Decluttering and letting go

Declutter. Clearing out. Making space. These have been my home activities for the past couple of months. I can’t pinpoint the exact moment when I decided to do this, but one of the motivating factors was anger.

I got angry looking at the overflowing cabinets and closets with old boxes, half-filled notebooks, random objects, and clothes that don’t fit anymore or have never fit properly. I’ve decided that it’s time to finally get rid of teething spoons and old maternity jeans with stretched belly panels. I’ve become the person who tiptoes out of the house to take bags of donations to Goodwill while the kids stay home with the babysitter. If they catch me by the garage door, it’s all over. They drag the bags inside and sprawl everything on the floor to inspect its contents. Another day. Another day, I think to myself.

I’ve earned a reputation for being the person who is responsible for anything that goes missing at home. Automatically they assume that I trashed, recycled, or donated it. When Elliot is searching for something, he doesn’t ask where it may be but if I had done something to it. He asks, Did you trash it?”  Ellis doesn’t even look for missing toys. She uses this as an opportunity to make me pinky promise her a replacement. Oh, this girl!

Lately I’ve realized from recent conversations with friends, neighbors, and acquaintances that a lot of us are decluttering in one way or another. The desire is there but following through with it is a whole different matter. The following are some personal hindrances I encountered that made the cleaning up process challenging. Maybe you could relate to one or more of them.

  1. First of all, the task was overwhelming, time consuming, and physically tiring. As a result, many times I gave up before even starting.
  2. Second, the “what if” questions kept popping up: what if I find a use for it later; what if I can’t find another one like this; what if it fits me again or comes back into fashion; what if I have to pay full price for this later, etc.
  3. Third, one or more family members, I won’t name names, resisted parting with their belongings.  It’s a delicate issue when it involves family relationships
  4. Lastly, it was hard to let go of the familiar no matter how much I disliked the mess. There was comfort and safety in seeing a bunch of stuff that I used to like.

My first few decluttering attempts frustrated the living lights out of me. As I mentioned earlier, it was primarily motivated by anger; as a result, I threw things away haphazardly. They weren’t productive or pleasant experiences. I needed to give myself time to reflect and to sort through my belongings. There was no deadline; it was all self-imposed so I could change how I approached it.

This newly adopted time frame freed up my attitude towards it. It allowed me the opportunity to pace myself and to celebrate mini successes. Other than time itself, I’ve also learned to cultivate an attitude of gratefulness for having an abundance of things and needing to pare down my belongings.

Henry Walden Thoreau, one of my favorite nineteenth-century American philosopher, writes about the solitary  and freeing life he lived for over two years at Walden Pond. Shunning all worldly possessions, nature became his only companion and teacher.

His journal notes his insights about life:

  • “Our life is frittered away by detail…Simplicity, simplicity! I say, let your affairs be be as two or three, and not a hundred or a thousand.” (Thoreau, 1991, p. 75)
  • “I love a broad margin to my life.” (Thoreau, 1991, p. 91)
  • “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.” (Thoreau, 1991, p. 74)

Unlike Thoreau, it’s not feasible nor do I want to deliberately go into the woods to live intentionally. However, his ideas teach me to refocus my thoughts on the essentials of life rather than pursuing “more” of everything to find contentment.

I’m hoping this is a lifestyle change for me rather than a fleeting experience…

This setback may be an opportunity to slow down

Waiting is tough. On Monday I was a hot mess. Being told that Ellis’ surgery is postponed made me feel like I just received a poor job performance report. We were so close to making it to the scheduled date; the closeness of the date made it harder to accept.

Instead of August 25th, her new date is September 25th. We gained a month.

In our minds the August date became untouchable. All our plans, present and future, hinged on Ellis having a successful surgery and recovering well. We assumed that mid to late September is when we could start having a life and be less consumed with worry about Ellis catching a cold, losing weight from that cold, or getting very sick from it.

With a few days to think calmly, I’ve come to realize that this extra month may be a godsend. Chris and I were starting to show signs of physical tear and wear from squeezing in too many activities and work, him at his job and mine at home, before Ellis’ big day. At this rate, we would run out of steam midway into the recovery process.

We decided to see this setback as an opportunity to slow down and revive ourselves before the September date. What’s another few weeks of waiting? It sucks that we need to live like hermits again, but I’m grateful that Ellis will have ample time to recover from her cold.

Changing perspective has done wonders for our well being, happiness, and faith. As believers, we are learning to trust, albeit reluctant at first, that God’s timing and plans are perfect. He’s proved himself over and over again in the past, and I’ve been amazed at how he orchestrates events – down to the details. I need to trust him with this one too and learn how to wait patiently while he works.



A pretty budding flower in downtown Los Gatos









August surgery schedule postponed

August 25th. This was the date set for Ellis’ Fontan surgery. This would be the third part of the three staged surgery that a majority of the kids with HLHS (Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome) undergo, before or around their 5th birthday. A major goal was to get her to 30 pounds and to keep her healthy and thriving.

From birth, weight gain has been a constant source of concern. As a newborn, she received all her nutrition from a feeding tube for 1 1/2 years. Transitioning to full oral feeding took months. She experienced oral aversion and didn’t want to eat; when food entered her mouth, its taste and texture made her gag, throw up, or just spit it out. This was the first time I learned that a person had to learn how to eat. I assumed it was a natural skill a person was born with. It was an eye opening experience and realization that nothing should be taken for granted.

