DCPLive is a blog by library staff at the DeKalb County Public Library!


Jan 23 2013

How I spent my fall vacation

by Dea Anne M

Back in October I took a “staycation” with a specific purpose in mind. There’s a spare room in my house that, over time, had become an impossible mess. Towering piles of paper sat on every available surface, and I do mean every available surface. I’m including the floor. Yellowing, long unread paperbacks jammed the book shelves. Craft supplies were stowed neatly in plastic boxes but I never used them because getting them out was an exercise in frustration. Dust and disorder reigned in that room and I hated going into it or even looking inside. My mission was to get the room cleaned out, organized, and ready for use as a dedicated art and craft studio. I am fully aware, of course, how fortunate I am to have enough space in my home to even contemplate such a project and this awareness served both to increase my frustration with what I had allowed the room to become and provided an impetus to get the project finished.

Tackling all that paper was the first step and it took me three full days to sort through, shred, organize, and file everything. Allow me to let that sink in with you for a moment. Three. Full. Days. I’m talking years worth of paper here – unopened junk mail, bank statements, long paid bills, stacks of receipts, tax returns – stuffed into canvas bags or stacked all over the previously mentioned surfaces. I guess the good thing is that if some official type had suddenly demanded that I produce the water bill I paid in February of  2005 then I would have been able to do so. Maybe. Finding said bill would have been a very different matter. Somewhere around the middle of the second day, I started feeling a lot of negative emotions about the whole process. “How did I let it get this bad?” I moaned. “What kind of person does that?” Fortunately, I realized that this sort of thinking wasn’t going to make the paper disappear by itself. I was lucky enough too to have access to fast and sturdy home paper shredder and finally the job was finished.

Do you need to wrangle your papers into some semblance of order? If so, then I trust you aren’t facing the same sort of disorder that I did but even if  you are, just know thatfinancial you can do it. You really can. My advice would be tackle the project and when it’s done keep it going. Go through your mail at least once a week and toss, shred, pay or respond, and file. Once a year, go through your files and do the same thing. Find out what records you need to keep and for how long and, honestly, I think going paperless when you can really helps although not everyone is comfortable with this and that’s okay too. Two resources from DCPL that I have found helpful are One Year to An Organized Financial Life: from your bills to your bank account, your home to your retirement, the week by week guide to achieving financial peace of mind by Regina Leeds and Russell Wild and Get It Together: organize your records so your family won’t have to by Melanie Cullen.

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Nov 28 2012

Home Matters

by Dea Anne M

I have a confession to make.

I keep house. In fact, I love to keep house.

Not very shocking is it? Yet there was a time in my life when such a confession would have provoked riotous laughter (not to mention downright disbelief) from those who knew me best. As a child, and as a teen, I was profoundly messy. I always enjoyed visiting non-messy friends. I would marvel at their orderly rooms and yet it never seemed to sink into my young brain that a neat,  relaxing space requires  a modicum of organized thinking as well as daily attention. All I knew was that the request (usually delivered through clenched, parental teeth) of  “Clean your room” sentenced me to several hours of arduous and deeply resented labor, the effects of which never seemed to last more than a day. Now if this makes me sound like some kind of spoiled brat, well…

Fast forward a number of years later when I am living alone in my own apartment. My father calls to chat and asks what I’m up to.

“I was just mopping the kitchen floor,” I said.

Several moments of silence followed before Dad said, “You’re kidding, right?”

While I’ll never be proud of my former habits, I’m glad that I finally figured out how much comfort and relaxation can be had when one’s home is clean and tidy. For me, housekeeping isn’t about cooking, decorating, or crafts—although I enjoy those things too. Real housekeeping for me has more to do with practicing habits and routines that turn a living space into a home—a place that consistently provides comfort, respite, and pleasure for those who inhabit it. While I didn’t grow up learning to keep house, mainly because I resisted the process so strenuously, I finally picked up the necessary skills, albeit very gradually and piecemeal.

Are you a late-blooming housekeeper? Maybe you’re already accomplished in this area but you want to refine your skills. Either way, DCPL has the resources to help.

My all-time favorite reference work on housekeeping is Cheryl Mendelson’s wonderful Home Comforts: the art and science of keeping house. Mendelson is a lawyer and a professor of philosophy as well as the author of the well-regarded new book The Good Life: the moral individual in an antimoral world. Be warned—this book is huge. Don’t allow its size to overwhelm you though. Inside you’ll find information on absolutely everything that you might ever need to know about keeping house. As a bonus, the author’s engaging writing makes the book as readable as a novel. If you’re looking for a housekeeping book to live with then I can’t recommend Home Comforts highly enough. I purchased my copy when the book first came out and I use it all the time.

If you’re looking for a more basic sort of reference book, try The Complete Household Handbook: the best ways to clean, maintain, and organize your home from the Good Housekeeping Institute. Packed with practical advice, this book is easy to use and contains some unexpected but very helpful tips. I had never thought about keeping two mops—one for the cleaning solution and the other to mop clean—until I read about it here, but that advice has made all the difference in the quality and speed of my floor cleaning. Another very useful reference is Cleaning: plain & simple by Donna Smallin. Smallin’s motto is “Work smarter, not harder,” and she shows you how to do just that by breaking major jobs down into smaller more manageable stages. I especially appreciate the alternatives that she suggests to the standard (at least for some of us) working person’s once-a-week cleaning. You can spend 30 monutes a day cleaning or pick one task a day and do it for the whole house or stick to one day a week. The important thing is to find what works for you.

An interesting slant on the traditional housekeeping book is Get Crafty: hip home ec by Jean Railla. As a staunch feminist and women’s studies major, Railla had cultivated an ardent disdain for domestic life. She found herself in her twenties living in New York City and pursuing a lucrative career as a web designer yet her life felt moorless and unsatisfying. Gradually, she found that making improvements in her living space began to improve her quality of life overall and, most importantly, did nothing to strip her of her feminist credentials. Get Crafty is a lively DIY manual full of great advice for decorating projects, thrift store shopping, and home made cleaning products. Railla’s voice throughout is funny, generous, and completely modern. Highly recommended.

Take a look at Susan Strasser’s Never Done: a history of American housework the next time you find yourself  faced with carpets in dire need of vacuuming or an Everest of laundry. Strasser’s fine history reveals that the work of the home was so consuming for the typical woman (and housework was done almost exclusively by women) of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries that she virtually had time for nothing else. Take that laundry for example: one day a week—often a Monday—the family’s clothes were soaped, boiled, beaten, scrubbed, rinsed, wrung, and hung. It was a process that required many hands and literally took up an entire day. It was draining, back-breaking work that probably wrecked the health of many. I try to keep this in mind as I pop a load of wash in my machine and go back to whatever else I was doing. This is a fascinating, enlightening book.

Thinking on this topic has me remembering a friend from my early days in college. Always beautifully dressed, this woman’s tiny apartment was equally impeccable. When I asked for her secret: no sleeping or eating in favor of housework? hired help? pixies?  she simply smiled and said, “It all starts with making the bed.”  At the time, it sounded like some sort of Zen koan but now, at long last, I think that I’ve started to understand.