Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Super Cheap Yard Renovation: Part I

After I re-painted Bill's bedroom, I took a week's holiday in Algonquin Park, and whilst swinging in the hammock decided that my next renovation project would be my son's back yard. Son-in-law Christopher was immediatly enthusiastic. David was less so, partly because he was doing a full-time pastoral education course over the summer, and he was exhausted.

Anyhow, here's why I chose that particular project:

And from the other direction:

To wit: it was a haven for junk. Yes, that's last year's Christmas tree.

And it's small, not much more than twice the area of the bedroom featured in the last post.

First thing to do was clean the place up a bit:

Already it's looking better, but clearing out the weeds and junk reavealed a heretofore unexpected problem. My son had said the yard had a "few dips." I wasn't expecting how bad it really was:

If you look at the fence in the back corner, you'll see it's about six inches above the ground, whereas nearer the gate, it barely clears the ground. And there was a trough next to the house wall, here partially filled in with a sand & gravel mixture:

Not very pretty, even when cleaned up. This back yard is going to take a LOT of fill, and a lot of work.

My summer quote to live by has been: Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can. (Arthur Ashe)

I can hardly start anywhere else than where I am. I cleared out the mess, leaving me with a bare, uneven yard. What did I have?

Well, I have a relatively strong body, a Toyota Yaris which, according to cinema ads of a few years back can transport a Viking Army, and absolutely no money. But I do have the internet, and the internet has Kijiji, and I still find it hard to believe what I was able to find on Kijiji:

The rocks in the previous pictures were also part of my booty haul, and the bins and buckets are filled with the sand & gravel mixture that filled in the holes by the wall. The buckets have been filled (and emptied) twice so far. And I brought it all home, one load at a time, in my Yaris. I love that car!

First order of business: Dig a hole four patio stones wide and about six inches deep in front of the gate, which wasn't able to open fully because of the uneven terrain. It's here that David became more enthusiastic and put his strong arms to good use--he did almost all of the digging. Spread an inch or two of gravelly sand and level, then lay down the eleven patio stones we'd scavenged via Kijiji. Here's the result:

Next, prune one of the branches off the tree, and remove a scrub tree that was growing up against the fence post:

Removing the branch changed parts of the yard from deep shade to part shade, which will increase the number of options I have when it comes time to plant.

Yesterday, I took the brush pile above to the dump in my poor little Yaris, which by now needs major clean-up. I'll be doing that as soon as I know I've finished transporting sand, gravel and dirty patio stones! Total cost so far has been 3 dollars for a saw to cut off the branch (I used Canadian Tire money from my credit card), about sixteen dollars for the hedge trimmers, and about twenty or so dollars worth of gas.

Anyhow, today it's raining, so I'm taking the day off!

Monday, August 5, 2013

From Clean To Eternity!

So I've managed to clean up my act, thanks to FLYLady and some hard work on my part. My house goes from clean to semi-clean, but I vow that never again will it descend to this state, or this one. I LIKE living in a clean house.

For the past year and a half, I've been keeping up with my cleaning, some days better than others. But on any given day, I'm rarely more than fifteen minutes away from a house tidy enough to welcome guests, and I've enjoyed using the kitchen almost every day! Eating out is now a choice I occasionally make, not a necessary action I'm often forced to take.

Cleaning up my physical environment has helped me lose some weight as well as finally get my budget on track. For the first time in over half my life, I'm reducing my debt instead of adding to it!

A year of slow improvement has left me itching to take on a new challenge, though. And some chance viewings of home improvement television shows (I don't have cable or watch TV, so these viewings happened while visiting my Mom) have left me with a desire to actually decorate my house.

Yes, I live in a co-op, which technically means it's shared ownership. The reality of our particular co-operative housing complex, though is that we're more like renters, with the co-op as the landlord. As members of the co-op, we make decisions jointly about what we can and cannot do with our units, but those rules tend to be very similar to those that owners of rental housing impose on their renters.

For example, the co-op supplies paint, but only in pastel colours, and only so much every year or five. At least we're not stuck with beige, as you can see from the pictures that Ally took of my office. But no dark colours.

That doesn't actually mean we can't paint with darker colours, or alter our units in any other way. In fact, we can do pretty much anything except wreck them. For some renovations, we're supposed to get permission, which means they'll probably want a licensed contractor to do them, but in practice, folks who do renovations rarely ask for permission if those renovations are done inside the unit.

And when we move out, the walls have to be clean and painted in a pastel colour or primed, and other renovations have to be removed or approved by the move-out committee, I guess.

