The Great Lenten De-clutter and Spring Cleaning of 2019

Lent and lint are upon this household

Wow, hi, this house is filthy! Fortunately for me, Lent is upon us and creates a nice tidy (pun intended) parenthetical and meaningful season to bring the outsides of things and the insides of things into order and alignment.

I’m very excited about getting started on our spring cleaning – one of the most important things I need to do this year coincides with one of the the things I really WANT to do this year. Clean it up and clear it out is happening! While it’s difficult to see this body of tasks as much of a sacrifice, considering the self-gain in the end, it does present a healthy challenge, and a measure of (self) discipline that my procrastinating, alt-perfectionist tendencies – well – tend not to lend themselves. It’s also a setting aside of carelessness, and becoming more grateful for the things we are blessed to have for nothing more than our own pleasure and comfort. It is satisfying both spiritually and practically.

For a framework, I’m doing a modified version of the 40 Bags in 40 Days Challenge – I’ve done it before, with varying degrees of success, but the idea is a good one whether four or forty bags or boxes or whatever end up off my floor and off my shoulders. I’m moving through our home in chunks designated by square footage and level of difficulty (coat closet:small and easy, dining room:large and difficult) so they can be worked into the day to day rather than demanding giant blocks of time that would interfere more in productivity than would the clutter itself.

I’m no role model, but I am an advocate for an annual purge and scrub, so here is my little “what I’ve learned” insight into the process:

Declutter first, clean second – you’re going to be disturbing a lot of dust, lint, and random items awaiting reassignment, and possibly relocating things more than once – let the housekeeping/cleaning wait and focus on getting the stuff where it needs to go. As with most work, other work is the biggest obstacle to getting work done, so prioritize “everything in it’s place” over “isn’t this the cleanest sink you’ve ever seen?”. Put a cherry on top of the newly de-cluttered area by spiffing it up at the end of the session you’ve planned (and take a picture and put it on Instagram!!)

Clean smarter, not harder – streamline your product line up. Don’t add another layer of clutter with cabinets full of cleaners. Pick a few favorites for everyday, buy what’s needed for specific tasks, and enjoy the liberty of being able to see what’s under your sink without a flashlight and a hazmat suit. Store as much as possible in the place you’re going to use it – an inexpensive unobtrusive toilet brush in every bathroom, sponge and cleaner under every sink along with shower spray and scrub brush, with special brushes and that sort of thing kept in the utility room works best for us.

Commit to keeping cleared surfaces clear – this is a challenge all it’s own, but it’s imperative. You’ll need some staging areas as the process moves along, but don’t undo what you’ve already done – it’s beyond frustrating. Choose two or three holding/transition areas, and maintain all other reclaimed surfaces/spaces like your life depends on it.

Avoid distraction – set a timer for an hour, two hours, 10 minutes – whatever time you’re allotting to the task you’re tackling and honor it. No social media checks, no phone calls, etc. Get in and get out. Also, don’t stray from your area of the day (this is my Achilles heel) – when you leave the kitchen to put the mail in the office, don’t stop to do something else in the office. Set down the mail, get back to the kitchen and back on task.

Throwing money at clutter isn’t the solution. Be clear about the challenge, and resist the urge to go buy a lot of stuff to hold the stuff you really don’t need. USE IT OR LOSE IT! is my little mantra this decluttering season, with a one year time frame. If I don’t use it once over the next year, it’s out of here.

Don’t over-invest in trendy vocabulary – While I appreciate the value of assigning certain words or terms to a process, getting too into the wooo can create any number of practical roadblocks to just getting the job done. Joy is a state in which all things can be appreciated, apart from circumstances. Minimalism is an aesthetic movement with an academic definition, as well as a personal philosophy that defies definition due precisely to its personal nature. Use the ideas from the current de-cluttering wave to motivate you, but don’t let them be the boss of you. The minute that little voice of “am I doing this right, I don’t feel joy over my screwdriver?” creeps in, Put the screwdriver where it goes, no matter how you feel about it, and move on. You’ll feel joyful when you need the screwdriver and you find it exactly where it should be.

