Monday, January 31, 2011

Is Your Home Fat?

Have you ever looked at yourself in a mirror and thought "Wow.  What happened?"

I have.  And I'm betting a fair number of you have as well.  (And the ones who haven't, well, it'll happen).

What I'm talking about is weight gain.  I mean, really, the older I get, the more I notice how the train's gone off the tracks.  I've got pouches and bulges in places I've never even thought about before. It's hideous. Honestly, I look like all those old paintings from the renaissance.  You know the ones.  The ones with all the fat naked people eating grapes. Yeah, the paintings we've all seen at one point or another and have thought: "I don't get it. Who would take time and waste all that paint to paint these people?" Yeah . . . now I get it.  The artist probably looked like that, too and was painting these folks to make himself feel better.

Anyway, I'm pretty sure that most of us have, at one point or another, assessed ourselves and have decided we needed to lose weight. For me, that moment came when one of the kids asked me why I didn't wear a bra. For you, it was hopefully something else . . . because let me tell you, that comment stung. But whatever it was . . . we've all felt that shedding a few pounds wouldn't be a bad thing.

And really, that's not a bad idea for your home as well. (Yes. This little blog is still about home improvement stuff.)  See, just as we pack on pounds over the years, so do our homes. Oh, our pounds are packed on because of extra twinkies and donuts that we eat when we shouldn't . . . but our house gains weight as well. Not like that--not from donuts--but from the old furniture you don't know what to do with, so you stuffed it in the basement. Or the home decor you don't use anymore that fills the shelves in your cupboards. For me, I've got an entire closet upstairs committed to the following items: 1 vacuum that no longer works, a big foamy sleeping mat that nobody will sleep on because somebody had an accident on it and even though it's been washed, nobody will use it. 3 guitars I rarely play anymore, 1 keyboard I never touch, a mandolin I wish I knew how to play and a box of clothes my wife hid there because she didn't think I'd look there and because she didn't want to haul them downstairs and bring them to the mission.

My home, just like me, has gotten fat over the years. We've got every paper the kids have ever scribbled their names on stuffed into boxes. We have piles and piles of old CDs I never listen to anymore. We have loads of plastic storage units that just take up space in my workroom. We have what seems like 37 car seats because every time we buy one, the government comes out and says it's no longer any good. We've got bottles the kids used when they were little because of the sentimental value they possess. We've got 15 1/2 sippy cups stuffed into our cupboards. 15 1/2 sippy cups for 1 child who still uses them.

And then, there's the attic. That place of despair. That place that holds all the empty boxes of electronics that I bought--boxes I'm afraid to throw away because the minute I do, I'm convinced the electronic equipment will fail and I won't be able to send it back to the company. That place of despair that holds extra interior doors that we don't and never will need, a Christmas tree we haven't put up in over 6 years, a fan that doesn't work and mounds and mounds of ratty old insulation bats that I've just stacked up against a far wall because I don't know what else to do with them.

Yes, my home is fat. Obese. Cluttered. And I know mine isn't the only one. You're home is fat, too. Oh, it may not be as morbidly obese as mine seems sometimes, but it's still fat. And I don't know about you, but that depresses me almost as much as seeing myself in a mirror.

I hate the feeling (especially over winter, when I'm trapped inside) that the house is bursting at the seams--that every closet and cubby and hidey-hole is stuffed to the gills with junk I don't need. That makes me feel all itchy and claustrophobic just thinking about it. And when I'm stuck in the house all winter, it drives me nuts.

And I'm banking on the fact that it can drive you nuts as well in your own homes. And even if it doesn't, I still know you're going to feel tons better if you could find a way to shed the pounds in your closet and your cupboards and your attics.

So tomorrow we're going to dig into it. We're going to talk about some professional clutter removal tips and I'm going to prove to you that you can really, seriously make some money with your junk.  I can't help you get thin physically--look at me, I can't help--but I do know how to trim your house down.  We'll start tomorrow. 

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

A Gallon of Paint: The Tire of the Home Improvement World

I drive an old car.  An OLD car.  It's a 1996 Chevy Cavalier.  It's purple.  It used to be my wife's.  And yet, even though it has all that going against it--even though it's probably one of the least "manly" cars you're likely to see on the road--I continue to drive it.  The reasons?  It's paid for and it continues to run.

That is, until a couple months ago.  See, a couple months ago, the front end started giving out.

Now, I should be clear and explain that I'm not a car guy.  So, what I mean when I say the "front end started giving out," is simply that the car started shaking violently whenever I exceeded 30mph.  In fact, it would shake so violently that the flabby skin under my arms--you know, where your muscles would be . . . if you had them--started jiggling and bouncing and flopping all over the place.  It got so bad that just feeling it bouncing started to make me motion sick.

After one excessively jiggly ride, I got out of the car, waited for the flabby skin to settle down, and then announced to anybody who was listening (my wife), that it was time for a new car "because this one's shot."

However, before I jumped into the process of buying a new vehicle--and partly because I knew of my limitations as a "car guy"--I brought my little purple car in to a repair shop so they could confirm my diagnosis of death.  Surprisingly, after about 15 minutes with the car, they informed me that I needed a new passenger-side front tire.  

Yeah.  Instead of the $4000 bill for replacing my front end, I needed a $67 tire.  

Well, naturally, I told them to go ahead with the work and I was shocked when I drove the car off the lot and my flabby underarm skin didn't jounce all over the place.  It was hard to believe that a $67 tire could make all that difference.  But it did.

And crazy as it sounds . . . a gallon of paint is just like that tire.  

