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Spring: Your Excuse to Go Big  May 10, 2020

Mother's Day is just behind us. And I had a nice little cup of coffee with myself that morning, hours before my quarantined children got up (they are honestly like bats – how will they ever get back on track?) But I was thinking about mothering, and being mothered, and mother figures in my life, and how all those things are interrelated parts of this nutty loop-de-loop cycle of life we are living. And nothing marks that cycle more than spring in New England. Yes, yes, I know it actually comes earlier, but we all know that around here we have to wait for Mother's Day to put out our porch plants. Or before we even think about planting those brave and tender seedlings that have been appearing in the backgrounds of the food photos that my friends send me. "Never mind the banana bread," they seem to say, "look at US!"

And so it's time. Time to spring clean (and that could be a whole arDcle but who wants to write that?) and time to welcome in some of that against-all-odds, cheerful bravado of early spring.

So take a look around, inside and out. Do I have to say out loud that it's time to take down the Christmas wreath? (If I'm talking to you, get up right this very second ...) But also look around for anything else wintery – the pinecones in a basket on your porch, the dark table runner, the wool blankets on your couch. Bring them to your attic and set them all free for the summer!

Do you have a stash of seasonal items in your attic? I know, I know ... it sounds so stuffy and who has the time and just really the inclination to maintain such a thing? But it really doesn't take much to make a big difference. And don't do it because of how it will look – do it because of how it feels! Pick a nice day, throw open the windows and swap out your few items. Retire the dark comforters and shake out those wrinkly cotton duvets! Swap the holiday red bath towels for the cozy, crisp white ones. Trade in those heavy, lined curtains for some crisp sheer panels. Yes, it will be brighter in the morning but who wants to waste a minute of these gloriously long days! (Oh those short days in the winter just crush my soul.)

It's always amazed me, how little you actually need to do. I mean, think about how the simple sight of a straw hat hanging in the mudroom can make your heart skip a beat a[er a long winter. Just pick a few high-visibility spots to create your spring moment and then call it a day. I usually pick something outside (porch, front stoop, or fence,) something when you walk in (foyer table, dining centerpiece, or kitchen island) and then if I feel like it, I add a few other places that I will personally enjoy (like the window sill over my sink, or a spot in my office, or in my bedroom.) And here is the trick: don't try too hard. Go out and do what you love and spring will come to you.

I know, it's cliché, but I love the woods and I love the beach. And I have found so many treasures in both those places that I can't believe I've left any for the rest of you! That knot of wood looks just like a nest, and those smooth sexy beach stones – they look like eggs. And wait, someone gave me a candle holder that looked like a bird ... Your story will be different, but you'll find it. I know you will.

But is that advice frustratingly vague for some of you? "What does she mean, my story will find me? What does that have to do with this porch table I'm trying to spruce up?" I know what you mean, so I'll share a few design tips. Let's pretend that when you open your front door, you are met with a dining room table and that you want to put something on it that says Happy Spring even though we literally had snow flurries last week.

So, you can either "group" or you can "go big." But remember, your biggest ace in the hole is always the unexpected. So "go big" with a large urn filled with gnarly tree branches that you weave cut flowers into. Or you can have those wonderfully crafty kids of yours roll up lots of paper-cone flowers and hang them over your table from your light fixture. You can "go big" with a tower of driftwood, or an old tool box filled with moss and birch bark. Or lay down (or hang!) an ancient hoe from your garage (some of those old tools are so beautiful, they should be hung on the walls as art) and surround it with candle sticks. I mean, I don't know! It's your story – get out there and find it!

Groupings let you have a little of this and a little of that. As a rule of thumb, groupings tend to like odd numbers – groups of three items, or of five items for example. You usually need one thing with some height, so don't be afraid to stack. Put a squat pansy plant on top of a stack of books, or even on top of another upside-down pot. Honestly, be a scavenger in your own home. I know you'll find lots of good stuff. Add some candles, a delicate little bird's nest you found on a walk, maybe a wine glass stuffed with clover, a stack of sand dollars, or a silly "think spring" sign someone gave you at work. Anything goes! If it starts looking like a big mess, take a step back and simplify. And sometimes it can help to put it all on a tray or a round platter.

