There’s something to be said about productivity. Tasks like cleaning and laundry and dishes never seem to end, but organization and de-cluttering feels like a million small victories. February beat me up a bit – both physically and emotionally – but one of the best things I did was to create a generally strategic plan for my house’s organization. it may shift and contract as tasks become more urgent, or if I need the assistance of another person, but February saw me moving from the front door, moving backward and outward. The basement of doom will probably take months to sort through, and I’ve had to make peace with that. There are places I believe are too emotional to handle in the moment, and I hope when the plan dictates I’ll be able to push through.
But February’s organizing was much much more… organized… than January. Maybe that’s all I needed.
February 1-8: This Might Hurt a Little
It’s Saturday morning, and I’m up early. I enjoy a cup of coffee and a snuggle with Annie, then harness up Jenny and take a walk to the thrift store with a bag of usable items. When we set out, there’s a slight mist in the air, with light snow falling almost imperceptibly from the sky. Within less than ten minutes, jenny and I are soaked, and being bombarded by little ice pellets. I decide to do some shopping at the thrift store after I drop off my donations – no sense getting pelted again. I come out with two pairs of pants and two shirts, and walk out the door to more snow – this stuff is less pellet-y, but it’s thick and heavy. Jenny and I just want to get home and hunker down and read books (me) and take a nap (her).
But why do that when I can de-clutter?
I decide to organize the front closet. All of the jackets on the rod are mine, but I put one or two that I haven’t worn in years into a bag to go back to the thrift shop at some later date. Now it’s time to tackle the top shelf. I organized the winter clothes box back in the summer, but there’s a bunch of other odds and ends that have been left up there, unsorted and unclaimed by anyone.
I move a chair over to the closet and bring everything down to the floor. I take a duster to the shelf and the little nooks and crannies, and it’s like my closet has been completely cleansed. I sort the winter clothes box again, putting a few items from it into the donation bag. My closet’s top shelf now contains two boxes – one with winter gear, the other with childhood mementos – and a motorcycle helmet. I find a container of spray foam insulator, and set it aside for a day when I’m feeling brave enough to fill in the gap by my sliding glass door. I love the new look, and I feel like I’ve taken on the world.
I take a break from closet organizing and vacuum my living room – floors and furniture. I do other odds and ends, like dusting and meal prep. Then I head back to tackle the boot rack in the main closet. I bend down to pick up a pair of shoes off the floor… and forget I’ve moved a chair over…
My bottom lip hits the corner of the back of the chair. Hard. There’s blood. I don’t feel so good. I call HealthLink and give the nurse on the phone an earful about how blindness isn’t a Greek tragedy. I sit on my couch, listen to a hockey game, and leave further organizing for another day.
* * *
It’s Sunday. I’m feeling OK, but my face hurts if I talk too long. After a morning run – where a bunch of people ask why I have a bandage on my lip and what does the other guy look like? – I head home and finish up the closet organizing. I group together running shoes on one shelf, work shoes on another, and boots of any variety on top. I vacuum the floor, relocate a couple of small signs to where they can be seen by visitors, hang a roll of jenny’s baggies on the mail keeper, and call it a day.
* * *
It’s been a funny week. A friend comes over to see if he can help me pinpoint why my dryer is squeaking. We find $1.35 stuck in the drum, and hope that will fix it. It’s not silent, but it’s much less rattle-y the next time I run a load of clothes through it.
Friday, I tackle the Stuff table. Everyone has a Stuff Table (or drawer, or room, or….) in their home. This stuff table hangs out in the main hallway, and it’s a great central repository for…. stuff! Back in August I organized the drawers – user manuals for appliances in the bottom, everyday tools and things in the middle, and assorted odds and ends in the top – but never seemed to get up the gumption to take care of the top.
it takes fifteen minutes. I sort, consider, and then realize that there’s very few things worth keeping up here. By the time I am done, I can set a dinner plate flat on the top of the Stuff Table if I wanted to – but decided against it… the table’s too short to eat at. And while I’m at it, I re-position the shoe rack so that it’s perpendicular to the coats in the closet. I’m not sure I like the look, but I am glad to have vacuumed out the area and taken ten-year-old painter’s tape off the baseboards.