See, many folks look at their homes and, if they're bored with it or if their feeling that some changes need to be made, most of them feel that the solution is to remodel.  They debate whether or not they should tear out a wall, put in new flooring, rip out their cabinets and replace them with new.  They toy around with the ideas of buying new furniture, new artwork, new window treatments all in the hopes of sprucing up their home and giving it a much-needed facelift.

However, what many folks don't realize is that a gallon of paint can often make all the difference in the world. 

Now, maybe that doesn't sound accurate to you, but it's the truth.  Painting a room in your home is rated by almost every home decorator and home fix-it guru as the best "bang-for-your-buck" project you can tackle.  And the reason is simple:  the color on our walls does more to influence the look and feel of a room than almost anything else.  

You want to make your furniture look new?  Then put a new backdrop behind it.  Change that taupe on your walls to a brighter color, a darker color, a lighter color.  Go with a green or a blue or a grey and watch how your couch or your chairs suddenly take on new life.

Sick of those old cabinets?  Well, rather than rip them out and replace them (easily a $10,000 project), why not repaint them?  Get rid of that old wood look and turn them white, or bisque or whatever color you can imagine.  Sure, it will take some work, but in the end, you can probably accomplish the project for under $200--much less than the cabinet re-do.

To get back to my car scenario:  I was convinced the only way to make a difference in the way my car felt, was to either drop $4000 on huge repairs or to buy a new car.  I was shocked to find out that something so small--a new tire--could make the car drive almost like new.  In the same way, don't let yourself be convinced that the only way to spruce up your home significantly is to tackle some hugely expensive remodel project.  A gallon of paint can go a long way's toward changing the look and feel and attitude of any room--and at a price you just can't beat.

Monday, January 3, 2011

New Year's Thoughts: Sparkling Grape Juice and Mt. Vesuvius (part 1)

On New Year's Eve this year, my wife bought two bottles of Sparkling Grape juice. And as I popped them open at 12:01 am on January 1, I was suddenly reminded of a memory from my childhood.

See, it wasn't for New Year's Eve (because when I was a kid, I don't know if we ever saw the clock hit 11:00pm) but for some other festive reason, mom purchased a bottle of Sparkling Red Grape Juice. (Truth be told, it was probably on sale).  

Anyway, at dinner that fateful evening we ended with our little glasses of Grape Juice and then Dad crammed the plug into the bottle and asked me to put it in the fridge.

Everybody remained seated at the table while I took the bottle into the kitchen. However, part way across the room, I looked at the bottle.  Through the greenish glass, I saw the small amount of remaining juice sloshing around.  And then, after opening the door to the fridge, before I put the bottle in, I shook it.  I don't know why.  Maybe because I was a kid and didn't know any better.  Maybe because I wanted to watch it fizz in the bottle.  Maybe because I secretly hoped it would do what Champagne always does in the movies:  make a loud pop and then fizz and dribble out of the bottle.  

I truly don't remember what exactly I was thinking, but I DO remember watching the stuff in the bottle start to fizz and boil immediately after the shaking.  I then remember looking at the little plastic plug dad had crammed into the neck of the bottle. Then--and you've got to understand, things were moving quickly from this point on--I remember noticing that the plug was moving—out.

At that point, it was a foot race. I shot across that room like my life depended on it.  Because it did. 

My little-kid-barefeet slapped the linoleum like a track star's as I sprang across the room.  Wind whipped through my hair, my eyes teared (partly because of the speed at which I ran and partly because I was scared).  Using almost superhuman speed--like the Flash--I basically teleported across that room and ended up at the sink because, in my limited understanding of the situation, I believed I could contain the inevitable spill there.  Sadly, no.

As I arrived at the sink, that noble, brave cap gave up the fight and exploded from the bottle with the force of a cannonball.  It shot past my head, hit the ceiling with a loud thump and then shot off in another direction.  I don't know where it went because, at that point, I had other problems:  immediately following the cap event was a volcanic eruption that most likely dwarfed Vesuvius.

It could only be described as an explosion.  It was over in less than a second, but it was devastating.  I remember standing there and looking at the curtains covered with red grape juice that looked like blood. I looked at the walls and saw them dripping with grape juice. I turned and saw that the floor was covered with red foam. The cupboards were coated. The fridge was still open and was covered with juice—inside and out. And then, I looked still farther and saw my entire family staring at me.

I'll never forget two things about my family as they sat there.  First, I'll never forget dad's expression.  It was a mixture of absolute shock, supreme sadness, and a strange delight in seeing the sheer awesomeness of the explosion.  (Because no matter how old guys get, they still like explosions).

The other thing I'll never forget is staring at the back of mom's curly head.  She didn't turn and look at me.  She just sat there--looking the other way.  Hunched over.  Her back was coated in grape juice.  Her hair was full of it.  But she didn't turn--not at first.  She just sat there.  Maybe she was counting--trying to remain calm.  Maybe she was recovering from the shock.  Maybe she was praying.  I don't know.

All I remember thinking was that at some point, she was going to turn around and then, to paraphrase Ricky Ricardo, I was going to have a lot of 'splaining to do.

Well, eventually, inevitably, she did turn around.  And, believe it or not, rather than chew me up and down as I undoubtedly deserved, she laughed.  And then, of course, the whole family laughed.  Except for me.  (Because I figured it was a trick).

Turns out, it wasn't.  Oh, when we got to cleaning it up (and believe me, the "WE" I refer to was largely "ME") it wasn't all giggles and fun.  But still, mom never laid into me like I expected.  It remains one of the most unexpected reactions I've ever experienced.  And I bring it up not just because I think it's a great story, but because I there's a great lesson tucked away in it. We'll get to that tomorrow.