How I learned to stop worrying and love the domestic arts

August 15 | Guest post by seaysellsseashells
Cleaning
Thanks to agent26 for uploading this to our flickr pool.
I live in a house where I am not embarrassed if people stop by. My kids all want to bring their friends over because there is a pleasant place dedicated to play. All of the neighborhood teenage girls offer to babysit because I have the best snacks and the most well-behaved kids. I bake my husband's birthday cake from scratch. I know how to make sauce from the stuff at the bottom of the pan that's left behind when you cook meat.

…In my very rich and vivid fantasy life.

In real life there is a cough drop stuck on the floor by my couch. I don't even have kids — if I did they would impale themselves within moments of stepping into my house. I can't even get the neighborhood kid to mow my yard. I make cakes with box mixes. The stuff that's left at the bottom of the pan that's left behind when I cook meat is probably burned.

Somewhere in my childhood or adolescence, I got the impression that a wedding ring was some sort of secret decoding device that unraveled the mysteries of homemade broth and stain removal. Being married means you are grown folks, and grown folks know how to do these things. I guess I assumed it would imbue me with the super-powers necessary to make my life more like the fake life I had always imagined.

My shit is clearly broken.

I am a shit housekeeper. My culinary background is in microwave dinners and take-out. As a solitary dweller it was completely normal to leave clean laundry on the couch and "dinner" was leftovers of questionable safety, dipped in humus that I usually ate in my underwear standing over the sink. It never occurred to me that I would have to learn some domestic skills if I was ever going to actualize my dream of being a mostly decent human being. I didn't think anything of it until it came time to move in with my now-husband. We moved into a lovely house (check), I bought some lovely lipstick (check), I found a strand of pearls at a garage sale (check). So why the hell is the laundry always in a pile, the dishes never done, the floor all dirty and most of the things I cook are gross, mushy approximations of food?

Because I never learned to cook. I viewed cleaning as a project to be checked off. Not as an ongoing thing that keeps your house mildly presentable. Before I figured out that this was a skill that needed to be learned, I was very hard on myself for not being naturally adept at these things. I would fall into a pit of self-loathing when I did something wrong, forgot something or just couldn't keep up. I have the best husband in the world, but I would refuse his competent help because I felt like it was my responsibility to do all of these domestic tasks. (To be clear: domestic tasks are not my responsibility because of a gender role thing and I don't think this is the way to do it, the right way to do it or the only way to do it. It is the most practical solution for our family as my husband works many hours and we have the good fortune to live in a place and a manner where we can live comfortably on one income while I finish school). I would turn a little crazy and think that his doing some small household task was a passive aggressive way of pointing out my deficiencies. In all actuality his doing some small household task was the result of seeing that some small household task needed to be done and just doing it. Basically, I was giving myself hell and making my marriage less awesome and fun.

I have been married for six months. In that time, I learned how to meal plan, grocery shop, cook food that tastes good (ask me for my falafel recipe!) as well as develop a system to keep the house clean that works for me. More so, I have learned not to beat myself up over these "inadequacies." It is definitely a work in progress, but just forgiving myself for not knowing something was the most important, beneficial, and liberating steps in the process.

  1. CAN I HAVE YOUR FALAFEL RECIPE omg I love falafel.

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  2. so where is that falafel recipe?! I haven't found one I liked yet and really missing all the falafel I had in Israel.
    And 6 months is a short amount of time to learn/realize all that! go you!

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  3. I think we need a follow up post with your details of your housecleaning system, because after four years of living with my beloved, I still have not figured it out. And yes – falafel recipe, please! (Bonus points from me if it can somehow be made in the slow cooker.)

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  4. I most definitely identify with so much of this. What sort of weirdo crap did I soak up in my youth to believe that getting married suddenly flips a switch to "domestic bliss" and that also means that I out-of-nothing know how to keep house?

    WHERE DID THAT IDEA COME FROM?

    And seriously, 6 months? That's amazing, It's taken me 6 years.

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  5. I am the other person in a relationship circumstance similar to you; can you help me? Due to our circumstances I work a 9-5 job and another that i love a few evenings a week. My SO is home most of the day. Somehow, I still end up doing most of the daily "pickinp-up." I'm not trying to bash him for it. I honestly think we are programmed differently. When you said your SO picks up it's simply because he sees the need to straighten that one thing at that time, it struck a chord. That's how I operate. But, I don't think my SO does. Sometimes I think he reall just doesn't see it. Or is wiling to walk by it until it is too big to be ignored. But, then it piles up because I don't have all the time I would like to do it myself.