Through occupational therapy, medication, overnight feeding, extra calorie formula, and full access to pantry and desserts any time of day, she finally achieved her weight goal TODAY of 30 pounds! Getting here involved a lot of tearful moments for me. Sometimes I’d cry stirring in calorie boosting powder into her soup and then accidentally giving that calorie laden soup to Elliot and the regular soup to Ellis. Other times, I’d break out into cold sweat when she threw up all the food she consumed right after a meal.

That was a long summary of how we got to this stage of even being considered for the Fontan surgery.

Here’s our current update:

Ellis developed cold symptoms in the past few days: a cough, runny nose, raspy voice, and an awful mood to go with the physical symptoms. I called the pediatrician’s office one minute after they opened and went in for an appointment soon after. A check-up and an x-ray of her sinus showed that she has a minor cold with a bacterial infection. 10 days of antibiotics will take care of it. Nothing major.

But this means that her Fontan surgery is postponed for another 6 weeks. Ellis needs to be sick free for 4-6 weeks before the surgery; if she has recently been sick, it would negatively affect post surgery recovery.

We are now waiting to be scheduled for a September surgery date from the hospital. If we miss that date, it may be postponed till the following spring or summer. The hospital avoids these kinds of surgeries during the flu season when germs are more rampant and kids are at higher risk for catching something.

A lesson I’m reluctantly learning is to let go of what I cannot control and to appreciate the present time. I’m all bent out of shape, but really, what’s another 6 weeks in the grand scheme of things? So often I take it for granted that every day is precious. I have to fight the urge to throw up my hands in despair.

Raising Ellis reminds me that each day is indeed a gift. Rather than sitting here frustrated and overwhelmed, I need to find contentment even when I don’t want to: enjoy the mundane, go with the flow, celebrate small successes, and be happy where I am. For now I need to focus on what I can do, which is to savor her sweet little face, her squeaky voice and hilarious laughs, and her random declarations of love for mommy.

I’m reserving today for funk mode and trying to be mature in learning how to accept the unexpected. Here we go again into bubble living mode for the next 6 weeks.

I’ll start the appreciation thing first thing tomorrow morning…after I’ve guzzled my second, or maybe the third cup of coffee.

Some verses to help me have peace in my heart:

  • “Commit everything you do to the Lord. Trust him, and he will help you.” Psalm 37:5
  • “The Lord directs our steps, so why try to understand everything along the way?” Proverbs 20:24
  • “Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus” Philippians 4:6-7
  • “Just as you cannot understand the path of the wind or the mystery of a tiny baby growing in its mother’s womb, so you cannot understand the activity of God, who does all things.” Ecclesiastes 11:1
  • “Wait patiently for the Lord. Be brave and courageous. Yes, wait patiently for the Lord.” Psalm 27:14




For now, dinosaurs have become our permanent house guests…

Dinosaurs are the latest craze in our home. It started when they fell in love with the character named Littlefoot from the television series called The Land Before Time. Littlefoot is a courageous, helpful, and friendly child Apatasaurus dinosaur who lives in The Great Valley with his grandparents and friends. He’s a very lovable character.

Littlefoot has become a household name for us.

When they are happy they become Littlefoot; they crawl around nonchalantly and respond to questions by making a long “ahhhhhhhhhh” sound. This monotone and relaxing pitch convey their agreeableness or approval. When they are angry or frustrated, they turn into Sharptooth, the ferocious T-Rex character from the show. This mode usually presents itself with toothy roaring, curling fingers like claws, evil chuckling, hopping lightly on their feet, and nose scrunching.

It annoys me when their pretend play goes on longer than I would like, but I also empathize why they act the way they do. Even as a grown up, I find it hard to articulate what I’m thinking and feeling. How much more challenging for kids who are figuring out what emotions are and knowing what to do with them. It’s so much easier to show how we feel than to verbalize it.

I will be the first to admit that it’s much easier to act on impulse rather than to resist it. If I could have it my way, I’d much rather blurt or act however I feel at the moment.

If I feel content, I could chant and dance around. If I am peeved, I could roar and stomp. No words needed.

Last week I had the roar and stamp experience when both kids chose their stuffed Elmo doll to be the prey for their carnivorous dinosaurs. It was grotesque; fluffy and happy Elmo surrounded by plastic dinosaurs with large spikes and teeth. They didn’t agree with me; instead, they informed me as a matter of fact that Elmo was meat and a perfect meal choice for the dinos. But…but…why Elmo??

I asked them nicely to put the dinosaurs away. They refused. I persisted. This exchange continued a few times. As a last resort, I plucked Elmo out of the pile and threw him back into the doll bin.

Before Elmo made it into the bin, I heard a loud and slow enunciation of the words “SSSSTTTTOOOOOPPPPPP! PUT. IT. BACK!” Meltdown was imminent. Soon thereafter, two teary eyed T-Rex’s came after me with fingers clawed to attack.

The outcome of this skirmish could’ve been different if I stopped myself from acting impulsively. I could have just let it go or not intervened by rescuing Elmo. I need to learn how to deal with situations like this more effectively since a lot of my days are made up of random moments like these. Instead of dismissing it as an annoyance, I could use the experience to learn something new about myself and my kids.

First of all, now I am fully aware that I need to buy some plastic meat toys.

Second, I need to let them play as they like.

Third, do not arbitrarily disrupt their arrangement of toys strewn over the floor; it may seem like a mess to me, but to them it’s a purposeful mess.

Fourth, in their play room, it’s perfectly okay to express yourself through chants and roars.

Lastly, I need to chill out and not take things so seriously.