Space to breathe

It’s slowly dawning on me that not all organizational tips are created equal. If I’d had a blog a couple of years ago, I’m sure I would have shared with enthusiasm my new shoe pocket organizer behind my bedroom door.


It’s shown here mostly empty only because I’ve been working hard to clear it out and didn’t take a proper before picture. It used to be home to many more random items and had every pocket bulging. I thought this was a good thing — a great drop spot for items that had no other home, all compartmentalized and easy to see.

…and it was a good thing, for a while. I could probably write volumes on my journey to organization (maybe someday I will). But the short story is I wasn’t born organized. Not at all. Organization was a skill I had to learn from the ground up and this little device was useful in the beginning. It corralled items from the four corners of our home and gave them a place to live in an easily accessible fashion.

Now that I’ve mostly mastered the art of organization, though, I’ve been turning my attention toward other areas of my life which need mastering. Like how to turn my home into a place that makes me smile. Much like the beginning of my organizational journey, I’m finding myself with a goal in mind but no idea how to get there. What is it exactly about my space that I don’t like? What’s one small thing that I could change today to take a step in the right direction?

Enter inspiration in the form of other people’s blogs (and pinterest). Sometimes inspiration is instantaneous… you’re reading along on your favorite DIY blog and suddenly you’re jumping up from the computer to attack something in your home. Or is that just me?

Other times it’s more insidious, as in this case. Almost a year ago, I ran across this YHL post about removing cramped shelves to create breathing room in their new home. And then more recently, they did it again in their laundry room. Huh. I got interested in YHL in the first place by seeing some before and after pictures of their first home: it was exactly the direction I wanted to be going. Not too fancy, not too unattainable, just clean, open, functional, personal and beautiful. So when it comes to things like this, I tend to take their advice at face value. Just because something is an organizational tool doesn’t mean it belongs in a space you want to be beautiful. Light bulb. Time to take ‘er down.

Step 1: Relocate items to less visible storage space.


Step 2: Remove screws and anchors, leaving gnarly holes in the wall.


Step 3: Consult previously mentioned YHL article for appropriate spackle.


Step 4: Use putty knife to fill in holes.


Step 5: Consider painting the spackle, then back up a few paces and realize you can barely see it against the light colored wall. Give in to laziness.

Step 6: Forget to take a picture at this point before changing something else. The picture below is actually while the anchors were still in the wall, so the holes are more visible than after spackling.

Still, major improvement.


After a couple of days of smiling as I walked by that wall and enjoying the newfound breathing room, I started analyzing the other stuff hanging up there. Now remember, I’m not against storing items out in the open on hooks, as I do in my new entryway (for which I still owe you before and during pictures). However, I’m realizing that the goal is to have as much “visual breathing room” or “negative space” as possible while still maintaining easy access to the things you use on a very regular basis. If you try to hide regularly used things away, they tend to get left out anyway, creating visual clutter. Similarly, if you create an ultra-convenient accessible spot for something you almost never use, there’s an unnecessary cost in visual clutter and the space starts looking messy.

I wish I’d zoomed in on the dust on that hook full of purses in the corner of the space. I used to store my everyday purse there on top of all the other purses, but now I store it on the entryway hooks. And despite owning several cute purses, I’m extremely lazy and never take the time to move my things from one purse to another before going out. Fashionista I am not. I thought having them all really accessible would mean I’d use them more. Nope. They’re just collecting dust. So down they came as well.


Even better. (Now you can see the spackled version with the less visible holes.)

If you’re curious, the other hook contains my gym bag and sweatshirt which I use about 5 days a week… so they can stay for now.

Perhaps this blog should be called “How I’ve implemented YHL advice in my own home”. Though that would make for a messy url. ;) But seriously, inspiration via other blogs has been so key to my progress thus far that I almost feel in debt and want to provide some inspiration of my own. Perhaps somebody out there feels intimidated by other DIY blogs and needs to start at the very very beginning, like me. One step at a time.

Spray painting practice

I should go ahead and mention now that Young House Love is my home improvement Bible. Sherry & John have meticulously documented step-by-step how to take your run-of-the mill space and make it into something fabulous: something yours. While I’m giving props, The Nester has also provided a lot of inspiration and taught me that it doesn’t have to be perfect to be beautiful.

These guys have different styles and I like bits and pieces of both. One thing they have in common is extensive use of spray paint to transform old, ugly items into that perfect piece that anyone would think you went out and bought exactly for that space.

Enter old, ugly item in the form of scratched metal planter.


I’ve chosen this piece because it’s pretty ugly and pretty low risk. Not too expensive, not too sentimental. Note that this is “Spray painting practice,” as in, I’m not very good at it yet. In fact, I’ve only ever done it once before, on ottoman legs (more on that later). But this is a skill I really want to learn to do well since it opens the door to so many possibilities.

So without further ado, lightly sand the metal with high-grit sandpaper so the paint will stick. I used 150 from this variety pack.


I tried to sand all in the same direction so even if the paint didn’t completely cover the scratches, at least it would look uniform.


Wipe off the sanded surface with a damp cloth to remove all loose particles and allow to dry completely. At this point, it should look uglier than when you started.


