The Great Clean Out of 2017.

Dear friends,

The master bedroom during the middle of a closet purge.

Before the arrival of every new year, I find myself contemplating resolutions. I’ve always thought of myself as the Queen of Self Help. Someone who has both the drive and resourcefulness to set ambitious goals and meet them. Ready, set . . . GOOOOOOOOOO!

And then I cave.

(My philosophy is if a goal isn’t intimidating enough to make you cave early on, it’s probably not worth being called a goal. Cleaning the kitchen, for example, requires little forethought or dedication.  It’s a “just do it” kind of thing. But cleaning and organizing the whole house? That’s enough to make you gulp. That’s a goal. )

But, sometimes, after I cave, I find the fortitude and the stamina to take a deep breath and dig back in. It seems to me the persistence to keep digging in, again and again, is the key to any kind of success. And though I haven’t always persisted in every endeavor I’ve pursued, I recently completed a very big goal worth writing about.

Dubbed the Great Clean Out of 2017, my goal was to clean and organize my home in a way I had never before pursued. I was feeling leaden, a bit cornered by the clutter, and looking for a fresh start. I know my age has something to do with it, but I was slowly starting to panic about the size and maintenance demands of our home. I told Mr. Mom how frightened I was of becoming one of those old couples whose home “caves” in on them because they lose the ability to keep up with things. One day they wake up old and surrounded by too many objects too many decades out of use or style. It’s a literal nightmare for me.

So I vowed to tackle our entire home and to give myself a year to do it. It seemed reasonable and the more I thought about it, the more my motivation grew. I started telling everyone of my plan. I vowed to not only clean and organize, but to purge. And purge some more. Followed by a side of purge.

I made a list. (Because nothing feels as good as check marks on a list.) I divided big jobs into little jobs. I knew I would never find the motivation to clean and organize the laundry room, for example. It’s too big, too full of built-in cabinets that had been stuffed and ignored. So I wrote down 45 items on my list, items I thought sounded manageable, such as “Kitchen desk,” and “Night stands” and “Buffet drawers” and “Coffee cart.” Things I could do in less than an hour so that I might feel energized to tackle another item on the list. Then another.

My strategy worked. I started 2017 with a bang and, by March, I had checked off more than a third of my list, including two really big/challenging spaces such as the dish pantry and the kitchen. (It took me multiple days spread over two weeks, but cleaning out every single drawer and cabinet in my kitchen — as well as scrubbing and streamlining every surface — was a true mood booster and personal triumph.) I was stoked.

Then life got hard and my enthusiasm waned. Long hours and challenging dynamics at work diffused my focus on my goal and sapped my energy. I tried to keep plugging along but the check marks slowed.

The one thing on my list I had been too overwhelmed to break down into smaller chores was the basement. I had written BASEMENT in all caps at the bottom of my list, a visual representation of the enormity of the task.  I put it on the bottom of the list because I rationalized my Great Clean Out would be deemed a success if everything but the basement got done. I mean, who would blame me? It was so stuffed that we couldn’t even walk around. Much of the contents were boxes we were too exhausted to unpack when we moved into this home, topped off with six years of stuff we should have purged but chose instead to throw in the basement.

Fortunately, my daughter offered to come home for Labor Day weekend and help me. Between her and Mr. Mom, who did all the heavy lifting and hauling off while Kate and I sorted, purged, organized and cleaned, we finished the basement in a single (albeit long) day.

There’s nothing quite like completing a project that has intimidated and plagued you for years. Finishing the basement was like a tonic, and it gave me the energy to check off a few more items on the list in the following weeks.

I was so inspired, I even added new items to the list. I decided to paint and recover my dining room chairs, a project I started before Thanksgiving and finished today. I painted the buffet and the mantle and two mirrors. I made a new slipcover for the ottoman in the den. I cleaned and repainted our deck furniture and bought all new cushions. I replaced the light fixture over the kitchen island. I hired a company to clean our carpets. After Parker moved out, I redecorated the guest room with new side tables and bedding and cleaned out his long-ignored closet. I bought a new mattress and all new bedding for the master bedroom. I reupholstered a wing chair. I bought a new sofa and recliner for the living room and new slipcovers for the sofa in the keeping room.

As 2017 drew to a close, I had two remaining chores on my list — the dreaded laundry room and the refrigerator.

First — I know a refrigerator should be cleaned regularly, not part of a major purge. But I spontaneously scribbled it on the list thinking it would be an easy win, and then I proceeded to ignore it for a year. By the time I completely emptied it last week and scrubbed every surface with soap and water, it was in dire need. If you need a mental boost and decide to do nothing else, clean your refrigerator. It seriously might have been the most energizing and pleasing project I completed all year.

