When Decor Becomes Clutter

I discovered something that surprised me when I started preparing my apartment for my impending renovation. I was removing the framed photographs from my living room to keep them safe and to prevent them from getting covered in construction dust. When I had removed most of them, I realized that I like the sparer, emptier look.

When had my decor become clutter?

I started out with framed photos on the mantel of my fireplace, as well as on top of my handsome wooden file cabinets. The photos on the file cabinets did double duty by hiding my cable modem and router.

But as more photos accumulated over the years, I started putting them on the bookshelves in front of the books. A few more things accumulated: a glass plaque commemorating my service on the board of my professional association, an award my husband had won, a framed gift from the cast of a show I had directed.

For many years, one non-negotiable piece of decor was my wedding bouquet, which I had made out of artificial flowers. (You can get away with a lot when it’s a second wedding!) I kept the bouquet in a ceramic vase that my daughter had made in elementary school, making it a double piece of memorabilia.

When I realized that I liked the sparer look, I started reevaluating things. I made the decision that the wedding bouquet had to go. It has been on display for over 28 years, and the white flowers were looking a bit gray. Besides, there is a wedding photo just a few feet away, so the bouquet is well represented there.

As I threw the flowers in the garbage, the punster in me relished the new meaning of “tossing the bouquet”.

When I removed the last of the photos from the mantel, it started to look too bare. So I know that when the renovation is over, I will be putting some of the photos back, just not all of them. I will also be keeping things off the bookshelves. The books are colorful and attractive, and I’m enjoying having them fully visible once again.

Take a look around your home. Have you accumulated so much decor that you feel a little overwhelmed? Is it hard to dust everything? Consider taking everything away and then putting the most important things back one at a time until it seems full enough. That’s what I intend to do.

My photos piled up for safekeeping

When One Project Begets Many

Have you ever avoided a project because you knew the end result would be a lot more projects?

I had that experience a few days ago. The task “Organize photo shelves” has been on my list since the pandemic began.

All my life, I have put my photos in albums. I used loose-leaf binders, which fit very nicely on my bookcase. When I became a parent, however, I became a scrapbooker to better document my daughter’s life. I switched to 12″ by 12″ albums, which were too big for the bookcase. So I purchased a narrow but deep bookcase that I used just for the scrapbooks, photos, and the larger supplies that scrapbooking requires. The bookcase lives in my bedroom.

Thirty-seven scrapbooks in the living room!

Eventually the number of scrapbooks outgrew that bookcase and I relocated all of them into my living room, which was nice because they are very attractive, and it’s handy when I want to show someone a photo. The photo bookcase continued to hold photos and supplies, but also became a dumping ground for anything memorabilia-related, including documents I took from my parents’ home after they passed away.

Four years ago, I stopped scrapbooking and started using online software to create my albums. (See my post The Last Scrapbook). No more physical photos! In recent years, I started thinking that my bedroom would look better if that bookcase weren’t there. But I knew that clearing it off would be a big job that would require a lot of decisions, so I put it off.

Finishing up an album

Last weekend, I tackled those shelves. After I went through everything on the bookcase, I made a list of all of the things I need to do to be able to get rid of that bookcase. I ended up with a list of 8 additional projects!

Three of those projects involve finishing up some special albums that I started years ago. I tackled two of them over the weekend, and I hope to make some progress on the third one this weekend. Eventually I plan to sell or donate most of my unused scrapbooking supplies.

I know that I have more work and decision-making ahead of me before I can achieve my goal of getting rid of that bookcase. But I feel good that unfinished projects are getting done and that progress is being made towards getting unneeded things out of the house.

Photos and memorabilia are so important to us, and getting them into an accessible and enjoyable format is worth the time and energy put into it. Otherwise, they are just clutter.

Life in the Time of Corona

Another week has gone by, and there is still no clear end in sight for our self-quarantine.

I’ve made slow but steady progress on my photo project, giving descriptive names to the photos that I had digitized in recent years. I’m now past the halfway point (I’m on roll 112 out of 200). We’re still chuckling at the amusing photos from when our daughter was small.

I’ve also made progress on the books that have been sitting on my shelves waiting to be read. Interestingly, many of these books came from my clients. When clients are downsizing books and getting them ready for donation, I will sometimes pull out one and ask if I can take it home to read. They always agree enthusiastically, as it’s hard for them to get rid of books and they are glad to know that the book is going to be read at least one more time.

