My Marriage is a Teenager

Last week, I traveled with my husband, our two boys, and my brother to a small town in Indiana to celebrate and memorialize the life of my grandmother Gigi who passed away last November.  It was a bittersweet weekend, as family gatherings around funerals tend to be.  We lamented the fact that we only gather under the saddest of circumstances, but there was joy in the gathering nonetheless.  We told stories of Gigi’s long life, we visited the family farm, slid down the banister of our collective childhood memories and we wandered the town’s museum which displays our family’s history alongside the history of all the other families who built the small farming community.

We gathered at a small church outside of town to learn that 88 years ago on that very day, my great-grandparents were married in that same spot.  My Granddad and Gigi were married there as well, a couple of decades later, and remained one another’s most important person for nearly 64 years, until death parted them, as vowed.  I stood on that sacred spot to speak, sharing memories of Gigi as a grandmother and great-grandmother to my kids, but I also shared the legacy she placed most firmly on my heart — that of her devoted marriage. 

My grandparent’s marriage was not a fairy tale.  They didn’t make it 64 years because they had it easier than others, or somehow avoided all of life’s stumbles and falls.  They raised four kids together (three of them born within 13 months of one another) while my granddad traveled around the world for his job, leaving Gigi on her own with the often rambunctious (and that might be a generous word choice) kids for long periods of times.  They faced all the normal frustrations and heartaches of parenting and life, but they faced them together.  They spoke every day when they were apart, and as the kids grew, Gigi traveled with Granddad when he left.  He never worked a single anniversary of their entire marriage.  They compromised for one another, shared in each other’s interests and hobbies and I witnessed them let the other be right on numerous occasions.  Those are only the small pieces I’m privileged to know.  Like all marriages, theirs surely contained all the highs and lows and arguments and redemption that are theirs alone.   But through it all, they knew that at the end of the day, they wanted to share their journey more than they wanted anything else.   On the morning that Gigi passed away, Granddad shared his loss with the family, calling Gigi his “sweetheart, lover, love of my life, travel companion, roommate, mother of my children, and wife.”  We don’t need fairy tales when we have a real-life love story like that.

Our marriage isn’t a fairy tale either.  Sometimes it’s described a little rose-colored by friends and family on the outside, and I understand that perception.  I know that none of us truly knows the whole heart of another human being, yet alone another couple’s marriage.  There are pieces of our marriage we share with others, just as there are pieces we will take to our graves, those parts that are ours alone to have and to hold, to cherish, to forgive, to celebrate and to honor.   But I want to be absolutely clear that we work hard for our marriage.  We make daily and monthly and yearly choices to serve one another, to communicate well, to resolve issues, to celebrate small victories, to lean into one another at every bump in the road rather then turn away.  I often quote a Ben Folds song when I speak of my husband, saying that, “I know I am the luckiest,” but I also know it’s more than luck.  We’re lucky not because some stars aligned and our souls were woven together before we were born; we’re lucky because we both keep choosing to intertwine them every day.

Jason and I married relatively young, at 22 and 23 years of age.  Last year, we celebrated our 13th wedding anniversary and in some of our social circles, we’re the old married couple.  While I would be remiss to imply that 13 years of marriage is short, or easy, or not long enough to celebrate, last week,  I saw the length of our marriage through new eyes.  I realized that our marriage is just a teenager. 

Anyone who has raised kids to their teenage years (or remembers being a teenager well) knows that this is an important feat in and of itself.  A lot changes in the first 13 years of life, as it did in our first 13 years of marriage.   We were together several years before we married, lived out a long-distance relationship, studied and traveled abroad together, and set up our first adult home, complete with cockroaches the size of mice and leaking ceilings.  We married right out of college while serving in AmeriCorps, living on a tiny income in Austin, Texas.  We’ve lived in two additional states since then, had several career changes, birthed two children, gone back to school, adopted and lost pets, traveled, created art and theater and music, ran races and faced illnesses, heartaches and loss side by side.  We have this binder of the love letters we wrote during our early years together, volumes of verbose prose (some of which I can’t read without blushing), but more than 13 years later, we now speak a language through our eyes and actions that is clearer than any words we’ve ever written one another.  We’ve remained each other’s biggest fan and most important person in all the changes of 13 years.

But 13 years pitted against the span of a lifetime makes our marriage but a brand new teenager.  And how exciting is that?  Because teenagers?   They’re kind of amazing.  Teenagers are perched on the brink of becoming, full of optimism and possibility, yet rebellious enough to question all the conventions and write their own life’s journey.  They can still envision so many possible futures, while living deeply entrenched in the present.  They sneak out of windows to be together and make out with reckless abandon and stare up at the night stars hand in hand as if time stops in that moment.  Yes, please.  To all of that.  And if we are so lucky to live to see our 64th anniversary, that means we have more than 50 years still ahead of us.  That’s a lifetime together yet to be written.  That’s humbling and thrilling to me. 

I don’t know all the stories we’ll write but if I had to put money on it, I’d bet on at least one more move, a couple of new jobs, and another pet or two.  I’d also bet on times of sickness and health, loss and celebration, and the unexpected at every other turn.  

But I’ve never been much of a betting woman.  I’d rather just slip my hand into Jason’s, choose a path and keep on walking, together. 

Thank you Granddad and Gigi for letting us bear witness to your love.

