Here is a common sight in our home: my British clothes airers, lifting our laundry up to the Texas sun.


I brought these clothes racks with us when we moved, on the advice of some American expat friends who warned me that if I had grown to love my clothes airers (I had), I should bring them with me, because I might not find any like them on this side of the pond. It’s true – I checked online and struggled to find any drying racks which had the capacity to do such serious duty as these do. I think most American drying racks are intended just for a few delicate items, not whole loads of a family’s laundry.

These airers represent one of the unshakable habits I acquired while living in the UK and brought back with me – hanging clothing to dry. It started as a practical necessity but has become a habit I value and even enjoy.

You see, in my life before, I always had access to a tumble dryer and never considered not using it, other than for delicate items that needed air drying. But when I started out at Oxford, in student accommodation with coin laundry facilities, I quickly opted to pinch my pennies and air dry my clothes by hanging them in my room; most people I knew did the same.

At first, this actually made me uncomfortable. If you aren’t used to hanging clothes up to dry, and if they only ever reside in a closet, laundry basket, or concealed in the washing machine or dryer, they effectively assume the status of being private. They are never seen except when worn, and this makes unworn clothes seem, all of them, ‘unmentionable’. I felt as much awkwardness hanging up jeans or a sweater in public view as I did underwear. Was it inappropriate to have guests over when there was laundry hanging out? I also worried about politeness. Was leaving laundry out a discourtesy, a sign of not making even the most basic effort to prepare your home to receive others?

Eventually I saw that hanging laundry to dry indoors, in whatever space was available, was normal. And indeed in all my time in the UK, I never saw it to be anything but normal – laundry hanging in students’ single rooms, on the radiators in the dining rooms of shared houses, in the living rooms and hallways of London flats.

Not having a tumble dryer is one of those ‘inconveniences’ which Americans often can’t imagine at first, but which I found – like so many Europeans – hardly worth thinking about once I saw it as normal. Indeed, practically speaking, I enjoyed not having my clothes shrink unexpectedly in the dryer, or having elastic melted, or scraping handfuls of lint out of the trap and wondering how my clothes could still be intact after losing so much fibre. I felt my clothes lasted longer for not being tumble dried, and since I was on a tight budget I appreciated their greater longevity.


But the final beauty of hanging clothes to dry is precisely that exposure of one’s personal effects which made me so uncomfortable at first. On the contrary, now it’s a relief not to feel that sense of constraint. It is so cumbersome to feel that you must tidy away all evidence of household chores in order to receive guests, that you must give the impression that the routines of daily cleanliness happen by magic. It is lonely to feel that guests must never see your laundry. Whereas it is a great relief to stop minding if your washing is on display, and reassuring when dinner at a friend’s home is quietly presided over by the same bedecked clothes-horse that decorates your own living space. Laundry hanging to dry signals that all is well in that home; mundane routines continue. And for me, now, since laundry is one of the only household tasks I frequently manage to accomplish, it also signals rest – the work of that day’s washing is done.

Me, My Stuff, and I

Lately I have been slowly undertaking a project of sorting out my belongings. This is because, at age 30, I still have never moved all of my possessions out of the house where I grew up. Like many people, when I ‘moved out’ from home during college, I didn’t permanently move all of my belongings. Nor did I do so when I ‘moved out’ to live in an apartment of my own while I worked after university. And I certainly didn’t when I moved overseas for graduate school, taking only a few suitcases with me. Finally, because I also got married overseas, even marriage didn’t result in actually moving all my stuff out of the house where I’d grown up. However, over the last few years, having my belongings in multiple locations has increasingly made me feel fragmented, and I think it’s time to get them all in one place and organised.

I began the process of going through things after Mike and I moved this spring, now that we are finally close enough to my childhood home to make ‘moving out’ more possible. To get me started, my mom brought me a few boxes of my things. They contained an assortment of craft supplies, half-finished sewing projects, memorabilia, old computer equipment, and a lot of pens. Much of the boxes’ contents I had barely looked at since moving overseas now nearly seven years ago. As I sorted through the boxes, I jotted down my thoughts in response to the objects I touched, surprised as by how evocative they were of my past, and also how conflicted I was towards them and what to do with them.

Pens, pens, pens!

You see, I’ve known for a long time that ‘sorting out my stuff’ in one place would require actually getting rid of a lot of it. This is not only because it won’t fit into our current space, but because more and more I realise that my relationship with what I own changes with time, and not everything can or should be kept indefinitely.