    I have also dealt with him feeling like my straightening up is anger directed at his not doing it. I will admit, sometimes there is frustration there, but most of the time not. And, i seem to have reassured him of this enough times that he doesn't take it that way anymore.

    But, what I am asking, is what brought you to the realization that you could learn another way? What led you to see that you could straighten up as it was needed, and to see what needed to be done? Because I really would like my SO to see that stuff too, but I don't want to push him. I also don't want to end up nagging him or getting upset with him because I love hime. But, I also don't want to come home to a mess everyday.

    Help, please.

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    • I sympathize with you. My SO is the same way. He doesn't believe things need to be cleaned until they LOOK dirty, and yes that goes for kitchens and bathrooms, too. I can't live that way so I end up cleaning the entire house and I end up feeling resentful towards him. But he won't budge and refuse to live in filth. :(

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      • I honestly and truly believe he sometimes just doesn't see it. I keep trying to find a way to get him to see it without constantly being in his face, becasue that doesn't sound like a positive reaction to the situation either…oy.

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    • "Picking up" and "cleaning" are hard for us folks with no mess vision because it's kind of ambiguous. Is it picked up when all my crafting supplies are corralled on the coffee table or is it picker up when they're put back on the shelf? Is the bathroom clean when the toilet and tub are scrubbed or do I have to dust the top of the medicine cabinet? Added to that is the issue that housework is never actually *done*. There is no win state with a living space.

      So it really helped me to literally make a game of it. Every day I have to score 100 points. I get one point for everything that is put back where it belongs or is thrown away. Multiple points accrue for things like taking out the trash (5 points) with jackpots available for the truly heinous stuff (catbox scooping – 55 points). Once I get my hundred points then I'm done (unless I'm making up a deficit from the previous day). It doesn't matter that there's still cardboard boxes tucked under the couch or unfolded towels on the nightstand. I have reached my win state (at least for the day).

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      • Thanks. That's helpful. and sounds like fun!!!! I have found that it helps when I am explicit, like "when you clean the dishes can you also wipe off the counter before you're done?" This seems to work well, i just always live in fear that he will think that I dont' find what he actually does good enougg, which would mean, after enough times, in his head that maybe I don't think he's good enough. I don't want to go down that road.

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        • I have to second "Be explicit." Maybe sit down together and create a chore chart.

          "What counts as a clean kitchen?"
          "No dirty dishes on the counters."
          "Okay, and?"
          "Wait, there's more to it than that?"

          Its quite possible that the two of you are operating on completely different ideas of how to define "clean." I find that when I tell a housemate to clean x room, I usually walk back in to find them sitting on a computer. When I ask when they're going to start cleaning they look at me confused and say they're done. Looking around I'll see that they actually did pick up all the shoes and laundry in the room. To me, though, the clutter was the least problematic part.

          By contrast, when I hand them a list that reads "X Room: 1) pick up clutter 2) sweep 3) dust 4) scrub random marks off walls" they will do all of it. Since this is a home you and your husband share (as opposed to my home that other people get to stay in), you will need to come up with the list together. And he might tell you "I am never going to dust the entertainment center. That is silly and pointless." Now when you come home to an entertainment center covered in dust you know that it isn't because you husband is being lazy, its because he genuinely doesn't believe that there is any reason to remove that dust. You can now decide for yourself whether having a dust free entertainment center is worth the time and effort you would have to put into it.

          Hopefully, coming up with a list together will reduce resentment. He will have a clear idea of what you expect him to accomplish and you will have a clear idea of what chores you're just doing for you and shouldn't expect from him.

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          • I think I need this kind of list! I have low mess vision, and get distracted far too easily to consistently clean the house.

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          • Thank you. Yes. I had thought of that. I will make it happen; it is time.

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        • Have you seen Unfuck Your Habitat? After a decade of being a shitty housewife it's really helping me get this habitat we live in unfucked. It's just a mere tumblr feed but it's also kinda like magic (or has been for me at least). It gives me lots of good reminders to do bits and pieces and the 20/10s really work for me. I've also learnt a lot of good cleaning tips that makes shit easier to deal with. That's half the battle there.

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      • This is a genius system which needs a full OBH post!

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      • I really love this idea! Except, I know it won't help my personal situation unless my husband also has his daily points, which is so never going to happen. But I may try this for myself and see if it improves my own stress level.