* * *
It’s Saturday again, and I’m back in the basement. My partner is coming next week and we’ve decided to make that twelve-pound turkey that’s been hanging out in the basement freezer. In order to do that, I have to move the last shelving unit back into the furnace room.
It’s not nearly as bad as I think it is. I find all kinds of cool odds and ends – like wall hooks and enough screws to fill a 6-inch-cubed box and ceiling tiles that don’t contain Asbestos. Sorting this shelf takes less time than the Stuff Table yesterday, but the moving of things takes much more effort. (boxes tend to be unwieldy like that). I move the empty shelving unit to a perfectly sized spot, group together flooring (kitchen and upstairs) then ceiling tiles (just the one box) and a few odds and ends that go on the shelf I organized in January. I step back and admire my work. it is done. And I can get to the basement fridge/freezer and take out the turkey when it’s time.
One of my treasures is a new, still in the package, carbon monoxide detector. I knew it was around here somewhere – since I know we bought two but only ever installed one – but actually putting my hands on it feels like a huge victory. I put in a brand new battery, plug it in to an outlet upstairs, test it out… and somehow just know that I’ll sleep just that teensy bit better tonight.
February 9-15: All the little Things
It’s Sunday afternoon, and I’m back in the basement. There’s a bunch of mostly junk in here, so I make quick work of it. Some stuff is set aside to go to the Ecostation, but most of it goes to the garbage or recycling. I do, however, find the Nativity scene that’s been carted around with me since I was old enough to not break the figurines. I move it over to the top shelf of the unit I moved yesterday, haul bags of recycling to the back, and call it a successful night.
* * *
During the course of the work week, I’m not home much. But I’m finding out – as my home becomes more organized and more settled and less cluttered – that it’s easier to do a couple of cleaning tasks on the regular. They’re no longer relegated to the stuff I do on the weekends, but they’re more integrated into everyday habits. I doubt I’ll ever be a super motivated or super accomplished housekeeper, but I’m liking the changes.
My Mom and my partner both arrive on Friday. when I get home, they’re getting along like a house on fire. The three of us make a lovely dinner of steak and potatoes, then sample craft beers and play Scrabble. When it’s time for bed, Mom looks in the linen closet at the top of the stairs to find blankets and sheets and – I hope – enough pillows so that all three of us can sleep well. In the closet is a bag I thought contained a quilt. Instead, it has fitted sheets, a thin sheet or two, and PILLOWS! I’m so happy that my pillow count is up to five usable pillows (including mine) that I can’t stop myself from doing a little jig.
On Saturday morning, Mom suggests a trip to pick up a few things for the house. She tells me about these covers that go over your heat vents that divert the heat further into the room, rather than dispersing it up the walls. I wouldn’t have known what to call them, much less where to find them, and my previous exposure to such things were already built in to the vents themselves. Having ones that can be attached by magnets? I’m game! She also suggests getting runners for the front entryway of my house. In another “what do you call these?” moment six months ago, I searched for “indoor/outdoor rugs” on Amazon and got a cute little one that’s useful, but doesn’t cover a lot of ground, so I like the idea of runners to protect my floor from ice and salt and moisture and gouges from my ice cleats.
We pile in to Mom’s rental car and buy a bunch of stuff at Walmart. We discuss curtains, and I’m a bit overwhelmed by all the options. Mom suggests blinds instead, and I find myself feeling the need to defend why I really don’t like blinds. We leave the curtains/blinds debate (which is never a debate because we all know I’m getting curtains) for another day, locate runners for the front hall, and find a Swiffer so I can more easily clean my floors. They don’t have heat deflectors, but Home Depot (right next door!) has them. It’s an overwhelmingly successful trip!
We get home, and I almost instantly install the heat deflectors. It takes less than five minutes for me to install three of them – two in the living room, one in the dining room. The fourth one, I put in the hall closet until I can decide where to place it. I take the Swiffer for a spin around the kitchen, and even I can see my floor looks nice and shiny. I decide to move the garbage can so that I can install the fourth heat deflector in the kitchen, and make quick work of that. The brooms and the Swiffer make an uneasy home in the hall closet, but they balance precariously and fall down regularly – I’ll deal with it later, but for now they’re all out of the way. Mom, my partner, and I make ourselves useful installing the runners, and the difference in my entranceway is astounding. I’m thrilled with all the changes, and they’re so so simple.
