Friday, July 1, 2016

The Rag Bag, and other Cleverly Disguised Portals to Hell

So the beetle battle continues, and my decluttering/cleaning efforts have now reached the basement, AKA: the belly of the beast.

You know, this process has been very enlightening, and it sort of points out to me why most organizing and decluttering programs have never really been very helpful to me. I have weird clutter issues.

When you watch an organizing program on TV, or read a book or blog about clutter, generally they address issues with clothes, or shoes, or books, or sentimental items. And while I do have more of those types of things than I really need, that sort of stuff is actually pretty easy for me to part with.

The area that really gives me trouble is... Garbage!

Actually, I think it would be more accurate to say that I have trouble assigning something to the category of garbage. It's just soooo hard for me to accept being a party to the horrible wastefulness of this culture.

This is not a new issue for me, in fact, I've written about it before - back in the dark ages of this blog. And I really thought I'd kicked the habit, but the facts would tend to say otherwise. I guess the carpet beetles were sent from on high to show me the error of my ways.

Soooo, since I really don't want to end up back here AGAIN, I'm creating some new rules for myself that will hopefully help me to keep my garbage "habit" in check.

Rule #1 - The Rag Bag is no more.

As I've written about before, I tend to wear my clothes until they quite literally fall apart.

And when something reaches the point where it can no longer be patched or repaired, I throw it into the "rag bag" to continue its useful life an another way.

Thing is, in this purge I have uncovered about a dozen bags full of dead clothing - and I haven't yet opened "the trunk" which I know is a repository of more - or the closet under the stairs, which makes me shudder to think about. And while I do use rags for cleaning and bicycle maintenance, and occasionally to make a patch for something else, I think it could very well take a lifetime to use up the amount of dead clothing that I currently posses. Not to mention the fact that much of it is infested with carpet beetle larvae.

Soooo, most of what I had has been tossed, and the old clothing that I am saving for rags has been cut up into rag sized pieces, and is being bleached as we speak. It will then live in a dedicated plastic bin, and I will keep no more than will fit in that bin!

So the new rule is, if I want to keep something to use as a rag, I have to actually make it into a rag - in other words, cut it up into rag sized pieces and store it in said singular rag bin.

Rule #2 - No More Cardboard Boxes!!!

Folks, I don't know if the DSM includes box-o-felia in its official list of diagnosable psychiatric disorders, but I think it's safe to say that even if it isn't an actual thing, I've got it!

I don't know what it is exactly, and I've tried setting limits with my cardboard box "habit," but as evidenced by the dozens upon dozens of the things that I have dragged out of this house in the past few weeks, my efforts at moderation have clearly failed. So I'm goin' cold turkey.

So the new rule is, nothing shall be stored in a cardboard box, and any boxes that come into this house, shall be immediately broken down, cut up and set out for recycling.

This will be helpful in numerous ways. First of all, if I'm not allowed to use cardboard boxes, the temptation to keep them "just in case I need them" goes away. Secondly, cardboard boxes are not a great storage method when you've got carpet beetles. They're not air tight, so the beetles and larvae can easily get inside, they cannot be cleaned, and the corrugated ends provide a wonderful little hiding place for the larvae. Plus, if I actually have to buy a suitable storage container in which to keep things, it will give me further incentive to keep only the things that I really need.

Rule #3 - Fix it or Toss it!

My basement is filled with broken stuff that could be fixed someday. I've got dead telephones, dead electronics, dead lamps, dead bike parts, and a whole host of other dead things languishing in the land of good intentions. I just HATE the disposable nature of goods these days, and it kills me to throw something away that could be used somehow.

But honestly, most of the stuff I've got is just garbage.

So the new rule is, if something breaks, there are three options. I can fix it now, I can give it away on Freecycle to someone else who might want to try to fix it, or I can toss it. No more keeping things for the mythical time when I'll feel like tackling the job.

Anyhow, those are the new rules. I guess time will tell how they work. As we all know, I'm not great at following rules...

But maybe this time since these are my rules, not someone else's rules... well, we'll just have to wait and see how it goes.

So tell me, am I the only crazy person out there who has trouble throwing things away? I'd love to hear your thoughts on the subject.