I wish we could usher quarantine out with the same spirit with which we are welcoming in spring. There, there, off you go Covid 19 ... we've all been patient and strong, and the planet has been happy in a way, and my toes are even looking OK with no nail polish, but the loss has been profound ... so off you go now ... we have spring to enjoy!

An edited version of this post appeared in the May 15 issue of The Cricket, a local newspaper in Manchester, Massachusetts

Go Be Interesting  May 1, 2020

Nothing like a good quarantine to get your mind wandering into the philosophic. Some of you are probably pondering the very meaning of life itself. Others, are maybe wondering what on earth a TikTok is. (And yeesh, are they public?) And then there’s me asking the big questions like: What is that magic ingredient that makes one home feel so warm and welcoming, and other homes (that may even have nicer things) feel empty and antiseptic? I know it’s not world peace or anything - but it is something to chew on for a minute or two that doesn’t involve baking.

So if you’d like to join me, then think back. I mean WAY way back. To a time and place nothing like we know today. Yes, go back at least seven… maybe eight weeks. Remember then? We were all walking freely in and out of each others homes and getting our hair cut and (speaking only for myself) wearing more than just yoga pants and oversized sweaters. Well, back then in the olden times (as my daughter used to say), do you remember the feeling I’m talking about? It’s when you walk into a house and you want to linger… there is a life happening there that you are interested in.

And yes, a lot of that feeling comes from the host - not so much how the home is designed - but AHA! There, I’ve got you! My point is that the magic ingredient is YOU. Our homes should be a true reflection of ourselves. And when we really let that happen - when we really lean in and are just 100%, entirely, unabashedly US! Well, that’s where that magic comes from.

Thinking about all that made me think about my kids writing their college essays. They had so many questions that they wanted black and white answers to! “Should I write about this… or should it be that?" "What are the rules?” And every source responds with the exact same, frustratingly simplistic message, “Be Yourself.” Be your true self. Be funny if you are. Be passionate if you are. If you are none of those things, maybe you need to write about that. (Hand to heart, my son’s college essay was about him accidentally farting in 7th grade gym class.) Anyway, at the end of the day, colleges want to admit interesting kids. “Go be INTERESTING!” I used to yell over my shoulder when they were watching too much tv. Which was not my finest moment, and of course they already were.

So I won’t yell that at you, but in all honesty I still have the urge. Because I know just how interesting you already are! I know now like no other time. I’ve got the Zoom meetings and Zoom happy hours and Zoom long lost college friends to prove it. And I’m here to report that we are all wonderfully interesting, and deliciously complex and so uniquely genuine in these crazy uncertain times that it can make my heart swell. And that’s where this journey begins.

So imagine that together we are in whatever room in your house that really makes you happy. If you were my client, my first question would be: Tell me what’s working for you and what’s not. Because I don’t care one bit about the “design rules” if this room brings you (A)joy, and (B) function. So for instance, do you love your bedroom and can’t wait to spend time there? And is your bedroom also conducive to (we’ll keep it clean) a good nights sleep?

Well, I’m over simplifying, but my point is that it doesn’t matter if your room is painted a 1990’s Hunter Green, or has threadbare furniture that your pets now own, or has piles of sea glass on the windowsill, or is cluttered with plants and stacks of books that have morphed into family members over the years. (Such a common design conflict, by the way.) I don’t care about any of those things IF this room brings you joy and, in this case, brings you sleep. Because when those paths collide - I guarantee that room will be a genuine reflection on you, and you can’t get more interesting than that.

Of course sometimes even those beloved rooms need attention. But treat those cherished spaces like you would a puppy. Embrace their messy goodness and try to cull out some of the ... unfortunate. Clutter, for example, is a common “unfortunate” that can actually swing either way. I just offered you a romantic description of a room strewn with sea glass and old paperbacks. And under the right circumstances, a certain amount of curated clutter can really work. But the other side is when the clutter take over. It can overpower the true function of the room, and it can bury all that interesting, quirky you-ness. And there is absolutely nothing interesting about stacks of bills and catalogs and old coffee mugs and abandoned crafts and wobbly furniture that Aunt Mary was getting rid of but it still needs a small repair so don’t put your full weight on it.

