Monday, February 16, 2015

House On a Diet: Let's Shred Paper

It's a snow day here.

While it's tempting to curl up with a good book, a snow day is also a good opportunity to tackle some of those projects that you can never seem to get around to. For the past several days I have been working on reducing the amount of paperwork that is stored in our house.

Sometimes it seems easier just to keep the paper than to figure out what is really needed and what isn't needed. I ran across a box full of bank statements. Since it has been 3 or 4 years since our bank went electronic and stopped printing and mailing bank statements I knew they had been around a while but I wasn't sure how long I needed to keep them.

Not sure what household records you should keep or how long to keep them? Here and here are guidelines that I found helpful. Turns out bank statements only need to be kept 1 year unless they are needed for tax purposes, then it would be 3 years.

Almost 12 years ago I was the executor for my grandmother's estate and before that I was her legal guardian and power of attorney. All of that required keeping careful and detailed records but there was no need to keep them all these years. I have just finished shredding them and have 3 large bags full.

Now I just need to get to those bank statements and I will have successfully downsized our paperwork and I will be ready to work on improving how it is organized and stored. I currently use multiple file boxes and folders but I think that a small 2-drawer file cabinet would be an improvement. It would be much easier to retrieve and put things away and I think it might be a solution to some of the paper that accumulates on the dining room table and sometimes on the buffet or on one or more chairs.

To finish up I just want to share some paper shredding advice. If you have large quantities of paper to shred make sure you shred for just a 5 to 10 minutes at a time so that you don't burn out the motor in your shredder. Most of the small paper shredders are not designed to be used for more than a few minutes at a time. If they overheat they will usually shut down but by that time you have likely burned out the motor. I have learned this the hard way. Twice.

Better Nesting Book Club: The Rosie Effect

The Better Nesting Book Club recommends:

The Rosie Effect by

Graeme Simsion

We are having a snow day today. It has been snowing all morning. If you are in the Northeast where there is 5 or 6 feet of snow on the ground you will probably laugh but we could get up to 12 inches of snow. That not a record setting amount but it is a lot for us and pretty much everything is closed down. I am so happy that I don't have to go out in it today.

What could be better than being warm and cozy indoors curled up with a good book and a cup of something warm on a snowy day?

The Rosie Effect is just plain fun. A nice, light read that will entertain you. When socially inept scientist Don Tillman's wife tells him they are expecting a baby he approaches impending fatherhood the only way he knows how. As a scientific project.

This book will remind you of an old fashioned screw ball comedy with hilarious misunderstandings and mistaken identities galore. From receiving contradicting advice to devising a Standardized Meal Plan, Don tries his best to be a helpful partner to Rosie but it's hard to tell if his efforts are helping or hurting.

This charming, off-beat romance is the sequel to The Rosie Project. You need not have read the first book to enjoy the second, but you might want to.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

House On a Diet: Motivation and an Update

Previously I shared how I put our house on a diet. In the original House On a Diet post I explained how, for me, reducing the amount of stuff in our house is not just a matter of purging or de-cluttering or organizing. It is a plan to responsibly remove excess from our house, prevent unwanted items from entering our house, and ultimately organizing our possessions.  From the beginning I intended to do this at a pace that worked for me, slow and with intention.

Right before Christmas I accomplished some work on the House On a Diet project. After discovering that we still had a fairly large number of old 3 1/2 inch floppy disks I went through all of them and checked to see what was on them and transferred anything I thought needed to be kept to a jump drive. Now that we no longer have any 3 1/2 inch floppy disks the ancient computer with the 3 1/2 inch drive can go too! 

That's not all, It occurred to me that we had way more towels than we need so I went through all of those and only kept what fits in our linen/bathroom closet. I also went through our kitchen towels (we bought 10 TEKLA towels when we went to IKEA and we really like them, so far), and old towels that I had saved to use as rags. I was able to take a stack of used but not worn out kitchen towels to our church's soup kitchen and I took 2 big bags of bath towels, hand towels, and wash rags to our local animal shelter.