Mom asks me why I don’t move the Stuff table into the entrance closet. To be honest up until a week ago there hasn’t been space. She says I could go to Ikea (the seventh circle of hell) and get different (shorter) shoe racks and put them and a Stuff table in the closet. I can’t seem to respond with anything but defensiveness. It’s just all too much – I’ve worked my ass off to get this closet to something uncluttered and useful for me, and I’m not even sure I like it the way it is now… but it’s not the way it was, so I feel like that should be enough. Suggestions of improvements feel overwhelming and dismissive, and I don’t have the words to spit that all out. But words fail me, and I just let it all go for now.
February 16-22: Big Bird made me clean my Kitchen
So… that turkey in my freezer? It’s not twelve pounds… It’s nineteen pounds!!! My partner and I discover this when I bring up the turkey so we can make it for Thanksgiving in February. My friend Meagan pitched the idea in the midst of some deep angsty conversation and we decided to run with it. We thaw the turkey Monday morning – thanks to advice from Mom before she headed back home – and pre-heat the oven. The turkey – heretofore nicknamed “Big Bird” is placed in a disposable roasting pan that looks like a blue race car, covered in spices and herbs and plenty of water. It smells so good even after fifteen minutes that my partner and I have to stop ourselves from opening the oven and devouring it as our last meal before we die horrible deaths from food poisoning.
Meagan and her husband arrive with a casserole dish of mashed potatoes. I steam a bunch of vegetables. My partner removes the turkey from the oven… and water goes everywhere. Somehow he manages to remove Big Bird from the pan, then takes the race car roasting pan full of hot water into the bathroom and dumps it in the bathtub. We take care of the urgent concerns – like the drawer underneath the oven, Big Bird itself – then all four of us sit down and eat a decent turkey dinner. Another 15-30 minutes in the oven would’ve made it even better, but for a first turkey, Big Bird is a pretty big success… though I think my next experiment with a bird will be a chicken.
My partner and I are horrible hosts. While Meagan and her husband lounge on my couch, we are cleaning. It’s not as bad as we thought, so we decline offers of assistance. But I’m not sure if it’s the water or the huge amount of cleaner that makes me have to use a bath towel to dry off my stove top. My partner swiffers the hallway between the kitchen and bathroom, and then the bathroom itself. When he’s done, I grab the Swiffer and clean out the area underneath the stove. With the drawer being cleaned in the bath tub, it’s the perfect opportunity to find new repositories for the four toy mice I’m pretty sure Wolfie shoved under there before she left. By the end of the evening, the kitchen is cleaned, leftovers are packed away, and the four of us try and solve the world’s problems one issue at a time. Thanks, Big Bird, you served us well!
* * *
Every day I’m at work this week, I come home to find that my partner has done some of the day-to-day cleaning. I never once asked him to do this; it’s just done when I get home. I do most of the cooking, and we split food prep duties, so I don’t protest too much that he’s taken some of this on himself. It’s a nice surprise, and frees us both up to visit friends or do other necessary things in the evenings.
It’s Saturday, and we’re back at the thrift store with a bulging bag of donations. Then we head back to Walmart to pick up yet another thing I didn’t know existed – and wouldn’t have known what to call it if I did. I still don’t know what to call them – broom hangers? – but I purchase two of them. When we get home, we each install one on the back of the hall closet. Now, the brooms hang merrily and don’t fall over, and they’re accessible and out of the way.
I ordered a hanger for my race medals. It arrived on Friday, but I’m not sure where I want to hang it. The spot I’ve chosen is logical, but there’s already a wall hook there. My studfinder isn’t working properly – and it’s the stuff out of nightmares where you can’t get a thing to work properly and all you hear is “beep beep beep” – so I guess I need a new one. I find a wooden Coptic cross that was a gift from Egypt several years ago. It’s sat on the end table for as long as I can remember, and I don’t think I ever knew it had the ability to be hung on the wall. there’s a tiny loop that I thread the wall hook through, and it’s now on the wall above my love seat. It’s brilliant. It’s perfect. But where to hang my race medals now?
