One Room At a Time


I am one of those lucky retirees who has accumulated enough savings to feel pretty safe financially but still hesitates to spend much of it on extras, or non-essentials. Our ten-year-old car had $2,000 worth of repairs done last week; a new car seems like such a waste of money when the 2011 version is performing well, even with occasional expensive repair bills. 

One benefit of our perpetual lockdown has been a refocus on our living space and a new-found easing of the purse strings. Before we move sometime in the next seven or eight years to a retirement community the late 80’s-early 90’s decor of several rooms will need freshening. Oak cabinets were quite the fashion thirty years ago. White Formica countertops in bathrooms were chic. But, I am sure a real estate agent would strongly urge some updating if we want the maximum bid on our home.

So, I swallowed hard and agreed with Betty to have some work done in the kitchen. A new sink, refinished cabinets, the painting of two accent walls, added sliding drawers and other fixups having been OK’d. The fellow doing the work comes with very high marks; maybe that is why he is unavailable for several months. We are willing to wait to have the job done well and for an acceptable cost. Assuming he performs as promised, the two bathrooms will come next.

In the meantime, we have begun to slowly declutter, modestly redecorate and simplify our home, one space at a time. An example is the guest room. It is bland and not especially inviting. Betty has ideas for painting the walls and furniture, rearranging things, and adding our artwork to make it a more welcoming space. 

Her office and closet are home to a woman with more projects, creativity, ideas, old photographs, and scraps of paper than any human should have to juggle at once. A bomb couldn’t create a bigger jumble than what is in there now. It is also the room where I paint, so the clutter and storage needs have only increased. 

Just to use the computer mouse one must navigate around a few dozen sticky notes,  some yellow legal pads, stacks of papers, opened mail, and a few catalogs. The closet has more art supplies, paints, papers, pens, clipboards, and bits of this and that than a well-equipped hobby store. 

My simple male brain concludes: what a perfect place to simplify and declutter. Well, no. Thinning out an artist’s space is a bit like asking the Sistine Chapel to consider a new coat of paint on the ceiling; it is not going to happen. 

She did agree to move several boxes of old medical files into the garage, and then to the attic. Her new endeavor, flow art, has been set up in one part of the garage instead of the dining room or her office. Baby steps. 

Across the hall, I must admit my office is almost as bad. At last count, there were eleven vintage radios on wall shelving, a guitar and associated supplies, ham radio equipment, a large, wooden file cabinet, two desks, and a bookshelf.  I have thrown out old paperwork and made minor attempts to tame the stuff, but so far to little avail.

Both of us are going through every cabinet and storage space in the house and finding six years’ worth of stuff that needs to make its case to stay or go. Clothes that haven’t been worn often enough to keep, 15-year-old sweaters and T-shirts, shoes with worn-down heels…isn’t it amazing what we find when we are motivated to look. Goodwill is very happy.

The items in the hall cabinet that held our dog’s belongings have sadly been removed. Some books for the grandkids that were favorites when they were 4 or 5 don’t make much sense now that two of them are teenagers…to the library donation pile they go. Likewise, some young children’s games, like Shoots & Ladders, have also left the building. 

We have freshened the various knickknacks and photographs in our bedroom with things that had been languishing in the attic. I am urging Betty to create a large piece of abstract flow art for one wall that needs brightening. Overall, though, we have not let our end-of-the-day space get cluttered. Sometimes, simply swapping out belongings brings a sense of freshness that helps the stay-at-home blues.

I have left the biggest hurdle for last: the garage. We have a house with a three-car garage. With only one car, that creates tremendous opportunities for clutter and chaos. I proudly state that we have maximized that potential. Part of Betty’s art setup takes over one car space. Tools, woodworking machines, and file boxes fill up a second part. The car just fits in between.

There are all sorts of cans of leftover paint from other houses and long-delayed projects. Tools, fertilizers and weed killer spray, a lawnmower and leaf blower, several ladders, extra folding chairs…heavens, this is just a partial inventory.

We have promised each other that this space will be tackled when the weather warms up a bit. Excuse me, but we’ve made this vow before.  Well, Covid has taken away some of our excuses, so this time around I am hopeful.

How about you? Have you ever taken each room in your home, condo, or apartment and made everything justify its continued existence? If your possessions could speak would they be able to convince you they deserve space of their own?