Oh, The Irony

The writer of the Small House, Big Life blog is now living in a big house.

When I lived in this house as a teenager, I knew that I didn’t want to live in a house like this as an adult. It is too big, requires too much time and money to maintain it.

My mother loves this house. She doesn’t want to live anywhere else. But she is frail enough that she can not take care of it alone. A lot of work just didn’t get done for the past 20 years or so. I moved in to take care of the house, so my mother can stay here for the rest of her life.

Before I got here, I thought that I would spend a month or so getting things in order and then on to writing my novel. I’ve been here 2.5 months now and I will probably need to work that much again to get things under control.

Here is a partial list of what I have been doing: cleared out the room and closet that is now my room. Sorted through that stuff and moved some to the basement, some to a thrift store and some to other family. Sanded, stained and sealed the floor in my room. Painted my room. Moved two old mattresses to the basement (and later to the curb for pick-up) and helped mom buy new ones, new linens for the guest room,  cleaned and sealed the limestone in the master bath, coordinated the electrician visits to replace the electrical panels for the house, moved two large rugs: one to a different room and one to the thrift store, cleaned and organized four kitchen drawers, fixed three assorted drawer pulls/knobs, cleaned out and organized two bath cabinets (from the master bath seven shoe boxes of expired medications and toiletries were taken to a hazardous waste center), cleaned and boxed up about thirty framed family photos, cleaned and organized the shelves in the laundry room, installed two new smoke detectors.

It is a good thing that I actually like to de-clutter and organize.


The Closet

Almost everything I own is in this closet. It feels kinda crowded. Maybe I can let some stuff go before the next count.


Right side of closet.

On the top shelf is my shower caddy. More about that later. In the boxes on the hanging organizer are socks and underclothes. Exercise clothes below that, then shoes. On hangers: coats and regular clothes. On the floor you can see the laundry basket and way in the back, rolled up, my yoga mat.


Left side of closet

Backpack, purse, suitcase. The suitcase is housing some out of season sweaters and some gifts I have squirreled away for Christmas. You will note the towel is hanging from a clothes hanger. That is because at mom’s house, all the towels hanging in the baths are decorative. Yes, I know this is ridiculous, but it’s mom’s house and I am picking my battles.


Top shelf, left

At the far left are pads of watercolor paper, then a couple of books I am currently reading, then a stack of odd-sized envelopes given to me from my sister-in-law which I will use with the watercolor paper to make greeting cards. Then, moving right, regular envelopes, checks, scissors and two metal tins. One houses my colored pencils and one my sewing supplies. On top of that, my hat. The box to the right stores my mementos: Mother’s day cards, poems I’ve published, photos.


The shower caddy

Mom doesn’t like me to leave my shampoo and razor in the shower, so I carry my supplies into the bathroom in this contraption, a process like dorm students use.


The caddy unpacked. And that little tin that says “Dark Chocolate Nibs” has cotton tipped swabs in it.

That is all my stuff, except for a small box of kitchen things being stored in the basement. I’m hoping that by my next count, I can get everything I own in the suitcase.


Privilege and Minimalism


Ebony and ivory keys harmonize.

My heart is breaking. My beloved hometown St. Louis, Missouri continues to be oppressed with life-threatening racial injustice. I feel silly posting photos of my closet.

So instead, I’m going to write about privilege and minimalism. Yes, I’m privileged. I’m a white, middle-class, educated, American. I’ve had my struggles with low cash flow (very different from poverty) and sexism. But it is a rare day that I am not fully aware that I have had access to education, abundance and luxury that most women in the world can only dream of. And it is because of this education and abundance that I have the privilege to decline some of it as too much.

~ minimalism is sometimes criticized as a spoiled persons’ game.

Minimalism can benefit the individual practitioner with reduced stress and increased savings. Often folks new to minimalism talk about these benefits first. But with longer practice, other blessings are revealed. Minimalism can be a high-priced aesthetic, or it can be practiced as voluntary simplicity. This is my version.

