I’ve been in my former hoarders fixer house for a while now. And, as was always the plan, I will sell it — if the universe and my credit score allow– upon or just prior to or just after my youngest kids’ graduation from high school. I have a couple of years, but I’m thinking ahead. I probably won’t see a dime in return on investment for all the improvements I’ve made to my little hoarders home. There are a lot of reasons. But for this post I’ll focus here on my neighbors’ damn sofas sitting on the side of the road because that’s what’s bothering me today, every day.
Sofas, couches, easy chairs. Whatever you call them. Indoor furniture that is banished outside to publicly decompose for all to see — it’s the worst lawn decor ever.
It’s the modern day real estate equivalent to the head on a stick.
It’s crap like this that will lower my property value and keep it low — which is good for the contractors who want to buy low and rent or flip high — but bad for me. There are plenty of regular folks looking for an affordable houses in a nice neighborhood in a good school district, but because of the ever present sofas on the side of the road, it makes my neighborhood seem, well, not so nice.
Have you ever wondered why people put sofas outside which stay there for weeks, months, even years?
I have my theories.
1. They got a new couch. So they put the old one outside.
2. The old couch had something nasty happen to it — of the urine or vomit variety –that they just couldn’t get out.
3. The old couch had something smokey happen to it — the old cigarette in the cushions . . .
This only explains why the couch leaves the house, not why it stays outside.
Here are my theories on why they stay outside.
1. There is no (free) bulk trash pickup in the neighborhood.
2. Bulk trash pick-up is costly and low income (poor) people can’t or won’t allocate their money to pay for it.
Paying extra for trash removal can be a hard pill to swallow if you are having trouble paying regular bills (Query: How much money was shelled out on the new sofa? Perhaps the $25 bulk trash fee should be built into the cost of getting the new couch?) But regardless, there’s a solution. If you are able bodied you can save the $25 by breaking up the couch and putting it in the regular trash. I’ve done this. I’ve seen other people do this. It’s actually kind of fun it you want to get out some aggression. And another option is, if the sofa is old but not ruined, put it on Craigslist for free. Someone will take it. Craigslist people won’t pay a dollar for something, but if you say it’s free? They’ll take it. They’ll even take it from your house. If you don’t want strangers in your house, just plan to put the couch out on a sunny weekend, post the ad, and it will go away — for free. I’ve done this. More than once. If it’s truly trashed, this isn’t an option, but it’s worth a try.
3. I’m waiting for bulk trash pick-up.
But dude, how long are you going to wait?
Once a year, our Township provides dumpsters for people in my neighborhood to use free of charge for whatever they need to get rid of. But it’s once a year. In the Summer, I believe. It’s Winter now. Will the sofas sit here until July?
A variation on this excuse is: I put it out and wanted to see if the trash guys would take it. Okay, I get that. Because sometimes they might actually take it, or somebody might. This only justifies having an outdoor sofa for a week, though, tops. After a week has gone by of the regular trash people not picking up the sofa, it ain’t going nowhere.
4. Another reason proffered by well-meaning people is that the residents must not be physically able to get rid of the couch.
Well, I call bullshit on that one. If a person had the means and muscle to get the couch out of his or her house, they have the means and muscle to put it somewhere where it might get picked up. Obviously there are elderly or disabled (mentally or physically) who cannot maintain their property. I get that. But I’ve seen grown, strong, working men coming and going from these houses with the lawn couches. I call bullshit on them. I know people may have ailments that are not readily visible. I withdraw my calling of bullshit if that is the case. But if not, just putting indoor furniture in your yard and leaving it out in the rain, sleet, and snow until starts to stink, disintegrate, become the nesting ground for vermin and bugs, and just look plain old tacky — I just don’t get that.
Right now there are two couches I see every day. Every day.
Every damn day.
Couch Number One. It’s in a back yard, which backs onto my alley and my back yard. I see it from my kitchen window, as I said. Every day. As do at least four other houses and all cars that drive along this back alley. Lovely. This placement is curious to me, because their trash gets collected from their front yard. Why put the couch out back, inside their fence, on its side, cushions and all? Why? It won’t get picked up there by anyone. Maybe they are planning to have bulk trash pickup or somebody with a truck come later — but it’s been about a month now. And why leave the cushions? They could certainly go in the regular trash or recycling and this would cut down on the bulk of the sofa in the yard and also make it less inviting for bugs and rats. But no, the couch is outside.
Couch Number Two. This one is on the edge of a front yard of a house on the side of the road. Now this house has always had a messy porch. I don’t know the people, personally, but I’ve seen them come and go. Not elderly or infirm. Driving, working, healthy looking people. It appears as though they are doing some sort of home clean out now because there is more junk outside than usual. Again, having gone through extensive clean outs and renovations I understand that while work is in process, there will be debris, because — it’s a work in progress. But, the couch and cushions have been out there for again, about a month. I don’t see any evidence of home repairs or renovations going on. It appears as though someone decided to get some crap out of the house so — they just put it outside. Other large trash items have joined the sofa. These other items could have been put out in the regular trash. But, for some reason, the residents are just piling it up on and around the couch.
There’s a school bus stop nearby. Lovely.
These abandoned sofas are like announcements to people, whether they are passing through or coming home. It gives the appearance of,
“You have crossed over into a bad part of town.”
When people come to see me, or drop off my kids, they have to pass by one or both of the sofas. It’s far from inviting. It actually repels. And it seems that as soon as a rotting sofa is finally removed, another appears. I remember when we were still in the marital home when it was on the market, as we drove by what is now my neighborhood, my kid said,”I’m not moving over there.” She didn’t know that I had already purchased my little hoarders home. I told myself at the time, “I’ll make it nice.”
And I did.
I worked my butt off making our home as nice as I could, but I can’t do anything about the neighbors who allow upholstered furniture to rot outside their homes.
I think there’s a psychological reason why people do this. There are some people who are — interior. Most of their relaxation time is spent indoors. They only think of their yard, their porch, and front door as something to pass through to get inside. I guess then it becomes easy to make whatever changes you are making inside the house, and put the debris outside. After all, you’ve gotten it out of the house. It’s kind of like how an apartment dweller can throw things in a dumpster and go back inside, oblivious as to whether the dumpster is ever emptied.
But still . . .
