When is it okay to clean out your 10 year old stepson’s room?

I’m home alone for a few days as mi novio and D went back to Santa Marta for Semana Santa.

I love having the house to myself. These periods become very relaxing, peaceful (because I can function without the TV on) and ultimately very productive. So in the past couple of days I’ve managed to clean out our bedroom, my wardrobe, the spare room and now I am working on D’s room.

I can’t admit to being a tidy person. Thankfully, mi novio and I are on the same wavelength when it comes to tidying and cleaning, as in my experience that is an important element for a less stressful relationship. I am also a hoarder. I have stuff and when I go through my things to throw them out, sentimentality overwhelms any motivation to de-clutter. When I moved to the US a few years ago, I didn’t even pack up my little family cottage. Mum said if she needed the place she would clean it out and pack it up. It was a bit of a different story when I moved to Colombia. I finally realised that I was going overseas for an indefinite period of time, and it was highly likely that the bits and bobs I was saving for “some day when I have kids” or “for when I have a costume party to go to” just wouldn’t even be unpacked but stay in my mother’s container of hoarded items, so I had a market stall, dropped off three boxes to the op-shop and threw out a heap of junk.

Having entered D’s room to put some clean clothes away, I decided his room also had to be on my clean out list. D certainly didn’t inherit his grandmother’s penchant for cleaning, nor do I think he falls into the same untidy/disorganised category as mi novio. I actually think he is the messiest of us all. Maybe it’s because he’s a ten year old boy, but about two weeks ago he spent a whole afternoon supposedly cleaning up his room. In his ten year old mind that obviously didn’t mean sweeping under the bed or cleaning out and re-organising the shelves.

When I think back to my time as a 10 year old, I had just moved into my very own room. It had a built in desk and shelves where I could put all my little ornaments (and there were a lot of them). I loved having my privacy. I think it was not long after this that I started to have regular toybox clean ups. My ritual would involve opening up the toybox and pulling out all sorts of things – mostly junk – and then convincing my younger brothers and sister that it would be great for them. In effect, I tidied up my toybox, and would carefully put everything back in the box in neat piles, yet the junk only moved to another room of the house.

I also remember the fear whenever Nan came to stay. Almost every single time she came to stay she would get the rake out of the shed and rake out our rooms while we were at school. This was terrifying for all of us and I’m still not sure whether Mum sanctioned this behaviour or not. Perhaps Mum now feels somewhat vindicated of her own hoarding that would also come under threat whenever Nan came, because she then had to clean out Nan’s house after she moved into a nursing home and Mum discovered Nan’s very own hoarding habit hidden in a four bedroom house.

I tried to keep in mind what it was like having someone else forcibly enter my room and clean it out according to their own definitions of rubbish while I was in D’s room, but ultimately I just got on with it. My compromise was a bag of things that I would be happy to throw out, but that D should see first. I’m curious as to whether he will actually go through that bag and put away neatly any of those things.

It will be interesting to find out whether I suddenly become the wicked stepmother, or whether he’ll take it all in his stride and be happy with the new pairs of tracksuit pants I’ve bought and left on his bed as a surprise. There’s also the Easter chocolate he won’t be expecting to sweeten the deal even further. Let’s hope that at the very least, the Lego stays in one general area and not end up in every single drawer, nook and cranny of his room. I think that would be called a cleaning win.

What’s your approach to cleaning a 10 year old’s bedroom, is it their job or your job?



The hoarding must stop

The live-in help's bedroom turned storeroom
The cleaned out storeroom with just one bag of plastic bags remaining. Hard to believe you couldn’t see any of the slats pre clean-up.

We live in an apartment that has a tiny room and bathroom for a live-in maid.

At least half the apartments we looked at had a room for such purpose (cuarto de servicio), and being from a country where people don’t have live-in help (unless they are super wealthy) that came as a bit of a surprise.

Knowing that we would not be having live-in help, the tiny little room that is about as big as a double bed and its attached bathroom off the laundry became our storeroom. A better name would be to call it the junk room and that spells disaster for a genetically programmed hoarder.

