Assignment #19: Blast the Bathroom

Rounding the corner and the finish line of the January Cure is in sight. I feel like I’ve been dropping off here toward the end, so I’m glad the official activities are nearly over so I can start scheduling things at my own pace.

Since talking about cleaning the bathrooms is boring, I thought I’d share a few ideas I’ve had for decorating the master bath. (If I had my way, we’d be painting it this weekend, but alas, the home improvement fund is rather lean after the pantry installation earlier this month.) We’ve sort of gone about things backward, since we bought new towels, a bathmat, a soap dispenser, and a toothbrush holder about nine months ago, but the walls are still beige and we could use an étagère. Here are a few ways we could fix that.


1 – Light Pewter // 2 – Peace and Happiness // 3 – HJÄLMAREN // 4 – VITTSJÖ // 5 – Chevron Shower Curtain // 6 – Cabana Strip Shower Curtain // 7 – Paisley Shower Curtain  // 8 – Hampton Links Shower Curtain

The first paint color is the lightest shade on the same card as our bedroom paint color and, despite how it looks on screen, it’s actually grey, not tan. After true white, it’s the easiest choice. I’ve been thinking it could also be fun to bring in something a little different in the form of a pinky lavender like the one shown above, but I’m a lot less sure how I feel about it. I’m afraid I’ll get bored of it too quickly, and I don’t know if it will jive with whatever accent color we eventually pick for the master bedroom. But I’m kind of intrigued by the idea of creating a palette that’s a little warmer, a little softer, and a little more sophisticated than I may have originally imagined.

For an étagère, I keep coming back to this relaxed, leaning style. I don’t think it’s terribly practical as a bookshelf—not when you have as many books as I do, anyway—but for rolled towels and a basket of toiletries I think it could be perfect. For something with a little more shelf real estate, there’s the more traditional option on the right. I’d like to think the glass shelves would keep it from feeling too heavy in the small space of the bathroom. I’m even entertaining the idea of spray painting it in a metallic like Censational Girl or Bethany Seawright from Apartment Therapy’s Design Diary, who was inspired by Just Bella.

Finally, the shower curtain. I’m actually quite fond of the white one we have, because it’s made out of this lovely dense cotton gauze with a waffle weave. But the first time I washed it (in cold water) and dried it (on low), it shrank horribly. Now it doesn’t really stretch from one end of the shower to the other, and it drives me a little crazy. Okay, a lot crazy. So for fun, I looked at a few patterned curtains to replace it. The first is supposed to be grey and white; it seems to match the paint swatch well, but I’m a little afraid it’s closer to beige and cream, so I’d need to see it in person. The slightly painterly chevrons are a lot less structured than I usually go for in a pattern, as evidenced by my other three choices. The cabana stripe feels classic, as does the links pattern, though the latter may be a little overpowering and better as a bedspread rather than a curtain. I couldn’t resist throwing in a paisley, though I’d probably need a different shade of grey walls to pull it off. But the touch of yellow would be cheery in a space that gets no natural light.

It was nice to get a couple of ideas down, even if they might change, because it’s allowed me to see trends in what I gravitate toward in a way that mindless online browsing doesn’t. Do you collect inspiration in moodboards, or dive right into your designs? Have you ever been surprised by the patterns that emerge?

Assignment #18: Digital Dump

In previous years, this assignment was dedicated to digitizing files, which I had been dreading and looking forward to in equal measure. When Justin and I first got married, I was obsessed with keeping hard copies of everything—bills, receipts for paid bills, rental agreements, amendments to same, every version of every insurance policy document—because I was mortally afraid that I’d pay a bill online, the transaction wouldn’t be completed, and then collections would come to knock down my door and repossess my furniture. Money was tight, and I was afraid that one wrong move would ruin our credit forever.

The result looks something like this:


As it turns out, we managed just fine. A few minor slip-ups were easily corrected, and nothing money-related we did online ever failed catastrophically. And yet, the paper remains. Sorting through everything, digitizing, labeling, and filing the important stuff—and then shredding everything when I’m done—is going to be a monumental task.

