My Great-American Junk Drawer (aka: Getting Organized)

miscellaneous-stuff I was searching for a screwdriver today.

Yes, my toolbox is full of screwdrivers, but I was searching for the one I like best – a Phillips screwdriver with a grippy handle that feels just right in my hands. You see, I just got my bedroom back for the first time in six months. Six months! (Insert cartwheel here). My sister and her family moved here from far away and needed a transition home. So, like a good little sister, I loaned them my spacious bedroom to use as their hotel-away-from-home until they could get settled and move into their own house. Which happened yesterday.

So today, I had work to do.

It takes a lot of scrubbing and furniture-moving and reorganizing to get one’s bedroom back in shape after it’s been lived in by other people. It also takes a good Phillips screwdriver to repair your lopsided curtain rod, which has been yanked out of place by two rambunctious, preschool-aged kids. Which is why I was searching for one this afternoon.

After ransacking my toolbox and coming up empty, I began to rummage through various drawers and organizers. At last, I came to the large wooden IKEA desk that I keep in my bedroom. Our family has had this desk for nearly ten years, along with all the stuff that fills the drawers. Although I am mostly organized in other areas, desk drawers in my home have the bad habit of collecting all manner of odds and ends, until every single one comes to resemble that one drawer that everyone has in their home.

You know the one.

The junk drawer.

Junk drawer

The main drawer of our IKEA desk was a sight to behold. As NPR once put it, “The Great American Junk Drawer can be an accidental time capsule, a haphazard scrap heap, a curious box of memories and meaninglessness.” This one was no exception. Paper clips, old business cards from the home business I ran fifteen years ago, my youngest son’s missing library card, an unused $25 Game Stop gift card. I collected a few dollars’ worth of coins to add to our family Dream Jar, which will hopefully offset a future trip to Disneyland and the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. But there was no screwdriver. I cut my finger on one of a zillion push pins or rusty staples lining the drawer, then happened to discover a single toy Magnetix rod, which turned out to be a perfect picker-upper for push pins and staples. But still, no screwdriver.

I then came across a stack of old photos – a treasure trove of snapshots of my children when they were small and rosy-cheeked, and a few pics of old friends that instantly threw me into a nostalgic mood. I spent the next half hour flipping through more old photos, traveling back in time, the bedroom project forgotten.

At last I shook off the distraction. As much as I would have loved to clean out the junk and make it a neat, organized office drawer, I had a screwdriver to find. Which turned out to be in the toolbox, where I swear it wasn’t the first two times.

I have my room back.

The curtain rod is straight again, and my room is once again a cozy, clutter-free retreat of comfortable furnishings, soft lighting, and flickering candles. Everything is in its place – visitors snug in their own home, junk in the junk drawer, and yes, my favorite screwdriver safely returned to my toolbox.

I think.

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My Two Cents (and Other Worthless Things)

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A couple of weeks ago, I did something I’ve never done before. I gathered up a bunch of our family’s old junk — rusty bicycles, worn-out camping gear, pieces of wood from a dilapidated IKEA bed — and took it to the city dump. Yes, the dump. You see, I grew up in an old-school family, in which the women-folk did things like bake meatloaf and scrub floors, while the men-folk did the heavy, dirty jobs like hauling junk. So, other than drop off our family Christmas tree each January, I had never had the experience of loading up our family minivan with household trash and lugging it to the dump.

It was not a pleasant experience.

However, it had to be done, as our shed and closets were bursting with useless things that couldn’t be tossed in a normal trash can. During the big tidy-up, I kept coming across these tiny, annoying little disks that, in my opinion, are about as worthless as rusty bicycles and 5-year-old IKEA furniture.

Most people call them pennies. I call them pests.

It never fails. Every time I sweep the floor, there they are. Whenever I stoop down to clear out things from beneath the beds or couch, I find at least a dozen. When vacuuming the house, one must steer the vacuum cleaner around these seemingly harmless, machine-clogging landmines. And most parents, at some point, have had to fish these shiny, toxic toys out of the curious mouths of babies.

A penny for my thoughts? I’d rather keep my thoughts to myself, thanks.

Really, I don’t see why our nation doesn’t just do away with the penny, like Canada did a few years ago. You can’t buy a single thing with a penny. You can’t even buy much for one hundred pennies, unless you’re shopping at the Dollar Store. Nor can you put pennies into a vending machine to pay for parking or buy a pack of Cheez-it crackers. Sure, there are other ways to spend your pennies. You can stand at the checkout, carefully counting out every little cent while the impatient people in line behind you shake their fists. Or you can buy some of those brown coin papers and spend your precious time rolling stacks of pennies into spendable rolls.

