January Cure 2019: Week 5

Halfway through February already—how did that happen? Between being out of town at the end of January, launching into a fresh onslaught at work, and knuckling down to work on a side gig, there was just enough time to finish up the end of the January Cure, but not quite enough to get this final check-in done and dusted—until now!

Assignment #19: Do a Pantry Cleanout

A freestanding pantry shelf unit with a hodgepodge of boxes, jars, and food storage containers
A freestanding pantry shelf unit neatly organized into groups of condiments, breakfast foods, grains and pastas, and sweet and salty snacks

Instead of the embarrassing anecdote I was going to share, I’m just going to write a note here that says “use things up before you go on a spree buying new ingredients for new recipes, otherwise you will be forced to cook every meal as though it’s an episode of Chopped.”

Assignment #20: Set Up a “Landing Strip” by the Door

Since we moved in, we’ve had a low bookcase and an armchair along the wall by our front door. The bookcase used to hold a bunch of music and game CDs, then we had a reckoning and got rid of about 50% of them; the two empty shelves now hold our most-worn pairs of shoes.  I never liked having the chair where it is—it’s too far from the couch and at an awkward angle to watch TV, but we thought it was too narrow and deep to use in the L-shaped seating arrangement I really want.

On balance, we decided that it would be smart to test the layout to see if we even like it before we spring for new furniture, so we moved the chair even though it’s not ideal. That freed up space to add a new shallow console where the chair used to be.

A shallow, two-drawer console table with brass pulls, topped by a short lamp, a gold lacquer box, and a leather-look key tray

This is the Hafley Two Drawer Console Table in Oxford Blue from the Project 62 collection at Target. The leather-look key tray is also from Target (same style in black), and the gold lacquer box, which holds blank thank-you cards, is from the Container Store.

I’m debating moving the paper shredder from the office to the entryway, since I do most of my shredding immediately after bringing in the mail. I’m also hoping to thrift a stool that I can reupholster and tuck under the table, but so far all of my searching has yielded no success. When the weather warms up, I’ll try the Raleigh flea market.

Assignment #21: Empty the Outbox & Reset the Living Room

We haven’t emptied the outbox yet. On our drive back from Virginia we were talking about some of our collections and realized that we had both independently arrived at the conclusion that we have things we need to let go of to make room for new additions to our hobbies. We already need to make multiple trips to handle what’s in the outbox, so we’re holding off until we can go through those collections we talked about and make some decisions together.

If the January Cure were scored, I don’t think I’d do very well. I never did work on my big project, and the parts of my house that weren’t part of the Cure are still overrun with disorganized stuff. Still, I feel really good about the experience. Having a handful of spaces, even small ones, that are tidy (and easy to reset when they get untidy) is like an oasis in the dessert. Our bedroom in particular is a respite: no matter how stressful the day, I feel like I can crawl into bed and relax now that I’m not surrounded by my own clutter. As far as participation trophies go, that doesn’t suck. 😀

I’m going to try to keep tackling small areas at a time over the rest of the winter and into spring. But first, I’d like to squeeze in a little sewing. I haven’t pulled out my machine since November, and I’m itching to make something before the season changes!

January Cure 2019: Week 4

Back on track! After stumbling through the middle 50% of the January Cure, Week 4 felt much more successful. Was it due to a sudden burst of creative energy, a renewed sense of purpose arising from Justin’s approval of my efforts, or a continued, stubborn refusal to follow the brief? We’ll probably never know.

Assignment #14: Get Rid of Paper Clutter

I don’t have any paper clutter, ha! But seriously, after doing the January Cure four years ago, and then going through the process of buying a house, I think I’ve zeroed in on what paper to keep and what to throw away. I have two sturdy containers with hanging file folders for long-term storage, which I’ve reorganized a couple of times to be easier to search. I usually end up going through them once or twice a year and shredding anything we no longer need.

We don’t get a lot of mail, but what we do get it pretty easy to sift into keep/recycle/shred piles. On most days I handle recycling and shredding immediately, but if I don’t, things never stack up for more than a few days before I deal with them. The keep pile is further sorted into file and action piles, and those are dealt with every few days to once a week. Mail requiring action currently lives in a basket in the living room. I’m thinking of swapping the basket for a cute desktop letter sorter, but the change would be entirely for aesthetics—the current arrangement works just fine.

I used to have about a hundred pounds of academic papers and early career portfolio items stored in one of our closets. That’s not an exaggeration: the paper weighed as much or more than I did. But I finally went through all of it last year and drastically reduced what I was saving.

