Cleaning vs. painting: the great dilemma

Some people can paint no matter how messy their house is. I’m not one of them.

My studio on a bad day, by Carol L. Douglas
I saw my friend Karen at the Farmers Market on Saturday. “Do you paint every day?” she asked me. I had to laugh. I hadn’t picked up a brush in almost a week.
True, I worked non-stop from June until the end of September. On October 1, I declared myself on vacation and spent the week with my grandchildren and some treasured friends. Sadly, that wasn’t the end of my time off. There was still mail to answer, a piano tuner to call, and windows to be cleaned before winter. A summer without a hausfrauleft this place downright grimy.
OK, so it wasnt’ the only bad day.
I’ve written before about the difficulties of working from home. They’re my problem and not my husband’s. His office is next to my studio, the two spaces separated by a glass wall. He spends his days staring at monitors. Apparently, this transforms him to another dimension. He can plug away without noticing anything. On the other hand, I’m irritated and distracted by disorder. Let it get bad enough and I’m completely immobilized. I find it confusing, and distracting.
This is a common problem, but one I hear about mostly from other women artists. I’ve always thought of it as a uniquely female problem, one of the few gender differences I’d admit to. Last week I had coffee with Rockland painter Stephan Giannini. He was as distracted as me, but about his roof. I guess it’s not about gender after all, but about what side hustles demand your attention.
Butter dish, by Carol L. Douglas
I know two professional cleaners. I asked them how long it takes to turn over a summer rental unit compared to cleaning their own homes. They figured they could turn a rental property over in two hours or less. (The biggest time-consumer is the laundry.) Their own homes took much longer. I asked them why.
“Every time I turn my back there is a mess being made around me!” said Sarah Wardman, who has four young kids.
“Cleaning my own house always takes longer than it would for a cleaner to do because I get sidetracked with tidying, or little put-off projects,” said Naomi Fiehler Aho. Naomi retires at the end of the year, which will allow her to make art full time.
I forgot how fun some of these things were to paint.
Later, I ran into D., who is an artist who also owns a seasonal rental. He and his wife do the turnover together. It takes them longer than the pros—basically a full day between the two of them. “But our own home is a wreck,” he added, laughing.
My friend Toby has convinced me to embrace the ideas of KonMari, although nothing ever really stays joyously, starkly, beautiful in my house. Three years after moving here, our closets, attic basement, and, especially, kitchen are bursting at the seams. This winter, I’m going to be systematically weeding out. I don’t like doing it, but it will make for a better season next year.
But before that happens, I need to make this place surface clean. Nova Scotia painter Poppy Balseris coming to visit tomorrow and we’re going to paint.

A Christmas reverie in paint

Into Swedish Death Cleaning or KonMari? Maybe you should paint that stuff before you toss it away.

Blonde Santa is available through the Kelpie Gallery this month.

I have many friends who do not observe the same Christmas traditions as me: those who aren’t Christian and those who are very Christian. I am under no delusions about the origins of this feast, but I still don’t want to put the Io Saturnalia back in Christmas.

It’s not quite as bad as the Asherah poles and high altars the Old Testament prophets were always lecturing about. Christmas can be a simple celebration of love and joy among one’s family or a chance to ponder the miracle of the Incarnation. Or, if you want, it can be stroll through Manhattan to see the Christmas lights or a bonfire on the beach in Lincolnville, ME. I’m down with it all.
This boa-wearing reindeer is a Christmas decoration given to me by my sister-in-law. I added the double rainbow and setting for effect.
I enjoy setting out my own Christmas decorations. Here are the plaster sheep made by my brother and sister in Sunday school. This January will be the fiftieth anniversary of my sister’s death; my brother followed her into the grave only four short years later. On most days, it no longer stings, but when I unwrap those figurines, I’m reminded that I’m their remaining memory-keeper. Every one of us has such people in our hearts. For me, Christmas is a safe time to unpack and visit them.
Here are my kids’ stockings. Now that they have their own homes, I should mail them to them, but it’s nice to remember the woman who started this tradition, Jan Dunlap, and all the subsequent stocking-makers in our history. So up they go on the bannister.
My Christmas Angel, by Carol L. Douglas
Here are the beautiful crocheted ornaments my mother made for my tree. They need reblocking; the starch has yellowed over the years. By Epiphany I’ll be so sick of Christmas I’ll rewrap them and vow to do it next year. Craft projects scare me.
Here is the Santa given to me by my pal Judie. He has a lush blonde beard, making him look like he has a tobacco problem. Judie and I were a Lucy Ricardo and Ethel Mertz crafting team. We had great ideas, but they didn’t always work. Actually, they never worked.
My mother, on the other hand, was awesome at crafts. In my dining room I have a lighted porcelain tree she made back in the 1950s. It’s spray-painted gold. Recently a young person asked me where I found that amazing vintage decoration.
My only successful craft project is my 4H angel, on top of the tree. I figure she’s 48 years old this year, but I could be wrong. She’s missing her tassels and her burlap dress is fading, but she reminds me of my 4H friends, some of whom still have their own angels from the same day. My mother once bought me a lovely ceramic and lace tree-topper to replace her, but I gave that to my daughter. I prefer my ratty old angel.
Happy New Year! by Carol L. Douglas
Yesterday, I tossed a few things in packages to mail to my kids. I have more of this sorting to do, and maybe I’ll get to it this year.
My friend Kristin Zimmermann had a brilliant idea about what one should do with objects of sentimental value that one doesn’t want to store. She painted them, as here, and then passed them along.
I’ve painted many of my Christmas decorations over the years, which means I’m part of the way along to divestiture. But the heck with Swedish Death Cleaning or KonMari. Come January 6, they’ll all go back in the attic where they belong.