Second — despite breaking the laundry room down into four manageable items on my list, I ignored it until the bitter end. I gave serious thought to skipping it all together, thinking I could still pat myself on the back for doing everything BUT the laundry room. But on Dec. 30, still clad in my pajamas at 11:00 am, I decided to dive in. I even tackled one item not on my list — our four-drawer filing cabinet (which happens to reside in the laundry room), which hadn’t been attended to in more than a decade.

Guess what? I found my “lost” passport. I found my daughter’s immunization record, which she had asked for last fall but which Mr. Mom couldn’t find despite digging through the filing cabinet. I found three savings bonds I didn’t know we had, gifts to my children 20 years ago from a family friend. I found our wills, which I thought had long ago been lost. Score four for the motivated mother cleaning in her PJs on the day before her deadline!

Now that I’m done, I’m enormously gratified to say that I literally touched (and cleaned or purged) every single item in our home. The only thing I ignored was the garage. It’s Mr. Mom’s space so I never even put it on the list. And I don’t feel bad. It needs a lot of love (and a deep clean) in my opinion, but it’s not my hill to die on.

With the interior of the house “done,” I’ve started thinking about the outside. When spring arrives, I hope we will find the energy and inspiration to power wash our exterior and our driveway. We need to re-stain the deck and wash the windows. But I really just want to enjoy the satisfaction of finishing the Great Clean Out of 2017 for a while before I think about the next list of projects.

Because the truth is — keeping up a house is never-ending, just like keeping a drawer or cabinet tidy takes continual attention. If I hadn’t ignored things for so long (hello basement), a year-long clean out wouldn’t have been necessary. But since it was, necessary, I’m awfully glad to have it behind me.

With gratitude {for finishing},

Joan, who once set a goal to run a thousand miles in a year and didn’t achieve it, but thinks the Great Clean Out might have been even more demanding.

PS: I’ve included quite a few photos in case you are curious and/or looking for inspiration to tackle your own dreaded chores. Under the label of truth in advertising, I should note a whole lot of personal interests took a back seat to this year-long endeavor. Yes, I cleaned and organized my entire house and purged several pick-up loads of excess baggage. But my quilting took a hit and I finished only one small baby quilt and a few pillows in 2017. My fitness took a real dive. Cooking and baking seriously diminished except around holidays or special occasions. And my writing was non-existent. I guess what I’m saying is everything comes at a cost. I spent an entire year focusing on our home at the expense of other interests and I’m looking forward to a change-up in 2018.

A clean desk is so satisfying. And handy.

Freshly scrubbed and de-cluttered, the kitchen project was enormously satisfying.

 

The reorganized cleaning pantry.

Refurbished deck furniture.

Room to spare in the reorganized sewing room closet.

The BASEMENT! Clean and organized after only six years.

The refreshed guest bedroom.

Refurbished dining room chairs.

The living room.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A few thoughts on gardening. Of the metaphorical variety.

Dear friends,

selfie

A few years ago, I heard a colleague say “It’s always a good idea to re-pot yourself every now and then.”

He was talking about professional transitions and the benefits of new jobs, new perspectives and new challenges. About that same time, I was planning to re-pot myself in the fertile soil of Missouri and another colleague warned it would take two years for me to feel fully adjusted and properly rooted. I remember the comment gave me pause. “Two years?” I thought. “I hope not.”

Turns out, both colleagues were right.

My re-potting was a great move on many levels. Though I was originally the one who instigated our transition, I think it’s fair to say all my family members now agree that the change of scenery did us good. I can confidently say we are happily settled.

So much so that Saturday night — when Mr. Mom and I hosted some newcomers for a friendly tennis match and dinner at our home — we played the roles of natives rather than transplants.

The couple has only been in town 11 months. The husband travels frequently for his new job and I could tell that the move combined with frequent spousal separations meant both he and his wife were missing their east-coast hometown terribly. I told them all the things we had come to appreciate about the community and urged them to reserve judgement for two full years.

The husband seemed surprised. “Two years?” he asked, unable to conceal the concern in his voice.

“I know,” I said. “I reacted the same way. But truth be told, if you would have asked me at the one-year mark, or the 18-month mark if I felt settled, I would have said no. And I might have sounded wistful about home. But now, at the 26-month mark, I truly feel like this is our home. We have friends. We feel connected. We belong.”

Our new friend expressed more surprise. “But don’t you miss home?”

“Sure I do,” I said. “But I miss it in a different way. Home will always be home because it’s such a comfortable place to be. And I’m a long ways away from lifelong friends, as well as professional relationships that spanned decades. But as much as I miss my old friends, I don’t feel homesick and I don’t miss living there anymore. I don’t rush at every opportunity to visit home. And that’s how I know I’m rooted here.”

