On Friday, my daughter baked macadamia nut cookies with white chocolate chips (yum). After the plastic measuring cups and spoons got washed, I took them out of the dishwasher and was going to put them away in a kitchen drawer, when I noticed that it looked awfully cluttered. I started taking things out and found a big tangle of old straws at the back of the drawer.


The straws came with kids’ meals from fast-food restaurants many years ago. Then they got stuffed in the drawer and forgotten. I don’t think anybody even looked at them in the past decade or so. The straw with a man’s head is the “George of the Jungle” cartoon character, and it used to make a noise like a wild man’s yell when you drank through it. The kids thought that was pretty funny at the time. It doesn’t make any sound now; but even if it still worked, the only thing any of us would laugh about is how long it sat around cluttering up the drawer.

About Clutter Comedy: Every Sunday (which I envision as a day of rest after a productive week of de-cluttering) I post a Clutter Comedy article describing my most memorable clutter discovery of the week. Other bloggers who wish to join in are welcome—just post a link in the comments! There’s no need to publish any “before” photos of your clutter, if they are too embarrassing. The idea is simply to get motivated to clean it up, while having a bit of fun too!

To freshen up our bedroom for spring, my husband and I bought a new comforter and sheet set at the end of March. We didn’t replace the pillows, though, because we had been sleeping just fine on the old ones and they were hidden away inside their cases, where we wouldn’t see them. So we thought, why spend money replacing them when it wasn’t necessary?

But the problem with that attitude, as I later realized, was that although we didn’t see them every day, they weren’t really hidden either. I still had to look at four dingy, yellowed, ancient, squashed pillows every time I washed the bedding. Instead of fully appreciating the pretty new comforter, sheets, and pillow shams, laundry day meant (yuck!) looking at this:

old pillows 

Even though the old pillows were out of sight most of the time, they weren’t out of mind. Finally it dawned on me that the cost-avoidance of not replacing the pillows wasn’t nearly worth the aggravation they were causing me. So I bought four new pillows. Now the bed is all nice and fresh, with cozy fluffy white pillows in both the cases and the shams—a big improvement for a small cost. So much more comfy!

new pillow in case 

In the future I’ll keep in mind that just because something is not out in plain view, that doesn’t mean it should be kept around forever. Even if it’s still functional and nobody else can see how worn out and ugly it has gotten, it detracts from our own enjoyment because we know it’s there. Although money doesn’t buy happiness, being overly frugal can cause us to feel that we’ve been deprived of life’s simple comforts. And those comforts—including the ordinary things we see in the house—have more of an effect on our happiness than we may realize.

Nurturing Thursday was started by Becca Givens and seeks to “give this planet a much needed shot of fun, support and positive energy.” Visit her site to find more Nurturing Thursday posts and a list of frequent contributors.

To read all posts in this series from the beginning, click here.


The more we reflect on our circumstances, the more insight we develop. And words, by their very nature, are not always as precise as they could be. So it’s not literally possible to put together an exact description of our shortcomings at the fifth step of a recovery program. Even if we think it’s exact at the time, there will always be something that looks different as we gain more perspective.

When we’ve made our best efforts to identify the problems, though, it’s time to move on to Step Six, which is to be “entirely ready” for their removal. This task, like the previous one, is harder than it looks. After all, we wouldn’t have addictions if we didn’t enjoy something about them. So what’s called for at Step Six is complete willingness to give up that enjoyment, now that we have learned it’s not worth the harm.

Truth be told, there are plenty of things we like about our negative thinking. All that drama is exciting and makes us feel powerful. When we get in the habit of blaming others, we don’t have to think about our own responsibilities and whether we could have done better. Instead, we can imagine ourselves as righteous comic-book heroes valiantly defending truth and justice. And when others criticize us, we can play the victim and wallow in self-pity, whining about how mean and unfair they are.

That’s a lot to give up, even after realizing how much our negative thinking damages our relationships and sucks the joy out of our experiences. To be entirely ready to live without negativity, we must be willing to live without fault-finding and excuses. While that doesn’t mean going to the opposite extreme and blaming ourselves every time something goes wrong, it does call for withholding judgment and considering that there might be other explanations.

