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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

The Great Clean Out of 2017.

kitchen

Dear friends,

One of my favorite memories about my unconventional father is his “honor garage sales.” Although I spent most of my life separated from my father, I lived with him for two full years in college. (It was a little weird; after all those years apart we were suddenly adult roommates.) Bob loved money and loved cutting a deal, but he didn’t much care for the logistics and customer relations aspects of hosting a garage sale. So he tagged all his items and displayed them in the front yard with a sign describing the rules of his garage sale. (“Take your item and leave your money in the envelope in the mailbox.”) Then he drove to the neighborhood bar where he threw back a few and waited out the crowd. Several hours later, Bob came home to an envelope full of money and a mostly cleared yard. What a deal!

I’ve started off 2017 with a New Year’s Resolution to purge my life of excess baggage.  My approach is a little different than Bob’s but it works for me. I made an extensive list of every “space” in my home to be purged, cleaned and/or reorganized. I mentally gave myself a full year to do the job, but I was exceptionally industrious in January and made a ton of progress. I purposefully avoided a list that said “Clean Den” because I knew it would be overwhelming. The key to success, I figured, was the satisfaction of seeing regular check marks indicating progress on my list.

In that spirit, my list says things like “De-clutter nightstands.” “Purge jewelry drawer.” “Tackle the den bookshelves.” You know . . . bite-size, manageable chunks. So far, I’ve tackled my dish pantry (it took an entire day); my dining room buffet; every single drawer and cabinet in my kitchen (all 39 of them), including the kitchen counter tops, coffee stand, and kitchen appliance cart; hung a new light fixture in the kitchen (okay, Mr. Mom did that, but I helped); repainted the fireplace mantle and screen; purged and reorganized the front coat closet; Mr. Mom’s closet; the mud room (really a glorified alcove); the master bathroom sink cabinet; every table surface and wall in the living room; and the half bath counter top. I’ve hauled too many car loads to count of purged possessions to a local charity resale store. And I’ve still got a long ways to go.

Including a basement that’s not even on the list because it’s too overwhelming.

But hey, it’s only February, right? And you ought to see my house. It really is looking so good.

I’m not sure that any woman who calls herself Magpie and has an entire pantry of dishes (on top of all the dishes in her large kitchen) can ever claim to be a minimalist. But, lordy, you ought to see how de-cluttered my house is looking. There are tables and counter tops and walls with plenty of open space. The drawers are organized. There are EMPTY drawers! (Okay, there’s one empty drawer in my buffet, but still. It’s EMPTY!) I actually gave away one bag of table linens and several boxes of dishes, my most treasured collections.

And I feel so good about my newly airy 2500 square feet of dwelling space!

Actually, I feel guilty. A little. Because no good deed goes unpunished in the Magpie psyche, I feel bad for living in such a big house and having spent money over the years on so many possessions I’m now giving away. But I read this article earlier this week and decided to “own my mistakes” and “let go.” And even Mr. Mom has given me an important affirmation. A couple of weeks ago he said “Things are really looking good honey. The key, I think, now is to maintain it. Quit bringing stuff home.”

No penance for past sins. Just forward progress. He’s a gem of a guy, ain’t he?

And I really feel like I’ve turned the corner emotionally. I amused my friends when I declared I was going to pare a little each year until five years from my death I would live in a very small space and be free of possessions. They are anxious to know how I’m going to know when I’m five years from death. But I figure barring a tragic accident or very sudden illness, I’ll know. And I’ll trim accordingly because I’m committed to not leaving a trail of possessions for my loved ones to deal with. It’s not what defines me, much as I’ve allowed it to as reflected in my self-selected nickname.

It’s worth mentioning my friend and colleague died suddenly two weeks ago at age 59. I absolutely adore his wife and our circle of friends’ shared grief has been a bit of a wake-up call. Life is short. Hug your people. Tell them you love them every day. Get your shit in order and focus on love and kindness, not things. I hear the message, dear universe.

I’m not only cleaning out the physical clutter, I’m sweeping away the emotional detritus. Or trying to, anyway. And I’m telling everyone I care about in every way I know how — I love you!

And there’s a minimalist quality to those three simple words that are fitting, don’t you think?

With gratitude {for the energy and inspiration to clean, for the incredible luxury of worldly goods I can share with others, for a large circle of peeps to love, for today’s breath},

Joan, who thinks Bob almost had it just right and is seriously contemplating a “charity garage sale” where everything is free, first come, first served, and wonders what you think about her crackpot idea

 

 

 

I’m not sure what this means, but I’m going to run with it.

Dear friends,

I’ve been in a phase lately.

And in this case, phase means obsessed. (Because I’m known to be a little OCD that way.)

You see, this has become a metaphor for my life:

Source: New York Times

I find myself drawn to this photo because it represents what I want my life to look like.

Spare. Minimalist. Clean. Uncluttered.

For a woman who called herself the Magpie for many years (with good reason), this turnabout is odd. After years of collecting every shiny thing that caught my eye, I’m suddenly looking at things with a new eye. And my new eye wants less stuff hemming me in.

I don’t know why. I just know it’s calming me to pare down.

I spent a few hours on Sunday editing. Editing tabletops. Drawers. My purse. The fireplace mantle. And even, gasp, the kitchen desk.  (Everybody knows the kitchen desk is like a junkyard of clutter. A single piece of mail can live a long and happy life on the kitchen desk.)

It’s not easy. Even though we downsized last year, this Magpie has years worth of stuff tucked away. And my changes are small. But I can feel the tide turning. I can feel it in my bones.

It’s almost as if my soon-to-be-empty nest is becoming literal.  I’m looking at every single surface and asking myself “Is this pleasing?” And if not, are there things here I can do without? Clutter I can remove, objects I can find new homes for in my my quest to pare down?

I’m not sure what this means, but I’m going to run with it.

With gratitude {for the inclination, momentary or otherwise, to take stock, clean up, and streamline at least a little corner of my life},

Joan, who always believed for everything there is a season, but isn’t sure what the reason for this season is