Both Joshua Becker and The Minimalists (Joshua Fields Millburn & Ryan Nicodemus) recommend starting with the things that will be easiest for you to downsize. I started in the kitchen, weeding out extra lids, straws, mugs, casserole dishes, and sippy cups. Then moved to the linen closet and got rid of extra blankets. I sold newer items that I knew there would be demand for on Facebook Marketplace. I don’t sell a lot of things and I don’t bother selling really small things. I don’t the extra stress of trying to make money one dollar at a time. I don’t like listing things to sell then having the item continue to sit around my house either, so I list things fairly cheap. I’ve found listing things in the five to fifteen dollar range will clear them out quickly and the five bucks at a time tossed into a jar really adds up after a while if I don’t touch it. I really like filling up garbage bags and tossing it into my trunk best though because it makes it more quick and painless. It feels so good to stand back and look at mostly empty shelves with just the bare necessities on them, and drawers that open and close with ease. But some days I have a hard time filling those bags quickly. Certain categories of things I really struggle with. I have been wanting to share this transition to minimalism that I am trying to make, so I have been thinking about this for a while. I have been wondering what it is that drives us to keep things. Of course there are many reasons to have any given item in our home: there are things we need to make our lives function, things we surround ourselves with just to make us smile, like decor and sentimental items, and things like books and movies that provide knowledge, joy, and entertainment. But why do I feel the need for each of my children to have seven different jackets and nine pairs of shoes? I can visualize their closet having maybe two jackets, one heavy and one light, and three pairs of shoes including a pair of sandals, a pair of running shoes, and a pair of boots. I know what seems reasonable to me and what doesn’t but I am overcome with emotion when I try to weed out the extra items. I think it comes down to three powerful emotions that are known to drive unproductive behavior, irrational thoughts, and unhealthy behavior. So here it is, the top three reasons I have been hoarding clutter.
Fear keeps me from getting rid of clutter by filling my head with questions and doubt. I wonder, What if I need this item later on and I have to just turn around and buy another one? I know I don’t use it now, its covered in dust and we haven’t touched it in five years, but won’t I feel silly when I end up needing it and spend money on another one! I start visualizing the scene in my mind, selling the rain boots I bought the kids for $5 each when I originally spent $40 on them on Amazon, and they’ve only worn them a whopping two times in the past two years. But then what if we look outside and its a lovely rainy day and the girls want to go out on a worm hunting adventure in the front yard? What if they want to jump in puddles and tromp through mud? Won’t I just be kicking myself that I had perfectly good dusty rain boots taking up half the shoe closet, and now they are getting their toes cold and wet because they are wearing regular old sneakers out in the rain! To squash this fear, and all the questions and scenarios it overwhelms me with, and to continue on my warpath of removing clutter and excess stuff from my life, I simply have to evaluate a few things. What is the worst thing that could become of getting rid of the rain boots? The above scenerio, where I have to either live without the boots in that moment or go out and buy another pair. Maybe I lost out on twenty bucks. But is the peace that I find when I open the shoe closet and there is plenty of space worth that risk? Maybe that peace is worth twenty bucks and some potentially soggy wet socks.
Guilt is the driving force that causes us to keep attics, closets, shelves, and toy boxes overflowing with gifts sent from people we love. We keep these items that we don’t use or maybe don’t even like. Maybe it is the most obnoxious battery operated toy or gaudy decoration that makes us cringe every time we look at it, but we keep it anyway because we feel guilty for not liking it, not using it, and we would feel horribly guilty to get rid of it. I think guilt is a bit of a harder emotion to overcome than fear. Something in our mind is telling us we can’t get rid of something that was a gift. Some part of us wonders if we get rid of something someone was kind enough to give us, is that disrespectful and unloving? We want our loved one to know they are loved so we are sure to keep a mental inventory of what they have gifted us, and maybe even pull the item out and dust it off when they come around. We can’t imagine telling them we don’t like it or don’t need it! That would be uncomfortable and awkward! For the gift scenario I’ve decided to give myself a gift! The gift of freedom from guilt. If I don’t need something or don’t want it I’m not going to continue to hold on to it just because it was a gift. Depending on the situation, I might return it to the gifter, or re-gift it. I will probably drop it at the DAV, maybe I’ll even sell it. Maybe some money has been wasted here, but that’s in the nature of gift giving anyway. I think its okay to let go of the guilt. Really think about the loved one or friend who gave us the item. Would they really want us to feel stressed every time we dug through our crowded cabinet or closet? They certainly wouldn’t want us to walk through life feeling burdened and conflicted over whether to let things go and they wouldn’t want us to feel guilty. Guilt is not a feeling I would wish on my friends. By the way, if I gave you something you don’t like or don’t use, please, don’t worry about telling me you don’t like it, don’t give it back to me, And most of all don’t feel guilty over it! Sell it for cheap or donate it, and the gift will pass on to whoever ends up with it next. Maybe someone will get a great deal at the thrift store on something they really do need.