Here are a few more activities I’ve adopted in recent weeks:

Virtual Exercising

For years, I have been working out with a personal trainer. Twice a week, he rings my doorbell at the appointed time, and I work out using exercise equipment that we have gathered over the years: weights, kettle bells, resistance bands, etc. I know how to use this equipment and can do this workout without him, but if he doesn’t ring my bell, I don’t exercise. I know that about myself and hiring him is how I keep myself honest.

When the coronavirus hit NYC with a passion, he and his family decamped for his house in another state. We took a week off, and now we are exercising virtually. We connect via FaceTime, and it’s the next best thing to him being there. Since I spend most of my time sitting around, I’m grateful that we have figured out how to keep me active. It definitely breaks up the week.

The extra added bonus is that my daughter is working out with us. Unlike me, she loves to exercise. She is extremely fit (and 22) so he comes up with stuff for her to do that is beyond what I can do. (Sometimes it’s the same as what I do but for longer time and with heavier weights!) Having my daughter involved makes it more enjoyable and keeps me motivated.

Fun With Hand-Washing

I think I have washed my hands more in the last three weeks than I did in the previous three years. Since 20 seconds is the recommended length of time for hand-washing, social media and other sites have been sharing ideas for songs that you can sing to ensure that you don’t stop before 20 seconds is up. The one that spoke to me was “A Spoonful of Sugar” from “Mary Poppins”. I’m a musical theater gal, so of course my hand-washing song had to be from a musical! I also like the message of the song: if you make something fun, it becomes less tedious. And it’s also perfect for my voice!

This has made hand-washing a much more fun task for me. What song have you been using?

Give Yourself Rewards

If you are used to a day with a lot of structure, it can be confusing when that structure goes away. I’m used to working from home, but what’s new for me is staying inside all the time (except for walking the dog or shopping for groceries). Having all that endless time, paradoxically, can make it hard to be productive. One can easily lose one’s way reading all the funny memes on social media or diving deeply into the news cycle.

One way that I have stayed productive is to set myself goals for the day, and then allowing myself to do my own thing when those goals are finished. Once I’ve checked everything off my to-do list for the day, I can start working on my photo project, or read a book, or watch videos on Facebook. Doing my personal stuff is a reward for getting my work done.

Wishing you all a spoonful of sugar as we wait this out.

Conversation Piece

The first time my name appeared in The New York Times was in January of 2013. I had submitted an anecdote to their weekly column called Metropolitan Diary, and it had been printed! I had recently worked with a client who had also been included in Metropolitan Diary, as did her husband at another time. Both columns had been framed and hung in their kitchen.

So when my story got printed, I decided to get it ready for framing. Rather than cutting it out of the newspaper and watching it yellow, I contacted my colleague Cyndi Shattuck, who is an archivist. I sent her a link to the article as it appeared on the New York Times website, and also sent her what it looked like in the print edition. She returned to me a beautifully laid out and easy-to-read version printed on card stock.

Three months later, I was in the Times again, interviewed for a column called Market Ready, which appears in the weekly Real Estate Section. This was especially exciting, as it was related to my professional expertise. And then two months after that, my husband was in the Times television listings. I contacted Cyndi, and she prepared both for framing.

For several years, these ready-for-framing printouts sat in my closet. Despite my desire to frame them, I wasn’t quite sure where to hang them. The natural place would be in my home office. However, my home office is in the corner of my living room, and I didn’t know if it would work with my decor — and if it would be too boastful — if we hung these there.

The final push came in December of last year when I was once again in the Times, this time in an article called “The Post-Holiday Clutter Purge”. Not only was I quoted, but my picture was included! I contacted Cyndi once again, and she did a masterful layout featuring the entire article, my photo, and another photo of my closet that appeared only in the on-line version.

Now that I had four Times features, I was finally ready to display them. Over the summer, I took them to the local framing shop. The framer complimented me on my decision to have the articles reprinted on acid-free card stock rather trying to frame the original newspaper articles. Once they were ready, I cleared off the artwork that appeared on the wall of my home office, over my computer. I figured out the best way to arrange the new pieces and hung them up.

