eating the elephant

refinished dining-table leg

It's embarrassing to admit, but over three months after the move, I still have two large boxes sitting around waiting to be unpacked; two pictures and a big mirror to hang; the hand-me-down purple futon in pieces in the main room, taking up precious floor space while up for sale on Craigslist; my boring-beige lateral HON filing cabinet rusting in pieces over in someone's garage until Jeff has the work space to sand, prime, and repaint it; the round mid-century dining table he beautifully refinished for me (topic for another post) lacking the chairs to make it functional for anything but laundry folding; and all the windows bare and missing the curtains stacked and waiting patiently in a closet.

Granted, it's taken time to get a feel for living in this space—where things would be most efficiently placed and stored. Certain projects were delayed from needing refinishing or else, like the curtain rods and cork rolls and scrap stone slabs, needed to be sourced and purchased, which all takes time and money. The first month or so, I unpacked a little each evening after work, but the remaining two boxes are purely my own fault: I procrastinate when I don't know how to handle something. Yet the whole decorating process has required decisions, my lifelong nemesis.

unhung thrifted bird print, top-left corner

unhung purple bird print via Goodwill

Do I want to remove the bottom base from the thrifted, mid-century Drexel secretary-hutch and put it on casters or keep it all original? (Don't get too envious: the piece was cheap but has irrevocable sun damage to the veneer, too deep to be sanded out.) And if I keep the top and bottom parts of the hutch together, rather than taking off the bottom cabinet and putting it up on hairpin legs for a TV stand as originally planned, where then would I put my two black file cabinets? (Answer: Keep the hutch original. Put the TV down low in the metro shelving. Put the black file cabinets on casters in the kitchen with butcher-block or stone scrap slabs on top for extra prep space.) Should I paint my beige HON lateral file cabinet high-gloss, sweet-pea fuchsia or compromise on polished tomato-red because hot pink is impossible to match without spending a fortune on car paint? (Answer: High-gloss tomato-red car paint, cheaper than hot pink but still dramatic and also less trendy.) Where should I buy the white Formica for the thrifted round mid-century dining table, which white, and do we try to take off the chipped original faux-wood Formica layer or glue the new one right on top? Those decisions have all been made, but they were just the bigger, more immediate ones.

The littler decisions have been like: Can I find eight same-size secondhand casters at the ReStore or Rebuilding Center or will I have to buy new ones or trawl eBay? Should I repot my two huge houseplants because their tall metal pots are about to rust out or wait since large pots are so expensive? Should I get new cheap clay planter-saucers at IKEA to replace the ones that broke in the move or try to thrift Italian-made ones? Do I separate the water-heater-stand coffee table into two pieces for greater flexibility or keep it together, though there's not really enough space to easily walk around it? Should I keep both or just one? Do I separate the metro shelving into two pieces and put the top half in the narrow bedroom closet for storage or keep the shelves tall to maximize vertical space? Where should each of the pictures and mirrors be hung for best effect and, more crucially, to reflect light into this dim apartment?

main room: thrifted glass vase on refinished, thrifted dining table

(Just how working women with kids and partners have time to think about this kind of stuff on top of their jobs, child rearing, and relationship maintenance is beyond me. I barely have the energy after work and on weekends to home-cook my own meals, scoop cat litter, and keep myself in clean underwear. The answer, from friends, is they have no time to themselves and barely sleep.)

The longer-term questions running through my head have been linked to budget. How am I going to find four Eames shell chairs that don't cost a month's rent? How long will I have to wait to get the globe light fixtures installed? Do I want a giant modernist white-glass ball in the main room or a sparkling, dangling crystal chandelier, and when will finances allow for either? When can I replace the hand-me-down purple futon with a vintage upholstered sofa (accomplished—topic for another post)? Bobo problems, right? Some chick amateurly obsessed with home design has time and funds to browse thrift stores and yard sales and buy low-end mid-century furniture a friend refinishes for her. And she can even afford grocery-store orchids. Boo-hoo, what a hard life.

fuchsia orchid

In my defense, I sound more bourgeois than my tax returns prove. What can I say except my taste exceeds my income? I'm a professional in theory, based on an advanced degree; in practice, I live just over the edge of poverty, which some days scares me stiff and most days has me reflecting on life's wrong turns. In the language of simple-living practitioners, I am choosing to spend extra income on secondhand home furnishings and clothing—nesting and display—rather than maintaining a car or typical suburban lifestyle. Other bobos or yuppies might instead choose to spend disposable income on concerts, gaming, dining out, wine tasting, offspring, or skiing. But really I should be focusing on making more money so I can creep away from the edge of the abyss, squirreling it away in preparation for the looming environmental apocalypse. But that's the future, my friends. At least I'll already have years of practice living (relatively, of course) like a poorish person.

Most of my summer was spent sitting here in the apartment among stacks of boxes, my head in decorator mode, looping, almost paralyzed by the amount of little decisions needing made. For two months, pictures and mirrors were leaning against the walls, some still wrapped in their green moving plastic. This year, there was no camping, bike riding, tennis playing, nada. The closest thing I got to a summer vacation was a couple of weekend days spent in lazy hours out on a picnic blanket at a park, reading a mindless mystery, sun-warm and in the moment. One summer wasted, I don't wish to miss a whole autumn, too.

So to face the beast head-on, this month demands a final unpacking push, the last of the picture hanging and those remaining two boxes, which first means wiping down the thrifted secretary-hutch with Murphy's Oil Soap and finally cleaning up after the Great Dough Tsunami of 2013.

Oh, I haven't told you about that one? Well, while making pizza dough back in August, I'd stupidly tried using the well method rather than a big bowl. (Jamie Oliver makes everything look so damn easy.) The yeast-sugar-oil-water mixture broke through the flour dam, waterfalling from the counter down into the few drawers I'd already painstakenly cleaned, lined, and filled. But somehow the whole-wheat dough still turned out fine, rising on the heat from the pilot light atop the gas heater. Jeff came over and we walked the short block to the grocery store, then came back and chopped up toppings, turning the oven on full blast while listening to jazz, and then watched a documentary on Easter Island. But, oh, how I hate cleaning up messes that can't fully be righted. Tiny flecks of bran will forever be lodged in the cracks of the drawers, despite hours of scrubbing. Down with the well method! Off with indecision!

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