Declutter Week Four: Living Room and Dining Room

You may have noticed that there was no decluttering going on at Chez Blueday last week. This is because I worked for four days and was exhausted. I must admit, put like that, it doesn't look terribly exhausting, but I don't think I have ever worked four days in a row outside the house ever, and I got halfway through a post on Monday night and fell asleep! And I certainly did nothing around the house other than basic tidying, laundry and dinner. I am very impressed at the work all you full time working mums do, especially those who sometimes have the energy to write to us all at night as well.

I have been watching old episodes of Kirstie's Vintage Home recently while doing the ironing. And something I have noticed is that while all the decorative touches she adds and creates are lovely, really, the significant difference happens when those rooms are decluttered. It is not just a matter of moving things around and storing them more efficiently, it is the fact that a good three quarters of the stuff in those rooms is gone by the end of the make-over, that creates an end result  which is so peaceful and inviting. Not only more peaceful and inviting though, also more adult. A living room that is very cluttered really has the look of a teenager's bedroom. It is as if the things in the room are more powerful than the person who owns them. This is a feeling I have often had, especially in the years when my house was dreadfully cluttered. I was completely overwhelmed by my 'stuff', which meant I had effectively handed over my power to a bunch of inanimate objects. A clear, calm, deliberately arranged room sends a powerful signal - I am in charge here, and my things are here because I have chosen them, not because they have just cluttered themselves all over the place.

In one of the episodes I watched, a couple had a very cluttered house, but a very clear idea of the aesthetic they were after - 60s retro. It turned out that they had quite a lot of lovely pieces of 60s furniture, and that they were also very knowledgeable and competent at buying good pieces secondhand. At the beginning of the show though, in their living room cluttered with baby gear and daily detritus, they looked terribly helpless, and you couldn't see that they had any aesthetic at all. It was literally hidden under the clutter. What decluttering revealed was a confident and knowledgeable young couple with an adult room which showcased their talent for design.

Two or so years ago we had our whole living room and dining room gutted and rebuilt to add double glazed windows, insulation, new floors and less walls. We lived for a whole winter with the master bedroom as our only living space. It was quite... cosy. When the day came that we could finally move into our 'new' spaces, I only moved about a third of the 'stuff' back into the rooms that had originally been there. It was about then that I started my 'war on stuff' as well, so very little now lives in either room. They are not large rooms, so having very little in them except furniture makes them quite calm spaces to be in (well, let's be honest, a lot of daily nagging needs to go on to achieve this outcome. I have hopes that it will be only, oh, five more years or so before the nagging becomes internalised, and the shoes, hairbrushes, craft-work, tea cups and toast plates all magically find their own way back out of these spaces).

Now, I would really like to add some more Kirstie-style decorative touches these rooms - especially one large bare wall in the living room, but the fact that it is a lovely clear and calm space after I have whipped around and tidied every morning, and plumped the cushions, well, that makes me happy. The only things that are stored in this room are invisible. Magazines, DVDs, CDs, all tucked away in the coffee table and the cupboard. My sister-in-law taught me the value of lamp-light for a living room, so every evening I close the curtains and light two lamps. The soft light is very calming. I noticed when the children were small that soft lighting after dinner, and no TV, helped them settle ready for bed. That is not what always happened in our household - but when it did, bedtime was much pleasanter! Even now, the ten year old is much calmer when we have soft lights and music and a story instead of the overhead light and television. It is also an excellent way for adults to relax and wind down. Soft lights and no visual stimulation tell our brains that it is time for sleeping. Maybe this is why I am usually in bed by 9.30pm. Or maybe that is my inner nana!

So, jobs for the living room this week:

Sweep the ashes out of the fire place for summer.
Take all the covers off the couch to wash them. I have never done this. I hope I don't shrink them! I had all the cushions made with zips when the couch was re-upholstered, but I have never been brave enough to unzip them. I was going to have the couch cleaned, but maybe I can do it myself...
Um, I think that is it. Oh, there is a pile of magazines on the ottoman that I keep meaning to give to a friend. Must do that.