I kept important records like transcripts, sentimental records like report cards with handwritten comments, and coursework like marked-up college research papers and creative writing assignments, but shed many, many folders of notes and exercises. I also kept any portfolio pieces that I didn’t have digital originals for, or ones where the product is something other than a plain paper document. Everything fits inside a single 18 gallon storage bin. In time, I’ll probably be able to let go of that stuff, too. For now, it takes up considerably less space than it did.

Assignment #15: Get Your Sofa Into Shape

It had been too long since I’d thoroughly vacuumed our couch and flipped the cushions. They feel much fresher now, although I think I’ll be adding “professional upholstery cleaning” to my list of things to accomplish in 2019.

Assignment #16: Do a 3-Minute Surface Sweep

This is one of those good habits that I wish I had but find it weirdly difficult to cultivate. The surface sweep is definitely a tactic of mine, but I tend to do it every few days or once a week, and it tends to be in the morning. Morning cleanups are always frantic and guilt-ridden, and usually a tactic to stall going to work. We already take time to lock up and turn off electronics before bed—it shouldn’t be that much harder to put a handful of things away too. Right?

Assignment #17: Take a Catch-Up Day

I spent my family day helping with a family situation that needed attention. Everything is okay, but no house-related stuff happened. I’m giving myself a pass on it.

Assignment #18: Clean the Floors & Treat Yourself to Flowers

could have done this, but instead I took a tour of the Triangle’s thrift stores (the ones open on Sundays, anyway) to look for a vanity stool I could makeover for the new entryway setup. I didn’t find anything that fit the bill, but I’m not giving up just yet.

I also spent some time shopping for a secret, unselfish sewing project. I can’t share yet, but I’m looking forward to writing about it when it’s done. Which should be right after I catch up on the backlog of 2018 posts I need/want to write. Oy. January, how have you been so long and yet so short?

January Cure 2019: Week 3

Another tardy January Cure check-in! Catching up was more difficult than I expected, but I was able to take off from work on Monday and that helped. Week 3, here we go!

Assignment #6: 30-Minute Closet Cleanout

As promised, my closet cleanout focused on the linen closet in our hallway. I don’t think it’s particularly stuffed, and generally everything in there belongs there, but the arrangement inside is constantly shifting. If it’s been awhile since I’ve washed towels and there’s empty space on the towel shelf, the first aid kit or the box of bathroom trash bags has a tendency to migrate there, only to be moved again when the towels come out of dryer. It’s not a problem, exactly, but every now and then I find myself having to rearrange things in order to put other things away.

Taking a cue from Stephanie Sikora of Life Made Simple, who was on a recent episode of Young House Love Has A Podcast, I tried to put the most-used items within easy reach, and to move less-used items up top and out to the sides. A few items, like extra toilet paper and hand soap, were moved into the bathroom cabinets—it’s two steps from this closet into the bathroom, but Stephanie recommends putting everything as close to where it will be used as possible, and that sounded like a common-sense tip that’s easy to follow in our situation.

The inside of a closet containing shelves full of towels, boxes, and baskets before being organized
The inside of the same linen closet after being organized, with empty space on two of the six shelves

The difference isn’t dramatic, there’s no fancy new system or pretty bins, but the extra breathing room in here is nice.

I also took the opportunity to clean out the basket with our over-the-counter medications. Duplicates were consolidated and expired medications went into the outbox to be dealt with properly at the end of the month.

Assignment #8: Clean the Kitchen & Treat Yourself to Flowers

The kitchen didn’t really get the attention it deserved. I was strapped for time because we were having guests for brunch on Sunday, so I focused on getting the trash and recycling out, getting all of the dishes washed and put away, wiping down the counters, and wiping down the top of the stove. I really need to go back and clean the top of the fridge and the insides of the oven and microwave, but those will have to wait for another day.

No flowers again. I really want to be better about this! Fresh flowers are a treat any time of the year, but a real balm to the soul when it’s dark and cold.

Assignment #9: Do a Bathroom Cabinet Cleanout

We actually have two cabinets in our bathroom: a double-wide “vanity” with a single sink and a built-in cabinet over the toilet. (I say “vanity” because it’s not a freestanding piece of furniture but another built-in, and not a particularly well made one at that). I opted to work on the former, which has three cabinets and two drawers, since it holds our most-used stuff; the other is just storage for cleaners and such.

