Category Archives: Home & Hearth

Minimizing

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

I attended a dinner party recently where people were comparing their
spring leaning strategies. After a couple or three glasses of wine
everyone made a commitment to minimize, to the best of our ability,
and we came up with a plan. It goes like this. One the first day of the
month you throw out one thing. One day two, good-bye to two things
and so. Assuming you count each object separately (read one fork as
opposed to a full place setting, that is almost 500 objects!! I could
shed many things without feeling the loss terribly, but that does seem
like a much bigger commitment than spring cleaning. It also takes
time that I don’t have each day, and an organized plan to put things
out of sight so they do not migrate quietly back to a drawer or closet.
Do you have any good advice about how to follow through? There is no
prize at stake, btw. Just honor and more breathing space in my home.

Minimizing

 
Dear Minimizing:

The first thing to do is reframe the idea of loss into the idea of sharing
your wealth. Identify a family in need or specific group that helps
families to donate to. Instead of dumping your unneeded things at a
Goodwill and collecting a tax slip, give your gently used possessions to
living breathing people in need. As you hold each item and think about
whether you can let it go, visualize someone who would love to cook
and serve their holiday dinner in one of your many casserole dishes, or
send their kids to school in clothes your family isn&'t wearing any more.
The joy of reuse and recycle is much more than keeping piles of things
out of landfills.

 
I agree that tossing 500 items in a month is a lot, unless you’re
committed to it fully. I suspect the other dinner party guests are facing
the same challenge. Agree on a more reasonable schedule, like before
Memorial Day weekend. Perhaps have a party at the end of the
process and see who gave the most away.

Got An Empty Yard

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

I have a large and underutilized garden space in my backyard and a
large front yard that gets lots of sun. I have heard about the “grow
food not lawns” movement, and would like to figure out a way to offer
some space to a family or group that might benefit from the produce,
and maybe even who live in an apartment and might want to feel dirt
on their hands. Any ideas about how to locate such a family and what
kind of agreement to make with them?

Got An Empty Yard

 

 

Dear Empty Yard:

You have a full range of options. One is to hire a professional
landscaper and have that person put in a full garden for you, replete
with raised beds, berry bushes, and fruit trees. Then you could tend it
or find others to help you, in exchange for a share of the fruits and
veggies. Another is to locate a family through a sustainability network,
a local foods network, or a non-profit that assists families in need. You
can post a description of what is available, and what you want in
exchange. For example: Local homeowner with XxY square feet of
sunny garden space wants to help a family in a cooperative gardening
project. Please email me at name@youremailaddress.com if you are
interested in helping plant and maintain a garden space in exchange
for 2/3 of the produce. Homeowner will bear all costs of planting and
watering, in exchange for help with weeding and pre- and post-season
chores.

 
I would suggest some boundaries between the shared garden space
and your private backyard space. I’d keep access to the backyard
limited to times when you are at home and can supervise what is
going on. I’d also keep the yard locked, in part because you don’t want
your home to become vulnerable if less scrupulous people hear about
the access. You may make good new friends from this venture. And
you may find that a non-profit group wants to sponsor this activity, so
there’s a rotating cast of visitors. Your neighbors may be enthusiastic
and follow your model, or cautiously concerned. I’d alert them to your
plans to forestall criticism. Note: Check your community statutes to be
sure this plan is legal. There are a surprising number of regulations
about what you can do with your property.

Confused

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

I have dry rot under an addition to my house. No one can see past the
edge so until they start to fix it they won’t know what it’ll take. I have
a roofing problem that started the dry rot. I need a new deck because
they have to tear out lots of the twenty-year old one to fix the dry rot.
I’ve gotten recommendations for contractors, ranging from work-alone
guys to big companies. No one can give me an actual bid because no
one can see how far the dry rot goes. But I am trying to identify
criteria to choose from among a handful of reputable guys, none of
who will give me a firm bid. I’m a single woman who feels ripped off
every time I but a new car, and this decision is making me feel equally
insecure. I tried getting my brother in law involved, but he doesn’t
want to be blamed if anything goes wrong later. How can I compare
apples to cantaloupes?

Confused

 

 

Dear Confused:

Instead of looking at this problem as one big number, try breaking it
down into component parts. Then compare both diagnosis and
prescription for each of them. The dry rot will be the most mysterious
because, as you say, no contractor has x-ray vision. Even sliding a
camera underneath and taking some pictures won’t give the same info
as hands on wood, so no one will know how extensive it will be to fix.
So since you’re going to make a decision based on other factors, that’s
where there is some trust involved. As well as knowing their hourly
rate for that kind of work.
The roof and deck problems are easier to quantify. Get clear on what
type and grade of wood would be used, or if a composite is better for
your locale. Specify if framing is included. If there are any mystery
variables like retaining or privacy walls, get clarity on whether those
are included. Ask if they use nails or screws, and if the boards will be
dry, green, and sealed/stained. Ask if they add on a percentage for
materials or just submit expenses. Ask what their hourly rate varies by
type of work. Those questions will get you started. I generally end
with, Is there any other intelligent question I should ask you? The
more willing a contractor is to engage and address problems before
they start work, the better communication you are likely to have once
work begins. Ask for references from people for whom they completed
similar work. Then trust your brain and your gut, and hope they say
the same thing.