These couches make me sad. It feels like people have just given up and don’t care. And what’s worse? It’s contagious. I would never do the couch thing, and I maintain my yard, but I’ve lost the will to garden or create an outdoor space for entertaining. I mean, why bother? I don’t want to sit outside and look at a rotting sofa while roasting marshmallows. I plan to garden and landscape more this year, to enhance curb appeal, but my heart’s not in it. I confess.
Just Me With . . . plenty of outdoor seating . . . on rotting couches . . . on the side of the road.
It just irks me. And it may cost me.
Related: Piss, Puke, and Porn — My Hoarder’s House
That Hoarder’s Smell — How to Get Rid of It
My son’s graduation is over. It was the first big celebration that I had to share with my Ex-Husband. See The Unspoken Pain of Sharing Celebrations. I made it through. And by that I mean I stayed off the six o’clock news. In the weeks before the graduation, during the graduation and after the graduation some bad things happened, and some very good things happened. I’m too close to it right now to write about it. But in the midst of all the brouhaha, of the visiting relatives, of the planning and anxiety, the tears (some mine, some not), something quite unexpected happened . . .
I got rid of my wedding gown.
My sister was staying at our parents’ home. When she left she cleaned the old bedroom — her old bedroom. She dusted, organized, threw things out, removed bedding and vacuumed — even under the bed. To clean under the bed, she pulled out everything stored there, including an airline cardboard garment box. The box had the logo of the airline, along with my maiden name handwritten on it in black marker.
It was my wedding dress.
Now, I’ve written before about how I have dealt with the mementos of my lengthy but ultimately failed marriage. Wedding Leftovers — What To Do With The Dress and The Wedding Album — Time to Reduce it, Perhaps by Fire. And the gist was that I sold my rings, reduced the number and manner of presentation of my wedding photos, but I kept the wedding gown in a box under a bed at my parents’ house — untouched.
And I’ve also written before about how I moved into a hoarders home and had to clean it, see That Hoarders Smell, and that I’m also trying to clean out my parents’ home, which is too full of stuff. See Goodbye Hoarders. I’m a big believer in getting rid of things. It’s my free therapy. See Craigslist Angel’s. It truly is contrary to my belief system to store something I would never use. So when my sister pulled out my wedding gown to clean under the bed, it suddenly felt kind of stupid to put it back.
I’m supposed to be cleaning out my parents’ house. I shouldn’t be keeping any of my stuff there, I thought.
Rule One of de-cluttering is to get rid of stuff that doesn’t belong to you. My parents shouldn’t be keeping a big box of white dress for me, taking up valuable real estate under the bed.
When I first married I really wanted to keep my dress. My parents, who are still married, had a big church wedding back in the day. My mother looked beautiful.
I like tradition, antiques, old houses, etc. and I totally would have worn my mother’s wedding gown when I got married. But my mother didn’t properly preserve it, it yellowed and she eventually just threw it away. My young self chastised her for this over the years and I swore I would always keep my wedding gown just in case future daughters unknown to me at the time might want to wear it. So after my wedding, I carefully packed away my gown, according to the instructions from a professional. And I left it at my parent’s house. I’ve moved many times over the years but the dress stayed at my parents’ house.
I did have daughters. See Fertile Myrtle. Technically this meant that there was a possibility that one of them might want to wear my dress. But the dress is woefully out of style. I got married when women were still allowed to have straps and sleeves. Still, any dress can be altered, and there is plenty of material to work with. But none of my daughters have any interest right now in vintage clothing, except for Halloween or dress up days at school. Even if they did, call me silly, call me superstitious, but it seems like bad Mojo to marry in a used wedding gown, even heavily altered, from a wedding where the marriage did not last. I’d gotten a lot of suggestions from my earlier post on possible other uses for the gown — dye it black and use it for Halloween, donate it to particular groups that collect gowns, theater groups, etc. But as I looked at the big box with my birth name on it, I was sure of two things:
(1) I need to get it out of my parents’ house; and
(2) I sure as hell didn’t want it in my house.
I also didn’t want to take the time to find a proper home for the dress. I didn’t much care whether or how it was used again. And I was also quite sure that I didn’t want to touch it. I was almost afraid of the damn thing.
It was freaking me out.
So I put it in my car — my beloved car, where I spend way too much time. It is my refuge. See My Very Own Personal Olympic Games. But since my car is my refuge, I didn’t want to leave the gown in there either. Bad Mojo. I didn’t want it to infect the only space I have for me. Then I started to have visions that I would get into a car accident and they would find my bloodied wedding gown in the wreckage — and think I had some connection to it — that I had kept it for sentimental reasons –that I was purposely driving around with my wedding gown because I must still be in love with my Ex-husband and — and NO!
I’ll say it again. The gown was freaking me out.
I’d been doing some Spring cleaning in my own house (free therapy after an emotional time) and had a couple of things I wanted to drop by Goodwill. Goodwill, if you don’t know, is a charitable organization benefiting the disabled which is funded largely by Thrift Stores. (Yeah, I looked it up.) During my move from the marital home I spent a lot of time at Goodwill, giving away many of my possessions. I’ve shopped there, too, finding good buys, especially with furniture and wall decor. So I stopped by my house and grabbed the few other items that I planned to donate and took myself to Goodwill, making a special trip. Had it not been for the gown I would have waited until I had more stuff to drop off, but this had suddenly become quite urgent.
Still, I had some doubts. Consequently, I had a little conversation with myself on the ten minute ride:
Should I take the dress out of the wrapping?
(Why should I? I don’t want to see it.)
But what if I’d hidden money or something valuable or embarrassing in the box?
(But I didn’t. Those pesky photos of my husband and a stripper were never stored there. My boudoir photos I made for my husband during happier times have long since been destroyed.)
What if the wedding dress had yellowed or gotten otherwise ruined?
(Well, then the kind folks at Goodwill will dispose of it for me.)
Shouldn’t I let my daughters see it one time? Maybe try it on?
No. They’ll want to keep it, because they are hoarders-in-training. I can’t even let them know that it was in the car, because they’d have what I would deem as a morbid interest in it. And, it’s my dress, my memories. My kids did not exist when I got married. They have no right to keepsakes of my memories that predate them. I still have some of the wedding photos, that’s enough. If I abided by the reasoning that I must not destroy things related to my relationship with my kids’ father, then it follows that I should have kept the boudoir photos for my kids too, right? Wrong — and ick. Plus, if I saw any of my girls try the gown on, even just for fun, I think I’d have a panic attack and start screaming to the visual representation of my younger self standing in front of me — Run! Run! RUN! See Almost a Runaway Bride. No, I could not handle it. No, no. Did I say no? No.
