The Literary Salon: Secondhand – To Have and Have Not

Cleaning out – that’s what many of us have been doing, making productive use of our time during our COVID staycations.   No matter that there’s nowhere to take the stuff now that the dump, Goodwill and thrift stores are all closed and the whole idea of holding a garage sale is frankly horrifying.  Somehow the idea of pawing through someone else’s junk/germs is not very appealing, when even the library is quarantining returned books for 72 hours before disinfecting them for re-circulation.  I did my annual house purge back in  snowy January and the stuff is still sitting in the basement and the gardening items are still in the garage, set aside for the spring horticultural sale, long cancelled. 

    So, I wasn’t much interested, when in my first curbside pickup of library books, there was one I had ordered eons ago – Secondhand: Travels in the New Global Garage Sale – by Adam Minter.     But after I had read it, I thought – where were you last winter when I needed you!      

Secondhand: Travels in the New Global Garage SaleSecondhand: Travels in the New Global Garage Sale by Adam Minter

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

 

Publishers Blurb:

Decluttering. A parent’s death. Sooner or later, all of us are faced with things we no longer need or want. But when we drop our old clothes and other items off at a local donation center, where do they go? Sometimes across the country-or even halfway across the world-to people and places who find value in what we leave behind.

In Secondhand, journalist Adam Minter takes us on an unexpected adventure into the often-hidden, multibillion-dollar industry of reuse: thrift stores in the American Southwest to vintage shops in Tokyo, flea markets in Southeast Asia to used-goods enterprises in Ghana, and more. Along the way, Minter meets the fascinating people who handle-and profit from-our rising tide of discarded stuff, and asks a pressing question: In a world that craves shiny and new, is there room for it all?

Secondhand offers hopeful answers and hard truths. A history of the stuff we’ve used and a contemplation of why we keep buying more, it also reveals the marketing practices, design failures, and racial prejudices that push used items into landfills instead of new homes. Secondhand shows us that it doesn’t have to be this way, and what really needs to change to build a sustainable future free of excess stuff.

 Why I Liked it:   

This is not one of those how to declutter/reorganize/change your life  manuals, but rather it’s an eye-opening look at what really happens to the unwanted stuff you donate.   It certainly motivated me to rethink my “possession of things” in ways that those other books did not.   Maybe it’s the current COVID crises and morbid thoughts of sudden death, but really in the end, it’s all just stuff and you can’t take it with you.   So keep what you use and enjoy and get rid of the rest, and try not to buy as much in the future!

    The author, Adam Minter, has done a great deal of research into the global secondhand industry, and being himself the descendant of junkyard owners,  is well qualified to tell the tale.  He also wrote Junkyard Planet-Travels in the Billion Dollar Trash Trade, a 2013 bestseller. 

    Much of the book involves his travel in places like Mexico, Southeast Asia and Africa – countries where the secondhand economy thrives, and where the stuff which doesn’t sell here is often destined.   That old saying, one man’s junk is another man’s treasure, is true.   While there’s a widely circulated theory that by sending our clothes and electronic waste to third world countries we are harming their homegrown economies, the author debunks that myth.   While undeniably some of it does end up in the dump, much of it is recycled and repaired to be resold to people who would otherwise have nothing.   The author follows a container of discarded computers, cell phones and tube TVs to Africa and it’s thriving electronic repair shops – shops who would much rather have older recycled goods than new cheaper ones because they last longer and are made better.   In one story, Greenpeace installed a GPS tracking device on a discarded TV in a shipment bound from England to Africa and then send a reporter to reclaim it at the other end, thus proving, according to their report, that it was destined for a digital dump.  But it wasn’t – it would have been brought to a repair shop and then resold to someone who had nothing.  

     There’s a chapter on emptying the nest (professional estate cleaning  crews), secondhand clothes, wiping rags (a whole separate industry), and why appliances don’t last, (remind me to buy a Speed Queen if my thirty year old Maytag washer/dryer ever wears out).   Simple fixes such as making manufacturers release repair manuals for older models would do a lot to keep older electronics out of the dump.          

     I once donated an old 80’s radio/cassette player to the St. Vincent de Paul and the clerk thanked me as there were some seasonal workers in the store who were looking for a radio.   They were Mexican, here to help with the pepper harvest.  We smiled at each other.  I was pleased too, as when we drop things off at the thrift shop, we hope they will be reused and appreciated by someone else – if not here than perhaps in some other country.   In this world of have and have not, it’s comforting to know that sometimes happens.   

PS.   I’ve been thinking about my garage sale stuff and wondering – if things continue in recovery mode here and we don’t get a second fall wave – if I could just put some of the stuff out at the end of the driveway on a table some Saturday afternoon with a sign, Free for a Small Donation to COVID relief fund?   That way it won’t sit in my basement until next year.   A lot of what I have is winter stuff, Christmas decorations, wreaths, sweaters, etc.   I only had a garage sale once, (advertised) and I remember people coming really early, like before I was awake!    

