In 1982 I left the Marian High School (student body 700 girls) to attend The University of Michigan (student body 34,000 undergraduates). The transition wasn't as difficult as you might think. Except for the library.
Undergraduates were supposed to use the Undergraduate Library (appropriately dubbed the Ugli). But everyone really used the Graduate Library, and it was HUGE. Supposedly the largest open-stacked research library in the world. Floor after floor of shelves that meandered deep underground; compasses embedded in the floor. North, south, east, west.
I have been applying the concept of Circulation and Stacks to household management. A while back I wrote that life in a family of six all boils down to dinner and laundry. Sad but true. As we enter into the summer, I am attempting to simplify one of these jobs through a two step process: Reduce Circulation and Close the Stacks.
I am forever de-cluttering. The other day I had a sudden inspiration: Forego the normal approach to purging (getting rid of the ill-fitting, torn, stained, worn out items) and instead strip everything to a bare minimum.
The truth is, I keep just above the minimum in terms of my own clothes. I have a few pairs of fat jeans and one pair of skinny jeans (because there's always hope, right?), but for the most part, the stuff I have, I wear. Yeah, I wear the same things over and over again. But it's stuff I like.
What if John had four shirts and four pairs of shorts? What if I did the same for Ainsley? She could try on every last outfit -- as she is wont to do -- and clean-up would take a matter of minutes.
I purged like a mad woman Tuesday morning.
I took a bid chunk of useful clothing and put it into the Closed Stacks -- in the top drawer of a tall dresser in my room. Mostly I focused on clothes and books. Tomorrow I'll tackle toys.
It is an amazing first world phenomenon how things seem to multiply. How did we ever come to own twenty-five baseball caps? And while I'll swear I am detached from many material items, apparently baby blankets are not among them. Tim has two beautiful blankets crocheted by dear friends. Keepers, both of them. Kolbe has a flannel blanket with the funnest fabric ever -- I Love My Mommy and Daddy in a cute script in primary colors. My sister Kate knit (knitted?) John a gorgeous cotton blanket that won't leave my house until it's ready to snuggle a grandson.
And then there's Ainsley.
I probably had ten blankets for her. To my credit, I've whittled them down to four or five or six. See, she has lots of dolls, and I keep thinking dolls need blankets. The fact that she, like, never, ever swaddles the poor things is somehow immaterial. She might. One day. And she needs to have a blanket (or six).
In a feat of heroic detachment, I gave one of her blankets to Goodwill. And you know what? I cried.
Because three and a half years after her birth, I'm still overcome by the goodness of God and the sweetness of this blue-eyed, blonde-haired spitfire of a girl.
And all my efforts at paring downing and sorting through and moving out are geared at being able to better love and serve this family I am still sometimes surprised to see is mine.
As I washed and folded and bagged up jeans and dresses and shoes, I stumbled on an ironic thought. Ainsley was at pre-school. I was paying money for childcare so that I could get rid of stuff. Stuff comes with a price tag and it's not just the retail cost that ends up on your American Express bill.
But . . .
Turns out that I hit pay dirt in the midst of my epic overhaul. I wrote a while ago that I've sworn off the library in order to a) avoid deadlines I'll never remember and b) avoid the debtor's prison that is, no doubt, looming in my future as a result of a).
Well, wouldn't you know, one pesky book entitled Cinderella was yet to be returned. I pulled up my account details on-line and looked at an image of the book.
"You know," I told Dave, "I don't think I checked that book out."
My account showed two strange transactions. It appeared that the book had been checked out and then immediately returned. This only strengthened my argument: Their mistake. I never touched the book. Just to be on the safe side, I popped into the library and asked about it.
"No problem," the kind lady told me. "We'll report it as an unrecorded return."
"And the fine . . .?" I mean, let's just cut to the chase, shall we?
"Oh, don't worry. You won't be fined."
Really? Promise? Can I get that in writing? Did you record this conversation for quality control purposes?
Long story short . . . In the heat of the purge, I pulled back Ainsley's book shelf, and there sat the elusive copy of Cinderella, the very book I never checked out. The good news is I won't have to sell a kidney to get back in the good graces of the library. They let you get away this not just once, but twice!
As I chatted with yet another nice librarian, I noticed a stack of hardback books on Franklin Roosevelt. Oh, I'm a sucker for history books.
"They're for sale," the librarian told me. "We're pulling them from the shelves."
Reduce Circulation and Close the Stacks. Here and at the library. A work in progress.