house cleaning, organization, paper


According to an article in the Los Angeles Times, the average U.S. household contains 300,000 things, from paper clips to ironing boards. That statistic presented a dilemma when it came time for a move to Dubuque, Iowa, where I now work. The house I purchased was less than half the size of my former one. I realized I was going to have to get rid of a lot of “stuff.” Several weeks of sorting, two garage sales, and copious donations later, last week I managed to fit all my worldly possessions into a U-Haul cargo van driven by my son and a horse trailer pulled behind the truck of my generous friends Dan and Carmen Cooke.

In preparing for this move, I had to carefully consider each and every item I owned, deciding which items meant the most to me. I would no longer have a separate office. No storage space, except an outside shed.  Some of my favorite things that wouldn’t fit in my smaller home made their way into my new office, instead.


One thousand books were weeded down to less than fifty. I sold a bench, two oak shelves, my huge solid oak desk, a kitchen shelf. A cabinet. Half my wardrobe. My mother’s kitchen table that wouldn’t fit in the new house, went to my sister. I sold, donated, and left things on the curb to be carted off. I was amazed, and somewhat horrified, at the sheer amount of paper in my possession; photographs, newspaper clippings, letters, greeting cards. I spent hours, then days, sifting through stacks, boxes, totes, and a trunk. Daybooks (shorter day diaries) were burnt, journals kept. Greeting cards that were simply signed; discarded. Despite all this, much of the paper still came with me; photo albums packed into storage totes that fit under my bed, letters organized by groups; my mother, my siblings, my children, and yes, even fan letters. The childish scrawls of a niece, crayon drawings of a grandson; too precious to dispose of. The trunk in my bedroom is filled with such paper memories.

I’ve spent three days unpacking, managing to fill one room with the contents of two; my bedroom and office. The laundry area is also in this same room, but hidden behind a door in the corner. Because of what shall forever be remembered as “the great purge,” everything that remains gives me joy, makes me smile.

st. michaelThe corner across from the laundry area. Without a desk, a single cabinet and several file folder totes hold my important papers. The wonderful hanging bins are from Hobby Lobby, and serve as a receptacle for my stationery. Of course my bird/butterfly curtains and Michael the Archangel came with me.


My mother’s cabinet. The books inside are the only survivors of the purge, outside of  favorite spiritual ones I moved to my office, and a stack of books to be read on the floor by my bed. The hand-carved clock made by my brother Bill has my favorite Bible verse inscribed on it.


The cozy chair my children gave me for Christmas, where I listen to music, write, read, and journal. I’ve been known to fall asleep in this wonderful chair.

There’s a reason a big black star was drawn on one of my kitchen boxes; the coffeemaker was inside it! My daughter Rachel came over Thursday night to help me unpack the kitchen. She organized a coffee shelf and a tea corner for me. Those make me smile, too.


There’s still a lot of unpacking to do, organizing, and hanging pictures on the wall, but overall, I’m excited by how the house is coming together, and grateful for my children’s help and that of my good friends Dan and Carmen in getting here. I don’t know what I would have done without them. It was a huge amount of work.

I’ve heard it said that everyone should move once every ten years, just to clean out their possessions. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that, but downsizing to a house half the size certainly does the trick!

garage sales, paper


I know many readers will understand the thrill of the garage sale hunt. Fewer will understand that particular excitement I experience over paper products. My daughters and I hit several of the city-wide garage sales on Friday but it wasn’t until late in the day that I hit the mother lode. Katie, age 12, eyed me warily at first as I grabbed stickers and notebooks, and then she looked downright distraught as I piled arm load after arm load next to the checkout table.  “Mom, what are you doing? You’re going to spend way too much money at this sale.”  I just smiled. Packages of construction paper~10-cents, new packages of stickers~ 10-cents, new greeting cards with envelopes~ 5-cents each, cute notebooks~ 10-cents, a box of Current stationery~ 25 cents, plastic organizers with little drawers for Katie and Abby’s sticker collection~ $1.  I left with four bags of treasure and spent…Drumroll please…$13.

I laughed our loud when I got home and opened up the back of the van.

I could imagine David shaking his head, but smiling. He didn’t understand my penchant for all things paper, but he tolerated it. After all, there are worse habits a wife could indulge in,  ones that involved much more money; $300 purses come to mind. (my daughters and I had also wondered at the long waiting line at one sale as the garage doors opened. The women rushing to the table of Coach purses answered that question)

“Mary, do you think some couponers are actually hoarders?” a male friend asked me recently, and my mind’s eye flashed to my modest stockpiles of cereal, peanut butter and shampoo.

“It can get that way, like the extreme couponers I see on television,” I replied, then added truthfully, “But if I hoard anything it is stationery and paper.”


“Stationery?” his wife’s eyes immediately lit up. “I would love stationery! I can never find any nice stationery.”

I sent her a “care package” of stationery that week.

The only thing that dampened my enthusiasm for this sale was the absence of my oldest daughter, Elizabeth, also a paper addict. After a morning of garage sales, she ‘d returned to the hospital to be with Jacob during the last 24 hours of his latest chemotherapy treatment.

I think it is time to put together another paper “care package.”



True Paper Prowess

It has been a long day of writing, editing, revising, and more writing. I am diligently working on an update of my proposal for the agent to send out a Round Two with editors and publishers. What I thought would be a simple update with some additional information I had unearthed turned into a snowball effect with more research and more updating involved.  I get so excited when I add what I believe to be fun and exciting information to the book but it is a lot of work. David took the two youngest girls to the library this afternoon to give me some uninterrupted time. Imagine my surprise when an unexpected box arrived on my doorstep. I didn’t recognize the address on the return label but I did recognize the name on the side of the box “papercoterie.”  I had ordered some personalized notebooks with a $40 code that was posted on Hip2Save a couple of weeks ago. It didn’t take much to convince me to slog through what amounted to an extremely slow and excruciatingly complicated website process.  $40 in free paper? I’m in! So what is it takes me a good hour to order?  FREE PAPER. Enough said.

It turns out that website experience was not usual for this company but the end result of offering a $40 coupon code that went viral.

I waited until I finished the last few pages of the section I’d been editing, and then, my heart beating faster, I carefully removed the tape of the box.

I was not disappointed.  On the top of my order was a free necklace, a welcome gift to their company. 

Beneath that free gift was a bubble-wrapped package.  Underneath the protective bubbles, my order was artfully wrapped in light blue tissue paper. My hands shook slightly as I broke the seal and unwrapped what turned out to be three separate cardboard protective sleeves, each containing a personalized journal.

The journals have thick lined pages to write on, and a ribbon marker attached to the spine, for holding one’s place.  I can’t wait to start writing in them.  I only wished I hadn’t been so selfish and had ordered one for a gift. Instead, because of the slowness of the website that day, I had so much trouble making my order, I just stuck with photos that were readily available on my desktop, and even then I had trouble downloading. The system told me my photo of David and I was too small to load properly, but by then an hour had passed and I wasn’t about to try something else. I think it turned out nicely, anyway.

All I could think after opening this box is These people really know paper and paper-lovers.  Of course a paper-lover would revel in the tissue-wrapped package, would be in awe of separate cardboard protective sleeves for their journal, would thrill at the free gift of a lovely necklace.  Though pricey ($16 a journal), I can almost see myself buying more for gifts this year.   

Now to start writing.   Again.