August 12, 2010

Little Changes, Big Results


Since I came back home from vacation, I’ve been a bit obsessed with transforming our living room into more of a paradise (going away tends to seed grand ideas like this, have you noticed?). I’ve picked out a couch (just can’t decide if we need a chaise on one end), and am planning to recover two chairs with very simple white slipcovers. They are improvements that will likely total in the hundreds of dollars, but when it comes to making a house a comfy home, they seem well worth it.

As I was sharing all this yesterday with a friend, getting her thoughtful nods of approval, I asked if she had other ideas. You know, fresh solutions for my same old spatial problems. Her eyes traveled around the room.

“Is the printer usually on the floor?”

“Oh, um, no.”

“Maybe you could move it.” She looked around more. “And what are all those cords under your desk?”

“Well, I don’t know really.”

“Maybe you could corral them? I bet you could do it in an hour. Use some twisty-ties.”

At first I thought she wasn’t quite playing along with my game. After all, I meant big, sweeping, grand changes, like totally rearranging the furniture, not piddly, organizational tasks like moving the waffle iron and abandoned picture frames from the tops of the bookshelves. But then I realized, of course, that my eyes had grown accustomed to certain unpolished, cluttered bits in my apartment; getting those in ship-shape might have as much as an effect as a big white couch, and for a lot less dough.

In fact, I’ve hated the jumble of cords under the desk that snake out into the floor space beyond since we moved into this apartment twelve million years ago. Why had I just come to accept this eyesore?

It took only thirty minutes to corral those cords. Nevermind that I broke the internet in the process and am typing this on stolen wifi. It’s well worth it. Thirty minutes for one small corner of peace of mind. And eventually I’ll figure out how to get our internet back up and running. Here’s hoping. (I believe this is what Gretchen Rubin calls in The Happiness Project a “boomerang errand”––one completed task that supplies you with a new, fresh to-do. Lovely.)

So why is it so hard to get going on these little tasks? They drive us absolutely nuts and yet finding thirty minutes to empty out a drawer or deal with a mountainous pile of mail seems as difficult as finding the time and money for a two week vacation in Fiji. But the results, oh, the sweet results. The pay-off is so much greater than what you have to put in to get ‘er done. So why does it feel so insurmountable sometimes? What are the little annoyances around the house causing you to lose your mind? And what would it really take––in terms of money and time––to make them pleasing again?

print for sale on etsy

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  • Bethany: Yesterday I finally got sick of staring at our pre-furnished living room and its heinous blue burlap couch. I bought slipcovers. Also, my desk is a total mess and the books are jumbled, the cabinets above the sink meant for food are disorganized and have hot chocolate powder spilled on them. I finally reorganized my closet and drawers and put neatly folded jeans and tees on the shelves, and moved my shoes into the drawers so that they are accessible and not strewn all over the floor or hiding underneath the bed.7 years ago

  • And don’t you just feel like queen of the universe because of it? Maybe you have to reach that “totally sick of it” stage before you can start making changes. Or have your friend point it out to you (embarrassing!).7 years ago

  • Paige: Last week I completely reorganized my kitchen with $0. Like you, I had grown accustomed to things on the counters, added one-by-one. I had all of my flours, as well as several bottles of alcohol there, as well as a couple of replacement jars of things that I hadn’t yet put away because of lack of space.

    First I went through my cupboards and cleared things out or consolidated them (I have no need for three half-empty boxes of the same brand of spaghetti). Right there was a huge improvement. Then I got rid of some extra dishes and jars and things I’d been storing in my cabinets…because they fit there, not because I used them, ever. That left enough room for everything. To put it all back together, I utilized a cardboard box that had originally housed a dozen canning jars for my flours, and I built a “wine rack” out of cardboard and duct tape so that the bottles of alcohol could lay on their sides in a short cabinet (the reason they were out in the first place).

    No, it’s not pretty, but no one sees these things anyway. And for me, as the cook, the kitchen is now so much more functional, and I regained at least 4 square feet of counter space. I look forward to someday having the funds to make organization pretty, but until then, I’m proud of myself for making do, and making my kitchen (and house, because I’m tackling these things all over) work for me.

    Which reminds me, I just finished a $30 makeup organization project – it was all in a cabinet, laid out all over the place. I bought a Stockholm drawer set and a Stockholm pencil cup from The Container Store, sprayed them with a clear top coat to make them wipeable, then put all of my makeup into a cute little drawer set. I filled the cup with popcorn and put all of my brushes inside, so they stand straight up. Feeling quite pleased right now!7 years ago

  • I LOVE that wine rack idea! Brilliant! Your $0 organization has really got me thinking, Paige.

