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Archive for the ‘Housework’ Category

Time kept slipping past, and I kept feeling completely AGAINST decorating for Christmas. Yet I knew that decorating would a) allow me to check off another box on the ol’ To Do List and b) might help rachet up the level of holiday cheer around here. And I DO like to decorate for Christmas, preferably before Christmas Day arrives. Yet… another day would pass, and I still couldn’t bring myself to decorate.

Finally I figured out what my issue was. My house is a MESS. There are boxes everywhere (neither my husband nor I can bring ourselves to throw away any of the 15 perfectly good boxes we have received from various companies and relatives; it is the pickle jar situation all over again) (do you ever receive a box that is a certain or unusual shape and size and find yourself thinking, “Oh, THAT is a GOOD box.” No? Just me?) and the detritus of my holiday card mailing project was strewn all over the kitchen table and Carla’s LEGO advent calendar (which is darling, by the way; one of the items she opened is a tiny LEGO hamster!!!) is set up on the island, and all of this accumulated junk has prevented me from doing my normal weekly cleaning of the downstairs. And I just COULDN’T BEAR to a) add more clutter to the clutter or b) put up hard-to-clean-around decorations on top of ALREADY DUSTY surfaces. I just couldn’t do it.

So! In a burst of cleanliness, which we have learned never to ignore lest they disappear and never return, I sprang into action! I hauled the vacuum up from the basement! I got out the dusting materials! I moved all the boxes into my office, which is Box Storage Central and I hate it but what can you do. (I even managed to recycle a box! No – TWO boxes!) I consolidated all the holiday card stuff and moved it up to my husband’s office. I wiped down the kitchen table. 

Once I had cleared limited the clutter, I could begin a Regular Clean, which includes scrubbing the sinks, wiping down counters and cabinets and appliances, dusting, and washing/vacuuming the floors. 

And then I had to stop, because construction paper was hanging out of the bottom of the white craft cabinet in the hallway. (I specify white because we have a greenish piece of furniture in the kitchen that is ALSO a craft cabinet. This will become relevant shortly.) I unwisely pulled on the scrap, and more construction paper followed it onto the floor, along with some bits of cardboard, a few googly eyes, a feather, two colored pencils, an empty Ziploc bag, and a small piece of pipe cleaner. Sigh. 

Well, cleaning the craft cupboards is completely unnecessary to being able to do any other cleaning, and yet I have been meaning to do it, and Carla was upstairs occupied by Virtual School, and I KNEW it would feel good once it was done. So I dove right in, Internet. Just plugged my nose and leapt right on in there.

I was so intent on diving right in that I forgot to take a Before Picture of the white craft cabinet. I guess here is a photo of the right side cleaned out but the left side in progress.

Please believe me when I say that both sides were CRAM JAMMED with crap when I first began this project. This is already IMMEASURABLY more tidy. Not just immeasurable because you have no starting point against which to measure it.

And here are two photos of the cabinets (and floor) mid-clearout.

I am deeply concerned about that orchid up there on the left. But I have no ability to repot it, and it already rebloomed one (TWO YEARS after it first bloomed) and so I keep hoping in a very Jurassic Parkian manner that life will find a way. Oh right, the mess. SO MUCH crumpled construction paper!
Construction paper cellophane wrap and paper scraps and half-colored coloring pages and bits of string and an ENTIRE PAD of white drawing paper with purple scribbles on each page.

Carla supposedly keeps construction paper in these cabinets, but I found that she was also using it for storing… other things. (See above RE: googly eyes, pipe cleaner bits, string, etc.) So I remedied that right away and now it only holds paper or paper-adjacent items: cardstock, watercolor paper, etc. 

I took this photo after I had started decorating for Christmas.

I threw away a LOT of Projects, which always makes me feel bad. And then I was left with a bunch of things that still needed homes, like a bunch of markers and a bag full of pompoms and googly eyes. Things that belong in the OTHER craft cabinet.

Onward, to the green craft cabinet!

Looks unassuming, doesn’t it? Although that little corner of white paper peeking out hints at the chaos within. Note the boxes on either side: the left side box has wrapped presents in it, and is destined for the post office. The right side box is actually two Amazon boxes tucked into one another, waiting to be shifted to my office and then, hopefully, into the recycling. (We all know they will end up in the basement.)

Now, brace yourself.

This is how it looked to begin with. Your classic Monica Geller’s Closet situation, amirite?

I bet you had no idea one small piece of furniture could contain so much debris. And yes, those ARE a random scrap of green paper and the plastic top of a pen package stuck to the door.

It took a surprisingly long time to divest the cabinet of its contents.

Like, over an hour just to REMOVE things, let alone do any organizing. 

Carla is, it turns out, extremely skilled at stuffing a piece of furniture more full of things than its creator could possibly imagine. 

One might think that it would be good parenting to have CARLA come and clean out this cabinet. After all, it is her domain. Everything inside it is for her use, and it falls under her management, day-to-day. So you might think that it would be best if she were involved, both in undertaking and understanding the amount of work required in cleaning it, and in reorganizing it. And of course you would be correct. BUT Carla is incapable of throwing things away. (With box and pickle jar hoarders for parents, it’s so very hard to understand WHY she is this way.) Discussing whether to throw away every single scrap of paper would, I’m sure, have resulted in many tears and plaintive bargaining and extreme desolation. So I did it myself and I am fine with it.

Barely half way done. And a garbage bag is already full to brimming.

Surprising findings: a spoon that I’ve been looking EVERYWHERE for, a Tupperware container, the instructions to Carla’s Snap Circuits kit, three pairs of scissors, two small silver washers, a nut (the hardware kind), and many, many pens. 

I threw out several containers of very dry, crusty Playdoh. I threw out many broken crayons (I know there are creative people who would turn those broken bits into Something but I was in purging mode not creative thinking mode, and I did not want to get derailed). I threw out a bunch of parts to old Kiwi crates. I threw out the trunk and wrappers from Carla’s arts and crafts supply library; none of the supplies were IN the trunk or wrappers but were instead strewn about the rest of the cabinet. I threw out SO MUCH CONSTRUCTION PAPER. In one burst of creativity, Carla had masking-taped blank pieces of perfectly good construction paper to one another. Many, many pieces. For a while, I tried to remove the tape so she could put the paper itself to good use, but during my clean out I just THREW IT AWAY. I also bought a brand new pack of construction paper earlier this week because I am an enabler, apparently.

I threw out even MORE projects. I did it swiftly, lest Carla come downstairs and cry over the ball of scrunched up masking tape coated in purple glitter or the little baggie filled with foam-and-googly-eye monster faces. I do feel bad about throwing away her creations – I DO. She is SUCH a creative kid and I love watching her come up with ideas. Sometimes, she’ll just decide to like, make a costume. “I’m making bunny costumes, Mommy,” she’ll inform me. And then she’ll create little bunny-paw gloves and littly bunny-ear headbands and fluffy tails and carrots and we will put them on and hop around for awhile. It’s darling and she is wonderfully adept at turning paper and tape into recognizable and wonderful things. (The bunny costume was near the bottom of the bottom shelf; it went into the trash.) (I’m not heartless; I gave the bunny costume a fond and wistful look as I was sweeping into the garbage bag.)

