I dream of clean

I have a dream.  (In fairness, I have many dreams.  I’m just talking about one right now.  And in silliness, I’m sharing a bananapants dream about my mom shooting monopoly pieces in her forehead on IG.  Anyone else having all the crazy dreams these days?)

Anywho, I have a dream.  A dream where we live in a home that contains only beautiful and useful possessions.  We have the right amount of stuff, and all of the stuff has a place to live.  We have systems in place to maintain our stuff.  Because we have the right amount of stuff and systems in place, it doesn’t take too long to tidy up and to clean.

The end.

It seems simple and yet completely out of reach.

I had thought that moving would be a catalyst to start over and try again.  But that’s probably not happening for a bit, and I don’t want to wait.  Now that we are home ALLLLL the time and we are cleaning everything ourselves, I really really don’t want to wait.

Let’s unpack the steps a bit here.


We had naturally been doing this before our planned move, but we still have a ways to go.  One issue here is that it is hard to get stuff to the right people in our semi-lockdown world.  Also, because we are all home all the time on top of the stuff, it is hard to clear things out.  Nothing more fun than making a pile and having the toddler immediately dismantle it.  I’m also dealing with low energy on my part, and particularly low energy when I’m technically alone.  Believe it or not, but 9:00 pm is not a great time to get after it.  Lulz.

But we’ve had some success lately.  A friend called for baby stuff for someone in need, and I was glad to clear much of that stuff.  I cleared a few books for a lending library that is being developed.  It all felt good to do.  Baby steps.

Finding a Home for everything

I was listening to the Organize365 podcast (this episode), and I realized that this step is where we can particularly struggle.  Decluttering isn’t always easy, but we can do it.  It feels good.  But it’s not enough.  If we don’t organize the stuff that remains, everything will just fall apart again.

I have a few surfaces that I can’t seem to clear, and I’ve realized that much of that is because the objects don’t have a place.  They are part of projects that need to be completed or systems that need to be created.

We have some systems that work well.  For years, I’ve had a sewing box.  Anytime I need to do something sewing-related, I know exactly where I need to go for all my stuff.  Same for wrapping paper.  I’ve recently created an office supplies box.  All office supplies belong here.  It has been great for knowing where to find the extra tape at all times.

One thing we need for sure is to get a better art creation system/situation for the kids.  We had a beloved art cart that worked for a long time, but both distance learning and Arthur being able to reach everything in the cart have made it fall apart.  I want something that is convenient for the older kids to create, but is also far from toddler clutches.  But gathering all the things, sorting them, forcing them into a better system . . . Hopefully, it will happen one of these days, but it has felt bigger than I can tackle now.

Efficient systems to maintain

Then, this is the dream.  Figuring out systems so that we can all work together to stay on top of stuff.  And that staying on top of it doesn’t take forever.  I’m still trying to figure out a rhythm here.  I know some people have a daily tidying session.  Honestly, stuff on the floor or an epic blanket fort doesn’t bother me for a few days, but then I get cranky when we need to vacuum or have a dance party and stuff is everywhere.  But a weekly tidy leaves so much stuff that it seems overwhelming.  I don’t know.  Still working on this.

(I should have a daily moment to undo some of Arthur’s antics.  Right now we have TV remotes, measuring cups, things pulled out of the recycling and goodness only knows what else all over the house.)

I know very little about cleaning, but I do know that (1) having the right tools, (2) doing it regularly, and (3) having clear surfaces makes it much easier and therefore more likely to get done.  I’m more likely to tackle the bathrooms if I know they don’t have weeks of grime covering them.  I’m more likely to clean the kitchen counters when they are clear of crap.  I’m more likely to mop when we have a working swiffer (which we don’t at the moment.)  (We got reusable pads and figured out how to refill the cartridge for environmental friendliness.)

So yeah.  I’m trying to make small steps of progress toward the dream without doing that thing where I get frustrated/overwhelmed and make sweeping pronouncements about throwing all of our stuff in the trash.  This is not helpful/enjoyable for anyone.  I’m trying to focus on getting everyone on board with new systems that work instead of just decluttering.  We shall see.