Plus, when you think about it, my husband wore a rented tuxedo when he married me. He didn’t even keep his wedding attire for more than a day. Why do I have to keep this — thing — forever?
So, without any ceremony or further ado, I pulled around to the back of the Goodwill thrift store and left the box that contained my wedding gown on the concrete slab.
And that, as they say, was that.
And you know? I feel really good about it.
One less thing in my parents’ house, one less item from my marriage that I have to think about or make room for.
I have lightened my load. The dress wasn’t even my house yet it still haunted me. Just being in close proximity to the box that contained it led to irrational thoughts. It needed to go. I’m sure at one point one of my kids will ask where my gown is. I’ll simply say that I got rid of it, just like my mother had. If my girls marry, they can choose their own dresses, without resurrecting my vintage error in judgment.
As my oldest child is moving on to his next stage in life, preparing to leave the nest, it seemed like a good time clean up some of my old stuff. It was time to grow up and stop storing items I can’t even look at under a twin bed at my parents’ house.
So I’m good with it. So good.
Just Me With . . . no wedding gown, not anymore.
I can’t help but wonder how much it’ll go for in the store, it sure cost me plenty, in more ways than one.
I haven’t blogged in a while. I’ve been painting. Obsessively painting. I wouldn’t quite call it manic on a clinical level, but yes, it had to be done.
Looking back, this has happened to me before. I paint when something isn’t quite right. The day after I had a miscarriage, I painted all of the hallway paneling in the old house. I should have been resting. I should have been crying. Instead, I painted.
Then there was when my then husband went away on vacation with his club when we had many young children at home. This, to me, was the perfect time to paint — everything– bold colors. He came home to a purple kitchen, a hunter green eat in area and a bright sky blue play area. I think I was jealous of his freedom, so, stuck at home, I changed my surroundings. All while caring for multiple toddlers with open cans of paint around. Perhaps not well-advised, but it had to be done.
Later, after my husband left for good (or so I thought . . . but I digress . . . See Surveillance with My Mother and the When My Husband Moved Back Home — The Tale of Three Carries ) I slapped beige paint over all of those colors in order to make my kaleidoscope house neutral for potential buyers. My children didn’t help me at all. They resented the change, hated the beige.
“We’re colorful people,” they said.
They were right. We are colorful people, but the HGTV gods told me I had to hide my crazy (Oops, I mean color).
Accordingly, all the evidence of my color rebellion against my husband’s hobbies and freedom was – neutralized.
I promised the children, however, that when we moved to our new house, we would bring color back. As that little hoarders house smelled so badly, I painted right away, see That Hoarder’s Smell, and I went bold: I had red living room, and the TV (family room) was a dark slate blue.
At one point I had an orange accent wall in my bedroom.
But lately, my little house had been pissing me off. Well, everything has been pissing me off. The red was making me angry, I think. I’m already bitter, I don’t need to see red, literally. The dark blue was making me feel sad and closed in, like I was living in an elevator.
My home’s overall darkness screamed despair and denial and hinted at failure, or maybe that was me . . .
I moved to this little hoarders’ house so that my kids could stay in the same schools. I had to move, and it was all I could afford. I was lucky to find it. I’m fine with living small, but I hate the neighborhood — which is on the lower end of the socio-economic scale — and it shows. Also, we are six tall people, and do our fair share of stepping over each other and our stuff. But I can’t move until they graduate, not even to a nearby neighborhood, unless there’s a big chunk of change in my near future. I’m still dealing with divorce debt. Freedom ain’t free.
If I wanted to pull them out of school and move across country — well, I can’t do that either. I’m divorced; I’m not allowed to move without my ex-husband’s permission. I’m stuck.
Until my youngest kids turn 18, my options are severely limited. Yes, I’m blessed to have a roof over my head, but sometimes it feels more incarceration than protection from the elements.
However, HGTV, the teachings of Feng Shui, and countless blogs suggest that if I change my surroundings I’ll change my life.
I took a shot.
So I’ve been painting, lightening up the color, lightening up my life. It goes along with my constant search for non-medicinal treatments for anxiety and depression.
I have to say, the rooms do appear bigger, brighter, calmer.
Still, I need color, so the plan is to get the color back through art and accessories. That’s the plan anyway.
It’s a good plan.
Well, it was a good plan.
Now I’m on the other side of not quite clinically manic, back to the depressed side of things. Suddenly I’m too tired. I don’t feel like hanging my old pictures or scouring yard sales for something colorful, because, at the end of the day, I’ll still be here. And whatever I do, someone in my house will hate it and loudly voice his or her displeasure. So why bother, right?
It’s like hanging posters in a jail cell. Sure, it helps, but the most important thing on the wall is the calendar, marking off the days until release.
Just Me With . . . a bright new look, but not complete. Methinks the angry red and the crying blues are bleeding through a bit. But, hell, I’m giving it a shot.
Release date? Sometime in 2017.
I’m getting my house painted this week. I know I’ve written about painting it myself, describing how That Hoarders Smell inside the house was so bad that it engulfed me even while I was painting outside. So yeah, I painted the house already.
But I never finished.
I painted the front under the porch. Then I stood on the porch roof to paint the second floor. And, along with my nephew, I perched on scaffolding temporarily left by another contractor as I prepped, primed and painted the back of the house.
That left the sides, where the paint was peeling so badly that barely brushing by it caused a snow flurry of dirty paint flakes, some big, some small, some lead-based, some not.
So although usually one preps, primes and paints from the top down, I started from the bottom up, reasoning that since we were about to move into this house I didn’t want the children to be exposed to this peeling paint at eye level. The upper floors weren’t peeling or flaking as badly as the lower level and at least no one would be touching it. So, for safety’s sake I tackled the first floor. Well, safety and the fact that I could reach the lower level and paint it myself without scaffolding or big ladders that I didn’t own.
The top side sections, however, have not been prepped, primed, or painted.
It’s tacky. It’s been this way for over two years.
