Archive for the 'Decluttering' Category

Storing the light bulbs

They’re in the dishwasher now.

Please don’t tell my husband that.  It’s one of those cases in which what he doesn’t know truly won’t bother him.  He’s highly unlikely to either read this blog or open the dishwasher, so I am pretty sure that my secret is safe, as long as our readers don’t curiously go opening the dishwasher to see if I’m telling the truth.  I know that those of your who live here WILL indeed do that, but I would ask that you only do it when Dad is not on the property.  = )

Readers who don’t live in our house may wonder about my sanity, so allow me to explain.

Some six (?) years ago, when our hard water destroyed our second replacement dishwasher, there was some difference of opinion as to how we should proceed.  Options considered at the time included:

1.  Buying another dishwasher (which would work well for three or four months and then, as the water pressure steadily decline, would leave the dishes dirtier and dirtier, eventually requiring full hand-washing thereof)

2.  Buying another dishwasher and installing a water softener (which would alter the taste of our rock-hard water)

3.  Doing the dishes the old-fashioned way, with or without

4.  Replacing the dishwasher with some type of cabinetry or other storage

5.  Using paper plates exclusively

I vetoed #1, the kids and I vetoed #2, Scott vetoed #3, and #5 was not cost-effective, so we have since been left with #3, without.

Meanwhile, there have been the issues of beach towels and light bulbs.  Our ninety-nine year-old home has very little storage space.  Oh, yes, there are plenty of cabinets in the kitchen, and there are a couple of high ones over the washer and dryer in the laundry room, but beyond that, we are clearly closet-deficient.  There’s no hall closet, no coat closet, no guest closet, no linen closet, and in fact no closet at all on the first floor, with the exception of Jessica’s miniscule bedroom one.

Each of the boys does have a small closet in his bedroom, our master bedroom has a small walk-through closet – actually a tiny hallway – with a hanging bar (Scott’s clothes) and shelf;  when our bathroom was re-done, we had three more shelves and another hanging bar (my clothes) added.  As mentioned in a recent post, our office also has a small closet which would be considered coat-closet size in a more modern house.  And that’s it.

Now, since beach towels should really be stored on the first floor where they are used, they have for years lived in the cabinet above the dryer.  With six people in the house, I feel a compulsion to have at least six beach towels available at all times.  Yes, even in the winter.  Beach towels are our go-to for things like minor floods across the kitchen floor, people puking in odd places, sopping up auto upholstery when windows have been left open in rain, etc.

Then there’s the matter of light bulbs.  I cannot stand to store things in ways in which they are not readily visible, so I like to be able to look at my light bulb stash and tell at a glance how many I have of which kind.  And in this old house, one must stock a lot of kinds.  There are, of course, your standard 40, 60, and 100-watt versions.  None of those denominations can be eliminated, because the ceiling fans in the attic take nothing higher than 40s, living room lamps are happiest with 60s (or even 75s, to make matters even more complicated), and the cellar HAS to have 100s to make it light enough to see down there.

Then there are the specialty bulbs – including, but not limited to candelabra-based candle-tip 25s for the dining room chandelier and solid white standard-based candle-looking 40s for the office fixture.  Not to mention those funky totally round ones around our bathroom mirror.

The cabinet above the dryer has a low shelf and a high (read: completely unreachable by Patty, who could keep a stool nearby, but WHERE?) shelf.  On the left side of the low shelf, we have traditionally stacked the beach towels, and in the remaining seven-inch wide space on the right side of that shelf, Yours Truly has tried in vain to keep the myriad of light bulbs organized.  On that matter, she has obviously miserably.

When you yank out the beach towels to go swimming (or for other more pressing purposes), one or more light bulb packages is prone to fall.  They cannot then be put back up, because I cannot reach to stack them properly (the dryer being in the way and my height and arm length both being somewhat sub-standard), and the only other current occupant of the house who would care to do so spends an awful lot of hours driving to and from Springfield these days.

