As soon as we learned we were having a baby, I knew it was time to get rid of the crap that had accumulated in the soon-to-be nursery. Unfortunately, most of it belonged to me so I couldn’t even avoid the responsibility. Books, clothes, boxes of miscellaneous stuff… ugh.
Around the same time, I read this piece in the NYT, “Living With Less. A Lot Less,” and it really struck a chord with me. Graham Hill started out with a lot – a lot of money, a lot of things, a lot of excess but today finds himself living with everything on a smaller scale by choice – from the square footage of his home to the number of dishes in his cabinets to the amount of books he owns. I also came across a piece about the prized possessions of immigrants who could not bear to leave something behind when they came to America – read and see more about it here. It made me wonder – what would I take with me, if I was leaving? Other than family and pets… I realized I have very few material possessions that I wouldn’t want to live without. Keeping that in the back of my mind while I cleaned out the house made getting rid of things that much easier.
So, what started out as a “clean out the nursery” project became a “clean out the entire house” project. Hellooo nesting – let the purging begin!
So much crap…
I realized I had been carrying a lot of crap with me everywhere. I wondered if now, in my late 20s, I really needed to continue bringing it all with me. The answer was no. I started with boxes from high school and college – kept a few things, but got rid of a lot. Essays and papers from that undergrad history class that I absolutely hated? GOODBYE. A random collection of parking passes and other things that would never be any good again? Gone, gone, gone. The trash bags in the picture were just a sliver of what I tossed, recycled, or donated.
In the middle of cleaning… it was a little precarious to walk in there.
Once I tackled the a life’s history worth of stuff, I began reaching my purging tentacles into other areas of the house. Nothing was safe – much to my husband’s frustration, as there were a few times when I
threw out relocated things he might have been keeping for a reason. (Sorry, hon!) By the time I finished up, I had overhauled every cabinet, closet, nook, and cranny. I became a regular at The Container Store which is conveniently located right next to my office (no seriously, it’s right next door) and I spent a small fortune on storage containers and organizing accoutrements. For the record, these are awesome.
One of the biggest challenges was the kitchen. I tackled it not once, not twice, but three times from top to bottom. We spend a lot of time in the kitchen/dining room area, so naturally it has a tendency to accumulate things in a way no other room in the house does. Plus, we seriously had enough kitchenware to stock at least two and a half kitchens. Luckily, my sister-in-law was able to use some of it and what she didn’t need went to Goodwill. I cleaned out cabinets, purged expired goods, and I even went as far as writing the names of the spices on the LIDS of each jar to take the guesswork out of finding the right spice. (I then snapped a picture of it on my cell phone so that I could see what we had… and will refer to it the next time I’m at the store thinking it’s a good idea to get another container of garlic salt. Seriously, no one needs that much garlic salt.)
A winter project
After I had attacked everything I could control, I turned my attention to a very neglected part of the house – the “entertainment center” corner. This needed more help that I could give it on my own… it needed help from someone who was good at building things… like my husband! We had two windows to nowhere, aka directly into our neighbor’s home. They didn’t want to see us lounging around, and vice versa, which meant that we rarely opened the curtains. On top of the view (or lack thereof), we needed to replace the windows themselves. The “entertainment center” was a folding bookshelf with all sorts of electronics piled on top of one another, and the other corner was a black hole for things that had no other place to go – like my free weights and exercise ball. The whole set up made me kind of crazy.
The windows to nowhere… before. Also note the precariously perched entertainment center… not so kid-friendly!
And then… I found some pinspiration – we needed built-in shelving there instead! Why spend the money replacing the windows, when we could make that entire wall super functional? I gently suggested this to my husband and planted the seed of the idea. After all, he had been saying he wanted to put up new sheet rock and rewire the living room as it was the only room in the house he hadn’t renovated when he bought it…
To my joy, renovating the living room turned into the winter 2012-2013 house project. It was win-win – I would get my shelves and he would be able to make the updates he wanted (and in the process, install speakers into the ceiling and other stuff that guys love). The only stipulation he gave me was that I was not allowed to complain about the dust. I took a deep breath and agreed (plus, given that I was ripping apart the rest of the house… I was really in no position to criticize anyone else’s dust). With my husband at the helm, and the help of friends and my father’s painting skills, they wrapped up the entire project pretty quickly AND it looked great.
Sheet rock up, shelving units built and installed!
After! I’ve been having fun obsessively rearranging everything on the shelves.
Books… the final frontier
So, that covers pretty much all corners of our house except for… my books. My beloved books! Over the years I had accumulated a lot of books (mostly when I went through my “I should own this book because I’m an English major phase”). Don’t get me wrong – I love them! – but they are heavy, they take up space, and they are a bitch to dust. Also, I had somehow convinced myself that I would have enough time to re-read ALL of them again and again. As it turns out, I barely have enough time now to read a new book, let alone one I’ve already read before.
I accepted the fact that by the time I have enough down time to read all of them again (read: during retirement), most of the paperbacks I have been obsessively alphabetizing for fun would likely be disintegrated and falling apart. After some difficult decisions, I kept my absolute favorites, but I was really happy to give the rest of them a second life at the book exchange in town.
So… now what?
It only took me three years after moving in, plus a baby on the way, to light a fire under my ass to organize everything from the last ten years of my life. One recent weekend morning, after vacuuming up enough dog fur to make three sweaters, I took a moment to look around and felt pretty proud of all of the work that had gone into everything.
I also made sure to take a mental picture of what would likely be the last time the house felt so clean, organized, and completely under control… because just a couple of days later we started the next project: setting up the nursery. Stay tuned for more… because that adventure deserves its own post!