So many things have passed through my hands lately and out of my home, and I suspect that will continue. Here are a few things I’ve pondered in the sorting.

For good or ill, most physical things in my life are not scarce. There was a phase in my teenage years when I started receiving ‘grown-up’ gifts: candles, lotion, stationery, photo frames, little trinket boxes. At the time, these objects were special treasures because they were the firsts of their kind that I owned for myself. But as I’ve lived longer, I’ve realised that none of these objects are scarce. Not that they aren’t meaningful for other reasons, perhaps, but I’ve been disillusioned of my adolescent belief in their rarity. There will always be plenty. This is even more true of those inexpensive things that seem to multiply – pens, stationery, keychains, socks.

I am too quick to think my space is too small. As I said, I’ve had to discard many things simply because our current home can’t house them all. It’s tempting to think, ‘But when we move into a house (not an apartment), we’ll have more room, so I should keep all this stuff for now. It’s only crowded because we don’t have enough room.’ Yet I suspect that this perennial anticipation of more space is a way of denying the real problem, which is not a deficit of space but a surplus of things. I think there is a potent Western (or perhaps American) cultural narrative that makes us imagine that our homes will always be bigger in the future, without seriously examining whether they are perhaps totally adequate to the present. And yet, honestly, I can only think of about one time in the last 10 years of renting that my space has actually been too small for my needs, even for reasonable comfort. Moreover, in a remarkable way, I do think that if I match the contents of my space to the size and capabilities of the space itself, I typically end up with just the right amount of everything.


I keep too many things as ‘records’ of processes because I’ve failed to recognise the final result. I have always been a stickler for keeping drafts of written work, often carefully numbered in sequence, long after the piece is finished. I do this even though the thought of ever wanting to trace the development of a finished piece, through its drafts, is a bit nauseating. It struck me for the first time recently this is a mistaken approach: that drafts are merely there to facilitate the final work, which is really the only thing worth keeping once it’s complete. Likewise, I came across my Old English language notes and realised that, in anxiously keeping them, I was forgetting that I learned Old English – that was the purpose of the notes. The product of my study wasn’t a set of notes, it was a skill. And in so many other areas, I have begun to ask myself, ‘What was the goal, the product, the purpose, the result of this?’ Acknowledging it usually makes it clear that I am keeping scraps of the process almost in lieu of confidently appreciating its purpose. At one point I kept every scrap connected to my relationship with Mike – every receipt from when we ate out together, every movie ticket, museum admission sticker… One day, I realised that I have a wedding ring to prove that all those other events took place and served their purpose; indeed, more to the point, I have the husband himself! I don’t need a receipt in proof that we ate out together.

As you can see, the process of sorting through one’s belongings can be – as Marie Kondo* suggests – wonderfully meditative and revealing. It’s something I haven’t always done effectively, but am now learning to do better.

*The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing

Getting Cleaning Done with a Baby

I can tell you, figuring out how to do housework with a Little Someone in tow has been a huge adjustment for me. I started out writing this post in a ‘how to’ voice, with three tips I’ve learned, but scrapped it as inauthentic. It gave a false impression of my efficiency and success, and, if this makes sense, I felt it would be more appealing to mothers-to-be who had high hopes of what they could accomplish after having a baby, than it would be encouraging to mothers-now who actually have a baby.

I do get housework done these days, albeit not as much as I used to.

For example, I try to do small bits of cleaning in the bathroom daily, so that if I don’t have time for a weekly cleaning we don’t end up living in filth. What has worked well for me is to get a fresh face cloth each evening to wash my face, then re-use it the following morning to wipe down damp surfaces on the sink and tub (not the toilet, FYI).

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I also moved my cleaning kit into the bathroom closet (from under the kitchen sink), because that way I can do some fast bathroom cleaning if I have a minute when I’m already there. Everyone thinks I just brushed my teeth…little did they know I also scrubbed the toilet!

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One thing I have found helpful is to do small tasks in passing – when I am already in a certain area, and I can’t hear anyone crying yet from the other room, I capitalise on the current success to do some quick cleaning before I leave. Cleaner people than I probably do this habitually anyway!

