On Simplicity

May 14, 2008

Quick and Dirty Guest Cleanup

Filed under: House & Home,Quick & Dirty — Serendipity @ 5:00 am
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You just found out that company is coming tonight. The house is less than perfect and you’ve got limited time. How should you clean to get the most bang for your limited cleaning minutes? Check out the following Quick & Dirty guide:

1. Hit the toilets. Sure they’re gross, but that’s kind of the point. Even if your house is immaculate, if a guest has to use a dirty toilet, they’re going to remember your house as filthy. It may be unfair, but it’s accurate. So scrub the interior and wipe down all exterior surfaces, especially the underside of the lid. The good part about cleaning the toilet(s)? It’s pretty fast.

2. Light a scented candle in the rooms you’ll be using. By the time you’re done, the fragrance should have time to permeate the room and welcome guests. Easy alternative: open the windows to air things out.

3. Pick up out-of-place clutter. Grab a laundry basket and throw in anything that’s in the wrong place, like toys, shoes, projects, blankets, dog bones, laundry, books, etc. If you’ve got time, return the items to the right place. If not, just hide the basket and put it all back at a later time. Just getting “stuff” off the floor and surfaces can make a huge difference in how clean your house feels.

4. Clear kitchen surfaces. Put the dishes in the dishwasher (or sink), wipe down the surfaces, and get any stray items off counter surfaces. If you’d like it to look great, put away the things that belong on the counter as well, like the toaster, cannisters, or coffee maker. It may be cheating, since those items are going right back on the counter as soon the guests are gone, but it sure makes room look clean without deep cleaning.

5. Dust obvious surfaces with a feather duster. This is not about nooks and crannies. This about major surfaces that guests might touch, like dining room tables, end tables, and shelves at hand and eye level. Feather dusters won’t get rid of the dust, but they’ll get it off the surface quickly.

6. Fluff and arrange sofa pillows.

7. Make the bed, if this is an area guests will see. If not, close your bedroom door and call it even.

8. Clean any urgent floor surfaces, if necessary. If the floor looks “clean enough,” don’t give it a second thought.

You’re done! Relax, pour yourself a glass of wine or tea and kick your feet up. The bottom line: Cleaning for guests is common courtesy that shows respect, but trying to make them think you live in a magazine ad is a disservice to everyone. Now is not the time for perfection; your guests will have more fun if you’re relaxed, so give yourself a break. Also, remember that friends and family don’t expect perfection, and may even get a kick out of seeing how you really live.

May 10, 2008

Creating a Reading Inspiration Wall

Filed under: House & Home — Serendipity @ 5:00 am

I’ve admitted before to being a victim of raging BookLust. I’ve always been a reader, the kind of person who brings gigantic reinforced tote bags to library book sales. But having books and reading books are really two different animals. There are books I’ve had for over a decade that I haven’t read, don’t plan on reading, but refuse to get rid of because, you know, someday I might get the urge to try it.

The problem that goes along with BookLust is that it grows a fearful, disgusting, downright terrifying monster: the “to-read” pile. This pile starts off small and friendly, like a good friend who always has a perfect suggestion for your next read. Finished The Lovely Bones? Dive right into Possession–it’s the top one on the pile. Thanks, To-Read Pile–you just saved me from having to slog through the boxes of books in the closet or trekking to the library.

But then, something happens. The pile grows. And it gets greedy for your time. It breeds new baby books that magically turn into 1,000 page epics. (I’m talking to you, Lonesome Dove.) It starts to threaten you. “Read me. Read me now. Read faster. Read longer. Aren’t you done yet? Hurry up!” **If you keep any Stephen King in the Pile, it may even start swinging an axe or dangerously sharpened bookmark at you.** The pile calls out during your free until you can barely look at without turning red and storming out of the room in a guilty rush.

This is no way to enjoy a book. So, I ditched my reading pile and created an inspiration wall. It could in a closet or on the floor. Mine happens to be the bookcase in the spare bedroom, so I only see it when I make the effort to go in there. To create the inspiration wall, I go through my total collection and pick out books that I’m really excited to read. I also pick out some books that I just adore. I pick out some books that I learned interesting things from. I mix ’em all up like a literary stew and place them on the shelves.