Vintage Casablanca poster

Vintage movie posters

French Press Coffee Maker

French Press coffee maker…used once…$35 price sticker still on…coffee not hot enough and too much hassle to clean out the grounds.

red plaid housecoat

Flannel bathrobe with fleece lining…never worn……not suitable for menopausal women….

fake flowers

from my fake flower/wreath making days…

Sparkly Christmas wreaths

Many sparkly Christmas in July things…

     

 

    

 

Girl Put Your Records On

       One of the few things I miss about work is that the daily commute guaranteed me an hour of music every day, half an hour in the morning to rev up and half an hour after to wind down.   As I drove along a rural highway with no stop signs I could set the car to auto-pilot and zone out.  Now the only dose of music I get is my on my I-Pod if and when I walk – not a good track record so far this year although I enjoy it if I do.   My playlist might be classical, big band, oldies but goodies, 60/70/80’s, country,  or musicals but that small dose of music always lifts my spirits.   If I’m in the car running errands I don’t even turn the radio on as I don’t like much of what’s played.   I have an older model Honda, so no Apple Car Play or Sirius, nor do I Spotify, stream or bark instructions to Alexa at home.   I guess I’ve gotten out of the habit of listening to music. 

While cleaning out the basement this past winter I came across a stack of old records, which I searched through recently for a copy of Tapestry by Carole King – there was a tribute show at the theater which had sold out.  Every teenage girl in the 70’s owned this record, but it must have belonged to my sister with whom I shared a room growing up (although there was a line dividing said room), as no copy was to be found.  

Included in this treasure trove of oldies but goodies are three albums dating from the fifties which belonged to my mother.    When I say albums, this is what I mean,

leather bound books with sleeves containing individual 78’s.   For those of you unfamiliar, 78’s were the old thick breakable records which only held one song.   There was an A side and a less popular B side.   Looking through them, I remember a few of the songs, but I have no idea if they are worth anything now or even what to do with them.

78’s were eventually replaced by 45’s (smaller versions with one song and a plastic thing which fit the hole in the middle), and 33 LP’s which were the extended play albums with many songs which the boomers may remember growing up.   While I’ve been on a few Is-Your-Record-Worth-Anything sites, they all want you to register and list and describe your gems which must be in pristine condition.    My memory of these is that they were  worn and scratchy even then – they certainly look well-used.   

I thought I might listen to a few for old times sake, as I still have one of those Sears Record/Tape/CD combo units in the basement somewhere, but apparently you can ruin the stylus on a 33 record player by playing an old 78.  I’m also somewhat ashamed to admit that my Pioneer turntable and speakers from university is down there too.   My parents bought it for me in second year as they had bought one for my older sister, but I had 32 hours of classes and labs and was hardly ever in my room other than to sleep and study.   The Pioneer set-up cost a pretty penny back then, roughly the same price as tuition I recall.   Some years ago I had some interest in it from a younger colleague whose hobby was frequenting record-stores – in retrospect I should have sold it to him, as there it sits in the original boxes taking up space, large speakers and all.  

I promised JP, a fellow blogger (link to JP’s blog) that I would report on my basement findings, so here goes.   Now I should mention that JP is a jazz/music expert, as well as being a lawyer and a contrarian (his words).   The Button Up Your Overcoat song on my recent coat blog, served as the muse for his post on the many recordings of that song from 1929 to the present day.  Although I’m not much of a jazz person, I particularly enjoy JP’s dry sense of humor.   His posts Dear Queen Elizabeth,  in which he writes a letter to the Queen suggesting that he and his Mrs. change places with Harry and Megan, No Fair, in which he once again fails to attend his state fair despite living a few miles away, and the brilliantly written Quitting the Newspaper, a step by step guide to cancelling a subscription, are among the funniest I’ve ever read.   As we all need more humor and music in this time of COVID craziness, be sure to check out his blog. 

No pressure, JP – I don’t think any of these ancient relics are jazz – except maybe Baubles, Bangles and Beads (Side A) and Somebody Bad Stole Da Wedding Bell (Side B).   

records old - Baubles Bangles and Beads

Although I’ve never heard of Georgia Gibbs, I vaguely remember this song, so it must have been one of the ones we played a lot, plus it looks quite beat up.

There’s some Gene Autry – Have I Told You Lately That I Love You/Someday You’ll Want Me to Want you, and of course Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer/If It Doesn’t Snow on Christmas.    These were so popular, they can hardly be worth anything, kind of like Michael Jackson’s Thriller – everyone had them.   Many copies means less money, honey. 

Then there’s old Bing.    Silver Bells/That Christmas Feeling, Silent Night/Adeste Fideles/Oh Come All Ye Faithful, and Dear Hearts and Gentle People/Mule Train, from a movie soundtrack, Chattanoogie Shoeshine Boy/Bibbidi-Bobbii-Bo – was that from Cinderella?

records old - Rosemary Clooney

And of course, Bing reminds me of Rosemary Clooney.    I always loved her in White Christmas, but the best we can do is This Ole House – something which would have come in handy when I was renovating.   Hey There is on the flip side.

records old   Tennessee Waltz

Tennessee Waltz, but alas not by the popular Patti Page, but by Jimmie and Leon Short.   Long Gone Daddy is on the B side. 

Burl Ives – Blue Tail Fly and I’m Going Down the Road and other side Big Rock Candy Mountain, again from a musical Sing Out Sweet Land.  I only know Burl Ives from his Christmas classics.   

records old - coconut song

I do remember I’ve Got a Lovely Bunch of Coconuts, (Fred Heatherton), but my version was from a seedy bar, The Brunswick, which we would occasionally frequent near campus.   Beer was 50 cents in the more upscale upstairs and the downstairs entertainment by one of the regular patrons dressed in a long grass skirt, was well – best not described but you can imagine from the lyrics, and this was long before the days of karaoke.   

records old  Perry Como

Here’s another one I remember, the alphabet song, A – Your Adorable – Perry Como, When is Sometime on B side.    