I was pretty happy with the progress I made in November and December and since I started the process over a year ago I think I have done pretty well. Even so I have to find ways to keep myself motivated. There are certainly no shortage of ideas. Just spend a few minutes on Pinterest and you will find all kinds of ideas, plans, and techniques for purging, de-cluttering, and organizing. Here are some of the ideas that I either considered and passed on or actually tried:

Pretend move -- A friend once told me that she was going to pretend to move and get rid of everything that she would not want to bother packing if she was actually going to move. This is a motivational technique that I have given a lot of thought to trying but I can't seem to overcome the fact that I am not really moving. 

An area each week -- My mother and a friend of hers had really good results with this plan. Each week they each picked an area in their house such as a drawer, closet, or cabinet to clean out. Then they checked in with each other to talk about what they found and got rid of. That also gave them the opportunity to discuss things they weren't sure about getting rid of.  They kept this up for quite a while and when they ran out of spaces that hadn't been cleaned out they started over. It was amazing how much they found the second and third times they looked at those same spaces. Just so you know how serious they were, my mom's friend decided to get rid of her wedding dress.

A garbage bag a day for X days -- One thing about having a small house is that although our house might be too full, we still have a lot less than the average household so this one doesn't work so well for me. Although I have challenged myself to fill up our very large garbage can a few times. For the most part I think filling up a lot of garbage bags quickly works well if you have a lot of clothes or bulky items like children's toys.

Blog de-cluttering  and organizing parties -- A couple years ago I started to do one of these but I don't have many of the typical spaces (no coat closet, no pantry, no laundry room) that the parties tend to emphasize and once they came to a few of the spaces I didn't have I stopped and didn't follow through. Since I actually keep my kitchen cabinets, medicine cabinet, linen closet, and such, pretty de-cluttered and pretty well organized this could be a helpful way for me to maintain what I do have in order. Maybe I should try one of these again.

100 Thing Challenge -- I used to see lots of bloggers doing these. (There seem to be two versions of this. One where you get rid of 100 things and one where you try to live with just 100 things. Just to be clear, I have never tried that and don't plan to.) A few years ago when I first heard of the 100 Thing De-Cluttering Challenge I started following along with one of these. I was on my second 100 items when I found out that I was doing it wrong. I was counting each item as one thing on but I was supposed to be counting each category as an item. Therefore, the 30 magazines I had parted with only counted as 1 item rather than 30 items. I know this is silly, I could have made my own rules, but I got discouraged and quit.

30 day purge -- This is one that I read about recently and decided to try. Here is how it works. On the first day you get rid of one thing, on the second day you get rid of two things, and so on and so on. If my math is correct, at the end of 30 days you have gotten rid of 465 items. I started this mid-November and at first it was easy. I was breezing through those single-digit days and I was even ahead going into the teens but then I got bogged down around 17. It was a lot harder than I anticipated to round up stuff and I wasn't very good at keeping count. While I didn't get all the way to 465 in one month it did provide me with some motivation.

Being asked for donations -- This is what has worked to motivate me the most. I have been asked for donations for fund raiser yard sales. These requests always prompt me to take a good look around and gather up some things to donate. It's a win-win. Right now I am working on finding things for a yard sale that will be held in June. The organizers have storage space so I can drop things off as I find them which is very nice.

To keep myself accountable, I plan to share more of my House On a Diet progress in the future.

P.S. My mother tells me that she just ran across a box containing all of the curtains for a house that she has not lived in for 10 years. None of the curtains fit any of the windows in her current house. She is wondering how she has failed to notice this box in her closet for the past 10 years.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Why I Like Marsala: The Pantone Color of the Year for 2015

Lots of people in blog land are talking about Marsala which Pantone announced as its Color of the Year for 2015. I was reading comments on one blog where there was quite a bit of hating on the concept of the color of the year and on Marsala.

I am not a trend follower when it comes to colors (or other things) in my house. When everyone else was decorating with hunter green, navy blue, and wine, I spent years searching for a peach comforter (which, by the way, I never did find).  I can’t say that I am unhappy to have missed the hunter, navy, wine trend. So yeah, I do hate that it is almost impossible to buy home decor in a color that is not “in”. Which brings me to Marsala and why I am actually glad to see Marsala as the color of the year.