Jobs for dining room:

I have some lovely old wooden file drawers from The Man's work next to our dining table. They are our craft drawers, filled with all the children's art supplies. We always do art at the table, which means it has to be cleared away before the next meal. This is vital. Once we had an art area in another room. We used to be able to close the door on art mess. That was a big mistake. Only having craft where we must confront its messiness three times a day is a lifesaver! We put away a lot more consistently now. However, these drawers are becoming over-stuffed, and a lot of them don't even shut properly any more. It is time to reorganise them. I will get Posy to help me. She loves rearranging things. Then maybe we can have fun making Christmas craft. Ha ha. I wrote the words 'fun' and 'craft' in the same sentence. Don't worry, fun crafts will likely never feature on this blog again:)

Another job that confronts me in the dining room is the surface of the dining table. A few weeks ago Posy had a hissy fit about an art project, and threw it across the table in a rage, spattering acrylic paint everywhere. Now the surface of the table is covered in a fine splatter of paint that won't come off. There are also numerous scratches, paint stains from previous art projects, dents and various mysterious stains that could be anything, up to and including blood. I am not quite sure how to tackle this problem. I could refinish both the table and the coffee table, which has similar issues. I actually can do this, but would have to take them outside, and it would take days. Maybe when The Girl finishes exams it could be a mother-daughter bonding project. I expect she will be thrilled about that. Meanwhile I think I may have to reframe the table as 'rustic' and 'well-loved'. Unless anyone has a magic acrylic paint removal recipe?

Who would like to join me in making the living room and dining room presentable for the holiday season (or in Australia, just in time for the children to come home for the summer holidays and mess it all up again for six weeks..).

Oh, and here is my very best tip for making the dining room look organised. Push the dining room chairs in neatly. Or nag someone else to. Makes all the difference. Ditto plumping cushions in the living room, and folding the blankets neatly. My floors are a disgusting sight right this minute, but I'm hoping anyone who visits will only notice the splendidly plumped cushions!!

Monday: Did any of you ever read What Katy Did when you were a child? Do you remember the part where Katy finds her little brother's diary and reads it out as entertainment on their picnic? Most of his entries read - Forgit what did. Describes my week exactly. So, Monday - Forgit what did.

Tuesday: Forgit what did.

Wednesday: Even though my dementia is increasing by the day, you will be happy to know I can remember what I did today. I cleaned out the fire place for summer. Hurrah! This morning I visited a giant wholesale supermarket for the first time. I believe it must be the place that supplies a lot of the local cafes and restaurants. Enormous catering packs of all sorts of unlikely products such as giant tins of pineapple slices and the most enormous bucket of Vegiemite you have ever seen. Well, in between stocking up on giant packs of choc bits I found one of those old fashioned wooden banister brushes with the black bristles. They used to be made of horse tail hair or something, but this one was coconut fibres. It is absolutely marvellous, and I used it to brush out the fire place, feeling exactly like a Victorian house maid. I have so much fun some days, it just kills me.

Anyway, after I did my chimney sweep impression I pulled all the covers off the couch and put them through a delicate wash cycle with eucalyptus oil in the fabric softener compartment. I had my heart in my mouth, and all fingers and toes crossed, because who knew if I would shrink the covers and never be able to get them on the cushions again? They dried beautifully in the sunshine, and I brought them in just in time for Posy to get home from school to help me with the zips. It looked like a close thing there several times, but we finally got the covers on, and now I have ABSOLUTELY banned anyone from eating anything on the couch ever. That lasted for half an hour until I found Posy eating toast on it and watching telly. Which she will not be doing again in a hurry, I assure you.