So I actually can make some changes to my unit, if I decide to do so and if I have the money. And I decided that since I've lived here for more than sixteen years, and I can't imagine myself moving any time soon (and if I knew that I'd have the money to pay for my housing charge for the rest of my life, I probably would not choose to move EVER, unless I need an accessible unit, of which there are four in the co-op...) Anyhow, I digress. I decided that now that the house is cleaner than it was and is getting cleaner every day, I'm going to start fixing it up.

Except I didn't start with my house.

My ex went to England for two weeks at the beginning of July, so I decided to start with his bedroom.

Below the text you'll see the "after" picture. I didn't take a "before" picture. I really wish I'd thought of it when I started, because when Bill came home his first comment was, "Why'd you paint my bedroom?" That before picture would have captured that "why" perfectly.

So, gentle reader, envision the same room, the same furniture, in the same places as they are pictured below, but with clutter, and dust, and grime, and garbage. Picture the nice comforter and the sheets on the bed (a present from me for Christmas, and specifically requested!) still in their original packaging, stuffed in the closet along with a whole lot of pictures from the last forty years, a filing cabinet full of maps he never looks at, geneological research he's already digitized, notes from conferences that he's forgotten he ever attended, more pictures in frames, framse without pictures, and magazines he hasn't looked at since 2007. What isn't in the closet are clothes of any type. They're not in the dresser, either. In the dresser we find more notes, books, film cameras that we haven't used in a decade, a complete set of Japanese Anime comic books, and other assorted greeblies.

The clean clothes (those few that he didn't take with him on his trip) are dumped in a bushel basket, along with bits and pieces of costumes. (He's the drama coach and play director at the middle school where he teaches.)

The walls and doors are filthy, and everything has a thick layer of dust and cat hair. The walls have also never been painted since he moved in. There were holes in the wall at the head of the bed which had been patched but never primed or painted. Since the colour of the wall actually didn't change much, the patches were quite noticable. The baseboards and windowsill had once been white, but...

And covering the window was a blanket, a brown and yellow and orange blanket, stapled to the wall. Um, yeah.

So I cleared everything out of the room. I vaccuumed and dusted and washed. I primed. I painted. Then I put it back together, stuffing most of the junk that was cluttering up the room into my son's closet until such time as Bill could sort through it. I'm somewhat of a zealot, I admit, but I will not throw out other people's junk, because they need to make their own choices.

I also deliberately chose a paint colour that was close to the one that was already in the room. I really wonder some times about those shows where a room, especially a bedroom, is re-done to someone else's taste. I know that unless the other person knew me really well, I probably wouldn't feel comfortable in a room they desinged for me.

Now, of course I do know Bill well, really well. One thing I know about him is he doesn't like changed. Dirty to clean, with the bed made and clothes in the closet is quite possibly as much change as he could take well at once. And the colour is actually quite nice, when applied to the entire wall and kept clean. The only change I made was to paint the trim dark brown, in keeping with the furniture in the room and with what I know to be Bill's own taste.

So this is how it all ended up:

Some clutter has crept back on to the dresser, understandable since he does a fair amount of his work in bed. And the wandering dust ball creator (you might recognize him from earlier photos--for the sake of my respiratory health he moved to Bill's a couple of years ago) has access to the room, so regular vaccuuming will be a must. But a day or two after he came home, his one complaint was, "I don't have enough hangars." And in the photo, the bed is made, and I didn't make it.

I'd count that as a job well done, wouldn't you.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Squee! (Finally, I'm Getting a Bathroom Update...)

It's almost two months since I posted last. The holidays have come and gone, and my house is maintaining, and even improving in some areas. So I thought I'd start off the new year with a slight change in direction, seeing as how I'd like to continue and improve this blog, and even keep it going once my house is completely tidy.

And I do now believe that day will come!

I guess that's the biggest change in me since I started this project. I actually believe it can happen, and that once it does happen, I can keep it up.

The biggest change has been due to, and if you haven't checked it out yet, wander on over and take a look. I haven't incorporated everything she suggests, but there are some key compnonents that do indeed work for me.

1) Housework done imperfectly still blesses you and your family, and you can do anything in 15-minute chunks. Instead of worrying about having to clean my whole office all at once, I can decide (and often do decide) to do just a little bit today, and leave the rest for tomorrow. As long as I don't make a bigger mess in the meantime, I'm still making forward motion. And knowing that I don't have to get things perfect the first time I do them has allowed me to play around with furniture arrangements and storage options until I get things right.