Personally, I like to make the stacks look nice and artful. I like to leave a lot of empty space. (The full shelves would be just as bad as the dreaded Pile!) I like to make sure that the genres are all mixed up so that I don’t start ignoring one part and losing the gem in the middle.

Whenever I need something new to read and I don’t have a new title in mind, I visit the inspiration wall. There are lots of choices, but no pressure to pick a certain title. Even if something new doesn’t catch my eye, I can find a favorite to reread. Just sitting and looking at the bookcase fills me with a sense of excitement and peace.

To keep the system working, I rotate books in and out, usually when I get a new load of books from a book sale. Consider it merchandising for yourself. If interesting, attractive layouts can get retail stores to make you buy stuff, why not use the same techniques to keep you interested in the stuff you already have?

May 9, 2008

Can a Bigger House Be a Simpler House?

Filed under: House & Home — Serendipity @ 5:00 am

The conventional wisdom says that those trying to simplify should consider downsizing to a smaller house. The reasons are simple and logical:

  • Fewer rooms equals fewer rooms to furnish and less stuff to buy
  • Less square footage to clean
  • More togetherness

I don’t disagree with these points. But as in most areas, there are arguments on the other side that can be equally compelling. To be truthful, I live in a home that, it’s fair to say, is bigger than two people need. I didn’t choose it; I married into it. (Personally, I’d select a smaller house than we currently live in.) However, it certainly colors my thinking on this issue and has made me question the conventional wisdom that smaller=simpler.

Bigger Houses Allow Clearer Purposes

Having all those extra rooms means that each room can have a single purpose. While unitasking is often (and often rightfully) vilified when it comes to stuff, it can be beneficial in a home. Sleep researchers have been saying for years that bedrooms should be only be sleeping and sex. Not entertainment centers. Not media rooms. Not offices. You get the picture. Similarly, your office can be your office–not your office/workout room/play area. Having a unitasker office isn’t necessarily wasteful; in fact, it can be less distracting and boost productivity. Here are some rooms that benefit from being dedicated:

  • Bedroom: Better sleep is a gift to be treasured, so there’s much to say for not co-opting it to save space.
  • Kids’ Play Room: Leave it messy with no worries and don’t worry about tripping on toys all around the house. Safer and cleaner all-around.
  • Dining Room: With a dedicated dining room, the table is actually available for eating and sharing family time.
  • Home office: A unitasker office leaves less room for distractions.
  • Guest room: Guests can always feel comfortable staying without feeling like they’re in your way. Plus, it’s always ready for unexpected company. Family and friends can visit more often, for longer, without splashing out for an expensive hotel.

Other Cool Options for Single Purpose Rooms:

  • Home Gym: Who needs to pay for a membership or commute to a gym? Work out at home to stay healthy and keep medical bills down without having to turn the treadmill into a laundry rack on the weekends.
  • Media Room: These get made fun of a lot as part of the McMansion trend, but having a dedicated room to TV and movies means that you can contain media to just one part of your house, enjoy better lighting and acoustics, and also have a very good gauge of just how much time you spend in front of the TV. There’s something to be said for having a room that removes the television from the center of the house.
  • Sewing Room: Sewing is messy and requires that a decent amount of equipment be out to work easily (sewing machine, ironing board, cutting boards or space, etc.). Having a room that can be closed off can make you much more likely to keep out and use your equipment–which can a frugal boon.
  • Relaxation/Meditation Room: Nothing but a comfy chair, a CD player, some plants, and a gorgeous piece of art or two. Not hard to clean and almost impossible in a smaller home (though I do know that meditation is about the internal, not external surroundings). Hard to put a price on sanity.

So, What’s My Point?

My point is that simplicity is different for everybody, and there’s no one-size-fits-all prescription for homes. Since many McMansions take up the same spatial footprint as a home half their size, I don’t think that larger homes should immediately be categorized as wasteful, inefficient, or ridiculous. As long as people are thoughtful and deliberate in how they create their homes (ie, not filling them up with crap just because there’s room), both small and large homes can function equally well.

May 7, 2008

Decluttering: Good for Your Marriage

Filed under: House & Home,Relationships — Serendipity @ 3:10 pm

Last week, The Simple Marriage Project had a great post on “12 Ways to Have an Unhappy Marriage.” Right at the top of the list at #2 was “Have a cluttered home.” The idea is that clutter leads to chaos, and chaos isn’t the stuff great marriages are made of.