Taking Back Your Square Footage

This past Sunday was my official last day as Stuff Manager in my home and also marked the end of the 40 Bags in 40 Day challenge and I’m happy to report that well over 40 bags of belongings have left this house to find new homes (or in some cases, the bottom of a trashcan).  But before I delve into a lessons learned kind of post, I want to take a minute to reflect on the space this has created in our home.  Because here’s where the rubber meets the road for so many of us caught in a binge/purge cycle of consumption; we fill the spaces we’ve created with the objects of least resistance instead of allowing them to become the spaces we fill with our intentions for our lives.  Whether the new empty spaces are a few shelves in our basements, some hangers in our closets, or an entire room, it’s time to ask ourselves a few questions before making any decisions.

What values define me or my family?   Does my home reflect those values in its use or space or even decor?

What activities do I want to create more time and space for in my life (and subsequently, home)?  

What brings me or my family joy? 

If you’re playing along, take a look around your home and ask yourself if you see the answers to these questions reflected in your choices of belongings, decor, or even the purposes you’ve assigned to each room.  For instance, if you said that creativity is a high value for your family and you want to make more time for music, but all of your instruments are stored in their cases in a corner of your basement, your home is not acting as a conduit for your values.  The good news is, we’re grown-ups and so we get to make whatever choices we want about our homes.  That formal dining room that you eat in once a year and serves as china storage the other 364 days?  Get this, you can actually turn that room into a music room.  I know, it’s crazy.  You can take the table out of the room and move your instruments into the room and even hang on them on the walls.  “But wait, then I won’t have a formal dining room!”  Yes, I know.  You won’t.  It’s okay.  I’m going to let you in on a little secret.  There are actually no home decorating police that will stop by your house and fine you if you use the space differently than the builder intended.  You can do whatever you want.  Your home does not have to look like a model home.  Repeat after me:  “HGTV, you are not the boss of me.”  Doesn’t that feel kind of good?

I want to share a couple of examples of some home design rebels I know in real life.  They’ve chosen to change up the way they use their space to amplify the things they love and so far, no one has gotten arrested. 

This is my friend Kristen’s home.  Kristen is a knitting evangelist.  Not only does she arrange weekly knitting gatherings in various places all over town (I’m convinced she plans them in public places to convert non-knitters to her yarn-addicted ways) but she also leaves yarn around the house in both beautiful and functional ways.  This allows her to grab a project at any time, and also to offer one to a friend.  

 These balls of yarn aren’t just decoration.  You are welcome to grab one and start a project at Kristen’s house, she’ll even get you started.

 Kristen keeps her needles and current projects right by the couch so she doesn’t have to search when she’s ready to knit.
 Kristen calls this a “friendship knitting bowl.”  Anyone can pick up the unfinished project and work on it, and she’s used this as a teaching tool as well. 

This next home belongs to my friends JuLee and Jeff.  JuLee and Jeff are board game enthusiasts.  When I first met JuLee, they had a cute gaming space set up in their finished basement.  In my book, they’d already accomplished the goal of creating space for something they loved, but they took it a step further.  They decided to bring the board games that had unified their family front and center by turning their formal living room into a game-themed playing room.  I love the way they boldly declare their passion by giving it such prime real estate in their home. 

JuLee and Jeff’s game room is the first room you see when you enter their home. 

So, as this challenge comes to a close, I’m thinking about ways I can take back my square footage.  I’ve ordered some extra ukulele and banjo wall mounts so our instruments can be available in both our bedroom (where they currently live) and our family room (the other room where we often play).  I’m re-purposing a shelf next to my dining room table to hold all of our art supplies so they are at an arm’s length when we are sitting down together at the table.  I’m handing over the newly empty storage area under the basement stairs to the boys to dream up ideas for a hideout.  And mostly, I’m giving thought to any item that enters our home before allowing it to take up any of the space that we’ve created.  

 We’ve got more ukuleles than we know what to do with.  
These wall mounts are sort of essential in our home. 

How about you?  Is there a room in your house that is rarely if ever used?  Could it be re-purposed into a space that will bring more joy into your life?  Or perhaps you live in a small space and don’t have an entire room to re-purpose; could you find ways to incorporate your passions into the space you currently use the most?  Or could you sprinkle it around the house, like Kristen does with yarn?  Share your ideas, or if you are already a home design rebel, share a picture!  I would love to see how you are filling your space with intention.

This post is part of a series on quitting your job as a Stuff Manager.  Drop back in to read more about my journey over the next forty days, or subscribe by email if you don’t want to miss a post!  I look forward to hearing about your own resignation. 

1.  Letter of Resignation – On quitting my job as Stuff Manager
2.  I’m Never Going to Make That Beer Bottle Cap Table – On letting go of things that aren’t for us
3.  But I’ll Need That in the Zombie Apocalypse (and Other Excuses) – On excuses for our clutter  
4.  Donating Outside the Box –  On finding a great place for your donations
5.  7 Ideas for Managing Digital Clutter – On minimizing distractions and clutter on your devices 
6.  Is Organizing Just Well-Managed Hoarding? – On the difference between organizing and purging 
7.  Getting to Know Mr. Jones:  An Antidote to ConsumerismOn exploring where we got all of this stuff in the first place and a communal antidote to over-consumption
8.  Taking Back Your Square Footage –  On creating space in your home that reflects your intentions and values