Thursday: Washed all the cushion covers today. As I was hanging them on the line I noticed that one of my nice linen ones had a label which said 'Dry Clean Only'. Eeek! However it all ended well, without shrinkage or other disaster, so don't believe everything you read. I have a bit of a collection of duck feather cushions - SO wonderfully fat and heavy and satisfying to plump! A couple were a lucky op shop find, the other two quite expensive. I took them outside and gave them a good bashing, to release a winter's worth of dust into the backyard. They really needed that. I also washed the couch throws and vacuumed under all the couches. Oh my goodness, it has been some weeks months since I did that. On the bright side I found Posy's favourite missing sock (only Posy would have favourite socks. There has been much drama about its missingness. Now that it's found, I bet it won't be the favourite any more..).

Friday: Have completely ignored all spring cleaning duties. Yesterday had some shelves put in the study, and am determined to finish painting them this weekend. Not helped by a student-free day at school today, Posy and her Gang of Three who can cause more mess and havoc than any children I have ever met, with a sleepover thrown in. Aargh! A pox on the Department of Education!


Anonymous said…
Many moons ago, when Chaos and Mayhem were very small, I procured a very nice plain wooden cupboard for their toys that had to live in the lounge room. Small boys being small boys, and boys and stickers being what they are, the insides of the cupboard doors were quickly covered in stickers. I didn't mind this so much as it was out of sight and all that. However, someone else said "oh go on, it doesn't matter" and the stickers sort of spread to the *outside* of the cupboard - much less attractive, and really set the tone of the entire room.

Fast forward several years and C&M are much older and much less keen on stickers. Sir Reg has found himself with more time on his hands and more responsibility for the actual housework since he finished work a couple of months ago - he also has a cupboard that is a bit of a crap repository in the lounge room - he started with that then moved onto the kids Lego and the myriad photos around the lounge room. Then he started eyeing off the toy cupboard. Epic job was epic. Mr Google was heavily consulted, WD40 was acquired and a heat gun was (very gently) applied. TWO DAYS LATER... and a quick rub down with some furniture polish. It looks amazing and has totally grown-up-ified the lounge room, despite the Lego creations that still remain.

The whole room looks amaze - and yes, so much better when the cushions are plumped!
Jo said…
Goodness, don't you have a splendid man, and mmmm, yes, stickers, don't they just add a certain je ne sais quoi to the decor?

I am sighing deeply as I contemplate Posy's wreck of a room once again.. with added sticker delight..
Jo said…
PS, Miss Maudy, you will no doubt find my comments on your latest post in the spam folder of your blog. Sigh. Wordpress hates me.
Unknown said…
Confession from a full time working Mum, Wife, Carer - last Thursday i had to fight blinking eyelids all the way home. I really struggled to keep my eyes open, i was so tired. I made it to the car park of the supermarket where i had to top up to make dinner, leaned back in my seat and fell sleep. I woke up 20 min later to find a lady in another car in front staring at me. How embarrassing.

I dont think i know what the colour of my dining table is as it is always covered. I long to see it clear and shiny but its not my stuff and im not allowed to move their stuff. Perhaps i should refuse food.