I had every intention of painting the rest of the house myself. A contractor friend even lent me some scaffolding and we put it up on one side of the house. Then, well, stuff happened, and I changed and eventually went off my meds, which gave me vertigo, poor equilibrium, extreme dizziness, and severe sensitivity to light. I couldn’t even think about doing it then. My friend eventually took his scaffolding back, unused.
Since then I have struggled with my half-painted house. I struggled to find the energy to paint my house, struggled to find the motivation and money, struggled to conquer my newly developed fear of heights, that I will fall and lay broken and bleeding in my yard —and no one will know.
And, I lost my Mojo. I’d done so much work on this little Hoarders house. I’d tried to make it nice. I did make it nice. But recently I’ve been feeling that no matter what I do to this house, which sits on a busy street and backs up onto the perimeter of an poor neighborhood, it will always be compared to the much larger marital home situated in a park-like setting. I don’t miss that home at all, and selling that home was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made — that decision may be a subject of another post — but I don’t love where we are now, I tried . . .
- I installed a stone patio and fire-pit for us to enjoy — that no one uses.
- I partially finished the basement so that we’d have a place for the drums and could jam — but no one does.
- I made a music room for lessons for students that are fewer and fewer in number each year.
- I planted shrubs to give us some privacy — that died.
- I bought a shed to house bicycles — that nobody rides.
But. . . I never finished painting the house. Perhaps part of me became comfortable with my half painted house. Maybe it was some sort of admission of defeat. The move been an adjustment, a difficult adjustment. I’m not going pretend otherwise — anymore.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m proud of my accomplishments with respect to this home and my family. I’m happy that we have a roof over our heads and that the kids didn’t have to change schools — which was the reason why I bought the little hoarders home in the first place. And I know things could be a lot worse, and that things aren’t really that bad, or really bad at all.
Still, the unfinished paint job screams that there are still struggles in this home.
Anyone looking at it would ask,
“Cute house. But when is she going to finish painting it?”
Well, the answer is “Now.” I’m borrowing from Peter to pay Paul to pay some Painters that gave me a good deal because one of my “Friends Without Benefits” told them to.
I’m waving the white flag in surrender. I will not finish painting the house myself. But I will not leave it partially unpainted for another year as a shrine to my failure to renovate our way into happiness — or the land of denial. I’ve got to think of resale value and protect my investment. So, I’ve called in the professionals.
It is what it is. And it has to get done. At least it won’t look tacky anymore.
“Maybe it will lift my spirits,” I thought, as I’ve been feeling a bit blue lately.
And then, the universe threw me a bone.
The painters here are very nice guys. Just now one of them stopped me and said,
“I don’t want you to get a big head or anything, but I gotta tell you . . . you look just like Halle Berry. Hasn’t anyone ever told you that? Mike (the other painter) said it yesterday, too. I’m a movie buff, so I would know.”
I have to say, I’m starting to feel a lot better about hiring these guys to paint my house. A lot better.
Just Me With . . . a paint job in progress, in butter cream with hunter green trim, done expertly by — my new best friends.
Postscript: The painting is finished. The house looks great, it really does, and just in time for Winter.
Sadly, one of my kids informed me that her friends told her that they aren’t allowed to come to our neighborhood, for fear they might get mugged.
A while back I wrote a post entitled, “Wedding Leftovers” where I discussed what to do with the remnants of a failed marriage. I concluded that I’d keep the wedding pictures.
But . . .
Today I am consumed with the idea of destroying some— just some — of my wedding photos. Is it a coincidence that this feeling comes on the eve of what would have been my wedding anniversary — the first one since my Ex-husband has remarried? I think not, but there’s a slight possibility I’m fooling myself. It just suddenly feels a bit icky to keep all this stuff in its original form.
I have children as a result of that now defunct union. I think that in later years they will enjoy seeing the pictures from their parents’ wedding. Consequently, I do not feel comfortable destroying — all of them. Anyway, I looked good that day. My best friend looked good that day, too. And, from a distance, my Ex-husband looked good, too. So yes, I’ll keep some.
But I do feel comfortable taking the pictures out of the leather-bound book and velvet cover. I don’t need to preserve the formal display anymore.
I also feel comfortable destroying the picture of my father with my then husband’s sister, a picture that was included in the album only because this sister was nowhere to be found when the rest of the family was posing for pictures so we kept this one shot so she would be in at least one photograph. Anyway, there are other, better pictures of my father. Plus, this is the sister who was not very respectful to me, my home, or my parents during “the invasion” or the “War of the Roses” situation as I call it — Humph — so her photo can go.
I am also content with reducing the number of pictures of the groomsmen, since the best man is the most un-photogenic person I’ve ever seen. He was good-looking guy, but didn’t know how to smile naturally. Embarrassingly bad pictures. Anyway, I have not seen him or his wife or family since my Ex left me years ago. I don’t need multiple pictures of him in my house. See, “I am Here!”
And, I do feel comfortable destroying the poorly touched up close-ups of my then husband, whose face broke out right before the wedding. (Even his skin was trying to tell me something.) He hated the pictures because he looked so bad and he wouldn’t “let” me show the album to anyone anyway. Humph.
I’m even cool with limiting the bridal party pictures of the women. My second best friend was suffering from a stomach disorder that was so bad that she had to be released from the hospital just to attend the wedding. She’d been throwing up — a lot. She didn’t look so good. I would guess that she’d probably be quite happy if I made some of the pictures that include her . . . disappear, especially since she’s a television personality now.
Also, I am completely cool with losing photographs of some of my Ex-Husband’s friends and those wedding guests that now I’m not even sure why we invited– except for, of course, that photo containing the likeness of one guest who is now somewhat famous (Nope, I’m not telling — heh, heh). I’ll keep that one.
Yeah, I’m ready to reduce and downsize my wedding mementos and preserve them in a manner of my choosing and befitting their relative importance. It’ll be like the olden days when there was only a portrait of the bride, maybe some pictures of the wedding party and the happy couple — but just not so many damn pictures. I really don’t need all of them. If my whole downsizing thing has taught me anything, it has taught me that I don’t need to preserve everything. Hell, my Ex-husband and his new wife don’t have this stuff taking up space in their home. I don’t even want it taking up treasured space on my hard drive.