One of the biggest kindnesses to myself lately has been something I did before Edith was born: I made a particular effort to arrange the house so that most of the open surfaces were clear. The only objects I allowed out were those which I carefully chose and wanted to look at. For one thing, having clear surfaces makes it easier to dust or to wipe down counters. It also makes tidying quicker because there’s less visual clutter – you really only move a few obviously out-of-place objects and the space is clean again. It’s quick to restore a sense of calm that I find I need even more than I used to. I am home most of the time, and often unable to do much with my environment except stare at things (as I am feeding, playing with or walking the baby), so being able to tidy an area quickly to restore its tranquility has been more of a blessing than I anticipated.

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For example, here is our dining table. It looks cluttered occasionally, but I didn’t do anything for this photo other than straighten the chairs – so this is proof that it does look this clear on an average day! When I’m trying to get Edith back to sleep after nighttime feeding, I can see this table from the living room, and having it looking open and inviting always cheers me up.

If anything, our house is actually tidier since having a baby. Turns out most of the mess was a result of my ‘being productive’ and ‘creative’, neither of which I have time for now!


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Here, on a wild hair-day, is Edith. Her name was actually chosen before I was pregnant. It was a name both Mike and I liked, and whenever we talked about what we’d do if we had children, the imaginary child was always ‘Little Edith’ – ‘When we have Little Edith we’ll bring her here,’ etc. So when we found out we were having a girl, it was like meeting someone I already knew.

Many things surprised me about having a baby. I think we all know that the TV portrayals of birth are inaccurate, but I don’t think I knew exactly in what way, other than that women seem to go into labor suddenly and then deliver a baby in a matter of a few hours – not the experience of any first-time mother I know. But there were other things I found to be much different than how childbirth is usually portrayed. There’s a kind of cultural image of women screaming and yelling in a bed, overmastered by pain, and though I’m sure this might happen in a problematic birth, this image wasn’t at all accurate in my experience. I found that all of what I did during labor was deliberate and purposeful. I read various materials on natural birth which promised that with the right skills a woman could give birth being totally in control, and look back on the experience as ‘amazing’ in some way, but frankly I was skeptical. However, having now been through the experience, I actually found this all to be true for me. I think I panicked for about 15 seconds early on (‘Can I do this?’), but otherwise I only remember feeling that all the way through I was in control and was not merely suffering through something, but doing something.

The other thing that surprised me was that, despite the contractions themselves being so painful, the time between them could be fun or even peaceful. This was true right through the pushing stage, when after a minute or so pushing out a baby I’d be able to spend a few minutes chatting with Mike and the midwives – about their children, about how we felt about the whole thing (meanwhile still being in the midst of it!). My labor records, which I can access electronically, state that two hours into the pushing I ate a popsicle. It is all really bizarre when I remember it.

Perhaps the reason people always forget, or downplay, the difficulty of labor is that it turns out that caring for the baby afterwards is far more exhausting and difficult. But that is another story. We do at least get some sleep. I wouldn’t normally post a picture of myself sleeping, but I think this is actually the cutest picture I have of the two of us together.IMG_4259 copy

Digital Declutter of My Writing Folder – Plus Some Thoughts about Marie Kondo’s Method

For the last three months, Mike has had to listen to my grumping about how much I am DYING to unpack and sort our things. You see, we are still waiting for them to arrive (which we now think should actually be soon). In the meantime I have had to exert my willpower not to put my sweaty mitts all over everyone else’s stuff and sort it out instead. I’ve restricted myself to 1) reading about decluttering and organisation and 2) watching strangers on YouTube going through their closets, makeup, kitchen utensils…strangely addictive.

So Mike suggested a few days ago that I sort out some of the files on my computer, a happily achievable project. I emptied the downloads folder (boing boing, crunch crunch – those are the sounds a Mac makes when you move and delete files). Then I decided to look at the ominous folder titled Writing.

This folder contains all my non-academic ‘writings’ since I began writing, which was at age 12. In case you don’t know, I am nearly 30, so it represents almost 18 years of disorganised creativity. Oh, I had divided it into folders, but the categorisation wasn’t exact and there were multiple drafts of the same thing floating around under different names – you know what I mean.


In the past, I have periodically organised this folder, but I considered its contents sacrosanct and therefore almost never deleted anything. However, in the last few years I have changed my mind about this aspect of my approach to organisation, and I now feel that the first step of organising anything is discarding some of it.