I started by taking everything out and removing the grimy, crumpled adhesive shelf liner that was still clinging in the backs of the cabinets and drawers. I found another layer of a different liner in the drawers, but it was stuck so firmly that I couldn’t lift a single corner, so I gave up trying to peel it off. I wiped everything down with Method’s all-purpose cleaner (I really like the pink grapefruit scent), then applied new adhesive shelf liner.

I sorted everything that came out into piles: stuff for hair, stuff for eyes, stuff for skin, stuff for teeth, cosmetics, and other. (Justin walked in while I was putting up sticky notes that just said “skin” and “teeth” and so on. He declared it creepy, but what else was I supposed to do? Parents keep their children’s baby teeth, and my sister-in-law accidentally received someone’s order of human hair at Christmastime. I’m not the weird one here.)

After tossing anything used up or broken, consolidating duplicates, and putting anything I knew we wouldn’t use in the outbox, I was able to reuse a three-tier organizer and a couple of recycled cardboard boxes to corral most of our stuff. Once again, I tried to think about keeping similar things together to make getting ready in the mornings easier.

I made two major improvements to our setup. First, I realized that one of the drawers would be the perfect size to keep my hot tools (hair straightener and two curling irons) and hair accessories. After a trip to the Container Store, I landed on this:

A top-down view of a narrow drawer containing a hair straightener, two curling irons, a collection of hair accessories in clear acrylic tubs without lids

I added a silicone baking mat rated for use up to 450°F to the bottom of the drawer. Generally I wait until my styling tools have cooled completely before putting them away, but on mornings when I’m in a rush, it’s reassuring to know that I can throw them in the drawer without worrying they’ll scorch or melt anything. The hair elastics and bobby pins are in stackable clear acrylic tubs.

The second major improvement was taking my cosmetics out of a travel bag and putting them in a dedicated storage system:

Stackable clear acrylic makeup storage holds a variety of lipsticks, eyeshadow palettes, and creams, and another plastic tray holds makeup brushes and cosmetic tools

The clear acrylic storage units are part of the Luxe Acrylic Modular Makeup System from the Container Store. The makeup organizer sits on top of two medium short drawers; the pieces don’t snap into place, but the combination of their weight and sturdy rubber feet keep it from sliding around. The grey tray actually came with a set of EcoTools brushes I got for Christmas. The rest of my brushes (mostly larger face brushes) are still in the cases they came in inside the cabinet below.

There’s a little room for expansion here, but not much, and that’s okay. I have plenty of options to choose from each day, and more than enough powder products to last through this year and the next too. In the short term, I’d like to get a couple of small cups to hold my brushes upright. In the long term? This unit is taking up an awful lot of counter space, and I’d like to move it to a dedicated battle station in my bedroom (which I don’t have, or have space for, yet).

Everything else went back into the cabinets, in what I hope is a more efficient layout. Now that I can see how things fit together, I may make a return trip to the Container Store to get a few pull-out drawers to take full advantage of the counter’s depth.

Assignment #10: Plan a Get-Together

We host our D&D group anywhere from every other month to twice a month, so I don’t really need any extra motivation to invite people over. It’s actually a secret goal of mine to try to change or improve one thing about the house between every session. There are several artists in the group, but none of them seem particularly interior design-focused, so I don’t know if they actually notice. Still, it’s a silly personal challenge that keeps me excited about making improvements, even if they’re small and simple. Whatever works, right?

Assignment #11: Find & Frame Artwork

This might be my new favorite thing. Once we finally broke the seal and and bought and framed some artwork last year, it’s made us both much more open to searching for—and bringing home—art. Here are our latest additions:

Left, a pen and ink drawing of a hooded, roguish woman with a dagger and sack; center, a selectively colored line art print of Beast and Belle dancing; right, a black and white print of an original Nintendo controller

The pen and ink drawing on the left is a portrait of my current D&D character, Mischa; she was commissioned by my husband from our friend Jorren for our D&D Secret Santa gift exchange. The print in the center is Beast and Belle dancing; it was a gift to me from my sister, who purchased it from Amourable Art. The print on the right is another piece of Amourable Art from my sister to Justin.

While hanging these, we also took the opportunity to hang an already-framed photograph and an unframed canvas that had been waiting on us for a permanent home. After 3.5 years, it’s finally starting to look like we live here!

