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The Simplicity of Temporary Housing

Summer is always an adventure for us because we pack up our life for 2 months and move our family into various housing situations. The challenge always makes for a perspective-refresher, and usually a story to look back on and laugh (many of you have mentioned to us personally our Summer at the Peter Pan). We lived in the Silver Slipper motel in Branson, which before our arrival failed multiple city inspections and probably housed only cockroaches. The Slipper had a gigantic light-up high heel for a sign which turned in the moonlight. It was the type of motel that upon sight, you would assume that the glowing slipper was not the only thing that had been turned in the moonlight there, if you know what I mean. Since that summer, the city bulldozed the place to the ground.

We've lived in a community-bath, non-air-conditioned dorm room in 95 degree heat while I was 6 months pregnant. I never had to endure community-bath while in college, but while married and pregnant, I walked down the hall, through the lobby, used a key-card to enter the other hall, and punched a code to use the restroom--5 times a night in my second trimester, all while sweating and swollen so much that I would re-wet my washcloth on each trip to lay across my feet so they would be cool enough that I could return to sleep.

But on a summer like this one, when we serve on the Staff Conference Team in Colorado...ahhh...you can't beat the housing. Multiple bedrooms so the kids (and we) can sleep the way we are accustomed to at home, air-conditioning, a dishwasher, and the mamba-jamba of all summer-housing perks: a washer/dryer. Sure, it has its challenges--noisy neighbors hosting a perpetual Spring-Break party, full-size beds which caused me to slam into the wall when I rolled over at night, and stocking an apartment for 2 months all from things that we can cram into the back of our car or purchase at a garage sale once we get there.
This last challenge actually morphed into something enlightening and very freeing.
This summer we brought our necessities and a few favorite toys. Upon arrival, someone gave us another set of dishes, which enabled us to use the dishwasher instead of having to hand wash everything before the next meal. We had a little more pocket change than 2 summers ago, so at garage sales I picked up some extra towels, a handful of books for the kids, a set of tinker-toys, and a few other odds and ends like a paring knife, a vase, a mixing bowl, etc. We had everything we needed plus the things that make life more comfortable and convenient, yet it was still significantly less than all the items that we have at home.
Since we commit to do this gig every 2 years, at the end of the summer, we can box up our items for storage. Guess how many boxes we filled? Seven. Everything we needed to live comfortably fit into only SEVEN boxes--this included bedding, pillows, towels, etc. for 5 people, i.e. bulky stuff. Granted, we brought home our clothing, shoes, Bibles, and the kids' favorite stuffed animals. This took up the space in the back of our car. If counting these belongings, we would need another couple boxes bringing our grand total to nine. Still..only 9 for 5 people. When I got home, I looked around the house and thought, "Why do I have all of this stuff?!"
I made a list of the things that I actually missed from home during our summer away:
-cheesegrater, our queen-size bed, nice dishes and glasses for entertaining guests, my good set of knives, a hand mixer and mini-chopper (both of which I purchased inexpensively while there and stored in one of my 7 boxes), a TV screen bigger than my laptop, my griddle (pancakes and grilled cheese for 5 people are a cinch with this) and pretty household decor. This last one, I've realized, is a big deal to me; I enjoy beauty. Warm colors on the walls, patterned fabrics, rustic furniture, textiles, and foliage (--I can live without them esp. in Colorado where the outside beholds a more majestic aesthetic than I could ever create indoors) but in the suburbs of Dallas, surrounded by concrete, traffic, and mere saplings, the inside beauty of my home brings me pleasure.
When we arrived home, the first few days felt like a honeymoon. The comforts of all our belongings & the loveliness of our house made it seem like vacation. The kids too, as they had sweet reunions with each and every toy that they had missed. They played contentedly all day, and Karl and I enjoyed the serenity of life without whining.

But honeymoons don't last forever.