But she has so very many creations. And many of them go into the craft cabinet to be forgotten forever. Others are half-finished, or half-conceptualized when she shoves them into the cabinet. 

Some of the projects, I just don’t understand. For instance, there were at least three baggies full of scraps of paper. That she had cut, painstakingly, into bits, for some unknown purpose, and then stored carefully in a baggie for future use. And I just… threw them away. 

Cabinet fully cleared, and most of the throw-away-able stuff is now thrown away. Please note I have had to upgrade my kitchen-size garbage bag to a heavy duty 33 gallon lawn and leaf bag.

We had a bunch of activity books in the cabinet and I was really able to pare that down. I got rid of a long abandoned puffy sticker play set, and a three-quarters-used create-a-face sticker book, and a hardly worked-on First Grade workbook. There were even a couple of things that she had never once opened and has since outgrown, like a paint-with-water book and some of those awesome mess-free glitter project books, so I put them in the donate pile. (I had forgotten about the puffy sticker play sets and the mess-free glitters things – man, we bought a LOT of those for a LOT of years; they were always a big hit and good for many hours of quiet play.) 

There are a lot of books remaining – coloring books, which she seems more into now that she’s a little older (even though the activities strike me as a little young for her), and books of mazes, and books about how to draw animals. Maybe now that they are easier to see/access, she’ll use them more often. 

Finally, I was able to fit (nearly) everything into the bins that were not really fulfilling their purpose. Ever the optimist, I labeled the bins for ease of maintaining order. I wiped down the shelves of the cabinet, put the books and bins back in, taped a few colorful items I couldn’t bring myself to throw away onto the doors, and voila! 

How long will it stay this way? Stay tuned to find out…

Let’s look at the before and after, shall we?

After the cabinets were tidy — whose cleanliness, again, was 100% not necessary for me to be able to do my other cleaning — I was able to do a nice thorough cleaning of the downstairs. And then I felt ready to start putting up the Christmas stuff. 

But, even if it wasn’t necessary per se, it was still VERY satisfying.

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It is this past Saturday:

I feel a sudden burst of energy. I had been looking with disgust at our mud room/shoe closet for many weeks now, and I am finally ready to Do Something About It.

First, I look up whether I am, in fact, able to donate shoes. I have some tangential awareness that places like Goodwill have been overrun by donations since the pandemic began (apparently a lot of people have used their forced isolation to do useful things??? instead of just stress eat and watch tv????), so I don’t want to dump my old shoes on them if they are already overburdened. I discover that DSW partners with an organization called Soles4Souls, collecting and donating gently used shoes for people who need them. I do no more research than that. That is enough to fan the gentle smoldering of intention into a flame of determination.

I put down my book. I leave Carla working diligently on her LEGO creations. And I march right into the pantry and get two big garbage bags.  One, I mark with a piece of masking tape that says “SHOES TO DONATE.” Then I march over to the mud room. I am full of resolution!

There, staring at the jumble of shoes in front of me, I sort of sag. The size of the job ahead feels daunting. And should I really be spending a sunny Saturday going through old shoes?

Well. I am not one to look a Cleaning Impulse Horse in the mouth, so I say sharply to myself, “I will do what I can do.” And I get started.

(It helps, admittedly, to take photos for this post. Nothing like a little blog accountability to spur one into action.)

Have I showed you our mud room yet?

It is my least favorite part of our house. If our house were just a teeny bit bigger – maybe with one extra room, maybe with one extra garage space – I would want to live here for the rest of my days. Except for the mud room.

Mud room 1

As you can see, to call it a room is to flatter it beyond deserving. It is, in more realistic terms, a small alcove that connects the garage to the kitchen, and which contains a closet. And yet we use it to store many items that we need daily: Carla’s backpack and extracurricular activity bags (which, of necessity, hang on the handle of the closet door) (a door that doesn’t function — it no longer opens and closes properly, so we leave it open much to my chagrin), the shoes we wear most often, coats and jackets, scarves and hats and umbrellas. It is full to bursting.

Mud room 2

Well, I know that we have at least a FEW pairs of shoes that are too small or underused or nearing disintegration. Hence this project. My goal is twofold: 1) to pare down the number of shoes we own and 2) to clean out and reorganize the closets.

I start by removing all the shoes from the closet and strewing them about the kitchen in a slapdash manner. As is so often true, the mess gets worse before it gets better.

Mud room 3

One tiny closet can sure fit a ton of shoes! Also, I was surprised to discover that, so far this summer, I have have worn eight of the fourteen pairs of my shoes that were living in the closet. Obviously, the other six pairs need to GO.

Should I maybe have undertaken this project at the beginning of the summer shoe season, rather than living with snowboots in among the flipflops all summer? Perhaps. Would it therefore also make sense to wait until the weather cools, so that I can remove all the sandals to their winter home? Again I say perhaps. And yet we move on, because we have MOMENTUM and we dare not waste it.

The interior of the closet is a disaster. Leaf bits and grass particles and dirt and sand and gravel and mud. Yuck. It also appears that the walls have never been cleaned in the history of the home’s existence.

Mud room 4

It doesn’t look TOO terrible in this picture, but let me assure you that it was GROSS.

How did the prior family – who had THREE children, not just the one – fit all their belongings into this one tiny closet?

I use my trusty zooper to zoop out all the muck. Then I spray the floor and walls with bleach spray and give them a thorough (but not particularly successful) scrubbing.

Much better.

Mud room 5

Let us ignore the grout. It is a battle I cannot win.

You may be wondering why I made such a stink about this tiny little project that is now nearly done! However, before I simply replace the shoes, I need to share with you that there are TWO ADDITIONAL shoe storage areas in our home.

If I am to be thorough about this project, I need to clean ALL of them.

First, to the hall closet.

Hall closet 1

This is the closet in which one is supposed to store coats of visitors. That is never possible; as you can see, this closet is ALSO full to bursting. With shoes, on the bottom there, but also with SO MANY COATS. (Some of these coats are relics from high school and college — my husband’s high school letter jacket, for one thing — and would likely find their golden years just as fulfilling in a box somewhere. Some of them belong to my in laws, like the giant fur on the left. That’s a story for another time. Some of them are ancient coats I just can’t seem to part with — like the grey wool coat I wore while pregnant with Carla, and had worn for several years prior, and which I am sure is missing several crucial buttons.)

Hall closet 2

A close-up of the shoe situation, which is so dire you can’t really even see any individual shoes.

