Friday, January 29, 2016

When to DIY, when to hire

I married a very handy guy. Seriously - when it comes to carpentry, electrical problems, and basic plumbing, all I have to do is tell him there's a problem, and after some pounding and cursing, it's fixed.

But we all have weak points. Mine is replacing zippers. Jake's is finishing drywall - he can hang it, no problem. There's hardly a gap between the sheets when he's done. But taping, mudding/spackling, and sanding is a special kind of torture for both of us. We've done it before when we were getting the house ready to move into, and the results were pretty amateurish.

The new bedroom under the front porch has had drywall hung and ready for finishing for 2 months. Every time Jake even thinks about having to work on it, I see his stress level rise. So yesterday I started calling guys from craigslist that advertised themselves as drywall workers.

Our best quote (for a room using something less than 24 drywall panels) was $300, $350 if he had to use his own mud and supplies. Now that Jake is working again, it's not like we're rolling in cash, but at least we have positive cash flow. He's working between 40 - 50 hours a week, so when he's home he's tired - and in the next few weeks he'll be switching to 2nd shift when his orientation phase is over. $300 sounds cheap to have the project move forward again, when you consider the alternative is it just won't get done for a few more months.

Once the drywall is finished, my MIL has the primer and paint already purchased, and for some reason she ENJOYS painting. From there, we need to get carpet installed (another thing we always hire) and install light fixtures. Then we need to knock down a wall and erect another wall to cut down one bedroom into a bedroom and hallway to the new bedroom - if the drywall guy is good, we'll ask for his help then, too. Then a bit more carpet, a little ceiling tile work, and paint, and the downstairs will actually be DONE. I doubt this will be done before next Christmas, but a girl can hope, right?  :)

As a meme says, If a man says he'll do a project, he'll do it. You don't need to nag him about it every six months!

Thursday, January 28, 2016

KonMari coping strategy

OK, I'm through my clothing category (also books, most of paper, and working steadily through misc.), but I had some ideas that might help some people with starting the clothing category. After all, starting is hard, especially if the piles of clothes are as high as your bed. (Don't pretend you're not out there. I know all about laundry struggles!)

Get all the clothes together, both clean and dirty, and head to the laundromat. Yes, even if you have your own washer and dryer - I'll explain in a minute. If you have a large family, grab all the dirties and the clean clothes for whoever you're starting KonMari for - probably you at first. Make sure you pick a laundromat with a donation bin in the parking lot - most do have them.

Wash and dry everything, staggering the loads so you're not rushing to pull things out while you're still working on the last load. Take over one folding table, and begin sorting - things that don't fit, that don't feel good to wear, and generally don't spark joy, go straight outside to the donation bin. Fold and pack up the remaining clean clothes to take home.

Now, why would I tell you to spend the money to wash your clothes somewhere else when you have a perfectly good washer and dryer at home? Two big reasons. One, all the dirty clothes will get clean at once, making it a lot easier to see what you really have. Two, getting out of your home and into a clean environment can bring you clarity, allowing you to make decisions more easily. And if you're starting at a very cluttered point, you might not have a large enough clean space at home to spread everything out and make decisions about it.

Once you get everything home, I know you might be tired, but put it away immediately. As you put the clothes away, you may come across more things you forgot about in the drawers or closets. That's fine - you probably have enough clarity to deal with them by now - decide whether they stay or go, and put them away accordingly.

The other idea for getting started is more piecemeal. KonMari usually advises that you take ALL the clothes for the person you're working on, and dump them on the floor and sort all at once. For me, that's not so awful, since I maintain a small wardrobe. For people with a lot of clothes, that could be more than you can reasonably tackle in one day. In that case, get all your shirts and tops together and start there. If you still have a head of steam after sorting, folding and storing your tops, great! Move onto your bottoms. If not, those get done on your next tidying day.

I had one friend say she couldn't get motivated to start at all. It all looked like too much. So I suggested that she just open up her underwear drawer - after all, we all have ratty undies we don't really like. I told her to get rid of anything that was torn, stained, itchy, or rode up funny, buying a 6-pack of Hanes if all that meant she'd be short on undies. Fold, put in the drawer nicely, and admire it for a minute. See how that one corner of perfection makes you feel. She loved the idea! Once you've gotten a start, it becomes easier to, say, move onto the drawer with your bras or socks. Or shirts. Or pants! You build momentum the more tidying you do.