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      • What a fabulous idea with the points! I have had to teach myself to clean and pick up on a regular basis. It's something I struggle a lot with since I grew up in a house with lots of clutter and piles. I'm going to try out the points idea. Thank you!

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      • My SO just introduced me to an app called Epic Win. It makes chores and errands into an RPG, as if they are quests and he can level up, etc. Not available for me on Android yet, apparently.

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        • Oh my dog, that needs to be for Android NOW so I can make my partner get it.

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        • Haha! Of course someone's already made an app for it! XD

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      • This is actually a thing that people do: http://www.chorewars.com/ <-you can track your points.

        Didn't work for me though. I'm one of the un-seeers…. sometime's i just don't notice the mess untill i go to clean it. I am trying to be better, and having worked in food service and food production has made me more concious of it, like I now notice that the kitchen bench and stove are dirty, and I make sure that is "part of washing the dishes"…

        But i've gone from working 15 hours a week, to running my own business (working 8 hours a day dog-grooming, and trying to keep up with paper work etc (also not something that is natural to me)) over the last 10 months…

        we were trying to do the 20minutes a day cleaning thing,but we're just coming out of winter now, and winter just really takes it out of me… so it's all gone to hell lately. :-(

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    • My SO and I are both this way. We have the fantastic ability to completely ignore the mess. So we made a rule…anyone who's "off" that day has to do one chore. He usually does the dishes and cleans the kitchen. I generally vacuum and clean the bathroom. Days when we are both off (about once every six weeks) are dedicated to cleaning ALL THE THINGS together. Maybe if you instituted this rule, he would have to actively look for a chore to do, he may reframe his way of looking at your house. SO now does the dishes on days he works, too, because he's now started to recognize what a clean sink looks like. I vacuum more often.

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    • Speaking as a messy person who was, and sometimes still is, torturing her cleaner significant other (SO); I want my SO to tell me that it's an issue. I don't mean, "Hun, can you do the cat boxes?" but rather, "This is starting to become a big source of stress in my life."

      When my SO did this to me it was in the middle of a fight and initially I wasn't receptive to it. After some calming down I decided that making a better effort was a small price to pay. We have two massive Ikea bookcases with glass doors so we write down chores and to-dos where I can see them. I have trained myself not to get upset at gentle reminders. But I -really- did need to hear him tell me, "This is a serious problem and it really hurts me that it's not a priority for you. Having a clean home is something I do for you and for us. I wish you would appreciate that and help me."

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  6. I wanted to punch you while I read the first paragraph. By the end of all this, I wanted to mix us some margaritas to toast with while we lament our housekeeping shortcomings. I've learned some things since being married too, but my baseboards are still horrifying and there are still coffee grounds on the wall behind the trashcan.

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  7. I am far from being a good house keeper and Trent is even further from that. He grew up in house where his mother did all of the cleaning because she didn't work and also because no one else could do it right. So the love of my life literally never learned to notice when the house is needing to be cleaned. He can walk past the same cat yark all day and not see it.
    Since we moved into our house together I have figured out a couple of tricks that help with some of the house work. We don't have a dishwasher so when dinner time rolls around I give him the option of dinner or dishes. More often than not he will pick dishes which I love because I don't like doing dishes. When we are cleaning house together I give him choices of the chores that need to be done, that way we are both pitching in.

    1 agrees
  8. I would turn a little crazy and think that his doing some small household task was a passive aggressive way of pointing out my deficiencies. In all actuality his doing some small household task was the result of seeing that some small household task needed to be done and just doing it. Basically, I was giving myself hell and making my marriage less awesome and fun.

    Ohhhhhh, this is so very me! It's especially terrible when he "passive-aggressively" does the dishes while I'm sitting on the computer. And in my head I'm railing at him because just because I haven't done the dishes doesn't mean I wasn't GOING to do the dishes, I just haven't gotten into the dish-doing place yet and just because HE can walk by a sink full of dishes and just stop and DO them right then doesn't mean everybody can GEEZ!

    Obviously I'm also a work in progress, but I feel like I'm getting there. I want to find the one secret that will suddenly make me a domestic goddess, but in reality I'm always trying new things, figuring out what works and that adds up.