That’s it for what I recognize.    The rest are: Old Shep/My Queen of Prairies,  The Life and Death of John Dillinger/Awaiting the Chair (both Wilf Carter), The Cry of the Wild Goose/The Donkey Serenade (Tennessee Ernie),  Riders in the Sky/Single Saddle (Vaughn Monroes), Soldiers Joy/Flowers of Edinburg (Don Messier), Anniversary Song (Larry Douglas), Peg of My Heart (Floyd Sherman),  Deck of Cards/Somebody Else Not me (Phil Harris), Bouquet of Roses/Texarkana Baby (Eddy Arnold), Cruising Down the River/Sunflower (Russ Morgan).   There’s A Bluebird on your Windowsill (Elizabeth Clark).   Blue Skirtz Waltz/Charlie was a Boxer (Frankie Yankoose and his Yanks).    Many of these are backed by orchestras, and others sound like country and western, but I don’t remember my parents listening to much C&W, well not until Kenny Rogers.   My mother has no recollection of any of these.  They didn’t have much money in their early married years, so perhaps these were bargain bin finds or one hit wonders.   She does remember watching Hit Parade on Saturdays nights, and there is one record that just says Popular Hit Parade – Go On With the Wedding/Lullaby of Birdland and Why Do Fools Fall in Love/Chain Gang, with no singer’s name.   I find it odd that none of the records are dated, although many of them were minted in Canada, often Montreal, and certainly there are no album covers to provide clues as they are stored in individual sleeves.    

I do remember most of the children’s music, probably because I was not yet in school but in charge of keeping my younger brother entertained.   I have a  vague memory of these being played on a small portable record player which even a young child could operate.   Later when in the 60’s we had a tabletop record player with built-in speakers, and later still one of those big wooden stereo cabinets with an 8 track player. 

records old Horace the Horse

Horace the Horse was always fun, as it’s all about perspective folks.   Poor Horace was sad that he was the last horse on the merry-go-round, but when he turned around, he saw he was actually the first!   (link to song)

records old childrens

Pete Petersen’s House, was also a favorite – I remember it as a fast-paced tune.    Did You ever See a Lassie, On Top of Old Smokey, Oh Susanna, Clementine – the names alone bring back a flood of memories. 

records old - musicals

Cue forward to the 60’s and the first album I bought with my own money – Oliver – I wore that record out.    Music musicals were big that decade.   

records 45's sixties hits

We bought 45’s as they were cheaper, and you didn’t get stuck with a bunch of filler songs you didn’t like.     Black Velvet Band – Irish Rovers.  This Guy’s in Love – Herb Albert.   Harper Valley PTA (the lyrics were considered scandalous).  Pleasant Valley Sunday – the Monkees.   Abraham, Martin and John (my grade 8 teacher was a hippy and music was her poetry).

old records albums 60's

My parents listened to adult contemporary:   

records old - Christmas

And who can forget the old Christmas albums, Andy Williams and Sing along with Mitch which came on Saturday nights. 

Then came the 70’s and the Cadillac of Stereo Systems which was the envy of all my dorm-mates.  On Friday nights if we stayed in we might break out any of these, but more likely they were played during the getting-ready-to-go-out part of the evening.

records old albums 70's

The 70’s decade started with Rod Stewart and ended with disco.

records old albums 70's Thriller was probably the last album I bought.  

old records albums - 70's and 80's

I know these are worth anything, as visit any record store and there are tons of them.   We’ll have to wait another 100 years, I guess. 

By the mid-80’s tapes and Sony Walkmans were in and yes, they’re still down there too, along with a box of CD’s.   The question is what do I do with all this old stuff that nobody wants?   I know I could advertise them online but I try to avoid those Kijiji-like sites ever since that poor man got murdered here trying to sell his truck, and now with social distancing and all.   So back down to the basement they all go.   In the meantime, this post has reminded me that I need to have more music in my life – “Girl put your records on, tell me your favorite song….”

Corinne Bailey Rae – Put Your Records On. 

Once Upon a Kitchen Reno

Once upon a time there was an old castle in need of renovation, which contained an ancient kitchen which was an eyesore to the castle inhabitant, a crotchety old woman who was never home as she was out ruling her kingdom and when she was home she seldom cooked, (although she did like to bake cookies for the neighborhood children).   When the old woman retired from kingdom running she looked at the ugly kitchen and exclaimed, “Something must be done.”

Kitchen Reno Before Pic

The Before Picture

The original mahogany cupboards were thin and plywoody plus the U shape closed in the room from the adjoining banquet nook, and despite being custom build in the previous century, none of them were the same size.    Although the Castle Owner was aware that they might qualify for the minimalist look which was back in style, she was tired of them and dreamed of something Bright and Snow-Whiteish.  

The Vision:  

Kitchen

Vision Board – Thanks Oprah!

As per her 2019 Bucket List, The Castle Owner had envisioned a new kitchen for years, and it was time for action. 

The Previous Renovation Wars:

Now the old woman had been through her fair share of castle renovations, many with disastrous results and was wary of any more endeavors and in truth a bit low on gold bullion.   It could even be said that she suffered from PRSD (Post Renovation Stress Disorder), which explained why the kitchen was still in it’s dreary dungeon-like state. 