This is my vintage rug. This picture really brings out the individual colors more than what you would see if you were looking at it in person. The background is darker and the flowers and foliage fade into the background making the pattern more subtle than what you see here.

You may think it is hideous. You are entitled to your opinion. My great grandmother bought this rug for her dining room approximately 90 years ago. It is now in my living room (yeah, my family never throws anything away) and I like it. I think it goes with my vintage vibe but it has posed something of a decorating challenge with its old fashioned colors. Depending on the light, the darkest color either looks like brown or dark wine. Could it be Marsala? 

Maybe it is just because I need something that goes with the rug, but to me Marsala is a perfectly nice color. Pantone's press release says that Marsala is an excellent choice for rugs. Ha! No, I will not be painting the living room Marsala. That would be a bit much. Some pillows might be a nice touch though.  I’m glad this color is having its year in the spotlight. Maybe I will stock up on accessories in Marsala. The old rug still has some life in it and who knows how long it will be before Marsala comes around again.

By the way, Pantone says that they don’t just pick the color out of thin air. They claim to look at current culture, trending colors (especially in fashion), and surveys of designers in order to come up with the color of the year. Could I be on trend by accident?

Obviously, the Color of the Year is all about marketing. Take it for what it is and unless you have a vintage rug that is impossible to match, you might just want to ignore it.

Monday, January 5, 2015

The Year Ahead 2015

Image courtesy of krishna arts at
Usually, I don’t make New Year’s resolutions but I have been thinking about some of the ways I would like to improve our house in 2015. Until I find a new job (and maybe after) most of what gets done around the house will have to be low-budget or no-budget projects.

All of our home improvement focus and funds for the past 2 years have been devoted to getting the house painted. Now that’s finished, I think most of our home improvement energy this year will go toward finishing up exterior details like:

Finish painting the garage. Only the 2 most visible sides of our garage have been scraped and painted. I already have all the paint for this. I might have to buy some blades for the carbide blade paint scraper but that should be about the only expense.

Replace gutters with period-appropriate, half-round gutters. I have not even priced this so I don’t know if this is realistic for 2015.

New screen/storm doors for front porch and kitchen door. My husband wants to go with an old-fashioned wooden screen door, especially for the front porch. At less than $100 unfinished wood screen doors are a very cost-effective option. I have plenty of paint left over from painting the window sashes to paint them with.

Strip and repaint the front porch outside light fixture. This fixture appears to be original to the house and just needs a little spruce. It has had way too many coats of paint over the years and they need to be removed before the fixture gets a new coat of paint.

Do something about the foundation. The foundation of the house has been coated with some kind of textured paint or stucco. I’m not sure what it is but I know it is peeling off and needs to be re-coated with something.

Make over the front yard. The freshly painted house makes our crummy front yard look even crummier. Good thing it is about the size of a postage stamp because we need to remove all the old grass, level, and re-seed. We also need new landscaping in front of the house. And, maybe a tree. This project will likely take most of our home improvement budget for the year.

New front door. Our 1929 Craftsman style house has a 1950’s Mid-Century Modern style front door. I have a new door on my wish list.

Inside, I will continue to work on de-cluttering, organizing, cleaning, and other projects that I can do without spending a lot. 

The inside of the house could use some freshening up and it would be nice if I could do at least one room this year. Most rooms just need some paint and a few tweaks. The bathroom is the exception. It is horrible and needs to be completely remodeled. I don’t even dare dream about getting this done. Not only is it the most expensive project that needs to be tackled but it is the most inconvenient as well because it is our only bathroom.

Here's to 2015 and making our house a better place to live.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Year In Review 2014

Happy 2015!!! We had a very quiet New Year’s Eve and New Year's Day. Before we get too far into 2015, I want to do a brief review of 2014.

For the first 4 months of 2014 (pre-blogging) I was working long hours with little time for anything else. By late spring things at work had slowed down and I had time to get my flower and herb gardens weeded and mulched and possibly looking better than they had in several years. I also planted our tiny backyard vegetable garden but for the second year in a row, it was pretty much a failure.

Spring also found me working on the House Diet by rounding up items to donate to a fundraiser yard sale.