Just as we can’t fully understand our own circumstances because there are always more details on which to reflect, our understanding of others’ circumstances also is limited and incomplete. We don’t know exactly what caused them to act as they did. Often it’s not an evil premeditated motive, but just confusion or misunderstanding. Maybe they’re cranky because they didn’t get enough sleep, had a bad day at work, are feeling unwell, or have other problems we don’t know about. In short, their behavior probably doesn’t have much to do with us at all. They’re not really enemies—just ordinary people struggling with their own problems.

Although taking this perspective may seem harder than jumping to the familiar negative assumptions, it doesn’t really consume more time or mental energy. Because of the mind’s tendency to dwell on unpleasant incidents, when we assume that someone is deliberately being malicious, we’re likely to ruminate about the incident for a long time—which is not only a waste of time and energy, but also causes us to feel miserable for no good reason.

One morning in early May, a woman I had just met made an uncalled-for remark about my appearance. At first I was annoyed; but then I thought, well, she doesn’t know me either, so this can’t be about me. She must have been in a bad mood for her own personal reasons. That observation gave me enough emotional distance not to let her remark upset me. I later learned that she was depressed about losing her hair while she was in chemotherapy and that she was jealous of my hair.

When we understand that as a general rule, there’s no need to take other people’s behavior too seriously because they are not really trying to do us any harm, we can become genuinely ready to let go of that unhealthy old pattern of negative assumptions.


Click here to read Recovering from Negativity, Step Seven.

It’s probably hard to tell what the photo shown below is supposed to be. Back in 1980 or thereabouts, it was a music box with a dancing bird in a cage. A friend gave it to me, and I kept it all these years just because it was a nice cheerful gift. When I moved to my current home, I put the music box on a shelf and forgot all about it until I tidied the shelf this week. The plastic cage fell apart as soon as I picked it up.

birdcage music box 

Just out of curiosity, I tried winding it to see if it would still play the music, but nothing. I’m sure the workings got so clogged with dust that there was no way anything could move. Maybe it could have been fixed, but there didn’t seem to be much reason to try, so I pitched it.  Some old gifts might be worth keeping; but when something gets totally forgotten about and falls apart on a shelf, I’d say it has reached its sentimental-value expiration date.

About Clutter Comedy: Every Sunday (which I envision as a day of rest after a productive week of de-cluttering) I post a Clutter Comedy article describing my most memorable clutter discovery of the week. Other bloggers who wish to join in are welcome—just post a link in the comments! There’s no need to publish any “before” photos of your clutter, if they are too embarrassing. The idea is simply to get motivated to clean it up, while having a bit of fun too!

I’ve mentioned in recent posts that I have been busy cleaning up dust and clutter around my house. Last week my husband cleaned up some dust too, though he hadn’t planned on it. Our air conditioner had gotten very noisy and seemed like it was running much longer than it should have been, so he took it apart to see what the problem might be. He is very handy, but had never worked on the air conditioner before, so was not quite sure what to expect. He thought maybe something had rattled loose inside. As it turned out, the problem was that the condenser had gotten clogged with dust and lint.

air conditioner 

The small white plastic screen on the wall in the background of this photo is the cover for the dryer vent. It’s too close to the air conditioner, which we hadn’t thought about before, and lint from the dryer had been getting sucked into the condenser. Over the years, enough of it had accumulated to be a problem. So, when my husband saw that, he figured he’d just vacuum it off with his ShopVac. But it was caked on so tightly that it didn’t budge, so he ended up having to hose it off. The cleanup took a lot longer than the quick repair he’d had in mind; but the air conditioner is doing much better now—it’s running less often, which should save us money on the power bill. And it’s quiet, hooray! When old appliances get noisy, people tend to get used to it and not think much about it; but the house feels so much more comfortable without the noise! It’s a useful reminder that if we’re to nurture ourselves properly, we need to pay attention to the little things around us and make sure they’re in good order.