The method – Marie Kondo’s criterion of joy

I decided, this time, to go through my writing folder using an approach I hadn’t tried with my digital files before. You may have heard of the book by Marie Kondo, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. I could say a lot about it, but one of its central (and perhaps most debated) points is that the criterion for keeping anything is whether it brings you joy.

Not whether you have used it in the last 6 or 12 months, nor whether you have plans to use it again, nor how easy it would be to replace, nor even whether it is in good condition – all criteria I’ve often encountered as parameters for deciding what to get rid of. Kondo recommends, instead, choosing what to keep, and doing so based on your own subjective and intuitive response to the thing itself.

So I went through my Writing folder looking for those documents that sparked joy. Kondo recommends taking objects in your hands one by one to evaluate them, but obviously with digital files you can’t do this. I simply scanned the document preview, or if necessary opened the document and skimmed it as much as necessary to identify what it was. I then asked myself (mentally), ‘Do I feel joy at this?’, or if I was able, paid attention to my first instinctive response to a document.

Did it work?

In case you’re interested, my Trash folder now tells me that I discarded 93 files, but I have to say that I didn’t have a numeric goal and I didn’t keep track of my progress as I went. Some people seem to find a numeric goal inspiring, but one of Kondo’s points is that how much you discard or how much you keep don’t ultimately matter. I personally find that setting an arbitrary goal, like eliminating 25% or 50% of something, is often stress-inducing or – on the opposite end of the spectrum – can induce laziness, making me stop partway through a declutter just because I’ve already reached my target.

My actual goal was that I wanted to feel differently about my Writing folder.

That Writing folder has been, for many years now, something I have viewed with a mixture of pleasure and dread. On the one hand, I have always loved poking through it to find little tidbits I’d forgotten about, or to laugh outright at some early specimens. But on the other hand, I was always equally likely to unearth bizarre fragments of my own thinking (apparently my own thinking – usually not things I remember writing) that weren’t amusing at all; at best, boring and pointless, and at worst, embarrassing, such that trawling through them wasn’t enjoyable. If you’ve ever written anything, you probably know – sometimes we write things that are just bad, that we ourselves hate and would rather forget. That’s why you edit. Doing a PhD has changed my view of the value of first drafts or fragmentary notes. Honing a long piece of writing repeatedly through the years  reinforced to me that first-draft brilliance, ‘raw, unpolished, ingenious,’ or whatever, is very rare – I’m now much less attached to early drafts and notes because I don’t think they’re particularly magical. Often they are just bad. I kept these things out of, I guess, a kind of honesty, or else simply because I saw the folder as an archive of my work, not to be tampered with.

What I had never done, till now, was go through these documents with  respect for my own feelings. This, I think, is the revolutionary demand that Kondo’s method makes of us: to respect how we feel about our things. When I was culling through my documents, some made me laugh, some I even thought were imaginative or cool, or made me go ‘Huh!’ at reading what might be a lot of words centring around a tiny kernel of a really good idea. But some were so long and of so little interest to me now that I didn’t even want to scroll down to see their entire contents; others were so fragmentary that I didn’t even know what I was thinking when I wrote them; and, as always, there were a few I just hated. I might say, ‘I hope no one ever reads this.’ But more to the point, I did not ever want to read it either! I used to think that decluttering was about a lengthy, rational dialogue with myself, going through a bunch of questions to determine something’s right to stay and trying to distance myself emotionally from it. Asking myself, ‘Do I feel joy?’ brought the focus to my singular, intuitive response, which was often surprisingly clear and in fact not overly inclined to ‘keep everything from sentiment’, as I might fear. Rather, I could often tell very clearly and quickly what I liked, or didn’t, when I stopped to ask myself directly.

This decluttering was a success not because of how much I got rid of or kept, but because it changed how I felt about that Writing folder. I want to feel happy about it. I want it to be a place of enjoyment rather than exasperation or disgust, or impatience as I am unable to find what I want in the sea of stupid fragments.

I should note that Kondo’s method is about more than simply ‘finding joy’, and she has a detailed procedure for culling through all your belongings in sequence. Not having done that, I’m not adhering strictly to her method, but as I mentioned before, until all our belongings are in one place I can’t really tackle everything the way she advises. In light of this small project – a single digital file folder – I simply conclude that for me there is something potent in using the criterion of joy to choose what I keep. I plan to use it in the future as well.