The front porch got new coat of concrete paint on the floor. The old wicker furniture got a fresh coat of white paint. And, I sewed new cushions and pillows for the porch furniture.

My job of 17 ½ years ended at the end of July and being unemployed gave me the opportunity to start this blog.

For over 2 years the restoration and exterior painting of our house has consumed all of our home improvement focus and money. More about that here, here, and here. The painters finished up in the spring as soon as the weather permitted, leaving me with the window sashes and back doors to paint.

I spent August and September painting window sashes (in between looking for a new job and helping my mom through a knee replacement). For its size our house has a lot of windows. There are 11 double-hung windows, 2 stationary windows, 3 louvered vents, and 3 doors (the front door is natural wood so only 2 doors needed to be painted). Before painting I repaired window glazing and caulked wherever needed. The basement door needed some extra attention and I attempted to repair one of the panels by putting in a new piece of plywood. Each window and vent, as well as the 2 back doors, received a coat of primer followed by a coat of high gloss paint. The kitchen door needed a second coat of paint. I also gave most of the window frames an additional coat of paint because I wasn't completely happy with the way they looked with the primer and one coat of paint that the painters were contracted to do.

All of the storm windows were freshened up with white spray paint. I added some weather stripping to the bottoms of the windows before putting the storm windows back up.

In October we took a short vacation followed by a long weekend. In between our refrigerator stopped working and had to be replaced.

Also, in October, I had my first IKEA shopping experience.

The year ended up with holiday decorating. Usually, I am lucky to have to time to put up a Christmas tree. This year the decorations were still simple but I was able to put out some old favorites that I usually don’t have time for. 

Those are the high points of the year. On the home improvement front, 2014 will be remembered as the year that the exterior of the house was finally painted.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Exterior Painting and Restoration of Our Craftsman Cottage

I don’t want to let 2014 end without a post about painting the exterior of our house. This has been the project with no end. Seriously, it has just gone on and on and on. There are still some little, related projects that aren’t done and one big one—landscaping and re-seeding the front yard--but the painting is finished! I can hardly believe it. It’s taken more than 2 years but the house is painted.

Here is where we started. This is our Craftsman style cottage with aluminum siding (which was probably added sometime in the 1950’s) that had been painted (by yours truly) a few years after I bought the house. Here is what the house looked like 10 years ago. The big maple tree has since been removed.

Several years ago (I can't remember exactly how when) we had the worst ice storm I have ever encountered. The gutters on one side of our house were filled solid with ice and the weight of the ice pulled them off the house and caused them to twist and bend. Where they bent, the aluminum split. We had a contractor take a look. He said that way our house was built, there was nothing there to properly attach the gutters to and he would need to build something, blah, blah, blah. It was going to cost a lot and it was difficult to understand how he was going to do it without removing the aluminum siding. At this point we didn’t know what to do and didn’t have that kind of money so we didn’t do anything.

Then, a year or so later, comes a spring storm with very strong winds. Not a tornado, but straight line winds strong enough to take the roof off a car wash about 4 blocks from us and do a lot of damage to roofs, trees, and such in our neighborhood. Our house did not escape undamaged. The wind got behind the aluminum siding and peeled off a couple pieces . The siding was still attached to the house at one end and that long piece of siding was flapping back and forth in the wind. Can you imagine waking up to that noise? Our bedroom was on the other side of that wall and it was pretty scary until we figured out what was happening.

It didn’t make sense to invest a lot of money trying to repair 50-year-old aluminum siding. On top of that we already had the issue with the guttering. With some of the aluminum siding gone we were now able to peek behind it and see that the original wood clapboards were underneath and from what little we could see, looked to be in pretty good condition. We decided that we should probably remove the aluminum siding and try to restore the original wood siding but we didn’t have time for such a massive project.

I can’t remember exactly how long it was, but we just ignored the damaged siding. Since both my husband and I were working really long hours and we only saw the house in the dark, it wasn’t that hard to just pretend that we didn't have a problem. Then in early spring 2012, the brother of one of our friends was looking for some work and offered to remove the aluminum siding and haul it away for a few hundred dollars plus the proceeds from recycling the aluminum. An offer too good to refuse.

Here is the house right before the aluminum siding was removed.

