Friday, October 28, 2011

Urban Joy

Photo courtesy Flickr

There’s a new manager at my friendly local shipper’s concierge, the one that spares me from worrying about parcels left on the doorstep. We were swapping comments the other day, and I mentioned that his outfit is part of the shape my life took after I threw my car away in disgust with local traffic.

His face lit up, and he started talking about the car he doesn’t own and how much more fun it is to drink and walk than drink and flip to see who has to be designated driver.

Lately I’ve been out of patience with the time it takes to shop, and I’ve been using the concierge quite often. The internet is the mail order catalogue to end all mail order catalogues and one of the interesting revivals of nineteenth century rural life that lurks under the surface of 2011. Mail order began to take off in the mid-Seventies, when rigorous federal regulations went into effect. Previously, it was too risky to order from any but a few long-established companies.

It’s relaxing to let real teamsters wrangle gasoline-fed horses, and a double-length German bus outranks even the most aggressive SUV. Time on the bus produces menu plans and enforced leisure that sets me up to wail on the laptop or in my notebook when I disembark.

-30- More after the jump.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Getting Physical

Photo courtesy Flickr

Ordinarily, I don’t think of the Supreme Court of the United States as a fountain of housekeeping wisdom, but a recent Charlie Rose episode opened my eyes.

Rose was interviewing retired Chief Justice Stevens and asked him to look back over his long tenure and name what was most significant. Stevens mentioned a couple of cases, but he detailed a simple change in the structure of the bench itself.

Altering the original straight row of chairs that faced the courtroom improved communications between the judges and the lawyers and among the judges themselves. The bench was modified into a central section with two angled units at either side, so the judges could see each other and the lawyers argue to equidistant listeners.

-30- More after the jump.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Go With What You've Got

Photo courtesy Flickr

Once a room holds only things that are useful for your purposes, you are free to make the most of what is in it. Invest a small amount of time fiddling with color and after-market modifications, and you may be able to skip a visit to The List or the Big Box Store.

First make sure the space is clean. Detail the windows, make sure the floor is in perfect shape and that shoes stay in the entry, dust the walls and baseboards, and make sure there are no fingerprints on doors and drawers. Basically, respect what is at your disposal. Make sure the brightwork, things that were meant to be shiny metal when they were new, is bright. Citrus solvent or oven cleaner remove paint. Test in an inconspicuous area. Biker’s German chrome polish is the first choice for polishing, but in a pinch, toothpaste will do. It also fills nail holes, but not permanently. A child’s watercolor set camouflages dings, and a half-dead fleece garment produces adequate although not ideal synthetic cleaning cloths. Make cleaning gear a first spending priority. I favor both microfiber and cheap cotton washcloths.

My favorite housekeeping song is Weather Report’s Put It Where You Want It. The western tradition views an interior as a museum; the Japanese see it as set design. Italian tradition arranges a room without regard for the walls. If you attach Magical Sliding Buttons to the feet of your furniture, you will effectively put everything on wheels, and it won’t matter where, for example, the table goes.

Modify the height of the table with a set of plastic bed risers. Modify the color with a cloth, even a cotton drop cloth from the hardware store. Butcher paper ain’t bad for everyday. Modify chairs with hot-glue upholstery, drop cloths, or lap robes. Expedient furniture gives you the chance to experiment without anxiety.

Cheesecloth, featherweight horticultural row cover, paper drop cloths, plastic tarps, and the protective rosin paper construction crews use to cover fresh floors are all inexpensive options for pulling a room together. Generous amounts of inexpensive materials enrich a space and delight the spirit.

More after the jump.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

First Clean the Windows

Rem Koolhaas Seattle Public Library photo courtesy Flickr

It’s embarrassing how long it takes to identify a fundamental and truly obvious factor in running the house. I wouldn’t think of setting up to read or cook without turning on a light, but I never quite learned to think of daylight as illumination to be managed.

I knew that it’s important to protect the quality of light that reaches a Seattle interior. It’s damned depressing to add a subtle film of dirt to the already gray light of the typical local day, which is forty-five degrees and about to rain twelve months of the year. Add spectacles to the glazing, and there are six gray gels between the retina and the sun.

The windows get washed when the storms go up. This year I asked that the interior of the panes be detailed at the same time. Suddenly every mote on every windowsill stood out in relief. Ordinary dusting and vacuuming with HEPA filtration left a room looking much better than usual.

It’s a hoot to discover a way to clean in the usual manner but come up with a better result.

More after the jump.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Evict Dead Wood

Photo courtesy Flickr

Now that houses are no longer illuminated by the sooty flames of town gas, spring cleaning is best performed in fall. The windows are closed against dust, and the thundering family herd is back in school.

For no particular reason, I’ve been looking forward to fall cleaning this year. It’s pleasant to go back to traditional Seattle hibernation. I’ve been able to skate along on previous maintenance efforts for several years, just keeping up with superficial vacuuming and dusting. This season seems to be the time to tighten up my game.

I lose my enthusiasm, usually when I’ve been crouching over a laptop and my cardio is impaired. Saturday it rained, the perfect excuse to ignore yard work in favor of tuning the interior. The light exercise and upper body workout of housekeeping seems to be the ideal way to uncoil after too long a time at the keyboard.

The trick to keeping the house in order, as opposed to getting it in order, has always been to set it up so it’s easy to clean. With that done, routine maintenance is trivial. A room silts up, though, with accretions like those left at the high tide line on a beach. How we use the house evolves over the course of the year, so it’s no wonder that arrangements become obsolete. New things displace existing inventory. What is redundant is not always obvious.

The first lesson I learned when I started keeping house on my own was that attending to simple maintenance was the quickest way to raise my standard of living. Last Saturday I drove quietly through the interior like Patton on his way through Germany, taking out the dead, routing furniture to the best room for winter comfort, and most fun of all, high grading digital gear for best performance.

Several rooms are now as spare as eighteenth-century interiors. They are just as easy to maintain, and nearly as green as that period before fossil fuel locked the developed world into dormant furniture and artificial light.

Years of restoration projects on the house taught me that meticulously tidying a work site after the crew went home fostered cheerful production the next day. The same is true for the family. There seems to be no boundary between housekeeping and any other kind of composition.

More after the jump.