An important note - KonMari notes that sometimes you will experience "detox" symptoms after a good tidying session - that could include bowel trouble, skin breakouts, or allergy flare ups. I think the allergy symptoms are a reaction to the dust, but I'm familiar with digestive reactions to emotions! After a big tidying session, you will probably feel physically tired and in need of a break. Try to allow yourself a rest day after a tidying day. Drink lots of water and eat well, and minimize your physical activity if possible. Take a hot soak with epsom salts. And look at the progress you've made! It didn't get this way in one day - even KonMari says that while she wants you to do things in one go, it takes about 6 months for most people to finish KMing the whole house.

Just remember - if you don't start, you'll never finish! Start. Allow the beauty you're creating to carry you forward.

Stinky solutions!

Warning - personal hygiene post!

OK, when I was 18 I had a cyst in one underarm. No huge deal, it had to be lanced and drained, but the after effects have been challenging. The incision site would collect solid deodorant, allowing it to sit in a pocket under the skin and cause irritation.

Gross, right?

So I switched to gel and roll-on deodorants.

And then I started reading about how antiperspirants aren't that great for your health - deodorants are fine, but don't block the pores. And I started noticing how my underarms felt sticky and smothered when I used regular deodorant, like the skin couldn't breathe.

So I started making my own deodorant out of baking soda, cornstarch, coconut oil, and essential oils. And to be frank, it didn't work. It was messy, clumpy, and something about my body chemistry made the deodorant stink when I put it on.

So I didn't know what to do. I bought a salt-based scented roll-on, and that made me smell even weirder, but at least I didn't smell like B.O, so I used it and gagged every time I raised my arms. More often I just tried (and failed) to keep clean and non-stinky without deodorants, only to be called out on it by Jake when I'd go to hug him.

Finally, I broke down and bought the solid rock salt Crystal deodorant. I'd tried it many years ago and hadn't liked it, but I was using it like my standard deodorant, which you can't do with the Crystal. The way it works, you have to wash yourself well, then get the Crystal wet and rub it all over the underarm area where the stinky bacteria might live. (When I was young, I'd just notice that I wasn't smelling great, and apply. Doesn't work that way!) The salt kills off the bacteria so while you do sweat, it doesn't have that stench to it. I bought mine at CVS, but it's available just about anywhere. 

I've been trying it out for a few days, and according to my brave 10 year old boy who stuck his face right IN my armpit, I don't stink. I don't smell like something fancy, either - I just smell like me. My underarms don't itch or feel weird, my incision site is fine, and no stink.

Not bad. And the Crystal is supposed to last a full year of regular use - at $7 per rock, that's pretty thrifty! I hope it works as well in the heat of the summer!

Edited - I gave in and started using standard deodorant again - the salt crystal was letting me down mid-day, and I was starting to stink. I keep going back to it every few days, but I think my pregnant chemistry is doing me in here. I smelled weird on standard deodorant during the last pregnancy too - maybe it will work better after the baby comes.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

The Big Dig

In case you haven't heard, my area (Harrisburg, PA) just had a record setting blizzard yesterday. Seriously - the OFFICIAL number was something like 30.2 inches over 24 hours, and there were areas that had more than that.

Today was clear and sunny, and not too cold - perfect for finding our cars under that pile. And really, it could have been worse - it was a light, fluffy snow, not heavy, wet stuff. But the sheer volume was ridiculous. I kept looking out the windows on Saturday as the snow fell, chuckling quietly at the absurdity of it all. With this amount of snow, no one gets a free pass. Jake did most of the driveway himself, the big kids had the front sidewalk, and I helped wherever I could (even though Jake and our neighbors kept telling me to take it easy). Tristan was out playing all around us. The deep snow had the added benefit of making sure he stayed nearby, since he frankly couldn't get far!

This was from our front door - can you see our neighbors car?
Our van from the back deck.
My parents had it even worse - they were in the area that got a solid 3 feet of snow - but their neighbors finished their pavement first and came to the rescue with snowblowers.

Like I said, this is a new record setter - some of us locals like to talk about the blizzards of '93 or '96, both notable, but this is one that my own kids will look back on and say "you think THIS is deep? You should have seen Jonas in '16!"

We're all dug out now, and we never lost power. We had our wood stove burning all along, so we've avoided having to dig out the dryer vent by line drying by the fire. The only thing that has me worried is some weather forecasters are talking about another potential snow storm on Thursday night. One Big Dig in a week is plenty - two is just painful!

