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Special Spaces: Beyond the Typical Makeover

Tuesday May 27, 2008

Not all makeovers are created equal. Makeovers spawned by the need to clean an area or fix one of its components might be designated "utilitarian" makeovers. While me may derive satisfaction from the end result, such projects aren't undertaken primarily for the sake of enjoyment. By contrast, changing a color scheme in a room could be categorized as a "cosmetic" makeover -- you don't have to do it, and it doesn't serve any function beyond engendering a feeling of joy.

And beyond the joy brought by the specific change, there's deeper joy behind such makeovers. To understand it better, consider this: Our living spaces -- whether they be rooms in a house or outdoor living spaces -- are extensions of ourselves. Making over a living space gives us a sense of empowerment, since we effect a rebirth in that space. And precisely because the space is an extension of ourselves, we, too, feel brand new after the makeover.

But if our living spaces are, generally speaking, extensions of ourselves, then that goes doubly for those spaces we create specifically with an eye to self-improvement (whether mental or physical). These are special spaces, spaces not encompassed within the framework of the typical house plan (kitchen, bedrooms, etc.) or landscape plan (lawn, foundation plantings, etc.). You have to go out of your way and break the mold to create one of these special spaces for yourself.

For instance, in terms of special spaces for physical self-improvement, you can devote one room in your house totally to exercise (a home gym). For your mental well-being, why not transform a room into a special space for meditation?

You can also create a meditation area outside, as long as you can find a private spot -- or make one -- somewhere in the yard. Surround yourself with soothing plants. In terms of flower selection, blue and purple are considered "cool colors" and are more likely to relax you. If ever there were a place in the yard for garden fountains, it is here, in the meditation garden. There's nothing like the tranquil sound of bubbling water to put us into a reflective mood. Project #6 in this Do-It-Yourself Landscaping resource shows you how to make your own garden fountain.

Now that's what I call a makeover! Imagine ending a long day by retiring to your own meditation garden, serenaded by a fountain and ensconced in a living sea of blue and purple! Such a makeover will allow you to make yourself over, mentally, in preparation for the dawning of a new day.

Living Simply, Living Well

Monday May 26, 2008

When a conversation turns to the subject of saving money, I’m always surprised – being the confirmed cheapskate that I am – to find some people less than enthralled with the idea. Oh, I’ll grant you that even these folks won’t pass up a bargain when it falls into their laps! That’s not what I mean, though. By “saving money,” I’m talking about a sustained, consistent, deliberate approach to living, whereby one avoids spending needlessly and socks as much money away (including into tax-deferred investments) as possible, as a means of building a better future.

Mind you, no ascetic speaks here, preaching renunciation of earthly pleasures. I crave the good life as much as the next person and hope that, by keeping my finances in order, I'll be able to enjoy it for a long time: filet mignon, wine, travel.... I just don't want my travels to include a trip to the poor house!

Nor am I denigrating the present in favor of the future: The right balance needs to be struck between the two. By all means go for the gusto right now! It’s just a question of how you define your “gusto.” Living simply can be fun, too. It’s those who know how to appreciate the simple things who derive maximum satisfaction from the moment, not those who spend the most. Besides, a simpler lifestyle is a more sustainable lifestyle, one you’ll be able to enjoy for many years with a minimum of worry.

Erin Huffstetler is About’s guru on frugal living, and she says it best when she remarks, “Frugal living isn’t about sacrifice and deprivation; it’s about living smarter, so that you can afford to live the life that you want to live—the life that you dream of living.”

I know what she means: It’s not about being cheap just for the sake of it, it’s about prioritizing and developing a strategy so that you can live life on your own terms. Frugal living is a means to empowerment: Are you ready to take charge of your life?

I'm sure that those of you who disagree with me will let me have it in the Comments section, below. But I'm also sure that I have plenty of frugal friends out there who would enjoy a link to a good "cheapover" (i.e., cheap makeover) project.

Perhaps an inexpensive home office is in your plans? If so, congratulations! I work out of my own home, and I'm loving it! The tide is turning: Many of us are reversing the flow caused by the Industrial Revolution, when folks started leaving the home to go off to work.