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    • I do the same thing. The other night, after an exhausting day of running errands, doing laundry, washing the dog, dealing with repairmen etc etc…I was beat and all I wanted to do was sit on the couch for an hour with a magazine. And here is my old man, after a day at work, sweeping the kitchen floor. Not because he's trying to show me what a shit housekeeper I am (and most of the housekeeping falls to me, as the one who works from home, which is how I feel it should be) but because he saw that the floor needed to be swept. But in my mind, it was instant guilt (he worked all day and now he's having to sweep because I suck) and resentment (look at him, over there SWEEPING!)

      This is a neurosis that I share with my best friend, also, and it's good to see that she and I are way not alone.

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    • I do that tooooo…. and then, cuz i feel guilty… i get up and just like… fidget… cuz i don't know what else needs doing….

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      • My man is completely OCD and I'm just not. By the time I have a chance to sit still, he's up and washing dishes or sweeping, or dusting something. Then I feel guilty that I'm not dusting something. So I get up, pissy that I feel like I should be dusting instead of watching Jon Stewart, and by the time I stand up I realize I have no idea what needs done because to me, it's almost always some invisible mess he's cleaning up. Then I get even more frustrated because I end up standing there staring at him while he cleans until we both feel kind of uncomfortable.

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  9. It's okay to plug other websites right? It's not my site (or Tumbler in this case) – Unfuck Your Habitat. I've been following it for a few weeks and it has revolutionized my cleaning life. My sink was empty* for a week. A WEEK. This has never happened before in my life, ever. Apparently the bottom of the sink is white. UFYH is how I learned (am learning) to stop worrying and love the cleaning.

    *Full disclosure, empty = dishes taken care of within 12 hours, so either before bed or first thing in the morning before work.

    Edit now that I see some of the other comments – I'm definitely one of those people that don't "see" mess/dirt/etc. but dishes went from Giant Task That Needs Tackling to just something you do, like grabbing your keys as you walk out to your car or brushing your teeth. Try making a game of it – pick one thing, one area (in my case my sink) and try to keep it clean/empty for a week. If you feel like you failed, start over. If you do it for a whole week, up the stakes to two weeks. And in this example, by "you" I mean the person without mess-vision, with limited assistance from partner.

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    • Question – what made you come to the realization that you actually needed to look at that website in the first place? (Still trying to figure out how I can nudge my SO to recognize this is an issue for us on hiw own without my contant nagging)

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      • It took a few years of living with my SO (now husband) and experiencing that we have vastly different cleaning methods. He'll attack it with a vengeance once every few months and do marathon cleaning for a few hours. I'll start with him but I don't have it in me to do marathon cleaning and then I would feel guilty about all my cleaning efforts (and amen to whoever put the comment about interpreting all his cleaning as being passive aggressive when he wasn't thinking any such thing). A few years ago we bought a house and that was the catalyst for wanting to change – pride of ownership, growing up a little more, what ever you want to call it.

        The fact that I just recently started feeling on top of things on a regular basis goes to show how long of a process this has been. Oh, and I read the UFYH feed for many weeks before I did a few attempts at sink cleaning (dish washing has previously been my husband's assigned task in The Division Of Chores of 2007, so I also had to get it in my head that that didn't mean I should never wash a pot or pan ever) and then it took a few months before I/we got it to stay consistently clean.

        Hope that helped!

        Edit (cause I can't not edit, apparently) the Mr. has shown his appreciation for the clear sink by helping with dishes on the days I can't for whatever reason, instead of the once a week marathon he used to do (oh the stink! oh the grossness!)

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    • I love UFYH! And aslobcomesclean.com – she talks a lot about the whole not seeing messes thing.

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  10. I think I love you. And hate you at the same time. 8 years into a relationship and 1 year into marriage and I'm still not a good house keeper/cook/domestic goddess. In fact I'm still terrible. I take fridays off just so I can clean up the house and my husband still cringes. It doesn't help that he's a minimalist neat freak and I'm a semi-hoarder who doesn't see dust bunnies unless they're big enough to attack the dog.

    Ugh. Seriously. How did you do it? Also. Falafel?

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  11. http://www.chorewars.com/ if you have a gamer in the house (we both are) then this is a fun way to "WIN" at cleaning and chores. My hubbs and I use this to accrue "Don't-Wanna" points. When we hit certain levels, and we "Don't Wanna" cook, we go out to eat, or we buy something new for the household to make life easier for both of us. You can assign points based on the ick-factor or whatever suits your fancy. We have no children, and no plans to have any, but we have a blast with this silly thing. I recommend it for the mess-blind in your life. :)

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  12. Seriously- I too was disappointed that my wedding ring was not a magic "wife-things" super ring.