2) Shine your sink every day. Okay, so I don't use Windex on my sink, and I never will. I don't even manage to do it every day. But I manage to have my sink empty (as in, all the dishes done), and clean (as in washed out and wiped down) for part of each day almost every day of each week. And as FLYLady says, as goes the kitchen, so goes the rest of the house. Because the dishes are done and the sink is clean, I noticed the clutter on the counters. I found a home for all of those appliances I don't use every single day, and got rid of some stuff. Then I saw the grime on the counters, and that went. Then the counters were clean, and the stove started looking really grungy, so I started on that, 15 minutes at a time. I noticed the grime on the cupboard doors for the first time...

All because the sink is clean.

3) I get dressed right down to lace-up shoes every day and I make my bed every day. If I make my bed, keeping my bedroom clutter-free is a breeze, actually. And being fully dressed right down to shoes makes me feel so much better about myself, and so much more energetic, that instead of playing video games and zoning out, I'll occasionally choose to do some work! Go me!

That's it. Three simple things that I should have known a long time ago, and my life is slowly coming into focus.

One of the things that I did once I started with FLYLady was go talk to the office administrator at my housing co-op. Because I realized that there was no way any daily swish-and-swipe program was going to work on my toilet or bathroom floor. Those two fixtures are, after all, about 30 or 35 years old, and if I hadn't been in the unit for so long (16 years as of last month) they would have been replaced.

So I put in a work order to have the toilet replaced and a new vinyl floor put down, and today I was told that the toilet and flooring had indeed been purchased, so now I'm only waiting on our maintenance man to get to it! Stan the Man is indeed very prompt and efficient, so my bathroom reno should be complete by this time next week!

WoOt! Pics to follow...

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

One Thing at a Time

It feels like I've made this point multiple times before on both my blogs, but here it is again:

The fastest way to get things done is one thing at a time.

Multi-tasking simply splits your concentration, making everything you do take longer. With the exception of walking and chewing gum, it's usually not a good option. In the case of caring for young children and doing anything else, or texting and driving, or similar combinations, multi-tasking can be downright dangerous.

And the comments seem to indicate that multi-tasking means you do less than your best, and don't enjoy what you're doing nearly as much because your mind isn't all there.

I'm not a layabout. In addition to my normal schedule of taking care of the house (which is cleaner than it's ever been!), myself, and a 21-year-old disabled son who can't cook for himself and is not even completely toilet trained, volunteering at the church and at a retirement residence, swimming, bowling, orchestra, art class, church and library visits, I'm also this month half of a planning team for a re-gifting day that takes place November 26th, and one-third of a planning team for a city-wide Live Nativity Scene taking place December 3rd that includes over sixty volunteers, animals, decorations, a live band, and will see over 500 visitors. I had mole removal surgery yesterday. There are two concerts scheduled this month (already had one) with two dress rehearsals, and another two coming up at the beginning of December.

I am preaching twice, taking the place of a friend who's having shoulder surgery. If she's out for more than the two weeks, I'll be doing those too. At the end of the month, I start three paper routes.

I am only a little behind on my NaNoWriMo effort this year. Certainly not as far behind as I usually am at this point. And I've written at least five hundred words every single day.

I've kept up with my blogs.

I've had time to listen to and help out a friend who's going through a rough time.

I've had time to read books, laugh, and play computer games.

I've prepared all of my own meals except for the usual Saturday supper at Bill's place, but then he's at my place twice per week, so that makes up for it.

And I did it all one thing at a time.

I have emailed some people and said that dreaded word: No. No, I am concentrating on doing the things I have on my plate well, and I don't have time for anything new, at least until the new year.

I've delegated some things to others--poster making, volunteer scheduling, and what have you.

I've been very meticulous about checking my schedule every morning--I use an on-line calendar now, and it's my home page. (Possibly more about this later--it's a great tool).

I break my time into fifteen minute blocks. Sometimes 30 minutes is too long for an activity, and sometimes I don't have 3j0 minutes, but fifteen minutes of writing (as I did this morning) is better than nothing! (And now I'm absolutely certain I'm repeating myself...)

But I don't multi-task. I don't even listen to music while I'm writing, because for me listening to music is an active experience, one that uses my brain power.

If you really don't have enough hours in the day to get things done, consider delegating or saying, "No," rather than multi-tasking. Say "NO!" to junk television, ironing (if you hang things up right away and buy only wrinkle-resistant clothes, you'll be fine), and energy-sucking "friends" and activities.