~ “Live simply so that others may simply live.” –Gandhi

By consciously choosing to use fewer clothes, a smaller home, less energy there are more of these available for other inhabitants of the earth. By not filling my time with meaningless activities, I learn the equanimity to sit with difficult emotions and not add my own troubled reactions to the fray. I use my love of my brothers and sisters, both black and white to be a bridge over the violence.

I use my voluntary simplicity as a tool for social justice.

My New Space

Let’s start with photos of what it looked like before I moved in. First I had to get rid of the stuff in the closet. Found some of dad’s stuff that had been in there for decades.


Top of closet: left.


Top of closet: right. Some of this stuff was precious family history…and some was just junk.


Bottom of closet: left.


Bottom of closet: right.


My brother often slept in this bed, when he was visiting. This was his room when he was in high school. Note the antique and broken clock radio on the night stand.


The flower arrangement and basket on the top self originally belonged to my great-grandmother, who died when I was 4 years old. (dust magnet) A few of the mugs and books were saved for family that wanted them…the rest was sent to a charity shop. The bookshelf is in the basement…being used as a staging area.


The Birdseye maple chest is a stunning antique, also my great=grandmother’s. The fashion prints are antiques (we’ll see later if they are worth anything.) The alabaster lamp antique, the red, white and blue pillow and the floral arrangement–trash picked treasures mom was willing to let go of. The rug, mom has moved to the family room.


The floor: was a mid-tone brown that I would have been completely happy with (I am NOT one of those HGTV princesses that “can not” live with light-colored wood or parquet.) But this had a wax finish, which meant that is was susceptible to water marks. And they were all over the floor.

Sooo–I cleaned out the room, I sanded the floors. I stained the floors (choosing a dark walnut that matched most of the other floors in the home) and then I put down the polyurethane coating. Then the room smelled so bad, that I could not sleep in it for weeks. Even when I was still sleeping in the master, I moved my furniture in.


Here is the new, dark walnut stain of the floors.


You probably remember this cabinet from the apartment–it still has the router and lap top stored inside. The orchid is new.


The table you will remember from the apartment, the chair was borrowed from another room in mom’s house, and the lamp was purchased on-line. It is the only lamp in the room and I needed enough light I could read and sew during the winter dark.


The bed looks the same as when it was in my house. I thought for sure one of the kids would take it…but no, so still mine for now.


I’m so proud of this decor: I did not want something figurative/literal, as I get bored with that kind of image very quickly. I love the sea glass colors–I find them restful. Everything came from the hobby stores. Frame 36″ x 24″ at 70% off at $16, all four paint colors for $3, and the watercolor paper was $0.63 per sheet. So this art that makes me happy was $21.50. My original configuration of the sheets was as 16″ x 45″ headboard, but that was going to cost $410 for the frame, so we went with plan B.


Here is my view out the window–straight out.


And the view if you are looking right.

Next week the closet…..



Back to School


My main new school supply is a yoga mat.

Since I moved into mom’s house, I’ve been fixing up my room. (Photos next week) And just beginning the process of helping her declutter junk. I resume writing this week, now that my room is done. The other thing I am doing in my retirement free time is taking classes.

I’ve signed up for weekly yoga by myself, twice a week Tai Chi with mom, a Spanish course that starts in October and two one time only classes on embroidery technique. There are many more courses that I want to take, but I thought I should start slow.

Early Lessons


Nobody was in the car at the time.

When I was sixteen years old, I babysat of a couple little girls in the neighborhood. One Saturday, I took care of the youngest one, while her sister was at a birthday party. Their mother asked me to pick the oldest up after the party and instructed me to use their car to do so. After I brought the girls home, we went inside and played with dolls. A few minutes later, a neighbor was at the door to inform us that the car had rolled into the lake. We ran outside and watched it slowly submerge. As I watched it go, I envisioned that I would be paying the owner back with minimum wage jobs for the rest of my life. * This event taught me the lesson of always putting the parking break on when leaving the vehicle. Even when I am parking in a flat lot in a flat state like Illinois. Even when my daughter makes fun of me for doing so.

I am holding the thought of how that one event imprinted my behavior 40 years in the future while I am helping my mother clean out closets and drawers in her home.

