A Few Charms (Banner)

A Few Charms (Banner)

Saturday, 9 July 2016

Clean up with the tea cup

I can’t quite believe I’m doing this. This has been one of my hardest blog posts to write because I’m sharing with you my shame. I’m not a hoarder. Really, I’m not! But you might not believe me when you see the “Before” photos from our home. With the help of the little tea cup charm I can now share with you some “After” photos and tell you how I got there.
The tea cup and other novelty/animal charms on my all-silver bracelet with my Pandora timebead
I recently completed a makeover of our Sunporch, and I’ve been sharing some photos on Facebook. But you can’t truly appreciate my accomplishment unless you know where I started from, and how far I’ve come.

A number of years ago I participated in a group therapy workshop for people with anxiety and depression. It was based mainly on Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (aka CBT). I was severely depressed after my mother’s death. I couldn’t function. I didn’t get anything done. And our house was a disaster! 

Our basement TV room

In the group therapy, the psychologist asked me what ONE thing I could do to make things more manageable. I said, “Do the dishes.” So that was my goal for that week. There was one stipulation. The dishes were the ONLY thing I could do. And a very interesting thing happened.
Our kitchen "Before"

Over the next week, doing my homework, I noticed that every time I entered a room in my home, two things would happen. First, I would notice all the things that needed to get done, and get very overwhelmed. And the second thing? I would start beating myself up because our house was a disaster. You may be familiar with this concept of beating yourself up; we sometimes call it “naming, blaming and shaming.” It goes something like this, “OMG, I am so… (insert label of your choice).” For me it was usually criticism of myself, “I am so disorganized,” or “I am so lazy.” But it could also be criticism of our home, or the situation, “Our house is so messy!” “This is disgusting.” “How embarrassing!” Well, you get the idea. In fact, I was so ashamed of living like this – so ashamed of myself – that no adults came into our house for years. Yes, you read that correctly: YEARS!
Mitchell's bedroom

Over the next week, every time I entered a room in my home, and those negative thoughts came up – as they inevitably would – I would say, “The only thing I need to do is wash the dishes.” I could give myself a break; I didn’t need to deal with ALL the things that needed to get done, right this moment – or even this week. I would remind myself, “I’m not ALLOWED to do anything except the dishes.” So my go-to phrase was simply, “Just do… the dishes.” Not quite the Nike ad, but it worked for me.

A clean stove-top

I washed the dishes. It took quite a while. And the mess came back, repeatedly. But what I realized with this exercise was that just focusing on one accomplishment at a time allowed me to turn off – or at least ignore – all the other critical chatter in my brain. A number of years later, when I was really ready to tackle my depression and eating disorder, I used this same approach. I would use a Pandora charm to focus on the one thing I need to do this week, to earn that charm. The goal could be to plan and prepare myself a lunch, to earn the picnic basket charm. When I would enter a messy room, I could say to myself, “Nope, we are just focusing on making lunches this week.” You can go here to read more about the beginning of this journey with Pandora and my earliest charms. I have discovered that Pandora charms are VERY motivating to me.

The master bedroom before the Clean Sweep
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy focuses on changing your thoughts as well as your behaviours. If you haven’t read my post about the problem with “should” statements, i.e. “shoulding all over yourself,” please go take a look here. In examining your thoughts, you can start to see what they call cognitive distortions or cognitive errors – errors in your thinking. You may have already noticed some of these in the previous paragraphs. People with depression and/or anxiety often overestimate how long something will take and how difficult it will be. In CBT this is called “maximizing.” If you hear yourself using words like terrible, awful, disgusting, scary, horrendous or sickening, then you are falling into this trap. Our grandmothers may have said it was, “making a mountain out of a molehill.” I was expending a lot of energy anticipating how hard it would be or how long it would take. When we are caught up in this kind of thinking, we also underestimate our ability to handle something, and the energy we have to do the required task. This is called “minimizing.” Sometimes these tendencies are referred to as using a "negative filter."
I have a friend, who also battles depression, and she sent me an email last year that illustrates this point. “These last few years,” she wrote, “it feels like life is so fast I can hardly catch my breath, let alone do the basic stuff of life to keep the family going. Not sure how to get off this treadmill into something more closely resembling my idea of how to live. What kind of crazy life is it that it is too busy to even go out for a short cup of tea?” Sound like maximizing to you? It’s now one year later and we have yet to go out for a short cup of tea. That’s why I use the tea cup charm to represent this battle.
This problem of feeling “overwhelmed” is a common theme in a lot of the things I’m working on. The thoughts would be, “There’s too much to do. I’ll never get this finished.” According to my notes from that CBT program, challenging these cognitive distortions is a powerful way to counter perfectionism, curb procrastination and relieve depression and anxiety. The prescription for this tendency to maximize and minimize, or use a negative filter, is to describe people or events with more accurate language. This is sometimes called a “balancing statement,” with alternative not-so-negative thoughts. Instead of saying our house is a disaster or disgusting, I can say, “Our house is messy. We are working on getting it cleaned up.” This is describing something without judgement or emotion. It’s just a fact and less harmful.