A home office needn't come at an exorbitant cost. Rodika Tchi, About's Guide to Feng Shui, invites you to ask yourself a simple question when setting up a home office: "What feng shui colors, images, items make you feel happy, appreciated, successful, creative?" See, it's the "little things" that can sometimes make or break a home office.

I feel no shame in admitting that I'm cheap. In fact, I'm rather proud of it. I'll spend money to go out and have a good time, but I hate spending more than I have to – for anything, including makeovers. It's just too darned hard to earn money in the first place, only to throw it away needlessly!

Cutting Procrastination Down to Size

Tuesday May 20, 2008

"Procrastination" strikes me as a big word for such a simple concept. Do we really need a five-syllable term to refer to the way in which we put off what we should be doing? It's as if the word itself procrastinates in making the journey from the lips of speaker to the ears of the listener.

The cras in "procrastination" is Latin for "tomorrow," and many of us do, unfortunately, put off till tomorrow (or till next year, for that matter) what we could be doing today. But in my prior post, I introduced three steps that will help you stop procrastinating over your makeover projects. And in today's post, I elaborate on steps #2 and #3: namely, staying small and patting yourself on the back.

For step #1 (getting organized) I talked about cleaning the clutter out of your storage areas. Don't know where to begin such an undertaking? Well, don't worry about cheating a bit and jumping ahead to step #2 for some help. Because step #2 is all about the virtue of thinking small when it comes to makeovers. It's the perfect approach to take when organizing a cluttered storage area, because thinking small is an effective way of cutting your procrastination problem down to size.

For instance, if you have a large garage that's filled with junk, don't expect to be able to clean all of it out in the course of just one day. Divide the garage up into four areas, so that you can pick a corner to work on each day. Likewise, if you have multiple storage areas (garage, storage shed, attic, etc.), work on one at a time. That way, you won't overwhelm yourself and become discouraged.

Once you finish organizing your storage areas and turn your attention to "real" makeovers, apply the same principle of staying small. For example, in her tutorial on how to start a new garden, Marie Iannotti writes, "You may have visions of drifts of color, wild flower prairies or bushels of tomatoes, but get your feet wet first."

Just as the "small" approach can help you get your storage areas organized, it can also aid your efforts in step #3: patting yourself on the back. The latter step may seem simplistic, but don't underestimate the importance of positive reinforcement -- it may be just what you need to beat procrastination and begin those long-awaited makeovers.

We humans thrive on positive reinforcement. But often, in the midst of a mammoth makeover, we're just too short on time to treat ourselves to a pat on the back here and there, as the project unfolds. So when the makeover is done, we may find ourselves more conscious of how exhausting the work was than of how good a job we did. That's not conducive to a feeling of satisfaction; it could even serve as a disincentive to take on future makeovers.

Thus the wisdom behind thinking small, especially if you're just a beginner at DIY projects: You'll be less stressed out during small projects, and you'll be able to enjoy them more. Take not only before and after shots, but also project photos at various junctures along the way. Post the pictures on a bulletin board in your house or on the refrigerator, and use them as a source of inspiration for future makeovers.

Beat Procrastination in 3 Easy Steps

Monday May 19, 2008

If you're a procrastinator when it comes to makeovers, there's no need to fret. I'll offer help for overcoming procrastination in today's post; just don't put off reading it! You can beat procrastination in three easy steps:

  1. Organize storage areas
  2. Stay small
  3. Pat yourself on the back
Many people put off makeover projects because they've become paralyzed by the clutter in the areas where they store tools, supplies, etc. Clutter provides some compelling excuses not to get going on a makeover:
  • When there's too much junk in the way, you might dread having to look for what you need.
  • Even if you overcome that dread, it's easy to have your attention diverted off the project, as you may stumble upon something else that "needs fixing."
  • A tool you need for the project may simply not "turn up" at all.
You clutter bugs out there know what I'm talking about: a garage, for instance, where a little of this and a lot of that are piled on top of each other, indiscriminately. If the owners of such a messy garage were to commission me to do a sign to hang over their garage door, I'd have it read, "You Never Know." Why? Because when confronted over their clutter, such pack rats often argue that, oh well, you just never know when you're going to need this or that item -- and when you do, eventually, need it, you want access to it (without having to buy a new one).