When you need a light bulb, it is impossible to find what you need in the stash on the right side of that shelf.  Furthermore, it is highly unlikely that we even own what you need.  If you then go to the store to purchase what you need, you will find that incandescent bulbs have been deemed evil and are no longer available.  If you happen to locate some obscure store that still (against U.S. governmental recommendations – or is it regulations?) sells incandescent bulbs, you will be motivated to stock up enough of said to last into the next decade, because you HATE those compact fluorescent bulbs that are now being shoved into our households.  When you do bring home your bags and bags of lovely old-fashioned, inefficient incandescent bulbs, you will have no closet in which to store them, and this will cause frustration.

A few weeks ago, two packs of light bulbs fell out of the cabinet and landed on the dryer.  The dryer already support a large plastic container of laundry soap (which can’t sit on the floor because then there would be no room for the laundry baskets or the feet of the people who walk in there to do laundry) and a box of dryer sheets (which can’t live in the cabinet above the washer because it’s full of other stuff that can’t be stored in closets, because they don’t exist).

These two packs of light bulbs were moved back and forth and back and forth and back and forth over the top of the dryer every time some one needed to clean the lint screen – FOR OVER A MONTH!  No one thought to put them away in the cabinet, and I didn’t want to even LOOK in that cabinet, because I knew it was impossible to organize the light bulbs.

Furthermore, our beach towels have become very frayed and very faded through the years, and in recent weeks, Wal-Mart had nice ones on sale for a mere $3 each.  I bought about seven.  And folded them neatly.  And put them on the left side of the shelf in the cabinet above the dryer.  Which forced me to look at the light bulbs. . .

And so, today, in a veritable fit of decluttering and reorganizing, I took down all the light bulbs and neatly arranged them in the dishwasher.  The “normal” bulbs are on the top rack, with the specialty ones on the lower rack.  I can see all the light bulbs, and I know exactly what we have!  With those extra seven inches, the beach towels now fit easily on their shelf.  (In the spirit of leftovers that will never be eaten but which must be saved until the spoil, the old dead beach towels will be moved into the playroom – although I don’t think full disclosure on that matter is really essential, either.)

So now, if you need a light bulb, you will know where to look.


Top shelf

My determined purpose today was to completely clean out the top shelf of the office closet.

Nearly three years ago, for my birthday, Scott helped me clean out that whole closet, and for a few weeks it did truly look lovely.  However, for the past two and-a-half years, it has pretty consistently been a disaster area.  This causes two problems.  Since it’s so packed full of junk and there’s no where to put anything, (A) I can rarely find what I’m looking for in there, (B) I tend to just toss whatever wherever, and (C) just looking at the closet is so overwhelming (and there’s no door on that closet) that I tend to avoid even trying to do anything about it.

But today was my off day – the first scheduled one in over two years!!! – and although I did have to go to the bank and grocery first thing, and I will have to take Andrew to gymnastics in an hour, I have been highly productive in the office closet in the meantime.  At least with the top shelf.

First, I took EVERYTHING off the shelf.  That involved a lot of stuff, so there were boxes, containers, and loose items all over my desk, the school desk, and the office floor.

Next, I did the most emotionally difficult part.  I threw out our mildewed wedding album, without thumbing through it.  Someone clap for me, please.  That album had been ruined years ago by being left in the humid shop building, but my parents most graciously arranged to have a second, smaller album made.  That one is on display in our climate-controlled living room.

Along the same lines and of comparable difficulty was the tackling of two very large photo albums with pictures from before we were married until just before Katie was born.  These albums had probably done time in the shop near the wedding album, and they also had extensive mildew damage.  The sad part was realizing all the time I had taken to put those pages together.  They were the old-fashioned kind of albums where you peel back the plastic, lay the pictures on the cardboard-ish page, and lay the plastic back down on top.