Don’t ride around with your donations in your car for more than a day – first, moving the clutter from your home to your car means that now your car is cluttered. You’re not done. Also, if you’re the driver of the “family” car, meaning the one with the most room that everyone piles into for outings, that newly boxed stuff is going to be in the way, and it’s going to wind up either back in the house, or the garage, or somewhere else it isn’t supposed to be. That’s a recipe for discouragement and backsliding, don’t do that to yourself (Rachael!). Drop it at the nearest charity shop or non-profit garage sale, etc., within 24 hours of loading it up. If you’re giving things to family or friends, tell them they have to pick it up within the same time frame. If you have items you’re selling, which is a legitimate plan for some situations, list it the very same day you’ve decided to let it go, and price it to move. Don’t value items based on what you paid, that’s simply not relevant to most items on the secondary market. Look at the going rate on CraigsList or eBay or whatever, and price yours at 20% less.

Cheers to a happy spring cleaning, for both heart and home!
Whether you celebrate the Lenten season as a casual reset or as a serious religious time of observance, abstinence, and contemplation, or something in between, I would love to know all about it….

With love and optimism –


P.S. – some reading on the matter:

The More of Less, Joshua Becker I’ve read this one – if you’d like to read it, I’d love to pass it along to you – send me an email.

Outer Order, Inner Calm Gretchen Rubin Brand new release – I enjoy Gretchen Rubin’s writing and her podcast with her sister, Liz, so I’m looking forward to reading this one. I’m intrigued by the title.

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up Marie Kondo The immensely popular book upon which the companion Netflix series is based – I haven’t read the book, but have watched a few episodes of the show. If you connect with this approach, dive right in!


A Year of Books

It strikes me as odd that one of the first edicts handed down by the pop-minimalist scolds is The Culling of the Books.

Don’t get me wrong, if you’re hanging on to a houseful of junky or unread books and paper ephemera, then cull away, you’ll probably be glad you did – but – considering the amount of unworn clothing, abandoned craft projects, ancient canned goods, and broken everything in peoples living spaces, it just seems like there are better places to start de-cluttering and un-owning, and that perhaps once the rest of the mess is resolved the books are a collection worth keeping.

I love the atmosphere lent by books – my decorator self enjoys the homey and collected feel of having them around, and some are just plain beautiful. They frequently serve as decorative items all on their own, and as pedestals and risers for elements of other collections. They can be arranged in multiple ways, from orderly to artful, and collections of books can instruct the formality of a room every bit as much as its furnishings might. Piles of paperbacks aren’t my thing*, but pretty and thoughtfully organized stacks and rows of books are a favorite device of mine to add a useful layer of interest to many rooms.

We are readers at my house, and own a decent assortment of books. After some years of home schooling there are the inevitable several shelves full of children’s, young adult and classic literature, along with a good number of non-fiction titles that inform whatever interest is piqued at a given moment. Having a well curated home library is important to me, and we use it. That said, I cringe a bit at how many of the books in my possession have not been read in a long while, or started and never finished. These I plan to revisit – I enjoy re-reading books, especially classics, because they seem different to me as I gain new perspectives on life (if you read Wuthering Heights as a teenager, and then read it again as a grown person, you’ll know what I mean). Some have not been opened AT ALL, and are beckoning from their dusty perches to be included in the mix. That was never the plan, of course, because I like for things to be put to their highest, best use, and presumably the primary purpose of a book is to be read (though we could explore a certain duality, in that a books primary purpose is to be written? Another time….).

When I set about creating my 19 for 2019 list of happenings, goals and intentions, I included the reading of fifty books (most of which I’ve named, but leaving some blank spots for suggestions and new releases). I made a page for my reading list, here, and while I don’t know that I’ll review each book, I will endeavor to make notes, and a recommendation (or not) – and maybe that will become an organic marker for whether or not that particular book continues to reside in our home.