Years of renovating had worn her down.   First there were the new windows and doors, where the installer had cut the hot water heating pipe along with  the brick for the new French doors onto the deck, which required an emergency welder to be dispatched from another kingdom to fix stat on the eve of a major snowstorm.  Then there was the deck, a no-maintenance castle-gray Veka with white vinyl trim, a thing of beauty from which to survey the surrounding countryside and which had come at a very reasonable price as the newly hired sales rep had underestimated many such projects and was subsequently un-hired.   Unfortunately the inexperienced peasants installing, being illiterate of blueprints and such, had ignored the Do Not Dig hydro markers and plans, (in truth there was no actual reading involved just orange flags) and placed the pilings too close to the hydro line, so when the ground froze and heaved the following winter, the lights subsequently dimmed so that lanterns were required to find one’s way around the castle interior.   A temporary generator was hooked up outside by the Hydro Kingdom on a cold January night and then it was up to the property owner to find someone to dig a trench under the deck so the lines could be reconnected.   After interviewing NINE electricians from far and wide, most of whom were never heard from again, she finally found one who agreed to take on the job – for a price, thus turning the bargain deck into the Taj Mahal of decks.   (Where were those voles when you needed them?)    Then there was the roofer, a charming Jester who promised he would have his hand on every  shingle, who dropped two kids off on Monday and was not seen again until Friday when he returned to do the chimney flashing leaving it in such a state as to cause continuous commentary among all the male neighbors.   At 4:30 he tore out of the driveway like a bat out of hell to return the scaffolding to the rental company, never to be seen again.   Then there were the twelve dead ash trees which had to be removed from the castle grounds, and the tree cutting truck which got stuck in the mud of the Ides of March who tried to remedy the situation by putting down sheets of plywood AFTER it was stuck, and the resulting fortune paid out to the landscaping company to repair and reseed the lawn.   And last but not least, the new asphalt driveway, which became a moat of sorts as it wasn’t quite level near the garage so it turned into an in-ground pool for the birds every time it rained, and it rained a lot.   So much that Castle Basements had to be dispatched twice to fix the water pooling in the dungeon which required more trenching.

The Research:

So the crotchety old woman (she wasn’t even that old, but this explains why she was crotchety), was battle-weary and extremely leery of taking on anything new and proceeded with extreme caution.   She wasted the month of April with sessions and quotes from Ye Old Lowes and Castle Depo.   Ye Old Lowes was particularly pointless as after a whole afternoon of much pencil-erasing on graft paper, it was revealed the design employee was going for training the following week.    The quotes were all way too high, but more importantly they had nothing she wanted, which was old-fashioned white bead board with glass doors.  (see Vision Board)  Most castles now being into the minimalist look, the pickings were slim.   Finally, she decided to visit the showroom of Castle Cabinets, who specialized in supplying new homes and whose kingdom had been building custom cabinets for fifty years, and there on display were the cupboards of her dreams!     

After a month of consultation with the in-house kitchen designer and some tweaking, which went on for far too long as the Castle Owner was a bit of a perfectionist and indecisive too, a bad combination, which caused the  designer in exasperation to repeat the mantra, “It’s whichever you prefer Joni,” a final plan was decided upon.   

The blinding white cabinets of her dreams had morphed into a soft Cloud White.   The mullions in the windows became plain glass, apparently mullions are out.   On May 27, the contract was signed.   The Castle Owner had been told six weeks and was expecting a bit of a reprieve to enjoy the nice weather, but Castle Cabinets was not terribly busy as no one could afford new castles anymore, so the installation date was set for the end of June, thus leading to three manic weeks of appliance shopping for a dishwasher, Over the Range microwave, sink, faucet, and lining up an electrician, plumber, demolition crew and lastly and with the most difficulty, a painter, a rare breed – good luck trying to find one who wasn’t booked up for months.   Once found, the painter promptly did a disappearing act.   He said he would get back with a quote, a week went by, many messages were left, but he finally answered one night in Ye Olde Pub (the Raptors were in playoffs, there was a party in progress in the background) and yes he’d have that quote the next day, which came and went.   But eventually he agreed and squeezed her into his already hectic schedule and then he too came and went over six days, (strip wallpaper border, clean walls, sand, prime, ceiling, paint one coat, two coats).   It all went well, except for a few days when he never showed up at all, but the Castle Owner, being eternally grateful to have found anyone at all, refused to nag and eventually it was done.       

Kitchen Reno - Paint samplesSelecting the paint had been an ordeal reminiscent of Goldilocks.  Who knew there were so many different shades of beige.   This one was too gray, this one too green, finally a Benjamin Moore employee recommended Muslin (as in the Jane Austen attire), and it was just right.   The Google Kingdom confirmed it as the perfect neutral shade for a north-facing room.   

The Players

The Castle Owner met many nice people during the reno.   The electrician was a retired troubadour who played bass guitar in a band of merrymen and so had to leave early several times for gigs and band practice.   He was there 4 or 5 days, so you get to know a bit about your royal subjects from spending so much time with them.    The hydro had never been upgraded in the old castle and the circuits were not labelled and every appliance needed its own separate wiring.     The plumber, well known with a gruff but efficient manner, refused all offers of brownies and sweets.  He simply did not have time to eat, although he had time to critique the cute but cheap bathroom taps and the lack of a contractor.   He also installed two new bathroom sinks, having located the last remaining relic in a separate kingdom, (reflected in the bill as extra travel time).    The Castle Owner did not like the satin brush kitchen sink (she was expecting stainless steel as his secretary had emailed), and could a Delta faucet possibly be that expensive, but wisely kept her mouth shut.   A good but reasonable plumber is hard to find.   Finally, the prep work was done and by late June, the Castle Owner had been demoted from Contractor to Supervisor and Chief Baker – in addition to brownies, there was rhubarb streusel cake, strawberry shortcake and date-nut loaf to feed the hungry mob, all made in advance while she still had a stove.