Problem is, they may not really have access to the item when they need it, precisely because it's buried under a bunch of other items that, in reality, they may never get around to using.

Frugality is wonderful, but it shouldn't come at the expense of organization. I'm a cheapskate (and proud of it!), but even I have to admit that, sometimes, it's better to go out and buy small items, as you need them. Remember, your time is valuable, too. Rule of thumb: Don't store away more than you can organize.

So the first step in overcoming procrastination is to clean the clutter out of those storage areas and get organized! Organization will empower you, and you'll be more likely to undertake makeovers in the future. Shedding clutter may even foster, albeit on a lower level, the feeling of rebirth you experience when you shed pounds on a diet.

In my next post, we'll have a look at steps #2 and #3.

Pet Projects

Tuesday May 13, 2008

In my prior post, I mentioned undertaking makeovers on behalf of children (to make your property safer for them). But people sometimes make over rooms or outdoor spaces for their pets, too. Surprising? Not really: For many people, their pets are their children.

In her article on how pets can reduce stress, Elizabeth Scott, M.S., About's Guide to Stress, acknowledges that owning pets does have its drawbacks. "However," adds Elizabeth, "for most people, the benefits of having a pet outweigh the drawbacks."

So what are the drawbacks? Well, for one thing, be prepared to make some concessions if you become a pet owner, in exchange for all that stress reduction you derive from your cat or dog. You may be familiar with the ongoing debate between dog lovers and cat lovers. Depending on which camp you listen to, either:

  1. "Dogs rule, cats drool" or
  2. "Cats rule, dogs drool."
Well, you can forget all that if you become an owner of either one of these pets. Instead, you'll have to get accustomed to the idea that it is you who drool, because pets rule! Thus the need for pet-oriented makeovers.

For instance, if you have a dog running around outside, forget about taking a business-as-usual approach to landscaping. To avoid dog spots and muddy messes, you'll have to make over your yard to suit your dog -- to some degree, at least.

But don't think that owning an indoor pet necessarily eliminates the need for pet-oriented makeovers. My wife and I have a long-haired indoor cat with gray hair. The cat's hair, as you can imagine, got all over the pink carpeting we used to have. When the time came to replace the carpeting with something more practical, we half-seriously talked about buying a gray rug.

As a fan of the TV show Frasier, I couldn't help but think of how mightily Kelsey Grammer's décor-conscious character would have frowned on all this. Imagine it: Human beings reduced to choosing a rug based on the color of their cat's hair!

Do you have any funny stories to relate about concessions you made for a pet, be it indoors or outdoors? If so, please tell us about them by using the Comments section below.

Playing It Safe

Monday May 12, 2008

If you've reflected seriously on how to achieve harmony in life, then one conclusion you perhaps have already come to is that balance is essential. Never more is this true than when we deal with the issue of safety. Err on the side of too little concern for safety and your rashness could cost you dearly. But if you fall prey to the opposite extreme, you could end up a basket case, afraid to step out of your home, much less perform any major home makeovers. If I had to choose, I'd take intrepidity over timidity, any day.

Fortunately, one does not have to choose. That's where balance comes in. Would-be "makeoverists" should weigh the pros and cons ahead of time and strike a balance.

And nobody can tell you what the right balance is for you. For example, as you plan for a home or landscape makeover, you must assess your own health status. Is your back really strong enough for you to attempt to move that recliner from point A to point B in the living room?

About's Senior Health site warns that seniors "who have underlying health problems" may be at greater risk than most for injury while performing spring cleaning chores, unless they take the proper precautions. But in some households, safety concerns may actually be the driving force behind makeovers. If you have children in the house, you may wish to gear some of your spring cleaning specifically to child-proofing your home. Vincent Iannelli, M.D., About's Guide to Pediatrics, addresses this matter in his article on spring cleaning and child safety.

What about child-safety improvements you can make outdoors? A very common health problem kids succumb to is poison ivy rash. Don't laugh: Some people (both kids and adults) develop very serious cases of poison ivy rash. But before investing a lot of time and effort into eradicating poison ivy, make sure you know what it looks like! Use these pictures of poison ivy and its look-alikes to distinguish the itchy vine from its weedy impostors.