I’m quite delighted with the way they look! They complement that wall much better than the two mismatched pieces of art I had there before. And they have become a conversation piece.

From working with over 300 clients in their homes, I know that many people have items hidden in their closets that they planned to display, but something got in the way. If that sounds like you, I suggest you get those things out of your closet and figure out the best way to display them. Whether they are photos that feature significant people in your life, or certificates that represent achievements you are particularly proud of, or memorabilia from important moments, they are doing you no good sitting in a closet or a drawer. Honor those special people or memories by getting them out there!

I’m getting so much pleasure from having my framed items up on the wall, and I guarantee that you will enjoy getting yours out of the closet, too. If you need an archivist’s help, I recommend you contact Cyndi Shattuck Archiving. In addition to getting your documents ready for framing, she can help with making high-quality photo albums.

The Last Scrapbook

When we adopted our daughter as a 12-month old from a Chinese orphanage back in 1998, we had very little information about her background, and just a handful of photos. I decided that I would compensate for that by making her the most well-documented child in New York City history.

Throughout my life, I had always made photo albums of my pictures, but I knew that I needed to take it to a higher level. Fortuitously, through a well-placed brochure at the pediatrician’s office, I discovered Creative Memories. They are a manufacturer of archival quality scrapbooking materials, and at that time they only sold their products via consultants. I made the connection, and embarked on a new hobby.

Scrapbook page

A typical scrapbook page

For many years, I indulged my creativity by creating fun pages that showcased photos, ephemera, greeting cards, and embellishments such as stickers or drawings. A typical page (like the one pictured for my daughter’s 14th birthday party at a circus school) included a title, dates, captions, and memories – a process known as journaling. Every play date, every vacation, every family gathering, every snowman was photographed, chronicled, and archived for posterity.

When she was little, I created two albums per year. As she got older, I took fewer photos and made only one album per year. The year she turned 18, I realized that once she went to college, I would not have enough material to warrant the time-consuming effort of creating scrapbooks and maintaining the inventory of supplies. I decided that 2015 would be my last scrapbook. After all, it would be silly to create a 32-page album of photos of nothing but my dog (cute as he is). It was time to take a new approach.

Towards the end of last year, I decided to create my 2016 photo album on-line, and then have it printed out as a book. First,I went through the same process that I did when I scrapbooked my physical photos. I had to organize all the digital photos, decide which ones were the best, and crop them to show them to their best advantage. Then I uploaded them to Snapfish, which is the site I had been using for years to print my photos. I decided to make a 12 x 12 album, which is the same size as my scrapbooks.

A page from the album I made digitally

A page from the album I made digitally

It took me a while to get comfortable with the page layout tool, but eventually I got the hang of it and it became almost as easy as doing it manually. I used the same techniques that I used when doing my scrapbooks: titles, captions, journaling, and the occasional embellishment. I had fun selecting the photos, arranging them on the pages, and adding the captions. With the digital album, it was easy to shift pages around, rearrange photos, and change colors and fonts. My family enjoyed watching it come together.

Creating my physical scrapbooks was time-consuming because it required me to pull out all my supplies and take over the dining room table. I tended not to do it unless I had a large block of time available and the table wasn’t needed for a meal anytime soon. As a result, I didn’t work on it as often as I would have liked. I didn’t finish my 2015 album until late in 2016. By contrast, the digital album could be worked on in short bursts of time since all I needed to do was sit down at my computer and pick up where I left off.

Shortly after the new year, I finished the album and ordered it. I was very excited to receive it, and thus very disappointed when it arrived and didn’t match my expectations. Although I thought I followed the instructions, some of my photos ran right up against the edge of the page. I stewed about it for a while, then a couple of weeks ago, I wrote to Snapfish to complain. Their customer service rep was so helpful. She told me what I needed to do to prevent this from happening again. Then she credited my account for the full cost of the album so that I could make the corrections and order it again. I told her that Snapfish had earned a customer for life. The new album arrived this morning, and I am very happy with it.

I’m pleased that I have found a 21st century way of handling my photos without sacrificing the enjoyment that we get from looking at our family albums. Having our photos in digital format is such a gift. It provides us with the flexibility of sharing them however we want. However, we shouldn’t neglect sharing them with ourselves.