The narrow single bed is built in at waist level atop cupboards where we store suitcases and boxes (kept for the time when we have to move again). The built in floor to ceiling cupboard is the linen press with shelves dedicated to cleaning equipment and one shelf for the Christmas decorations. The Christmas tree, wreath and tubes of baubles are stored in the shower of the bathroom, along with the polystyrene base for the fridge box. On top of the slats for the bed is where the hoarding happens. This is where the reusable shopping bags and backpack are kept, thrown on top of whatever old newspaper or handful of plastic bags. It is a huge mess and a pile of absolutely unnecessary crap that I think has been stressing me out and making me feel blah.

Sending the boys off on an adventure to Nemocon salt mine, I attacked this room with the mission to get of crap and plastic bags.

I started by removing all the recycling to in front of the apartment door so that the boys could take it down to the basement on their way out. I’m rather ashamed to admit that there were 20 egg trays that I had ostensibly been saving to make some egg carton flowers I’d found on Pinterest but never made. They went out, along with the newspaper magazines and catalogues. We had a full sack of plastic bottles I sent down as well. The biggest surprise for me was the sheer quantity of plastic bags we had cluttering up this little room. La suegra had bagged them up neatly when she was here last, but still, they had gotten out of control.

I think it’s worth mentioning the unhealthy relationship that Colombia has with plastic bags. I have never seen anyone take a reusable shopping bag to the supermarket. There seems to be something of a push to get people to use reusable bags, but it’s not embraced. At the supermarket they sometimes even ask if you want your shop double-bagged so it doesn’t break. All bags also come printed with a message saying to reduce plastic bag use, but I don’t think many people have actually read that, and no checkout operator pays any attention to it. So despite using plastic supermarket bags as bin liners and halving the plastic bags we receive at the supermarket by taking a backpack and another jumbo carry bag, we have an unhealthy mountain range the size of the Sierra Nevada in plastic bags.

Reducing the number of plastic bags in our possession was one of my top goals. I started by reviewing the shopping bags and separating the ones with holes from the whole ones (no pun intended). The good ones we could use for bin liners were put in a long plastic bag that had originally contained 6 x 1.1L bags of milk. That is now strung up and is where all the bin bags will be kept. I also kept the jumbo sized bags as they often come in handy, but only kept the best ones and put them all in one bag. I also like to keep the nice ones that you get from clothing and gift stores, and again only picked out the very best that I may actually use one day. We now have the two infrequently used bag types stored in the laundry cupboard, where it should be noted that I found even more stashed bags…

While I just kind of chucked about 5 bags of plastic bags, I am starting to wonder if the supermarkets here have bag recycling points. I feel like I may have seen a few, but then I don’t know if my mind is playing tricks on me and superimposing an Australian supermarket over my local Jumbo. I felt guilty about just chucking them without checking for a supermarket recycling point first, but if I had waited then it would probably end up like when I bag up clothes to take to the op shop and instead of making an immediate trip there it just ends up being stored away again and no space is de-cluttered.

In addition to the massive plastic bag chuck out, I also reorganised the kitchen cupboards and cleaned everything thoroughly, getting rid of the greasy grime on the cupboard doors. Now I just have to hope that my boys will live by the new plastic bag rule, and that I don’t fall back into this old hoarding habit.

What do you hoard?

The chore hostel

I’d never encountered a hostel where, in addition to paying for your bed, you had to do some other cleaning task to qualify to stay.

Sure I’ve come across plenty of places where you work in exchange for a bed, but not where the sole cleanliness of your room relies on the effort of the person who stayed there before you.

For me, this wasn’t such a big deal, I was happy to clean up after myself. Unlike at home, while on the road I’m quite pedantic about cleaning up after myself and drying my dishes rather than letting them drain in the communal kitchens. However, when the initial state of the place is pretty tatty and the chores are said to be “to engender community” I kind of get a bit affronted.

You wouldn’t think it is a hostel with all the broken down old cars and ancient caravans waiting to be restored in the carpark. As I marketer, I know that’s not how you present your business. The verandahs in front of the rooms all had planks of wood and other bits and pieces caked in dirt cluttering them up and the kitchen looked like an explosion had gone off.

In the kitchen’s defense, that was after a veritable truckload of donated food past their sell by dates had entered the hostel. Something they get for their non-profit status. So while it was a bit scungy yet oozing potential, the free food is a bonus to backpackers always on the lookout for a cheap feed.