Delegate those things that can be done and should be done by others. Your husband can pitch in, and so can your kids. Even your friends or the parents of your kids' friends may be able to help with some things.

Once you've cleared out the clutter in your schedule, you're left with only the important stuff, which you tackle, one person or thing or project at a time, fifteen minutes at a time.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to take fifteen minutes to declutter a closet and see what I can find for the re-gifting event.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Back Again--And Still Working At It

It's been months since I posted. I'm like that, unfortunately. I start off going great guns, but any project that requires a "slow and steady wins the race" attitude is one I'm not likely to complete.

At least, that's the way things werre until a few weeks ago. I posted on my main blog about the change that's come over me, but I didn't entirely say why I've changed.

I've changed, if you'd like to know, because I got tired of living the way I have lived. My writing wasn't happening, my music wasn't improving, and my house and finances were still a mess. I'd make an occasional effort to fix things, try to do it all at once, and end up being burnt out.

Then my friend referred me to Now Marla the FLYLady and I don't agree about everything, but there were things she was saying that resonated very deeply with me.

Like trying to do it all at once and do it perfectly was causing me to not do it at all. "Perfect" and "perfectionism" are swear words, according to her, and I couldn't agree more.

Looking back through this blog, I'm struck at how I was trying to do it all at once. FLYLady says, "Fifteen minutes at a time. You can do anything, fifteen minutes at a time."

And so I have. Over the last three or four weeks, my home has gone from a huge mess (almost as bad as the pictures from a year and a half ago), to a haven. Not a perfect haven (I still have to tackle the basement, parts of the office, and the upstairs hall closet, and I still haven't reorganized the kitchen after we changed things around for the babysitting gig), but I'm getting there.

Fifteen minutes at a time.

I lost two pounds in the first two weeks of shining my sink (which is FLYLady's first baby step). I wasn't eating out. I don't even eat meals at my computer desk any more. Instead, even if I'm by myself, I eat meals at the dining room table.

I have new living room furniture -- a matching sofa and chair in excellent condition. No, I didn't win the lottery. A man from my church moved into a retirement home, and another man from my church loand the use of his truck and his back, and we got the chair and sofa home.

I gave the cat to Bill, and I won't be getting another one anytime soon. Definitely not before my house is as clean as I want it to be, and my finances can handle both the feeding and regular vet check ups. And it will be a short hair.

In the meantime, both Phil and Bill are happy, and I can still go and visit my sucky cat and pet him. All the benefits, and I'm not having to sweep up gobs of cat hair every day. Which has been very good for my breathing!

I've given up having set projects for the week. Instead, my goal is simply to do fifteen minutes or more per day of home maintenance. Doing it this way works for me -- so far, my bathroom is back to being clean and shiny (minus the toilet paper origami, which was only to bug Ally anyhow), my clothes closet has been cleared out of over 80 items that I didn't wear because they either didn't fit, were in tatters, or looked terrible on me, and my arts and craft supplies have been organized to the point where I can actually take note of what I have, and use them!

My mind has slowly been clearing of clutter, too. I've been able to develop possible strategies for dealing with my financial mess (which really isn't much of a mess any more), and I've begun writing every day again.

Which means, I hope, that there will be more regular posting on this blog in the near future!

Saturday, January 8, 2011

My mind's been hacked!

I had no intentions of cleaning my desk this week. Really. I intended to get my room clean (done), get the dishes washed (done), and do a general tidy up of the living room and dining room (also done). That was quite enough, I thought.

Then I stumbled upon this post, and my mind has not been the same since.

I thought about it for a day or so. I imagined my room clean and tidy, and it was so. I imagined my kitchen clean and tidy, and it was so. I tried to ignore the desk, preferring to leave it until next week, so I could enjoy some quality time with my Sims and Neopets, but the darn video is invasive. First the garbage disappeared. Along about the time the dishes got washed, the dirty dishes disappeared. Papers started magically sorting themselves. Books moved back to the bookshelf (or the floor, since I haven't begun to tackle that area of the office in my mind yet). Pens got put in the little desktop holder I have. I now know where all my post-it notes are. And finally today, the dust disappeared and the desk was clean!

It's not really magic. I've just found a way to make my mind work for me. Now instead of imagining the work I have to do, I imagine the "Ahhhh!" feeling I'll get when the work is done.

And it works! Even the goldfish tank, which in the last couple of months had reverted to its algae-ridden glory, is now sparkling clean!

