Lifestyles of the Destitute and Obscure

dazzling and interesting on a shoestring

Tag Archives: hand-me-downs

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!


Times are lean.

I don’t know where the money is going to come from to cover the cost of the $50 humidifier.  I don’t know why it is that Comcast decided to wait until now to charge us for the month of July and thus double our internet bill.  I don’t know how I’m going to pay rent and buy enough food for my family without continuing to drain our ever-dwindling ‘emergency’ savings.  Though perhaps the brink of starvation would be an emergency.  Fortunately we’re not there yet.
I find myself hoping that my co-worker in dance will continue to have knee problems that keep her out of the restaurant and myself in business.  I don’t wish her ill, per se— it’s just that I need the money.
We’re eating lots of beans and rice.  And soup— frozen from more prosperous times.  I’m using the internet double-time to make it double-worth-it.  My knitting projects consist of scraps leftover from previous blankets and scarves.  I intend to use my child’s free Halloween candy for meals… okay, not really, but I wish they had been handing out fresh fruit and vegetables or maybe a loaf of bread and ½ dozen eggs at the mall.
I feel fortunate to be able to pull random things from a bag of donated Gymboree seconds, and it looks like my child will have enough shirts and socks to get through the winter.  I’m not sure where we’ll get the money for a winter coat.  Fortunately, it’s still warm outside and California winters are usually pretty mild.  My husband and I desperately need socks (and socks from here would be nice, but that may be in a richer, though probably no less obscure time… if you have the money, ahem, these socks rock… but I digress)   but again, the continued warmth means we’re still in sandals most of the time.
So what am I doing besides rockin’ it like Bon Jovi and ‘Livin’ on a Prayer’?
Soup works, despite the warm weather.  We walk most places and I use the library’s snail-pace internet for school when I can’t spring for the $1.80 that a cup of Peet’s coffee and an hour of wi-fi will get me.
I discovered H&M for kids, which is not only inexpensive and less cheap than Target, but also not made in China.  Which means I can still have my standards when I’m poor.  We managed a preschooler’s birthday party on about $100, including food and cupcakes for kids and adults alike.  I nixed the goody-bag idea because most of that crap is from China and breaks about an hour after it gets home.  Then it sits around the house for three months before it gets put into the trash and on to the landfill.  So I sent them home with a balloon (minimal waste, though admittedly momentary fun) and a self-decorated pumpkin (edible if you choose, but definitely compostable).
We will entertain on rainy days with videos from the library and homemade play-dough—see recipe below.  The last of the home improvement and decorating ideas have been put on hold, but before we put up storage shelves in the kitchen, we have to make sure water doesn’t drip down the inside of the wall during the rain… again.  So I guess it’s a blessing that we didn’t get those shelves up before last month’s momentary deluge.
I’ve entering the big, bad, wild world of ebay (anybody want a nearly new fluffy green bathrobe?), and managed to sell a few Anthropologie items from my days of being a stylish employee, and maybe a few more.  That money will hopefully put a dent, or at the very least a scratch, in my rising credit card bill.  That said, my credit card debt is nothing like the national average, and I console myself with this thought and at the same time practice iron-clad self-control to keep it from getting there.
Next, there will be serious research into scholarships for poor and stylish library students, as well as the great cesspool of paperwork that entails getting on the waiting list for subsidized housing.

Barring all that, perhaps we’ll camp out in the city square and take up residence at one of the Occupy Wall Street protests.
Anybody got a tent we can borrow?

Homemade Play-Dough
(good, cheap fun to make and play with, and if it goes in their mouths, at least you know what they’re eating)

1cup flour
½ cup salt
2 teaspoons cream of tartar (it’s in the spice section, in case you didn’t know)
1 Tablespoon oil (use the cheapest kind you’ve got—this ain’t gourmet cooking)
1cup water
food coloring of your choice

Mix all your ingredients together in a metal bowl (see directions below as to why it needs to be metal) and add the food coloring a little bit at a time to get the desired color, noting that when it cools, the color will be darker.
Now fashion yourself a double boiler with a saucepan filled about 3-4 inches with water, your metal mixing bowl tucked on top so it gets nice and warm, and a trusty spoon.
Heat on medium and stir the mixture frequently until the mixture really begins to stick to the bowl and balls up as you stir.  It’ll get a little bit tricky, but stir for another minute, and then scrape the play-dough out onto a piece of wax paper and let cool.
It’ll be a little sticky for the first round of creating, but when you’re done, wrap it tightly in plastic cling wrap and tuck it in the fridge.  Next time around, it’ll be cool and smooth and perfect for imaginative little minds… as well as your kids.
Hangin’ in there, over and out,
Ms. D

Ain’t too proud to beg.