Another thing that makes me feel guilty though is when I have to go through my kids’ things. Sometimes they want to keep every item they have ever come across in their entire life. Every blown out candle, every piece of artwork, every game- missing pieces of not, every mismatched sock and souvenir. This scenerio is even harder for me. I hate to think of my babies feeling sad over missing a “special” item. I know some special things are sacred to children. I think decisions regarding children’s things just need a little extra loving care. Instead of being in anguish mulling over which of the seven coats to choose, I simply asked my daughter, “Which one do you like best out of these?” She quickly answered and rode off on her bike. And that was that. Sometimes it will be harder and sometimes there might be tears. But I think my kids are on board for less stuff and more time with Mommy. When they see how happy I am to see their floors cleared and closets neatly organized, they are just as motivated as I am to downsize. I used to throw their toys in bags and sneak them away while they weren’t around, but now I’m thinking its better to involve them sometimes. It’s a case by case thing though. I think the sadness they might feel, or the guilt I would feel if I tossed a toy or stuffed animal not realizing how special it was to them is minor though, in the big picture. I want them to grow up attaching emotion to people, not things. I want them to acquire skills like evaluating and making decisions quickly based on reason and not always getting sucked into sentimentality and emotions. In short, guilt is not something I want to feel for cleaning up my space, and it is not something I want to pass along to my kids either.
Shame is the one I don’t even want to write about because it feels too icky. I don’t even want to give a real life example here because…shame is the worst! It’s a hit to our ego and our self worth. I can think of two ways shame plays into holding on to junk. We buy something (probably on Amazon) and it is wrong, unneeded, or damaged and we couldn’t or just didn’t return it. A dress hanging in the closet with tags still on it, never worn, but you hate the fabric, will draw out shame every time you see it and consider whether to get rid of it or not. You’ll pretend you’ll probably wear it eventually, not because you really think you will, but because you don’t want to admit you never should have bought it in the first place. No one wants to admit they totally just wasted money on a purchase. Sometimes we’ll force ourselves to wear things or use things because we want to avoid this shame of having wasted money.
Another type of clutter that will draw out shame are things we feel we should be using but we aren’t and probably never will. I’m talking about the collection of a dozen or so Bible study workbooks sitting in a large box in my attic right now. I belong to a bible study group that meets weekly. We buy a book every few months at the start of each session. The books we do vary, but there is homework we assign each week. It is usually a chapter to read, along with some Bible passages to look up, followed by questions in the book to answer, then we discuss the chapter and questions the following week. I’m pretty faithful in attending, and I almost always participate in the discussion, but my workbooks show my failings to stick to the actually studying part. My book collection is a sad sight. They each have maybe the first three chapters completed, and even then its sparse, declining in effort as the pages go on…then its a page here or there I may have worked on. almost all of them are pristine by the end- the last half of the pages are blank if I’m honest. This box of books is my box of shame, because there isn’t a good solution here. I have been telling myself I’ll go back and do them fully on my own later. It seemed reasonable at first but the books have added up in number! Even now in the back of my mind I am thinking, well maybe I will go back and do them though! C’mon, Heidi, those odds are so low. Here’s the problem though, I can’t sell or donate them because I already completed the beginning parts of them, so the next reader would have to see all my writing. Even if the reader didn’t mind the messy looking pages and having the answers all the way filled in, this could potentially be embarrassing. What is more personal than faith and pondering our relationship with God in the private pages of a bible study book? So I can hoard them or I can throw them away. See the problem here? Those are pretty specific examples, but I wonder if you have your own box of shame, or closet of shame? What an awful thing to hold on to. I haven’t yet, but I imagine when I figure out how to get rid of my box, and any other things around my house I am keeping simply because I feel ashamed that they are sitting there unused in the first place, the burden being lifted will feel so freeing. That is my goal after all, freedom from clutter, and peace of mind in my home.
It won’t be easy, because our wiring regarding these emotions is so strong. But what a relief it would be to toss away fear, guilt, and shame, and the baggage it drags along with it.