The Happiness Project continued

A while back, I wrote about Gretchen Rubin’s book, “The Happiness Project.” As I recounted here, Gretchen’s first few chapters motivated me to clear psychological space in my life by de-cluttering and organizing the physical space around me—i.e., our home.

The task was harder than it appeared because since the year 2002, my life has felt a little out of control. My husband and I got married, and a few months later, the roller coaster ride began: The paper chase of adopting our daughter, my moving to Antigua to expedite the process, our daughter adjusting to living with us in California, adopting our son, my starting to write about our experiences, my husband authoring two text books and traveling for his job, our searching for and finding our children’s birth moms. Navigating schools, going to Heritage Camp, trying to learn Spanish, maintaining family connections in Guatemala. Plus all the ancillary activities associated with rearing two wonderful children with their own individual needs.

The next thing I knew, a decade had passed, and our rooms in the basement–including my office—were filled with so much stuff you couldn’t take a step without tripping over a suitcase, mound of papers, or woven basket or textile.


With Gretchen’s book in hand, I vowed to tackle the  de-cluttering task, one pile at a time. Months followed in which I schlepped bags of outgrown clothes, shoes, and toys to the Salvation Army and Goodwill; carried cartons of books to our local library; and hauled down duffel bags of gently used items to orphanages in Guatemala. At last I could close my closet. The surface of my desk reappeared.

But one area remained untouched. The photographs. Envelopes and folders and bins of them. Could I make order of that chaos?

Then a friend on Facebook suggested I begin with today—the most recent event—and organize those photos first. Work backwards, she said. Start with now.

This was excellent advice, and I recommend it to anyone daunted by their own surplus of pictures. Using a web-based program, I assembled photo books of our trips to North Carolina and Virginia and Boston and Maine, and will begin another of our family sojourn this month to New York City.

Side note: Thankfully, I’ve consistently created albums of visits with our kids’ birth families. Each year we return to Guatemala, I present photos from our previous year’s visit to our Guatemalan family, a lovely way to reconnect and document our history together.

But before I let myself off the hook completely, I must admit to a major shortcoming: School pictures. During the years our kids have been in school, I have framed not a single image. Not the impossibly cute pix from preschool, or the portraits with impish smiles revealing missing teeth.

So last weekend, when my husband was away on a business trip, and the kids slept late, I rooted through the photos and excavated the distinctive school picture packages. Triumphantly, I returned upstairs, spread my loot on the dining room table, and woke up the kids.

“Here’s today’s project,” I said. “We organize these pictures.”

“Where did you get these?” they exclaimed. “I can’t believe how young we look!”

And that, friends, was our weekend. After breakfast, we drove to Ikea, where we purchased two cases of simple and inexpensive black wooden frames. Following a hearty lunch, we embarked on an afternoon session of matting and framing. By nightfall, the portraits sat in a long row on our dining room table, and we stood and admired the changes in Olivia and Mateo. How beautiful and handsome they have become. How strong and healthy.

Gretchen Rubin was right. I do feel happier.


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