In one album, all the pictures on the bottom half of every page were ruined, so I sat at the dining room table, methodically peeling back each plastic and taking out any pictures that were still good.  In the second album, all the pictures on the top half of every page were ruined, so I repeated the process for that one.  This resulted in a stack of photos that just fit into a one-quart zip-loc bag.  Very satisfying.  They are in very rough chronological order, and if I ever get bored, I will buy a scrapbook and put them in it.

Actually, I have a question for those who are wiser than me about photos; specifically the displaying and/or scanning thereof.

Once I finished the two albums and had someone else carry their remains out to the trash can (that would have made me cry), I took my zip-loc of old pictures back up to the office and faced the two shoe boxes of loose pictures and negatives (well, some of them were in envelopes) that had never yet made it into albums.  Actually, some of them had, and that’s the issue.  You see, about a year-and-a-half ago, Jessica graduated from high school, and someone(s) took a bunch of pictures out of albums and out of frames and scanned them into some computer, so they could be used in a music video.  Then a year ago, the process was repeated for another music video for my surprise 50th birthday party.

As best I can tell, none of those pictures were ever returned to their homes – (sigh) – so they have joined the tanks of loose, unlabeled pictures in the two shoeboxes.  Now, I am at least somewhat motivated to put these guys into scrapbooks, even though they won’t be in dated order, just so that I can write something beside them to indicate who/when/where while I can still remember!  But if I do that, and if some other kid graduates, or gets married, or whatever, and somebody wants to use the pics in the scrapbook in a music video, how can they be taken out to scan?  And will they ever be put back?  And if so, how will whoever know where and how to put them back?

If you have wisdom on this matter, please do tell!

The picture process took several hours, and then I had to sort a lot of stuff and decide what to do with it.  A lot of it – notably all that junk that we save to re-gift or use as white elephant gifts at Christmas – was thrifted.  SURELY by Christmas we’ll have new junk to white elephant, and as far as true gifts, we’re not a real gifty family.  If there’s someone we really want to give a gift to, we’ll either buy it or make it especially for him or her.

I have placed color-coded, numbered labels on all the top shelf boxes.  There are two boxes of pictures, one box of “Barnabas” (encouraging) stuff, four boxes of craft supplies (seems a little excessive for the least crafty mom west of the Mississippi) and a box of crayons, one box of old letters, one box of souvenirs, one monster box of my postcard collection, a big box of extra electronics, a box of Mission China banquet supplies, a spindle of Mission China CDs (or are they DVDs?), and a box of new Christmas cards that I didn’t realize I had.  = )

I feel successful.  There are three lower shelves yet to approach (although they are all only a third as long as the top shelf) plus all the junk on the floor, but I have made a start, and a start generates momentum.  Whee!

Cardboard is good

I have issues with storage containers in general and cardboard in particular.  Just ask Scott about the shoeboxes in the playroom.

While Katie was home, we worked to de-clutter the playroom in a significant way, and I think the progress made was glorious.  (Secretly, Katie and I also think that Scott’s idea of decluttering is to simply move the offending matter out of his direct line of sight, but that’s a different issue.)

One of the shelves in there was loaded with boxes, and admittedly, the boxes were all my fault.  You see, at certain times of the year – notably in  November/December and again in May – we have a great need of boxes.  We use boxes to conceal gifts, and between Jessica’s November birthday (even if we each give her only one gift, that’s five boxes), Christmas (if each family member gave one gift to each other family member, that would be 30 boxes, not to mention gifts for friends and extended family), and Katie’s birthday, Andrew’s birthday, and miscellaneous graduations in May (add it up yourself), it takes a LOT of boxes to do all that!

Now, granted, many boxes do get re-used, but as the planning mom who wants to be prepared for every eventuality, I confess to possessing an abnormally strong tendency to collect boxes.  In fact, Katie asked me how many boxes I thought were crammed onto that playroom shelf, and I said, “ten.”  Then Scott started hauling them out and tossing them across the room while Katie counted and laughed and I laughed and tried not to cry.  I think there were something like 25.  Maybe more.