Perhaps the next project will be a coats and jackets pare down.  But let’s take it one step at a time, or we are liable to get discouraged/overwhelmed and give up, leaving boots and shoes all over the kitchen floor.

I remove all the shoes from this closet. In doing so, I unearth a pair of child’s boots that I have no recollection of buying. Are they Carla’s? She seems to recognize them, but upon further questioning it is clear she knows as little about them as I do. Are they snow boots? Are they rain boots? Who knows! They fit, so they go in the keep pile.

Hall closet 3

The slippers on the right are reserved for my in-laws when they visit, since we don’t allow shoes in our house. There’s also a pair of men’s shoes that I have never seen before. I move those to my husband’s side of our bedroom closet.

This closet is also filthy, though less so.

Hall closet 4

Again to the zooper! Again with the bleach!

Much better.

Upstairs, now, to the walk-in closet that I share with my husband. It is narrow but deep. Along one wall are my upstairs shoes. You know, the fancy shoes, and the shoes I wear rarely, so they live upstairs rather than near the garage with the other frequent-use footwear.

Some of these also have — deep breath — sentimental value. Let’s be clear, going in, that we are going to have to do some additional mental work to get rid of some of these shoes.

Walk in 1

I take comfort knowing my husband has kept all his ties, even though he no longer wears ties. Perhaps that balances out the black work pumps I cannot get rid of, just in case I’m called in to some sort of business casual work event at the job I don’t possess.

I did manage to divest myself of a pair of sky-high wedges that I’ve had since college, and couldn’t walk in even then, and certainly would not be able to wear today without severe calf cramping and possibly a broken ankle. I also got rid of a pair of wedge sandals that I have had for a good five to ten years and LOVE and have never been able to replace with acceptable facsimiles. And I eighty-sixed two pairs of wedges that I never really liked, but have kept for years because they were perfectly serviceable.

Some good cleansing work. However, I did NOT throw away the white dress sandals that I have worn maybe twice ever and am unlikely to ever wear again. I kept them JUST IN CASE. Well. We are doing what we can and not an ounce more.

(One wonders why I hold so tightly to shoes when it is so very delightful to buy NEW ones for occasions that need something special.)

It is fairly tidy up here. I also get rid of a stack of eight EMPTY shoe boxes (why did I keep them when clearly I didn’t intend to store shoes within them?) and zoop up a moth.

Now that we have some room to reorganize, it is time to return downstairs for more paring down.

Hall closet 5

A wall full of my boots and Carla’s boots and a pair of my husband’s high school ice skates.

It turns out that I possess four (4) pairs of nearly identical black boots. Why? Am I single-handedly trying to bolster the black boot economy? Okay, two of them have tiny heels, so maybe those are… dressier black boots. Another has a tiny wedge heel and also seems to be on the daintier side. One pair is my favorite pair — my go-to black boots for fall. One pair has a great deal of scuff marks – this is probably the pair I wear when I know I’ll be walking through undesirable groundcover. I should get rid of two pairs. But which two? Maybe the boots with the small wedge heel? But they are in SUCH good condition. Maybe the scuffed up boots? But what if I need to go apple picking or something and don’t want to mess up my good boots? I cannot decide!

Let’s focus instead on the two pairs of brown boots. One pair I wear a LOT in the fall months. But the other… well, the other is the first really expensive pair of boots I bought for myself. I don’t wear them often anymore but… I can’t get rid of them. (I have a problem.)

Okay, so we’re keeping all the boots. I can at least divvy them up — the “fancy” boots and the beloved brown boots can go upstairs. The other three can stay in the hall closet until cooler weather arrives.

Moving on. I can get rid of the pair of winter boots I’ve had for seven or eight years now that I hate. I finally found replacement boots last year. I don’t love them, but I don’t hate them either. So out with the old. The new can take a spot in the hall closet, alongside my ancient Uggs. (What? They come in handy quite often.)

Also in the haul from the hallway closet are two pairs of boots that are too small for Carla, plus a couple pairs of everyday shoes she’s outgrown as well. It is much easier to get rid of her old shoes than mine.

I relocate my husband’s ice skates to the basement. I move some wedges and two pairs of my husband’s shoes to the upstairs closet. I put everything that I am keeping back in the freshly-cleaned hall closet and mud room.

Whew. We are DONE.

All right. After all that, I have two rather small piles to excise from my collection.

Throwaway pile

So well-used they are beyond repair. These are earmarked for the trash.

 

I manage to throw away ten (10) pairs of shoes. Half of the shoes belonged to Carla. I tend to buy cheapish shoes for her because a) she is going to outgrow them in a year or less and b) she is REALLY hard on shoes. I don’t know what she does to them — although I’m sure that if I paid a bit more for higher quality footwear, it might hold up a bit better. I am not yet willing to test that theory though. All of the shoes that are mine are at LEAST as old as Carla is. I can remember wearing those black wedges when I was pregnant with her. All the others, I’ve had even longer.

The hardest shoes to toss are these brown wedges.

Beloved shoes

Even in this flattering light, they are showing their age.

I love them, and have for many, many years. Since college, I think. I cannot find anything comparable, though I’ve looked for the past two or three years, knowing that the end was nigh. Finally, last year, the sole of one shoe cracked off. I kept the sole and the shoe, hoping to fix it, somehow… But I never got around to it, and I don’t really think it’s possible. Into the trash they go!

I set aside eight (8) pairs of shoes that I think I can donate. They are all in very good condition, gently used. Or, in the case of the beautiful Ugg slippers my husband got for me a decade ago, only worn a handful of times (they were too small, and this was in the days before everything had free returns so I just kept them).

Donation pile

I think these are gently-used enough that they can work for a new owner.

Here are the final views of the closets.

Mud room:

Mud room 6Mud room 7

Mud room before and after:

 

Hall closet (very hard to see any difference, what with all the coats):

 

Hall closet 6Hall closet 7

Hall closet before and after:

 

Bedroom walk in:

Walk in 2Walk in 3Walk in 4

Bedroom walk in before and after:

Only in my house would getting rid of eighteen whole pairs of shoes make such an insignificant dent!

It has taken me under two hours to accomplish this much put-off task. Does that mean I will jump right in and tackle the coats situation? No it does not.

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I have a very unromantic recommendation for you today. But it is something that I have had for YEARS and for which I have been extremely grateful these past few pandemic months.

It is a zooper – otherwise known as a handheld vacuum. We always called it a zooper when I was growing up; I don’t know why. Maybe because of the noise it makes? And “zoop” is a verb – you go zoop something up with the zooper. Sometimes we called it a Dustbuster, but I think that’s a proprietary eponym, like Kleenex is for facial tissue or Band-Aid is for sticking plaster.

Anyway, in pre-pandemic times, I would use the zooper approximately once a day. Carla has an uncanny ability to produce crumbs, so I would mainly do a little tour under her seat at the counter, but then I’d give a quick once-over to the kitchen and the entryway.