Makeovers involving power tools can be fraught with peril. Common sense is your main ally in avoiding injury. But you can supplement good old common sense with the following:

  • Follow directions that come with equipment (This can mean reading the dreaded manual!).
  • Ask questions at your local hardware store.
  • Take your time when working.
In conclusion, though, let's get back to the matter of balance. We live in an age in which we are flooded with words of warning wherever we go -- warnings which might scare off some from undertaking makeovers. Warnings should inform, not paralyze. A sense of balance demands prudence while rejecting paranoia. While remembering "safety first," don't forget that a sense of playfulness is one of the true hallmarks of the makeover.

Chasing Father Time

Tuesday May 6, 2008

We commonly hear references to other people having "too much time on their hands," spoken in a somewhat derogatory tone. I don't believe there's any such thing, though, as having too much time on one's hands. Of course, how well you make use of your time is another matter, and some folks may make poor choices in this regard. But time, in and of itself, is a precious commodity.

If, like me, you always seem to be in Father Time's rear-view mirror, you'll appreciate the time-saving resources I present below.

After a long winter, you probably need to do a few things to spruce up the exterior of your house. For some people, that means cleaning leaves out of the gutter. And since the leaves have been there all winter, there's a very good chance that they're rotting. Removing them isn't exactly a pleasant task, is it -- especially considering that you'll be standing on a ladder to do it?

No, cleaning gutters is a task I want to spend as little time on as possible. To that end, Bob Formisano, About's Guide to Home Repair, reveals the fastest way to clean gutters. I need all the time I can find in spring to get my planting done!

Turning to the interior of the home, if there's anything I would need help saving time on, it's electrical work. Why? Because operating under the influence of a healthy dose of paranoia, I would be double-checking that the power was turned off about a hundred times, making it difficult to get any real work done!

That's why I'd need to read this article on replacing old electrical outlets by Lee Wallender. About's Guide to Home Renovations cuts to the chase and breaks down the operation into ten quick steps. By the way, Lee throws all caution to the wind and mentions double-checking that the power is off a mere three times!

Tired of feeling claustrophobic in the bathroom? Coral Nafie, About's Guide to Interior Decorating, offers some ideas for making a bathroom look bigger that won't take much time to implement. These are simple projects, such as changing the wall color, that you can undertake on your own, without professional help.

And believe me, you want to make over your bathroom yourself, if it's at all feasible to do so. I myself recently had to endure seeing a parade of carpenters, plumbers, electricians, inspectors and a contractor traipse through my house and deprive me of the use of my bathroom. Now look, if you can't watch TV in the living room while someone's renovating it, you just move the TV to another room. And if you can't use the kitchen, you just order takeout. But there's no easy workaround when you can't use your own bathroom!

Baby Steps: The Mature Approach to Makeovers

Monday May 5, 2008

In my prior post, I gave an example of "baby steps" to take for a yard makeover -- simple yet meaningful steps you can take to improve the usability of your yard. You're more likely to be able complete such simple projects than vast, rambling projects that you really haven't thought out very well.

The rash and the brash rush into their makeovers and take on too much, all at once. They throw their hands up in the air and quit in disgust when they realize they're in over their heads. A more mature approach is to take baby steps. But what about indoor makeovers?

Well, this article on easy room makeovers by Fred Albert is all about approaching makeovers with baby steps. For example, About's Guide to Furniture mentions what the simple addition of a mirror can do for a room.

"What's the big deal about a mirror?" you may wonder. While interior design isn't my forte, I must say that a number of times I've been struck by how restaurants exploit the power of the mirror. Mirrors make rooms look larger and brighter. A dingy little diner can be transformed into a cheerful eatery through the use of mirrors.

Would you like a room in your house to look larger and brighter? Before you start knocking down walls or putting in skylights, see if mirrors will do the trick. Remember: baby steps.

Houseplants are the subject of many a "brown thumb" joke. But if you can get houseplants to grow for you, the care they'll bestow in return makes it all worthwhile. That's right, I said "care." The mental and physical health benefits of having plants around indoors are well-documented.

But some houseplants are more difficult to care for than others. You may have a green thumb when it comes to gardening outdoors, only to find significant browning in that proud digit when you turn your attention to houseplant care.