How does your book garden grow? If you have any suggested reading, I’d love to know!

With love and optimism,


*P.S. – I am not mad at paperback books, I just am not as fond of having them on display as I am hardcovers. Having pretty baskets for them on lower bookshelves is a great idea, as is having a basket or two of them in a guest room.

P.P.S. – I have finally started using the Kindle app, and I really like it – for some of my book club selections, which are often good stories but not necessarily books I would keep, this might be an answer to accumulating less while still getting my reading in.

Ready, set….

Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo Rodeo Run

My absurdly ambitious outline for this New Year is scheduled to commence on Friday, February 1st. Some of the things on that juicy list are already well underway – I’ve read two of the fifty books I’ve prescribed myself and am well into a third, and I’ve happily attended a half-dozen planned social outings/events since the clock chimed 12:00:01 on 1/1/2019. I’m comfortable with that somewhat soft opening, but to make the larger scheme manageable, some serious planning and firm dates are in order. I started with a good old fashioned large block desk blotter calendar to post at the house, and an inexpensive month/week/day at a glance type planner to keep with me.

I know, I know – surely on the umpteen devices around here I could formulate a system of notifications and reminders, but that is a whole other project unto itself. Plus, one of the hacks (ha-ha, I hate that term) to freeing up the time to make the important (to me) things happen is avoiding social media except for business building purposes and to wish my friends Happy Birthday. There simply isn’t any time for scrolling this year, and I figure the less I’m drawn to checking the phone and her companions the easier it will be to stay on track.

Planning the projects is easy – I’m just full of great ideas – but the doing? Not so much. I excuse myself because the things I do instead of doing what I planned aren’t bad things, in fact they’re often terrific – but I am profoundly tired of my own excuses and prickliness about doing what I know I should, accomplishing what I know will make me feel better than the random distractions ever could. So a real, physical planner that I have to write in, and look at, and maintain daily order by is how I’ve chosen to organize my time and hold myself accountable. If it’s on the calendar, short of calamity, it’s happening.

The dates, then:

  1. Attend 48 Masses, have our marriage convalidated by the church (Sundays, Holy Days of Obligation – Convalidation November 1)
  2. Fitness/Wellness – lose __ lbs (for me to know and you to find out), bed time at 10:30, schedule all annual doctors appointments, eliminate weeknight drinking (yikes). (Bedtime is bedtime, schedule Dr’s appointments January 30)
  3. Have wedding gown cleaned, pack in archival box and tissue (March 1)
  4. Read 50 books (1 book/week, assigned)
  5. Logistics for Oldest Daughter’s first year of college – finances, living arrangements, personal needs (clothes etc) (February 1 – March 31)
  6. Have all photos digitized, declutter and organize photos on all devices (Digital declutter February 3 – 9, Digitize paper photos 1 batch/ month)
  7. Put together family photo albums (July)
  8. Handle my deceased fathers business, hold memorial service (contact attorney March 1, (process tbd), memorial service July 31)
  9. Dress like an adult – real clothes, every day (get dressed for work, every week day)
  10. Organize family cookbook (September 15-30)
  11. Design and make family Christmas stockings, and ornaments from antique fabric (already purchased) (October 2-9)
  12. 50 social outings, including 20 dates with my husband, and 10 book club meetings (dates and book club are on the calendar)
  13. Ride my horse 3x/wk for 48 weeks of the year, ride in 2 horse shows (somewhat weather dependent – show schedule released 2/1)
  14. RUN RODEO 5K (February 22) (Walk/run all non-tennis days)
  15. Improve Household finances by ___________ (for privacy reasons I left off the actual number – it’s a lot) – budget/reduce expenses by ________, no wasted food or ordering in, set up auto pay for all bills, No Spend February
  16. Grow bay boxwood – find local production, write 4x/week for 48 weeks, consolidate banking, reach out to network (deadlines for production and banking Feb 10)
  17. Family Vacation (June)
  18. House – interior improvements (all year)
  19. House – exterior improvements (all year)

This is a bit jumbled, I realize, but as I make the phone calls and set the appointments I think it will come into focus. It seems much less overwhelming getting the initial sorting done, and I have some Rachael-splaining to do regarding things like – oh – the wedding dress that’s been hanging in my closet for 21 (and a half) years? I think those will be fun to write about, actually, and lend clarity to the why’s and the how’s of the year in the life.