As the installers did not wish to assume the liability of scratching the floor, Castle Movers were contacted to move the stove and fridge into the dining room, where the Castle Owner dined, sitting on a stool with the stove top for a table, digging utensils and plates out of boxes, the dining room table and chairs being covered with all The Kitchen Stuff.    There being no stove for two and a half weeks, she ate healthy salads and microwaved dinners and happily lost several pounds. 

Salad Meal

Lean Cuisine

In the last week the kitchen cupboards were emptied (with many treks up and down the stairs to the storage dungeon, exercise is good too), revealing flower-power shelf paper not seen since Woodstock.    

Kitchen Reno - Woodstock

Yellow/orange/lime green?

The demolition went well, despite being a king’s ransom for a few hours work on a Saturday morning. 

Kitchen Reno - Tear out

The crew was finished by 11, their donkey cart loaded for the dump, although two brownies were deducted for the snarky comment about the ancient dishwasher. 

Dishwasher

Harvest Gold or Avocado Green?

As in Shakespeare’s time (“It was the lark, the herald of the morn”), all the trades people started at an unholy hour.   The Castle Owner was not a morning person but she enjoyed taking pictures of the dew on the roses and thought she might get up early more often.     

Roses

Stop and smell the roses

After the demolition, there was a week of sheer madness when the painter and electrician descended to work their messy magic, resulting in the Castle Owner promptly turning into Cinderella each evening, sweeping up bits of plaster and drywall once again.   But weep not lady, there was a deadline to be met.   

Then came the actual installation day.    All went well, but of course not on schedule and it lingered on and on as is the expected course with these things.   The Castle Cabinets installer was a perfectionist but looked permanently tired as he had one-year old twins and a long commute.  (Fortunately he left every day at 4 pm, which allowed the Castle Owner to take a long nap – like Sleeping Beauty reposing on the couch,the smell of sawdust didn’t disturb her at all so soundly did she sleep).   The doors weren’t spray painted on time and required another visit the following week.   The broom closet turned into pantry shelves did not line up and needed to be re-cut.  One piece of floor molding did not match and had to be redone then resprayed.      

The Big Reveal:

Kitchen Reno

The After Picture

Finally, it was finished, and they all left.   The castle owner breathed a big sigh of relief the first day NO ONE was scheduled to come and she had her house to herself again and could sleep late and drink her coffee and check her emails in her PJ’s without the sound of pounding or drilling.   Except then she had to cart all the kitchen stuff back up from the dungeon and place it in the new cupboards.   A whole afternoon was spend looking for the perfect matching shelf paper, and then another with measuring and cutting it.   She tried to channel Marie Kondo and place only those items which were useful and which sparked joy back in the cupboards.    She was amazed at how cluttered her cupboards had been before, and how simple they looked now, with the aid of a few new accessories from Dollarama. 

Kitchen Reno

Dollarama treasure

She was also amazed by how much stuff she had that was never used.   She tried to sort through it all, putting things aside for the Goodwill or a garage sale (the gold coffers needed replenishing and that $35 once used French press coffee machine might bring in a few coins), but by late July she said, “the hell with this” and threw the rest of the boxes back down in the dungeon where they would sit until some frosty day in January.   There was still six weeks of summer left to enjoy.   

Beach umbrella

Overall the Castle Owner was satisfied with the way it all turned out.   Even the things she had dithered over for weeks, like the hardware pulls and the laminate, looked good.

Kitchen Reno - Cupboards

She wasn’t sure how her red accessories/curtains/rugs would go with the new look, but they were fine and saved the added expense of buying new ones right away.   Even the red and blue dishes blended well together.  Kitchen Reno - Red and Blue

Unlike some of her previous projects, (see Renovation Wars) she was pleased with the trades she had hired.  They were all nice and trustworthy professionals.   (Trades are in such short supply in this part of the kingdom, we should be encouraging more young people to consider them).    

The Castle Owner lived happily ever after in her new kitchen – except now everyone wanted to see her new domain and she was expected to cook more – for there can be no better excuse to entertain than a new kitchen – Gobble, Gobble.    Happy Thanksgiving from my kitchen to yours!

Tom Turkey - AMc- 2013

Some Bits of Advice:

Unless you have a contractor, or a plumber, electrician and painter lined up, allow yourself plenty of time between signing on the dotted line and the actual installation date, because all these trades are super-busy.   I was extremely lucky and used references from people I knew who had been through a reno themselves.   The plumber was frankly horrified that I had not hired a contractor, but I didn’t think I needed one – it was just kitchen cupboards, could it be that big a deal?   Yes it was, and it wasn’t like I was even tearing down any walls – although I wish I could have, I had to work with the small space available.    Line up as much of the other stuff (appliances, hardware, paint) ahead of time if you can, unless you want to spend a crazy stress filled month like I did. 