It’s not something that can be solved right now, so we tackle another task – one that requires two people. We get the stepladder from downstairs. My partner positions the ladder while I climb up and clean the tops of the cupboards I couldn’t access from the chair in January. Overall, it’s not as bad as I thought, though the spots that are bad are pretty gross. I got more than I thought cleaned in January, so I’m able to make quick work of the cabinets, with my partner moving the ladder and handing up cloths to clean and dry the cupboards. Another little thing – but a big thing, too.
It takes us thirty minutes to organize underneath the sink. I know most things are usable, because it hasn’t been long since I did a preemptive clean/organize under there. I find Jet Dry, even though I just purchased another bottle. I have more Windex than I know what to do with. And I doubt I’ll need to buy dish soap for a decade, thanks to the massive jug of it under the sink. I also notice a very small, almost imperceptible leak, so I make a mental note to buy teflon tape. I stand up from the sink, where I once again can lay hands on absolutely everything and/or know where to find anything I need (in the event I need one of a dozen disposable masks).
My partner’s a tall guy. Instead of me bringing a chair over to the fridge, he hands down items from the cupboard above the fridge/freezer. I sort, both mentally and physically, items to be kept and items to be donated. By the time fifteen minutes has passed, I’ve put everything I’m keeping on the bottom shelf of that cupboard, within easy-ish reach for my shorter frame. We stand back, and I’m amazed – the first room of my house has been completely cleaned, sorted, and de-cluttered. Okay, maybe the second (my bedroom got organized with the new floors), but the first high-traffic room. It feels like a huge victory, like I’ve climbed a mountain and reached the summit. Maybe, in some ways, I have.
February 23-29: Making it Mine
My partner goes home Sunday morning. I’m sad about this, but I know we’ll see each other soon. A running buddy buys me a bottle of white whine and gives me strict instructions to enjoy it with company (he also has no idea that I’ve got a serious case of the blues). A friend comes over and – for the first time in I don’t know how long – I don’t stress about the cleanliness of my house, or don’t feel the need to scramble to make my place presentable for company after days, weeks, or months of neglect. We don’t touch the bottle of wine, but we enjoy ragtime music and an impromptu dance around my kitchen to “The Entertainer”. The house and I are settling in to a new rhythm, and we’re both happy with people around.
* * *
I take a personal day off work on Tuesday. It’s that time of year again – time for my piano to be tuned. Josh, the piano tuner, arrives on time, and one of the first things he says is “You’ve done some organizing here.” No kidding! While he’s doing his thing, I go about doing mine.
The sun is streaming through the room I’m having a hard time calling “the beading room.” That hasn’t been it’s original purpose, but that’s what it is now. I moved my beading things there months ago, but I spend little time there. The sun streaming through the window stops me in my tracks, and I feel a heaviness, a need to enter and do something with that space. It’s hard… very very hard. I take a deep breath and tell myself I don’t have to do everything right now – but I need to do something. So I tackle an easy task – set up a garbage can. Then I organize the top of my beading table. And then I find it… the thing that will help make this room what I need it to be.
More than twenty years ago, a friend of mine went to Hawaii. We didn’t know each other well, but the day we met we talked for hours. I was surprised that she thought of me on her trip – enough to bring home a bamboo mat. This mat has moved with me no fewer than seven times. I’ve never brought myself to be able to use it, but I’ve never been able to get rid of it either. I cut the string holding it together and unroll the mat onto the floor. This may eventually ruin it – the edges are in rough shape – but maybe that’s OK. Setting that mat on the floor feels like staking a claim. I put essential oils in a defuser, and inhale the scents that bring me peace and joy. I stand in the doorway, listening as the piano’s pitch is corrected note by note by note, and feel like I’ve started something big today.
A friend arrives, and we make lunch. She drives me to the airport so I can get my Nexus card, and then helps me locate a space for my race medal hanger. We decide on a spot by the entrance to the kitchen – right by the frame for my first half-marathon bib. She makes sure everything is straight, maybe or maybe not putting a hole in the wall, then drags a chair over so that I can nail the wall hooks in at a decent angle. The hanger hangs proudly on that wall, and I’ve got another tangible reminder that this place is truly my home.