Does that last part sound a little like you? Then you may also despair that you don’t have a single room in your house that genuinely reflects that real you. Or maybe you have the opposite problem? Maybe your home is very uncluttered, but it’s decorated only with spontaneous purchases from HomeGoods. And you may also feel the lack of you-ness in your home.

But wait a minute .. have I just yelled “Just Be Interesting!” at you and you now you feel like you’ve come up empty? Well, putting some “you” into your surroundings is worth fighting for, and just start with baby steps. Maybe you start by just getting your rooms back to being functional - that’s a really big first step. Watch a little of that Marie Kondo everyone was raving about before Tiger King came along. Don’t be afraid. It will all unfold from there. I believe in you. You will find your way. And thanks for letting me say that, because that’s actually what I meant to say to my kids.

An edited version of this post appeared in the May 1 issue of The Cricket, a local newspaper in Manchester, Massachusetts

We're Talking Color  April 17, 2020

Goodness, have we ever spent more time in our homes? With that reality in mind, I’d like to talk to you about the one, most cost effective, and most impactful change you can make in your home. Yes it’s COLOR.

Color is both pretty straight forward (my favorite color is ... this color makes me happy ... I look great in this color) and incredibly nuanced at the same time. (Anyone ever try picking out the perfect white?) Some people know exactly what they want. (One of my mother’s friends had her “colors done” and has painted, carpeted, dressed and gifted everything in a dusty mauve ever since.) And some people have no idea and do things like “I let my 7-year old pick her own bedroom color,” or “I loved this color I saw online.”

So, first off: Don’t do those things!! Children need guidance – and even they (despite their impassioned promises) won’t actually like that electric teal in their bedroom – it will just take them a little while to break down and tell you. And, don’t pick out a color online! I know they make it tempting. The paint companies have all this interactive software – but the colors you see on your computer (we’ll call this an orange) will look different than the colors that your friend sees on their computer (we’ll call this an apple) - and it’s all ENTIRELY different than actual paint going on your actual wall. (Hellooo unicorn!)

So what to do? Well, of course there are professionals (ahem), and there are paint specialists that work at certain high-end paint stores (call ahead to see if your paint store offers any color guidance), and there is also the tried and true: My sister has a beautiful house and I’ll just have what she’s having. These are all viable options. (But use your sister’s colors only as a starting point – your houses are different after all.)

But basically, you are trying to limit the colossal number of choices. Try to find a curated color palette so it’s all not so overwhelming. For instance Sherwin Williams has color “collections” for Pottery Barn, West Elm and Rejuvinations. And all the paint lines have brochures they put out with curated colors and sometimes combinations – they are called things like (Benjamin Moore) “First Light” and “Color Trends.” These are not foolproof options, but they're not bad starting points. There is also an online trend toward boutique paint companies that offer limited color choices - which I have no experience with, so if you use one of those, you’ll have to let me know how it goes.

But that last thought brings up two important topics. One is the quality of your paint (yes it makes a difference, go with a reputable line) and the other is: Do I need to pay attention to color trends? And if so, why? Predictably, the answer is yes and no. I’m in the business, so sure I follow color trends. But similarly, me watching the styles in Fashion Week - doesn’t translate to me strolling down School Street tomorrow in one of those sassy numbers.

Yes, in our homes, we’ve all seen a ton of gray – and are other colors moving in? Yes. But gray is still a great backdrop for some of those other colors to shine - and it will take a while for that strong trend towards the cooler, crisper shades to actually leave our aesthetic – no matter what the “color forecast” is. The tested gray trend with a push toward more modern lines is still a welcome improvement over your tan, travertine, tuscan kitchen and bath of 1995. And if you care about resale, it’s still what many buyers want to see. But that said – don’t paint your house in a rainbow of gray. Mix it up! Go back to those colors that make you happy. There could be no time more appropriate to incorporate some of those!

Hopefully you’ve narrowed down your choices and you’re ready to test some colors. It’s an important exercise, especially for the lighter neutrals that can shift dramatically in different lights. (So your light gray in the morning, may pull towards green in the evening.) Paint companies offer affordable paint samples – get as many as makes sense plus your trim color and some of those cheap foam sponges. Choose your spot. Maybe it’s a corner that’s also close to some trim (you'll paint both). Take a 14-inch section and paint all of it. The wall color (at least two coats!!!) and the trim color (two coats too!) so that it’s right next to the new wall color. (Did I mention two coats?) Live with it to see what you think. And, congratulations in advance, you just chose the perfect color for your room. Time to paint!

