Long-time readers may remember a few cameo appearances by a large hole in the drywall of our ensuite bathroom. (Lest you be envisioning a space resplendent with marble tile and gold-plated sinks, this room is very much rocking the 1970’s vibe of our 1970’s house. I’m holding out hope salmon-coloured tile will become fashionable again?)
For the most part, I don’t give two hoots about the aesthetics of this space. It’s highly functional and no one outside of our family uses it.
About three years ago, we had a water issue in the main bathroom. Yes, believe it or not, our water woes predate this blog. For those keeping track of such things, the score is hovering around Water, 18; Frosts, 0.
Our ensuite backs against the main bathroom and the shower in that room started leaking, resulting in a pool of water on the floor of the ensuite. At 9:30 pm at night. When we had overnight company.
Anyhoo. To access the shower in the main bathroom, we needed to cut a hole in the drywall of our little ensuite and that hole has stayed there ever since. After the emergency plumbing fix, we kept it open for a few months to allow for a final phase of repair. And then I started thinking how if we filled the hole and had another issue with the shower, we’d have to cut through the drywall again.
It wasn’t a big deal – and we’ve had plenty of other home updates to contend with lately – so we left it. Until a few weeks ago when I happened upon a painting that hadn’t found a new home after some artwork switcharoos.
You can likely guess where this is going. That extra painting covered up the hole perfectly. We didn’t have to pay for drywall repair and, if we ever have another issue with the shower, we’re seconds away from easy access.
Maybe, sometimes, situations in life deserve the same approach. While it often makes sense to fix or change things, other times we might be able to get away with slapping on a proverbial BandAid…or covering a giant eyesore with a nice painting.
It’s Labour Day! Is anyone else feeling positively giddy this morning? Just me? The holiday feels especially momentous this year as the kids go back to school tomorrow. I repeat: tomorrow. This summer has been jammed full of adventure and work and company, but we’re all ready to ease back into a more settled routine.
In the meantime, a revelation from my end.
Last year I blogged about how I Moved My Deodorant…And It Kinda (Slightly) Changed My World. In similar fashion, last week I was on a cleaning blitz of both upstairs bathrooms when I started thinking about the benefits of resetting a room at the end of each day. I do this relatively frequently in the main bathroom – this is where we all shower and the kids brush their teeth. But I’m more likely to wait for a weekly deep-clean to touch our en suite. So if I see some toothpaste residue on the counter it will annoy me, but I’m likely to leave it until my weekly cleaning regime rolls around – even though it would only take seconds to handle the problem.
After five years of this behaviour, I stopped to ask myself Why? Why leave toothpaste spackle on the counter when it annoys me? (To be fair, since the kids don’t use our bathroom it stays dramatically cleaner than the main bathroom).
The answer? I store all my cleaning rags in the linen closet of the main bathroom. The ensuite contains its own little cache of cleaning supplies, but no rags.
Hopefully you can sense from the title of this post where this thought process led. Yup, I put a handful of cleaning rags under the sink in our en suite and now I can easily do a 30-second reset of counters and mirrors every day or two. No extra thinking – or trip to the linen closet – required.
A little change but, as is often the case, it feels disproportionately impactful.
Happy Labour Day! Now it’s your turn – has anyone implemented a little “hack” lately that has felt momentous in how it streamlines your routine or boosts your happiness?
I can’t remember who taught us this trick, but it is now an established household habit.
After near-constant issues with fruit flies setting up shop in our food scraps bin, we have been successfully using the following two-step process for years:
Save small cardboard boxes or paper bags. We keep our cracker and cereal boxes and any paper bags we get from takeout.
Fill the paper box/bag with food scraps, vegetable peelings and other compostable materials and store it in the fridge-freezer. Once it’s full, we throw the paper container + biodegradable scraps directly into our compost bin.
For someone who loves words, I’m struggling to articulate how this week has unfolded. In summarizing most of July/early August, I described it recently as feeling like I’ve been planning an evening out at a 3-star Michelin restaurant for months; when the big night arrived, I showed up in my fancy dress but with no appetite and a debilitating stomach flu. I tried to smile and be polite, but really I just wanted to be at home in my pajamas hugging a bucket. Which makes the whole situation even worse, because of the built-up anticipation and expectation.
