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.








From shocking to subtle: Bathroom re-do dos.

Dear friends,

I mentioned to you we recently completed a re-do of three bathrooms at our house. Truth is, only two are actually finished: 1) the powder room, which you saw in this post, and 2)  the kids’ bathroom, which I’ll show you today. The master bath is still a work in progress, stalled because I have been unable to make a decision about cabinet hardware. And of the five new light fixtures I needed for that room, only four were in stock. So — just a heads up that “bathroom re-do tres” may not show up for a while. (I have no idea why I have suddenly adopted a Spanish counting theme since I studied French in college, but I’m rolling with it.)

And, I regret to say a technical difficulty (darn computers!) has prevented me from retrieving my “before” photo of this bathroom. But you know what? You’ve got the gist of it already. You saw my kitchen before.

Blue Formica, white walls, golden oak cabinets.

And you saw my powder room before.

Blue Formica, white walls, golden oak cabinets.

The kids’ bathroom was a whole lot of the same.

But unlike the kitchen and master bath where I sprung for new marble counter tops, and unlike the powder room where I painted the counter tops, I decided to live with the Formica in the kids’ bathroom. It was a darker shade of blue that I didn’t find quite so hideous. And I figured the problem was not really the counter tops. It was the contrast of the counter tops against the plain white walls, made uglier by a cabinet finish that is two decades out of date.

I had a hunch that if I painted the cabinets and wallpapered the bath with a print that took the emphasis off the counter tops, the expanse of less-than-lovely Formica would “recede”  and the counter tops would go from shocking to subtle. (Or at least more subtle.) And I was right. Take a look.

See how much painting the cabinets black and giving your eyes something interesting to look at on the walls make a difference? (By the way, that’s a new light fixture above the mirror. I can’t stress enough how cheap or outdated light fixtures drag a room down instantly.)

You may argue that my wallpaper is awfully busy — and I won’t disagree with you. But I’m okay with busy in small spaces. Especially small spaces like bathrooms and pantries where the door is often shut. And I chose this wallpaper because it has the exact shade of blue in the counter tops as an accent color in the sea shells — well, that and the fact that red is one of my favorite colors and I’m digging on coral lately. (I’m considering a white “coral” chandelier for my dining room as I type.)

With no before photo, I can’t show you how ugly the previously installed, fake-brass shower doors were. I took them down immediately and replaced them with a neutral — and very updated — linen colored shower curtain.

You can’t really tell from this photo, but the custom Roman shade is the exact color of the shower curtain. It looks lovely in real life. Next time you need a custom Roman shade, shop JC Penney online first. Their fabric selections are limited, but their prices can’t be beat on custom orders. I got this one for anywhere from 30% to 75% cheaper than the other online retailers I sourced. By the way, the previous owner of this home spent a fortune on custom Hunter Douglas shades for every window in this house EXCEPT this bathroom. What’s up with that? Maybe she ran out money, given I priced Hunter Douglas replacements and determined she spent $2,500 on a single window in the dining room. I guess I’m kind of glad she skipped this room because the blind likely would have been blue and I likely would have despised it, too.

I had fun shopping for “art” to spruce up this room. I found this linen framed coral illustration on deep discount at Pottery Barn.

And I found these inexpensive beach-themed canvasses at Home Goods.

I still despise the cheap, white vinyl flooring in all my bathrooms. But that’s not a problem I have the money to fix right away.  And since I have lovely oak floors through most of the house, bad flooring is a lot more tolerable in small doses.

I feel compelled to note I’m not one of those women who normally like “themed” rooms, such as seashore baths and rustic cabin dens. This room ended up this way because I was trying to solve a counter top problem on a shoestring budget — and the wallpaper that met all my color and design needs just happened to be beachy. Since it’s the bathroom my kids use, I was a lot more flexible with my approach, and that flexibility saved me a ton of money. And, I think I ended up with a bath that is reasonably fresh and attractive, despite the overt theme.

By the way, if you are ever unfortunate enough to buy a home with unframed mirrors stuck to the walls, do not attempt to remove them. I speak from experience when I tell you that you’ll create enormous headaches (in damaged sheetrock) and spend more money trying to remove and replace them. Simply hire a carpenter to frame them, then paint or stain the frames. I spent $300 to pay a carpenter to frame five bathroom mirrors in this house, and it’s the best $300 I’ve spent to date. (Compare this to the $250 I paid a frame shop to frame and hang a single mirror in a bathroom renovation in our last home.)

So that’s the extent of my inexpensive bathroom reno tips. Paint, wallpaper, new light fixtures and hardware — and a few decorative touches will get you a long ways. In our former home, we took a bathroom down to the studs for a total renovation. Needless to say, I was incredibly pleased with the result and it remains the best bathroom I will have ever been fortunate enough to live with. But it cost 30 times what I spent on this one. (Yes. 30 times, which equals a big diff.)

And sometimes, less is more.

With gratitude {for a new home that came with “good bones” despite its ugly cosmetics},

Joan, who is pretty convinced she would rock on one of those home renovation shows where the budgets are extremely modest

From boring to bravo: Bathroom re-do uno.