Jo said…
Lynda, I am hearing you loud and clear. I am so glad you had a rest, revive, survive stop at the supermarket - think about it, when would you ever get 20 mins consecutive uninterrupted moments for napping at home?
And I do hope you get to find out what colour your dining table is. You could try a version of my daily diatribe: 'We are going to eat dinner like a civilised family at the table, and there will be NO FOOD until the only things I can see on the table are cutlery, crockery and placemats.'
At which point there will be moaning and crying about 'important projects' and 'why can't we eat dinner in front of the TV?' but stay strong:)
your last para reminded me that when i rented, because i had a nice looking place, the real estate people were always "oooh, you've made this so nice' and just had a perfunctory look around. so i agree - no look notices dust if things are neat and pretty.
lovely pots. it's always a balance between having your pretty things out on display ... and having clutter.
ps can i also say, i'm not a working mum/wife, just a working single gal who runs her own household... it's not all SATC for us single gals, we get tired too with no one to help put the garbage out :-)
Jo said…
e, my thoughts on clutter are - if you put it there on purpose, and you like it, it's not clutter, no matter how 'busy' it is. I reserve the term 'clutter' for what I pile on horizontal surfaces because I can't think where else to put it, or I was on the way somewhere else..
And I truly do sympathise with your plight. Putting out the garbage is just so hard to do in heels, isn't it? ;)
But I am a little disillusioned about the not-all-SATC bit. I was looking forward to that in the distant future!!
Linda said…
Did you know that Kirstie Allsopp and Cath Kidson are cousins? That decorating/interior design must be a strong gene
How I yearn for a calm living room! Ours is definitely at the teenage bedroom end of the spectrum - too many books, CDs, DVDs, musical instruments that spawn multiple sheet music offspring...time for some decluttering!
Jo said…
Linda, seriously? Maybe they got together as teenagers to plot the comeback of the polka-dot? I knew it was a conspiracy!
Sara, I am hearing you. I was actually quite appalled at myself when I banished the book cases to the hallway, but I must say, our small living room looks so much calmer without them (ugh, it still seems like heresy to come out and say it though, as a life long bibliophile..).
Anonymous said…
Lost a long comment. Bugger Apple upgrade. Basically said blah, blah , blah, great job, blah, blah, brilliant mum, lovely photos. Blah.

And what IT genius are you to watch Kirstie online. Or do you pay? I can't get past the "not in your country, loser" comment. Or such like!

Oh and working in education is tiring.
Anonymous said…
In the 15 years I've had our couch I've only ONCE washed the covers (they looked like new!) Might be time to do them again now the weather is warmer.

I've been contemplating buying a lovely cabinet WITH doors to put all the kids' craft stuff off the dining room table, but I'm loath to give up the lovely empty space, which only has a picture and fake Tiffany standard lamp residing there. Will wait for the perfect piece to show up at the op shop, I think.

My open plan kitchen/dining/lounge is fairly minimalist. The first thing I did when we moved here was to have beautiful wooden bookshelves made for 2 rooms and if the books don't fit, then they are culled. Those are the grown-up books, the kids both have an overflow of books in their rooms, but now they've discovered the joys of ebay selling I might convince them to part with some of the series they never read any more. Loretta
Jo said…
Lucinda, thank you for your lovely long comment. It was perfect:)
And sorry, I watched re-runs of Kirstie on the actual telly, with the help of Mr Tivo. I was trying to find a clip which explained what I was talking about, and I think you can watch 2 mins or so on that link. Not very helpful, though, was it really..
Loretta, my couch LOOKED OK because I cleverly had it upholstered in boring brown, but let's just say it wasn't smelling as... fresh... as it could have been.
Your dining room sounds lovely. I wouldn't clutter it up with children's craft either! Although a lovely cupboard is generally irresistible I find. Hope you find the perfect one. And I LOVE your bookshelves already. Mmm, bespoke bookshelves. Yes, I do the same thing, if the books don't fit in the shelf, out they go! It seems draconian and evil to get rid of books though, doesn't it?
Anonymous said…
Have just washed the couch cushion covers once, with great trepidation also, but they did turn out!

My "dining" table is permanently scarred by spilled ink and nail polish and who knows what else; a table cloth instead of place mats works fine :)
Tanya Murray said…
I have a Moran lounge and the covering was all specially treated and it wiped over a treat but as the years have passed it needs a good clean now. I was contemplating having someone come to do it. The cushions are all made with zips but the label says do not remove???? So for a while now I've been wondering why on earth make them with zips if they are not meant for removal??? So here I am still in a quandary sitting on a dirty couch!
PS just love your little stories.
I think you will end up loving your shelves too by the way, just a hunch.
Jo said…
Hey Tanya, be a devil and wash those couch covers. When I unzipped mine I found that they have a foam core, covered with what looks like quilt batting. I was worried the batting would all come off with the cushion covers, but it all held together. So have a go, and good luck!

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