I think a “flu” is easier to endure when you don’t have fun plans.
The above is not a fair characterization of my life. I know this intellectually. There has been so much good this summer, but last night a friend looked me straight in the eyes and said: Elisabeth, you don’t have to pretend you’re enjoying things right now.
And I really needed to hear that message.
I can enjoy things. I am enjoying things. But I’m also struggling.
Since I spend way too much time in my own head, I’m going to unpack some baggage in this space because a) it helps me to process how past experiences are impacting my current reality and b) sometimes I feel so alone when I see the facade of other’s lives where they seem to be keeping everything together perfectly all the time.
I’ve mentioned the underlying stress from renovations/repairs a lot lately, but some cogs clicked in to place this week when I was discussing the seeming irrationality of my overwhelm. It was a bit of a lightning bolt moment as I filtered back through a string of unsettling moments that have punctuated our living environments, many of which I navigated solo with little kids.
And I realized: home hasn’t always felt like a safe refuge.
The apartment we lived in prior to our current house was a wonderful spot at first, but ended up having some major challenges. We had a neighbour that had a medical exemption to smoke in her apartment, so we had to turn off our air circulation because it dumped the smoke into our living space. After six months of room-sharing with baby Levi, John and I started moving our mattress to the living room each night for over a year so everyone could have their own sleeping space. At one point a child slept in a closet (how very “New York City” of us). These dynamics were manageable but stressful.
Then there were the neighbours who would leave their windows open one floor above us and swear-scream at their child. It was awful. Just before we moved, multiple items were stolen from us (including John’s favourite surfboard and our air conditioner). This was very, very unsettling – particularly when someone wrote me to say: I see your stolen AC unit for sale on Facebook Marketplace! By the end of our time living there, I no longer let the kids play on our front lawn or in outside common areas because of the dynamics.
When we moved, I heaved a huge sigh of relief. Finally a place to relax and feel truly at home.
Within a week we discovered a broken sewer line (the line had been cameraed a few months before we moved in and all was good, according to the official report). This meant we couldn’t meet home insurance requirements on the necessary schedule. Things needed to get fixed and fast. I’ve already talked plenty about the jackhammering and excavating. But in the same mix was a truly horrific drainage company (franchised, well-established, supposedly very legitimate) – hired by the previous owners – that came into our house and told me our kids would be “just fine” despite the fact sewer fumes were entering our basement because of their faulty drainage system install. This experience was both infuriating and horrifying. Then there were my calls/trips to our lawyer to deal with layers of chaos, deceit, and confusion. There were hours and hours spent talking with insurance companies, organizing permits, calling by-law officers and inspectors.
I lost over ten pounds in a month and felt nauseous round the clock.
One night a few weeks before Christmas I was watching How The Grinch Stole Christmas with the kids (minutes after Abby lost a tooth eating boxed Mac n’ Cheese). I remember details from that evening so distinctly. The jackhammering was done, the giant hole in our basement floor was filled. Flooring was to be installed the next day. John was home from his overseas trip. That night we discovered a hairline crack that was allowing a tiny bit of water to enter one corner of a basement room.
For the first time in my life, I threw up from stress.
Then there was our horrible experience with a HVAC company (again, this was a company hired by the previous owner, so we used them because of an existing “warranty”) who told us they were going to put a lien on our house if we didn’t pay their outrageous bill. They couldn’t actually do this, but it was stressful nonetheless. In the end, they wound up damaging our heat pump unit.
Or what about later that year when, on his final day of work at our home, a subcontractor (who came highly recommended and did good work) told me in tears he had just been charged with a truly horrific crime and was likely going to face extended jail time. Thankfully my parents were temporarily living close by, but John was away on a business trip when this happened and I was so disturbed I left all our blinds closed and had trouble sleeping for weeks whenever I was home alone.
Or what about last summer when a subcontractor was verbally abusive. When we communicated (via an intermediary) that this subcontractor was not to return, that subcontractor proceeded to drive by our house slowly on multiple occasions. This was extremely unsettling and for months I was constantly on alert. When I saw him at a distance – randomly – at a yard sale this summer, I felt an incredible spike of anxiety.