How’s your calendar doing? Any insights on self-accountability?

With love and optimism –


19 for 2019

Janus, looking back, and ahead

Happy 2019! I have now, just a few minutes ago, gotten the last of our Christmas decor put away, and shaken off the post holiday haze that I almost always experience. I don’t start taking decorations down until Epiphany on the January 6th, and two of my children have birthdays in January, so a lingering party vibe – while fun and home-y – also creates a little of what I can only describe as celebration fatigue. The Christmas season is so lovely, I cherish it, but now I am hungry for Ordinary Time.

January for me isn’t so much a fresh blank page as it is a debriefing of the previous year combined with a mental strategy session for the months ahead. Trying to uphold a new slate of resolutions on January 2nd simply isn’t realistic, and after years of struggling, guilt, and self-flagellation, I’ve finally accepted that. My planning calendar has a February 1 start date.

I am a list gal, however, so I find comfort and promise in outlining what I would like to accomplish in the fresh year, along with things that simply need doing but don’t really fit on a conventional “to-do” list. I discovered the concept of 19 for 2019 listening to the Happier podcast and it instantly clicked with my sensibilities. There are opportunities for large projects, and things that can be done and ticked off the list or gotten underway. There’s always movement happening, which I also like, and plotting the course over the year allows for shifts in perspective, and adjustments to the plan based on everything from re-calibrating expectations to simple personal preference and life events.

So for me, 2019 year is shaping up like this …..

  1. Attend 48 Masses, have our marriage convalidated by the church
  2. Fitness/Wellness – lose __ lbs (for me to know and you to find out), bed time at 10:30, schedule all annual doctors appointments, eliminate weeknight drinking (yikes).
  3. Have wedding gown cleaned, pack in archival box and tissue
  4. Read 50 books
  5. Logistics for Oldest Daughter’s first year of college – finances, living arrangements, personal needs (clothes etc)
  6. Have all photos digitized, declutter and organize photos on all devices
  7. Put together family photo albums
  8. Handle my deceased fathers business, hold memorial service
  9. Dress like an adult – real clothes, every day
  10. Organize family cookbook
  11. Design and make family Christmas stockings, and ornaments from antique fabric (already purchased)
  12. 50 social outings, including 20 dates with my husband, and 10 book club meetings
  13. Ride my horse 3x/wk for 48 weeks of the year, ride in 2 horse shows
  14. RUN RODEO 5K (February 22) Walk/run daily
  15. Improve Household finances by ___________ (for privacy reasons I left off the actual number – it’s a lot) – budget/reduce expenses by ________, no wasted food or ordering in, set up auto pay for all bills, No Spend February
  16. Grow bay boxwood – find local production, write 4x/week for 48 weeks, consolidate banking, reach out to network
  17. Family Vacation
  18. House – interior improvements
  19. House – exterior improvements

So – that’s seems like quite a lot to do in what I used to think was an age, but as it turns out the years go by in a blink, and I’ve been piddling around a bit the last couple of them. There are some less than pleasant things I’ll have to go deep on, tying up the loose ends left by my father’s death over a year ago, for example – but I’m inspired by the potential end result, of course, and encouraged by Peter Theil, who says “you should take your 10-year life plan ask, Why can’t I do this in six months?”

Well, here’s to you, Mr. Theil. Why can’t I, indeed.

What are you up to this year, dear one?

With love and optimism,


P.S. I am a firm believer, belief won by experience, that not putting a date on a project means that it almost never comes to fruition. That’s what my next little post (dated tomorrow!) is about.