The day after camping

Today began that tedious chore of unpacking, washing and storing after a camping trip.

We had to unpack our bags and put away food and other items and then we had to wash our clothes that smelled strongly of the scent Eau de Campfire. I think this is better left for the day after. Arriving home after a camping trip, all you want to do is have a shower and get some sleep in a comfy bed. I certainly ticked all those boxes before even thinking about the tidy up.

And I have to admit, I also fired up the computer and my phone before my post camp shower. It’s nice being disconnected while out in the middle of nowhere, but then it feels great to come home and be reconnected. Is that sad?

Who owns the leaky pen

Interpreting this requires a couch potato

Our landlord is coming to take back his couch tomorrow, which is a crying shame because we love it. It is comfy and the red embossed fabric is beautiful and really makes the light colours in the apartment pop.

Luckily I decided to plump the pillows today and take a seat in it for one of the last times which brought to my attention

a blue ink stain on the middle of one of the seat cushions. This is not a good thing. J brought out the fabric stain remover and after reading the instructions I started blotting with some paper towel.

I blotted, and I blotted, and I blotted. I sprayed the paper towel again and continued blotting until the paper towel looked something like those Rorschach inkblots. My patience wore thin and the stain still seemed to refuse to budge.

Now I just have to turn the cushions over and hope he doesn’t notice.

Tool time

Bed being uncovered
After ripping off the interfacing the damage was exposed and I got to work ripping staples out.

All the cards fell into place this weekend for me to fix my broken box spring.

I spent Saturday stripping the upholstery off the frame staple by staple. As I had not yet purchased a tool set, I managed to do the job with my Leatherman (which by the way, has never been used as much as it has here where it is truly indispensable) and a pair of nail scissors. It did take a really long time though and my patience wore somewhat thin.

By the end of the day I’d removed the interface, the fabric cover and the big piece of cardboard sitting on top of the slats and exposed the frame in all its shoddy Made in USA glory.

Skeleton of a bed
After removing the fabric and cardboard. I still can't believe they tried to gaffer tape it up.

Cue to Sunday where prior to going to Home Depot for the timber I’d measured up and to buy myself a tool kit and drill I met up with My Friend Who Puts the A in LA to go to the Hollywood Farmers Market. I mentioned my planned outing and discovered that he has a drill which he gladly loaned me after I said I’d buy the drill bits he didn’t have. So that saved me a few bucks.

I always enjoy going to Home Depot (a Bunnings equivalent) in Westlake, between Echo Park and Downtown. The staff are friendly and helpful, and there are so many conversations going on in Spanish around me. Today no fewer than three people helped me out and I had at least four others ask if I needed some help. Maybe it was because I wore my damsel-in-distress-I-don’t-know-what-I’m-doing look. I find it is always helpful when doing traditionally male things, even if I really do know what I’m doing.

I picked up the drill and driving bits for A, bought a probably dodgy $10 tool set, some screws and had five pieces of pine cut to length. I had initially been concerned that the timber wouldn’t fit in Esmeralda, but they did easy peasy as unlike my Daewoo in Australia, she has fold down seats.

Drill time
Putting the drill to work on the slats

Back home I pulled the frame out into the lounge area and tried to rip off the broken slats. They were nailed down harder than they looked (with an odd little nail that had a thread on the end) so in the end I just broke off the splintered pieces. The centre rail was broken and had a piece missing, so I screwed a new piece of pine to the side of it and up against the chock blocks and then put the four new slats into the frame.

Finished piece
Finished and atop the frame! DIY success.

I decided against putting the fabric cover back on because it was one of the manky items that had been painted, and also it was just more work! Dad always says I do a rough job of things (on the DIY front), and whilst it probably rings true on this occasion the end result is all that matters, and tonight I will sleep in an elevated position for the first time in ages.

An awkward evening

Today was move-in day to our new apartment.

The excitement of the day was quickly dashed when we landed in a filthy dirty apartment where it was clear that even the floors hadn’t been swept. We had half expected this to happen given the state it was in two evenings earlier, but it was still mighty disappointing.