During These Unprecedented Times, when Carla and I are here all day every day and have nothing better to do than produce endless messes, I am using the zooper twice a day, at least.

Carla is still a crumb generator. Plus, it’s summer, so we are in and out and constantly tracking in playground mulch and grass strands and pieces of dirt. Plus, Carla’s new-since-the-pandemic fascination has been making clothing for her Barbies and stuffed animals, so there are bits of paper and tape and fabric and dried-up fabric glue and yarn and string and beads everywhere constantly. To stay on top of things, I make a daily round with the zooper each morning after breakfast and each evening before bed, with an occasional mid-day zooping if we’ve been particularly prodigious with fashion production or going outside and back in thirty times.

Zooper

photo from amazon.com

My zooper – the Black and Decker cordless handheld vacuum – is excellent. It’s lasted for at least three years – probably longer; I can’t remember when we got it – and it’s still going strong. And it’s helping to keep me sane.

Things I like about it:

  • It has a small charging base that’s easy to fit in an unobtrusive corner. I suppose you could wall-mount it, if you wanted to, but I haven’t checked.
  • It maintains its charge very well. Previous handheld vacuums have gradually lost power over the years, until they have the stamina and sucking power of an aging tortoise. Actually, now that I think of it, I know very little about the stamina or sucking power of a tortoise of any age. Hmm. Well, onward. I shall say, instead, that I’ve had this zooper for years and have never had a single problem with it losing power or suction.
  • It has a nice long neck, which allows you to get into things like the tracks of sliding doors and the space underneath the oven. (The helpful diagram on the product page refers to the neck as a “nozzle” which is a delightful word.)
  • It is VERY easy to clean. You pop out the little plastic container, dump your household detritus in the trash. Pop out the filter, dump it out. You can wipe everything clean with a damp cloth. And then everything pops back together easy peasy lemon squeezy.
  • It’s lightweight (just 2.6 pounds) and easy to hold. My only problem with excessive zooping is that my back starts to ache from all the bending. I am not meant to wander back and forth the length of my house whilst stooped over. But it’s just my back; my arm never gets tired.

Things I don’t like or about which I am neutral:

  • It’s kind of pricey. Amazon is selling it for $72.99 right now, which seems like A LOT to shell out for a handheld vacuum.
  • The neck has a flip-up brush tool that I have literally never used. The brush isn’t bothersome, though; it lives folded down against the neck of the zooper, like a coarse little goatee.

I feel kind of lame, recommending something so utilitarian. But my admiration for its utility has grown so much over these past few months – I really lean on it to help me keep my house from feeling like a hovel in between Big Cleanings.

This is what being An Adult means, I guess. Feeling evangelical about a household item.

 

What silly household things are making your life easier these days?

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When it comes to a big, multi-room tidy, I have a strategy, which I will pass on to you in hopes that it works just as well on your children (I have not tried it on my spouse, so no promises there). My strategy is setting up a Cleaning Challenge. Carla LOVES a challenge, especially if there’s the potential of besting me. And it makes cleaning into a game, and games are fun.

What I do is I get out a big colorful sheet of construction paper. At the top I write Cleaning Challenge! in big cheerful letters. Beneath, on one side, I write out a list of things I need Carla to do (make her bed, pick up stuffed animals, tidy the living room, put her socks and underpants away, etc.) and put little boxes for checkmarks next to them… and on the other side, I write out a list of things I need to do (unload dishwasher, clean toilets, vacuum stairs, etc.) and put boxes with checkmarks next to them. I have found that it helps if my list is longer than Carla’s, because she likes to have an obvious advantage. (To her, it is not obvious that “washing the floor” is much, much more time consuming than “picking up the crayons scattered all over the counter.”) Then I masking tape the Challenge to the kitchen wall, masking tape a marker to the wall as well, and set a one-hour timer. Then we RACE to complete as many of our tasks as possible in the allotted time, checking off each task as we complete it. This is Carla’s favorite part, I think – making a checkmark on the page, while loudly proclaiming, “Checking off another one!” – and taping the marker to the wall makes it extra fun for her for some reason.

Anyway, I haven’t tried a Cleaning Challenge! lately, but I will do so today because it desperately needs doing. (It’s my normal Day Before the Cleaner Arrives technique, and it’s worked well for many months.) (By the way, being surrounded by mess has been making me feel incredibly extra wistful and thankful for our housecleaner, and I am writing her “paid leave” checks with gratitude and hope that one day she will be able to clean for us again because I miss her SO VERY MUCH OMG.)

The Cleaning Challenge! is a good strategy for the type of clutter that accumulates over time, between housecleaning appointments for instance. But I am struggling more, lately, with the HUGE VOLUME of day-to-day messiness. Everything is so much more messy than it was prior to self-isolation. Don’t get me wrong — the tendency of a child to start one project, abandon it, and begin another project while the first is strewn about a different room is, shall we say, a familiar concept. As is the concept of piles gradually accruing on every possible surface. But it turns out that my little whirlwind can make SO MANY MORE messes when she is at home for an additional 35 hours a week. Plus, I am guessing I do a lot more of-the-moment tidying when I am not staring despondently at the news 400 hours a day.

I think the utter relentlessness of the mess is what has begun wearing on me. It was simple enough at the beginning, to breezily say things along the lines of, “Of course it’s going to be messier than usual around here! You have double the people at home all day and one of them is a tornado, so mess is inevitable! But you can live with a little mess!” And this is true. I never claimed to be The World’s Tidiest Person, not by a long shot. But it turns out that a little messiness, while endurable for the short term, over time begins to feel like NOTHING IS EVER CLEAN. And, after a few days of enduing “a little mess,” the mess balloons into a LOT of messiness and then it begins feeling like I am living in squalor and there is no point in anything anymore because we are drowning in a sea of clutter. I am already walking around in a constant state of irritation/distress/anxiety and the added mess is NOT HELPING.

So I am starting to lose it, messwise. I need a new system. Otherwise I may as well lie down on the living room floor and be layered over with magnatiles and board games and construction paper and stuffed animals and remnants of pillow forts and Barbie shoes.

I had to have The Talk with my husband last night that I need more help with the housework… But man, I feel guilty about that. He is working all day, and putting his health at risk to help other people, and he is exhausted and anxious all the time, so I WANT to be able to take the pressure off at home. But also I am here ALL DAY EVERY DAY, doing nearly all the childcare and housework and meal planning/preparation, with maybe five minutes to myself at a time and… it sucks.

For those of you who have multiple children in your care all day every day… for those of you who have multiple children AND spouses who are now ALL at home with you nonstop… for those of you who are working from home WHILE your children and/or spouses are at home with you… well, you have my deepest, most sincere sympathy and compassion. My one cheering thought is that we are ALL dealing with this right now, with our own varying levels of tolerance and manageability. Additional people in our spaces, additional maneuvering required, new levels of irritation and stress, new strategizing and planning and letting things go.