Some Final Maternity Sewing: Custom-drafted, Nursing-friendly and Everything

Sewing for myself has become a tricky proposition. I’ve more or less figured out how to sew for my pregnant figure, but now that I am fully 8 months along, any maternity clothes won’t get too much wearing before everything changes yet again. Not that I mind the change – for a long time now, I’ve looked forward to being able to make ‘normal’ clothes again, at whatever point my figure begins to look normal. I dreamed of frolicking in dresses with waists. Then one day it dawned on me: breastfeeding. The belly issues of pregnancy are only followed immediately by the access issues of nursing. So anything I sew now must, I feel, be wearable now as well as being nursing-friendly.

So I began to wonder if, at this stage, I could draft a dress pattern that would be

  • Maternity friendly (so I can wear it now!)
  • Accessible for nursing
  • Adjustable enough to look good whatever my waistline
  • Blessedly cool for my current overheated self, and my August-in-Texas post-baby self


IMG_4034 I started by buying, on sale, a simple wraparound maternity dress pattern (Butterick 5860). But I don’t really like true wrap dresses, because the skirt always splits open. I used the pattern as a useful springboard and cut and spliced it to create a dress with a normal skirt (and lengthened it to maxi length), which has wrapping capabilities in the top only, accompanied by long, long ties.



The ties cinch the waist as tight as you like, and can be tied however you like, front or back, above the belly or, eventually, down at the natural waist. They are long enough to wrap around twice before tying, meaning you have plenty of options.

Here I am, modelling it with the ties lowered to around my ‘waist’ to demonstrate. I swear, it used to be the thinnest part of my torso. For now, just pretend! I put on my skinny face to try to help the illusion along.



And here it is with the bow in front, back up at the empire line.IMG_4053Obviously this dress works fine for maternity, because here I am. But not only do I think it will also look good afterwards, but the wrap in the front makes it nursing accessible. The fabric is so stretchy you can yank it all over the place.

IMG_4036I heard someone say once that wearing maxi dresses during pregnancy would make you feel like a goddess…she was right. It’s nice to have the opportunity to feel graceful and columnar. I mean, it’s better to feel columnar than like a sphere, which is the other shape with which I often identify!





Improving a Rental Bathroom: Part 3, Serious Business

(Part 1 of the bathroom improvements)

(Part 2 of the bathroom improvements)

Today I’m sharing the more involved bathroom improvements we’ve done. These are the kinds of things you probably need your landlord’s permission to do, but it’s worth asking.

Replacing a shower head

Our shower head was a standard rental blah white plastic type. Actually, at least it was clean, so it didn’t bother me too much. The real problem was its height. It didn’t spray onto your head! It hit me mid-chest, and of course was worse on Mike. So to wash our hair we were angling it way out, making it spray at the far end of the tub and get water everywhere, making a happy camp for a mould colony (more on that soon!) and making puddles that I was incessantly wiping up. Plus, the arm (which leads to the shower head) and the flange against the wall were icky and corroded. Again, they looked dirty even when they were clean!


Dear readers, WE REPLACED IT. I mean, like, did actual plumbing. Now, first, I emailed the apartment office and explained the problem as one of practicality – ‘it’s inconvenient to use and ends up getting water everywhere’. I then said, ‘if you aren’t willing to replace it, can we?’ They weren’t willing (unsurprisingly), but said that we could do it if we wanted. Bingo!

What we found was a new shower arm which has an S-bend shape to add height to a too-low shower head. Most of the plumbing was done by Mike, because it needed strength and courage, and I have less strength and was too busy hiding my face in the bed, just waiting for the inevitable explosion of water leaking through the floor and onto our neighbours below. But after much angst and a few closely-controlled leakage tests, it seemed fine. The next day, I caulked around the flange to seal it to the wall.


We found this Youtube tutorial helpful:

Re-caulking the bathtub

Because we’d been given permission to change the shower head without much fuss, I decided I probably wouldn’t get in trouble for doing some caulk repair.

Icky caulk is one of my pet peeves. If the previous tenant hasn’t been scrupulous about cleaning, there’s already black or brown mould inhabiting the caulk before you get a chance to do anything. So it looks dirty no matter what. Surfaces that look dirty even when you clean them feel like an insult, like the house is just laughing at me. Moreover, caulk of this type is usually peeling off as well, little rubbery ribbons that wiggle around when you scrub them, hold mini pools of water, and harbour even more mouldy hideaways. So not only does cleaning produce no perceptible result, but it’s fiddly and frustrating to do. And you are always tempted to pull those ribbons off…but will that make it better, or worse?!