Nurturing Thursday was started by Becca Givens and seeks to “give this planet a much needed shot of fun, support and positive energy.” Visit her site to find more Nurturing Thursday posts and a list of frequent contributors.

Although one wouldn’t know it from the sensational news headlines, both war and violent crime are at historically low rates and are still falling across the globe. For the first time since our ancestors emerged from caves and got organized enough to raise armies, most of the world’s population has never seen the horrors of war firsthand.

Yet battlefield metaphors and imagery are commonplace in modern life. Our cultural narratives lag behind our modern realities. The stories we tell ourselves to make sense of our world are drawn largely from our ancestors’ everyday lives, as well as their customary word choices. We still have many folk sayings that refer to horses, for instance, even though people have been driving cars for more than a century. Our history shapes our thoughts much more than we realize it does.

Put another way, the world’s long history of war has left us with the cultural expectation of going to war. Subconsciously, we think of ourselves as soldiers, even though most of us haven’t actually served. We watch popular movies full of epic battles, read sword-and-sorcery novels, and play war games on our computers. Public policy decisions often are characterized as going to war, such as “war on drugs.” If we have a medical condition (or a family member does), we’re likely to think of it as an evil monster we must fight bravely to slay. Today’s political factions are always battling over one thing or another. Social advocacy is commonly described as fighting for a cause.

Last week I visited the blog Rambling Woods, an amateur naturalist’s site, and read a post about monarch butterflies. Monarchs migrate annually, and they lay their eggs only on milkweed, which no longer grows in cornfields because of herbicide use made possible by genetically modified corn. An article referenced in the blog post encouraged people to fight to save the monarch migration by planting milkweed.

There’s an area in my backyard where I would like to plant native wildflowers, and I commented on the blog that I’ll make sure to include milkweed. It’s certainly a worthwhile project, helping to restore the monarch population while also planting attractive landscaping. But if I had to pick one word to describe this image, “fight” would not be the first one that came to mind.


monarch on milkweed

(photo credit: publicdomainpictures.net)

Six years ago, I began doing volunteer work for the Autistic Self Advocacy Network (ASAN), a nonprofit organization that teaches leadership and self-advocacy skills, publishes educational materials, and addresses public policy issues relating to autism from a disability rights perspective. I serve in the position of board secretary, which consists of preparing agendas for board meetings, keeping the minutes, and generally keeping the board’s documents organized. It’s a mundane job, but every corporate board needs a secretary; and I see it as a way to do some good in the world.

Although one might think an educational charity wouldn’t be controversial, ASAN, like many other groups, has had to deal with the unpleasant reality of today’s battle-primed social environment. People who fight for causes naturally expect to find enemies; it’s implied in the metaphor. There are many causes relating to autism—research, services, education, disability rights, and more. So it’s not surprising that people would have strong feelings about particular issues and that there would be arguments.

But there was some major ugliness online a few years ago that went way beyond ordinary arguments, turning into virtual scorched-earth warfare among the supporters of various factions. Rambling conspiracy theories, nasty gossip from the gutter, et cetera. No doubt the people responsible for that stuff saw it as perfectly justified—after all, they were at war and fighting to destroy their enemies, and war isn’t supposed to be pretty.

The situation calmed down after a while. I’m still reflecting on the broader issues, though—all the negativity we take for granted in society, and the addictive nature of the resulting drama. War is exciting; that’s why it plays a central role in so many of our stories. But when we constantly feel that we’re at war, it becomes exhausting and harmful. After all, war is scary and people get killed; so having one’s thoughts full of battlefield images naturally leads to feeling that one’s life is in danger, with all the resulting anxiety.

At first, it’s empowering to imagine ourselves as righteous soldiers fighting valiantly for our causes. We feel strong and motivated. We pour our energy into the fight, and we get things done. It may take years before we realize how depleted we’ve become—both mentally and physically. Even when we’re not actively battling against our perceived enemies, we still have those old arguments replaying themselves in our heads, uselessly sucking up even more energy. Then we’re left with chronic run-down feelings, and possibly more serious health problems besides. When we reach that point, we end up not getting much done at all, either for our causes or in our personal lives. Joy becomes a distant memory.



