CLEANING THE ATTIC Tip #8: It’s Working!

To date, I’ve only been daydreaming about the mental/emotional benefits of de-junking, hoping all the good reports are true.

Today I can say they are.

We put in a full day yesterday, slowing working on a difficult area: The back hallway. This is where Jon stuffed everything from our living room and dining (except furniture) when he impulsively decided to refinish floors without telling me first. If you need to feel good about your marriage today, you can read about that fiasco here.

It was hard because this wasn’t stuff that had been languishing in an attic for years. This was stuff we’d been living with. Okay, it’s been a year. But still. It was stuff that had been in active use.

But we chipped away at it and made excellent progress. For the first time in a year, we could walk through our back hallway again.

We even found Doug’s potting wheel (from the days when this area had been his pottery studio) which had disappeared. (He’d stowed it in the stairwell at the end of the back hallway. I don’t know why. Ask him. Good luck with that.)

Trips to the library to donate books for their upcoming book sale, boxes set out on the curb for the yard sale elves, trash trash trash. A busy day, with much accomplished.

This morning, while eating breakfast, I had a moment of extreme clarity:

I really, really really want to write another book.

It will be a collection of blog entries from the last six years. I’ve had the idea for that for awhile now, as many regular readers will know.

It seemed overwhelming, and I wasn’t getting much traction with it.

But this time I felt like I could do it. I could see it happening.

De-junk the trunk. It’s working.


Continuing the saga of the impromptu floor refinishing project from my previous post, “I DIVORCE THEE, I DIVORCE THEE”….

We are finished with the second coat of polyurethane. I got home from Tae Kwon Do after 9 p.m. last night to find Jon on his hands and knees, sanding diligently and alone. The kids had declared mutiny (actually, they both declared “homework!”) and retired.

I changed out of my uniform and helped him finish the sanding, the buffing and the last coat.

Today we crept downstairs as eager as Christmas Day. What would it look like?

Alas. Alack. The floors don’t look that good. In fact, they look pretty bad.

I read the can again and called the company. They brightly suggested we could wait for the requisite three days to dry, and either a) do another coat and wait 2-3 weeks to replace the furniture. Or b) wait another month for these coats to completely cure, remove the furniture again, and add a different treatment, and allow that coat 3 days to dry..

NO, and NO. Not. An. Option.

I returned the extra gallon of finish and the other stuff we didn’t use to Home Depot. “Someone refinished their floors!” exclaimed the sales clerk cheerfully.

“Yes, and we’re not that happy with the results,” I said glumly.

“Oh, yes, it’s hard to get a good finish with polyurethane!” she chirped. “I always say, there’s nothing like a tung oil finish! You may have to reapply it more often, but it comes out looking nicer!” (I refrained from asking her, “Why are you telling us this AFTER we’ve spent the last four days in house project hell?”)

“You don’t understand, “I replied. “NONE of you understand. We are never doing this again.”

We are NEVER doing this again.

Our new plan is, sell the house before the floors “have to” be refinished again.

Tonight we’ll do a light sanding and wipe up with the tack clothes. It actually looked pretty nice last night when we did that–a soft, matte gleam.

And it will be good enough.

The final blessing on the project: I went to the state liquor store and bought a ton of booze. A whole lotta booze–Jon’s favorites, my favorites.

And when I got to the cash register, the clerk there said, “Hey, you spent more than $120–you get a free $20 gift card for your next purchase!”

Now, there’s a clerk I can love.

Hey, come by our place tonight! Buff a little, drink a lot, and help us celebrate yet another Udell survival of a home do-it-yourself project.


Does this happen in other families?

My husband and I have been arguing the last few days, ostensibly about our house but the subtext was our relationship. I claimed he wasn’t listening to me and that we weren’t talking effectively. As an example, I brought up some issues about the house.

Our house needs some major repairs, and we just don’t have the money to pay someone else to do them. We don’t have the inclination to do them ourselves, either. Oh, we tried a few do-it-yourself projects at our first home, with mixed success. Basically, we came to the conclusion that a) we aren’t very good at DIY, and b) we hate it. Our family motto? “Better dead than renovating.”