I asked a fellow parent what she was doing to keep the mess down, and she said she was trying to clean a bit every day. Well. Yes. As am I. This is a tried-and-true strategy. Every single day, I do the dishes and wipe the counters and straighten and try to get Carla to move things off Obvious Surfaces. Every single day, I try to do at least one Other Thing — a load of laundry, moving all the collected water glasses from my husband’s bedside table to the sink, moving a bundle of precious artwork from the overcrowded craft cupboard to the trash. But it’s NOT ENOUGH. The mess is a rising tide and our house is a leaky boat.

If you, too, are just trying to clean a bit every day, what does that MEAN? Do you have a checklist? Do you have a rotation of Big Items? How are you enlisting the other members of your household? If you have young children, how are you helping them get into the habit of cleaning up after themselves? I am TRYING, believe me, but a) I don’t have the energy/patience to supervise all the cleaning that needs to be done and b) it feels like just one more source of potential tension between me and Carla when we are already getting on each other’s nerves and c) sometimes the ONLY WAY I can get a few minutes to myself is to ignore what is certainly a HUGE mess in the making.

So. What are YOU doing to Keep the Clutter at Bay?

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It is a Call Week, so I am relieving myself of the drudgery of meal planning for this week. Ahhhhhhhhh, sweet self-imposed freedom from self-imposed obligation.

I just got back from chaperoning a field trip. Yes, the field trip I was whining about last week. I like to drag my worrying out as long as possible.

Taking responsibility for any children more than my own first grader is, as you may suspect, completely outside my comfort zone. The teacher may have understood this – she has met me before, after all – and only assigned me one other charge besides Carla. The little girl was so cute and held my hand whenever the teacher instructed the children to “find their grown ups.” I was HER grown up, so she was going to make sure I didn’t get lost. (Carla, in typical Carla fashion, did not care whether I was in her eyeline, just as long as I was ON the field trip.)

Our destination was what felt like an hour’s drive away. The duration of the trip – or, should I say, the perceived duration – may owe something to the endless games of “Would You Rather” and “I Spy” and “Twenty Questions” we played. We played enough rounds of each for me to have a clear Least Favorite (I Spy) and to never want to play any of the three again. These games were, however, preferable to the game the girls had been playing when we first got on the bus. “Hamster” I believe it was called. The gist, from what I understand, is that Carla was a hamster (hence the thrilling name of the game) and that the other little girl was her owner. I found it highly amusing that the other little girl would hold out a carrot – a completely imaginary, completely invisible carrot, mind you – and that Carla would say, “No, no, I want little pieces of carrot” and then the other little girl would not only not mind this arbitrary distinction (INVISIBLE and IMAGINARY carrot) but would readily comply.

This is the kind of thing that makes me hate imaginary play with my child. Give me reading. Give me art projects. Give me (gourd save me) a board game. (Not Candyland. Never Candyland.) But when it comes to following the meandering and impromptu and too-often contradictory rules of a game of pretend, I would rather stick a fork in my eye.

Speaking of forks, I am sort of wishing that my everyday flatware would wear out. My husband and I chose our flatware purposefully. We loved the contemporary sleekness of it. But most of all, we loved the heft of the utensils. They felt sturdy. Real. That’s the very thing that we hate so much about them now. The stems are TOO heavy; they are constantly falling off the edges of dishes or into bowls. They have rounded edges, too, so they slide off even perfectly flat and still plates and it is super annoying. It is time for them to go. But I cannot bring myself to replace Perfectly Good Flatware, you know? It’s not cheap, to buy a whole new set of forks, knives, and spoons. And there’s nothing broken or damaged about this set. It’s just stupid and irritates me on a near daily basis, that’s all. I guess I will just wait until the utensils wear out and I can happily replace them.

Of course, they are NOT wearing out. Not at all. This despite the fact that we seem to have officially crossed some sort of Household Item Breakdown Threshold, because over the past two years or so, I’ve noticed that more and more of our housewares are surrendering to age or overuse or existential dread. Our everyday dishes (purchased 2009) suddenly have big chips. The handles of our pots-and-pans-set (purchased 2003) have started to detach from the bowls of the pots. Our cookie sheets (2009) are dark brown and have a permanent aura of grime, not to mention they don’t seem to lie flat anymore. We’ve lost enough of our backup everyday water glasses (2009) that I had to order more. Our duvet cover (2009) developed a hole that I was unable  unwilling  unqualified to repair. Our bath towels (2009) suddenly seem exhausted and threadbare and completely resistant to the softening effects of Downy. Our kitchen towels (2009) are universally stained and resist being folded into anything resembling a straight line. Our everyday steak knives (2003) have been washed so many times the wooden handles are sprouting splinters that make dicing onions an exercise in bravery and pain. I am sure there are more examples.

I suppose this is the nature of things: they are temporary. You get as much use out of them as you can. And then you move on. Yet I am nonetheless bewildered by their disrepair. I have used these same pots in four different homes across the better part of two decades! Why would they fail me now? It is perhaps a level of betrayal that one should not feel toward inanimate objects.

We have so far replaced the duvet cover and the kitchen towels and the pots and the cookie sheets. I hope these signs of wear and tear confine themselves to our household items and don’t spread to our actual marriage. Perhaps that’s why their disrepair feels so significant: I am correlating them too closely with my marriage; understandable, since we bought some things when we moved in together (2003) and the rest when we got married (2009).

Moving on quickly lest we get too philosophical/metaphorical here: You will note that I said we have replaced several items. And yet the old, failing items remain. The dark and gritty cookie sheets? Still in the same drawer, on top of the brand new cookie sheets – which are so lovely and fresh looking I have been avoiding using them, lest they lose the newness. SIGH. I glance lovingly at the shiny new pots (well, they aren’t shiny; they’re non-stick) and pass over them in favor of playing another tantalizing round of Will It Or Won’t It Fall Off: Pot Handle Edition. The dingy kitchen towels are still folded, if haphazardly, in the towel cupboard and are still part of my towel rotation. At least I USE the newer towels, though.

I think my husband and I both suffer from (varying degrees of) a very dangerous combination of practicality and sentimentality. Alone, they are often stronger than logic. Paired together, logic has no chance whatsoever. Why do we need three coffee machines?Logic asks. What if we have a lot of people over at one time? Practicality answers.  We have never once used these crystal glasses of your mother’s, Logic points out. Plus, we already have your grandmother’s crystal upstairs in the dining room and we never use those anyway. Inarguable, right? But we might have a big fancy party someday and need EXTRA, Practicality counters. And they belonged to YOUR MOTHER, Sentimentality says. Game, set, and match.