(word-art image courtesy of Bits of Positivity)

When I was nine years old, my grandma gave me a set of old Christian novels she had bought at a garage sale. Presumably she meant to instill good old-fashioned moral values in my impressionable young mind. I have to admit, I was more interested in Nancy Drew mysteries at that age; but I did read the books after a while. One of them, White Banners by Lloyd C. Douglas (1936), must have made more of an impression than I realized at the time. I’ve had it in my thoughts recently because it explored the practical benefits of avoiding battles in everyday life.

The author’s premise was that when we choose to walk away from disputes, we usually gain more than we lose. In addition to building character, it gives us more time and energy to put toward useful work. The title comes from a passage describing this approach to life as flying white banners, not white flags of surrender. Even though winning a dispute may feel like a great victory, chances are it’s not as productive as the work that might otherwise have been accomplished.

I would also say that avoiding unnecessary conflict promotes self-awareness. Often we don’t even notice all the battle metaphors in our thoughts. Because they’re everywhere in our society, they seem like the normal way to look at things. It takes a conscious effort to consider other perspectives and to shift our thoughts in more positive directions. Instead of fighting for our causes on an imagined gory battlefield, we can simply choose to put on our gardening gloves and get busy planting those seedlings. The work will get done just as effectively (and perhaps more so) without the drama; and it’s a much healthier way to go through life.

June 15, 2014 · 2 comments · Categories: Musings · Tags:

When we furnished our house 12 years ago, my husband and I bought an outdoor table and chair set for the deck. So that there would be enough chairs when we had more company, we also got a stack of white plastic chairs from a discount store. The plastic chairs were left in a corner of the deck when not in use. They didn’t take up much space, and we paid very little attention to them. Not surprisingly, after being left outside for years, they got so icky that nobody wanted to sit in them anymore. Wasps built a nest under them one year, as I found out the hard way. Hosing them off didn’t do much to remove the crud. They needed some major scrubbing, but we never got around to it.

old chairs 

Then we thought we’d get some nice new chairs to replace them, but we never got around to that either. So they were still just sitting out on the deck this spring, looking yuckier than ever. I finally put on some old clothes and carried them out to the curb, after which I left my grimy clothes on the laundry room floor and promptly took a shower. I was wondering if a scavenger might come around in a pickup truck and take the chairs, as they looked like they’d be salvageable with enough time and effort. But as it turned out, the neighbors promptly noticed the chairs and asked if they could have them for a graduation party. Of course, we were happy to oblige. After the chairs had been cluttering our deck for years, such that we never wanted to see them again, we were glad they would be put to good use!

About Clutter Comedy: Every Sunday (which I envision as a day of rest after a productive week of de-cluttering) I post a Clutter Comedy article describing my most memorable clutter discovery of the week. Other bloggers who wish to join in are welcome—just post a link in the comments! There’s no need to publish any “before” photos of your clutter, if they are too embarrassing. The idea is simply to get motivated to clean it up, while having a bit of fun too!

Although I usually give at least some forethought to choosing new plants, I impulsively bought a gardenia while doing my grocery shopping in March, which left me wondering if the bitterly cold winter had deprived me of all common sense. I just wanted something new and green!  After getting home and belatedly realizing that I had no clue what to do with the gardenia, I put it in my kitchen until the weather finally turned warm enough to put it outside. Only then did I start thinking about where it might go.  The front porch wouldn’t do—too shady. I bought a pot with a “Welcome” message, but was still pondering where to put the plant after I repotted it. Had I foolishly bought something for which I had no use? Thankfully, my husband came to the rescue by suggesting that it would look good outside the garage.


