As a creative person and someone whose entire nuclear family lies somewhere on the functional end of the clutterer-hoarder scale, I collect projects all too easily. Those of us in this category eventually realize that there are a couple of rules for getting these things done instead of leaving them sitting in our closets, basements, and attics:
1. Do the projects as soon as we acquire them, while we’re still inspired, and/or
2. Make sure the projects are small enough or easy enough to do in a day or two, preferably in a few hours.
My latest example: one of those ever-so-clever ideas that seemed brilliant last year, made me kick myself this year, and has turned out to be just fine, and in fact rather fun. It remains to be seen whether I’ll finish it in the way I’ve envisioned, though. It’s a piece of furniture: a Danish-made, teak-veneer, glass-doored wine cabinet I bought last summer at the thrift shop up the road right after I moved into my new apartment, which has precisely one kitchen cupboard.
Furniture projects can be dangerous because they tend to be large, and often bulky. It’s one thing to acquire some undertaking that can fit into a small crate or box — those can be stashed away and don’t take up much space. Mistakes with furniture often end up being a huge pain — witness the number of TV cabinets and “home entertainment centers” from the ’80s and ’90s now for sale on Craigslist, and the zillions of particle-board desk-and- hutch monstrosities abandoned on curbs everywhere.
I had grand plans for the cabinet. I drink wine only once or twice a year, usually when I visit Argentina. So naturally my friend who helped me lug the thing from the thrift shop, carefully maneuver it awkwardly into and out of her small car’s back seat, and carry it up the back steps into my kitchen, wanted to know what the heck I was going to do with it. I told her I envisioned sawing apart some of the wood supports for the wine bottles, removing them, and inserting shelving to hold my Fiestaware and other colorful dishes. I figured that once I’d settled in, this would be a great project for cold autumn days in my cozy new place.
Cut from July to April: last weekend I was showing off to my landlady the like-new Ikea (mostly) solid wood buffet with top cabinet I’d just bought at a bargain price on Craigslist. She gushed over it, then looked at the piece of furniture it would replace and said, “But I don’t understand why you have a wine cabinet in your kitchen.”
I chuckled embarrassedly and said, “Welllll, I bought that for 25 bucks at the thrift shop after I moved in, and I was going to saw the shelves and install new ones, and you know how that goes — I’ll do it when hell freezes over!”
I felt like a fool for keeping a piece that for 10 months served only as a table for my collection of vintage chrome flour canisters and spice racks. In my defense, I must say that the cabinet and canisters looked great sitting next to the fridge, and on the rare occasions when I baked, the flour and spices were very handy. And this weekend I’ve redeemed myself: I moved the cabinet across the kitchen next to the laundry room and turned it into a sweater holder. Turns out those little supports for holding wine bottles are an ideal size for slotting bulky sweaters. (Old New England houses like ours have tiny closets and wet basements, so winter clothing storage is a challenge.) And the shiny ’50s Waring blender looks magnificent on top.
It remains to be seen how long it’ll take me to finish the project: I dug into my collection of vintage textiles and found a holey tablecloth I can cut in half to make curtains for the glass doors — I think it’ll look cute and keep the sweaters from fading in the sun. But this brings me to my third rule for keeping projects doable:
3. Never acquire anything that requires getting out the iron and ironing board.
It’s not that I hate ironing — like Tillie Olsen, I find it a meditative activity. But it’s often the extra step that keeps me from finishing something I’ve started. Oh well… at least I dusted and scrubbed the Ikea hutch, and today I’ll put the dishes into it!