Assignment #12: Work on Your Project

Massive whiff on this one. I ended up working the Friday that had good weather, and it’s been too cold since to do anything in our guest room. Instead of cleaning out our home office, which was plan B, I got really fixated on changing up our entryway and living room. I’ve since moved an armchair, added a skinny desk, and rearranged the books and boxes on our media center to be more balanced and visually pleasing. So I didn’t complete the brief, but I’m really, really happy with what I did instead.

Assignment #13: Clean the Bathroom & Treat Yourself to Flowers

We cleaned most of the bathroom while we were doing the cabinet cleanout. The tub needs special attention: we have a recurring stain around the drain that I’ve learned is caused by dissolved copper in our water, which is almost certainly caused by a lingering bit of copper pipe in the wall (all of the pipe exposed in the basement has been replaced with PEX) and slightly acidic water. Replacing that section of pipe isn’t practical—we’d have to open up the wall, at which point we’d better be doing a reno of the whole bathroom—and the staining can be removed with cleaner and elbow grease, so for now I’m just looking for ways to deter more build-up to make the cleaning last longer.

As I was working through these tasks last weekend, I constantly felt like I wasn’t doing enough. Was I really doing the January Cure if I was skimping on or skipping tasks? I wanted to work faster and longer and have everything completely finished instead of having several half-done tasks (like partially cleaning the kitchen and bathroom, and leaving one cabinet empty due to a repair that needs to be made). I was beating myself up over it, until I’d listed out all the things we’d done.

Writing it all down and telling someone about it made me realize that actually, we’d touched a bunch of different places in our house and made all of them a little bit better in some way. Sure, a lot of those things aren’t permanent, either because they can get messy again or because we might need (or come up with) better solutions down the road, but we put the time into making things that much nicer, and trying to make things work better for us. Even if things don’t stay nice, there’s a chance we’ve introduced a setup or a process to make it just a little bit easier to reset things to nice tomorrow/next week/when we deep clean again. And less time spent cleaning means more time making messes, right? 😉

January Cure 2019: Week 2

Work was an absolute beast last week, which is why this check-in post for week 2 of the January Cure is very late and the assignments are only half completed (at best).

Assignment #4: Set Up an Outbox

A pile of items, including an upright vacuum cleaner, an inflatable mattress, a paper bag of clothes, and a small cardboard box of electronics, sitting on a linoleum floor against a wood-paneled wall
Hello Outbox, my old friend

At least the week started off with something easy. I’ve used the outbox concept on and off since my first January Cure. In fact, my home office has been functioning like a very large outbox lo these many months. Periodically I’d take things to the living room so that my possessions could stare on me in silent judgment of my weaknesses, namely, my reluctance to get rid of anything that might be remotely useful to anyone. Then we’d make plans to have company, and I’d hastily shove everything back in the office till the next weekend.

Yes, my biggest issue, now as before, is getting around to actually emptying the outbox. And the reason for that is that I try to be conscientious about where I send things: I try to re-home things with family, friends, or friends-of-friends who need the items, then pursue donation, then recycling, then garbage disposal. There’s a day dedicated to emptying the outbox at the end of the Cure, so it will finally be farewell to the sundry tripping hazards that have been littering my life and my space.

Assignment #5: Take a Mini-Meditation

This one was another cheat. I’d already narrowed my January Cure project down to either sealing the windows and painting the guest room or thoroughly cleaning our home office. There’s a slim chance I’ll be able to do the windows this Friday; if the weather doesn’t cooperate or I can’t get started early enough, then I’ll turn my attention 100% to the office and worry about the windows in the spring.

Assignment #6: 30-Minute Closet Cleanout

Yeah…this one didn’t happen. My plan is to tackle our linen closet, probably this weekend.

Assignment #7: Refresh Your Living Room

For this one, I went off-piste. The brief was to remove all of the decorative objects on the surfaces in your living room, and pare down any framed photos or linens like pillows and throws. We don’t have a ton of those things to start with, and are actively trying to incorporate them into our home more. So this assignment didn’t feel particularly helpful.

Instead, we put away all of our Christmas decorations. Well, everything except the wreath and the outdoor lights, because it was cold an wet. But this weekend, for sure.

Assignment #8: Clean the Kitchen & Treat Yourself 

Uh, nope. Not even close. I made it as far as deciding to take the outside track (cleaning surfaces and appliance exteriors) and that was it. I didn’t even rustle up any flowers.

Nevertheless, I’m optimistic that I can get back on track for the rest of the week and the month. Which is a darned good thing, because we’re having people over on Sunday!