My mom grew up in the depression. At times, they had little more than their clothes and a few dishes. It is hard for her to let go of anything. But she is getting better. She gave me permission to give away the heavy antique wooden ladder. We have a nice aluminum one that I can move by myself. She didn’t complain too much when I showed her the pretty wine bottle stopper my sister-in-law had given her and asked if we could discard the 25 or so wine corks she had saved. She let me recycle the plastic bottles she has been saving. She gifted me my grandmother’s slips so I can make them into dresses to sell.

I had a dream/nightmare about a week ago that I had created an Etsy shop to re-purpose everything in the house that she is willing to let go. It would be interesting, but it would be a full-time job for the next ten years…..and I’ve got other things to do.

* the story of the the drowned car has a somewhat happy ending. A few months after it happened, I ran into the girls’ mom at the store. She said that she had left her husband, that she had never liked the car, and that the insurance company had replaced it before she left. She thanked me for putting her car in the lake.

Total Eclipse


When the sun is 95% obscured, the leaves make these crescent shaped shadows.

The last total eclipse of the sun in the United States occurred in the late 70’s in Washington State. Being in the path of totality has been on my bucket list for 36 years. Imagine my delight when I discovered that my new home in Missouri was in the path of the total eclipse on Monday. I was thrilled! I invited just about everyone I knew to come share it with me. People had to work, not everyone was excited as I and the traffic to get to a place experiencing totality was terrible. Bumper to bumper on the freeway.

All I had to do was go outside and put on my eclipse glasses.


The Boor family, celebrating with me.

My brothers and their wives came, mom watched with us.


The horizon at totality.

It didn’t get as dark as I thought it would, we could not see stars–but it was Awesome! Worth the wait.


Taken with an old phone camera.

Would do it again.

Decluttering Photos


Boy in a Box

I have mixed feelings about photos. When I worked as a hospice nurse, I used the pictures that people displayed in their homes as conversation starters. It was a good way to learn more about the people I was caring for.

I enjoy looking at photos of my own family once in a while, but I don’t really like to see the same image, whether it be art or photo, day after day after day. It’s too static. I do like the digital photo frames that have a variety of pictures on a reoccurring loop. I may get my favorite photos on one of those someday.

Recently, my youngest son gave back to me all his childhood photos. He didn’t want to take them to college. I used the opportunity to go through them and discard poor quality pictures and duplicates. The stack of keepers was one-third the size of the stack of discards.

Photos are a kind of clutter that is hard to resist. There is a historical quality to them, and once lost, can not be replaced like a sofa or a corkscrew. That said, it was easy to discard photos that were blurry, or that recall sad or bitter memories.

Sometimes It Is a Big Thing


My family has been tolerating my minimalist counting game for years. They know that if they gift me an object that I will either make it one of the 100 things and add it to the count, or re-gift it. I just do not need/use that much stuff. So over the years, they have learned to give me consumable gifts like coffee and books. It makes me happy that they respect this little quirk of mine.

Imagine the increase in happiness experienced this week when my brother gifted me with 60,000 frequent flier miles in honor of my retirement. And several bottles of wine.

I’m over the moon.

Sometimes It’s the Little Things

Cleaning out the closet of my new room at mom’s house, I found some old clothes of my dad’s. (He died in 2002.) Pajamas, a paint shirt, khakis.


These clothes were probably 20 years old before dad died.

Some of the fabric was worn thin and some paint splattered. I cut the usable fabric in rectangles and hemmed the edges.


Frugal cleaning cloths.


  1. this keeps a portion of the fabric out of the landfill for a bit longer.
  2. these will be used instead of paper towels, keeping that waste out of landfill and maybe saving a tree.
  3. the entire time I was hemming the fabric, I was remembering dad.
  4. these fabric pieces are just the perfect size for holding, scrubbing, wiping. This makes them a better tool than just throwing the whole clothing item in the rag bag.
  5. there was no cash outlay for this project. I used thread I already had.

I’m holding onto the khakis for now. I may make a rug out of them.