    Also, I got my internet back on, so it was all worth it in the end. 🙂7 years ago

  • Paige: I based mine on this, though mine is decidedly uglier.

    Glad to hear you’ve now got organized cords /and/ internet access!7 years ago

  • Whoops, spoke too soon on the internet. The boomerang errand continues!7 years ago

  • Emily: I finally got fed up with the state of my bedroom closet this past weekend and reorganized it. I’ve been wanting to organize it forever, but could never make myself actually do it. But you’re totally right about the pay-off of finally getting something done, it looks so much better now and it’s easier to find things.

    It makes me want to tackle my other two closets, except they’re at the point where you open the door and stuff falls on you, so they scare me. I’ll have to psych myself up for those! 🙂7 years ago

  • Christine S.: Just did one of those tasks yesterday with my daughter: complete frig/freezer cleanout! Yucky, icky job but everything looks so nice and easy to see what we have in there now! My bedroom is the dumping ground for everything that we do not have storage for, so that is the next task at hand…huge overhaul of all the stuff we have had the 4 yrs. we have been here that has never been unpacked or used…wish me luck!7 years ago

  • Sarah RN: We have lived in our house for 3 years with a bedroom ceiling fan that rattled so much it was too loud to use! Now that I’m 8 months pregnant I couldn’t stand the heat anymore, and discovered that a stepladder and about 6 inches of duct tape was all it took to repair it. I felt like a home improvement genius, and cant believe I waited until now to fix it! Now if only I could fix the whole “having to wake up every 3 hours to pee” problem… 🙂7 years ago

  • Michelle: Any time I add something new to my apartment or simply rearrange what’s already there, I take a picture of the new set up. A photo does not lie! It’s crazy how it changes your perspective. It’s always immediately obvious if something works or not. One of the best things that comes out of the process is noticing all the sloppy stuff that usually escapes my attention. All of a sudden, crooked pictures, rumpled cushions and curtains, messy wires, and random junk jump out at me from the photos. I’m always amazed by what I find, and always think afterwards, “How did I not NOTICE that before??!!”7 years ago

  • Cordelia: Thank you, thank you for putting your personal struggles and victories out there for the rest of us because this is exactly what I am dealing with. I don’t feel so crazy now for obsessively searching for a new dresser to fit our recently rearranged bedroom.7 years ago

  • Emily, Way to go for tackling the bedroom closet! Maybe you should bask in the glow of your accomplishment before you move on to those scary overstuffed ones. 😉

    Christine, Oh my gosh, isn’t it amazing what a clean fridge/freezer does for your state of mind? Totally life changing. If the shelves are gleaming, I feel like my life is totally organized and filled with possibility!

    Sarah RN, I love that home improvement genius feeling––so well said. Here’s wishing you cool days and restful naps!

    Michelle, That’s a pretty genius idea. It’s like the home organization version of Cher’s polaroid of her outfit in Clueless!

    Cordelia, The hunt is half the fun! 🙂7 years ago

  • Julie: Oh, I so relate to this! I am always drawn to the grandest of projects. Dusting baseboards or organizing my shelves always comes way behind massive furniture purchases and complete apartment overhaul.

    But you are so right — those little things sometimes make the biggest difference. And they are always way cheaper!7 years ago

  • Steffie: That’s some interesting timing. I just finished doing these exact things to my ENTIRE apartment. The only room in the house that didn’t get rearranged was my roommate’s closet. Of course, all this occurred over a six month period when the nesting urges hit, but the feeling of satisfaction and the return of good function to the living spaces is well worth it.

    Also, an immaculately organized and clean home is something very good to come home to with a newborn.7 years ago

  • Amy Lynne: You just gave me a little reminder to get my kitchen desk area cleared off! I love it when it is free of papers, books, whatever else lands there. I know it’s little, but you are so right about it making a big difference! It feels so much better!7 years ago

  • molly: Oh, I DO so love this print. Thanks for the link.7 years ago

  • beth: Hey, that’s my couch! But mine’s green — white would not last long around here. I too have some kitchen cabinet reorganization I should do. Everyone’s comments are making me think I should tackle them and get to that self-satisfied feeling already!7 years ago

  • Jen: My mom always tells me that it is not always what you do that makes you tired, a lot of times on procrastination-related tasks, it is what we haven’t done (but need to do) that makes us tired.

    That is so the truth! 🙂7 years ago

  • s.: just what i needed to hear!
    thanks 🙂7 years ago

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