Here was the situation in the worst corner. See the brown mould? And the sloppy caulk? You might not be able to see the other issue, which is little rubbery bits coming loose.


Re-caulking is actually fairly straightforward. You scrape off the old caulk, clean the area, let it dry, and then apply new caulk. I put a towel in the tub and sat in it to do this. Removing the old caulk was the worst – it took me a couple of hours, and I had to go buy a sugary drink from Starbucks afterwards. It was like an archaeological excavation, in which I distinguished about three previous layers of caulk, each hiding their own generation of mould. Obviously it had been caulked over multiple times just for cosmetic purposes.

Here is the result! It’s not perfect, and some grime was really impossible to remove. I think that’s life when you’re working with previous people’s shortcuts. However, isn’t it so much better?


(I want to assure you that when caulking, I wore a mask and tried to avoid touching the stuff as much as possible. The baby is being well protected during my DIY!)

Improving a Rental Bathroom: Part 2, Grab a Screwdriver

(Read Part 1 of the bathroom improvements if you aren’t caught up.)

These next three bathroom improvements aren’t difficult, but take ‘a bit more doing’, and might need some basic tools. The spruce-ups from last time might be the kind of thing that’s intuitive to do, but I feel like these projects don’t always occur to me as possible because they feel more like repairs, and I’m always worried I’ll get in trouble with a landlord for attempting repairs that should be professionally done.

However, I think these three issues are actually very easy to fix and not at all risky!

Wonky toilet seat

Isn’t it annoying when the toilet seat lopes from side to side? That’s what ours did. Turns out, it’s very easy to tighten the screws that hold it on.

Upon investigation, I discovered two little flaps which opened to reveal big plastic screws attaching the toilet seat to the toilet. Each screw emerged on the underside of the toilet and had a washer on the other end.


I started by loosening these considerably, so that I could shift the seat around and clean around all the joins. If kneeling down to clean toilet bits makes you feely all oogy boogy about germs, like me, I recommend doing this when you’ve just cleaned the toilet so you know it’s as clean as possible.

Then I just centered the toilet seat and tightened those screws firmly. I snapped the little flaps shut again and was done! I’m pretty sure previous apartments have had this same wobbly seat problem because of a broken part – and in that case, I’d probably opt now to replace the screw or the toilet seat altogether, because that is as easy as loosening and tightening screws.

Sink plugs

Our sinks have these push-type plugs where you raise and lower a little rod which operates the plug. Mysteriously, the plug in our bathroom sink, after working fine, just came out one day and then of course didn’t work.


I thought for a while that the plastic bit was broken, but upon examination decided it wasn’t and that I would try to reinstall it. The problem, I discovered, was with the lever mechanism below the sink.

The metal rod should have been inserted into a hole in that vertical bar. The plug handle behind the sink moves that bar up and down, moving the lever.


I had to poke the rod through the appropriate hole, and just used trial and error to figure out the right one so that it raised and lowered the rod the right amount. There was a metal gripper thing that kept the rod locked through the hole, which had fallen off and caused the problem, I presume.

Reattaching the sink plug to the rod inside the drain was tricky, but I got it in the end. I had to shine a light down the drain hole and keep trying.

Finally, there’s a nut-type thing at the join where the rod goes into the pipe, and the tightness of it determined how firmly the plug moved up and down and whether it stayed down when you put it down. I had to use a wrench to tighten this, otherwise the plug just flipped up and down too loosely and wouldn’t stay down.

For this project, I found some helpful information online, with diagrams of how the mechanism works. Honestly, half the battle is just figuring out what words to Google! This type of sink plug is a ‘pivot stopper’ or a ‘pop-up stopper’, apparently.

Lowes Hardware – how to repair a pop-up sink stopper
How to connect the pivot stopper in a sink

Gross, loose tap knobs

Both our bathrooms have these single clear plastic shower knobs. But both were dirty INSIDE, as well as having paint spattered on them. Seriously, paint?! The master bath knob was also loose, having too much ‘play’ in the way that a car steering wheel can. You could give it little wiggles without engaging the actual water valve. Practically, this meant that it was hard to keep the same heat setting from shower to shower, because pulling the knob out to turn on the water caused it to wiggle and change temperature.