There are the obvious benefits of working with a professional painter - professional results, minimal disruption and protection of your furnishings being at the top of the list, and the fact that I absolutely hate painting coming in as a close second. But if you’ve got a steady hand and that spark of home improvement energy that only a quarantine can bring - well then, who am I to slow you down? But do a tutorial online first and follow it. Yes, you really do have to gather all that equipment and do all those prep steps. Because proper preparation is way more boring than choosing the colors, but it really makes all the difference in your end result.

And now you’re done! It’s beautiful! Invite some friends! Host a bookclub! Have a Cinco de Mayo party!

No ... there will be none of that for a little while yet. But the room is best appreciated by those that live there. And boy oh boy are we ever living there!

An edited version of this post appeared in the April 17 issue of The Cricket, a local newspaper in Manchester, Massachusetts

When to Go Pro  April 3, 2020

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I am a woman who believes in attainable goals. One of my quarantine goals was to remove my toenail polish and let those little piggies breath for the first time in many years. It’s not a pretty goal – but it has been (check the box) ATTAINED!

I create a to-do list every single day. And those to-do’s breed other to-do subtopics which then go on post-it notes – which can lead to a whole new "future todo" section ... and then it can all start all over. It’s a complicated, imperfect system, to say the least – but on that list, I make sure there are plenty of attainable goals. Like: make breakfast. CHECK. Walk the dog. CHECK. Text a friend that hilarious quarantine meme I’ve been meaning to crack her up with. DOUBLE CHECK. (I've sent a few.) And sometimes halfway to my day I've happily crossed off half of my to-do’s and I feel great because, look at all I achieved!!

So in that spirit, today I’m not going to ask that you do a thing! Grab a cup of tea and a celery stick (these weeks have been tough on the the waistline, no?) – and I'll answer all the questions about home design that you think you shouldn't ask – but that you really should. So here it is, broken down:

How do I know if I even need a professional?

Hmmmm ... I’m going to use physical therapy as an analogy. Say you go to the gym and your knee hurts. Do you go to PT? Well maybe you do, or maybe not if you are familiar with how your knees work and you do your research and you maybe talk to a friend who has had the same knee problem. Maybe you strengthen those muscles yourself. Or sometimes you need just a few PT visits to clarify things. But, say you’re having ACL surgery – the stakes are pretty high and you’re going to want a have a good physical therapist lined up before the surgery. Have I totally confused you? (hint: I’m the physical therapist).

Here’s the thing, I’m all about DIY but does that mean you should be? (Not if you don’t want to, or if you want a result that goes beyond your abilities.) Do you need to go “all in” with a professional? (Not necessarily. Some designers work on a consultant basis and will give you just the help you need.) Should you get in way over your head? (Of course not! There are options out there to help you!)

How much does it cost?

Here’s the bad news: interior designers are expensive!! My rate falls in the middle of the professional pack. Boston rates can be a lot higher, and then you can sometimes find a deal, but make sure the skill set of your designer aligns with the needs of your project. (If you are planning a kitchen and live in an antique house, get someone with lots of experience with old houses and kitchens.) At the end of the day, a big part of it is how you connect with a designer's approach, their communication, the quality of their work, and their ability to plan properly so there aren't any surprises. And then check their references.

And here's more bad news: those hours, or fees, or mark-ups? They add up! They just do. One of my most straightforward services – creating a color paint plan for the rooms in your home – rarely comes in at less than a thousand dollars. Additionally, different design firms bill differently. For instance, I charge flat by the hour – but many firms mark-up purchases, and charge for warranties, etc. There is no wrong or right, but before you hire a designer, you should have a crystal-clear understanding of their billing practices.

Yikes! What do these overpriced designers do, anyway?