Choking

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

I may have turned into a hoarder. It was most definitely not
intentional. I remember the horror I felt when I cleaned out my
parents’ home after my mother died and my father moved into
assisted living. And then the mountains of paper and other disposables
he managed to accumulate in just a few years there. But I’m afraid
I’m turning into my parents. Every room is filled, some to overflowing.
Several sizes of clothes (the optimistic, realistic, and pessimistic
wardrobes), books from college classes, sentimental things I never use
like serving dishes my mother pulled out for the holidays, old political
campaign buttons, notions/buttons/and ribbons, a couple years of
crosswords cut from the daily paper to prove my brain still works, pet
supplies for animals I will never again own. And so on. Can you give
me some practical suggestions about how to cull? Even if I found the
perfect mate, I don’t have the physical room to invite him into my
space.

Choking

 
Dear Choking:

My simplest advice: tackle this problem room by room. You can do it
one room a week, or take a solid week and do it one room a day. If
you start at ruthless it ill become an acquired habit, so begin where
the most egregious hoarding has occurred. Start with a small, easy
room like your bathroom. Go under the sink. Dump cosmetic and
cleaning products you never use, rags and broken mops, whatever is
clearly trash. It helps, btw to have receptacles to put everything in,
from big garbage bags to recycling containers, and a stash of things
you could donate. I think the idea of a future garage sale is just an
excuse to hang onto things. If it is usable, donate it to a worthy thrift
shop, women’s shelter, or someone else’s garage sale. If not, put it
into a “go away forever” pile.

 
Then tackle your kitchen, your living room, and every room except
your clothes closet. Like any other form of exercise, it’s a habit that
gets easier with repetition. Clothing still with tags on them earn a
special place in your closet. Your pessimistic (which I read as if-I- gain-
weight clothes) should be minimal, and include only the nicest duds.
Anything with stains or needing repairs, out. Not worn in ___ years,
out. Be ruthless down to your undies and socks. Books to the used
bookstore; old crosswords to the trash. Your goal at the end should be
enough space in each room for another adult to share your home with
you. And from now on, whenever you buy something new, you should
wave goodbye to something old

Soiled!

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

I host a weekly bridge game. We have two tables and most if us have
been together for more than two decades. One of the new gals (count
months not years) filled in when her mother died. Some of us have
known her since her Bat Mitzvah. She’s lovely buy grossly overweight.
Recently she got inspired to do a very rigorous juice and smoothie
regimen. She&'s lost 30# and definitely looks better but I have my own
opinions about whether the weight will stay off. She shows up with
bottles of weird green mixtures. My problem: her kale smoothie spilled
on my carpet. I tried everything but there is an ugly green stain that
nothing seems to get out. She apologized profusely and in the moment
I acted like a gracious hostess. I want to be polite but color me:

Soiled!

 
Dear Soiled:

You have two issues: the stain and the etiquette. Call the young
woman. Start by saying you want to be supportive of her health
regimen but tell her the new house rules are water only, so please
drink before she comes or return to the game when she’s done with
colored beverages. Explain you have had a major problem trying to
clean up after the spill. Say you need to know what was in it because
some mystery ingredient has fused to the fibers and you need to know
what to tell the carpet cleaners. She will be embarrassed, possibly
even offering to pay. You can continue your charming hostess routine
by hiding your gritted teeth.

 
Re the stain, do nothing beyond what you’ve done already. Call until
you find the best spot/carpet cleaner in town. Be forewarned that
virtually every one will tout itself as having a miracle product. That
said, professional have knowledge and access to what lay people do
not. Ask for a cost estimate, as they will sense your desperation. If all
else fails either live with it or shop for area rug to cover it up. You
might also google for emergency tips for stains that have just
occurred. And be as sincere as you can be when she brings you a
bouquet of flowers the next time she comes, as I hope her mother
taught her the manners to do.

Momma Hen

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

I am so proud of my son I can barely stand not talking about him. He
went from not dating in high school to being engaged to a fabulous
gal. He survived an almost-fatal care accident and got his engineering
degree and now a great job with the state transportation department.
He has almost $50K saved for a down payment on a house. He and his
honey are renting in a town that is a tourist destination, so prices are
high. They have scoped out a house with a fabulous view, adjacent to
a park that is owned by a 92-year- old woman who appears healthy
enough to live independently, garden, and walk her dogs. It is their
dream house and I have encouraged him to talk to her about her long-
term plans. He thinks that is rude and intrusive but we agreed to listen
to what you say. Is it inappropriate for him to introduce himself?