And then last fall a very complicated situation opened up in our neighbourhood – an incredible, established area that we truly love – that has had huge impacts on our family (especially me). It has tangibly altered daily life on various levels for almost a year and has completely changed the dynamic of how I function in our neighbourhood.
So when someone asked why I find the current renovations so overwhelming (aside from the superficial, but understandable, reasons I listed last week: uncertainty, mess, expense) – when they are technically going smoothly – I didn’t have a good answer. I’ve been told at various times that “this is all part of home ownership.” Or “there will always be something.”
Because is having someone tell you about a criminal offence a typical part of home ownership? Is being threatened and bullied by subcontractors and companies “something”? Because, well, there has just been a lot to handle over the years. And renovations and our home (not our wee family unit, but the physical dwelling) just feel very triggering emotionally right now and I’m slowly appreciating the fact it’s all very…complicated.
(I do want to note here that our current contractor is wonderful, but just having people in my space is, at least subconsciously, bringing up distressing past experiences.)
My emotional state is further compromised by the fact that over the next month, we have two weeks (TWO WEEKS!) of overnight company. Four people for one week (all adults) and then 5 people (including three boys under 6) for another week. This will require me to function at a higher level than I necessarily feel I have the capability for right now.
Meanwhile, I have put my foot down on needing to pause renovation work while company is visiting, but this also means things will remain unfinished for weeks still to come.
And then last week was my most difficult period so far this year which left me feeling physically and mentally depleted. For those following along, I do have an appointment in September which is officially labeled as a pre-op for surgery. It could still be over a year before I hit the operating table, but it does feel like forward momentum. This is good but scary, too, if I’m being honest.
so much good
But then there is also so much good.
So much good.
And while it isn’t necessarily tipping the scales on my emotional state as much as I’d like, I’m appreciating these moments the best I can.
Levi napping in the back seat of the car after a beach day. His baby-ness seems to be slipping away, but how I treasure those glimpses of it even still.
Setting off fireworks on the beach at my parents home. It was a first for the kids and they loved the experience. (Gold stars to my brother for organizing this. It was definitely a highlight of my summer.)
Boating up a river one evening alone with my Dad. We saw a bald eagle and a kingfisher. The river was like glass. I had never taken this route before (it wound back and forth through swampy areas and looked like something straight out of Where The Crawdads Sing), and it was just a really special moment to share with him.
My first ever pedicure, gifted from a friend. It felt indulgent in all the right ways.
A delicious BBQ supper cooked by John when I didn’t feel functional.
Games, games, games. We’ve played so many card games over the last week. Golf – a simple game that involves two decks of playing cards – is the runaway favourite and teaches great math skills. Also Virus and For Sale, which my brother brought along.
Freshly washed sheets on every single bed in the house.
A hug from a friend last night; a long, tight hug that communicated I hear you, I understand you, I love you.
Completing some tedious work tasks. When everything feels clouded in overwhelm, checking off some to-do’s feels like a disproportionate accomplishment.
Time alone with Levi. Abby stayed behind at the lake, and while I haven’t been at my “best”, we’ve still had some really fun moments. He comes in each morning to snuggle. We’ve watched Meatball nibble on carrot slices. We’ve gone out for ice cream. We’ve played football at the beach.
Neighbours (almost like surrogate grandparents) who showed up to Levi’s soccer game to cheer him on. These same neighbours also had him come over to pick garlic he planted in their garden last fall, and all the blueberries he wanted fresh from their backyard bushes.
John bought me a tray of peanut butter fudge. This is a throwback to when we were dating when we regularly drove to a specific gas station that sold this fudge. We passed this location en route home from the lake and it has provided a delicious blast from the past.
Being at the lake with my brother and sister-in-law. Together for the first time in four years.
And the sunsets. Always the sunsets.
I’ll enjoy the moments I can, try to learn from the moments that are tough, and keep on keeping on. Life is good and hard and beautiful. Happy weekending.
I started this blog a little over a year ago and, for the first few months, had basically no readership. But then a friend commented on the post below – originally from May 25th 2021 – and I’ve had a special affinity for it ever since. I wanted to form an online community to talk about the big stuff – like mental health and parenting, but also a space where we could talk about the hassle of finding public bathrooms while on vacation…and toothpaste habits.