We never had a plant in that spot before; but it seems to be doing fine there, and I like being greeted by the cheerful message on the pot when I pull into the driveway. Even though it’s just a simple, ordinary little thing, it gives a pleasant and comfortable feeling to coming home. That moment of impulsive shopping turned out for the best after all.  I try to avoid randomly buying stuff just because it looks pretty, as that’s how the house ends up full of clutter; but there’s also something to be said for buying occasional small items to brighten up one’s home and life.

Nurturing Thursday was started by Becca Givens and seeks to “give this planet a much needed shot of fun, support and positive energy.” Visit her site to find more Nurturing Thursday posts and a list of frequent contributors.

June 8, 2014 · 6 comments · Categories: Musings · Tags:

To give me extra motivation to rid my house of clutter regularly, I’ve decided to start a new blog feature, “Clutter Comedy,” in which I describe my most memorable weekly clutter discovery every Sunday (which I envision as a day of rest after a productive week of de-cluttering). Other bloggers who wish to join in are welcome—just post a link in the comments! There’s no need to publish any “before” photos of your clutter, if they are too embarrassing. The idea is simply to get motivated to clean it up, while having a bit of fun too!


This is my husband’s bookcase in our study. On Friday, I dusted it and removed papers and other clutter that had been sitting on top. I also wiped the cobwebs off his ancient engineering textbooks on the bottom shelf. On the second shelf, there are two stacks of accumulated stuff: old photos on the left, and catalogs and magazines on the right. We thought we’d been doing a good job of keeping the catalog and magazine stack up to date because we kept only the most recent ones.

But although we dutifully disposed of old catalogs and magazines when new ones arrived to replace them, we neglected to go through the whole stack and look at what was under them. The result—Clutter Comedy! My husband took the stack off the shelf on Friday and noticed that we had several outdated maps at the bottom. To call them outdated is an understatement. Evidently we had brought them with us from our previous house when we moved 12 years ago, put them neatly on the shelf, and never looked at them again.

We haven’t carried print maps in our cars for many years, now that it is so much easier to get directions from OnStar or, if that service is temporarily down, from the GPS navigation app on our mobile phones. So the maps would have been useless even if they had been more recent. But the funniest thing was that the maps were so out of date, the street where we now live wasn’t even shown because that part of the subdivision had not yet been built! We both got a good laugh out of that.

In addition to getting rid of clutter, my spring cleaning this year has focused on dusting and polishing neglected areas. Railings, baseboards, and other such places can go a long time without much attention being paid to them, unless a person has a thorough cleaning routine that gets to them without fail, on a regular schedule. Which I’ll admit, I don’t.


Feng shui consultant Kathie Seedroff points out that our living spaces reflect the metaphors that govern our lives. The little things we encounter every day frame our overall experience of the world. In her ebook Hey! It’s Feng Shui Friday, she says:

Often our state of being is described in words by what’s going on in our homes, offices and lives. Take a look at these examples. If your goals feel ‘out of reach,’ look to see what is ‘out of reach’ in your home or office. Are the shelves ‘out of reach’? Are things ‘out of reach’ because they’re hidden/stored in the back of a cabinet or behind other stuff? Do you feel like you never have enough ‘time’ or are you never ‘on time’? Pay attention to the number of clocks and timepieces you have. Are they all working? Are they set at the same time or different times? Notice the words you use and find the metaphors in your spaces.

Reflecting on this advice made me notice that I had been using the metaphor ‘dust and cobwebs’ to refer to neglected areas of life in general. So I decided it would be a good idea to look around my house and see where dust and cobwebs might be lurking. By giving those neglected areas a good dusting and polishing, I can ensure that every day I see a well-cared-for house with nice shiny surfaces, thus subconsciously shifting my perspective toward seeing abundant care and nurturing in my life. This in turn leaves me feeling more cheerful and optimistic that everything will be taken care of properly. Although housework may seem like it doesn’t matter much, as time goes by all those small things we do (or don’t get around to doing) really add up and make a difference.

Nurturing Thursday was started by Becca Givens and seeks to “give this planet a much needed shot of fun, support and positive energy.” Visit her site to find more Nurturing Thursday posts and a list of frequent contributors.