And why would it be otherwise? Consider that you are taking a plant -- probably native to an environment thousands of miles from where you live -- that belongs outdoors, making it a houseplant, and attempting to provide it with an artificial environment. That can be quite an ambitious undertaking, unless you're a botanist.

About's Gardening Guide, Marie Iannotti suggests a better way: If you're new to indoor gardening, why not start with the houseplants that are the easiest to grow?

Do-it-yourself projects don't get done when you do yourself in with rashness. Try scaling back your ambitions a bit. Baby steps aren't just for babies.

Did Aesop Do Makeovers?

Tuesday April 29, 2008

You no doubt have heard the maxim, "Slow and steady wins the race," from Aesop's Fables. Well, this simple approach also works for home and landscape makeovers. Don't rush into a makeover; do some planning first, pace yourself, and keep it simple.

Figure out how much time a makeover will take -- and then multiply that by two, since our projects often take twice as long as we suppose they will. If you don't have that kind of time at the moment you're undertaking the makeover, then modify the scope of the project to keep it simpler: It's often easier to upgrade later than to correct the mistakes caused by overzealousness. Or break a big project up into a series of mini-makeovers.

But sometimes there's a simple project that just screams out to be done, yet we ignore it -- to the detriment of our everyday happiness. One simple way to improve your outdoor living experiences, for instance, is to keep a clear path open between the house and your favorite place outside to relax. Let’s say, for example, that it’s a beautiful morning outside, you’ve got fifteen minutes before you have to leave for work, and you decide it would be nice to enjoy that time with a cup of coffee in the yard. If all goes smoothly, you can probably derive enough satisfaction from those fifteen minutes to carry you through a good portion of your work day with a positive frame of mind. But the key word there is "smoothly"....

This should be special time, “you time”; the last thing you want is to have to navigate an obstacle course with your coffee cup. Does a tree limb hang low over the path to your patio, threatening to poke your eye out every time you pass by? Trim it! Or do you often trip over that lawn edging on your way to an outdoor bench under your favorite shade tree? Consider replacing the current edging with something less aggravating, even if it means sacrificing aesthetics. These are simple tasks you can take your time with, but the results are almost immediate.

Our plans for grand backyard makeovers may face challenges from many factors, including budget, health and time. But we have no valid excuse for overlooking the simple things. As a goal to pose for yourself the next time you’re out in the yard, try finding one small thing that aggravates you – and eliminate it!

See what I mean? Simple. Slow and steady. Aesop would have been great at makeovers.

Reduce Clutter and Increase Productivity

Monday April 28, 2008

Having a clear mind is something to treasure above just about anything else. For a mind uncluttered by a bunch of ephemeral concerns, the sky's the limit. But scratching your head to remember when exactly that utility bill was due saps your energy, making it tough for you to achieve any deep sense of harmony with the world around you.

What about living with clutter in your house? While the ramifications of household clutter may not bear the philosophical import that "brain clutter" does, a cluttered house can adversely impact your life. It varies from person to person, and some people seem immune to the effects of such clutter. More power to them! They're probably the folks who cherish the Einstein quote, "If a cluttered desk signs a cluttered mind, of what, then, is an empty desk a sign?"

But there are other people (myself included) who believe that clutter is a drain on productivity. For instance, say I decide to fix something in the house and begin by searching for the needed tool. If, due to clutter, I have trouble finding that tool, then I feel I've piled work upon work: The time and trouble it took to locate the tool has been superadded to the fix-it part of the task. Not only that, but the next time something needs fixing, it will be just that much more difficult to find the motivation to tackle it.

To put this second point another way: Clutter is depressing. Conversely (for those of us in the anti-clutter camp), organization can inspire increased productivity.

If you think you belong in the anti-clutter camp but haven't yet taken the plunge, you may wonder where to begin. "Debating whether to toss or keep an item is a common dilemma and often is the obstacle to our organization," writes Dena Pasis, About's Guide to Personal Organizing. Dena walks you through the process of figuring out whether to toss or keep by having you ask yourself five basic questions.

Once you've decided what it is you wish to keep, the issue of storage takes center stage. Coral Nafie, About's Guide to Interior Decorating, says that "it's very helpful to make a list, by room, of storage problems and possible solutions."

I'd love to hear which camp you fall into. Please use the Comments section below to let us know how you feel about clutter.

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