So without further ado, and because I think current readers will have some very fun comments on this topic, a repost:
I’m no grassroots minimalist. My family has a storage room full of boxes: camping supplies, Christmas decorations, and plenty of creations from the preschool era. Marie Kondo could surely help us find lots to purge. But, overall, we appreciate clean aesthetics and are always looking for ways to reduce friction with regard to how our home functions.
When Abby was young, I remember debating – for an inordinate amount of time – what toothpaste flavour to select for her maturing teeth. The pharmacy aisle was full of options. Would she prefer Berry Blast, Strawberry Swirl, or Bubble Gum Twist? Each brand – and there were many – had its own combination of tube characteristics (twist cap vs. flip; hard tube vs. soft). I hadn’t even gotten to the fluoride vs. no fluoride conundrum yet and was already completely overwhelmed. Should buying toothpaste for a 3-year-old really be this hard?
Then one day, during a well-check visit with our doctor, she happened to bring up teeth-brushing. She mentioned, in an off-hand way: “Feel free to use a rice-sized amount of whatever toothpaste you’re using.”
Surely it wasn’t right to deprive my firstborn of whatever bold-coloured, highly-flavoured concoction the big conglomerates told me she should have? But, I grew up on regular Crest…and I don’t think it held me back in life.
Since then, our entire family has used the same toothpaste (Colgate with Scope); my kids don’t even know they could be frothing at the mouth with Minion-themed Cotton Candy.
Not only does it require fewer decisions at the store, since we all use the toothpaste interchangeably, I only pack a single tube when we travel (we also all use the same bodywash and shampoo).
Your turn. Do you use different products from your kids or spouse?
About a month ago a friend sent the following text:
Somehow my scissor collection became a topic of conversation at our book club. It seemed shocking to those closest to me that I would own a lot of any item. I do love to declutter, but believe there are certain items that should appear in virtually every room of a house (namely: scissors, pens, scratch paper, and tape).
And so, as proof to my surprised friends that I have long been a fan of multiples, I’m reposting something I wrote back in June 2021.
I don’t particularly enjoy spending money and deliberate over decisions ad nauseam in an attempt to maximize my returns. I’m also a big fan of de-cluttering and have realized the easiest way to maintain a clean-ish house is to have less stuff.
But sometimes, it helps to buy more. Specifically multiples. For example, I keep:
a toothbrush in both an upstairs and downstairs bathroom.
a set of scissors, a roll of tape, and several pens in (almost) every room. I think it is nearly impossible to have too many sets of scissors in a home.
a bag of swimming towels, a change of clothes, and extra sunscreen in the trunk of our car.
I sleep better with white noise and have a device that provides some form of white noise in every bedroom of the house (and a Google Speaker in our living room if insomnia drives me to the couch).
Other things we typically have set up in our home:
multiple charging cables for phones/laptops which we leave in designated locations – permanently.
a plunger and toilet brush in every bathroom.
an extra snowsuit for kids (I’m never able to dry the gear fast enough between trips outside and there isn’t anything worst than wrestling a child into a cold, wet snowsuit) + about 5 pairs of good winter gloves per child, which still seems to fall woefully short of the mark
a tube of lip balm, small pad of paper and a pen inside every purse/tote/bookbag.
an extra set of keys for the car, mailbox, and house.
a box of Kleenex in every room.
My father uses pharmacy-grade reading glasses and owns multiple sets: one for the table, one by his reading chair, one for the bedside table, and one for his workbench in the garage (unfortunately, he does still constantly seem to be looking for a pair).
I don’t sweat much when I exercise, so tend to re-use most of my gear across multiple workouts (with plenty of time for a load of laundry). But I loathe reusing my sports bra. Since I exercise most days, the math doesn’t work. I sourced half a dozen sports bras from local thrift stores and no longer have to scrounge for one in the bottom of the laundry basket.
Less is more...until it’s not. Sometimes life would be more streamlined with the right items in the right place. This might look big (two cars, instead of one) or small (an extra pair of sneakers that permanently stay by the treadmill).
Your turn. Where could having more of something make life easier or more pleasant?
I’ve written about this topic before, but it keeps coming to mind. Some of the text below is recycled from an old blog post, but I’ve added in a few new thoughts.