"We are working on it"
A photo celebrating the Clean Sweep of our bedroom;
turns out the afternoon sun is beautiful on the hardwood floors

I also challenged the thought that it would take "forever." I timed myself. In my work as a personal trainer, people often ask if they should exercise if they are sick or they just don’t feel like exercising. I tell them to give themselves permission to just do 10 minutes. If, after 10 minutes, you feel worse with your cold, or you still don’t feel like exercising, you can stop. Of course once someone has started a workout, either strength-training or walking/running, they usually don’t want to stop after 10 minutes. But they CAN; they give themselves permission. Doing 10 minutes of exercise three times a day is just as helpful, with respect to improving your health or managing your weight, as doing 30 minutes of continuous exercise. Ten minutes can make a big difference. So now I apply this to the kitchen. It doesn’t seem to matter how messy the kitchen gets, it usually only takes me 10 minutes to dig through the mess and find the kitchen counter.

Challenging the negative thoughts about myself is another solution. A very wise friend of mine, who I worked with a long time ago, heard me say, “I am so disorganized!” She challenged me on that and said, “You’re actually good at organizing, you just don’t enjoy maintenance.” That statement is more accurate and not as judgemental or shaming.

At the beginning of the school year, in September, I said I was going to stay on top of the dishes – despite the fact that maintenance is boring. It’s now July. The kids just finished their school year. And I can say, “I did it.” I stayed on top of the dishes for a whole school year.

A recent photo of the kitchen counter

If I come in the kitchen and see this (above), I remind myself, “Just do the dishes. Just do 10 minutes.” That’s what the little tea cup charm reminds me. And that’s how I tackled our Sunporch fix-up last month: just 10 minutes at a time. The whole makeover cost me just $100

The Seven Steps to a New Sunporch:

In our ongoing Clean Sweep it was time to freshen up our Sunporch. This is a small glassed-in porch on the back of our home and a thoroughfare to our back door that enters onto our kitchen. We never use the front door, and anyone who's been to visit once, knows to come to the back door the next time. This room stores everything from sports equipment to rain boots, recycling bins to sun hats, and everything needed for outdoor dining. But it's also a nice place to sit outside. Mike will sit in the wicker chair while he's got something on the stove or in the evening reading. I sit out there when I take a break during the day, and I love to sit here and listen to the sound of rain coming down.

So here’s the “Before” photo of our Sunporch: with outgrown sandals and boots, leftover birthday cake from November, lots and lots of cobwebs, blankets and towels for fort building. There was a homemade bow and plastic straw arrows (from Taylor's Hunger Games phase), wooden guns and homemade swords and whacking tools (from Mitchell's Live Action Roll Playing i.e. LARPing phase) and a bat and lacrosse sticks (from Mike's must-have-every-variety-of-sports-equipment phase). FYI one of these people will likely never outgrow this phase.

NOTE: If you've seen these photos already you can scroll to the bottom to see the most dramatic "Before" and "After" pics.

I started with planning the theme and shopping. For the wicker chair I wanted a new seat cushion with a pillow for a backrest. An area rug to make it feel like a room and to cover the stained cement floor. And the blue IKEA doormat to replace the coir mat that's been there since we moved in 8 years ago, and was here for God-knows how long before that. And finally, a shower curtain to cover the shelves.

Unfortunately, when we got to Pier 1, we discovered that I'd done my research with US prices. The seat cushion I thought was on sale for $20 was no longer on sale and cost $48 dollars! And the shower curtain from Canadian Tire was the icky plastic kind. So back to the drawing board.