Any advice?

Designing your life

Moving can be a pain.  But it is also a time of new beginnings.  Fresh starts.

A good reminder that we get to choose what we want to do in our days.

I’m sitting here like a kid in a candy store trying to decide how we should spend our time.  On the one hand, it is early days.  On the other hand, early habits tend to solidify.  This is a special time to remake before habits become hardened, calcified.

In no particular order . . .

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I’ve got a Prosecco Problem (and it’s not what you think)


We had a lovely Christmas Eve.  At least in the afternoon, that is.  Lots of friends, Christmas pageant at church, amazing food.

The morning, however, was another story.  It involved a very ugly scene with me yelling at the kids to pick up their stuff, escalating to me threatening to throw everything away, and raging that they shouldn’t be getting more stuff if they couldn’t take care of their things.

Just the kind of peace, love, and joy you want for Christmas, right?

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How to clean baked-on crud off a nonstick pan in 20 easy steps

  1. Prepare an awesome dinner that somehow manages to fuse with your favorite pan in an unholy mixture of meat and metal.

  2. Soak the pan after it cools.

  3. Skip away while husband cleans the kitchen.

  4. Silently curse husband for leaving the pan soaking overnight instead of tackling the beast.

  5. Leave pan sitting in sink all day.

  6. Repeat steps 3 – 5.

  7. Discuss the elephant pan situation with husband.

  8. Realize that his Herculean scrubbing efforts have all been in vain.

  9. Google remedies to save my favorite pan.

  10. Try simmering milk in pan.

  11. Simmer milk about two minutes too long.

  12. Realize that the baked on crud now includes milk residue and blackened meat marks.

  13. Try boiling water with detergent in pan.

  14. Scrub scrub scrub.

  15. Break out the sponge with the brillo side.

  16. Scrub scrub scrub.

  17. Remove most of the milk mess, but make very little dent in the OG disaster.

  18. Scrub with determination.

  19. Scrub with delusion.

  20. Start googling for new nonstick pan.

RIP Dear Friend

How to Host Like a Rock Star*

*Hmm, I guess rock stars probably don’t host on their own that much.  More appropriately titled “How to host like a highly paid rock star’s assistant who is used to getting things done and putting up with unreasonable demands.”  NOT to imply in any way that any of my guests have ever made unreasonable demands.  This post is really more appropriately titled “How to atone for making our parents sleep on an air mattress when visiting for way too long.”

This spring we have all the guests.  I’m psyched.  But it can be hard to have people in your space for extended periods of time.  It is also hard for guests to be up in someone else’s space for extended periods of time.  Here is what I’m doing to try to maximize enjoyment of all of our delightful guests this spring.

4.29_venn diagram of guests

But first, let me refer to this helpful Venn diagram of guesting that I just whipped up.  (Thanks picmonkey!)  I think there are two types of guest categories, guest “camps” if you will.  Some guests want to see you, or more truthfully, your adorable children.  This camp is more family and close friends.  At the other end of the spectrum, you have guests who are generally using you as a crash pad to see your awesome city.  This camp is more casual friends, acquaintances, and people who actually took you up on your enthusiastic “you should TOTALLY come visit” offer.  Most people fall somewhere in the middle.  They want to see you, but would also like to experience the wonders of your city.  I can’t blame them at all.  I mean, my kids are cute, but I live in ROME.  You could live here for 500 years and never run out of things to see.

All of this to mean that my approach changes slightly depending on what sort of guest you are.  Here to see us?  I’ll clear our schedules (hey, don’t laugh) and make plans for some fun togetherness.  Here to see the city?  I’ll ramp up the “freedom” items I mention below and let you do your thang.

Without further adieu, these are the “gifts” I like to bestow on my guests.

The Gift of Comfort.  I want our guests to be comfortable.  We aren’t the Westin, and I do not have a Heavenly Bed, but I want people to feel at ease.  (Again, I’m really really sorry about our overly long usage of the air mattress.)