Monday, June 27, 2016

The Life-Changing Magic of a Carpet Beetle Infestation

Wherein you go through everything you own, hold it close to your heart and ask yourself: "Does this item spark larvae?"

Sorry for the snark, I realize I should not mock a book that I have not actually read, but apparently I'm a bit tired.

So the carpet beetle battle continues. Suffice it to say, the infestation is pretty wide spread. I've found nests of larvae in pretty much every room, closet, cupboard etc. Well, that's not entirely true, and I haven't completed my scouring of the house, but let's just say that this is not a small problem.

At this point, I think most people would probably call an exterminator, but I'm not willing to go there yet, so instead I'm trying to deal with the problem in a more organic fashion.

Basically this means that I've been cleaning like a woman possessed.

I'm emptying every closet, drawer & cupboard - there are still a few to go - cleaning all of the contents, getting rid of whatever I can, and storing the rest an a way that will hopefully prevent the beetles from getting to the stuff, and make the next cleaning round (there will be many before this little adventure is over) much simpler.

Along the way I have gotten rid of a phenomenal amount of stuff. Seriously, I think the tally so far is 2 over stuffed chairs, one surplus (and ancient) bed, two area rugs, one kitty tree, one kitty house, about 12 garbage bags full of clothes, linens, pillows and the like, 3-4 boxes of random "stuff" and dozens and dozens of cardboard boxes that I was saving "just in case." OY!

While I was able to clean and donate some of the above, some of it just had to be trashed. I just can't give someone a piece of furniture or a rug that's infested with larvae - that would just give them the same problem I've got. Thankfully this is large item pickup week, so I only had to haul it all as far as the alley.

Don't worry - they still have 2 other much more loved kitty trees, and I'm replacing Smoky's "lookout" with an easy to clean, non-infestable shelf.
And while I have not yet resorted to chemical warfare, I have had to make a few compromises. Since carpet beetles eat wool, silk, feathers (like down), and any other animal products (presumably that means leather) I needed to find an air-tight way of storing those items. And, since the larvae will nest in any sort of fabric, and/or any place they can find collected dust, I really needed to find a way to store things that would keep the dust, cat hair and beetles out. And, that meant plastic. I'm not really wild about the idea, but honestly, at this point it seems like the lesser of many evils.

I'm using a combination of Ziploc bags, vacuum seal space bags, and air-tight (meaning it has a gasket) plastic storage bins for pretty much everything that isn't really easy to wipe clean or doesn't get regular daily use. So here's a glimpse inside my closets & drawers.

Bedroom Closet (including winter bedding)

Sock Drawer

Bathroom and Hall Closets

Holy Moly! Seriously, part of me looks at those pictures and thinks: "Eee Gads! This is the kind of stuff that OCD crazy people do." But after I found myself washing the same theoretically "clean" stuff for a second and third time to ensure it wasn't getting re-infested... well, air tight storage started to make sense.

Anyhow, when one is storing things in air tight containers, it's apparently important to use some sort of desiccant to deal with any lingering moisture. Fortunately, the Googelators were able to help me with that one - apparently silicon gel kitty litter makes a great desiccant!

So for smaller Ziploc bags I've made desiccant packs by filling coffee filters with the stuff - you can see them in the sock drawer photo, and for the larger bins and space bags I put about a cup of it inside a nylon and tied the end off. I guess time will tell how well it works!

I also determined that moth balls were just too dangerous to use inside my house - plus they aren't effective in places like closets that aren't air-tight. So for things that are hard to clean other ways, I've set up some air-tight bins out in the garage where I'm moth-balling things like my sheepskin snow boots. In theory it takes a few weeks to kill any larvae or eggs, and then they can return to non-mothballed air-tight storage inside.

But, while I'm definitely feeling exhausted from so much purging and cleaning, I'm also still feeling inspired by the idea that I can use this as an opportunity to make my home more functional and comfortable. And, as fate would have it, the universe has provided me with some much-needed inspiration on that front.

