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Balancing Act: The year of putting stuff away

Finally settled on a resolution for this new year: Put stuff away. It occurred to me as I was putting stuff away, appropriately enough.

The gift wrap, sitting in my bedroom since before Christmas, needed to be returned to its rightful home in the basement closet. Some would consider this a one-step process: Put the gift wrap in the basement closet. I prefer a more protracted approach.

Step 1: Walk by the gift wrap for two weeks.

Step 2: Trip over the gift wrap.

Step 3: Move the gift wrap to the kitchen, which is closer to the basement.

Step 4: Walk by the gift wrap for another couple of days.

Step 5: Grab the gift wrap with one hand while you’re carrying a basket of laundry to the basement.

Step 6: Spill the gift wrap.

Step 7: Clean up the gift wrap and set it in the basement, near the closet.

Step 8: Notice the gift wrap, a day later, when a Nerf football is sailing toward it.

Step 9: Put the gift wrap in the basement closet.

Feel free to adopt this approach if it appeals to you. It also works well with school pictures (from kids’ backpack to my desk in five easy steps) and clean clothes (from dryer to appropriate bedrooms in seven easy steps, with steps three through six occurring on various stairs leading up to the bedrooms).

Or you could adopt my new resolution. It’s both simple and far-reaching, since it encompasses a number of things I have been meaning to do since becoming an adult: declutter, organize my bedroom closet, do something with my photos. But that’s just the material stuff. Put stuff away is also my new mantra for the petty resentments and pointless insecurities I carry around, causing me to say or do things that I immediately regret.

An example:

Let’s say, for argument’s sake, you’ve spent the weekend preparing for, hosting and cleaning up after a party for 40 or so people, swinging by your daughter’s trampoline team dinner, visiting Winter WonderFest (where you even ride the Tilt-A-Whirl), ducking into the office for a three-hour video shoot and prepping for a course you’re teaching at a nearby university.

Let’s say you enjoyed each of these things immensely, but by Sunday night you would like to sit on a couch watching the Golden Globes.

Let’s say your daughter asks to make doughnuts from scratch. (Purely hypothetical.)

Let’s say you answer, “Not tonight, sweetie,” and then come around after the third time she asks, offering her some vague directive about not making a big mess.

Let’s say she makes a big mess and then recalls homework she has to complete when it’s time to clean up. (Fine. This all happened.) Instead of reminding her about your vague directive and gently instructing her to join you in the kitchen while you clean up together, you – OK, I – set to work washing dishes and scrubbing counters and muttering about respect and rest and all the things I feel deprived of, deciding how to strongly word an admonishment later, even as I wallow in self-doubt about my parenting skills. (Why can’t you just say no? Why are you cleaning up her mess?)

Then ... I put that stuff away. She made doughnuts. It was a creative, generous pursuit (she made them for her brother). Baking relaxes her, and I love that because it involves no screens and fills our house with good food. It is not unreasonable for a parent to clean up a kitchen, no matter how busy her weekend was.

I finished up, kissed her on the head and said, “Next time I need your help,” and she said, “I know.” And she knows. She won’t want to clean up next time and I’ll need to remind her, but here’s the thing about putting stuff away: You get to take it back out. At a better time – when she’s not doing homework, when I’m not bone-tired – we can talk about it. And that feels right.

When things hit me wrong – at work, in parenting, in my marriage – I’m going to put it away for a while. If it’s taking up too much space, I’ll take it back out. If it recedes to the back of my mind or disappears altogether, it wasn’t worth my oxygen. Now. On to my photos.

Contact Heidi Stevens at hstevens@tribune.com, or on Twitter: @heidistevens13.