Luckily, the assignment says to spend only 30 minutes focused on improving one area. Since digitizing will definitely take more than one evening, I decided that I had a more pressing issue to address: the fact that I haven’t back up anything in an appalling long time.

I started by ripping two CDs that I received for Christmas to my computer. Then I pulled out our external hard drive, wiped all of the outdated information saved on it, and promptly copied over my documents, pictures, and music. It certainly doesn’t capture everything, but it does provide a stop-gap for my most important data.

When I have a solid weekend that I can dedicate to it, I plan to do the following:

  1. Research options to backup my computer and Justin’s to the same device, automatically.
  2. Research cloud storage options for additional protection.
  3. Digitize all physical files, preserving the ones that are smart to have in hard copy and shredding the rest.
  4. Review documents and photos; purge anything that is no longer needed/wanted and improve the organization of everything that remains.
  5. Check smartphones for photos or information that should be backed up on a less lose-able/less drop-able device.
  6. Fine tune our home network to better share information across devices.
  7. Clean everything inside and out: wipe down keyboards and mice, blow out cases, replace old fans, run disk defragmenter, etc.

I’m sure I’ve missed something, but it seems like a solid start anyway. What things do you do to protect your data and stay organized at the same time?

Assignment #17: Catch Up Day

Today was supposed to be focused on cleaning up the bedroom since I didn’t get to it during its dedicated weekend. I washed and ironed the bedding this past weekend, and planned to dust, vacuum, and do general tidying tonight. But I came home feeling a bit under the weather—which was cold, grey, and soggy—so I decided that it was a sign that the bedroom just wasn’t going to get its day this month and let it go.

But lest you think I’m the type that would succumb to spending a whole evening melting into the couch, here’s proof that I’m working on other things besides just sprucing up the apartment:

2015-01-26_WIPsFirst sewing and knitting projects of 2015. Can. Not. Wait.

Assignment #16: Show Your Living Room a Little Love

At first I was stumped about what to say for this assignment. Cleaning my living room is about as exciting as watching grass grow. I’ve got no helpful tips or funny stories; I simply picked up the things that were out of place and put them away.

Since I was home by myself most of the day and facing down a long list of chores, I pulled up the HGTV Color Splash collection on Netflix. It was only recently added—and I’m so glad, because HGTV is one of the few things I really miss about not having cable—and I figured it might give me some inspiration. Apparently, I’d forgotten how outrageous and, let’s face it, outrageously expensive some of David Bromstad’s designs were. But I still contend that it’s worth watching just to see him create custom artwork for each project.

After watching about 10 episodes, which isn’t as bad as it sounds because each episode is only about 13 minutes long, I looked around and realized how very bare our apartment is. We have one pair of curtains (that I don’t even like very much), no rugs, barely adequate lighting, no artwork, and insufficient furniture. We don’t lack for stuff; we have books, games, electronics, craft supplies, and tools aplenty. But we lack all of things that pull a space together and make it look complete and lived in.

We have more space than we’ve ever had before. In fact, our apartment has about the same square footage as my parents’ single-family starter home. And although it’s probably hard to believe, we picked this place primarily for the location, price, and upgraded appliances, and tend to consider all the space a bonus. Don’t get me wrong, it’s very nice to have, especially when we have people come for the weekend. But moving into a large apartment from a considerably smaller one means that the things we do have seems to be floating like lonely satellites in space.

Seeing rooms like ours transformed from bland or under-furnished into dazzling spaces in a mere 15 minutes tends to be really discouraging, no matter how many times you remind yourself that the design and renovation process took a lot more time and money than the show lets on. This is only compounded when the homeowners have already decorated all of their other rooms, and this last one is just the final piece of a nearly completed puzzle.

When you’ve got an apartment where none of the rooms are even close to being finished, it’s hard to even know where to start. Do you start with the smallest space or the space that’s “furthest along” in its decorating journey, so you have a completed project more quickly? Do you start with the space you use most often, or the one that’s most visible?