Obviously, I agree 100 percent. But let’s get down to some of the nuts and bolts of simplifying to improve your marriage.

1. Everything in its place means everyone can help with chores. If the way the dishes are stacked is so complex that only one person can put them away correctly, only one person is going to get stuck with this chore. Simplify things that go with chores, like laundry, washing the dishes, and cleaning the bathroom. Decluttering makes it easier to complete chores and find the items needed to do them (laundry soap, cleaning supplies, etc.). After all, sharing the load is sharing the love. 🙂

2. Your home can be a haven. Lots of clutter requires lots of visual attention. For a lot of people, this makes it hard to relax and just enjoy downtime with their partner. In a cluttered space, it’s easy to feel like there’s always something more important to do than hang out with your partner. Clean up the clutter (or just get it out of sight), so that you can be your best, most relaxed, most enjoyable self at home.

3. Make communication easier. He forgot to pick up milk… again? She didn’t get your note that you would be home late and was upset all night? Marriage is all about communication. Too much clutter makes it hard–if not impossible–to leave each other messages. The same is true even if you rely on phone messages, not written notes. If you call and leave five messages on your spouse’s phone, they’re probably not going to fully listen to each one, leaving a huge chance that something important will be missed. Limit your messages to only vital ones to ensure that the important stuff get across loud and clear–consider it another form of inbox decluttering.

In the interests of simplicity, I’ll cap this list there. There are many, many more ways that decluttering can be good for your marriage but these are perhaps the biggest in my opinion. Give ’em a try and let me know how it goes.

April 30, 2008

Lessons Learned from StuffWhitePeopleLike

Filed under: House & Home,Simple Living — Serendipity @ 10:16 am

The secret you may not know, is that deep down, all white people are desperately trying to make their life seem like an ad for a Sub Zero refrigerator, or an article in Gourmet/Bon Appetit magazine. To achieve either of these goals will set white people at ease.

So, I’m probably not the first person to stumble into Stuff White People Like. However, I just might be the first to have gleaned some seriously valuable insight from it–like the above quote.

Too many of us strive for perfection without realizing where our vision of perfection comes from.  If our lives are spent in search of something, we all need to spend significant time considering just that: where our ideals come from. Some possibilities:

  • Books you’ve read
  • Films and TV you’ve seen
  • The way you grew up
  • The way you didn’t grow up
  • The people you surround yourself with
  • Your education
  • Commercials and marketing

None of these on their own are good or bad, but it’s worth thinking about.  In thinking about my own ideals and lifestyle, I have to admit that part of my vision does come from those damn home improvement store ads, where everything is clean, it’s always sunny, and there are always fresh flowers somewhere in the picture.  Realizing this helps me simplify and let go of some of that lifestyle envy because it’s absolutely not real.  I’m letting advertisers tweak my goals.

There’s one more valuable thing I took from the above quote: “white people are desperately trying to make their life seem like an ad for a Sub Zero refrigerator.”  We can all simplify our goals by realizing that lots of what we see is people trying, often successfully, to make their lifestyles seem like something other than what it truly is.  When you’re feeling stressed or like you can’t keep up with everyone else, remember that the image you see is often a snapshot, an ad for what they’re trying to portray, just as much as a Sub-Zero brochure.  Then, do your best to let go of any envy or insecurities and just embrace the reality of your life.  Trust me, it’s way better than a refrigerator ad, imperfections and all.

April 23, 2008

The Two Faces of Book Lust

Filed under: House & Home,Simple Living — Serendipity @ 11:08 pm

Hi, I’m Sara, and I have BookLust. (Hi Sara…)  I adore books.  I love to collect books, surround myself with books, look at walls of books, visit bookstores and drool on books… You get the idea.  Lots of bibliophiles know what I’m talking about, as does anybody who collects something.

But… there’s another part of me that hates collecting books.  I hate the boxes of books taking up half the space in my not insignificant closets (yep, plural boxes in plural closets).  I hate dusting bookcases full of books.  I hate the guilt and overwhelm of seeing lots of books I haven’t read.  I hate that I have secret urges to impress anyone who visits my house with my awesome collection of intelligent, quirky, and highly attractive books.

