Embrace the way you live

I’m a recovering perfectionist. Ideally, everything would be perfectly clean and put away all the time. But I’d also like to have a life and spend less time on repetitive maintenance tasks. So I’m trying to consciously lower my standards without losing my mind.

Take this, for instance.

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Having an Asian husband means rice is cooked in your home (almost) every day whether you think it goes with the meal or not. Whether you eat it or not.

Did you know that the juice from cooked rice has been used as glue for thousands of years? GLUE. No wonder scrubbing rice gunk off of rice cookers is so tedious and time-consuming. So this sight is a common one in our home — rice cooker sitting on the counter waiting to be sprayed down, soak, and get scrubbed of its gunk before being put away.

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Except, since it’s used every day, sometimes it gets used a second or third time before finally getting scrubbed and making it into its designated cabinet. Which means by that time it’s been an awful eyesore and taking up precious counterspace for 2-3 days. Not cool.

These little “fights with reality” are the kind of thing that can drive a person to exhaustion. I’ve decided to make peace with my rice cooker. If it’s going to stay dirty for a couple of uses before getting scrubbed, so be it. It doesn’t simultaneously have to be an eyesore and a counterspace hog.

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I had some of this ribbed shelf liner left over from a previous project. It’s supposed to “allow air to circulate” under your pristine, just-washed glassware. Whatever. It can also protect my cabinet from rice glue/gunk.

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Mera kindly offered to help out and we got down to business.

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Yeah, don’t even get me started on the fact that we have no access to that top drawer and only partial use of the cabinet due to poor oven placement. If anyone out there knows how to safely cut away the drywall in order to make more space for the gas line and get our oven seated another couple of inches back, I would LOVE to have a chat. That’s on my mile-long list of projects. ;)

Since I can’t easily access that prime cabinet real estate, I decided to at least make use of the space with our cooler (which doesn’t need to come out very often), along with a few often-used appliances in the front where I can reach them.

Step 1: Clear it out and wipe it down.

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Step 2: Add shelf liner.

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Step 3: Replace appliances along with dirty rice cooker on specially-designated gunk-proof landing area.

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Step 4: Bask in the glory of reclaimed counterspace.

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Intention vs. afterthought

Ever had a thought something along the lines of “yes, I know that looks sloppy, but I USE that!”?

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So have I. I’m beginning to understand the secret weapon against such foes: intention.

When something looks like it was stuck there as an afterthought, it’s deemed “sloppy” or “messy”.

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On the contrary, when something looks like it was intentionally put there and some thought went into its placement, suddenly it’s “clever” — “ingenious,” even.

I experienced this conceptual transformation with my entryway (yes, someday I’ll post the in-progress pics of that).

So here’s my shower before.

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Enter the command-adhesive hook. I don’t know whether these are recommended for wet areas, but it’s holding up well so far. I figure if it doesn’t work out long-term, I’ll purchase some silicone adhesive like the kind that came with my dispenser. More on the dispenser momentarily.

I cleaned the area well with rubbing alcohol to remove the soap scum and let it dry before sticking on the hook.

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Bonus points if you had any suspicion that this is the very same hook on which my purses used to hang. It is indeed.

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Voila! Suddenly, things look “in place” — “chic,” even. Sometimes the small things make all the difference.

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Speaking of small things. My dispenser. I cannot recommend it highly enough. It’s such a welcome alternative to the clutter of plastic bottles in the shower.

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I previously owned the three chamber dispenser which lasted about 8 years before biting the dust. Fair warning: I did need to replace the pump mechanism about every 2 years on the conditioner only (the other two original pumps lasted the duration). I guess pumping thick liquid wears it out a bit… but the replacement pumps are cheap and it’s still oh-so-worth-it. After living shower-clutter-free for so long, it actually pained me to place bottles of shampoo and conditioner in there while I waited for my new dispenser to arrive.

In the end it was a good thing, though… recently I’ve discovered that I prefer a foaming pump for my soap (you can see it just under my new hook, above) so I wasn’t really using the third chamber anymore. The unexpected demise of my beloved dispenser gave me a chance to pare down to the two chamber dispenser which is even slimmer and easier on the eyes.

Disclaimer: I’ve included links above for some of the products I use and love in case you’re wondering where you can get your own. If you should purchase something via one of the Amazon links, I get 4%. I’m hitting up the dollar store right after this.

Crescendo of light

So I’ve been missing Virginia lately. And nature. A lot. So much that I spent two weeks back home last autumn to witness my favorite season for the first time in 10 years. That’s right. I graduated college in 2002 and moved to New Mexico that summer. Where everything is brown year-round. Then it was off to the Bay Area in 2005 for several more seasonless years. Here in the city we have more of a year-round concrete hue. It didn’t really bother me at first… I hardly noticed it. Then suddenly a powerful homesickness and craving for nature snuck up on me. I spent another two weeks back home this spring.

Simultaneously, I’d been trying to figure out what to do with this wall. As much as I love our wedding photo, it looked small and dwarfed when featured as the centerpiece of such a huge space.