One of the most frustrating things was picking out the paint as I had expected to paint after the installation, not the week before.   How do you decide what color to use if you don’t know how it’s going to look?   In retrospect a darker wall color might have contrasted better with the light cupboards, but I grew frustrated with all the graige (gray-beige) samples which matched the the laminate in the store but not in the room, and opted for safe and neutral.   I painted the bulkheads the same Cloud White as the cupboards so they would not stand out.   

Don’t be afraid to change your mind.   I had carried around the idea of a blue and white kitchen in my head for years but practically I knew bright-white would not go as well in my house which is mostly beige and warm tone wood.    I even gave in on the clear glass cupboards and am happy with them, as the smallish cupboards would have been too cluttered for mullions.

Don’t stress too much about mistakes.   While I was happy with everything, except for the brushed satin kitchen sink, after awhile the mistakes didn’t bother me as much.   I can always buy a new sink at Lowes if this one doesn’t stand up.   In other words, don’t sweat the small stuff.   On the other hand, if something really bothers you, don’t be afraid to speak up – it’s your money. 

Do lots of research and budget wisely.   You don’t have to spend a fortune on a new kitchen, unless of course you want to.   Some of the quotes I got were crazy…..as well as ugly.   My small kitchen came in under budget for the custom-built cupboards with another $5000 or so for the trades/paint/appliances etc.   I did run over on the trades as my hydro had never been updated.   I still have to upgrade my fridge and stove to stainless steel, but frugal me hates to give up my old  faithful Maytags for those electronic models which barely last five years.  (I obviously jinxed things as the fridge is now making strange noises so I may be hitting the Black Friday sales this week).   The OTR microwave is also great and frees up counter-top space.   I’m happy to have a dishwasher again and am using it more than I thought I would.    

Kitchen Reno - Stove and Pantry

They wisely left me room for a bigger fridge with small cupboards above, which are basically inaccessible so therein resides seldom used items such as my liquor supply, one lonely bottle of rum for the Christmas cake.

Kitchen Reno - Stove & Fridge

Laminate has improved and is now a popular choice again.   It came with my package so I chose the best of what they had and although I wondered if it was a bit too busy, my choice (Spring Carnival) pulled the gray of the stainless steel and the beige of the wood floor together.   I had decided if I didn’t like it I could always upgrade later but as well as the extra $5000 for granite or quartz it would have added another three weeks to an already drawn out six-week process, plus travelling to a city an hour away to pick out a slab, another set of installers etc.    Be realistic about what your investment will return when you go to sell your house.   For me, trying to avoid trendy stuff was important and the  classic farm-house look went with my older cottage style home.    

Kitchen Reno - Dinette

Removing the one wall of cabinets opened up the space to the dinette but now my old table doesn’t match.  I draped my grandmothers lace tablecloth over it to hide it, but wonder if I should move my beige and and oak dining room table in there, although it’s really too big for the space.   I’ll live with it for awhile and decide later, always a wise option. 

Kitchen Reno - Lazy Susans

I’m very happy with the two Lazy Susans, even though at just nine inches they were a tight squeeze in the corners, and the pull-out shelves in the pantry, the best invention ever, and also the large drawer for pots and pans.    Splurging on these small things made everything  very functional and efficient and did not add that much to the cost.   The designer talked me into using pulls on the glass cupboards instead of pretty knobs, so as not to mark up the new cupboards when your hands are messy from cooking, a practical tip I had not thought of.    Because a kitchen isn’t just for show, it’s to cook in too! 

Of course, renovating one area, makes the rest of your house look old and tired.   I have to tackle window treatments next – I’m thinking shutters if they are not too expensive for those big front windows – really a house is just a money pit!

I was happy when it was over, and wished I had done it sooner, but never again.   Two conflicting thoughts – but anyone who has ever done a kitchen renovation will know what I mean!

PS.   Do you have any renovation stories/nightmares you wish to share?

  

  

 

 

Spring Cleaning – The Marie Kondo Way

Years ago, everyone did spring cleaning.   They washed windows, shook carpets outside and cleaned every room from top to bottom until the house sparkled.   I remember Martha Stewart writing about the annual rituals her mother would undertake and like everything Martha Stewart, it was complicated, time-consuming and probably unnecessary.   It’s not like a bit of dust will kill you, unless you have really bad allergies and have to keep the dust mites at a minimum.    The theory now is that living in a spotless germ-free house is not  good for building children’s immune systems.   It seems a little dirt is good for you, a germ-laden pet, preferably a dog, even better.    So, while I put all the winter plaid stuff away and bring out lighter brighter decor, when spring arrives I don’t want to be stuck indoors when there is such delightful weather to be enjoyed outside…..spring is not here yet, but coming soon.   

Tulips - AMc

I tend to tackle any major cleaning projects in January when it’s cold and snowy, but I do like my house to be tidy and the clutter under control.   The new Netflix show by Marie Kondo, the diminutive author of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up fame, has been getting a lot of attention lately. 

If you’re a fan of the show, you might enjoy my post from last January – Decluttering 101 – Out With The Old, where I profile her book and my efforts to apply it. 

One caveat, at the time I wrote the blog, I did not understand the role of Japanese spirituality in her method.   While this belief that inanimate objects have feelings and need to be thanked, may seem bizarre to us western folk, reading a recent op-ed piece on the subject helped put parts of the book into context.   Which just goes to show, how judgments can be skewed by ignorance, as the book was initially intended for Japanese readers who would of course be familiar with those ideas.  As for all those people who made fun of her methods (and I read some truly cruel reviews on Goodreads last year), well she’s now sold 11 million copies, has a new hit show, and is probably laughing all the way to the bank.   