While you and I may look at a Jackson Pollock, van Gogh or Picasso and have wildly different visceral responses (regarding the aforementioned: interesting, love his work, and meh) – everyone gravitates toward particular aesthetics – there is no mistaking that we will have some reaction. Ambivalence. Admiration. Curiosity. Disgust.
Beauty is, after all, in the eye of the beholder.
One of the perks of forging ahead into adulthood is honing in on, and exploiting, our natural aesthetic preferences. We no longer have to live with the brown shag carpeting of our youth – though give it enough time and that particular design preference is sure to come back. (Exhibit A: Wallpaper. It’s everywhere.)
We put time and effort into considering these sorts of decisions on the large scale: exterior landscaping for our new home, the colour of our living room walls or vehicle, a wedding dress. Significant resources (time and financial) are invested in curating a particular aesthetic in our clothes, hair, and makeup choices.
But I’d argue that much smaller, seemingly mundane, decisions can have a big impact too.
When I invested in electric toothbrushes for our family I made a small splurge, spending an additional $9.99 to get the pink version for myself. It’s a subtle colour, but really does make me happy every time I use my toothbrush (and, as a bonus, it helps me avoid using my husband’s toothbrush by accident). Two years later, that $9.99 has bought me a disproportionate amount of daily happiness. Even the knowledge that I spent extra money helps elevate the experience, in essence saying: “You were worth it.”
That’s pretty weighty stuff for a Philips Sonicare.
The ability to improve aesthetics (and by improve, I simply mean enhancing your personal satisfaction) is often quite easy. When I got a new phone a few years ago the selection of a pretty floral case took less than a minute longer than tracking down a plain black case. Maybe you’d prefer the sleek look of a low-profile black case; go ahead and embrace that choice and refuse to settle for the hand-me-down neon green Otterbox your friend is offering. If the epitome of your aesthetic ideal is a house filled with white: walls, furniture, clothing, and dishes, by all means indulge (unless you have small children, in which case this would be insanity).
Think about things you’re going to see/handle frequently. A phone case, wine glasses, travel mug, dinner plates, the Sharpies you use on your desk calendar, a laptop cover, a diaper bag. I often select candles that come in a nice votive over their ordinary cousins on the shelf.
Life is short and, in general, abundantly more fulfilling when we are able to notice the beauty around us. Stopping to smell the roses is great. So plant some on your back doorstep. Add a pop of colour to your sofa with a quirky throw pillow, hunt for a duvet cover you actually like, and order the whimsical pens you’ve been admiring. Some other ideas for aesthetic exploration:
Implementing both of these (tiny, seemingly insignificant) tweaks was also deeply satisfying.
And the other day I realized another common source of satisfaction: identifying the right tool for the job. Or, in this case, the right tote for the toys.
Levi loves action figures. As toys go he has low expectations; some LEGO, some mini-sticks, some IKEA balls, some action figures and he is content.
The action figures are the cream of his toy crop, and he plays with them daily.
(Yes, he “needs” all the ones pictured below and has specific roles for every single character. Regarding all that plastic: two were gifted and the rest – you guessed it – were thrifted. So, eventually, they will return from whence they came.)
For years we stored action figures in an adorable wicker basket we had inherited from dear knows where.
This basket was the worst tool for the job.
It was small. It had very wide weaving, leaving a lot of holes for the hard plastic limbs of action figures to get stuck through in ways that might, perchance, elicit some wash-your-mouth-out-with-soap language (from me – not from Levi, who was quite content to leave said action figures strewn about his room in a festive manner and avoid the pitfalls of said wicker basket).
A few months ago, when a friend asked me to pick up an IKEA TORKIS tote, on a whim I added one to my own cart (without any evaluation – how rebellious).
This tote is $8 of pure genius. It is sturdy, yet flexible. It fits every single action figure easily (so a certain someone has no excuse for not picking up) and it fits neatly under his bedside table (IKEA, $10).
I can’t tell you how often I have walked into his room over the last few months and sighed contentedly to see how easy toy cleanup has become.
Identify the problem – and then get to work identifying the right tool for the job. It might be as simple as an $8 tote.
Your turn. Any satisfying changes lately that have made life easier? Anyone else have experience trying to fit too many toys into a too-small container?
P.S. I mention IKEA numerous times in this post, but this is #NotAnAd. IKEA has no idea who I am…though our house is basically one giant IKEA building project.