January Cure 2019: Week 1

When I started this blog in 2015, I kicked things off by sharing my progress with Apartment Therapy’s January Cure. Four years later, I’m ready to tackle it again. I’ve actually signed up for the January Cure every year, but this is the first time I’ve felt like I’ll be able to do more than read the tasks each day—I feel like I can see it through to the end. Which is a good thing, because every room in my house has mysteriously succumbed to a great creeping mess over the last month, a fact that completely baffles me because we weren’t even here for 25% of that time. Is it possible my house has contracted an acute case of entropy? (Science was never my strong suit.) Anyway, I’m planning to recap my progress each week to keep myself accountable. January Cure 2019, here we go!

Assignment #1: Declutter a Drawer

A drawer overflowing with plastic cutlery, drinking straws, lighters, adhesives, and other household ephemera

I knew our junk drawer had gotten out of hand when a friend (who was looking for super glue) commented on how it was “looking a little full.” Under any other circumstances, I would have felt horribly judged, and my hospitality would have frozen over until said “friend” left, never to be invited back. But this particular friend is one I trust to serve up truth with love, so I had to concede he had a point.

As I was finding new/better homes for some of the clutter, it was so tempting to turn “declutter a drawer” into “reorganize a closet” or “dump everything out of its bin and put it into a different, clearly superior bin.” But that was not the brief, and there will be other opportunities to reckon with my closets (next week, in fact!) so I stayed the course and knocked this out in about 20 minutes. Most of that time was spent trying to find a box to put light bulbs in. Every time I think I no longer need to hold back random cardboard shipping boxes from the recycling and I send them to the curb, BAM! I have a pile of stuff that needs to be wrangled. One day, everything will be corralled into a lovely collection of baskets, bowls, and tins. Today is not that day. Tomorrow is looking…iffy.

But hey! One drawer down:

A drawer with a single layer of kitchen-appropriate items like scissors, tape, straws, and bag clips

Assignment #2: Make a List of Projects

A series of household cleaning, organizing, DIY, and shopping to-do lists organized by room

This one was a total cheat, I’ll admit. Some time after we purchased and moved into our house, and during one of my ultimately failed previous Cures, I signed up for Trello and transferred my paper house to-do list to digital form, accessible anywhere. I haven’t checked into Trello regularly in some time, but my old list was still there.

I was pleasantly surprised that I was able to check off a handful of things we’ve completed over the past couple of years. (The fact that I’d believed, when I made this list, that 80–90% of the things on it would be done by this point in time is neither here nor there.)

My big project for January is a bit of a gamble: I’d like to polyurethane the windows and trim in the guest room and get the walls and ceiling painted. We managed to stain the windows during our annual, semi-predictable abnormally warm days (I say “semi-predictable” because we seem to have them every January, but when they strike is random), but I can’t count on the weather to cooperate with my need to have my windows completely out of their frames for an entire day—it IS winter, after all.

If that project doesn’t pan out, the next logical choice would be to get everything off the floor of our office. Right now, it’s a dumping ground for anything that has been temporarily displaced by other activities or that doesn’t have a permanent home. Making space for (or, let’s be honest, getting rid of) those things is the first step toward adding a dedicated sewing space to the office. As much as I need the exercise I get from setting up and tearing down a makeshift sewing space in the dining room every time we have friends over to play D&D, I’d prefer to have my hobbies peacefully co-habitate rather than lead competing half-lives.

Assignment #3: Clean the Bedroom & Treat Yourself to Flowers

A wooden dresser, surmounted by a TV and jewelry chest, and littered with paper, clothes, and small boxes

My dresser has been in this state for at least a month, but probably more. Trust me when I say that the rest of the room was just as messy. Most of the clutter was paper I didn’t need to hang onto anymore, and things that belonged in drawers but were, inexplicably, sitting on them instead. All easily dealt with.

I don’t know about other Curers, but this early phase of the process feels a lot less like putting things away and a lot more like redistributing the mess other parts of the house.

Nevertheless, it’s a relief to have clean sheets on the bed, a dust-bunny-free closet, and no more piles of stuff staring me in the face when I open the door. It may not be glamorous or even interesting, but it’s neat:

A wooden dresser, surmounted by a TV, jewelry chest, and small bowl of keychains, with an otherwise clean surface

I also bought flowers, a small bouquet of mixed yellow blooms, but I forgot to photograph them. They’re brightening up the living room and only clashing a teensy bit with the Christmas decorations that still need to be put away.

And that’s Week 1 done and dusted!