We essentially wait til someone who knows anything about houses happens to come for a social event, and makes some comment like, “Did you know you have carpenter ants?” and then he refuses to laugh when we say, “No, but our spiders have a plumber’s union”, and points out we could have the house fall down on top of us if we don’t do something NOW, and then maybe we finally admit that maybe it’s time to call a professional. A highly trained professional. (Note: Not us.)

But anyway, there are some things going on with our house, there are decisions to be made, and they were big scary house repair decisions, and we weren’t talking, and we were in a bind, and I wanted to talk about why we couldn’t talk about the house.

In an effort to make amends, my husband immediately offered to talk about the house.

“No!” I exclaimed. “That was an example I gave about what was wrong with how we talk about stuff. Now I want to talk about US.”

He still wanted to talk about the foundation and the floors. “That was a metaphor!” I yelled. “You can’t skip ahead and talk about the metaphor!”

That has to be one of the oddest sentences ever uttered in the history of mankind.

I then left to go out of state to a bead and gem show. I took both my kids with me, figuring it would give us a day out of the house.

Had I any prescience at all, I never would have left the house that fateful day.

I had a great time. I swear, every bead I’ve been looking for, for the past year, was at that show. I wanted to spend my annual income there. My daughter literally held my coat tails as I oooohed and ahhhed over all the vendors’ tables.

I came home broke and happy.

Oh, if only I’d known how short-lived my happiness was fated to be…..

When we came back, it was to CHAOS.

In a fit of inspiration, my husband had decided to refinish the floors.

He’d pushed all the furniture aside in two rooms. He’d rented a sander. (Can I sue Home Depot for not having a waiting period and a reference check on people inquiring about sander rentals, like they do handgun purchases?)

And he was in the middle of sanding our living room and dining room. There he was, piles of furniture everywhere, DUST everywhere, wearing a face mask and headphones, bopping away to his favorite music, and OPERATING A DRUM SANDER.

Without telling me.


Here we are–smack dab in the middle of a renovation project! With NO NOTICE!!

I have orders to fill, a photo shoot tomorrow, an open studio in two weeks. I’m supposed to be cleaning my studio, not emptying my house.

After a lot of yelling and finger-pointing (Jon: “You said we needed to work on the house!” Me: “I SAID it was an effin’ METAPHOR!” Robin: “Daddy, I have a paper to write this weekend–you don’t expect ME to help, do you?!” Doug: “Do I have to help? I’m tired!!”) we decided to go for it and get it done as fast as possible. Maybe we could finish it up by Sunday night and get back to normal quickly.

Alas, the horror continued to unfold.

You don’t sand, strip and polyurethane floors quickly.

They may make it look fast and easy and simple in all those damn DIY home improvement shows. But it’s not.

It takes days. Days and days and days.

Even the “fast drying!” polyurethanes don’t mean it when it comes to floors. And “time saving!” formulas means it only takes 48 hours instead of 72 hours (two coats to dry versus three coats to dry.)

And that doesn’t include the 72 hours bare minimum it takes to dry enough after the LAST coat until you can put the damn furniture back in.

To find out what we had let ourselves in for, I called a friend who is a contractor. “Well…..,” he hemmed and hawed. “Usually when I redo floors for people, I tell them to go away for a week.”

A week?


Our plans to do one-half of each room at a time so we wouldn’t have to completely move the furniture out of each room, fell apart. That would double or even triple the project time. We needed to get those rooms CLEAR so we could do both rooms at the same time, and get it over with.

Things started to railroad. There’s no room to move furniture anywhere else. Maybe the back hallway our son was using for a clay studio? Right! So we took two hours to dismantle his wheel set-up, his shelves and his bags of clay, and moved them to the basement.

Now our back hallway leading to the hot tub is full of sofas.