So yes, I am completely cool with reducing the number of photos, and placing them in a less shrine-like album. And bonus, my taking control of the manner of display may make it more bearable when the kids do want to look at them.
Sadly, it has started to rain. So there will be no fires today. Sigh. But another day . . . burn, baby, burn . . .
Just Me With . . . a need to reduce and control the physical manifestation of my wedding memories. Yeah, I’m good with that now. (And I promise not to take a Sharpie to his teeth.)
See also: Always a Bridesmaid
The house I bought was not as bad as some of the houses you see on Hoarders, at least the whole house wasn’t. But the third floor attic bedroom was as bad as those hoarders’ houses. This is where the man who I call PissMan, his girlfriend and their cat (sans litter box) stayed. The cat just relieved itself on all the stuff up there — clothes, cardboard boxes, etc. I needed this room to be a bedroom for two of my kids. It had to be completely transformed.
The master bedroom that became my room was the second worst. That is where the family matriarch stayed until she was confined to a hospital bed downstairs, and eventually passed away. See What Happened In My House? Murder? It was in this room where at least one cat was confined with a litter box, sans litter. This cat threw up a lot on the old hardwood floor. Nobody cleaned it up. Old hardwood floors –150 year old unmaintained hardwood floors– have many cracks, they do not have thick coats of Polyurethane to repel liquid. They act as sponges, soaking up whatever is dropped on them. Cat urine, feces, canned food and cigarette ashes had been dropped on them and left there in the Summer months, with no air conditioning or adequate ventilation.
This house had been a house of smokers for many, many years. The walls and ceilings had once been white but had turned a brownish-yellow. So, underneath all of the animal and human excrement smells was the smell of years of cigarette smoke. In addition, there had been some water damage in some of the rooms.
This added another smell — wet plaster, wet rugs and mold. Hmmm Hmmm Good!
Some rooms were worse than others as far as the hoard goes, but the whole house stunk. The smell was bad, really bad. It was so bad that I could smell it from the outside, while I was on the porch roof painting the exterior of the house with oil based paint.
Imagine — a beautiful Spring day, being up high in the sunshine — flowers blooming, birds singing — yet I could still smell the inside of the house — and it was enough to make me nauseous — and seriously question my decision to purchase that house. What was I thinking? (Well, I was thinking I had to move, I wanted to keep the kids in the same schools, and with five children and no money I had very little choice . . . but I digress . . . )
Paint fumes? Not a problem. Fumes from in the house? Problem.
The smell is difficult to describe, but I’ll try. You know when a smell is so pungent that you begin to taste it? Have you ever smelled a diaper after days in the trash, or after it has gotten wet? Are you familiar with that neglected service station bathroom smell? Cat urine? A litter box that hasn’t been cleaned in — months? Well, that shouldn’t happen, but just imagine. Adult human urine and feces? Has anyone ever let milk or cream go bad — like until it gets lumpy? Let’s see what else — food. The family cooked in a kitchen with absolutely no ventilation. Oh yeah, and soap. These people washed, but the usually comforting smell of soap just added to the soup of nastiness. The home’s overall smell was sour and sweet and nauseating, stronger in some areas yet pervasively throughout everything.
It was nasty.
Eventually, however, the family who had lived there for four generations, left. Five people, two cats –at the time (previously there had been many more cats, I’m told, and various other pets. The mom/grandmother loved her animals. See Accidental Exhumation; Be Careful For What You Dig For) plus human urine, feces, trash, piss soaked carpet remnants — all gone, though not in one trip.
Finally, the only thing left was their security deposit. Given the items they tried to leave me, i.e. bottles of urine, and various other debris including used adult diapers and crack, yeah, I kept their money.
So they were gone. Their stuff was gone.
The odor, however, remained — not surprising considering all the piss bottles and all. See Piss, Puke and Porn.
Damn, thinking back on all of this. I can almost taste that smell again. Ew.
Anyway, the following is my public service announcement and my personal account of how I got rid of . . .
That Hoarders Smell:
Hard scrubbed with good old-fashioned Pine Sol, barely diluted, rinsed and wiped down with water, repeat. Repeat until layers of dirt and smoke were removed. Spackle, sand.
Primed with oil-based primer. This is the kind you cannot wash off with soap and water. This is the hard stuff. If you get it on your clothes, they are ruined. If you get it on your skin or hair, either suffer through washing with turpentine or paint remover, or wait until it wears off on its own. The oil-based smell is strong. A mask is required for safety. Given the smells I was trying to eradicate, I welcomed the chemical smell of the paint, though, I admit.
Paint. I bought the thickest (and unfortunately the most expensive) paint I could find. Paint, repeat. The walls and ceilings required two coats of paint to deal with the smell and smoke stains.
Scrape the cat feces and vomit, and tape residue (they used tape for many repairs),
Sand the floors (some floors I had professionally sanded, but taking off a layer of floor did not, unfortunately, take away the smell, it some areas it made it worse).
Seal the floor (and odors) by painting with oil based floor paint. (The floors were in pretty bad shape, staining and them and covering them with clear polyurethane probably still would not make them look good, plus there was a time issue, since we had to move in immediately and therefore needed to be able to walk on the floors right away.)
All in all, smell removal was a huge process. Though it was nice to choose wall colors for my new digs, my painting of every surface of the house had very little to do with decor. No, my painting had to do with odor control. It had to be done.
Not surprisingly, now I enjoy watching the show Hoarders on A&E, though I had never heard of it when I was cleaning my house. Watching now I’m never surprised when those Hoarders houses get a fresh coat of paint. It’s not a makeover, it’s a smellover.
Now? Now my house smells good. But it’s a freaking miracle. A miracle brought about by hard work and some angels, very extremely cool people who volunteered to help me. A post dedicated to these folks is forthcoming.
Just Me With . . . no more smell, and a sudden urge to clean.
Related, Goodbye Hoarders — The television show Hoarders has been cancelled.
One of my daughters wants a cat. I have nothing against cats, but after going through what I did to clean this house, I can’t do it. I just can’t. I don’t want to smell a litter box, even just to clean it.
I love Dunkin Donuts. I know it’s just a chain of low-end Doughnut shops, but I go to Dunkin Donuts every day. The baked goods and food are not so great, but I do enjoy the coffee. When I moved, downsized, left the marital home, whatever you want to call it — I began a relationship with Dunkin’ Donuts that was very personal.
