Lifestyles of the Destitute and Obscure

dazzling and interesting on a shoestring

Category Archives: decorating

Spring Cleaning

Look at me!  I got a fella who vacuums.

Look at me! I got a fella who vacuums.

Oh, yes, it’s spring here in the land of the destitute. Everything is blooming: the nasturtiums have declared their mission to take over the balcony, and the Japanese maples have filled out so that it feels like we live in a tree house. Our ducks made their stopover on their flight back to wherever it is they spend the summer.  It’s all very lovely.

Our feathered couple observe the resort atmosphere.

Our feathered couple make a stopover on their way north.

The inside of our house, however, is less lovely. Boxes have piled up in the closets, the book hospital where toddlers have overenthusiastically loved a few books has made a mess of my bookcase. My desk has turned into a storage unit, even if I have resigned myself to the fact that I will not be sitting at it anytime soon.  And then there’s the dirty windows, the filthy rental carpeting, the couch sprouting week-old popcorn, and my winter-worn and mother-weary face.

The clutter-pile also known as my desk.

The clutter-pile also known as my desk.




So some spring cleaning is in order. Here’s the list (if you didn’t know already, I’m a list-maker):

  • Master bath
  • Other bath
  • M’s books
  • M’s closet
  • A desk
  • A closet
  • K closet
  • B & E closet
  • B & E books
  • Clean carpet
  • Clean couch
  • Mend couch (it’s vintage and busting its seams)
  • Dust
  • K basket
  • Red bowl on dining room table
  • Wash comforters
  • Linen shelf in kitchen
  • Wash windows
  • Sew B & E curtains
  • Taxes
  • File box
  • Oil change for car
  • Facial for Mommy(even my face needs spring cleaning, and I refuse to see this as frivolous)


I am happy to report that as of this posting, the list is about 2/3 completed (note that I crossed those items out—a wonderful feeling), and that my husband is the one that deep-cleaned both bathrooms. Did you know, men, that cleaning the bathroom increases your sex-appeal by 42%? Proven fact. (see picture above for further proof of my guy’s cleaning prowess)

The closets were purged of all clothing that didn’t fit, wasn’t interesting or wasn’t going to be worn. Those items, both kids’ and adults’, went to Macedonia. The discarded baby equipment and some baby clothes went to a center for young mothers.

A few select, fancy and seldom-worn items went to consignment. In order to sort through and re-organize the six boxes of baby clothes that I have (hand-me-downs, leftovers from Big Sis, and a handful of family hand-knits) I enlisted the help of my parents. They came down for the day, card table in tow, and set up shop in my living room to sort, fold, wrangle toddlers and also to run the carpool to school. I couldn’t have done it without them. The living room was completely full of bags, boxes and stacks and stacks of little girl clothing. I could have opened up a consignment shop of my own on the spot. I’m kicking myself for not taking pictures, but you’ll just have to use your imagination and my sparkling description as a prompt.

Twin Who-sits working on their early literacy skills.

Twin Who-sits working on their early literacy skills.

The local high school rummage sale provided us with a new bookcase for the big girl, and an old vintage dresser for the little girls. This enabled us to put the bookcase that formerly belonged to Big Girl into the twin’s room.  And now everybody has room for all their books, the paper/tear-able books are out of little harms’ way and I have an excuse to buy more books.  I love Spring!


Toys on the Floor

Lovingly strewn about the decade-old rental carpet, now christened with baby spit-up and spilled bubble bath soap despite our best efforts to clean it and vacuum on a weekly basis, are toys, the occasional dirty sock, mommy’s water bottle, lengths of ribbon from heaven-knows-where, and books.  For babies, books are not just about their content (or their ‘aboutness’ as my Information Retrieval class professor might say—fyi, I’m in grad school for Librarian-ness) but about their physicality and their ability to fit in one’s mouth in a satisfactory manner.  In other words, babies chew on books.  So, therefore we have lots of bright colored books and board books, which get left on the floor once the desired amount of mastication has been achieved.