That’s a tough question because the scenario’s are so different - but here is one scenario: Maybe you are a homeowner renovating a kitchen area. Well, in the planning phase, your designer will visit your home and discuss what you like and don’t like. They will ask about your usage and habits, and note the architectural constraints, and will eventually create idea or style boards so that you are both really clear on what you are trying to achieve. They will draw up ideas in a software that will make the project easy for you to visualize, and with those drawings, they can help you bid out your project and also help the contractor to get permits. Stylistically, they will make sure the new blends with the old, and they will shop with you to ensure your finishes are in keeping with your goals. Their ideas will be well-thought out and will make even complex solutions look simple.

They will make sure you have made decisions in advance, so you aren't wasting the valuable (and expensive) time of your construction crew. And as construction proceeds, they will be there to check on the progress and to make sure the standards are in line with both your expectations. They might even bring coffee! And if you have a good one, they will make this typically stressful process of renovation ... dare I say fun? Yes, I dare! Even fun.

For very large projects, the process is similar, but your designer would work in conjunction with your larger team of architects and contractors and specialty sub-contractors.

That all sounds great, but who can afford it? Isn’t there another way?

Of course there is! I remember my first house here in Manchester. I was the type of homeowner who bought salvage stuff at Todd Farm Flea Market (shout out to my fellow early morning scavengers). We used discarded cabinets to create an office. We put in a kitchen instead of taking a vacation. We just worked away on that house one room at a time.

I remember painting my living room after the kids went to bed, and there was this wobbly radiator. To prop that radiator up I super-glued a stack of pennies together. Yes. a stack of pennies!!! I painted all of it, and you know what? It looked FINE and I’ll bet those pennies are still there. So, yes! Resourcefulness and a scrappy attitude can get you pretty far. But do your research. Read up on the stages of a construction project. Talk to your friends that have been through it. Ask lots of questions. Create an idea board on Pinterest or gather magazine clippings in a folder. If you don’t have a good eye yourself, bribe your sister in law with martini’s to shop with you (martinis’ after the shop). Get good names for good contractors who have done quality work. That part is important especially if you are not working with a designer. The good contractors are designers in their own rights, so spend a little extra money and get a good one.

Any other tips?

Sure, utilize anyone with talent. Do you like the colors in your friend's house? Be shameless and ask her for the paint names. At high-quality paint stores they will sometimes employ color specialists. Same type of thing at good quality wallpaper outlets, or cabinet stores, or plumbing supply houses or tile stores. There is lots of free talent out there – it’s just not entirely reliable. And you have to keep in mind that those representatives are in the business of selling you sinks or cabinets or tile, they are not invested in your project's aesthetics as a whole – you have to be the one to do that. But again, get names from friends or just go and try someone out. It’s not foolproof but it’s something. My favorite sales representatives have really helped me over the years – so I’m sure they can help you too.

And my final tip for the DIYers: keep it simple. Go back to your idea board photos – hopefully there will be a few pictures that really capture what you are after – and follow them pretty faithfully.

Is there extra credit?

I always knew you were an overachiever! Yes! Get going on planning that project. Do it yourself or work with a professional – but the planning phase takes a while and (with a professional) can be done remotely. it’s also a great time to reserve your contractor for future work.

And with that final thought, I think you’ve earned yourself a mental check in the “goal attained” column! Go on, you’ve earned it! If nothing else you’ve learned to not underestimate a stack of pennies, right? See what I mean about attainable goals? Now go grab a cookie ... did I say that out loud? ... I meant a celery stick.

An edited version of this post appeared in the March 27 issue of The Cricket, a local newspaper in Manchester, Massachusetts

Unruly Photo Beast  March 27, 2020

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It’s been quite a week. Really, a week like none other – and probably more to come. Are you like me? I’m working as fast as I can while I still have the work - because who knows what the future holds. I’m trying not to hover too close to my fridge, but it whispers to me consistently. And I’m trying to strike that balance somewhere between productivity and inertia. It all feels so daunting. Which gets my easily distracted mind a-wanderin' about other seemingly daunting tasks. Which leads me to that juicy household topic: PHOTOS! (printed not digital).

Some of you I know ... You are surrounded by oodles of photos in mismatched frames, and you have blown up portraits on your wall, and old-school prints taped to your fridge, and every niece and nephew’s class photo framed on your mantle. And if we opened up those frames, you know what we would often find? More photos tucked in behind! And if you LOVE each and every one, and if the thought of eliminating any of them leaves you feeling unmoored, without a family, and depressed – then please, don’t change a thing! It’s all about comfort with your surroundings.