Or you can be penny-wise, like me, and scrap your pennies at the city dump.

Once upon a time, shiny, coppery pennies were useful little coins. But today, their face-value is less than the cost of the metal it takes to make them. Okay fine, pennies are great for making wishes at fountains. Also, if you find one face-up, then you may have a day filled with good luck (debatable). But for the most part, the good ol’ penny is an obsolete form of currency. It is time for our nation use our common cents — to let go of nostalgia and embrace new ideas, like rounding up to the nearest nickel.

That’s my two cents.

A Hot Not-Date (aka: Spring Cleaning)

I have a hot date this weekend.

But first, let me explain. You see, spring is about to spring. And spring, with its warm, sweet weather and flower-tipped trees, has a way of turning one’s thoughts toward love, and frolicking in meadows, and sunshiny fresh air.

And so, I have a date this weekend, with this tall, well-built, bald man. You’ve probably heard his name before: Mr. Clean.

Irresitible Mr Clean

That’s right. What can I say? Thanks to a super-busy schedule of work and college classes and kids’ activities and sports, I have had very little time or energy to devote to cleaning house. And so, my not-quite-Martha-Stewart but still passable housekeeping levels have slipped to a not-quite-reality-TV-hoarder but still-needs-major-improvement levels.  When I saw Mr. Clean in the store, I fell hard. I couldn’t resist his twinkling eyes, or his promise to turn our messy house into a shining, spotless home. Mr. Clean is just the guy to turn my spring-cleaning dreams into reality.

Wait –you thought I was talking about going out on an actual date? What, me, leave behind my cozy cave of Netflix and books and computers? Me, venture out alone into the real world and try to make sense of human relationships? Very funny. It’s nice to know that my readers have a sense of humor.

Okay, I get it. No one expects a smart, talented, and fairly attractive 40 year-old woman to stay single for very long. The world expects me to get out there, place an advertisement the way one sells a used car. Join a dating site! Flirt with real, live men who are not cartoon models for cleaning products! Start a romantic relationship that doesn’t happen only in your imagination!

zodiac killersBut here’s the big problem: that whole world of mean and dating and relationships is frightening. Like, scarier than Children of the Corn frightening (and let me tell you – those were some creepy little kids). I’m more the type of woman who avoids eye contact or conversation with strange men than the type who looks forward to going out on dates with total strangers, all of whom are probably the Zodiac Killer (no offense to Ted Cruz).

How ridiculous! You say. Cleaning house is far more nerve-wracking than dating. Just think of what fuzzy blue horrors await you at the back of the refrigerator!

Ahh, this is true. Cleaning out my fridge is a frightening challenge. It’s…um…been a while. And yes, the food in the back has probably become an entire new species of living things. But hey – I have Mr. Clean to tackle the dirty work, and even cleaning out my icky fridge seems far less daunting and much more fun than dating.

online-dating no way

See, here’s another big problem: I am bad at romantic relationships. After a failed 17-year marriage and one attachment-free post-divorce fling, I am convinced that I was not made for relationships. Men apparently have these expectations of what a woman should be like, or how we should perform or behave or respond, and I tend to do everything the opposite. Blame it on my alien roots, I guess. But there was nothing rewarding to me about any of it, and a lot of messy emotions and expectations and drama that don’t mesh well with my INTJ personality.

Ugh.

And so, I am spending one of my kid-free weekends cleaning my house, because scrubbing toilets is a lot less confusing than dating. Vacuuming floors is a lot less stressful than the reality of romantic relationships. Organizing my closet is a lot more gratifying than sex ever was. And teaming up with Mr. Clean is far more rewarding than searching for Mr. Probably-Doesn’t-Exist-Single-Guy-Who’s-Right-for-Me. Because after all my effort, my kids and I will get to enjoy a cozy, clean home that smells like fresh, sunshiny air.

Happy (Almost) Spring!

Pulizie di primavera - Spring Cleaning

 

Decluttering (aka: Three Simple Questions)

Full house bursting at the seams  It’s astonishing how quickly our lives can become filled with clutter. Cluttered homes. Cluttered calendars. Cluttered desks at the office. We live in such a culture of excess, that it has become almost the norm to surround ourselves with far more than we need. We love to accumulate, but we hate to throw things away. I may need this someday, we convince ourselves. I may return to that hobby I abandoned. I may get around to reading that pile of books again. I may actually throw a party and use that never-touched fondue pot.

Or not.

A few nights ago, I had the most random dream (as most dreams are), in which I was helping to declutter a friend’s house. I kept repeating these three questions – questions which I’m sure I heard once in some reality TV show, but apparently made a huge impact on my subconscious.

