Every journey starts with a single step. I didn’t set out to blog about boring stuff like cleaning, organization, and home maintenance. I just wanted to get this house whipped into shape, turning it into a sanctuary for myself and for others. I’ve had to confront some truths that haven’t always been pretty. But this simultaneous home- and self-improvement strategy seems to be taking, even with a setback or two… because I’ve got myself some momentum! And sharing this journey makes everyone feel less alone – because I now know I’m not the only one with a terrifying basement of doom and a strong avoidance strategy.
January saw me divest myself of extra flooring, a deep freeze, and a whole lot of paint. I searched for things I couldn’t find, and found things I didn’t realize I still had. Little “projects” turned into moderate bursts of productivity. I’ve felt a range of emotions – joyous to despondent, overwhelmed to productive, accomplished and…. something less.
January has been the warm-up I desperately needed… in more ways than one.
January 1-5: “Get that THING out of my House!”
There’s been a massive deep-freeze in my furnace room since we bought the place, and it’s so large that my Dad and I joke that they built the house around it.
I’m not eating as much meat – particularly beef – as I used to, and this thing is so large that I don’t have a hope of making much use of it. I’ve got enough freezer space that I’m using efficiently. That thing’s been empty for months… time for it to go.
I posted on my community league’s Facebook page months ago – something like “free to good home… you can move it? You can have it.” A friend and neighbour emailed me, telling me that she and her family could use it. I sent her the measurements and reiterated – you can move it, it’s yours!
It’s Saturday morning, and my friend is here with her husband and eldest son. Between the three of them, it takes just under an hour to divest my house of its largest most energy-deficient appliance. In the process, they have to move all of the shelving to some space out of the way of the furnace room. The shelving and other odds and ends wind up spread out over my basement bathroom and main area. There’s a path to the basement fridge/freezer, but I’m out of luck if I get the sudden urge to make a 12-pound turkey (the fridge/freezer doors are blocked by a shelving unit). Beyond that… it doesn’t immediately impact my life too much.
The only way I can move the shelving back in to the furnace room is to empty and organize.
So that’s what I do. I sweep the furnace room so that it doesn’t look as much like a drywall factory blew up, then pick a shelving unit to organize at random (okay, maybe not at random… but it’s the first one I come across when I enter the basement of doom). With the help of one or 2 Aira agents, I set six cans of paint aside to go to the Ecostation. I also discover that I own an auger (the thing that unclogs drains, not the thing that has anything to do with grain silos), wood floor cleaner, and a whole bunch of hand tools that have been buried for years. Within 18 hours another neighbour picks up a bunch of canning jars – I hope they get more use out of them than we did. I haul the shelving unit to the back corner where the deep freeze used to live. I can now name everything I have on every shelf – tools on one shelf, cleaning supplies on another – and lay my hands on all of it. My basement still looks moderately terrifying, but it’s a basement! So for right now, it can wait.
January 6-12: “This is Cross-training, right?”
The first full work week after the holidays seems to drag on forEVER. My energy has been waning, but I’ve made it out to marathon training clinic, then decide to stay home and hunker down while snow blankets the city on Wednesday.
Once the snow stops falling on Thursday, I get out the shovel. I’m not particularly proficient at this task, but I get my walks shoveled – competently in the front, passably in the back. It takes forever – but the Edmonton Oilers game keeps me company – and straight lines seem to elude me. I hope I’ll get better at this with more practice, but for some reason I have my doubts. Also, I’ve got a snow rake that should get the snow off the roof, but I haven’t had an opportunity to use it – I feel like I need someone with me to give me directions so that I can get the snow off the roof without (1) scraping off a shingle, (2) missing the snow entirely, or (3) breaking a window. So the snow is still on my roof, but my sidewalks are navigable. I can at least take the garbage out back and walk out my front door to the sidewalk… so score one for accomplishment! But moving that snow? That should be cross-training! (Is it, Coach?)
* * *
Saturday dawns crisp and pretty cold – the kind of day that’s perfect for hunkering down and eating soup. A friend comes in to the city and has some time to kill. She tells me to consider her my Uber for any errands that need doing for the afternoon.
And I have errands!
I’ve got bottles that need to go to the bottle depot, a package to pick up at the post office (since I apparently can’t have cookie sheets left unattended on my front steps)…
And, oh yeah, I’ve got this flooring…
This fall, my Dad and I purchased some flooring for upstairs – I figured it was time to replace it when I could feel the subfloor underneath portions of the carpet, and there was a huge strip of duct tape where Wolfie clawed the carpet to shreds. Dad and I (mostly Dad) got the main upstairs area and one of the bedrooms done, and I hired professionals for the other two bedrooms. The excess flooring has been taking up space in my music room for a month, and I want it out.