But I know some others of you, too. Especially if you are like me and your kids are mostly grown. The photos can can make me feel like I'm living with this multi-tentacled beast that oozes into every nook and cranny of my home. There are the yellowed scrapbooks with those awful sticky pages in the attic, manila envelopes with ancient family pics tucked between some books, and well-intentioned file folders for each of my poor kids that never made it into a scrapbook. You get the idea. And if you are as old as me? Well kids, back in the day, when we got our photos “developed” (a term we used to use) - we all ordered DOUBLES. Truly an unruly beast.

So if this is you, here is your first assignment: Collect all the photos in your house. Yes everything – all your piles and scrapbooks and frames from the Christmas Tree Shop. Collect them ALL, and take all the photos out (the only exceptions being your heirloom-quality scrapbooks or framed prints). And sort and edit, and sort and edit, and sort and edit. With any luck, you should now have 1 giant pile of frames you will donate, 1 smaller pile of frames you like, a filled garbage bag - and then a whole mess of piles of sorted photos on your bed. (Me? One of my piles is a superstar pile - my absolute favorites that I save for a bulletin board.)

A word on sorting and editing: First of all – enjoy it! It’s a really nice way to review your life, and linger with those memories. But I know it can also be really hard, because you should be keeping maybe 1/4 of the photos on your bed. If you stay focused and keep your eye on the prize, it will happen naturally. You will realize that you only need 1 or 2 photos from that trip to Aruba when you were 17, not a whole sticky scrapbook of faded polaroids. You want to mark some interesting events, and you want to keep your exceptional photos – and that’s all. Your children will thank you for it. And, trust me, afterward you will feel LIBERATED!

Now we can move on to "Display." You need to walk around your house and pick maybe 2-3 places to display your exceptional photos. I’m not a huge fan of the big blown-up ones. I keep mine small, so they need to be displayed intimately, where people can stand close. Surprisingly, guest bathrooms can be the perfect spot, but there are hallways, or bulletin boards near a desk, or maybe put them on a sideboard or mantle like your parent's did. But focus on a few places to cluster your photos instead of sprinkling them evenly throughout your home.

Next, take a look at your saved frames and at your sorted photos and think about groups. You may need to add some new, tasteful frames to your collection so that your group of frames look nice when clustered together. And also think of photo groups - do you want to show all the boats your family has ever owned (including a cute picture of two kids in a rowboat?) Or grandchildren? Or just your favorites – there are no real rules, but sometimes themes present themselves.

When I hang a cluster of photos, I use a Sharpie pen and some wrapping paper with the white side up. I trace the photos onto the wrapping paper, cut them out, and tape them to the wall so I can get the balance right. The borders between the photos should usually be equal. Then I hang the actual photos using that layout as my guide.

Another display solution that is more fluid and can easily handle new additions is to mount a few photo ledges. You can find them on Amazon and tons of other places and those work great, but I actually like the ones I design myself because I have them built with a smaller profile and can make them the exact length I want. That way they look more like a "built-in" than a photo ledge from BJ's. Either way, you can lean your groupings (in their tasteful frames) on these ledges and as the years pass you can juggle the photos around and easily update them.

Well, that was fun – but we still have all the piles of photos on your bed. How to store those? I like the photo box method with dividers – and you really shouldn’t have much more than 2-3 boxes total. The boxes can go on a shelf or you can store all photo-related stuff in a large tub that will also fit your oversized prints – and head to the attic. For bonus points, get them scanned in. That way your old printed photos meet up with your digital photos (which you probably have a million of – but that’s for another day) and they can be all sorted and labeled and live happily ever after in a dropbox for generations to come. And the online photo albums you make with those digital photos (while expensive) take up much less room and you can make as many copies as you need.

But wow, that’s jumping ahead – you’ve done so much already! One step at a time. That unruly beast will not be completely slain in one day!