In a word…


salvaged porch columns, c 1900

I have not chosen a word for the year in several years.  The last few years have been a bit of a blur, and by the time I rolled through the holiday season, started writing the correct date on things, etc.,  I looked up some time near the kids Spring Break and somehow the enchantment of “New Word for a New Year” had been lost.  It’s a shame really because it’s a personal tradition that I find charming and reassuring, and I’ve discovered that by not selecting a word – something that requires a bit of intention and focus – I have lost a good bit of both of those things (intention, focus).

So I sat myself down, before the kids were out of school for winter break, and chose myself a word….

adverb: generously
  1. 1.
    in a way that shows a readiness to give more of something, especially money, than is necessary or expected.
    “everyone is asked to give generously to this worthy cause”
    • in a way that shows kindness or warmth toward others.

      “the public applauded generously”
  2. 2.
    enough or more than enough in size or amount; plentifully.
    “generously butter a baking sheet”

(Google dictionary)

Coming up with this particular word took some reflection and demanded a big dose of humility.  It stung a little.  I had to face the fact that I haven’t been generous in a meaningful way – ” in a way that shows kindness or warmth toward others ” –  for a very long time.  I chose the modified “generously” over the simpler “generous” because the adverb implies action, a result, things done.   At least as importantly, maximum generosity requires a relinquishment of fear.  Fear calls me to hide, inspires reluctance to share, and to measure everything against an imagined standard of justice that ultimately isn’t my burden to consider.

Love – both giving and receiving – generously.  Forgive, atone, trust, accept, discern, share, create, work, encourage, praise, laugh – generously.

This little space was – and is – supposed to be about helping others enjoy beautifying their own homes and create delicious things.  Attending to that, generously, is the aim.  Please excuse my absence and neglect.  I was afraid of being what I am – imperfect and reluctant to show my work.  I am resolved to correct that.

In a word, “generously”, is how I hope to live this year.  And many more.

With love and optimism,


P.S.  If you have a word for the year I’d love to hear all about it.

Countdown: Back to School Edition



So…. there are 21 days before school starts here.  I have 21 days to do a LOT of work to make sure everyone is ready, including me.  And not just being ready for school, but for the shift in activities, and (gasp!) the approaching Holiday season.

I’m not great at pacing myself – I procrastinate waiting on perfection to arrive, and I end up cramming (trying to cram) a months worth of work into 48 hours.  Determined to avoid this scenario I  created a little check list.  Maybe, this way, the excitement of a new season won’t become the Panic of the Century.  Maybe.

For the next three weeks, I’m working on kid stuff and kids rooms, household wise (and getting a large client project underway – very exciting!).  Our upstairs/kid space has needed attention for a while, it’s been a long time coming, and I really want the kiddos to have comfortable “finished” spaces, ready to welcome them home and be well appointed for studying and relaxing.  My household list looms large:

  • shoe shopping (athletic)      DONE!  THANK YOU DEAR SISTER IN LAW!!
  • evaluate make up and personal care items – replace/replenish
  • evaluate closets and clean out   DONE!  GOOD JOB KIDS! (I still need to do mine)
  • clothes and dress shoe shopping
  • school supplies shopping
  • digital organization (probably won’t happen all in one day, but get started)
  • update calendar
  • paint sons room I
  • paint sons room II
  • decorate sons room I
  • decorate sons room II
  • paint upstairs landing walls
  • clean out upstairs landing closet
  • clean carpets upstairs
  • paint laundry room cabinets
  • paint laundry room walls
  • paint older daughters room (walls only)
  • decorate older daughters room I
  • decorate older daughters room II
  • decorate younger daughters room I
  • decorate younger daughters room II

I’m excited about the timeline, rather than feeling overwhelmed, because so much of this is cleaning and painting and decorating, and the results are nearly instant.  Not much waiting for a lot of gratification.  Some, but not all, of this will be done by me – I’m fortunate that members of my family love to shop, for example, so the kids get taken on much more extravagant and adventurous outings than my midnight tours of on-line sales.  Also, the kids will clean out their own closets and help me with their rooms.  The projects I’m taking on personally are for measures of economy and expediency.  I just need them done, and I like to do much of my own painting.  I find painting therapeutic, and it gives me some productive quiet time.  So much so I always keep a notebook handy so I can jot down all my genius thoughts – and I’m good, and fast, and very reasonably priced.  I’d rather have the extra money I save by DIM’ing it for a splurge on a special piece of furniture or a fun weekend trip,  not to mention all the expenses that come along with having a high school senior – that’s a whole other conversation.