To keep this sense of discouragement from spiraling out of control, I took a moment to concentrate on three things:

  1. We see the shortcomings in our space, and we’re committed to working on them. I talked just a few days ago about creating a functioning landing strip, and I already know that when I have the right elements I’m going to float the furniture in the living room to create a cozier TV viewing/game playing spot. We’ve thrown around ideas for a better office configuration that accommodates furniture for a guest room. The only thing holding us back from painting is picking colors, and we’ve been talking about that a lot recently. The January Cure was just a warm-up, a way to prime our apartment for the change to come. There’s no point in beating myself up over the ways things are when we’re already on a path toward change.
  2. Adding things to our space slowly allows for flexibility and change. Transforming a room in one fell swoop might be satisfying because I get to see a dramatic change, but it leaves a lot of room for disappointment and frustration. If I were to commit to changing everything at once, then I would be limited to what’s available right now. I may end up compromising on an item’s size, shape, or color in order to complete my project, or compromising my budget to secure the exact thing I want now rather than waiting for a more affordable option down the line. I’d also be committing myself to something I might think I need or love, but don’t. It can be hard enough to stomach a single bad purchase—how much more so if I had a room full of them?
  3. Decorating should be a joy, not an obligation. Decorating takes time and resources, just like any other hobby. It’s certainly not required to live in a space. (Goodness knows we got by just fine for five years without buying a rug or hanging a painting.) If it’s not fun for me, then I don’t need do it. If I’d rather spend money to see a movie than save up for a lamp, I’m the one who has to sit in the dark—and if sitting in the dark doesn’t bother me, then I don’t need to regret choosing the movie over the lamp. Sometimes saving up for things to improve the apartment will be my priority, and sometimes it won’t. Sometimes I may not have a choice about it, such as on that inevitable day when our one car needs some kind of expensive maintenance. Personalizing our space should be an experience I look forward to, not a chore I dread or a task to check off.

I also remind myself that we aren’t likely to live here forever. Ideally, we’d like to buy a house in a couple of years. But we could end up moving before that, if a compelling opportunity presented itself. There are always events outside of our control. Things happen. In any case, it’s unlikely that we’ll ever “finish” this space. That’s not reason not to make it nice while we’re here, but I’d be dooming myself to failure if I made “fully decorate our apartment” a goal of mine.

I won’t lie and say that that those reminders completely alleviated my feelings about the apartment being bare and style-less, but they did take the edge off. Planning a couple of projects post-Cure helped, too. I’m looking forward to February.

What do you do when your home starts to get you down? Any quick pick-me-ups to help get you past its perceived faults? It’s totally okay if your answer is “window-shop like crazy” or “dream of buying a new house.” I’ve got nothing against a little fantasy.

Assignment #15: Clear a Closet

As a kid, my mom cycled my clothes seasonally, packing away out-of-season items twice a year. When I moved out on my own, I didn’t bother keeping up the habit for the first couple of years, because I was fortunate to have a large enough dresser and closet to accommodate everything at once, and because I often wear my summer shirts with cardigans in the winter and sport the same work trousers year round.

Last winter, I realized that just because I could cram all of my summer and winter gear into the closet at once didn’t mean I should. The time I saved by not sorting, folding, and packing things up slowly trickled away throughout the season as I was constantly pushing past things I wasn’t going to wear, even layered against the cold.

This past Christmas, I was the lucky recipient of some lovely new long-sleeved shirts, which made me realize that this time around I ought to not only pack away my summer clothes, but start taking a serious look at my wardrobe and weeding out things I wasn’t wearing anymore so that I could start building up a wardrobe that I’m really excited about.

I find this difficult for three interconnected reasons:

  1. I reached my full height in middle school, and while some of my proportions have changed, my weight has remained pretty stable. I stopped having to buy clothes because I outgrew them or wore them out long before my peers, and I got accustomed to keeping the same things for a long time because they didn’t need to be replaced.
  2. I haven’t always had money for new clothing when I would have liked it, and even when I did have money, shopping and fashion have never been hobbies of mine, so I find myself reluctant to spend any disposable income on clothes. I would rather spend it on entertainment or hobbies.
  3. I don’t have a strong sense of personal style. I know that I’m most comfortable in stretch jeans and anything made with knits; I’m not self-conscious about form-fitting clothes. I also know that I don’t like to wear anything around my natural waist, which means that vintage/retro styles hold zero appeal for me. Beyond that, I find my preferences vary wildly depending on the occasion and my mood.