Before we left, we engaged in some delayed upgrades.  After not buying many towels since, uh, our wedding, we bought a new matching set.  (These actually.)  We have some fancier bath sheets from Frontgate, but those don’t come out as much, even for our personal use, because I can only fit like one in the washing machine at a time.  We have been obsessed with our Comphy sheets for years, and we finally got some for our guests to enjoy as well.  (If you need new sheets, you will NOT be sorry with these.)

I try to do little touches as well.  Things that you don’t really notice their presence, but you might note their absence.  The guest bedroom has its own trashcan.  There is a box of tissues.  Plenty of TP.  There are Q-tips in the bathroom.  I also have some spare toiletries in the bathroom.  I’m sure these seem like no-brainers, but I haven’t always been great on them.  (True story: in our early years of marriage I told James we didn’t need to buy tissues because we could just use toilet paper.  #minimalismgonewrong  Then I finally used tissues again and was all “This is like sneezing onto angel wings!!”  We buy tissues now.)

The Gift of Space.  Our apartment has three bedrooms.  When guests are here, someone shares so that guests have a dedicated room.  Thankfully, our guest room is a nice size so guests can have their own space.  We also have two bathrooms.  During normal life, we use them indiscriminately (although we only shower in one), but for guests, we dedicate one bathroom for their exclusive use.

In the guestroom, we’ve also made space for guests.  There are two dressers that are 90% empty.  There are hangers with plenty of empty space in the closet.  The room is not stuffed with furniture.  Guests have room to spread out and actually unpack.  Because who likes living out of a suitcase for a week?

The Gift of Freedom.  Even though I love to see people, I want them to be able to come and go as they please.  This means we have spare keys for guests.  We also try to make things like coffee and breakfast easy.  I have the coffeemaker and fixings in plain view.  I stock up the fruit basket and buy extra cereal and yogurt.

I don't always buy breakfast cereal, but when I do it has off-brand Nutella in it

I don’t always buy breakfast cereal, but when I do it has off-brand Nutella in it

I’d like to get even better about having maps to offer, lists of favorite restaurants, spare bus tickets, etc.  Right now I’d probably just be like, uh, check out the blog for recommendations.  You didn’t turn on data for overseas?  I got nothing.  For at-home interneting, I did put the wireless password in a cheapie picture frame.  It is much easier to hand someone the frame instead of writing it down.  AGAIN.

But, like so frequently happens with my Christmas shopping, I can’t get presents for others without getting myself a little something too.  These are the “gifts” I’ll be giving myself.

The Gift of Time.  I am finally mostly realizing that everything takes longer than I think it does.  This is absolutely true for guest prep.  I’m trying to give myself time to wash the towels and sheets, empty the trashcans, and actually do some cleaning.  Your bed still may not be made up by the time you get here, but I probably finished a few other things instead of leaving absolutely everything to the last minute.

The Gift of Setting Expectations.  I don’t think anyone shows up expecting me to cook all the meals and have daily itineraries planned.  But, particularly with guests who are spending more time with you, they may assume that there is some kind of master plan.  Particularly if I have lulled them into a sense of security of always having a master plan.  I’m working on clearly communicating what is what, sooner rather than later.  Picture me practicing saying: “hey, peeps, I don’t have a lunch plan, you’re on your own.”

The Gift of Asking.  I’m not talking about putting guests to work.  They are guests, after all.  But, people do usually want to help.  Better for me to ask rather than expecting someone to read my mind.  (Something you’d think I’d finally know after ten years of marriage.)  “Hey, sis, can you put together the sandwiches for our picnic?”  “Can you guys grab some plates for the food?”  “Can you detail my Maserati?”  Haha, clearly one of those is a joke.  I don’t have a sister.  (Haha, I have two sisters!  Wow, I’m punchy this evening.  This is why I should really stick to naptime blogging.  Can’t hack it right now though because I’m too busy having fun with all my guests.)

The Gift of Remembering to Wear My Bathrobe.  I would not call us a naked household.  But, like many good TV shows, there is incidental nudity.  Crap, my clean shirt is in the laundry room.  Argh, it is 4:00 am and I need to pee but I don’t feel like putting my pajama pants back on which I took off because it is crazy hot in here for May.  Definite PG-13 situations.