Take 2: Inspired by the photo with the wicker furniture (below), I found a reversible seat cushion at Pier 1 (on sale) with an IKEA cushion and cushion cover (for a great low price) for the back rest. And I found a different shower curtain at Canadian Tire that matches the new navy 3' x 4' area rug from Home Depot, and the cobalt door mat from IKEA.
Stock photos

The material for the seat cushion is much nicer in real life.

Step 1 removal of cobwebs and dirt: Windows were cleaned and everything washed. This ceramic sun was "Made by The Blind Lady" as her labels said (i.e. my mom). She did this in a pottery class for blind people in Halifax.

Step 2 sorting sports equipment (and power-washing the milk crates): Rarely used skateboards and lacrosse sticks were relocated to the garage, wooden guns were put away, swords and other weapons were discarded (except for T's bow). The containers are now filled with the frequently used basketball, football, tennis balls, road hockey and ice hockey pucks, skipping ropes, Frisbees, etc. The coolers were washed. Knee and elbow pads and wrist guards were organized and stored with rollerblades and then moved to the garage. The rugby ball, that won't fit anywhere else, has gone to the top of the shelves. 


Step 3 the screen door: It was cleaned (it could probably do with a quick slap of paint - maybe next year) and I replaced the screen myself. #girlswithtools

Step 3 the screen door, part 2: Discover that the screen meant to keep flying creatures out and cats in, does not keep cats DOWN! This is Estavon, the older of our two cats, and by far the more curious, fearless and adventuresome.
She literally looks like a monkey - and she's waving!

A rare occurrence - for two reasons! 1. Someone is using the new and improved Sunporch before it's even finished and 2. Mitchell is reading a book!

Step 4 flooring: The cement floor of the Sunporch was pretty nasty and I couldn't get it clean. I'm sure there is some chemical that would work but I didn't want to take that route. I’ve since been told I could paint the cement floor. But for now it is covered by a 3' x 4' indoor-outdoor area rug in a dark navy for $15, plus a small dark blue mat from IKEA for only $1.50

Step 4 flooring cont'd... I saw this IKEA cobalt blue door mat online and loved it. Then I decided I would drive myself crazy if it got dirty, so I gave up on the idea. Once we actually went to IKEA I discovered it isn't a pile carpet but made like a plastic scouring pad. Every time I open our kitchen door to leave the house there is this blue bolt of happiness. It has been bare-foot-tested – and Taylor's nail polish matches.


Step 4 flooring cont'd... since we don't have a cottage or a boat, I thought I'd make our Sunporch feel like it looks out on a beach in Nova Scotia, even though it just looks out on our backyard. I've added some rocks from the beaches of the South Shore of NS, and to welcome people to our little oasis in the city, a door mat that reminds me of weathered homes and fishing shacks.


Step 5 finding a place for everything, and everything in its place: basket for clothes pins with a collection of enamelware; rain boots/shoes, biking boots and Crocs, with a new bucket for umbrellas; stuff for outdoor entertaining; gardening tools, watering can, and a basket for gardening gloves; a shelf for beach towels, swimsuits and paraphernalia; and a rack for BBQ tools, bike locks and a bow.


Step 6 disguising the shelves: Although the shelves look better now that they are organized (above), I liked the idea of eliminating the clutter and making the space more visually appealing by hiding all the stuff. It’s too bad I didn’t cover the recycling bins, but that wouldn’t really be convenient. And if the helmet hooks aren't visible they won't be used! I took this shower curtain (the fabric kind) and attached it to the shelves with screws. Each screw held two holes normally meant for the shower curtain hooks. And I sewed the pleated edges along the top seam to make sure the holes were hidden. I’m so pleased with how it turned out.
"Moroccan tile" shower curtain material
The little green table is a plastic folding table;
it goes well with the new seat cushions.
Step 7 spray paint the white wicker chair: Mitchell wanted to try spray-painting; these are pics of his Ninja spray-painting posture. When I sprayed, he kept telling me I was "too close." When he was spraying, I would say, "remember, broad sweeping strokes." We were like an old married couple bickering. We first tried it on an inconspicuous spot, on the bottom, but by the time we finished the underside, back, and outside of the chair we ran out of paint. The next day I finished it and couldn’t believe what a difference it made!

Stay tuned for more make-overs of our bedroom, basement and kids' rooms, and my Pandora rewards.

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