Sometimes I wonder if I should get really into Marie Kondo like its 2014. But – from my very limited understanding of the Kondo method – I petulantly disagree with the whole “keep only things that bring you joy” principle. And I am sure – SURE – that the actual Kondo method has exceptions for things of practical necessity. I mean, no one keeps a bottle of Advil or a plunger on hand for reasons of JOY.  It’s probably more a method of thinning down multiples of things – like cardigans or jeans or stuffed cats (every single one of which brings Carla joy, I don’t even have to ask).

What does Kondo have to say about occasional-use things, though? Like a ricer or a bottle of hydrogen peroxide? Neither is going to save your life (or unclog your toilet), and I am going to venture a guess and say neither is going to bring you any sort of joy. But sometimes you just need a ricer.

I couldn’t find my ricer this past Thanksgiving, to my husband’s chagrin and my moderated glee (he and I have differing opinions about the optimal smoothness of mashed potatoes). And I wondered if I somehow got rid of it without remembering? Would I have done that? Did I say, “No joy” and toss it into a box of things headed to Goodwill? That doesn’t sound like me, (see above re: knives that give me literal splinters) but… I have no idea where the ricer could be. (Where IS my ricer?) Wherever it is, I think it’s rubbing elbows with my knife sharpener, which I cannot find either.

I could see myself applying – with prejudice – the Kondo method to my kitchen. I mean, the pots whose handles are ready to release themselves from the pot at any moment should definitely go. We ALREADY have replacement pots. Sure – addressing Practicality – it’s nice to have extras, but they are rickety and liable to break just as you are transporting a pot of hot soup from stove to counter. And yes – addressing Sentimentality – they were the first pots my husband and I bought when we first lived together a million years ago, but they are JUST POTS. In no way do these pots bring me joy. More like apprehension.

I could also go through my Drawer of Kitchen Crap and pick out the things that no longer bring me joy. The herb stripper I was so excited about when I got it? I use it so infrequently. And really, I don’t NEED it that often. And it’s just the wrong shape for the drawer, so if it isn’t positioned exactly right, it catches on the top of the counter and holds the drawer closed and I have to jiggle and jam my hand into the drawer and wiggle things around until I can get it open again. IT CAN GO.

Kitchen drawer

Drawer of Kitchen Crap

What about the Bundt pan that I have never once used and which I fully plan on continuing to never use?  Just because it is in Brand New Condition is no reason to keep it.

What even is a Bundt cake? Is it really a thing, that people make and eat? Is it, like, cake cake? Or is it, as I imagine, more of a bread? Is it good? Have I been missing out on all sorts of Bundt-related deliciousness all these years that the Bundt pan has been taking up space in my pantry?

I could go for some cake right now, honestly.

After all, even if I have forgone meal planning, it does not mean that I can forgo actually FEEDING my family. They continue to require sustenance. Cake counts, right?

All right, I am off to scrape together some sort of probably-non-cake food for my child. And then maybe see if she can I Spy my ricer.

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We went on a little vacation over the long Independence Day weekend. And my in-laws are in town. And I’ve been dealing with Assorted Birthday Stuff. So the days kind of melt into one another and I am not really sure where I am or what I’m supposed to be doing. I think, it being Tuesday, I should be setting up a Dinners This Week post. But I haven’t even planned my meals this week, yet. (We are going out to dinner tonight, so I can delay that chore another day.) Plus, I have other things on my mind.

Did I tell you that we have new neighbors?

Deer 1

These are the Cute Neighbors.

Deer 2

They are very cute indeed. They do lots of frolicking. And they seem to see in Carla a kindred spirit because whenever she is in the living room, looking out at them from the sliding glass doors, they take great interest in her and often come up quite close to the glass.

Many new neighbors.

Skunk

Still very cute, but more worrisome. Especially because she has at least THREE babies in her condo under that step. Yes. The step that is directly adjacent to our living room.

Unrelated — surprisingly — to skunks: today, I am also preoccupied with The Smell. My husband woke me up with a loving kiss, as he does every morning, and, instead of saying, “Good morning, my darling,” he whispered, “I think I smell something bad.” Just the kind of affectionate phrasing I most enjoy in the wee hours, let me tell you.

I couldn’t smell it; couldn’t smell anything, really, because my nose has been, of late, CLOGGED TO THE MAX. I’m pretty sure I have a sinus infection; my forehead is tender, as are the circles under my eyes; my head is in a constant state of achey-ness; my nose, as mentioned just a second ago, is thick with YUCK.

But Carla leaped out of bed – she wakes up the instant anyone else is awake, unless she wakes up first; in summers, she has been “sleeping in” until six thirty or so, which is lovely – and chimed in from her room, “I think I smell it!”

I don’t know if it was the power of suggestion, but I thought – after copious nose-blowing – that maybe I, too, could smell the underpinnings of something foul.

My husband and I tossed around the idea that maybe it was the aftereffects of some roasted broccoli we had last night. Broccoli, delicious as it is, has a bad habit of releasing a pungent fart perfume that lingers in its absence. Carla wondered if the flowers we have in vases throughout our downstairs might be causing the stink, but they all look relatively fresh and the vase water is clear, and passed The Sniff Test, so…

So I did what anyone might do when confronted with Something Smelly: I cleared out all the garbage cans, sprayed the insides of the cans with bleach, cleaned the toilets for good measure, ran a load of laundry (although none of the laundry baskets had a noticeable smell), ran the garbage disposal, wiped down the counters. I questioned Carla closely about whether she’s taken any food upstairs (this is verboten in our house, and I don’t know that she’s ever done it before… but you never know). (She looked at me with wide-eyed shock that I would even ASK her such a thing. Dost she protest too much? Hmmmm….) (I smelled each corner of her room carefully, but we have already established that we cannot trust my nose.) Then I took Carla to camp and went for my usual four-mile walk.

The Smell greeted me when I returned.

Sigh.

It’s steamy outside, but I have dutifully opened all the windows and doors, in hopes of coaxing The Smell to leave. I dumped baking soda in each of the kitchen sink drains, filled one side of the sink with a mixture of hot water and vinegar, and ran the disposal as I let it drain; that’s the best way I know to really CLEAN the disposal. I’ve refreshed the flower water, just in case that’s the culprit. I am running the dishwasher, in case I didn’t rinse last night’s dishes thoroughly enough. I’m not really sure what to do next. Toss the week-old Gerber daisies, I suppose. They still look fine, but maybe they’re not.

Now I need to shower, because I don’t want to add my own Eau de Post-Workout to the scents inside the house.

The abiding worry, of course, is that some animal has crawled in between our walls and died there, memorializing its life in a legacy of odor. I wouldn’t even know where to BEGIN dealing with that, should that be the case. But let’s try everything else, first.

What else have I overlooked? What are the likely stink culprits in your home, when you’ve eliminated “trash smell” and “bathroom smells” from the list?

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I try to be a good inhabitant of our planet, as much as a human can be. But I’m not great, and there is a LOT of room for improvement. I have become hyperaware of how much trash we produce, for instance, and we are just a little family of three. But with room for improvement comes opportunity, so I have been keeping my eyes out for ways to reduce our environmental impact.