Enter the bathrobe!!  Just slip your arms in and you have a super fast problem fixer.  Now I can go forth and deal with that screaming child without fear of awkward moments with my guests.  I’m not really a robe person and my robe is a little too satiny to be very functional (I’m eying this as a pinch hitter), but it has been great to have on the back of my bedroom door.

Now if only the robe could remind me to shut the bathroom door . . .

Wow, it really is like Pinterest up in here, totally not gross at all.  Any tips to further up my guest game?  Sadly, eliminate all early morning screaming is not an option. #iwish

How tidy is tidy enough?

I’ve been seeing some buzz about a book:  Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and OrganizingModern Mrs. Darcy covered it; she’s a fan of the folding method.  Laura Vanderkam suggested not cleaning up can be a more useful philosophy.  Nicole and Maggie mention an earlier post questioning the wisdom of raising children to feel stressed out by clutter.

I love a good organizing book, but I haven’t read Kondo’s book yet.  I may.  We’ll see.

As I try to assimilate our lovely Christmas gifts into our home, I’ve been thinking about stuff.  And cleaning.  New year, new start, right?

For me, there are two separate issues here.  Tidying involves moving around things.  Cleaning involves removal of dirt and grime.

On the tidying front, we did a lot of “de-owning” before our move to Italy.  I read Joshua Becker’s Clutterfree with Kids an at opportune time.  He stresses de-owning possessions over organizing them.  If you are organizing things, it is just a shell game.  You are still spending energy on cleaning, maintaining, and housing the things.  It is better to just get ride of them entirely than to be beholden to your things.

I like this idea.  We really don’t need that much stuff.  I rotate toys to keep from being overwhelmed by them.  I’ve embraced minimalist dressing and should really purge my closet again.  James cut back on clothes and has expressed enjoyment at having a well curated closet full of things he likes.  We still have more stuff than we need, but I like the idea of only keeping around things you need and like.  Kondo suggests you should not keep things unless they “spark joy.”  I get that.

On the cleaning front, I’m all over the place.  We still don’t have any cleaning help.  In the early days here, I had a daily schedule together.  I cleaned about 20 minutes a day, and I felt like we were on top of things.  Then life happened.  We spent more time seeing friends and getting out of the house.  This is a good thing, but it made chores harder.  I refuse to do chores when the kids are napping.  The chore window feels limited.

I’ve also let it go.  Kitchen and bathrooms get special attention.  I find that doing a little bit daily or weekly makes a big difference.  If I clean the bathrooms once a week, I can do it in 15 minutes.  (Does not include floors.  Or mirrors.)  If I wait, the stuck on grime starts to feel insurmountable.  I really need to work on the floors more.  The baby is not yet crawling, but the kids live on the floor.  But I don’t need to vacuum every day.  My general cleaning philosophy is to be clean enough that things are sanitary and you wouldn’t shy away from an unexpected guest.

And for me, this is where tidying and cleaning intersect.  I think cleaning is easier to do if things are generally tidy.  Right now I really need to vacuum the rug, but the kids toys are all over it.  Kitchen counters are a lot easier to wipe if they are clutter free.  I think my more militant cleaning schedule worked in the early days because all of our stuff hadn’t shown up yet.

I’m still trying to find my groove.  I came across this cleaning schedule printable while reading this awesomely interesting article on following Pinterest’s most popular for a week.

So I decided to do it as well.  Without further adieu, let me present my own cleaning schedule printable for your consumption:

Cleaning Schedule-1

Nothing on here is mandatory, as you would know by the current state of my floors.  ABL – always be laundrying is an important tenet.  Our one floor dwelling has made laundry much easier.  I don’t really mind laundry except the putting clothes away part, which I suppose is sort of like saying that you don’t mind marathons except the running part.

And please don’t think I’m doing this alone.  James does 99% of the after dinner clean-up, trash/recycling removal, and more.

But as you can see, a lot doesn’t get done.  Dusting is rare.  I haven’t cleaned any ceiling blades or windows.  This is mostly working for us for now.  At least until our next change in schedule anyway!  Mac already seems to be dropping his morning nap . . .