And I'm feeling quite happy--it seems to me that the scales have tipped, and that order is spreading throughout my house. This week, I'm going to ask Ally to lend me the camera so that I can post proof of my progress.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Recovering from a Backslide, and A Tale of Woe

Bonus post here! Two posts in one! You can't get a deal like that anywhere else, now can you? :p

"Autumn is a season for big decisions -- like whether or not it's too late for spring cleaning."

So I'm back, after a few months' absence, and having backslid more than a bit. It's been a busy time for me -- a friend's daughter had her babysitter quit via Facebook the week before school started, and I fast talked one of Ally's friends into being the temporary babysitter while the mother applied for subsidized care for her two kids. After a few days of sitting at the mom's house, which was much, much messier than mine, it became apparent that the arrangement wasn't going to work. The babysitter was afraid to leave the house with the kids because a) she didn't have a key, and b) the area isn't the best. The mess meant that kids and sitter were confined in one small room (the living room), and the only thing to do was watch TV.

So one weekend, sitter and Ally transformed MY house into a daycare centre. Which made me immediately aware of the fact that mess isn't just unsightly. It can, with kids around, be downright dangerous. My living room got a thorough cleaning and childproofing, and the kiddy toys were moved in. Not too many toys -- just enough to keep the kiddies occupied when it was rainy outside. A whole lot more craft materials in a nifty storage bench, some wooden blocks, and some kids' books and CDs. The DVD player and TV were already on site, with a wide selection of appropriate videos, because my autistic son still likes to watch kids movies. (So do I, but I don't have to admit it, do I?)

Everything had a place -- a tote or box or shelf so that things didn't get totally disordered, and the last thing the kids did before heading home was put things back in their place. Between that single routine and a babysitter who took them to the park at least once every day, the place stayed in reasonable shape, and with a daily sweeping and mopping (and I'm now thanking God that my floors were re-done in laminate!), the living room and kitchen at least were kept livable.

The kitchen was rearranged so that dangerous stuff could be locked up, but we decided after all to block off the kitchen with a gate. The new arrangement has proven very inconvenient, so one of the things I'm going to have to do in the next few days is put everything back the way it was...

Because the kids were there daily, it did mean that the downstairs didn't get too messy, but the upstairs was another story. I'm a solitary person, and the arrival of two very outgoing little kids every day upset my routine a lot! I could hack it when I was younger, and none of my kids required the 24/7 one-on-one supervision that those two kids did (they're all introverts like me), but I'm fifty now, and entitled to a little peace once in a while, or so I believe.

Anyhow, my desk and office and hallway and bedroom are a disaster, and the bathroom is dirty again, so it's back to the old drawing room! Hopefully, though, in the next day or two I'll have at least the bathroom, bedroom and desk halfway decent again.

On a completely different note, there was a posting on one of the message boards I frequent a week or two ago that made me sad. A friend who followed her husband (who is in the navy, I think) to Japan says that when he was posted, they couldn't sell their house, and so they hired a management company and rented it out. They had just found out that the place had been trashed by their renters. The folks who replied to the posting related several similar experiences, and many of them vowed never, ever to rent out a house again.

Renters, if you're reading, please take note: This hurts us all! In the end, the only ones who are going to be willing to rent out to folks like us (the majority in North America, I believe) are large companies who a) will be extremely fussy about who they rent to, possibly leaving those of us with less than stellar credit histories or less than steady employment out in the cold (and if you have those two things, why are you renting?), and b) will extract humungous damage deposits, which they will then be very stingy about returning.

I don't get it. If I'm living in a place, I'd much rather live in a nice place than a trashed one, and that means taking good care of it, even if it's not mine.

One of the things I'm trying to demonstrate here is that you don't have to be rich or even moderately well off to have a nice place to live. I live in subsidized co-operative housing, and if I keep the place up, it will be a relaxing and wonderful place to call home. If I don't, I'll be living in a dump. How my neighbours live doesn't really affect me. How much money I have doesn't make all that much difference--a lot of the stuff I own was free or almost free, and none of it is "the best money can buy."

What matters is how well I can take care of what I have, and how well I take care of the walls (and windows and doors) that surround me.

So if you're poor, and if you're renting, don't believe that it's impossible for you to live in a nice-looking place. Don't think that it's okay to trash the house just because you don't own it, you'll be moving on soon, and it's easier and more fun to break down wall than to paint them. It's not okay, it really isn't all that fun (I get much more satisfaction out of cleaning something than I do out of breaking something!), and in the end, it hurts us all.