An edited version of this post appeared in the March 27 issue of The Cricket, a local newspaper in Manchester, Massachusetts

Newly Home-Based  March 20, 2020

If you are anything like me, you are struggling with this new home-based reality. Some of you young parents will be dumped into a whirlwind of keeping up with work, entertaining restless kids and maintaining some kind of yet-to-be-defined home schooling protocol. If this is you, you will be hanging on by your fingernails, and my heart goes out to you during this upside-down time. But conversely, some of us will be finding ourselves with a little more time on our hands than we are used to and it can bring about an odd restlessness. Am I the only one that woke up early Sunday morning (no Saturday night shenanigans to cloud my thinking) and wondered… Should I be learning Spanish? Or knitting a sweater? Or touring the Louvre online? And I can’t help you answer those burning questions, but I do know houses, and how deeply they need love and attention, and maybe a few home-based projects are just what you both need.

And yes, I have suggestions. But they come from a woman that is right on top of her professional life - but personally? Well, I’m still looking at a pile of unsent Christmas cards on the back corner of my desk. So, I’m hoping that, together, we may be able to get something done.

I’m suggesting you tackle the ... well, I'm even scared to label this one because I think I might lose you right here – but it’s the Clean Out the Closet Challenge ... or junk drawer ... or medicine cabinet ... or whatever. For me, this drudgery is a classic case for task-and-reward. For a few hours of my day, I am willing to invest my time into those "unattractive" projects – if I know that after I can go make cupcakes! Or read a People magazine. Or watch an episode of (don’t judge) Love Is Blind (it’s on Netflix if you want to join me). I’m sure your rewards won’t be nearly as trashy as mine, but hey, these are crazy times, right? So with that in mind let’s forge ahead together!

When you clean out anything - you must commit and remove all the contents of that thing. I use the 4-pile method: Save-Donate-Trash-Purgatory. With the Donate pile, you have to accept that donating your item is really JUST as good as saving it for Aunt Polly because she wears a lot of purple. You must trust that item will find a worthy purple-loving home after you donate it. For some, that’s a big leap of faith and, trust me, you must take it. The Purgatory pile gets all the stuff you can’t decide on, and without that pile I can get discouraged and hit the cupcakes early, so Purgatory is my friend and it may be yours too.

So, good for you, you’ve purged your _________! You've cleaned it and re-stocked it with your saved items (matching up like-items with like-items.) And you are enjoying the new-found space in that thing and are swearing you will never fill it up with junk ever again. Aren’t you amazing? NOW turnaround and deal with that purgatory pile. Put it through a rigorous cycle of save-donate-trash. And after that - if you still have purgatory items – stick them in a box, mark the date and store it somewhere like the basement or the attic. But only for six months. At which point, as if deemed by the gods, the un-utilized items in the purgatory box transforms itself into trash. (Ok, or maybe donate.) Don't tell my kids, but I used this method to ruthlessly winnow down many happy meal toys and assorted plastic gee-gaws.

Ok, now what? Another suggestion: plan an interior project. What’s on your list? Do you want to freshen up a guest room? Replace your kitchen? Build an adult tree house? This is the perfect time to plan for a future that is not so upside-down!! (And we will get there - we really will.) So for starters, any renovation project - no matter the size - benefits from some sort of vision board. They are easy to make on Pinterest, or they are called Ideabooks on Houzz. Or are you old-school? Just tear pages out of magazines and circling what you like with a Sharpie marker, and just pop them in a folder. This process should be loose and all-inclusive (easy to edit items out later) and dare I say fun?? This is your wishlist! It’s before project restrictions rear their ugly heads - so enjoy this moment! I make these for clients all the time - so do one for yourself and be ahead of the game.

Next you will create (and this is a technical term) a Plan Of Attack. Outline steps like room measurements, floor plans, contract work needed, materials to choose, etc. You may not know all the steps, but just do the best you can. Just having created this list magically makes it easier to tackle some of the I-don’t-know areas. It’s another leap of faith, but I promise it will work. If your project is larger, it’s a great time to plan with a design professional. So much of it can be done remotely and virus free. And it will be a good time to reserve time with a contractor.

After you get these two steps done you will be amazed to find that you have officially taken the project out of the “Ugh I know I really should ...” stage, and moved it right into the “Yes I can!” stage. And THAT, my friend, is a huge accomplishment and I think we both deserve a cupcake!

An edited version of this post appeared in the March 20 issue of The Cricket, a local newspaper in Manchester, Massachusetts