When the old house sold, the new “old” house was still being remodeled. “Remodeling” makes it sound so pretty and exciting — so HGTV-like. It wasn’t. It was more a combination of Hoarders, Clean House, DIY’s Renovation Realities and Jerry Springer. Oh, it was an adventure, but it wasn’t pretty. Some of the details of the renovation will be in other posts, but for this you need to know that the kitchen had already been demolished to the studs, see Toilet or Kitchen Sink — Who Can Tell? and the home’s only bathroom was under construction to allow for an over the tub shower and for my boy to be able to stand in front of the toilet — like a man. The tub and sink had previously been removed, only the toilet remained, temporarily, which looked like this: Did you notice the duct tape on the toilet seat? Did ya? Can you imagine the germ fest going on there? Although at least one of the prior owners wasn’t even using the toilet regularly, see Piss Puke and Porn, . . . that toilet was more than nasty. It was a bio-hazard. This picture was taken almost a year before I moved in, when the prior owners were still living there. Yet when I moved in, the same duct tape was still on the toilet, now covered in plaster dust and construction dirt which had stuck to the urine stains on the commode like a weird kind of sand art. Ew!!
We moved into this mess – in Summer — and it was hot. Wait for it . . . we moved into a true
. . . wait for it. . . hot mess!
But at least we had a toilet to flush, assuming we could use it without touching it. I kept a bottle of hand sanitizer on a bucket in the “bathroom.” This held us over until we could use the hose — outside. Oh yes, and I forgot to mention that since the bathroom ceiling and roof were being raised, there was no overhead light. A desk lamp plugged into the one working outlet gave us some light — because you need to see in order to use a toilet without touching it. You need to see — but not too much, not too much, not in that house. We were seriously roughing it.
Two days after we moved in the disgusting toilet was removed. I was slightly relieved, not realizing that a simple plumbing fixture could actually scare me so much. But this left us with no indoor plumbing at all. Huh. But when the toilet was taken outside and I saw it in the light of day? Well, no indoor plumbing became suddenly acceptable, preferable, actually.
Still, I wasn’t alone. I do have five children. One kid was thankfully going on vacation with another family for a week. That left four. Four kids with nowhere to wash themselves, wash clothes or prepare food. And the four kids left were girls, so going behind a tree — not so easy.
I schlepped the girls to and from Grandma and Grandpa’s house, along with our laundry. But my elderly parents also have only one bathroom as well and were quite distraught over our living conditions. They were distraught? Imagine how I felt. I had to downplay the situation to keep my parents (who are Olympic level worriers) and my kids calm. I pretended this was not that big a deal. I deserve an Academy Award and a Golden Globe. I don’t want a SAG award, because I can’t get over the sound of that . . . but I digress.
Of course the bathroom construction was behind, though I was given reassurances to the contrary. And, let’s just say my funds were not liquid at the moment, which severely limited my options. (This may be subject of another post.)
While the kids were at the grandparents or other activities (which I kept them in, so as to maintain normalcy and give them a place to go — literally — ha!) I stayed and worked at the house. Professionals were doing the bathroom but I needed to be around to supervise, and continue my round the clock cleaning and painting, see That Hoarder’s Smell, and also try to organize our belongings —which were stored in stacks of boxes that could not yet be unpacked. Of course, there was no need to unpack the kitchen because, well, we didn’t have one. In addition, the house was not yet secure — broken locks and doors — someone needed to be around.
My morning routine was as follows:
I would get up, roll into my clothes or keep on whatever I’d slept in (because so very few of my clothes were accessible to me) and head to Dunkin Donuts.
Walking in quickly and giving the very hip “up” nod to the workers, who knew me as a regular, I would head directly to the bathroom where, in addition to the normal thing to do, I would wash my face, dry it with a paper towel, grab the toothbrush and paste stashed in my purse, and brush my teeth. When I emerged my coffee was ready for me. The largely Pakistani staff expected me, remembered my order, and never gave me a hard time about my frequent and prolonged bathroom visits — even when I had the kids with me and we did it as a group, waiting our turn, usually at night, which brings me to—
The night-time routine:
“Okay, kids we need to go and use the bathroom for the last time before bed. Get in the car.”
And we went to . . . Dunkin’ Donuts. The folks there would often give us free doughnuts, too! Plus I made friends with one worker even though there was a huge language barrier and I later helped her with a very personal issue — again something for another post.
I almost forgot that at one point there was a “Potty in the Basement” provided by the plumbers — really it was like an adult-sized training potty, except with chemicals. Yeah, that didn’t work too well either, partly because there was no light down there in the oil stained, crumbling stone basement, and partly because the contents of that potty needed to be dumped– not after every use because of the chemicals, but regularly. This meant carrying it up broken basement stairs, through the house and outside (walking a plank which extended from the back door four feet down to the ground, no deck or stairs yet) and then dumping it into the sewer line.
That potty overflowed once in the house. Ew. I just shuddered a little, thinking about it. Ew.
Damn, I’ve been through some shit, literally, shit . . . but I digress . . . and this post is getting long.
Realizing the bathroom remodel was going to take longer than expected, and when I finally had funds available (back child support was finally paid, on the very last day listed on the court order), I arranged for a port-a-potty to be installed in the back yard. After all, it was a construction site.
Oh the Port-A-Potty — it gave us another round of adventures . . . since it was Summer and my children were and are very afraid of bugs and the dark . . .
Anyway, this is how my love affair with Dunkin’ Donuts happened, it wasn’t just about the coffee.
Just Me With . . . a fully functional bathroom — now — though I still enjoy my morning coffee from my friends at Dunkin’ Donuts.
“Time to make the . . . Doughnuts?”
See, “She Asked For My Help” for the issue with my Pakistani friend.
On every home makeover show, every real estate show, they talk about how everyone loves the open floor plan. It’s the new black. Homeowners are forever busting through walls to open the kitchen to the family room and eliminating the dining room altogether.
There are two main reasons why the open floor plan is so so popular:
1. It is great for entertaining. People always end up in the kitchen anyway, right? This allows the cook to be in the kitchen puttering around and interact with guests.
2. It is great for parents of young children. It allows the parent to be in the kitchen and still keep an eye on the little ones in the family room. No more baby in a playpen or high chair in the kitchen while you make dinner.