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For the longest time, I had grand intentions of doing something very similar to these YHL dining room shelves.

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I loved the idea of beautiful and functional organization for tableware so close to the spot it gets used… but was a bit apprehensive that we wouldn’t keep the space looking nice and neat as we put things back. And then, of course, there was the small issue that if you were using quite a bit of your tableware during dinner, the shelves would be looking kind of empty and not so pretty.

Then Lih pointed out that even the skinny 10 inch shelves they used would take up too much space in our room. Given our long seats-at-least-eight dining room table, the addition of shelves would mean a bit of a squeeze at best when trying to walk past the table on either end. I conceded that he was probably right and the fate of the shelf idea was sealed.

Then I turned to another YHL idea: the gallery wall.

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I pinned some other gallery wall concepts that I liked as well but hadn’t had the motivation or inspiration to take one of them on. It seemed like a lot of work… and I didn’t know what I’d want to frame. So I’d been living with a barren wall for a very long time.

But back to the task at hand. I suddenly had a very clear idea of what I wanted to be looking at. Nature. Yes… if I couldn’t actually be back in VA, the next best thing would be to surround myself with pictures of it. And my recent success with my living room wall had me anxious to pretty up this one as well.

I started looking for nice quality canvas photographs of nature and landed on art.com. I found I could even search for “Virginia” and get precisely the sort of nature I was missing. I pinned like mad.

Three big canvases roughly the size of the wedding photo seemed about the right amount of art to do this wall justice.

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With so many great options, how could I possibly choose my favorites? Then I thought, why not change out the art to match the seasons? So in the autumn, it would look something more like this.

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LOVED the idea… but at $150 a pop, that would be $1,800. I decided to pick three that would work year-round for $450 and then maybe expand my collection later.

While weeding through to find the winners, it dawned on me that staring at pictures of Virginia all day wouldn’t do much to alleviate the homesickness… actually, it would probably make it worse. My concept for the wall gradually changed to the idea of embracing the beauty of the Bay Area and its own flavor of nature. More mad pinning ensued.

After spending literally all day on this, the finalists were chosen. Three gorgeous representations of California beauty to adorn my wall. I even thought to lean toward choices that incorporated both blues and greens, since that’s the house-wide color scheme I’m going for.

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As an afterthought, I decided to pop over to Ikea just to price-check what their canvas prints go for and make sure I wasn’t paying anything exorbitant. And then I found this.

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The scale here is pretty accurate, folks. The Ikea canvas print is 78 ¾” x 55,” which is about the same width and significantly taller than the three picture display I’d put together. It kind of blew my mind… I didn’t know they made canvas prints that big. And here’s the kicker: it was only $150. I was torn. Very torn.

I decided to let Lih choose which display he liked better — without mentioning the price difference, of course. He’s artsier than I am and pointed out that one big print seemed a lot more cohesive than three smaller ones that didn’t really “match” in the same way 3-piece canvas sets usually do. While pretty and similar in theme and color, the angles and lines in the three canvas display didn’t go together well and gave a disjointed feeling, so despite the fact that it was Ikea and mass-produced, he preferred the single wall-sized canvas.

And that was that. When I mentioned the price difference he was very pleased with his choice indeed. ;) I was so ready to get beautiful nature up on that wall that I didn’t give it a second thought. I was off to Ikea the next day.

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Bonus: By going with an Ikea print, I got to discover how one finishes the corners of a wrapped canvas, something I’ve always wondered about just a bit. It’s just like wrapping a present.

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Looking good so far!

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Time to break out the tools.

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…and it’s perfect.

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I might as well mention that I intended to center the picture vertically on the wall as well as horizontally. Somehow I managed to goof the calculation so that there’s exactly 10” more space on the bottom than the top. …but it turned out well since the picture now hangs just above the tops of our chairs and doesn’t get visually blocked by them. Yay for happy accidents.

I love, love, love it. The “sunlight” streaming in makes it feel like an actual window, and the scale invokes the feeling of a real tree.

It’s kind of impossible to capture with the camera, but in person it’s even more stunning since the lush greens in the canvas pick up the greens already scattered around the room in the form of actual plants. See this post for shots of some of the plants in this space (our living room and dining room are one big open area).

Better than before

Yikes! Pictures are piling up and I haven’t had time to post. Here’s a quick run-through of my adventures in curtains.

For quite some time, I’ve been wanting to soften up the bare walls in my living room.

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I usually take my inspiration from YHL, but their often-recommended white curtains with bamboo blinds aren’t really my style.

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Then I ran across these in the top of my closet…

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You read that right… these are various curtains I purchased for my old house in New Mexico in 2002 and never got around to hanging… some of them clearly never made it out of the original packaging! I had pretty much no recollection of what I had, so a little inventorying was in order. Commence strewing curtains all over the house.

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Unfortunately, most of them were 63” panels which weren’t going to do the trick with my current 9’ ceilings, but there were two 6 yard scarves which had potential (one hung over the shower rod so I could get an idea what I was dealing with).