Dear friends,

After a few obstacles (there’s always obstacles), Mr. Mom and I finished up one of our bathrooms yesterday.

The powder room off our kitchen and pantry was beyond boring when we bought our house. It was downright tacky. Take a look:

The good news is the bathroom was tacky in a clean-slate kind of way. I’ve told you before how much I disliked the golden oak cabinets and blue Formica counter tops that were everywhere in this house. But at least there was nothing seriously bad to tear out. And the house was sparkling clean. I would have eaten off the floors (before we moved in — not so much after.) The previous owner painted everything white for a reason. She had an eagle eye and banished every speck of dirt. Even the garage floor was clean. Emphasis on was.

So what did I do to jazz up this small space? I added a little drama in the form of color and texture. Some wallpaper, a little paint, a new light fixture, a frame around the mirror and, voila, I suddenly had a powder room worthy of guests.

Isn’t it amazing what a little wallpaper and paint can do to a space?

I’m not usually a silver wallpaper kind-of-gal. But in a space this small, daring can be good. And this is essentially a contemporary home, so I needed to break out of my vintage-cottage shell.

The crazy thing is — I actually thought that wallpaper was going to work with the blue counter tops. I pulled a similar trick in the kids’ bathroom — I used wallpaper to tone down bad counter tops. (I’ll show you that re-do in a future post.) But as soon as this paper was hung, I realized it was never going to work. So I simply broke out the paint and a sponge and remade the counter tops with my own hands.

Here’s a close up:

Painting Formica is the oldest trick in the book to update on a shoestring. You just have to use a really good primer (I’m a Benjamin Moore fan) and cover the paint with three or four coats of polyurethane. Repeat with a new coat or two of polyurethane annually, and you’re good to go.

If I had my druthers, there would be white marble in this bathroom. But we don’t always get our druthers and I solved my counter top problem for $20 and a little elbow grease.

I know a lot of people are afraid of wallpaper, but I have always loved it. (My first job at age 18 was selling wallpaper, flooring and light fixtures in a home improvement store. I think I’ve had a pretty good eye since then.) Nothing transforms a space faster than wallpaper so, in that way, it’s really an economical decorating choice. The pattern is this room was on clearance for $9.99 a roll. I often buy wallpaper on clearance because it’s just too pricey otherwise.

By the way, I’m not a fan of wallpaper in large expanses. It gets boring fast. I find it works well in bathrooms, closets, pantries, laundry rooms, rooms with wainscoating, or rooms where a single “statement” wall is appropriate. And, by the way, I went through a wallpaper-border phase in my life. Please don’t go there. The time for wallpaper borders ended about 20 years ago, though I’m sad to say they had a longer shelf life in my homes.

One thing I haven’t figured out is how to photograph a room like my bathroom without capturing  myself in the mirror. I guess if I knew how to use Photoshop, I could cut myself and my camera out of the photo, but I’m not that skilled.

At anything except painting. (I told you I was an excellent painter.)

With gratitude {for my early stint in the home improvement store where I learned all about home decor and determined a college education was my ticket to something more than a minimum-wage retail job},

Joan, who, kitchen and bathrooms completed, can now turn her attention to the master bedroom where surely something fabulous awaits

Going all DIY on myself.

Dear friends,

I’m tackling a big project this week while I’m home for spring break and it involves paint and elbow grease.

With the help of Mr. Mom and a professional painter, I’m finally going all DIY on my ugly bathroom cabinets.

If you read this post, you saw the before and after of my kitchen renovation. When we bought our current home almost a year ago, we loved everything about it except the golden oak cabinets and a few cheesy light fixtures. Before we ever moved in, I hired a professional to paint our kitchen.  But I blew my renovation budget on the kitchen and on marble counter tops for the bathrooms — and then I pretty much petered out for several months.

Like the kitchen before its rehab, all the bathrooms in our home had blue Formica counter tops and golden oak cabinets. What made the bathrooms even worse was unframed mirrors screwed to the walls and ugly and very cheap light fixtures and faucets. I replaced several of the counter tops (though not all — I’ll tell you more about that when everything is complete), bought new sinks and faucets and light fixtures, and hired a carpenter to frame in the mirrors. The last step is painting the cabinets and I’ll finally finish that up this week.

To save money, I hired the painter to professionally spray the doors and drawers. Mr. Mom and I will do all the prep work and paint the cabinet boxes, then we’ll replace all the hardware (just as soon as I find something I like).

To coordinate with the Carrara marble, I’m painting the cabinets black.  Think this:

Once I finish the bathrooms this week, my remaining projects on this home are pretty minimal. I’m still searching for a couple of light fixtures and I want to add some wallpaper to parts of the master suite, but I’m getting close.

So now I’m off to paint and to shop for cabinet hardware! Wish me a steady hand and the luck to find just the right handles.

With gratitude {for a live-in handyman who usually indulges my DIY dreams},

Joan, who is an excellent painter (having perfected her technique back when she had no money but lots of inspiration)