I’ve set aside one box, plus the boards from a previously open box – just in case I need to replace anything – then lift and haul six boxes of flooring to my friend’s car. Who needs weights when you have flooring boxes? My friend pushes and directs the boxes in to position in the trunk of her car, and we return them to the store after a quick stop at the bottle depot. My music room seems almost empty now, but I can now walk to the piano without kicking a big heavy box! And my basement has been cleared of one of its sources of doom.
January 13-19: “I Just Need this one little thing…”
I need to find my birth certificate. The place I thought it’s lived for the past several years… apparently doesn’t have the document stating when and where I was born.
But there’s plenty of papers to sort through and what else am I going to do on a Monday night, when the windchill is hitting -40?
The papers have lived in the music room for a while now. And I am itching to sort them, if for no other reason than I need something, and this is the most likely place to find it. With a combination of apps, I make steady work out of a 6-inch thick stack of papers – some of it important, much of it not. I’ve whittled down six inches of paper and a functionally disorganized briefcase-esque filing “cabinet” into stuff for the house, stuff for Annie and Jenny, stuff for taxes. The rest goes in to recycling, and my hundreds of pages have been whittled down to an organized little pile of paper happiness (two inches, tops, including a binder).
But I still don’t have my birth certificate
* * *
This week has been cold. Unquantifiably, you should really stay home, cold! I had a non-specific cold/bug thing on Wednesday but realized my office was warmer than my house, so I worked all day and went to bed early that night.
The cold finally starts to break on Saturday. I’m back outside, shoveling my back pathway. I cannot shovel in a straight line to save my life… but again I have a clear-ish path to the garbage cans. My front walk and steps have been taken care of – what took me 20 minutes last week took Ed less than three while waiting for me to get ready for Run Club on Thursday. I may never get the hang of this shoveling thing!
There’s a wooden box in my bathroom. It’s a hold-over from my childhood, but for as long as I can remember it’s held various toiletries and body washes and the like. it takes me five minutes to pry open the latch – which gives you a pretty good idea how long it’s been since I last opened it. I take everything out, throw it into a garbage bag, and wipe it down. Mission: accomplished!
I’m just putting the box back into position when I notice – not for the first time – the vent cover behind it. I don’t think I can remember a time when that heating vent has been covered. The cover has just sat in front of the vent, allowing hot air to make the bathroom one of the most luxuriously warm rooms in my place. The drywall surrounding the vent is… crap. There’s no nice way to put it. I hold the cover up to the vent, cross my fingers, and get to work, because by God that vent will be covered today!
I start by scraping paint off the back of the cover. I start with my nails. I use water. I use a bit from a screwdriver. I use cleaner. Finally, I find a screw and use my handy-dandy screwdriver to push it through a tiny hole. Great! Now what? how am I going to get this cover to stay in place when the drywall around it is flaking off in my hands?
Get bigger screws.
It’s not pretty, it’s not straight (it’s only about 1/8″ off-center), but the long screws are screwed at odd angles into…. something. That vent is now covered. I sweep up the drywall, and do a happy little jig into my kitchen.
I just want to clear out the cupboard above my stove.
That’s literally the only thing I set out to do. I don’t think it’ll be too bad – I’ve done little bits of this off and on for the past little while – but I haven’t stood on a chair and reached in to the back and made sure there’s no growing or hardening things in the recesses of the cupboard.
I throw out an aged open box of Golden Grams, and some oatmeal I bought once upon a time with good intentions of eating more oatmeal.
It’s then that I realize the cupboard is gross, and needs a good wipe down.
So I grab a spray bottle and a cloth and get to work.
And it turns in to more cleaning and scrubbing, as the Edmonton Oilers play a high-scoring game against the Arizona Coyotes.
The stove cupboard is just the beginning. I move on to the next cupboard to the right, and start wiping down shelves. I reorganize it so that I can reach everything – because the old storage system wasn’t set up to be reachable by anyone shorter than six feet tall. All the wineglasses and shotglasses and bottles of booze all live together in harmony, all the Instant Pot accessories live with the Instant Pot… and so on. As I organize, I can feel little pieces of myself get put back together.
Then I reach up above the cupboards, wipe the surface as best I can (I need to find my stepladder to get to the back), and throw out everything that’s been up there collecting dust and grease and God knows what else for the past who knows how long.
I’m not sure when the anger hits, but it’s there. It’s red hot and present and intense. I’m angry that I’m dumping out perfectly good Captain Morgan. I’m angry that I’m able to use my fingers to write my name in the dust above my cupboards. I’m angry that it’s been allowed to get so bad that I don’t remember the last time I wiped out the crud from the lazy susan that holds my glasses and mugs.