We did save the shoeboxes (out in the shop, now) for Operation Christmas Child in November, but we got rid of almost all the rest of them.  After all, some gifts are ordered online and come in boxes, and we do have a while before November to re-build our cardboard stash.

I say all that so that our readers can rejoice in my GREAT self-control today.

I had ordered a new travel alarm clock online.  This was because my old, unreliable one that is analog and can’t be set for a specific time and tends to go off ten minutes before or ten minutes after the time it’s set for had disappeared.  I had looked high and low for that thing, to no avail, and I NEED an alarm clock when I travel, so I splurged and ordered a nifty orange one.  Orange, so I can’t easily leave it behind somewhere!

It arrived today – oh, I guess in the name of integrity I should mention that I found the old one a couple days ago in my . . . ahem. . . crochet bag, but it still doesn’t work very well – and it came in a nice sturdy small packing box that was quite tempting.  Then, inside the packing box, it was actually housed in a VERY nice, glossy, neatly-sized box with one of those locking tabs (A) that slides into slot (B) and which you have to bend back in order to open the box.  Yes, a box like that.  QUITE spiffy.

So I was at the dining room table, sorting all the mail, and I had these two lovely boxes that really would be good for something.  They wouldn’t even take up much space on the playroom shelf, and, in fact, I could store the one inside the other; how terribly efficient.


Oh, somebody please clap for me.  = )

Leaning tower

I confess to coming from a long line of piles, but yesterday I think I won the prize, and it wasn’t a prize I wanted to win.

I like to send out birthday and anniversary cards, but to keep my sanity, I prepare a month of them at a time.  Each envelope then gets a sticky note with the day and date it needs to be mailed, and they are all stacked up in mailing date order in a little box that sits behind the rack of stuff on my desk.  Every evening I glance at the stack, and if there’s something that needs to go out in the next day’s mail, it gets moved to the out-going mail container over on the filing cabinet.  Then, in the morning, when I go out to walk, I carry all that outgoing mail out to the mailbox (with the flag up, of course). This system has served me fairly well for many years.

I typically work on preparing the next month’s cards on the 25th of the month, and that’s where the problem started.  Obviously, I didn’t do anything useful on the 25th of last month, and what with guests, celebrations, and excursions, I didn’t spend much time at my desk in the days following, either.

Finally, on the 4th of January, I tackled the January birthday and anniversary cards.  It was quite a little project, as I also needed to transfer all the pertinent dates to my 2011 calendar (another task that should have been done a month earlier, but wasn’t).  I felt a great sense of satisfaction when I finally finished sticky-noting all those cards, and I will say that there were a lot of them.   May truly must be the month when a young man’s fancy turns to love. . .  Anyway, I stacked all those cards in out-going date order and reached up over the teetering stack of paperwork to place them in the box, but wait.  What was this?  Something still in the box?  Sporting a  “WED 12/29” sticky note?  My, that was six days ago.  What could it be?

Oh, no.  Surely not.  I think I’m going to be sick.  But yes, it really was a VISA payment; the one that HAD to have been mailed on December 29 in order to arrive early enough to avoid penalties and late enough not to bounce; the one that would now be overdue and would accrue not only a late fee, but a hefty interest charge, as well.  Sigh.

You might ask, with such a well-oiled system, why I hadn’t mailed that puppy on the 29th, and the answer would be that leaning tower of homeschool records, library books, miscellaneous periodicals, a 15-page insurance application I was also supposed to have filled out last month, a couple Christmas cards/pictures that hadn’t yet been hung, the owner’s manual for my new electric knife (very nice!), a notice about health care reform from my current insurance provider, one issue of the Taney County Republican (what a lovely name for a newspaper), a short stack of clean printer paper, and my working copy of our two-year Bible-reading plan.