Or how the destitute and obscure find treasures for free.

Yesterday, I was driving my ol’ jalopy home from mother’s group, through the carefully manicured streets of our ‘hood, when I spied, lurking quietly yet shining like diamonds in the sunshine, two small lamps on the edge of my friend, Sally’s, driveway.  They were understated in styling with perfect lampshades and meticulously wound cords.  Gems– jewels in wood and linen, left unwanted on the curb!  Every few weeks, various charities leave bright colored fliers on our doorstep, in the mailbox or jammed in the front door handle requesting donations.  I have the odd t-shirt here and there, but mostly, when my clothes are done, they’re barely worth the rags their torn into.  I confess to mending t-shirts just to make them last longer.  But many of the neighbors have been seen to place the odd trash bag on the curb to wait idly for an unmarked white truck to cruise through on the appointed day and take it away to a new home.  Now, I know that it’s considered ‘illegal’ to swipe stuff intended for charity pick-up, and it’s even considered a crime heinous enough to warrant calling the police if you see someone prowling around on the bi-annual neighborhood ‘Dump the Big Crap’ pick-up.  They even have nifty day-glo stickers you can apply in order to ward off predators.  We confess to swiping a wooden stool and flicking through a box of records containing nothing but Air Supply’s early hits, and Anne Murray’s entire repertoire  We took nothing, since we’re vinyl snobs and only snatch slightly unknown but worthwhile blues and jazz.  If it’s free, feel free to pass it up.  I’ve also run off with a dirty but extremely well-made dining chair in the middle of the night; I sang the theme song to ‘Mission Impossible’ as I loaded it into the back of my station wagon.

But I digress.  The point being, I don’t have so much pride that I am above parking said jalopy and walking up Sally’s walk and knocking on her door to inquire about the two gorgeous lamps.  After all, she is donating to the poor, and I certainly qualify.  So I knocked, and fortunately she was home.
“Hi, Sally,” I said.  “I was wondering about those two lamps on the edge of your driveway.”
“Oh, yeah,” she said.  “Do you want them?”                                                                                                                                                                                                          Oh, hell yeah!  I wanted to say, and while I may not be to proud to beg, I’m not so poor that I can’t afford manners.  Ain’t nobody too poor for that, or too rich, either.  “Yes, thank you,” I said.
And after Sally assured me that they were both fine and in proper working order, including referencing their pedigrees as early model Ikea, I thanked her and loaded both of them up in the back seat.  They amused my preschooler and now my husband has a working bedside light.

In a previous round of charity donations, I knocked on Jill’s door and became the new owner of a bright colored booster seat for my then-toddler.  In return, I keep her in mind when I’m getting rid of childrens clothing that’s too small.  Her child is about six months younger than mine.  And they also fit quite nicely into the neighborhood circle, since some of those clothes are from my friend Ana, whose child is six months older than mine– and thanks to her, we had a darling outfit for Easter.  Not only was it free, but it was nothing like anything from any department store or boutique.  In fact, it came from overseas as a gift.  I love recycling clothes!

Other nifty freebies with which I have graced my house and body include ex-boyfriends flannels, which I’ve kept forever, free books being discarded from the library (and for less than $5 you can get a few slightly more interesting books and give to a worthy cause– more on the beauties of public libraries to come), cast-off yarn and fabric scraps from other people’s projects (which make fantastic funky blankets and scarves when you’ve got a minute or a mini-series– stay tuned for more of those crafty tips in a later post) and the odd child’s toy.  In fact my child is apparently so adorable (or I am in such obvious need of charity, despite the fact that I don’t dress us in rags to belabor the point) that many people can’t help themselves and give us toys– amusing, but much appreciated.

Ain’t too proud to beg, and I got a lotta good loot in the bargain.  One woman’s trash is another woman’s treasure.  So if it’s free and you like it, ask for it.  If you don’t want it any more, pass it along and wait for that good karma to come cruisin’ around the bend.  Ciao, and happy hunting!