It only took a couple of days for the kids to become bored with their toys. They liked their few favorite things, but the rest piled up untouched in the toy boxes. The hassle of putting things away (in the exact right spot since they won't all fit in the toy boxes or the closet unless stacked just so) returned. My stress returned as well. Exhausted from a day of what felt like endless discipline sessions and mountains of housework, I plopped down on the couch. I said to Karl, "Help me figure this out. Why is it that in Colorado, in our apartment with LESS COMFORTS, at the end of the day, I felt less stressed? Here I have worked all day, and there's still a list of chores a mile long." We talked it out and concluded what we already knew--LESS POSSESSIONS = MORE TIME. How many times have I said to myself: "If only there were more hours in the day!" When I own less, there's there's less to clean, less to launder, less to organize. More time = less stress. If there's more time in my day, obviously this frees me up to be in less of a hurry and/or to do more activities that I enjoy. I say we already knew this because we've talked about it before after returning from places with less. As much as we pontificated, we never implemented any change. So we resolved to make some changes now at home--to live with less. Those things that I didn't miss this summer--why do I have them? Huge appliances that I use to make the preparation of one specific meal more convenient take up a lot of space, are hard to clean, and when left out on the counter are an eyesore. I can still prepare that meal the old-fashioned way, and honestly, I don't make those things that often. So we said good-bye to the toaster oven and food processor. We filled boxes for charity with 3 sets of unmatched plates, coffee mugs (we don't even drink coffee), kitchen gadgets, roasting pans, bakeware, etc. We kept the mini-chopper.
I thought I was pretty good at reducing clutter. We have a garage sale every year and then pat ourselves on the back for cleaning out the out-grown clothes, toys, etc. but the philosophy is the same: max out our space. Even saying that phrase, it sounds like a recipe for efficiency, but my summer epiphany is that it is not. Efficient would be not having to pull out 6 baking dishes just to put one back. Efficient was what I experienced this summer--when a dish was dirty, there was an empty slot in the cabinet, after cleaning, it slipped back into its space lickety-split. I remember Bev Clary, a mentor to me, saying many summers ago, "I love living in these college apartments. Sometimes I think, 'Wouldn't life be fun if Charlie and I just had a little apartment at home. Just a couple of pots and pans in a little space.'" I remember looking at her like she was crazy. Karl and I had been married 5 years at that point, and had only lived in apartments. I was dying to get into my first house--to make a nest, to decorate the way I wanted. I could not relate with her statement on any level--did she not love and appreciate her beautiful home? Of course she did, but she was aware of something that I was not until now--
I had bought into the philosophy of our culture which seems to be: "what's the most that I can get?" Isn't it true? Our culture perpetuates the thinking: "I have $X, what's the biggest house that I can get for that money?" "I have X amount of space--what's the most amount of stuff that I can fit into that space?" Home Organization Products is a $7.2 billion dollar industry And that's just products. People are making full-out careers in helping people organize their closets. Read any January issue of a home-decor/family life/woman's world magazine and subject is always: organizing. Why? Because everyone just acquired things from Christmas and they need to make space for it all.
I'm not immune to it. Even in Colorado, I would desire more of things--I only brought 10 outfits--a few weeks into the summer, I wanted more. The kids had only a few toys--why not buy more toys at a garage sale? It's only 25 cents! But then I would stop myself, thinking, "We don't have any more space in the car to bring it home with us...Anything we buy here, I'll just have to donate to charity at the end of the summer...This place is only temporary...we can't take it with us..." Ahhhhh There's the epiphany! Why wouldn't I think like that at home? Sure it feels more permanent than a summer assignment house, but it's still temporary. And I can't take any of it with me!
Honestly, most of our possessions at home have been given to us. I don't spend a lot of money on THINGS to go in the house. BUT, I KEEP MOST THINGS that we've acquired over time. I always thought that I did a good job of living out the verse, "Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." I mean, we give to missions. We raise our own support so we can DO MISSIONS. But there's more to stewardship than money. I have been spending a lot of my time caring for my possessions. God has given me treasures much more valuable--specifically 4 of them ages 5, 3, 1 and a tall one age 33--and my heart is reflected with where I spend my time. I would rather spend my time coloring with my kids, than organizing my cabinets.
And so the great purge of 2011 began. Here is step one--the kitchen. I never think to take a "before" picture, but here's my pared down cabinet.

This cabinet above the microwave used to be poked so full of water bottle and pitchers, that when I'd open it, things would fall out on me. Now the water bottles are where the coffee mugs used to be. (Don't worry, we still have some for guests). :)

Next will be bookshelves. And we're already making more time for things like silly hair (cuz they're bored with their toys anyhow).

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