Do you see the theme?
“STAY IN THE KITCHEN!“
The open floor plan negates any reason to actually leave the kitchen.
But there is a third reason: knocking out walls creates space, or at least an illusion of space within the same square footage.
When you think about it, the open floor plan has been common in apartments for years. Walk into an apartment and you can see everything except the bedroom. It was supposed to be a move up for an apartment dweller to buy a house and actually have separate rooms. This new open floor plan trend has essentially turned high-end palace homes into nothing but super-sized apartments, with a second floor.
For those of you who don’t have the open floor plan, before you take out all the walls in your house, and before you feel badly because you have a wall that you can’t take down, consider this:
1. Your children won’t be toddlers forever.
Children tend to grow. And there will come a time where you don’t want to and don’t have to watch every move they make.
2. Yes, you can see your toddlers, but your toddlers can see you, too.
My husband and I used to go into the laundry room to shove a snack into our faces so that the babies wouldn’t see and start wailing for some. Sometimes, I’d drop down behind the island like I’d heard sudden gunfire in order to have a cookie.
3. You can see your school-age, tween and teen kids, but they can see you, too.
With an open floor plan, you can forget coming down to sneak a snack over the counter in your jammies late at night, or reading the paper at the kitchen counter/table in the morning before your shower. There’s nothing like hearing, “Hi. Mrs. Peterson!” when you’re bra-less in a vintage tee and boxers drinking coffee in your kitchen. And if you dare talk on the phone while cooking or cleaning, you will be shushed by someone — or perhaps worse, a child will be listening in on every word. And it is a truism, a simple fact of life, that as kids grow, parents spend a fair amount of time hiding from them. The open floor plan is antithetical to the natural course of child-rearing in this respect.
4. Your kitchen must always be spotless . . .
There’s no door to close. When unexpected guests pop in — yours or your children’s — and you haven’t unloaded and reloaded your dishwasher — everyone can see it. Suddenly you’re a slob. The rest of your house could be spotless, but under these floor plans, no one ever sees the rest of your house.
5. Your family (TV) room includes a kitchen– a noisy, smelly kitchen.
Imagine sitting down in a darkened room, ready to watch a great emotional or talky movie and — oh hello, there’s your kid or spouse or whatever, in the kitchen, talking on the phone, repeatedly opening the fridge, making bacon, arguing with someone. Go ahead and click pause, because you can’t hear whatever George Clooney is saying, not that you need to . . . . but I digress. Your quiet moment has been ruined.
6. Children’s Programming/Teen programming/Sports/News — Anything you don’t want to watch at any given time.
Your little kid is watching Dora. Again, and again, and again. You can’t get away from it. iCarly? I get it, but I’ve had enough. People are enjoying the big game, snacking, yelling at the screen, having a good old time. You are wiping the counter after having loaded the dishwasher and setting out food for them. Worse, you can’t even mutter to yourself or roll your eyes at the unfairness of it all, because you are on display.
Essentially, the open floor plan allows you to be in the kitchen and watch — other people watch TV. Humph.
7. “Oh my gosh I dropped the chicken!”
In a perfect world, no one would know. Open floor plan? Well, it’ll be tweeted in minutes.
8. When entertaining, sometimes you need a minute.
Your mother-in-law is driving you crazy, your boss is bored, your husband/wife is saying something he/she shouldn’t, you need yet another drink, you just said something really, really stupid. With an open floor plan, THERE’S NO PLACE TO GO!!! I love all the classic TV shows where people could say, “Can I see you in the kitchen” or “I’m going to check on the food,” followed quickly by, “I’ll help you.” (This is all code for “We need to talk.” ) With an open floor plan I guess you have to hide in the bathroom, and that’s just plain icky.
One big room is fine, it can even be intimate when you are alone or coupled up. But once there are people of different ages, interests and responsibilities, well let’s just say that all this open living can be downright oppressive.
I speak from experience.
I knocked out a kitchen wall in my old house and built a family room addition. Instead of looking out my kitchen window and seeing trees, I created a view of my family room. I had young children at the time. I fell for the “I can be in the kitchen and see the kids” trap. Well, the children grew, the husband left, and I downsized to a much smaller fixer-upper home.
When it was time to do the kitchen, the contractor asked,
“You gonna knock out this wall?”
I said, “No. I want my wall. I need my wall.”
Truth is, I need some division in my life.
Sometimes I watch a little TV or listen to music while cleaning or cooking. Sometimes I sit at the kitchen table on my laptop or the phone while my kids are in the family room watching something that literally makes me ill. I’ve even been known to channel my inner Beyoncé and dance to my heart’s content in my kitchen. With my wall intact, I can be unseen but close by, and still opt in or out of the children’s entertainment at will.
It’s the little things . . . Sometimes a wall is a good little thing.
Just Me With . . . a divided floor plan and a bit of, well — if not sanity — at least a bit of privacy.
How to Get Rid of That Hoarder’s Smell
I’m on a sleep regimen. No messing around this time. I have a lot of crap to deal with and I need to do it without being sleep deprived. Sleep deprivation is a form of torture — of mind control, right? (We all saw the third Bourne, it can drive you to kill.) I haven’t slept on a regular basis in years. This week I have been making a point of going to bed at a decent hour. No television, no computer, no phone. I’m also taking a very mild sleeping pill. I have a low tolerance for sleeping pills, however, they put me seriously out, and I’m often groggy the next day, even though I’ve allowed myself the full eight hours of sleep recommended. Consequently, I take a low dose and break it in half. Still, two nights ago, it didn’t work well. I had trouble falling asleep with the half pill. So last night, I figured I’d take a whole low-dose pill.
All of my night-time routine work was done, i.e. dishwasher was running, instrument had been played, kids were in their rooms, dogs had been out and were back in. It was all good. Sleeping pill taken. Then,
“What?!!!!!!!!!” (I’d like to say I said, “Yes, Sweetie,” but I don’t think that was the case.)
“I CLOGGED THE TOILET!!!!!”
Swearing in my head commences. We’d just had a bad experience with this about a month ago, hereinafter known as “The Last Clogging Incident.” It was not pretty.