Momma Hen

 
Dear Momma Hen:

Most seniors have a healthy respect for mortality, which can sometimes lead to
avoiding any discussion of aging, lifestyle changes, living independently, etc. But
at 92 one cannot live in complete denial of the fact that changes are almost
inevitable within the foreseeable few years. As a medical social worker once said
to me: 95% of families make big decisions in times of crisis. Perhaps this wise
and strong older woman is not among them.

 
I&'d suggest that your son and his fiancée leave her a note on her door saying
they are neighbors who would love to have tea with her, and ask if they may visit
soon; then suggest a date/time (with a phone number for her to call if that’s not
convenient). They should arrive with a plate of cookies and say very simply that
they are in love with her home, and hoping to buy a place like hers within the
next few years. They can ask if she has family who intends to live there after her,
and, if not, if they could explore a way for them to be in first position to buy it after
she decides she can no longer maintain the property. They may get a swift kick
out the door, but if they are lucky, she will appreciate their attempt to
communicate and follow up with at least a tour and at best a plan for the future. If
they get a no, they can start to look around, and in the meantime keep saving.

Packrat

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

Because of some work that’s been done at my house I had to clean out
the attic (think mice chewing on twenty years of stashed “valuables”).
It’s made me realize how much my husband and I have collected over
time. I’m not just talking the normal detritus of a four-person family
(kids grown and flown). But the fact that every cupboard, closet,
drawer, and inch of the garage is so full I cannot find anything I am
looking for. Do you have any advice for a repentant collector of stuff?
Packrat

 
Dear Packrat:
Just like neatniks or slobs, there’s two categories of people: packrats
and tossers. Packrats tend to keep three sizes of clothes in their
closets (their current size, one fatter, and one slimmer). Tossers get
rid of anything they haven’t worn in a year. That’s just one category of
household things, but you get the idea. Packrats keep out of
sentiment. Think your mother’s favorite casserole (don’t mind the
crack). They think in terms of replacement cost, and have trouble
driving by a garage sale. Tossers have problems opening a drawer and
think it’s time to have a garage sale of their own.

 
My advice: clean the attic (and store what remains in unchewable
plastic tubs). Then start on the kind of purge you should do annually in
your cupboards before Pesach and what we politely call spring cleaning
for the rest of your home and garage, Pretend you’re moving. Get rid
of things! Repeat: get rid of lots and lots of things. Recycle, donate,
Craigslist, or just toss. Decide if you really use something or are just
afraid you might need it someday. Given your nature, be ruthless,
though you may find that it becomes fin and addictive. Allow yourself
one “last box” which you can fill with all the weird odds and ends you
cannot figure out where to put, or can’t bear to part with. One
godmotheree says she carted the same last box through moves in
three states before depositing it on the doorstep of a local charity. I’d
be surprised if you don’t feel like you went on a successful diet by the
time you are done. And if you remain a packrat, you can start
shopping and collecting to fill some of the now clear and open space
you’ll make.

Not Color Blind

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

My husband bought me a house three years ago. He was under the mistaken
illusion that it was my dream house, and in a fit of impetuous stupidity, spent too
much for too big a place. I have learned to appreciate its charms but it is not what
I would have chosen with solid planning. Now that the markets have all cooled
(he’s an investor and was temporarily insane over his riches), it is ours for a very
long time. It is also time to paint the outside. I want to paint it green and he wants
to paint it blue. We’ve had many arguments over this one. He has a lot more time
to argue these days. How can we decide, since there’s no good compromise that
isn’t a muddy ugly mess?
Not Color Blind
Dear Not Color Blind
You could argue that since he bought it for you that you should get the final vote.
Paint color, unlike a meal, is something that lasts a long time. While you might
grow immune to it over time, it would be better to get it right.
Drive around and look at houses. Note that painting season has many months to
go, so you have time. Identify the right painter (get references!) and line him up
for July or August. Then identify every house that has a color you like. Hubby
should do the same. Once you have good visuals to share you can discuss until
someone caves. Then of course there’s trim color, but white vs beige vs color is
small compared to blue vs green. Then go to paint websites where you can
choose a house style like yours and pretest combos. No matter what, you must
experiment with tester colors in various parts of the house that see different
amounts of sun and shade. Fifty or a hundred dollars spent getting it right is
peanuts compared to the thousands you will spend for the whole job. Getting it
wrong after “winning” would be really sad, and open the door for too many I told
you so’s.