Do you have a cleaning schedule?  I’d love to hear!  What is your mess tolerance?  Have you noticed a correlation between amount of stuff and ease of cleaning?

Are you frugal? Some random thoughts on stuff

The rest of our stuff came last week.  Wave 3 of the attack, if you will.  I mentioned before, that I didn’t miss too much of it.  Now it is here.  I’m trying to convince myself that this is a good thing.  Or it will be.  Once we get it put away.  I think it will all fit.  Progress has been slow because, you know, KIDS.  And it feels like a shell game.  I need to put X in here, but I can’t because Y is in there, and I can’t move it until I sort Z and get it moved.  And so on and so forth.

My goal for this weekend is to at least get things out of Henry’s reach.  I miss before when he wasn’t randomly walking up and handing me an iron.  Or a flashlight.  Or my box of Christmas cards.

Living with less stuff really wasn’t hard.  I’d like to get back to that a little bit.  But I’m having the same problem I was when I tried to purge before our move.  Selecting the things you want to take is easy.  Looking at all the things and eliminating them is hard.  When I didn’t see this stuff, I really didn’t miss it.  But now–even though I didn’t need it for almost two months–I look at things and think I should keep them.  You know, just in case . . .

I asked James the other day if we are frugal.  The Frugal Girl has a funny post up about how to How to be an obnoxious money saver.  The comments are interesting.  I don’t identify with a lot of these things, particularly noticing price changes of a few cents.  I would never notice that.  My general philosophy is that I can buy whatever I want at the grocery store because it is much cheaper than eating out.  I mean, within reason, of course.  I’m not buying all filet mignon, foie gras, and crab legs.  But we don’t have a grocery budget.

I recognize that we are fortunate to be able to think this way.  I know not everyone can.  I know I may need to think that way some day.  Besides the other reasons I mention here, I think this is one of the reasons I haven’t hired any cleaning help yet.  We could afford help now.  But I think I want to try on what would be like if we couldn’t.  I don’t know what the next step is.  If we opt to do something very different with a very different income stream, I’d like to know what it feels like.  Is this a deal breaker, ladies?

One of my new friends here has asked a few times if we have been to the mall yet.  Nope.  Besides that whole driving thing, I’m just not that into it.  The kids are not super fun in stores.  And I know I want less stuff if I see less stuff.

Similarly, a new favorite blog is The Mom Edit.  The writing makes me laugh.  The pics are gorgeous.  It does give me outfit ideas.  But it also makes me want things.  I find myself with 5 new tabs open after reading a post before I talk myself down that, no, I do not need another gray sweater.

In Clutterfree with Kids, Joshua Becker talks about working towards minimalism after spending a day cleaning out his garage.  Let’s just say it was not the most fun day, and he wished he could have spent more of it with his son.  It was a realization that your stuff owns you.  You have to put it away.  Clean it.  Organize it.  Take care of it.  Right now I feel a little like the stuff is owning me.  I need to be vigilant about eliminating the things that don’t find homes.

So, no, I don’t really think of myself as frugal.  I don’t budget.  I spend money on kindle books without hesitation.  I’ll drop some money on a dinner out.  But I’m working towards less stuff.  And recognizing that putting myself in less opportunities to acquire stuff generally results in less stuff.  I definitely don’t want to be holier-than-thou like the obnoxious money savers above.  I do love stuff.  Particularly gray sweaters.  And gray pants.  And gray purses.  Yes, I have a problem.  I think the goal should be stuff that works for you.  Right now my stuff is not working for me.  Time to recalibrate.

What’s your “stuff” strategy?  Do you consider yourself frugal?

Does it ever make sense to do your least favorite chore?

Once upon a time, when I was a poor law student–well even before that really–I fantasized about when I would “make it big” and could afford some kind of house cleaning assistance.  I know this is gross to admit, but we sort of just didn’t clean.  I mean we did laundry and dishes and scrubbed counter tops, but toilets and floors only got the real treatment when guests were expected.

Well, I finally graduated and we did it.  We hired help.  I didn’t love managing the cleaning services, and we went through quite a few, but having an at least bimonthly scrubbed toilet was pretty sweet.