Do you need it?

Do you love it?

Does it help you to earn money?

It’s that simple. If you can’t answer with a firm “yes” to one of the above questions, then it doesn’t belong in your life. Get rid of it! Toss it out! Give it away! (NOTE: This does not apply to pets, kids, friends, etc.)

Home Organization and Decluttering

It’s been around a year and a half since I began a new life as a single mom. My three kids and I spent a few months intensely decluttering before moving to our new home. It was a shock to realize how much stuff we had accumulated during those sixteen years of marriage – clothes which had gone out of style before the year 2000, VHS movies, tents without poles, dusty stacks of books, tools that had gone missing and long-since been replaced, and boxes and boxes of mostly-useless junk. Did I need those things? No. Did I love them? Not exactly, though the books had been well-loved at some point. Did they help me to earn money? Absolutely not. So we hauled piles of items to the thrift store. We held a garage sale. We donated hundreds of books to the local library. And I learned to do something that used to be very difficult – I threw many things in the garbage. Yes, the garbage. Crazy, I know.

But here’s the cool thing. When my kids and I moved into our new home, everything fit neatly in its own place. Our books were not spilling out of bookshelves and onto the floor. The kitchen cabinets were not so overloaded that I couldn’t find pots or appliances. The only clothes hanging in our closets were the clothes we always wore. It was freeing. It was clean. Becoming organized made life much simpler.

Decluttering Before-and-After

It is funny that those three questions came to me in a dream so recently. The end of the year is approaching, and although I am not a fan of New Year Resolutions, there is something about the approaching New Year that makes me want to reevaluate the clutter which I have allowed to accumulate during the year. Time to sweep out the old junk and make room for the new. Funny how in just one year, a family can build up so much clutter – outgrown toys, worn-out clothing, shoes without mates (How in the world does that happen so often in our house? Where do the mates go?). But as we ring in the New Year, I will surely begin the purging process, sorting through the stacks and piles and asking the same three simple questions.

Do I need it?

Do I love it?

Does it help me to make money?

Happy-New-Year-2015_Sheep

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

Not-Quite Martha Stewart (My Transformation into a Neat Freak)

Well, I think that the impossible has occurred. I am almost afraid to confess, lest I jinx it. But here is the miraculous truth: I am becoming a neat freak.

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I know. Shocking.

Okay, maybe by the standards of some, I am not exactly a neat freak. I’m reasonably sure that my home will never be considered for a feature in Better Homes and Gardens magazine. As much as I admire Martha Stewart, I will never learn how to fold the perfect fitted sheet. (In fact, I pretty much just crumple those into a ball and hide them behind the pretty stacks of flat sheets). But compared with my old habits, which would have earned me a C- in Housekeeping School, my new habits may actually be worth a B+.

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Okay fine – so my house wasn’t quite THIS dirty/messy/disorganized. At least not usually. But still, I barely deserved passing marks.

Now here’s the weird thing – I am even beginning to enjoy keeping our home clean and organized. Yes, I said enjoy. Almost as much as I have always enjoyed the other domestic arts, like baking, sewing, and decorating. I guess it shouldn’t come as such a surprise. After all, it has always been important to me that my family lives in – not just a house – but a home. A cozy, well-decorated, nice-smelling, and yes, clean home.

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Home is much less stressful and much more homey when everything is clean and tidy.

And so, these are some of the rules by which my children and I now live, in order to keep our home as pleasant and homey as possible:

1. If you make the mess, accidentally or not, you clean it up.

2. Dishes are done every night, with few exceptions.

3. Fold and put away your laundry while it is still warm from the dryer.

4. Vaccum often. 3X per week minimum.

5. Keep bathrooms sparkling clean and sanitary

6. Clean pet cages at least once per week.

7. Help each other. We all live in our home together, so we must all work together to keep it nice.

8. Remember – everything has its place. If we can’t make a place, then something must be thrown out in order to make a place.

9. When in doubt, throw it out.

10. Stay organized. It is easier to find what you need when there is less clutter.

The result? Ooh, look – clean dishes whenever we want. Matching socks, too! And wow, we can walk around the house without tripping over books and toys. Even better, our home feels comfortable and relaxing, and it isn’t embarrassing to invite guests inside.

I don’t know how long this neat freak phase will last, but I hope it is for many years. I also hope that it rubs off on my children – especially the part about enjoying cleaning the house. Time will tell. And now, I am off to wash the remaining dishes before snuggling into my neat, cozy well-made, B+ bed.

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Why yes, my food pantry does resemble this after picture. Okay, somewhat. And only because I used to sell Tupperware products like these many years ago.