IMG_3689I learned that you can remove a knob quite easily. You have to pop off the central little button (my fingernails worked for this), which reveals a hole with a screw inside that secures the knob. Removing that screw allows the knob to come off. Don’t worry – water shouldn’t come spurting out, because the knob is just a handle which operates the valve.

I cleaned the knob with a toothbrush and some dish soap, removing pinkish scum, black mould, and using my fingernail to scrape the paint off. Then I reattached the knob with the screw, this time tightening the screw well, and popped the little button back on to cover the screw.

IMG_3687Nothing about this tap will ever be exciting or stylish, but at least it’s clean, there are no paint smears, and it’s nice and firm to turn.

Part 3 of bathroom improvements will follow soon, involving some serious DIY. Aren’t you in suspense?

Replacing Blinds with Curtains, Part 1 Perhaps

Our apartment has five windows with vertical blinds. These are a standard apartment window covering, but I think they’re hard to clean, and if the ceiling fan is on they go clack clack clack against each other. Not to mention that they aren’t very aesthetically appealing.

Here’s what I mean. And if you’re really lazy, vertical blinds hang crooked because you didn’t even move whatever was on the floor making them slant…

IMG_3763I’ve been considering these blinds since we moved in, because I could take various approaches to concealing or replacing them, but wanted to give it some time before deciding. For one thing, I thought that once I got used to them I might not mind so much. (No luck there. I kept minding.) But for another thing, I didn’t want to undertake a project that would make me sorry later when I had to undo it to move out.

I could, for example, simply attach a curtain rod above the blinds and protruding out beyond them, and hang a curtain from it. When the curtain was closed, the blinds would be hidden, while remaining available to block the light if necessary. However, if you opened the curtains, you’d still see the aluminium track of the blinds along the top of the window. I felt that this approach would be covering up an essentially ugly feature by adding confusion, rather than really addressing the ugliness.

I could, of course, completely remove the blinds by unscrewing the track from the wall. This is tempting. However, it would be one more thing to replace when we move out, and would probably require drilling new holes for a curtain rod. But to me this is probably the second best option, and certainly the best for overall result.

However, I finally settled on what I thought would be the easiest and cheapest to do, and to undo later. I got the idea from Engineer Your Space, in this video:

This solution is to unhook the vertical slats from their hangers, and then hook curtains on in their place. This allows the curtains to open and close by the existing mechanism.

I chose to trial this project on our easiest window, the one from the living room which overlooks our east-facing patio. There’s no need for serious light management because no one sleeps there, nor does it get anything but nice morning sunshine, and there are no privacy issues because it’s a 3rd floor balcony. So the window covering is in fact purely decorative and psychological (avoiding open windows at night).

Unhooking the vertical blind slats was a little fiddly, but not hard. You can see here the clip that holds each slat, one empty and one with a slat still hanging on it.

IMG_3766I bundled up the slats and rubber-banded them together, then rolled them up to store in a box in the closet.

Then I made my curtain. Because I wasn’t totally sure of the project working, I didn’t want to spend a lot of money, so I used a thrift store sheet which I got for $2.99. We are all kinds of classy here.

I made it long enough to clear the floor by about an inch so it would swish along nicely. Those decorating shows and magazines are always telling us to let our curtains puddle on the floor. However, to me that seems like a recipe for 1) stepping on the curtain and pulling it down, 2) the curtain getting full of dust, 3) the curtain getting sucked up the vacuum, 4) the curtain requiring artistic arrangement every time you shift it. So no puddling curtains for me.

As for width, I think the official advice would tell you to make your curtain twice the width of the window (or of the space it will cover), which will give it some folds when it’s closed. Mine isn’t quite 2x the width of the window because my sheet wasn’t wide enough, so it’s probably more like 1.66x the width of the window.

Lazy woman that I am, I used the sheet’s hems on three sides, and sewed my own hem on the top.

I then used drapery hooks all along the top of the curtain (the YouTube video I linked shows them). They required pushing through a single layer of the fabric at the top hem.

The drapery hooks can then be hooked onto each existing clip on the track, the ones that used to hold the blinds. This was very easy to do. It means the curtain moves back and forth on the existing track.



IMG_3797My white curtain isn’t particularly interesting as a design choice, but the strange colour of the walls in this apartment has really made me crave light, neutral colours, and I like the way light comes through a white curtain. At first I was unsure how much an improvement it was, but after living with it for a few days I’m sure I like it better than the blinds at least. If anything, it’s just much more pleasant to open in the morning than the clackety blinds.