Link to January  2018 Blog:  Decluttering 101 – Out With the Old

My mother is painting spring…..

Spring Flowers - AMc

Spring Flowers

Decluttering 101 Out With The Old

      If decluttering your personal space is one of your New Year’s resolutions then you may be interested in, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, by Marie Kondo.     

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and OrganizingThe Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondō

 

  My yoga teacher lent me a copy of this book last year over the Christmas break and I became so motivated by it that cleaning out my house became one of my goals for 2017.   Marie Kondo is a Japanese organizing consultant who is booked three months in advance according to her bio, which surprised me as I think of Japan as a nation of tidy people living in small neat houses, but maybe they are pack-rats like most North Americans.   Her unique approach has now been trade marked as the KonMari method.  The gist of her method is that you are to tidy by category and all at once, by dumping everything of each item from all over your house in the center of the room, shirts for example, and then you are to hold each item in your hand and “if it doesn’t spark joy”, out it goes.  You will then only be surrounded by the things you love.  The author was young and single and lived in a bedroom/apartment when the book was written in 2011, so although it is an interesting premise, some of the suggestions are not quite practical for a larger space shared with other people.   What if something doesn’t bring you joy, (old electronic devices, the hamster cage, hockey equipment), but might bring joy to someone else?  Then there are the things that don’t bring you joy but you need anyway.   My iron doesn’t bring me joy, (I hate ironing, but I hate wrinkles even more), but I don’t plan on throwing it out.  Toys should only be stored in one place?  That might cause a few temper tantrums.   Some of the suggestions border on the bizarre, you should talk to your house and your possessions and thank them for taking care of you? “Thank you for keeping me warm all day.  Thank you for making me beautiful.”  My sad old kitchen which is desperately in need of renovation might feel better if I spoke lovingly to it, but would I sound like George Bailey at the end of It’s A Wonderful Life, joyously greeting the miserable old Building and Loan.   Or empty your purse every night, place wallet, makeup and put everything in it’s assigned place, and then repack it in the morning.  I admire purse minimalists, but I am not one of them, my purse holds everything but the kitchen sink, so that would take over an hour.   She often speaks of inanimate objects as if they had souls and feelings.   What do the things in your house that don’t spark joy actually feel?  They simply want to leave.  Everything you own wants to be of use to you.  It must be a Feng-shui kind of thing.  Does my iron hate me as much as I hate it?       

            Still there was enough in the book to motivate me, so I diligently spent the month of January last year cleaning out my house, and the month of February attempting to clean out my mother’s, and some of March down in the basement, (home of the paper archives), and then it was spring, and I lost interest.    Purging all at once was just not practical for me, a few hours here and there was the best I could do with my three-level house…yes, I broke the rules.   I was less successful with my mother’s house, as she was born in the Depression and so has more of an attachment to empty coffee canisters and plastic storage containers than I do.   (Perhaps that is why Marie is so booked up, it is much easier to get rid of someone else’s stuff than your own).   “Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without,” was a popular saying in the Depression, which may explain why that generation tends to hoard such things, while the baby boomers, because we didn’t grow up with as much as kids today, were more into acquiring material things, (fine china, mahogany dining room sets), and the millennials are minimalists indeed who would rather have experiences than things, and only buy what they need.    Speaking of psychoanalysis, while some of the book reviews I read unkindly label the author as having OCD, (if I had sold five million copies I wouldn’t care what they called me), there is a sad chapter towards the end of the book where she explains her need to be compulsively tidy since a young age as an attempt to attract her parent’s love and attention and avoid being dependent on other people.  She was a middle child (self-explanatory).            

            Some pointers from the book –  sort all in one shot, by category, not location.  There are only two actions, discarding and deciding where to store things.   Start by discarding, all at once, intensely and completely, then decide where to store things, and keep them only in that place.  (Discard first, store later).   Do not start with mementos.  Start with easier items, clothes, books, papers, misc., and then mementos.   We should be choosing what to keep, not what we want to get rid of.   She recommends folding clothes in rectangles and then storing them vertically, standing up in drawers, so you can see everything, and they are less wrinkled.  Store all items of the same type in the same place, and don’t scatter storage space, including designating storage space for each family member.  Fancy storage systems = bad, they justify keeping stuff you shouldn’t.  Some clothes like coats and dresses are happier hung up.  I’m relieved my elegant black cocktail dress, (Winners sale), is happy even though it’s never been worn.     Keep only those books which make you happy to see on the shelves.   Out go those university text books I kept in case I felt the need to study chemistry again, (which I did twenty years later for a degree upgrade).   Now they are but sentimental reminders of a time when I was smarter and had a better memory.   Sorting papers – rule of thumb – discard everything!  She relents and says you can keep some things like insurance policies, love letters etc. but only if they are stored in one spot only.   On sentimental items – “No matter how wonderful things used to be we cannot live in the past – the joy and excitement we feel here and now are more important.”   Yes, that is true, but what about keeping things for future generations?   As a lover of history and genealogy, I wish my ancestors had kept more things, not less, 

(see Nov. blog on Uncle Charlie WW1 Vet), and museums would be empty if we throw everything away just because it’s old.   I am glad I kept those letters from my younger pre-email years, they are treasured memories for myself and for future generations.   