We have no changing table, because I think changing tables are bulky, dangerous and essentially useless.  Basically, they’re stupid.  Other than that, I have no opinion about them.  I can’t change a baby from the side very effectively—I need to stand at her feet to change her.  We change our babies on a plastic mat on the bed.  The folded mat and the package of wipes kick about on my desk, the bed and, here, the floor.

To keep a child still while changing their diaper (or nappy, as we say in our household) we need chewable toys—see aforementioned bit about board books.  So we provide organic cotton-stuffed vegetable toys that were a generous gift from a generous Auntie and Uncle.  Jemima Puddleduck was also a gift, though I don’t know which store she waddled from.

And that is how we live—clean but happily cluttered, with toys, art projects, laundry and babies strewn about the floor.

ABC board book by Matthew Porter

Ten Little Caterpillars written by Bill Martin, Jr., author of such classics as Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? and illustrated by Lois Ehlert, who has written and illustrated half of the toddler favorites in our house, such as this one.

The adorable Veggie set, including string beans, mushroom and a carrot and tomato (not pictured here) come in a cute little wooden crate from Under the Nile, which also carries organic cotton baby clothes at extremely reasonable prices.  I cannot find the veggies on their site at the moment, but here’s a link to their other extremely cool toys.

Thrifty home decorating with a splash of the unusual

After moving in, buying new beds, getting a few hand-me-down furniture items and trying to settle into our new apartment, the ship came in with the household possessions that had been in storage for the last three years.  And so, our new possessions met our old ones and thus blended into what is now known as our home.

The majority of what was in storage was the accumulation of years of hunting down fashion items when I had multiple jobs, no kids and thus, more disposable income—though still not much.  The household items are proof of the love and generosity of our family and friends who spoiled us with a deluge of beautiful, quality items at our wedding.  Take my silverware, for instance—a pattern chosen for it simple durability and sturdy in your hand.  It feels like a legacy when you eat with it. Or the fact that Wusthof knives and Le Creuset pots are only a part of my kitchen because they were gifts.

We combined a whole lotta bargain hunting and thriftiness with bits of minor splurge here and there.  I found a super fancy pink duvet and sheet set at a garage sale for $10, plus the expense to have it dry-cleaned. I splurged on the rug in the bathroom, because I can’t get a real, live cat yet, and because it’s just kind of quirky.  It would, however, be ridiculous and terribly uncreative if I chose (or could afford) to decorate my entire house with the uber-trends of Urban Outfitters.  I’m not too cool for school, just too old.
The couch and chairs were craigslist and estate sale finds, respectively, and miraculously look like a matched set.  We paid less than $150 for all three, thanks to a little wheeling and dealing and cold, hard cash.

The desk was my grandfather’s, and held in storage by my parents for a couple years.  It’s outfitted with a power strip and filing clip that my handy Grandpa put there for his convenience.  To honor that, the black and white photograph he took of my grandma (his wife of nearly 60 years) takes its customary place atop the attached bookshelf.
The enormous painting that graces an otherwise undecoratable wall is from yet another estate sale and cost us the bargain-basement price of $100.  It is an original artwork by a lesser known Mexican artist, Mario Joel, and while we couldn’t come up with anything when we Googled him, the painting adds a bright, unusual and slightly haunting element to the house.

It goes well with the smattering of New Zealand Maori artwork that hangs around the rest of the house.

While it is not common to find large, original artworks for such prices as the Mayan work here, fun and funky framed pictures are easy to come across at thrift stores and add a charming and quirky element to kitchens and bathrooms.

As further study in contrasts, our TV is an ultra-modern, high-tech version atop a bargain of mid-century Swedish design—a console with double sliding doors and just the right shade to blend in with the set of ‘Mad Men’.   My husband used his best craigslist ‘prowl and stalk’ techniques for this one.  He accidentally stumbled across the large blue-painted bookshelf that sits opposite the painting, but he was smart enough to snatch it up when he found it—just one of the reasons I married him.