Two areas of greatest waste in my household are paper towels and plastic bags. I have become an expert at bringing reusable shopping bags to the grocery store, and I am really working on bringing my reusable produce bags, too. (I really need to buy more of them, because I inevitably end up using plastic bags anyway and then feeling annoyed at myself. Baby steps.) I have effectively retrained my brain to use reusable containers instead of Ziploc bags for things like snacks and leftovers. I can still improve in that arena, too: I use a lot of Ziploc bags to marinate and freeze meat (although I am getting better about marinating things in glass dishes instead), and I am in the early stages of researching and thinking about buying reusable silicone zipper bags to use as a replacement. But I’m not there yet.

It takes me a while to change. And I think at this stage of life, I still want things to be fairly convenient. Listen, I know that this is not a good argument against doing something that is better for the environment. But I think we all do what we can, and even a little step in the right direction is still a step in the right direction. Probably I should be composting and bicycling Carla to school each day and avoiding plastic at all costs but I am making changes, and that has to be worth something. Ugh. I am sure Swistle has written about this before… Yes, yes she has: “Environmentalism, Swistle Style” and you should go read that and we can all feel better about our own willingness/ability to change. I’ll wait.

See? Doesn’t that feel better? I guess it boils down to: I can do better, of course I can, we all can. But I am doing SOMETHING and that is NOT NOTHING.

This is all to say that I have been thinking about reusuable paper towels for a long time. First, I discovered that they existed. This was A Revelation to me; I had no idea! Then I started reading about them. Then I thought seriously about buying some. Then I did a test run of No Paper Towels (using washcloths instead) to see if I could justify trying them out. Then I went through a long period of using paper towels as per usual. And then I mentioned the reusable paper towels to my husband, and he got on board, and I bought a package.

These are the reusable paper towels I bought:

Paper towels

photo from amazon.com

My main concerns were fourfold:

  1. Would they be an adequate replacement? I wanted to be sure that the reusable paper towels acted as much like a replacement for paper towels as possible. In my trial period, I’d been using microfiber washcloths, and that was fine… but it wasn’t like paper towels. They were the wrong size. They felt wrong. I had to stow them in a plastic bag in the laundry room until I had enough to wash them. What I wanted was… paper towels. Just… reusuable ones. I was able to determine through research that this was impossible. Sure, the resuable paper towels I got LOOK like a roll of paper towels. But once you use them, you can’t put them back on the roll. So you have to find a way to store them after that first use. Hence…
  2. How and where were we going to store them? We got a new piece of furniture for the hallway between the pantry and the laundry room, so I kind of figured I would put them in one of the drawers. I could lay them all out flat and store them there, and hopefully it would be easily accessible enough to still be convenient to use. I also planned to employ the old bag-hanging-in-the-laundry-room trick to keep the soiled cloths between washings. Instead of a Target bag, I would use one of my reusable veggie bags because it is breathable. And then once we had a whole bagful of soiled cloths, I could wash them.
  3. What was I going to do about really germy messes? Wiping down the counter after Carla eats dinner is one thing. But what about using a reusable paper towel on spilled chicken juice? Even if I give it a thorough rinse afterward, I don’t know if I want that hanging around in my veggie bag until I have enough towels to justify a load of laundry.

The last concern is the least concerning:

  1. Were we going to accidentally throw them in the trash, wasting money and nullifying any environmental benefit?

 

So there you go. I bought the towels. Now, we have to USE them. Next time, I will tell you what I think.

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We had been stepping over it for DAYS (two). My daughter and my husband had each mentioned its falling – and finally, I was able to swoop in and do The Job That Only I Could Do! I applied two circles of masking tape to the back of the fallen artwork and pressed the art firmly into the cupboard/gallery space. Voila! Fixed! Alas, no one was around to see my heroic act. No doubt they will throw me a parade when they notice that the hall is now clear of artwork and the art is once again properly displayed!

Okay, okay. I tend to get irritated and snarky when I tackle the household work that Only I Can Do. But when I really think about it, I KNOW there are many jobs that Only My Husband Can Do. So it’s not like it’s a one-sided thing. It still rankles, though, because it FEELS like I am overloaded with tasks that could so easily be shared by one/both additional members of the family.

When I begin to feel put upon and beleaguered, it helps me to list all the things that my husband DOES do. And, once I have regained my sense of equilibrium, I can think about how fascinating it is, that housework can be divided in so many ways. There are the things that we both do – laundry, dishes, caring for the human – and the things that one of us does FAR more often, but not always, and then there are the things that one of does so often that I am going to say “always,” even if there have been very, very, veryvery rare exceptions.

Like cooking. I make dinner almost every night. On the nights I don’t make dinner, we go out or fend for ourselves with leftovers/cereal. But that’s not to say my husband doesn’t EVER cook. He does, but it is (now) very very rare. So I would feel comfortable putting “cooking” on the “Only Me” list.

A similar task on my husband’s side of the list would be sorting mail. I do it very occasionally, but really, I think of it as His Task. If he were to get fed up and shout at me that he hates sorting the mail and I never ever do it, I would have to concede the point. “Never ever” except for maybe twice a year doesn’t count as a shared task.

The things Only My Husband Does are really his and his alone. He is the financial supporter of our household. My freelance income is so vanishingly small next to his that it doesn’t really count; if he expired suddenly, I could not support our family on what I currently make from freelance work. (Aside: This is a hard topic for me. I know many, MANY people make it work, but for me, I always feel… inferior. Like the lesser contributor. Maybe if I had more children I would feel less so? I don’t know. But I feel hateful for feeling frustrated by all the work I DO have, which is menial and so EASY compared to what my husband does each day. He finds CANCER. He improves people’s QUALITY OF LIFE. He works SO HARD. And yet I STILL get frustrated and Oh Woe Is Me and feeling I’m-the-only-one-who-does-anything-around-here-grumbly. I don’t have any Soothing Thoughts or Coping Mechanisms to apply to this mental difficulty, I just wanted to note it.)

He pays all the bills. I have offered, but (to my great relief) I have never once taken over this task. He also researches Big Purchases – washer and dryer, new car, new whatever. The only time I’ve ever taken up that mantle is with the window situation, which proves that a) I am fully capable of researching major home expenses and b) I hate it.

Tasks that are firmly in the Only Me column include bafflingly simple things like making sure Carla’s rest blanket and pillowcase (and, in the winter, snow clothing) are laundered over the weekend and folded in her backpack by Monday. Occasionally going through her backpack and removing crumpled artwork, rocks, leaves, sticks, plastic “gems,” contraband toys she smuggled to school from home and forgot about, and so much dirt. Washing/filling her water bottle each day. Making sure that the guest bathroom hand towel gets changed/laundered on a regular basis. Wiping down the counters. Replacing the toilet paper (how, just, statistically, does this always fall to me?). Periodically cleaning out the fridge. Decorating for holidays (aside from some help with the Christmas tree). Planning/hosting/attending playdates. Making probably 99% of appointments and other phone calls. Managing our social calendar. It feels like ALL of these are dumb/frivolous which makes me cranky.

