I recently had a vacation with the extended family. We rented a big house during the off-season at a resort area — so cheap. My family took pity on me because I had been unwell lately and because I currently live in a home with only one bathroom that I share with my five kids, though one is away at school.
So even though I don’t have a “Master,” per se (gag me), they let me have one of the master bedrooms. This meant I had my very own bathroom.
My very own bathroom. It was a thing of beauty. It had a jacuzzi tub and a separate shower, a private water closet and — space! I could dance in my bathroom. I briefly considered holding some sort of meeting there. It had more floor space than my current family room has. Plus, I didn’t have to make an announcement before I showered in case others had to use the bathroom first and I didn’t have to use the bathroom quickly before someone else took a shower. For a week, I didn’t have to wade my way through acne products on the sink and teen clothes left on the floor.
My glorious bathroom also had double sinks. I’ve discussed the double sink thing before, at Double Sinks in the Master Bath –Must We Have them, Really? One of the problematic issues about them being standard in new construction is the fact that not everyone is coupled up. The sinks are kind of a throw-back to the assumption that the heads of the households — the ones who deserve the best rooms — are always a couple.
Now, I loved having my own bathroom for a week. I am not complaining. It was an indulgence I’m sure many have on a daily basis, but for me? I was living like a queen, albeit temporarily. Still, I felt slightly silly in this bathroom. It may have been the double sinks. This was a bathroom built for two. Every time I went to wash my hands or brush my teeth or wash my face, it reminded me, ever so subtly, that I am single, occupying this space meant for a couple. The suite also had a king sized bed, and I have to admit that, after all these years, I’m still sleeping on “my side of the bed.”
I took turns using first one sink and then the other so that neither one would feel left out. (That’s my throw-back to having twins. Keep it equal as much as I can, in an effort to keep them out of therapy.) Inexplicably, I also locked the door to the water closet when I was in there. I guess I didn’t want my non-existent ghost husband to walk in on me when nature called as he breezed in to shave over “his” sink.
Oh wait, no one was going to use that other sink.
I was the master of my bathroom domain.
Oh well. I loved having this huge bathroom all to myself for a vacation, but if I had actually purchased a home with double sinks that I’d have to look at day in and out? That would kind of piss me off. Contractors, realtors, HGTV — take note.
The master bath also came with two sets of towels — I guess for my invisible ghost man.
I used those, too.
Just Me With . . . one shower, one bathtub, one toilet, TWO sinks and a bunch of towels — Just For Me.
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 was in the midst of a nasty divorce and remodeling a nasty house. (See Piss, Puke, and Porn). I was learning how to do so many construction type things by myself. I went almost daily to the Home Improvement Store.
Sometimes I bought what I needed.
Sometimes I’d just stare at items and plan my next project.
Sometimes . . . I would just stare.
I had decided I would learn about electrical work (dangerous, I know). My thinking was that carpentry is all good but it requires a fair amount of strength – man strength that I just don’t have, and I’d often need help for those projects anyway, same with plumbing. I was looking to learn how to do things I can do my own damn self. So electrical work– nothing big– more like just being able to trouble shoot and maybe one day being able to replace a receptacle or put in a light fixture — could be a skill I could use by myself. It doesn’t take a whole lot of strength, and it seemed like something about which I could at least try to develop a working knowledge. So I bought a book and was standing in the electrical aisle — you know, just looking.
(As an aside, if you like the work boots kinda guy, it’s fun to look at the home improvement store customers early in the morning during the week if you can get there. Weekends, not so much, unless you want to ogle married guys with their wives and kids in tow.)
Anyway, a nice gentleman working there asked if he could help me. He was okay cute, well-spoken, friendly — impressed when I told him about my projects but not condescending. The conversation turned personal and I found out he was divorced with grown kids (he must have married young), and he owned his home. I told him I was getting divorced too, hence my move to the fixer home (my Hoarders dump).
I started to think: Well, this is The Perfect Man. Based on his store discount alone I could justify falling for him. Plus — bonus, he actually had skills, electrical skills, construction skills — and a nice smile. This man could teach me things. (I was still mid-divorce nastiness, not dating but trying to be open to it.) I started to fantasize about power tools and having someone to hold the other end of the tape measure. Ahhh “Maybe I should go out with this guy,” I thought. “What can it hurt?” So when he finally got around to asking if he could give me his number (very gentlemanly I thought), I just said, “Sure.” At the time, this was a huge step for me. Though my husband and I had been separated for a while, I did not feel very single yet and was not ready to be “out there.” (Sadly, some of that has not changed.) Anyway, he got some paper, scribbled his name and number and handed it to me.
His name? —- SAME FREAKIN’ NAME AS MY ESTRANGED HUSBAND!!!!
What the . . . ?
I kept his number for a while, but I couldn’t bring myself to call. I knew I’d never be able to say his name. Never. Ever.
My Home Improvement Store Guy Fantasy was over.
Just Me With . . . the digits of a guy with the same name as my husband.