My daughter remembers she bought a ton of chicken to make Chicken Tikka Masala. It needs to be cooked immediately, because we take the can of polyurethane’s directions seriously when it says, “Do not use around open flame.” She starts sauteeing chicken with a vengeance–great pans of chicken. It’s going to be hard to get to the kitchen for the next few days…. It makes us feel a little desperate. We huddle in the kitchen and eat hot chunks almost as quickly as she can fry it. I mean, saute it.

Around this point, a friend who is a divorce lawyer came by to see how it was going. (He’d heard the worst when he called earlier.) We have a running joke about Ted. Whenever Jon and I have a whopper of a fight, I scream, “I’m calling Ted!” and Jon will yell, “No, I’M calling Ted!”

Now that I think about that, it’s not really a “joke”, is it? Oh well.

I met Ted at the door begging him to represent ME, but he says he refuses to represent friends. I tell him he’s a jerk and I hate him. NOW will he represent me? He laughs and helps us move a sideboard. “Don’t you think a husband starting to refinish floors with NO WARNING and while the wife is not even in the same state is grounds for divorce??” I demand. He is very, very careful about what he says during the entire visit. Except he laughs when we say we think the entire process will take two days. This doesn’t look good.

Also, our downstairs bathroom and TV room are marooned. No access until the finish dries! At the last minute we remembered our gecko in the den (“Ohmigod! Greg!!”) and moved him to Doug’s bedroom. Also our toothbrushes….

We remember that Robin has a VCR in her bedroom. Did we also get her a DVD player? Please, please, please God…. “No, but I have a DVD player in my laptop!” she says cheerfully. Well, maybe we can gather in her tiny bedroom and watch movies together. “Sure!”she says excitedly. “Only I have to clean my room first.” This is looking worse and worse.

The reality of what we’re doing starts to sink in.

We have created one of those “severed brain” scenarios with our house. The living room and dining room are right in the middle of our railroad layout. We COULD have crossed over to the other end of the house by walking through the upstairs. Except that the back hallway we could come down through is now full of sofas, remember?

For the next two to three days, we will need to come downstairs from our bedrooms and EXIT THE HOUSE and go around to the back to get to the kitchen.

What about the cats?? How do you keep cats out of there??

We shut the cats in the back of the upstairs, where they had originally been shut in when we foster cared them. (We quit foster-caring cats for the humane society, because we kept keeping them….) They’re a little frantic (“Hey!!! We LIVE here now!!”) but they’ll get used to it. Whoops, forgot to move their food dishes….

I realize I haven’t even read the Sunday paper yet. And also realize I now have to go outside, around the house, and back to the other side to get it.

And that there is now no place to sit and read it.

I know when this is all done, with any luck, at least we will have two rooms with lovely floors. I know this will also give us a chance (e.g., “force us”) to clear out a bit of the clutter.

With any luck, we will also look back on this little episode and laugh and laugh and laugh. “Remember that time we left town for a few hours, and Daddy started to refinish the floors? Remember how MAD we were?! Remember how we had to go outside every time we wanted to get something to eat?? That was somethin’, wasn’t it?”

But for today, I’ve told my husband that I’ve already recited the first two lines of the Islam divorce ritual. “I divorce thee, I divorce thee….” One wrong step, and I say the third one–and run for Ted, the divorce lawyer friend.

So how are we doing?

Well, we just applied the first coat of finish. It looks….well, better than the old floors. Not quite “stunningly beautiful” yet.

But I went out and bought pop and Kit Kat bars for the kids, and a bottle of red wine for Jon and I. Ruth and Ted took pity on us and invited us for a late dinner. At least we won’t have to eat in our bedrooms tonight, while perched on Robin’s bed watching “Rent” on her little laptop…..

And I’m almost…ALMOST…at the point where I’m thinking this might be funny.


I’ve actually had a glass of wine, and I’m feeling a little mellow about the whole thing.

As you value your life, do not call me tomorrow after the reality of what we’ve gotten ourselves into, hits me.

P.S. Did I mention that today all four of our phones’ batteries went dead, too?

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