I am primarily the grocery shopper, but sometimes my husband will do it. My husband is primarily the person who researches and makes plane reservations, but sometimes I will do it (if FORCED to). The trash used to be primarily his job, but he made some frustrated noises about that a year or so ago and so I do it more than he does on an even split. Most mornings, I make Carla breakfast, but my husband takes over probably on average once a week. School stuff overwhelmingly falls to me, but my husband joins in on drop-offs/conferences/pickups when he can; okay, upon reflection “school stuff” probably belongs in the Only Me category. We split bedtime duties (teeth brushing supervision, reading, tucking in) although I help with clothing choices more often than not. I made my husband promise, when we decided to have a baby, that he’d take care of vomit; he’s been pretty good keeping up his end of the bargain, although I’ve been on Vom Cleanup twice in the past year which is an acceleration of my duties that I’m not comfortable with. We both participate in giving gifts to other family members, although I am most definitely the initiator. I’d say we refill the kitchen soap dispenser about evenly.

It is so very easy, in a marriage, to feel like you are doing ALL THE WORK. Especially, I might (with great bias) add, if you are in the homemaker role. I am reminded of my mother’s wise words, that in a marriage, you must give more than 50%.That’s just part of it. It SUCKS sometimes. But, for one thing, maybe you aren’t giving 51%. Or maybe you aren’t seeing the invisible things that make up your partner’s 51%. Surely, there are many times when you are only able to give 30%, or 10% or even 0%, and your spouse makes up the difference. And probably there are YEARS when one person is giving 70% and the other is giving 30% and that can still be a fair and good way to split things up. There are so many ways to make a marriage work. But I know feeling malevolent and resentful because I AM THE ONLY ONE WHO DOES DISHES AROUND HERE AND NO ONE APPRECIATES IT is not the key to longterm happiness. Not that I’ve FOUND the key to longterm happiness; I am just muddling through, day by day. I just know that listing out all the things that my husband does helps when I am feeling like my More Than 50% is endless and unmatched really, truly helps.

I would be very interested to know the things that Only You do in your household, and, likewise, the things that Only Your Spouse does as well. And, if you have it, the key to longterm happiness.

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Because I firmly believe that my mother and I cannot possibly be the only two people in the world who are the way we are, I am going to make a Vast Generalization about appetizer serving.

There are two kinds of people: The people who put out the entire bag of chips, and the people who put out half of the bag and then refill as necessary.

The people who put out the whole wedge of cheese, and the people who cut a wedge of Brie in half, and put out half and put the other half in the fridge.

The people who put out the whole jar of salsa, and the people who scoop half the jar of salsa into a smaller dish and put the rest in the fridge, adding more salsa from the fridge as the dish gets low.

And on and on.

The reason I am a Refill Person is twofold:

1.) I am germ-averse, and so I don’t like the idea of saving something that other people have been nibbling on. If it’s chips, I don’t want to re-bag a bunch of chips that people’s hands have been in contact with. If it’s dip, I don’t want to put away and then eat something that other people have been dipping (and possibly double-dipping) into.

2.) I don’t want to waste food. If I put the whole container of hummus out on the table and people nibble at it for a couple of hours, I am not going to want to put the rest of it back in the fridge for future consumption. First of all, see item 1 in this list. Secondly, it’s been out in the air, gathering bacteria and getting warm. Yuck. Extra yuck if it’s a mayonnaise/cream based dip. Or guacamole. Or cheese. If I put out only part of what I have to offer, I can always add more without the risk of having to throw away a large portion.

I acknowledge that there’s a disadvantage to being a Refill Person, which is that you need to be constantly vigilant that the chip bowl isn’t getting too empty. And you have to be keenly aware of the Eating Enthusiasm level of your guests – if it’s waning, you either let the bowl empty out, or you only put in a handful of new chips. If it’s still high, you can fill the bowl up to the tippety top again.

Okay, there’s a second disadvantage. In addition to the vigilance, you might end up spending a decent amount of time going back and forth to the kitchen/fridge to refill, which detracts not only from conversation with your guests (potentially a plus, I suppose, depending on the type of people you are entertaining) but (more importantly) from your own snacking.

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Do you have one of these things?

Trunk organizer

Photo from amazon.com

It’s a little fold-out container for your grocery bags. It helps keep them from falling over.

Okay, I see that the product description lists it as a “trunk organizer.” But I use it solely for grocery bags. Well, and one time I used it for seedlings that I was taking home to plant.

It falls under the category of “totally unnecessary but nice to have.” I have lived successfully without one for many decades. But my husband got one sometime last year, probably because his trunk is completely 100% empty, so things tend to slide around in there. (I do NOT have that problem.) But over time, I started getting envious of his little container, and – since I am the Primary Grocery Shopper of our household anyway – I asked him to buy me one, too.

(I could have bought it myself, you understand. But he likes to do Detailed Research on all things, which I do not care to do. Plus, he purchased the one for his car through his Amazon account, so I figured he could just re-order it. To make a boring and unnecessary aside more boring and unnecessary, the one he has was no longer offered, so he got me this one instead.)

I love it!

This is how it looks, all full:

Trunk organizer 1

There are four bags inside the trunk organizer, and then one (the big red zipped-up bag) that has to sit outside the organizer with all the other junk I have piled in my car.

Trunk organizer 2

Top view, which I see now looks like nothing but a jumble. You can also get a peek at my groceries, which included ALL THE PRODUCE.

My trunk is a mess. Someday I should clean it. To be fair, I cleaned it pretty recently. It’s just really hard to know what to do with some of the supplies I have back there. The jumper cables should stay, even though they are unwieldy and take up a lot of space. The bags have a variety of blankets and winter gear and emergency snacks and coloring books. I think there’s an old diaper bag in there, too; now that my child is FIVE perhaps I can finally get rid of that. (SOB!)

This is how it looks, without the groceries but unfolded:

Trunk organizer 3

The blue thing on the bottom right is the wing of a parrot paper bag puppet Carla made for me and insisted I keep in my car at all times. Like a talisman. That’s molting.

The trunk organizer has Velcro on the bottom, so it sticks nicely to my fuzzy trunk floor. And you can unfold only half of it, if you only need half. And there is a divider inside, if you need one large rectangle and two smaller squares, or just one or two smaller squares.

Here is how it looks, all folded up:

Trunk organizer 4

So small and compact! To allow room in the trunk for MORE JUNK!

Man, my trunk could sure use a good vacuuming. Let’s all ponder when that will happen, taking into consideration that it is fifteen years old and I cannot remember every having vacuumed it. Hmmm. Hmmmmmmm.

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