All that stuff stuck up so high that for about a week, I hadn’t even been able to see what was in the dated mail box.  Realizing that the buck – probably a lot of them – clearly stopped with me, I knew I needed to take swift and severe action.  I sent Scott an email telling him what had happened and that I would pay all the charged incurred by my negligence, and then I grabbed the entire pile from the rack and plunked it down on my desk.

Life’s full of trade-offs.  Now I can see the charming stack of January cards in the dated mail box, but I have to lean over a ten-inch-high stack of stuff in order to reach my keyboard.

Spic ‘n span

Only 33% of our family finds decluttering to be recreational.  When Scott was traveling abroad regularly with his business, every time he made a trip Jessica and I would tackle one subset of our enormous collection of junk.  We would throw out a lot of it, set portions aside to give to friends and/or charity, and neatly organize the rest.  The size of a given project could vary widely, from one drawer to one cabinet to one room.

It’s been a while since Scott’s last trip, and so (because we can only spirit away stuff over which he has jurisdiction – but which he will never use or even miss – when he’s out of town) not much serious decluttering has occurred in the recent past.  However, Jessica and I had tackled the cellar a few months ago.  We had made significant progress on it, down to setting aside some plastics that needed to be washed before use, bagging up some more plastics to be thrifted, and partially doing the right side of the cellar.  We ran out of time and energy that day, but vowed we would complete it “soon.”

Last week, we talked about finishing up the cellar sometime that week, and at about 4:00 PM on Saturday afternoon, Jessica reminded me that the week would soon be over.  Hmmm.  Yes.  So, armed with trash bags, down to the cellar we went, AND WE DID IT!!!  Our cellar now looks totally lovely; or, as lovely as the average gravel cellar can look.

Feeling such a tremendous rush of accomplishment, and having no pressure to cook due to plenty of leftovers, I asked if we might figure out some way to contain the collection of Christmas plates, platters, and cookie tins stored in the back of the cabinet under the kitchen counter.  Since these things are only accessed one time a year, they are typically shoved (or, more realistically, tossed) way back into a virtually inaccessible corner.  I can’t see them back there, and I have to crawl on the floor to get to them.  Don’t tell Scott, but I think this has resulted in my purchasing – over several years – more cookie tins than one family can possible use in a lifetime.

Our cellar purge had yielded a large flat plastic that I was pretty sure could hold all the Christmas stuff.  Then I would be able to simply slide it out in December, SEE all the serving and storage pieces, use them as needed, and replace the whole collection neatly in January.  Of course, to get to all that stuff, we had to pull everything out of the cabinet (that would be “we, Jessica”).  Doing so forced us to sort through all the glass and/or plastic mixing bowls, metal baking pans, and monster pots that live down there.

In the process we happened upon one of our three round metal cake pans.  It’s supposed to be stored with its two siblings in the far right cabinet across the room under the microwave, but when “we” open the door to reunite it with its companions, a lot of other stuff fell out, and that motivated us to (since were were on a roll, you know) vacate those five cabinets, as well.

Now, I do come by saving genetically, but I didn’t realize exactly how bad it had gotten till Jessica started counting the empty spaghetti sauce cans I had saved to drain grease into (six?) and the (I believe it was four) empty peanut butter jars I had saved for who knows why.  I did save two of the former, but we trashed all the latter.  It took a while to go through all of the junk under there, but eventually – some two-and-a-half hours after we had marched down to the cellar – WE WERE FINISHED, not only with the cellar, but with all our lower kitchen cabinets.  Somebody clap, please.

Now we can find everything we need, everything has an obvious and easily accessible place, and if any young men whose last names start wit “R” resume their slovenly habits of pitching things into wrong places, I will pitch something at them!

Keeping your baseboards clean

My mom was a big fan of clean baseboards when I was a kid, and I definitely respect and appreciate Mom.  However, I am personally able to leave a dusty baseboard untouched for quite a few months years, and I have obviously passed on this trait to a percentage of our offspring.