I hope you’re enjoying these blessed last few days of summer – it’s hot, but something about it is still so sweet.

With love and optimism –












Tiny Task Tuesday


credit, and you should check out this site!

Staving off overwhelm is the order of the hour around here.  As usual we have a lot of terrific opportunities for work and school and socializing, yet even heavily edited the calendar can seem daunting.

One of the casualties of running about having fun and not being home much is the inevitable slide of household upkeep and projects.  I’ve developed a certain comfort level with this over the years – I do value experiences more as I get older, and understand that there are only so many hours in the day, and that as hard as I might try I cannot be two places at once.  (dammit!).  As much as I love houses, and my house in particular, I don’t care to be so tied down to maintenance that I say “no” to an occasion to spend time with people I love, or to learn something new on an outing, or to help someone who needs it.   Obviously we can’t let the place crumble around our ears, but the occasional cobweb left undisturbed, a dish in the sink?  I look past those pretty frequently.




A really gross back door covered in dog slobber and fingerprints and buggy things…  At least, not anymore.  It’s *REALLY GROSS*.  Our dogs and most of our people demand to come and go through this door, so it is prone to getting funky.  It’s also a glaring reminder that letting things get disgusting has a huge effect on overall well being – this is the first and last thing we see (usually) as we go about our lives, so it’s kind of a daily downer.  And did I mention *REALLY GROSS*???

So – back to where I started – OVERWHELM…it’s these little but important tasks, like cleaning the back door, that on their own are really quite manageable but when you make a list of how many of them there are in the average household on any given day, it’s easier to just ignore them, pour another cup of coffee and do just about anything else.  Even paying bills is less painful.

This poor door really needs to be replaced, or at least painted, but that’s not happening today or even this summer.  What I can do, very quickly, is clean the sad little thing and show it some gratitude for its years of daily service.  Also, our back mat deteriorated and was thrown away, so a replacement was in order – but again, relegated to “not urgent” status.   This was a lucky clearance find at Target last week ($7.68!) and since you can’t put a fresh new doormat under a dirty door,  Tiny Task Tuesday was inspired.


My idea for TTT is this – schedule and accomplish something small, with big results – or maybe not big, maybe it just needs to get done?  Either way, it should take less than one hour and less than $10.00 to accomplish, and the faster and cheaper the better.   On Tuesdays.  Like a standing appointment.

Two things based on my experience this morning – 1) this effort will cause the domino effect.  You will notice that everything everywhere needs cleaning and straightening and replacing.  But that is not the point of this exercise!  For myself, I imposed a strict limit – the door, it’s surround, and the first step both in and out of the door.  2) hurry up and finish within the allotted time .  This is a serious “perfect is the enemy of the good” trap waiting to snare me.  Plus, these aren’t necessarily tasks to be savored (otherwise we’d be doing them all the time) and even though I’m a process person, going too slowly will throw off my timing for the rest of the day and make me less likely to return for my next TTT*.


My friend Dawn to the rescue – I just used this and warm water to clean off grime, and finished off the glass with glass cleaner and newsprint. 

I did manage to finish this little exercise in an hour and ten minutes (I started at 9:18, and finished at 10:26) including gathering, rinsing, and returning the equipment I used, and snapping the pictures.  The only out of pocket expense was the mat, so I’m counting it as a win.


Not perfect, but so much better.  I’ll take it. 


With love and optimism –


*there’s a broken tile on the threshold –  that’s up next!