On the plus side? I now have a clean and organized kitchen, and I found my big tall mug with the orange and white cat on it… the one I swore I lost at a job I was laid off from five years ago…
And I’m glad I’ve done all this today.
January 20-26: All the Little Pieces
It’s a hard week. The cold weather has broken after a week and a half of clasping the city in its frigid grip. I have little energy, and am exhausted preparing for – and then testifying in – my first (and hopefully last) Human Rights Tribunal. But I’m able to get a few things done. On Monday, I move the last of the spare flooring into the furnace room, and start to organize other items into groups. Once I have more energy, I’ll do more, but at least I have something done.
Saturday, a bag of kitchen items is donated to the thrift store. I sort through the odds and ends in my bathroom – throwing away more old things, organizing what’s left – and giving it a good clean. Then I decide to sweep, and am once again reminded how much I suck at it. More than one person has suggested vacuuming as a way to keep my floors clean. In a day or two, I’ll give it a try – anything’s better than what I’ve got now – a tall and unwieldy broom, a short useful broom for some spaces, and a hand-broom that broke in half when I tapped it to loosen the animal fur from its bristles.
On Sunday I notice that Annie’s thrown up a hairball on my living room curtains – something I’m noticing more these days. A friend helps me take the curtain rod down, and I take the curtains downstairs to wash. Once they’re dry, I put them on the curtain rod, standing on the couch so I can put the rod into the brackets. One of the end pieces doesn’t fit quite right, and I can’t tell if it’s always been that way or if I’m just useless at tightening things while my hands are above my head.
Then I notice the shelves.
They’re coated in dust, dust so thick I can write my name on them with my fingers. I take everything off the shelves and sort them into piles of things to donate, things to keep and things that I’ll deal with when I have the emotional energy.
I’m thrilled I’ve found things that I haven’t thought of in years – like the music box I’ve had for as long as I can remember. The top has a cat and a fiddle, and the base shows tactile representations of all the other lines in the song. I spend a long time dusting it off, then set it on the hutch – the same place it sat when I was growing up – and turn the dial so that I can hear the song.
It plays slowly – much more slowly than I remember. As I stand and listen, I’m hit with intense waves of sadness and rage. I don’t know if I’m sad or angry that I forgot all about this music box even as it’s sat in my living room for a decade. Why did we put it there, rather than on a place it can be picked up and enjoyed? Am I grateful or angry that I’ve got a belated opportunity to purge and cleanse and get to know my home? What the hell am I going to do with my wedding photos? Why didn’t I take more pride in this place before? Is it too late now, am I fighting an uphill losing battle?
The dish ran away with the spoon… and I am so done. The rage and the helplessness and the anger all come gushing out into a wave that I seriously think is going to drown me.
And for a while, I let it.
January 27-31: Putting It Back Together
For the next few days, I’m a wreck. I can’t even get behind the everyday things that need doing. Dishes pile up in my sink, I’ve got a small load of laundry that needs folding. I don’t want to run, I don’t want company, and I certainly don’t want to talk about it.
On Monday after work, I therapeutically bake a batch of muffins – if for no other reason than the milk will go bad if I don’t use it. I pour a teeeeeeeny bit too much whiskey into the coffee I enjoy with my freshly-baked muffins. I start reading a trashy book that interests me in the beginning and then frustrates me with its implausible premise – which is when I know I’ll be OK.
Why I decide to re-reorganize the hall closet on Tuesday? Beats me! Maybe it’s because I have more space. Maybe because I don’t remember the last time it was organized completely. or maybe because most of the organizing was done in September, and it was a job I could complete with minimal effort but maximum results. Maybe all of the above. I spend half an hour sorting and reorganizing – all the towels and cloths on one shelf instead of the two they’ve occupied for nearly a decade. Pet stuff on the next shelf up – dog stuff on the right, cat stuff on the left. Various extra staples – paper bags, freezer bags, Kleenex, packing tape, light bulbs, etc., etc., etc. on the top shelf. The cubby underneath the bottom shelf is emptied of its contents and sorta swept with the broken hand-broom, and now all there is under there is a big bag of dog food.
I feel accomplished.
I feel better.
And I feel like my place is a bit less cluttered.
I know I have a lot of work ahead of me – tonight I plan on chipping away at the blocks of ice in my back yard – and I know January’s been all disorganized and kinda wobbly. Maybe February is when things will start to come together, when I start to form a more concrete plan of organization. But as far as January’s concerned…. this blind lady got sh*t done!