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Five frugal things (theme borrowed from Non-Consumer Advocate)

Some of these things are obvious thrifty things, others take a little explanation about why they're thrifty. Either way, five thrifty things!

1) I tackled my kitchen in the decluttering process yesterday, and threw out some expired food and put a bunch of cookware in the yard sale stack. That cleared cabinet space so I could see and use the things that I actually enjoy, and made room so I could put my crock pot in a cabinet, rather than having it live year-round on the counter top!

2) Amazon was offering a limited time deal where you could send back your old model Kindle for credit. I had an older reading-only Kindle that worked, but the charge ran out quickly, so my husband bought me a new one for Christmas. I sent the old one in today, and if all goes well I'll have a $30 Amazon credit coming to me!

3) I returned my library books today, a day BEFORE they were due! We're supposed to have a blizzard hit tomorrow afternoon, so doing this now will save me a few dollars, considering the number of books I had to return. (I had already renewed them once, so it was time to send them back).

4) We went to see a group of homeschool friends today in a church hall this morning, and forgot to bring snacks. Rather than stop somewhere on the way home, we came home and ate lunch. Daniel is getting pretty good at cooking boxed mac-n-cheese!

5) Since it's been so cold lately, we've been using our wood stove to heat the whole house. I even dried 2 loads of laundry on racks in front of the fire, both getting the clothes dry and adding much needed humidity to the air.

What have you done that's thrifty lately?

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Planning a tidying/decluttering day

Marie Kondo gives a lot of good specifics in her book, but there are a few things she didn't mention that I thought would be helpful to anyone planning a big clean up day.

First, before you even get started with the tidying, think of what you want to have for dinner that night. Pull out a frozen lasagna to defrost, pop some goodies in the crock pot, or plan to call the pizza dude, but get it figured out now. You WILL be tired (happy, but tired) at the end of a long day of cleaning, and for some reason the family will still want to be fed! If you have dinner planned (and better yet, already cooking in the crock pot), you'll feel very smart and resourceful!

Second, plan where your donations will go, and load the car as you fill each bag or box. It prevents second thoughts and having to carry huge loads all at once. If you're taking them to a consignment store, call ahead and make sure you can drop off items that day, and what their limits on items are. DON'T get hung up on how much you can sell the items for - their purpose was not to be resold when you bought them, it was to make your life easier and more pleasant. If they serve that purpose by leaving your house, then they've done their job. Any money you get out of that is just a bonus.

Third, if things haven't been moved for a while, get the vacuum out and set up the hose attachments. As you pick up dusty items, suck the dust off of them - it will prevent the dust getting into the air, and by extension, your nose, throat, and lungs. A high quality dust mask is a good idea too. Grab some good dust spray and cloths, or if your allergies act up really badly, splurge and get the throwaway Swiffer dusters. Those things saved my life (or at least my lungs) in my daughters room, since they grabbed the dust so easily and could be thrown away without ever even touching them. Are they a bit decadent for everyday cleaning? Sure! But for this heavy level of dust, they were so helpful. If you have a good air filter, run it before, during, and a while after your clean up session.

Fourth, if you CAN, see about doing big clean up days the day before trash pick up day. That way any actual trash pulled out (and there will be some) doesn't have to sit around most of the week. If you can't schedule it that way, try to find a spot where the trash can sit and not overflow.

Fifth, for large items, get them right onto freecycle or craigslist. If you're selling them, sell them at a low reasonable price to get them gone quickly. You don't want to have to re-list them even once - the idea is to keep only the things that bring joy to your life, so set yourself free from the stuff that no longer serves your purpose.

Hope those practical tips help you with your tidying sessions!

Friday, January 15, 2016

KonMari progress

I know, for a project like this I really should have been taking before and after pictures, but to be honest I don't want to be reminded of how it used to be!

So far I've done Step One (clothes) and Two (books) for me, Daniel, and Tristan, and got a good start with Catie. (Jake's a big boy, he can handle his own stuff.) The older kids have had input on what to get rid of and what to keep, and I only overruled when they were trying to keep outgrown items. The boys are currently sharing a room, and the bulk of the mess was books and clothes - we tackled that room entirely, and it's been almost completely tidy and vacuum ready ever since!

I was stunned to see how much STUFF we got rid of. The first few boxes of books, I took to a resale shop, but frankly they didn't do well there, so the later rounds of everything ended up at the thrift store. Thank goodness for my mom - she's been helping with the purge, and hauled away at least two car loads so far for me!