Very little of our household furnishings are new, save the beds and the gifts, but I like it that way.  Everything has a history—well-known, like my grandparents’ desk and dining room table—or more mysterious like the Aztec/Mayan painting.  It is, however, recycling at its most basic and most necessary.  I may never own a brand-new couch, but it’s hard to argue with the fact that this one matches our chairs and is graced by a handmade afghan and a beaded Hawaiian tropic throw pillow.
Style is what you make it, and what you can afford, but most importantly it is what defines your home as belonging to you—even if you’re a renter.  Know what you like, know where to find it, and know when something finds you.  I love the way my house is decorated, because it cannot be replicated by anyone else, and it looks and feels like me and my family—aka, a home.

Anthropologie Blanket Do-it-yourself

Or, how the obscure make their homes look chic for lots less.

When I received the Anthropologie catalog in the mail last winter and saw this gem draped around the model’s shoulders, my first thought was, ‘Wow, that’s beautiful!’ (Which isn’t that rare an occurrence when the Anthropologie catalog arrives.) Then my next immediate thought was, ‘Wait, I can make that!’  (Which I don’t think all that often—okay, pretty much never.)  So I decided to give it a shot.
If you follow ‘Dancing With the Stars,’ ‘X-Factor,’ ‘American Idol,’ or ‘Survivor’ (don’t worry, you needn’t identify yourself) or any other show that means you must be glued to your television for at least an hour a week and then be able to contribute in an informed manner when it’s discussed on Facebook, then YOU can make an afghan like this one.
Here’s what you’ll need:

  • a crochet hook in size G- aka 4.5mm
  • Yarn, and lots of it—in all the colors shown, with similar thicknesses (don’t go for really thin yarns like baby blanket stuff) and be sure to grab a couple with an interesting texture (but stay away from ‘eyelash’ or feathery yarn—again, too thin and also kind of quirky)
  • Be sure to get 2-3 skeins of your bright orange, the lime green, and the gold/yellow, as well as a purple or mauve.  The yellow or the blue may need a fourth skein in order to make the tassels, depending on the size of the skeins.  The other colors you can choose to match or be in some way similar to the photo.  Use the one below to see all the colors.
    To keep the price down, if you don’t need multiple skeins of the same color, buy remnant or sale yarn.  I bought a few nice wool blends and several cheaper acrylic skeins as well.  You can also hit up your crafty friends and relatives for their leftover yarn and probably score a few great colors—don’t worry about it ‘matching’ the Anthropologie blanket—it’s the idea that we’re after here, not a complete copycat.

The technique:
Learn to crochet a double crochet stitch, after you’ve learned to chain.   Start by chaining enough stitches to ‘cover’ your lap across—this will be the width of your blanket, roughly.  Don’t overestimate, though—the original chain will stretch and grow wider as your blanket grows.

Get to work!  Stitch away during the whole season of your show, making stripes of all your different colors, and occasionally repeating a color every so often.  Make some stripes wider than others and add/double up two colors in the middle of the stripe here and there for some extra charm.
When you’ve made it to the end (whew!) you’ll need to make tassels.
To make a tassel:
Cut lengths of your tassel color just over double the desired length of the tassel, then do it over and over (ad naseum) until you’ve got enough to put tassels on the top and bottom edge of your afghan.

Loop the yarn length (or combination of yarn lengths, as shown) double and insert through the first row of holes in the end of the afghan.
Insert the ends through the loop, as shown, and pull tight.

Note: Make sure that your tassels are evenly distributed along the edge of the afghan, and that you insert your loops of yarn from the same side every time for a consistent look.
Drape it on the back of your vintage velvet loveseat or that eighties sectional that you can’t afford to get rid of but desperately needs an update.
Be warm and cozy… and stylish, too.