The final question remains – should I try to conceal the aluminium track above the window? It’s ugly, for sure, but I haven’t decided how much it bothers me. As with the blinds/curtain debate, I think I’ll leave it for a while and see how I feel. The YouTube video I linked above shows how to make a cornice to cover the track, which is probably the approach I would take. But for now the curtain is better than the blinds – yes, definitely much better!


Improving a Rental Bathroom: Part 1, the Easy Stuff

Ah, the bathrooms in rented apartments. Now, I’ve read about how you can spruce up your ‘boring rental’ with a new shower head or a coat of paint, but it’s been a while since I lived somewhere where the problems were that purely cosmetic. I’d be quite happy with ‘boring’ if it were clean, fixtures worked, there was no rust, no indelible mould, no weird tile, no crevices that were impossible to clean… I suppose this is a result of the type of budget I’ve always been working with. Well, now we are in a new apartment that has much to recommend it, but I wouldn’t say its bathroom finishes were one of those things.

I want to share a few small projects I’ve undertaken to spruce up our bathrooms. Maybe I should say just to ‘rectify some problems’, as I don’t think any of my activities really qualify as great decor. Rather, I wanted to have a bathroom that functioned efficiently, was easy to clean, and looked clean when it was clean.

Living in a rental place can make you depressed or complacent about fixing small annoyances, because it feels like investing time and money in someone else’s property. However, one thing I learned in our last rental flat was that whenever I took the time to clean or repair something, however unfair it might have felt, I was always glad I had done it. In the end, I now think of these projects not as ‘investing in someone else’s property’ (grumble grumble) but rather as doing nice things for myself to enjoy. And after that, why should I begrudge a future tenant some small benefit? Perhaps it’s better to view it as passing on a kindness rather than a wasted investment. So here you go.

Messy paint jobs

Honestly, I could have done a better paint job here than whoever did paint it. All along where the bathtub tile joins the wall, there is wall paint streaked onto the tile, in both bathrooms.


Fortunately tile is fairly durable. I took a metal scraper (palette knife) and just scraped the paint away. I say ‘just’, because the action was simple, but it did take a while. I’ve finished in the master bath, but need to tackle the second bathroom. However, in the master bath, having a cleaner edge between tile and paint made a huge difference in the place looking tidy.

If you are at all uncertain about using a metal scraper on a surface for fear of scratching, a credit card works well as a plastic scraper. I’ve also had luck with the clear plastic from those packages that small electronics often come in, you know, the ones with fused edges and plastic moulded around the item inside, which you can only open with scissors and rarely without cutting yourself on the plastic. But the plastic works well for scraping.

Icky cabinets

Now, I hesitate to complain about our bathroom cabinets because, hey, we have bathroom cabinets! You don’t realise that this is special until you live in the UK where bathrooms seem to have no storage whatsoever. So I am very glad to have some bathroom cabinets. However, ours are like black pits inside, because they are so dark.

A layer of white contact paper on the bottom made a huge difference by just reflecting the light so you could see what was sitting there!


I didn’t say it was pretty! (Organisation there is yet to come – the rest of our stuff needs to arrive before I know all the space needs to contain. Shoebox lids suffice for now.)

Wimpy toilet flush

Now, I didn’t fix this issue myself. I mention it merely to inspire you. One of our toilets had what I would describe as a weak flush – it just had a floppy handle and not much oomph, sometimes requiring quite a lot of flushing. I did look inside and fiddle with the chain and the water height, but it didn’t seem to help, and after a lot of Googling I still wasn’t really sure what the issue was. What I did notice was that the other toilet, which worked better, had the same manufacture date stamped inside the cistern, but a different set of innards. So it was the same type of toilet, but had a different (and it seemed newer) mechanism.

Finally, I emailed our apartment office and explained the problem. Duh! I did ask specifically that the insides be replaced to match the toilet that worked, and I don’t know if phrasing my request so specifically helped, but they didn’t give me any hassle. Someone came the next day and replaced the wimpy innards, and the toilet now works great.

So the moral of that story is, even if you think your landlord is lackadaisical and won’t help you out, it’s worth asking! Obviously this wasn’t a super easy fix for the repairman…but it was easy for me, hence why I mention it here with the other easy stuff!

Stay tuned for the slightly harder projects next week.