             What makes some things more difficult to get rid of is they either remind us of things past, (childhood toys, I kept my Barbie dolls and clothes), 

or we might have a future need for them some time and they won’t be there.  I still haven’t read those books I picked up at the book sale last winter, but we might be snowed in for a week and then I’ll have something to read.  Most bookworms have great difficulty getting rid of books.  It seems a shame to discard a book, unless it’s a really bad book, and even then someone put a lot of effort into writing it.  (I once read that books are one of the most often requested items in refugee camps).   While I won’t be appearing on any hoarder reality tv shows, I do have a problem with some categories (see blog on vintage clothes on the main menu), and I admit I am a paper pack-rat too.   With the clothes I am mourning the life I had, or aspired to (in the case of that chic little black cocktail dress with the bow in the back). OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA My intention with The Vintage Corner was to sell some of the clothes and donate the money to charity, which can always make you feel better about throwing things out.   I lost track of how many trips I made to the local thrift shop, but one day when I took an old ghetto-blaster in, (music for the garage, but it was never used and covered with dust), there was an immigrant family looking for a radio, so it was perfect timing.   How happy they were, and how pleased I was to be able to help someone else.    

               Recently I came across a review for a new book from Sweden, “The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning” (Scribner Jan 2018) by Margareta Magnusson, which may be more suited to older generations. 

The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning: How to Make Your Loved Ones’ Lives Easier and Your Own Life More PleasantThe Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning: How to Make Your Loved Ones’ Lives Easier and Your Own Life More Pleasant by Margareta Magnusson

 

This Swedish author recommends you streamline your belongings while you are still healthy enough to do the job, thus saving relatives the difficult task of sorting out after you are gone.  It sounds morbid but it is actually uplifting, finding the right homes for all your beloved possessions so they can bring joy to someone else, plus it can relieve the burden of looking after so many things when you might not have the health or energy to do so.   Still it does make me sad to walk into a thrift store and see all those lovely sets of good china which graced many a holiday table and which no one wants anymore.   I collect blue and white china (which does bring me joy),

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My grandmother’s turkey platter

 and thrift shops are excellent places for that, although I am now more selective in what I buy.         

          The final chapter in the Marie Kondo book deals with the life-changing part of the title – apparently “the lives of those who tidied thoroughly and completely in a single shot are without exception dramatically altered.”   Some of her clients discarded their excess weight, their jobs and even their husbands, and went on to live much happier lives.  The rationale for this is that detoxifying your house has a detoxifying effect on your body and mind as well.  It increases your happiness and good fortune to live in a natural state surrounded only by the things you love.  She says, “when you put your house in order, you put your affairs and your past too, and you can see quite clearly what you need in life and what you don’t, and what you should and shouldn’t do.”  The things we really like do not change much over time.  Putting your house in order is a great way to discover what they are.   I’m not sure if this is just so much psycho mumbo-jumbo, but you cannot deny it is a serene feeling to having a clean and tidy house.   She does not seem to acknowledge however that some people prefer and even feel more comfortable with a certain degree of clutter around them.  It makes a home look lived in as opposed to one staged for a real estate open house…you know the type, when you walk into a house and nothing is out of place and there’s not an open book in sight.   I can’t say my life was altered in any transformative way, (but then I broke the all in one shot rule), but I would have to say the book was successful in making me stop and think, do I really need to keep this, and while some clutter has crept back, the usual suspects in the usual places, (papers in the den and kitchen drawers you may plead guilty), over-all it was a worthwhile read.   The whole concept of sparking joy, while airy-fairy, did make me much more conscious of what I bought.  Not only did a new acquisition have to bring me joy, but did I even need it?  After spending three months decluttering I didn’t want to have to do it again.   But there was a good feeling of accomplishment and satisfaction when it was done and someday when I must downsize there will be less to pack and unpack.   As anyone who has ever moved can attest, moving can be a great motivator for decluttering. 

          The other day I saw a very large moving truck on my street, it almost stretched the whole block, which made me think about how much stuff people have today compared to the past.  My maternal grandmother came through Ellis Island in 1922 from Holland, on her honeymoon, with one large wicker trunk containing all her worldly possessions.   My dad’s ancestors arrived in Canada from Ireland in 1846 at the height of the potato famine with nothing but the clothes on their backs.  They abandoned what few supplies they brought with them, when they jumped ship in the St. Lawrence during a cholera epidemic.  They had to borrow one pound from the Canadian government (National Archive Records), for water transport from Toronto to where they settled, but by 1900 they had nice crystal,

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farm heirloom

 and monogrammed silverware, (I wish I still had some of those forks).   Things can bring you pleasure and joy and we can spend a lifetime buying but in the end, we have nothing – you can’t take it with you, as the saying goes.  There is a time to collect stuff and a time to get rid of it.  

       Incidentally, about a month after I returned the book to my yoga instructor, I saw a copy at a thrift shop for two dollars, so I bought it to keep as a reference book, which is a no-no according to the rules, but which I knew would come in handy some day.   The author also has a sequel, Spark Joy – An Illustrated Master Class in Organizing and Tidying Up, but when I picked it up and glanced through it, there was a whole section on camisole folding, and since I don’t own any camisoles, I closed it back up and left it there on the shelf to bring joy to someone else. 

Quote of the Day:   “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.”   (William Morris)