I don’t have a solid answer for reconciling these two sides of myself, but lately small purges have been a big help.  While I still have a hard time letting go of books that are “important” (even if I didn’t particularly care for them) or just plain pretty, I’m losing the fanatic acquisitiveness.  For the most part, I look for quality and memorability instead of books that seem cute but forgettable.  And it feels good.  I like looking at my books (I only have bookcases in two rooms of the house) and feeling like it’s a cohesive collection, not just a selection designed to make me look cool.  If you’re a fellow clutter-hating bibliophile, here’s what’s been working for me:

  • Always keep books you love.  A Room with a View stays, as does My Love Affair with Jewelry and Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus.
  • Books that were “okay” should be loaned out or let go, no matter how nice they are.  Nice books that don’t get a visceral reaction are clutter in disguise.
  • Just a few at a time.  A full-force clutter raid just might launch an existential crisis in a BookLuster.  Tossing a book or two from the shelf to the “get rid of” pile when the mood strikes or the timing seems right works well enough.
  • Use the mantra, “You’re not losing a book.  You’re gaining a spot on your lifetime reading list.”

I’d love to know how other people manage to balance the collecting urge and the clutter busting urge.  Let me know if you’ve got any brilliant (or just above average) ideas.

April 17, 2008

Quick & Dirty Closet Raid

Filed under: House & Home,Organization,Quick & Dirty — Serendipity @ 3:28 am

Embarrassing confession #1 (of many to come, I’m sure): I adore cleaning the closet. An orderly closet gives me an incredible feeling of peace and satisfaction. Others, not so much. So, for you “others” who would rather not rhapsodize about your color-coordinated capri pants, here are some short cuts to making your closet more appealing.

Only have as many items on hangers as will fit without being squished. Until you can do this, it’s always going to seem cramped, cluttered, and overstuffed, regardless of how well organized it is. In personal finance, there are two options to building wealth: earn more or spend less. It’s the same basic philosophy here regarding available space: install more or own less. This leaves three basic options: get rid of enough items so that what’s left fits nicely, remove some items from hangers to folded shelves, or install more hanger area. If you’ve got room to install an extra rod, it can be a beautiful thing. If you know that you’ll just find new and interesting things to pack this space, then it may not be a good long-term solution.

Group by clothing item. I have all tops on one side. The other side goes from dresses to skirts to pants to capris. When you need pants, you should only have to look in one place. When you want a top, you don’t need to comb through dresses and nightgowns. Plus, it also cuts down on visual clutter by keeping items of similar lengths together so that long pants or dresses don’t break up the clean line of a row of tops. (Sound crazy? Too bad–it works…) Organizing your closet by item should take less than 20 minutes, so it’s not too much of a commitment, and it’s easy to keep as you unload laundry–just take about two extra minutes to hang things in the right section.

Get stuff off the floor. This is one of those stupid tricks that really works. There’s no real reason why shoeboxes and things can’t just go on the floor–except that it totally ruins the illusion of organization. In my own closet, I’ve used those wire crates that can be put together in different formations (and that seem hell-bent on simultaneously breaking my nails and my will to live whenever I try to take apart and reassemble them…) and put everything from shoeboxes to pants to sweaters in them. I’ve also used cheap metal racking to store shoes bookcase style–that one actually wasn’t my favorite, but it was a decent solution. Also, be sure to take advantage of any space over the hanger rod–if you don’t have a shelf there, install one.

Use hangers of all one color. Again, nothing more than illusion, but it works. As soon as I realized there were 20 different colored hangers in my closet, I really noticed how much visual clutter it added to the closet. Now, I’m winnowing things down to only black and white, though if I could start over without feeling guilty over the waste, I’d go with just white. After all, the color of the clothes should be enough to keep a closet from seeming drab; hot pink and peacock blue hangers are just not necessary.

Keep stacks short and sweet. Even though you may have two or three feet from the top shelf to the ceiling, that’s no reason to stack to the rafters. About four to six items per stack is the sweet spot for me. Even though it may be “wasted” space, if your closet is big enough to accommodate some negative space, then by all means, waste away. If you need every square inch of space in your closet (times three!), then this tip is a good one to ignore for now.

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