So when we got here, I started asking for cleaner recommendations right away.  It turns out they are cheap!  So cheap!  The going rate seems to be 8 euro/hour.  This means I could have the whole place cleaned for less than a third of what we paid in DC.  Great, I thought, sign me up!

But.  I haven’t done it yet.  I’ve been trying to tease out the reasons for my hesitation.  Very high on the list is having someone here for a few hours is pretty inconvenient.  Mac is still doing morning naps.  This means there isn’t a time of day we can easily clear off for a few hours.  And our place is plenty big enough for us, but it feels a little claustrophobic when you are trying to stay out of peoples’ way.  This was hammered home this week as we had workmen here for two full days.  Woof.

A smaller reason is the money.  It is definitely more affordable than DC, but it isn’t nothing.  That money could add up to some nice dinners out or a trip.  It doesn’t help that I’m not sure how to value my time.  Is it worthless?  The lost opportunity cost of cleaning only seems to be sacrificing whatever else I want to be doing, not sacrificing an income opportunity.  What if I have enough time to do the other things I want?

Ranking higher than money for me is wanting the kids to know how to do stuff.  Someone gave the advice never to clean while the kids are sleeping.  So far I’ve been pretty good on this.  We clean up the kitchen after we eat.  Mac’s morning nap provides enough time for Henry and me to tackle a chore before we play.  The chores usually take longer than if I did it myself, but I want for him to learn.

I also want them to appreciate that things aren’t magically cleaned.  Growing up, I remember wiping crumbs from the dining room table onto the floor.  My mom stopped me, pointing out that then we’d just have to clean up crumbs off the floor.  I’m not sure the lesson fully sunk in because it wasn’t my job to clean the floor.  But this is what I’m getting at.  I want the boys to think twice before leaving something a mess because they know they’ll have to clean it later.

Since we’ve been here almost three weeks, I actually cleaned the bathrooms the other day.  It wasn’t that hard.  In a weird way, it even brought back fond memories of cleaning the bathroom with my sister growing up.  At some point, my mom told us this was our job.  I don’t remember receiving much direction on this, but she provided a variety of cleaning products and we did it.  We figured it out.  We stood on sinks to clean the mirror.  We eventually decided that a top-down approach made more sense than bottom-up.  I’m not sure the bathrooms were actually the cleanest, but we took ownership of it.  And I’m sure my mom was glad to get it off her plate.

But.  Even though I cleaned the bathrooms, I haven’t summoned the resolve to pull out the mop.  I don’t mind vacuuming.  Sweeping is ok.  But I really hate mopping.  It may have started earlier, but the hatred really crystallized during my time working at Panera Bread.  I usually worked the afternoon/evening shift, which meant you had to clean the store after.  Each night the last thing standing between me and the door was mopping the whole darn restaurant.  It seemed to take forever.  So many chairs to move.  So much dirty water to wring out.  I just hate it.  Since then I have avoided mopping at all costs.

Now we are very floor-centric.  Things are done on the floor.  Things are sometimes eaten off the floor.  This is the time when I should be paying more attention to them.  And they are pretty dirty.  Even though we take our shoes off at the door, Rome tracks in on our feet.  Henry is not always a sophisticated eater.  Spills happen.

So should we hire someone?  I really don’t want to mop, but I think I’ll try it at least once to see if I hate it as much as I remember.  And how long it takes.  Maybe James will decide mopping is his jam? [UPDATE: James says mopping is NOT his jam.]

If it is soul-suckingly terrible, I could always hire someone just to do the floors.  I’m not sure why I need to remind myself of this, but the beauty of having help for hire is that you get to direct what help you would like.  Having a shorter task instead of a full house clean should theoretically minimize the interruption to our homebodiness.  It should also avoid having our stuff rearranged in weird ways; I hate that.  And be cheaper to boot.

We shall see.  Maybe Henry will start cleaning proficiently.  (Snort.)  Maybe we’ll hire someone to do the whole house.  Or maybe we’ll just start with the floors.  And the range on the oven.  Cleaning the range is the worst.