Adding to our frustration, Alicia, the professional cleaner we had asked to come and do a comprehensive clean with her team said our apartment should be immaculate when we move in and was telling us about our rights. She also said it would cost $600 to clean. This amount seemed a little exorbitant, but there was five odd years of grime and dust caked all over the place.

Dusty fans

The fans hadn’t been dusted in forever and the carpets hadn’t even been vacuumed properly. Shelves had dust piled up on them and the bathroom doors hadn’t been swept behind. Not to mention a really bizarre patch of hairs stuck to the wall above the bathroom door. And let’s not mention the balconies (yes, plural, we have two tiny balconies with fantastic views), alth0ugh I do want to mention the pair of spy binoculars left out on the loft balcony. That was kinda creepy.

The loft needs a wipe

We called our landlord, who turned up somewhat unexpectedly not long after. He asked us to point out what needed doing and then said he didn’t like the start we’d gotten off to and was offering us the option to back out of the lease. Which is not what we wanted. We just wanted to have a clean start, I mean we were prepared to do some cleaning of things to our own standards, but just not a whole apartment.

I felt sick. I don’t like confrontation and I didn’t want us to be getting off onto a bad start. Our landlord said he would see if someone would come and do the bits and pieces we’d discussed that day. So we moved a few things and then decided we would at least clean our wardrobes out so we could unpack. This made the sick feeling go away.

None of this was ours...

The landlord called to say someone would be coming around to clean at 7pm. We joked that it would be him rocking up, and we needn’t have, because that’s exactly what happened. He came in, alone, wearing rubber gloves and singing along to his iPod saying “I’m going to put Alicia out of business” with a little showbiz kind of turn.

It was one of the most awkward 2.5 hours of my life. We sat around on our computers throwing meaningful looks at each other, while he got down on his hands and knees to give the skirting boards a wipe. We emailed each other in order to communicate. I felt a combination of annoyance, pity and violation.

Eventually he left, saying he’d be back in 2 days to clean up the balconies. Some things on our list had been done, but others like cleaning out the kitchen and bathroom cupboards and mopping the floors didn’t even get touched. So after he left, Gin and I got busy in the bathrooms and kitchen, using up half a 1L bottle of 4-in-1 cleaner in the process.

Tomorrow morning we have steam cleaners coming in, at our request and expense, to clean the carpets properly. Gin had thrown all the curtains in the wash earlier in the afternoon too as a way to rid the place of a stale cigarette smell. I think after tomorrow, things will be a whole lot nicer, more homely and definitely cleaner. So here’s cheers to a truckload of cleaning products and a bit of elbow grease. Happy housewarming.

PS Other than the general lack of cleanliness, our apartment is Amazing. With a capital A. And we Love it. With a capital L.

Apparently emus like mulberries

 New Year’s Day 2011 was spent on the amazing, flooded Murray River with my family in what is something of an annual event, a boat trip to pick mulberries.

Two ancient mulberry trees planted circa 1850s on an old homestead, are the only things beside a grave to remain from that time. Somehow these stooped trees managed to survive the drought to produce a crop of dark purple berries.

We’ve been coming to these mulberry trees since the mid 80s when my dad, uncle and grandfather built a modern day paddlesteamer. It’s been a pleasant and productive family outing ever since. This year the numbers dwindled to just Mum, Dad, Bro #1, Friday Night Dad and some of Bro #1’s friends, but that just meant more mulberries for me.

I love the amazing feeling of tradition that comes with eating mulberries. There is nothing better than sitting in the higher branches, container in one hand and the other red stained hand transferring warm, ripe mulberries from tree to mouth. I would always be chastised for eating more than ended up in the container, but I guess I paid for that whenever I accidentally ate one of the ants that also loved mulberries.

Emus ahead
Mulberry eating emus ahead

This year, our biggest competition was the emus. I never knew that emus liked mulberries, but it turns out that they do, even when they give them purple seeded diarrhea. As we walked over the hill, the dogs started barking and running towards the two trees, flushing out three emus in the process. At least emus can’t fly, so there were still some berries left for us. Emus are also discerning mulberry eaters and wait for them to ripen before pilfering.