Basically, I find it difficult to part with the clothes that I have, even when they’re not my favorites, because I dislike the idea of getting rid of something that’s not completely worn out, and I’m afraid that if I get rid of things that I don’t like much I’ll end up without any options at all because I won’t know what to replace them with or I won’t be willing to spend the time trying to find the perfect replacement.

It will come as a surprise to no one that this does not produce fashion satisfaction.

This year, I’m committing to improving my wardrobe, even if it’s just in small ways. I started by having an honest look at my closet, which (absurdly) still had summer clothes in it in mid-January. I know there’s tons of advice for this sort of thing, but I find I have a slightly different take on this than the “Purge Everything! Do It Now!” I often hear.

Have an idea of where your clothing will go, and sort accordingly. Of my unwanted clothing, some of it is quite worn (permanently bagged knees, threadbare elbows). I don’t like using thrift shops as a dumping ground for my more ragged clothes—if I wouldn’t want to buy the item in its current condition, why would anyone else?—but I also don’t like just trashing old stuff. As a result, clothes tend to wear out their welcome in my closet because I didn’t know how to dispose of them responsibly.

The solution, I discovered, is textile recycling. (I first learned about it on the blog So, Zo…What Do You Know? in an article where Zoe talked about working for the UK charity TRAID). Although options for textile recycling can be hard to come by in some areas, Justin and I have had success with The North Face’s program Clothes the Loop. We didn’t end up accepting the store credit or purchasing anything from them; we were just happy to have a reputable place to drop off unwanted clothes that couldn’t be thrifted.

I do have a few things that are like new. Since I’ve yet to meet anyone my size, let alone interested in a clothing swap, I’m going to look into consignment for the first time. Anything that can’t be consigned will go to the thrift store as normal.

Having a plan made it a lot easier to pull things out of my closet, because I was confident that I wouldn’t end up shuffling them around for a week or two and then just putting them back for lack of a concrete destination. I could also feel more confident that I wasn’t being needlessly wasteful.

Feel free to take short breaks. I find that sorting my clothes can be emotionally exhausting. It’s easy for me to hit a roadblock, get frustrated, and then give up in the middle of things. I found it really helpful to take short breaks every time I finished a category (dresses, blouses, t-shirts) to avoid feeling stressed about the process. (And trust me, I completely understand if spreading all of your clothes out and simultaneously realizing how much you have and how little you like is stressful. That’s where I’m at.) Obviously don’t wander off and get involved in something else while clothes are spread all over your closet/bed/floor. But give yourself permission to get a drink, switch a load of laundry, or read a blog post. Chaining yourself to this chore is more likely to push you to quit than finish.

Don’t feel guilty about using seasonal storage as a kind of outbox. Lots of people will tell you not to waste time storing things you don’t love. But sometimes you’re on the fence. You have a thing that fits and is in good shape, but you’re not sure how much you really like it. You think your style might be moving away from that thing; then again, you might come back around in six months when the weather changes and you’re looking to wear it again. If the purpose of an outbox is to give you emotional distance from a thing so that you can make a final decision about it, then storage can be a pretty effective outbox. Rather than trying to force yourself to make a decision now, give yourself permission to decide later rather than stressing about it. If, when you take the item back out, you’re not excited to see it—if you forgot it was even in the box—then it can go straight out to consignment/swap/donation/recycling without guilt or attachment. And if you’re pleasantly surprised, great! It’s like a free gift to yourself. I don’t think it’s terrible to postpone the decision. (Just, don’t postpone it indefinitely.)

Of course, you’ll probably want to disregard this piece of advice if you’re planning to move before the items would come back out of seasonal storage. I think it’s fine to store things you may or may not want, but nobody wants to move things they’re not sure about.

Now, I’ve probably ruined my chances of becoming a professional organizer with my wishy-washy approach, but I think that cutting yourself a little slack goes a long way toward getting what you want without compromising your happiness or sanity. What do you think? Do you do your closet clear outs slow and steady, or do you take a quicker, more decisive approach?