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I started hitting up pinterest for some white curtain examples that were more my style and found these (from here and here).

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I thought why not throw them up there — they’re free after all! I figured if I hated them, I’d at least have curtain rods up and I could go get something else later. So I cut the two 6 yard scarves in half to end up with exactly four 9’ curtains (which I didn’t even bother to hem). Precisely what I needed.

Queue measuring for curtain rods.

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I got two cheap adjustable metal ones from Target and removed one finial from each end so I could hang them side-by-side and give the look of one long rod (a YHL tip). Bonus: Once home, I discovered that I could completely remove the double-ended screw that had held on the finial and then screw it half-way into each rod… thereby actually creating one long rod! Not a super-tight hold, but good enough. I then unscrewed them so I could hang them separately and attach them together once they were in place.

A favorite trick I’ve learned is to hang things first with itsy-bitsy nails before taking the plunge and drilling larger holes for anchors and screws into the drywall. This removes all the risk: you get an idea what it’s going to look like but can still fiddle with the placement of things since nail holes are almost invisible. I frequently just leave the holes as-is — if they’re right at eye-level and didn’t end up getting covered by the object, I may smoosh a bit of spackling into them with my fingertip and they disappear like magic.

Mad props to Nester for encouraging me to not be afraid of nails. :) This pin of hers literally brought tears to my eyes as I leapt from my computer to grab a hammer and hang some pictures I’d had lying around forever — because I thought I had to commit to a permanent home for them that would.not.change.ever. before getting them up on the wall.

I got so addicted to the ease and low risk factor of nails that now I just try things out with them rather than deliberating much. For instance, since I was making one long curtain rod, it seemed like a good idea to divide the number of inches of wall space by the number of rod supports for roughly even weight-bearing on each support. But once up, I realized they looked strange and haphazardly placed when compared with the position of the windows. So I just tried again, this time with a support dead-center over each window and one on each side of the window about 5” from the edges. Much better.

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Oh yeah, and this strategy also gives you a chance to run your idea by the husband with a real-life example before you’ve gone and done something more permanent. ;) I so wanted to wrap this project up, but I waited just like this until Lih came home and signed off on the idea. Then back up the ladder to take out the nails and drill anchor holes in exactly the same spots.

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Then up went the second set and I gently screwed the two rods together.

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…and the grande finale.

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The verdict? They’re way better than before (with no curtains at all) so they’re staying for now… but I’m going to admit… I’m not that crazy about them. I think they’re too tone-on-tone and this room needs more color. They’d be lovely with some light blue paint on the wall… but this is a rental and our open floor plan means I’d need to paint most of our living space.

I’m thinking about someday adding some pops of color with stripy curtains like Nester’s... I’d cut up those pretty 63” blue vine and white panels and sew them back together in horizontal stripes like hers.

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Maybe I’d do striped curtains on the outsides and keep the two white ones in the middle for a layered look, kind of like YHL’s new sliding door curtains.

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I already calculated it out… with that idea, I’d have enough fabric to do the bay window in the dining room the same way…. someday…

But incremental improvement is the name of the game… remember my strategy to always tackle the ugliest things first? This wall is no longer the ugliest thing in my house… so on to another project! :)

(Bonus points if you realized this was an old project due to the crappy image quality. More on that here. The after photo is more recent.)

Lighten it up, balance it out

While we’re on the subject of visual clutter, I thought I’d share an old project involving my entertainment center. Sorry for the terrible image quality… these are before I started using the new camera... and it’s anyone’s guess why they’re at such an odd angle. ;)

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So here’s the before shot. There’s an awful lot going on visually… you find your eyes kind of darting around from item to item with nowhere to “rest”. Also, the shadows at the back of each cubbyhole suck up a lot of light and make the whole space look dark.

Ha! I’m starting to sound like I know what I’m talking about. Rest assured, I’m just parroting the design blogs I’ve been reading…. but some of it is starting to sink in!

Over on YHL, they talk a lot about “breaking up the space” and bringing in “visual interest” in the form of interesting textures. Enter pretty clutter-hiding baskets.

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Definite improvement, and the light color balances out the dark spots nicely.

But something’s still amiss here, am I right? I couldn’t quite put my finger on it for the longest time. I’ve always liked the asymmetrical shape of this piece because it’s interesting, and yet something about it always felt wrong. Balance. It’s all about balance. While an exact mirror image can feel boring and expected, something completely out of balance can feel jarring. I wish I had a non-angled/straight-on before shot since it’s not quite as jarring at this weird angle. Try to use your imagination.

Anyway, I ended up putting a plant on the shorter of the two towers that’s just the right height to visually balance it with the taller tower.

And this is how it looks today (using the nicer camera).

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Notice I also got rid of that large boxy picture frame inside the large boxy space above the TV. Apparently, that’s a design no-no. “Competing boxes” I believe they call it over at YHL.

Is it perfect? Nope. Is it better? Way better. And that, my friends, is what we call success.

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