In one of my runs to donate a bunch of stuff to an organization that helps the homeless, I happened to find myself in the neighborhood in which I grew up. Turns out the house I grew up in is for sale! So I popped online to see if I could find any pictures of what the inside looks like now. I'm not sure you'll be able to appreciate the full impact of the improvements from these photos - but since I've just finished packing away all the old albums in plastic bins, well, we'll have to make do with a few shots that I already had scanned.

Living Room Then...

Living Room Now.
Kitchen Then...

Kitchen Now.
It's rather incredible actually. I think they must have taken things down to the studs and done a complete remodel. Actually, they've knocked out a few walls (it didn't used to be an open-concept design) and made other significant changes - like... my childhood bedroom is completely gone! It got sacrificed to make way for the "master suite!"

Master Bedroom (formerly my mother's bedroom and half bath)
Master Bath (formerly part of my bedroom)

Walk-in Closet (formerly the other half of my bedroom!)
 Seriously, just about the only thing I still recognize are the furnace vents!

Note the furnace vent - they've painted them white but they're still there!
Anyhow, I don't plan to go knocking out any walls or adding granite counter tops to my current abode, but something about seeing those photos of the cluttered, grimy, never tidy home that I grew up in transformed into a gorgeous living space... well, it does give me inspiration to keep going in this little beetle battle of mine.

So there you have it... I fear the kitties are sensing the turmoil and disruption as they've been sleeping in all kinds of new and interesting places, and have just generally been acting a bit out of sorts. I think this photo of Smoky sorta sums up how I'm feeling at the moment.

I just wanna hide until it's over!

But we're a loooong way from done, so in the meantime, I'm just gonna keep thinking of those beautiful photos of the home I grew up in, and keep reminding myself that this is an opportunity. Sigh.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

First Memories

I spent Sunday with my Dad for Father's Day. We went out for Thai food (Dad's favorite) and on the way back we happened to drive past an apartment building that has always been a puzzle for me.

I have a memory of my grandmother (my father's mother) taking my brother and I to visit some elderly couple who lived there when my brother and I were quite young. Somehow I thought the people were related to my dad's father (who died when my dad was still a child), but it was one of those memories that was so murky that I almost thought I might have dreamed it or otherwise made it up.

So I asked my dad about it, and it turns out that his aunt had lived there - his father's sister. My grandmother had apparently maintained a friendship with her even after she divorced my grandfather. Mystery solved! It was kind of validating to learn that I hadn't just made up the entire experience.

Anyhow, that got us to talking, and I asked my dad how old he was when his parent's divorced. He said he was only about 2, but that he could remember back to when they were married.

In fact, his earliest memory was of his father beating his mother. He proceeded to relate the story - for some reason the two of them were fighting (likely, his father was drunk) and his father started to hit his mother. His mother was all dressed up for some occasion wearing a fancy chiffon dress with flowers on it. My 2 year old father, ran to defend his mother. He said he could vividly remember the feeling of the chiffon fabric as he clung to her legs and cried "Don't hit my Mommy!"

Wow. How's that for a first memory? In a funny way though, it sorta reminded me of my own earliest memory.

I was about 2 years old, and I was in the dining room with my mother. I wanted her to pick me up, but she refused. The more she refused, the more panicked I became, until I descended into a full-on tantrum, clutching her around the leg, with both my arms and legs wrapped around her calf. At that point she got very angry, kicked me off of her leg, dragged me down the hall by my arm, threw me in my room and locked the door.

Now, if I had to choose one word to describe my father's personality, It would be: fearful. And I find it very interesting that this emotion is so clearly expressed in his earliest memory.

Likewise, one of the defining themes of my life was a feeling of desperation trying to find a way to get my mother to love me. And if you look at my earliest memory, well, there it is.

So what do you suppose the mechanism is here? Is it that those powerful early experiences leave a profound mark on our psyches? Do certain memories that stick with us because they are somehow representative of our life experience in general? Maybe we simply choose to remember certain things because they fit with the narratives we have created for ourselves. Or maybe it's none of the above and it's just totally random what we remember and what we don't.

Anyhow, I'm curious. What's your earliest memory? Do you see the emotional themes of your life reflected in that memory? I'd love to hear your thoughts on this whole topic.