We are expecting to lodge an undefined number of AIM folks here for a leadership camp this weekend, and at least some of them will probably be sleeping in Katie’s now-vacant room.  Hence, this afternoon, Jessica and I went up there to survey the scene and do any necessary damage control following Katie’s recent spring break.

Now, I had asked Katie to leave her room in decent shape, and to her credit, she truly did.  In fact, the only things that really needed to be done were changing the sheets, dusting a few surfaces, and vacuuming.  However, before I began vacuuming, I decided it would be prudent to take a broom to the carpet edges, sweeping out violently beating out the several months’ years’ worth of accumulated dust and junk, so the vacuum could suck it up.

Once I got started sweeping out the edges, I wanted to finish (not that I’m compulsive or anything. . .)  Jessica graciously pulled Katie’s nightstand out from the wall so I could attack the carpet beneath and behind it, and what did she find, but – SHOCK AND AWE – a check for $96.66, made out to Katie and dated July 1, 2008! Jessica called Katie, who was quite pleased to know that she now has almost $100 more than she thought she had.

Moral of the Story:  Listen to your mother; there is wisdom in keeping your baseboards clean.

If a clean playroom really is a happy playroom,

then our playroom must be downright jovial.  We returned last night from a trip to visit my parents in Arkansas, and Jessica and I were both in the mood to GET SOMETHING CLEANED.  She decided we should tackle the playroom, and we fairly body slammed it.

Not only did we go all the way around as we usually do – working counter-clockwise from the door, but (ducking and whispering) we actually cleared off the wicker shelf.  This is a significant undertaking.  In an earlier life, the wicker shelf stood in the corner of the dining room.  The top shelf was designated for Dad, the next shelf for Mom, the next shelf for science-y stuff, and the bottom shelf for the kids.  I think.  It’s been a while – probably back when we only had three kids.  We did clean off the lower three-fourths of the wicker shelf periodically, but we never could attack Dad’s shelf, because we never knew what of his could be thrown out and what could not.

A few years ago, the wicker shelf wobbled and waddled and relocated itself into the playroom.  Nowadays, no one puts anything much on it, and the same stuff that graced its surfaces years ago is probably still there.  In general, when Jessica and I clean the playroom, we just work our way around to the wicker shelf, pause for a moment of solemn reflection, and go on past it in a cloud of dust and hearty “High Ho, Playroom!”

Yesterday, we actually touched the thing and discussed what would happen if we were to clear it off. We looked at each other, realized Dad wasn’t home and couldn’t comment, and went at it like two wild women.

It ended up being kind of fun; pulling out things like two compasses, some drywall anchors, part of an armadillo’s shell, one piece from Risk, some porcupine quills, two partial snakeskins, miscellaneous Legos, pushpins, two eye bolts, and a kit for studying tree rings – and trying to figuring out what to do with each item.  We eventually succeeded in emptying all the bottom shelves, and then The Great Question remained – what to do with the stuff on Dad’s shelf?

Fearing that it might bite, we approached the top shelf with caution, but it turned out that we were quite safe.  The most dangerous residents of that most sacred horizontal surface were three Bibles, two quiet time notebooks, and a varied assortment of CDs chronicling the early years of our ministry.  Scary CDs, I’m sure.  We did ditch a number of unidentifiable items and an fine assortment of instructions (how to install the gizmo that pulls the breezeway door shut, how to assemble a bookshelf that’s been assembled in the attic for seven years, etc.), then carried the valuables to Scott’s desk.

Actually, we are pretty sure our secret is safe.  Scott never reads this blog, and he will probably be pleasantly surprised to have relocated his Bibles, notebooks, and ministry CDs.  Yes, he will be pleasantly surprised, Jessica and I are very satisfied, and our playroom is happy once again.