Find a cap from the recycle bin to prop the item on for a nice even coating on the bottom edge.


Hold the can 8-12 inches from the object. Aim away from the object when beginning the initial spray to avoid a giant splat of paint in the beginning, then mist very lightly, swaying your arm the entire time. As Sherry likes to say, the coats should be very “thin and even”, not thick and drippy. Contrary to what you might think, you don’t want full coverage on the initial coat. It should take 2-3 coats to get there, waiting 5 minutes between coats.

Oh, and don’t do this if it’s windy out.


Otherwise you’ll get a nice imprint of your drop cloth on your pot.


And you’ll need to wait 24 hours for the paint to cure, and go back to the sanding step to smooth out the uneven texture.


Not that I would know from experience.

In the end, if all goes well, you should have a gorgeous like-new item. Not that it has to be perfect. This pot has a few itsy-bitsy wrinkles in the coat in a few places (I think I should have done 3 even thinner coats instead of 2), but I can just turn those to the back and enjoy the other side, which is looking pretty good.


Unless, of course, it isn’t. In which case, you can simply wait 24 hours, sand it down, and try again. It happens to the best of us.

My strategy is to tackle the ugliest things first: they have the most room for improvement. Even if it doesn’t turn out exactly the way you had in mind, it’s usually better than the way it was before. In other words, a success!

Update: I noticed after this fully cured that the drop cloth imprint is still pretty visible under the paint… must not have sanded enough. Fortunately, it’s on the same “bad side” as the itsy-bitsy wrinkles, so it’s good enough for me. You may want to sand things down a bit more than I did for a perfectly smooth finish.

Functional bathroom zen

Yay! From the encouraging facebook comments and comments left on my updated entryway post, it looks like I should at least try the blogging thing for a while. If nothing else, I’m excited to have some kind of record of my progress. I have a bad habit of focusing on all the things yet undone and forget how far I’ve already come!

One thing I noticed from my first post is that my image quality could be considerably improved… I thought my little Canon PowerShot was doing the trick, but I tried out Lih’s fancy-pants Nikon DX for the shots below and (wow) what a difference. So I’ll try to use that from now on… though I have lotsandlots of project photos using the old camera that I plan to put up over time, so you’ll probably be able to tell ahead of time which projects are new. :)

Just to throw you a curve-ball, I’m now going to share an old project using the new camera… haha!

So how many times have you seen a soothing zen display and thought “That’s just a couple of rocks! Any five-year-old could have thrown that together!” But given a blank slate and some rocks, you feel like a dork trying to create that same effect at home. Or is that just me? I tend to gravitate toward the pre-conceived zen displays that come with all parts included and a picture on the box of how it goes together, like this centerpiece from Bed Bath & Beyond that lives on my dining room table.


Left to my own devices, I tend to think too much… should I arrange the rocks into a shape? Stack them or scatter them? Group them? And with too much fussing, end up with something that doesn’t look zen at all. So it surprised me when this little bathroom display happened completely by accident.


I was trying to throw something together for a house party a couple of years ago — I tried several arrangements with everything placed just-so and didn’t like any of them. Then I got distracted and unceremoniously dumped my handful of rocks on the tray intending to try again later… and when I came back into the room, it looked right. Just like that.


The best part is I don’t have to worry about “messing it up” to clean it. I just grab all the rocks, wipe the soapstone down with oil, and dump them back in place. No thought at all. I think zen is about learning to let go… wait, that sounds cliché, but I mean it!

And the candle gets used frequently. Quite frequently. The fact is, I had a naked pillar candle sitting right about there long before the zen display for… well… other reasons. I was trying to make our hard-working, functional bathroom candle a little more aesthetically pleasing and a little less obvious. And I think it worked.


By the way, this is the second or third pillar candle to be featured in this display. The others, like I said, were hard-working.

Sure looks nicer than some other options I’ve seen…


P.S. At some point I’ll definitely go through my old camera images and post more details about the entryway transformation.

To blog or not to blog

...that is the question.

I've been entertaining the idea of starting a blog for some time now. In fact, I have several random unfinished blog entries laying around on everything from cooking adventures to minor home improvement projects. It's never gotten off the ground because I wasn't sure there was really an audience... after all, I'm no expert, just learning as I go with the goal of transforming my space into a place I want to be.

My most recent project is also my largest undertaking to date: sprucing up my entryway with cheery blue paint and functional yet beautiful hooks to corral all the random jackets/scarves/hats that otherwise end up strewn all over the house.


I was originally going to hang the hooks a bit lower and put some kind of artwork or mirrors above them, but Lih convinced me of the "value of negative space".... and I decided to go with the less-cluttered minimalist look. I really like how it turned out -- after all, there's a lot going on visually once the hooks are filled.

But I digress. The purpose of this entry is to discover whether or not anyone is interested in reading along with my adventures and misadventures. I can't promise updates on any regular schedule, but I'm happy to share as I go along. I've also heard that starting a blog can provide motivation to keep going when you might otherwise quit, which sounds like a major bonus to the more obvious benefit of showing off my projects to those far away.

Leave me a comment if you have any interest in seeing more... I have before and in-progress pics and other projects to come!

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