Friday, August 29, 2008

The Upside of Addiction

Back in our child-free days in Boise, Idaho, George and I invited a couple of friends—let’s call them J and B—for dinner. Before she entered our lovely home which I had spent hours cleaning, B pointed to the weeds growing in the front mulch-beds and said, “You need to pull weeds.” Later, during dinner, she stared at the chandelier for a minute and said, “You need to clear out those spider webs.” J shushed her and seemed embarrassed by her honesty, but it was a revelation to me. This was the moment I realized that no one notices what you DO clean, only what you DON’T clean. You simply cannot win. Ever.

When I took the plunge into stay-at-homeness, I learned that there are lots of chores to do, and they are never done. That toilet will get dirty again—and faster than it did back in the old days when you used the facilities at work 40+ hours a week, and an unseen janitor got paid a pittance to clean up your mess and the messes of all the other, higher-paid employees who sat in cubicles all day when they weren’t in the restroom taking care of business.

As a stay-at-home parent, the janitor looks back at you in the mirror every day, and you don’t get paid even a pittance for all the toilet-scrubbing you do.

All chores grow in size and time required to do them when you stay at home: dishes (you no longer eat breakfast out of vending machines or “do lunch” at Schlotsky’s), laundry (oh, Lord above, the laundry), vacuuming (crawling babies actually eat stuff you never even noticed off your floor), taking out the trash. There’s just MORE of every chore, and no one notices unless you don’t do them.

I quickly found that if I wanted a truly clean house, I had to spend all my time cleaning. Cleaning all the time, however, turned me into a grumpy nag whom my husband, baby son, two dogs, and I despised. I concluded that to be happy with my new life, I needed to reconcile myself to dust bunnies and clutter.

This was difficult because I’m an anal-retentive, obsessive-compulsive, goal-oriented intellectual who feels that all problems have a solution if only you think about them enough, and messes are a problem to me. Short of hiring a maid, however, this problem wouldn’t yield to any amount of intellectualizing or goal setting. I distracted myself from the dust bunnies and clutter by starting a hobby.

It began innocently enough. I wanted to learn how to do calligraphy and illumination…medieval book arts. Ostensibly, this was research for a novel I’ve been “not writing” for twenty years now. (By the way, stay-at-home mothers never get to use words like “ostensibly” in real life. Aren’t blogs wonderful?) After a few months of so-called research, I had a dozen or so little illuminations and no way to display them. So I taught myself another hobby, bookbinding, to have a place to put these little works of very amateurish art.

That was when I got a tiny bit addicted. In a matter of months, I bought enough paper and supplies to make illuminated books until I die of old age. When I came across a book on making greeting cards, I thought, “Oooh, another use for all these supplies!” I started making my own cards simply to use all the pretty paper lying around my house. It seemed practical at the time.

It’s Amy’s fault that I got hooked on the serious stuff. She asked if I had tried rubber stamping and introduced me to Stampin’Up!, a diabolically clever rubber cartel that sells a coordinated product line of stamps, ink, paper, ribbon, and accessories. I was already so deeply deluded that the typographical cuteness and egregious exclamation point in the company name didn’t even bother me.

I now own an undisclosed (because it’s simply too embarrassing) number of rubber stamps, most of them very well used.

Don’t judge me. Please. It really is an illness, and I can’t help myself.

Once I realized how addictive stamping is, I vowed to ignore completely the siren’s call of my paper-pushing friend Claire, a Creative Memories consultant, to start scrapbooking. There wasn’t enough time in my life for calligraphy, illumination, bookbinding, and cardmaking as it was. I had a baby to raise, a house to keep up, a long-established reading habit, and a husband.

Then the Twin Towers fell, and I had another baby, and my husband went off to war, and preserving memories seemed like a really good idea all of a sudden, and I’m now the proud creator of hundreds of scrapbook pages.

While I haven’t turned my husband into a paper addict (he has his own, even more expensive addictions, I mean, hobbies), he has become an enabler for me. He looks at my scrapbooks and says things like “I had forgotten all about this! I’m glad you scrapped it.” This warms my heart because initially George opposed my “cutting up pictures.” When we’re old and in the nursing home, my scrapbooks will give us great comfort. More importantly, our boys appreciate looking at the scrapbooks and seeing their own lives unfold in lovingly documented detail. Nothing says “I love you” like a scrapbook.

At least, that’s what I tell myself.

Compared to nasty and illegal addictions that result in midnight raids on your house by uniformed law enforcement in riot gear, paper crafting is really pretty benign. In fact, it has done so many wonderful things for me personally that I hardly know where to start. Consider these benefits:

1) I get feedback, and it’s not about weeds and cobwebs. People tell me what they think of my creations, and mostly it is good. One nice lady wants to sell my cards in her boutique in Cincinnati. I find this very satisfying. Maybe my need for praise is a bit pathetic, but everyone deserves to have a pat on the back every now and then, don’t you think? You get it at work, in the form of evaluations or pay raises or stock options, and you get it at school, in the form of grades. You don’t get it staying at home scrubbing toilets.

2) I don’t have to do the same thing twice. My cards are all different. Ditto for the scrapbook pages. The variety spices up my life and balances out the drudgery and monotony of chores nicely.

3) Once a project is done, it does me the courtesy of staying done. I don’t ever have to do it again. I can come back to look at it, months later, and it still doesn’t need to be redone. Not like toilets or weeds at all. As former jailbird Martha says, that’s a good thing.

4) I found a medium for creative self-expression that adds color, texture, and joy to my life. The value of this is inestimable. Not to mention the absolute coolness of so many gadgets and doodads involved. I mean, have you ever SEEN a
Bind-It-All? Click the link, and tell me if it isn’t the coolest gadget ever engineered.

My house now contains a whole room dedicated to my hobby, and I spend time in that room almost every day. Yes, there are giant, golden-retriever colored dust bunnies in the corners of my wood floors, dirty dishes in my sink, and toys scattered all over my house, but I’m happy, giddily happy. Isn’t that worth something?


  1. Haha!! Susan, I love it!! While I am not a stay at home mom but a full time employee, all the other bits and pieces of this entry are EXACTLTY how it goes for me too! And I OWN a Bind-It-All, and yes it is the coolest toy ever!! One added advantage for me is that when I get home and enter my haven (that's my craft room) I totally forget about the stress of my work...a very good thing in my book :-) Thanks for a great smile. Just one thing...when do we get to see your work ??!!!

  2. Bind it all us great. I enjoy reading your blog.

  3. I have to admit, I don't really read blogs uch less comment, ever. But I love your writing and the quirks abt the mess at home - but hey, we're happy, it is so true! And I got a Bind it All today, it's pretty cool.


Thanks so much for taking time to comment!