Now, with the aluminum siding gone, we could see more of what we had gotten ourselves into. We were pleased that the wood siding was sound and there was no rotting anywhere. We were also delighted to see that the gables had cedar shingles and that the rafter tails (ours are purely decorative and not the ends of the actual rafters) which are a signature of Craftsman style houses were intact. Also, with the aluminum siding that had boxed in the overhangs gone, the proportions of the house were much improved. Here is a picture with the aluminum siding gone. The storm windows and aluminum trim around the windows is still on the house but you can see the rafter tails and cedar shingles in the gables.

Until the aluminum trim was later removed from the windows we didn't know that the tops of all the window frames had been chiseled off. We did know that the corner pieces of the house had been removed and although we could see where there had been decorative knee braces under the overhangs they were all missing. Much as we expected, the old paint was badly peeled and needed to be thoroughly scraped before any new paint could be applied. Here is some of that peeling paint.

That spring and summer, whenever the weather and my work schedule of 6 days most weeks allowed, I worked on scraping paint. It was going slowly and I wasn’t making any visible progress.  I tried all kinds of different paint scrapers; some very expensive paint remover that was supposed to work miracles (it didn’t); and an infrared paint remover. None of these things speeded up my progress. No matter what I tried, it was slow, dirty, hard work. Later, when I was working on painting our garage, I discovered paint scrapers with carbide blades. I highly recommend the carbide blade scrapers. They are more expensive than other scrapers, but they are worth the money. Change the blades often and be careful because they are sharp enough to shave the top layer of wood off.

By October of 2012, it was clear that I was in over my head with this project. My husband spent some time helping me (he always works 6 days a week so has little free time either) but with our work schedules it was going to take us years to just get ready to paint. During all this time, the house looked terrible.

So the next spring (2013) we found painters who liked to work on old houses, had the skills to do the carpentry work needed to replace the missing elements (not having to coordinate between carpenters and painters was a huge plus), and gave us a very reasonable price. To save money, I planned to paint the garage, back doors, window sashes, and the inside of the front porch myself. We got on the waiting list and started saving like crazy hoping to have the cash by the time the painters got to us.

While we waited, the house looked worse than ever and our next door neighbors were trying to sell their house. I felt so bad. Who would buy a house next door to a place that looked as bad as ours did? So here is what our neighbors had to look at for over a year. This side of our house showed up in their listing pictures.

We waited all summer and into the fall and all that time spent waiting gave me time to agonize over choosing paint colors. I had a very difficult time making up my mind. You can read more about what I learned about selecting exterior colors here and more about how I finally made my decision here.

I know that any color can pretty much be color matched in any brand of paint but the painters use Porter PPG paint and using their colors simplified things. The body of the house is Baritone. The shingles in the gables are Mountain Stream. The window sashes and back doors are Blue Bayberry. All of the blues are from the same card. The white trim is Delicate White. All are PPG colors.

By the time we came up to the top of the waiting list it was late fall and unfortunately the weather was not cooperating. The painters were able to finish scraping and priming but then we had the worst winter we have had in years and there was nothing to be done but wait for spring. I failed to take any in-progress pictures of the painting.

Finally, finally, this spring, 2 years after the aluminum siding was removed, the painters finished. Still, since I planned to do the window sashes and back doors, the painting wasn’t quite finished. The windows had been protected behind the storm windows so they were not in bad condition. Even so, to do the job right and not paint the windows shut was time-consuming. The doors needed quite a bit of scraping and one needed a bit of repair work.

By the end of the summer, I had the window sashes and the back doors painted. We salvaged the storm windows and I gave all of the frames a coat of white spray paint. The storm windows were designed to be part of the aluminum siding but with some generous applications of caulk we were able to re-install most of them. We have a couple that either need some additional work or possibly we will have to replace them.

Here it is before and after. 

Our house has never looked better. As I mentioned at the beginning of this long story, there are still a few things we want/need to do. The foundation was coated with some kind of textured coating that is peeling off so that needs to be re-done. We need new storm/screen doors for the front porch and for the kitchen door. We plan to have the same half-round gutters that would have been on the house originally installed. And, we have plans to completely redo our front yard. All of those will be projects for 2015.