I started thinking about the necklace I was wearing — a pendant of my home state that I purchased recently to support the relief fund for the devastating tornado in Moore, Okla. I’ve worried that my Missouri friends might view it around my neck and consider it a symbol of homesickness or discontent when, in fact, I feel more comfortable and settled than ever. I finally have a dear circle of friends who have heard my stories and I’ve heard many of theirs, which means not every conversation requires a set-up. I am a long ways from knowing everybody — like some who have lived and worked here “forever” — but I’m no longer the kind of lonely foreigner who has to actively seek out social opportunities, or ask for referrals for doctors or plumbers, or ask “Who’s that?” every time someone outside my family and co-workers are mentioned. And I’ve finally learned the short cuts and back roads to many of my favorite destinations, which is a sure sign that I’ve transitioned from outsider to local.

So I like to think of my Okie pendant as a talisman, suspended near the heart of an ex-pat who’s successfully transplanted and throwing out roots in all directions of her lovely new garden.

With gratitude {for the perennial sunny spot in which I always seem to find myself},

Joan, who can only claim success in metaphorical gardening and has the dead or struggling plants to prove it

Zoom! Zoom!

Dear friends,

Yesterday, I made two dozen quilt blocks.

quiltmany

You heard me right . . . 24 blocks.

That’s 192 pieces of fabric cut, 168 seams sewn, 672 threads snipped, and too many pins stuck to count. Oh yeah, it’s also two bobbins full of thread depleted. I had a bad case of tunnel vision by the time I finished for the day.

Somehow I ended up a few short, so I’m not quite done. I was in the zone so I really didn’t know how many blocks I had made until my back got tired and I quit around 7:00 pm. Once I laid it all out, I realized I was only five blocks away from the finish line.

Well, five blocks, a border, and a back — along with quilting and binding. Still, it feels good to be this far along.

I’ll be taking a break this week to head to Arizona, but with four more weekends left in May, I have a feeling I’ve got this.

Zoom, zoom!

With gratitude {for the rotary cutter and self-healing mat I bought last month that made today’s production so much easier — all 864 cuts},

Joan, who finds great satisfaction in the math of quilting once she adds it all up

It’s starting to look a lot like Christmas.

Dear friends,

I spent my evenings last week putting up the new Christmas tree in the Den and spreading a little holiday cheer around the house.

The tree is loaded with all our favorite ornaments:

xmastree

The mantle is festooned:

manatle

And the buffet is adorned with my Grandmother’s Santa Mug collection:

buffet

I’ve got more than a dozen large totes of Christmas decorations. Given that I limited myself to a single tree, the mantle, and the buffet, I think I showed considerable restraint. (I also sent a tote with Kate so she could decorate her college apartment even though I know I’ll have to haul it home for the summer). Gone are the days when it looks like the Macy’s Christmas Store exploded in every room of my home.

Now all I need to do is buy a handful of additional gifts and get to wrapping. I gave up on the whole holiday card thing years ago. I’m deeply appreciative of those folks who take the time to send them, but in an era of Facebook and Twitter and Instagram and blogging, there’s really not anyone who desires to keep up with us who can’t do so electronically. I don’t know if I’ve succumbed to the forces of modernity or indolence, but I’ve succumbed.

And, finally, I made reservations for our family at our favorite restaurant for Christmas Eve. I’ll cook on Christmas Day, but our family has always celebrated both occasions and last year I decided I didn’t really have to prepare two lavish spreads in less than 12 hours. The impulse to do it all has faded, thank goodness.

So that’s it. My list is checked twice and the stockings are hung with care. It’s starting to look and feel a lot like Christmas.

With gratitude {for a season of maternal maturity when Christmas can feel like relaxed contentment},

Joan, who’d love to tell you all about the cool tradition she decided to start this year but is still keeping it a surprise from Kate and Parker, who are known to read her blog now and then, so she must keep her lip zipped until after Christmas

Abundant blessings.

Dear friends,

Not what we say about our blessings but how we use them is the true measure of our thanksgiving.

— W.T. Purksier

My heart is full this Thanksgiving, brimming with gratitude for our abundant blessings.  Our table is full and our bounty is evident.  A house full of guests, love for each other, good health, a delicious meal shared in safety and comfort . . . peace . . . these are the jewels of this day I dare not take for granted. May we use these blessings, in measures large and small, that reflect a glad and generous heart.

And I wish you, dear friends, abundant blessings.  Drop in sometime this holiday weekend, won’t you, and leave me a comment letting me know how you’re spending your Thanksgiving?  Power eating . . . football cheering . . . napping . . . traveling over hill and dale to see loved ones . . . whatever your activity, I wish you good cheer and godspeed.

I’ll be here on our beautiful Missouri acreage, happily humming ‘round the kitchen, delivering stealth hugs and kisses to any child within arm’s reach, and steeping in the life God has granted me.

With gratitude {for abundant blessings},

Joan, who’s got 13 tasks on her Thanksgiving to-do list today and has already completed three of them while the six other souls in her home sleep soundly