Taming the Beast

Years ago, before starting Milk & Honey, I returned to school to finish up my bachelors degree. At the time the kids were toddlers and I was able to take most of my classes online. It worked great. I was studying towards nurse anesthesia, so I’d drop my older one off at preschool, put the baby down for a nap then immerse myself in anatomy, physiology, microbiology and the like. Earning straight-A’s the whole while, I was rather proud of myself.

Then the kids grew, as kids are prone to doing, and my classes reached upper level status where I was no longer able to take them online. So began the cycle of the past two years: dropping the kids off at their respective schools, driving downtown to my university, taking classes all day, picking up the kids (from my mother who would watch them in the afternoons for me, bless her soul), help them with whatever assignments they had, have dinner as a family, put the kids to bed and then make the choice between hanging out with my husband for the first time all day, or studying, or tidying up the house. I am a hedonist at heart, so it was really no contest. A cork was popped, red wine poured and the rest of the evenings were spent unwinding with my husband.

Pretty soon I found ways to “make it work” and still do whatever I wanted. I would study and do all of my assignments on campus between classes, so my grades never dropped and I didn’t feel guilty about ignoring my books at home. I would pick a random day of the week (usually when the house was getting completely out of hand) and do all the laundry, dishes, mopping and vacuuming so the house looked presentable for the next few days. If we had people coming over then of course I would do the little “extras”, like make sure there were no Cheerios dried fast to the dining room table and hiding a weeks worth of family detritus in the front hall closet. We wouldn’t have passed the white glove test, but for a family of four who all went to school full-time, we were doing pretty well with the proverbial juggling act.

Then this fall, my senior year began. I’d switched from biology to psychology for the simple reason that it allowed me to graduate a year earlier and I was really, reaaalllly tired of being in school. After four straight years (including summers) of being in school full-time (that’s what happens when you change your major 53 times), I developed a nasty case of senioritis. To add insult to injury, this spring every last professor has a strict attendance policy, with major grade penalties for missing more than three classes. Oh, and I decided to start my business.

In my delicate juggling act, all the balls hit the floor. With the pleasure and success I was finding in my store, I resented the time I had to spend sitting in classes that I otherwise would have skipped and still done well in. With the new responsibilities of running a small business, sometimes that day of the week where all the housework was done never arrived. I still give just as much time to my husband and kids, because in thirty years that’s what’s going to matter more than whether or not the clothing ever made it out of the laundry pile and into the closet. (Spoiler alert: it doesn’t. The laundry piles are now the acting closets for the family).

I realized that I have to organize the house better so that it doesn’t need such constant attention. I just have to get through June, when I finish my last class and then I’m home free to unleash the inner Martha: dusting, moving furniture to vacuum under it, buying paper towels before we run out, and going full-time with my shop. My Spring Break is in a couple of weeks, and while my fellow college students (most a decade younger than I) will be heading off to Cancun (is that still where everyone goes?), I will be spending seven days cleaning and organizing our house. And I’m looking forward to it. Disturbing.

On the list is the usual spring cleaning tasks, namely: throw out anything that no one has played with or worn in the past 6-12 months. It is critical that this part be done while the children are in school or else the broken dinosaur whose digital roar has deteriorated into a feeble electronic gasp will suddenly be my sons favorite toy. And the pile of mixed up puzzle pieces that have languished on the floor of my daughters closet will become her most prized possessions.

I also need to do something about our front hall. I snapped a few pictures this morning, and keep in mind, this is the hall looking good. With everyone gone but me, there are no lunch boxes, book bags, laptop cases or gym bags here. This is just what’s left over even without all that: The console is the breeding ground for elementary school artwork, bills and junk mail. The shoe basket (we don’t wear shoes in the house) overflows with at least the last three sizes of shoes the children have gone through. The umbrella stand (how adorable is that owl?) holds one lone umbrella. God help my husband if it’s a rainy day because that umbrella unfolds to become an enormous duck head, complete with a large bill sticking off the front of it. I’m pretty sure we have some normal adult umbrellas somewhere, but I haven’t the faintest clue where. I also see one of my sons coats. I say “one of’ because he has to have two since one is perpetually left at school. I can’t blame just the kids. If you turn 90 degrees to your right, you’ll see this: Yes, those are my school books, book-bag, coat and potting soil (?). I see the kids have each disrobed in the hallway and added their shirts to the pile. This is helpful when I’m scrambling to find that day’s note-book and get out the door on time.

Why isn’t this stuff in the closet? Here’s why: My husband and I apparently own 78 coats even though the coldest it got this winter was 45 degrees. There’s also a second shoe basket, because I realized we needed a bigger one and just shoved the old one in the closet, still filled. I see my yoga mat peeking sadly around the corner at me. I used to practice daily until this year. Up top we have bags of outgrown kids clothes that I keep meaning to take to Goodwill. And yes, that is a Christmas wreath barely visible on the front of the closet door. And yes, it’s March today. Oh my God, I’ve turned into my mother.

It’s important to note (mainly so that my husband doesn’t kill me when he sees this post) that the front hall is the worst spot in our home. Even with the crazy schedules, we tend to keep things tidy except for here. This is where we literally and figuratively unload the burden of a long day, and the rest of the house is actually rather nice. That said, this room is a nightmare. So come Spring break, 99.9% of what you see will be thrown out or donated and the rest will be contained in what will then be a spacious, well organized space. Here’s my project: I don’t own this, but hopefully with the help of Craigslist I will own one like it soon. (dark wood (not particle board), 36inches tall). Then I will take out the shelves and add this to the back: Then screw in a few of these:And then put a couple of these on the bottom: My hope is that it will look a little like this, only closet-sized:I know (only because I’ve seen it with my own two eyes) that my children understand the concept of putting their coats and bags away into cubbies. They do it at school every day. My hope is that bringing that idea home will not only make our hall the kind of place you’re not embarrassed to let the pizza-man see, but will also let them feel responsible by taking care of their own things. I’ll be sure to post a tutorial when I’m done if I run into any tips or mistakes that might be helpful for others planning on doing something similar.

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  1. […] something must be done about the train wreck we call a front hall. Feel free to refresh your memory here, but brace yourself for some altogether UN-luxuries pictures! Well, during my Spring Break I […]