In practical ways, this is going really well - I no longer have an overflowing bookcase of my own, and the kids actually need bookends. (Remember bookends? They're for people who don't have stuffed bookcases!) We were able to have Tristan's third birthday party (no big thing, just some family) and getting everything clean and party ready was much easier with less stuff around.

I've done a bit of Step Three (papers) and I did a run through Tristan's toys, since he doesn't have much storage space - that was a Hefty bag all on it's own! So a few days ago, I looked around and thought the upstairs could use a vacuuming. AND I DID IT. Because everything was already picked up and out of the way! I vacuumed the living room, dining room, and two bedrooms in about 10 - 15 minutes, and sighed with relief.

Downstairs... that's another story. That's Catie's room, the family room, the laundry room, utility room, and the under-construction new bedroom. Like I said, we got a start on Catie's room, and her closet looks great. The rest of the room still needs a LOT of work. Even though (hopefully) that won't be her room much longer, it still needs to be arranged better so she can be comfortable and enjoy her space. Thankfully, with the initial purge, we may actually be able to eliminate a few pieces of furniture. A small bookcase nightstand is looking unneeded, there's a futon in there that's going to a relatives house, and a 4 story Barbie-sized wood dollhouse that will go into storage until we find out if the new baby is a boy or a girl. Then we're going to move her bed into a better spot, move her desk to a spot that will make it easier for her to use, and shift the dresser and bookcase to logical places.

Then I have to purge and organize the kitchen, laundry room, bathrooms, linen closet, family room, storage closets... sigh. The important thing is to focus on the progress being made, and not the work ahead. All I know for sure is with every bag and box we haul out of here, I feel lighter and better.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

KonMarie - a cliche', but I'll try it.

So, I jumped on the bandwagon and read Marie Kondo's "The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up".

First, is there anyone here who hasn't heard of this book yet? The general gist is pick up every item you own, ask yourself "does this spark joy?", and if the answer is anything other than an enthusiastic YES, out it goes.

Obviously, if you only have 3 bras and none of them feel good or fit well, you're in some trouble with this system. But most of us have quite a bit more stuff than we actually need, like, or use. We tend to hold onto things either because we're worried we'll need it in the future, or we feel like we should hold onto it because of the history involved with the item.

I'm not very sentimental when it comes to most items, and I thought I was great at purging items, but I got started with this program and was inspired to get rid of a bunch of things that have been flying under my radar.

Part of it lies in her method for dealing with items - she has you get ALL your clothes, put them on the floor in front of you, and handle them individually. Then the same with your books - they all come off the shelves, and as you pick up each one, you either say that you love it, or respectfully thank it for its' service and send it on its' way. (She used to be a Shinto temple maiden, she's big on energy inherent in items, and she anthropomorphizes personal items as all wanting to be of service to their owner in some way.) The next category is papers, and generally she says to pitch them all. Manuals, warranty paperwork, old school work - get rid of it. Then it's a category she calls komono, or miscellaneous. Personally, I think she covers too much ground with this, because it's EVERYTHING except sentimental items. Toys, makeup, kitchen things, housewares, furniture - everything. Then and only then do you deal with sentimental keepsakes.

Of course, the other part of this is what you do with the things you keep - she's big on treating your items with respect, even thanking them for their hard work at the end of the day. That goes a bit far for me, but her folding and storing of clothes is like art. Seriously - go check out KonMarie folding tutorials on youtube - it's gorgeous!

Now, Kondo claims that no one who does her method EVER relapses to clutter. I call bull on that - I think the folks she works with keep it nice for months, maybe years, but eventually they'll hit an emotional upheaval in their lives and THEN the clutter starts to come back. And I guarantee you, if you're under the depression cloud and your clutter is building around you while you have no force of will to make it nice again, when you see Kondo's number on your phone, you're not picking up. Or returning her email. Or opening the door. Because you don't want to admit that you let it happen again! She claims she only has to tidy her own house twice a year, for about an hour each time. I'd say that's because she's a single woman living alone - if she had to deal with kids growing in and out of clothes, toys, books, furniture, fads, etc, she'd realize that for MOST of us, it's a lot more of an ongoing project.

Even so, it's worth a good run through - she really has you look in all the dark, shadowy corners and pull out the junk you forgot was sitting there. It's full bore, hard level cleaning out, and sometimes you just NEED that. It gets you to a good base, so you have a place to return to every few months when the kids belongings overflow again.