Whilst gravity is increasingly against me, I did relive some childhood moments as I climbed up a branch or two. It wasn’t easy going and my clumsy adult body almost pitched through the web of a giant orb spider. Then I was too scared of both the enormous spider and falling out of the tree that I hardly any picked mulberries from that vantage point.

I picked a few, ate a few and squished a few on my top
Back at the boat we cleaned up. I had brought along some disposable rubber gloves to keep my hands stain free, but if you don’t have gloves when picking mulberries, just rub some green mulberries on the blood red stains on your hands and clothes and they will miraculously disappear!

In the end we managed to get five containers of mulberries, meaning plenty to have with ice cream for dessert, which is my second favourite way to eat them, right after straight from the tree.

The big wardrobe downsize

It’s 38 days until I move to LA and in preparation I am taking a fashion trip down sentimental lane.

I will freely admit to anyone that I am a hoarder. I won’t get rid of clothes, shoes or accessories because I come up with an excuse, such as:

  • I might fit into it when I lose weight one day
  • I might fit into it when I put on weight one day
  • It would make a great costume for a fancy dress party (that I never get invited to)
  • My mythical someday daughter will see me in a photo and wish I’d kept the outfit because it is suddenly retro cool again 
  • It has a story such as “Oh, but I got this poncho in Bolivia from a little old lady in full Quechua dress at the market”

I even have some makeup that my aunt gave me when I was in early high school, and I still use it, on the occasion that I need some bright 80s eyeshadow.

I don’t know how long I’ll be in LA for, but I’m taking advantage of my current “clear it out, give it away” mentality to do a sweep of my wardrobe so there isn’t so much temptation to squeeze it into my luggage. So far so good. I’ve managed to part with four pairs of shoes, a handbag, a long formal dress, a suit, a skirt, two hats, a scarf and a few belts. And that was just to one friend.

The outfit of never give aways
All my most loved items in one stunning outfit!

I’m setting aside more things for my 10 year old cousin (who already has a size 8 foot and will soon fit into my size nines) and her dress up box. Mum has already said that she’ll have whatever is left over.

So while people are getting excited as to what they might be able to find in my wardrobe, the sad news for them is that I will still be taking the best and most loved things with me. There will always be room in my luggage for my dress of dresses, the incredible multi-coloured heels, my white hat, my motorcycle handbag, silver crysacolla ring from Mexico and the Bolivian poncho.

This hoarder’s going to hit LA and commit a major fashion faux pas, but what the heck!

Can I get a housekeeper for Christmas?

While most people are stressing about whether they’ve bought the right present, enough presents, or finished their shopping, my stress levels are about something entirely different. The state of my house.

Good friends of mine, the kind that hark all the way back to high school, are coming to stay with me over the Christmas period. I love to have people stay, so this is a welcome visit. It’s just that my house is pretty messy at the moment and they arrive in approximately 28 hours. And those 28 hours include at least 9 hours of work and with a bit of luck, at least 8 hours of sleep. So there will have to be a concentrated cleaning effort on Thursday morning.

I’m also quite nervous because I need to make sure that the place is TOTALLY spick and span. There isn’t allowed to be any missed insect on the carpet, no mountain of things that I’m planning on throwing out in some random room, no stray hair in the bath, and zero dust on all flat surfaces. The reason being that my friends are bringing their 7 1/2 month old baby with them.

I checked earlier in the week that he wasn’t crawling, because that would just add a whole other complexity to the stay. I’ve had nightmares of him crawling around the floor towards an interesting thing that has taken his eye, sitting up, looking around at us talking animatedly to each other and then extending a chubby baby hand toward the hairy rogue caterpillar invading my house.

You see my house does creepy crawlies exceedingly well. There are currently many hairy ‘soon to be moth’ caterpillars sneaking in under the front door, a bold fat mouse that isn’t shy of making his presence known, three slugs in the shower and bath, an army of small black ants on my desk, goodness knows how many spiders, huge starship sized mosquitos and a skink trying to make friends with my router cables.

I guess I should be thankful that the snakes are staying away.

Keeping the menagerie under control is my top priority for the duration of their stay. I need to protect the baby from them, keep him (and his parents) in a bubble of blissful ignorance about the entomologists paradise that is my house and the best way is with a clean and tidy place.