You should know that I hate plungers. I hadn’t bought one for this new old house (except for the first few days, we didn’t have a working toilet here anyway in so it was unnecessary . . . but I digress). I hate plungers because although they serve a useful purpose, I despise cleaning them afterward. It’s just one of my things. My usual method of unclogging is to pour water down the toilet, quickly, to “flush” out the obstruction. Often this must be done multiple times, but it works, it’s less messy and less smelly. During The Last Clogging Incident, however, it did not work. There was no plunger in the house and it was after midnight. Suffice it to say, I have a plunger now.
Back to last night, the hour wasn’t as late as The Last Clogging Incident, and I now own a plunger, BUT I HAD TAKEN A WHOLE SLEEPING PILL!!!! If I had a strong reaction to it, I would be a stumbling idiot in a few minutes. If not, and I simply attempted to override it, I would be cursed with a blinding headache. Plus, two kids had to use the bathroom. The “clog-her” was content in her bed, reading on her Kindle. grrrr Still, I had one on deck and one in the hole. The drug would soon take effect, and I, too, had to go to the bathroom. (As a result of prior medical/emotional issues, if I don’t go to the bathroom right away when nature calls, I become nauseated). Oh, did I mention we only have one bathroom in a house with 5 girl-type people and one boy?
It was a race against time. But since The Last Clogging Incident — when we ran out to a convenience store to use the bathroom just to buy time for me to figure out what to do and stave off my nausea — I had gained some knowledge. It is amazing what a simple Google search will yield. I had searched then for “How to unclog a toilet without a plunger.” I found the following. I do not claim ownership, authorship, or creative input. In short, I did not invent this method, but I pass it on.
Squeeze liquid dish detergent into the toilet.
Slowly pour boiling water into toilet.
The theory is that the soap lubricates the mass (ew) allowing it to pass more quickly and the boiling water breaks it up. All of this is safe for your commode — unlike using chemicals (which neither I nor the convenience store had anyway).
Last night I chose to use a variation. Liquid soap, hot, but not boiling water. I couldn’t wait for the boil, wanted to avoid the plunger. After a while — it worked. Two kids used the bathroom (before me, of course, I ignored the airline face mask on the adult first mantra).
After the second kid used it,
“MOM!!!!! THE TOILET’S CLOGGED AGAIN!!!!!” (The cursing in my head resumed also.) Time was not on my side, I was already feeling woozy and nauseated.
This time I got the plunger, the soap, and hot water (still couldn’t wait for boil). It took some work. (Note to self: add more fruit to kids’ diets). One kid helped (as I stood back, letting the wall hold me up, pinching my nose closed). But this was the kid responsible for The Last Clogging Incident, so I felt no compassion.
“It smells, Mommy.”
But finally, the sound of a flushing toilet. Twice for good luck. Thrice — well, for me. The plunger was rinsed, wrapped in a plastic trash bag and still sits on my back deck. I went to bed. I slept. I feel like crap today. I will only take a half a sleeping pill tonight. Still, I am triumphant. I am strong. I am invincible, I am . . .
Just Me With . . . a plunger on my porch and a half of a sleeping pill with my name on it.
I’ve talked about the crap I’ve had to deal with in my new house, well not crap, piss, actually, see Piss, Puke and Porn, but my old house had been a fixer upper, too. There were a lot of jobs that didn’t get finished, what with kids that started coming two at a time and then the husband walking out and all. But I had decided to sell and I had to do cosmetic changes quickly to make the house more appealing.
I needed to get carpet on the stairway and upstairs hallway. Not a job I could do myself. Even the most avid DIY-ers will call in the pros for carpet installation, especially stairs. So I got a quote from one of those next day installation companies since the house was already on the market and I needed a quick turnaround. Didn’t like the sales guy that came by hours late — said he couldn’t find my house and when he did, there were no cars in the driveway so he thought I was out. Wrong. But again, I needed a quick turnaround so I went ahead and booked a time for neutral colored carpet to be installed next day.
For staging purposes, I had already moved one of my dressers from my bedroom to another room to make my bedroom appear larger. (This was a big house , but it was an old house so we didn’t have the huge walk in closets, etc., just a lot of rooms). So my dresser, containing my bras and panties and pajamas, was in the room (formerly and traditionally, a nursery) adjacent to the master bedroom at the top of the stairs. I sometimes keep important documents in my panty drawer (anyone else do that?) so I had been looking in there for a credit card I don’t usually use to pay for the carpet. I admit that I may have left the drawer slightly ajar — cracked, but not completely open.
Sitting with the supervisor downstairs I completed the paperwork and made the down payment. While we were doing this the workers came in to prepare for installation. This much must be understood: this was a hallway carpet installation, the previous carpet had already been removed. In other words, there was no furniture to move out of the way and no bedrooms were getting new carpet. After the paperwork was finalized, I checked on the workers.
I walked upstairs to find a man in the extra room with his hand in the now open underwear drawer, gazing at and fingering my panties. My good, lace, hoping I’ll get lucky — underpants. Ew. (Ladies, you just crossed you legs, didn’t you?) As soon as he saw me he dropped them, removed his hand, looking like a kid caught with his hand in the candy jar — or more accurately — looking like a man caught with his hand in my panty drawer!
Nothing was missing from my drawer. But in my mind my panties would never be the same. I complained to the supervisor who spoke to the workers — in Spanish. I don’t speak Spanish. I complained to the corporate offices in writing. I got a call saying that they had investigated and the worker said the drawer probably fell open while they were moving furniture, and of course I countered,
THE WORKERS DIDN’T HAVE TO MOVE ANY FURNITURE TO INSTALL HALLWAY CARPET! THEY HAD NO TO REASON TO BE IN THAT ROOM AT ALL, LET ALONE IN MY UNDERWEAR DRAWER!
Now, I understand that any company can get a bad worker, but not only did they offer me nothing for my experience, but I even got the subsequent follow-up marketing calls, you know, the “How did you like our service?” calls. It was funny, because I would calmly respond, “The carpet is fine, but one of your workers played with my panties and that kinda of ruined it for me. So, no, I can’t recommend your company to anyone.” Ha! Oh, the stutters I would get from the unknowing telemarketer!!! But really, what kind of company would keep me on the call list after I’d complained in writing?
This is a national carpet company — and to this day when I hear their ads with their catchy jingle, I sing a little ditty — “They’ll install carpet and feel up your panties — today.”
Just Me With . . . panties that get more action than I do.