    It's been two years for us and we are still getting the hang of it. Throw a toddler and a pregnancy in the mix… I'm sure my carpet is mostly made of cheerios at this point

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    • Doing housework, when you have small children, is like bailing the ocean with a teaspoon.

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      • Why is it that their favorite toy is invariably the one you just put away????

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  13. Damnit to hell… now i have to go wash the dishes….

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  14. I was going to say – and I don't mean this to be critical, snarky or mean, it's a sincere question – what about your husband? Has he also learned to clean, cook and shop?

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  15. It's taken a long time for husband and I to start keeping things clean, and it's only been since we bought a house a few months ago that things look clean on a regular basis. Crazy as it sounds, one thing that helped was inviting people over for dinner or brunch on weekends so we actually had a reason to clean.

    We also talked a lot about what we both define "clean" as. Like, I need things off a vacuumed floor and clutter off kitchen tables, but the insanity of the bookshelves doesn't bother me. He needs water glasses picked up and dishes done, but doesn't see the guest bathroom. We put on some music and give ourselves 30 minutes to power clean, each of us working on things that bug us. You can get a LOT done in 30 minutes, and once we get into a groove we usually end up cleaning longer than we would have otherwise.

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  16. Ohhh man, this so struck a chord with me. Especially the "his cleaning up is a passive aggressive nod at my failure to be a domestic goddess" part. I have this to an extent, and I learned it from my mother, who used to practically throw temper tantrums whenever my dad or I tried to clean up the house (even though she was home all day). She would get upset by the fact that she hadn't done it herself, and annoyed at us because we would "move her stuff" and ruin her haphazard "organization." I learned to never touch piles unless they were completely mine.

    In case you can't tell, I grew up in a hoarder household, and as such, I simply didn't learn how to do ANY kind of housework other than dishes and laundry… and not nearly often enough of that. It was easier just to buy new clothes than find/clean things and put them away sometimes. >.< Years later, I'm still trying to pull myself out of the horrible habits I did learn and learn things that others have been doing their whole lives (Making the bed? Scrubbing sinks and mirrors and toilets? Throwing out things that have gone bad? Yeaaahhhh…) Basically what I'm saying is that sometimes this stuff comes easily to people because they grew up with good habits and are conditioned to run a tight ship. Others (lots of us) need a bit of extra effort when we become adults (or as in my case… LOTS of help, lol!). I've found the main thing is to not be super hard on myself when I stumble, but to instead promise to do better bit by bit. (And to not take it personally when he does the dishes for me, even though I said yesterday I would do them, but got completely sidetracked).

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  17. Honestly one of the BEST things I've ever done in this damn tuna can of a house, was take this dresser I had, that just had all my extras clothes I never wore anyway, dump the shit out, and dragged it into the living room, (my honey raised an eyebrow but didn't stop me) and in the span of a VERY long afternoon it was converted into a crafting dresser, my drawers include: Random Supplies, Paper Making, Sewing/Crocheting, Beading/Jewelry, Letters/Cards/Stickers/Trinkets, and I kept one drawer for Lingerie since I have kitties that would lurve to shred my delicates.

    All the rest of the shit is *still* to this day dumped on the bedroom floor in the giant pile of laundry, BUT it is insanely worth it to not have all my crafting shit lying around EVERYWHERE, since I always seem to have at least 3 projects going simultaneously, so when I go to pick up my shit, it actually has a place, and I can actually find it… this makes toggling between crafts only take minutes instead of hours/days as it did before to find all the damn supplies I needed, and by the time I did, I was no longer in the mood for that craft.

    I even now how a small basket for "Every day products" in the bathroom, and a big cardboard box for "Shit I still use but not everyday" in the living room. So I think even tackling small "bites" of your house, even if its just separating all the shit into boxes so its in an actual PLACE, that can be huge.

    Plus a LOT of my jewelry pliers it was discovered, that my fiance was using some for his house/car stuff, so I brought ALL his tools outside to the porch (its covered) and rescued my poor mangled tools for recovery. (He was astonished at all the tools he forgot he had) In the kitchen I now have a Spice Packets/Beans/Rice drawer, a Straws/Toothpicks/Skewers/Cupcake Stuff drawer, and a drawer for stuff I use almost daily, like the can opener, a lighter, my knife, m veggie/chicken broth packets, etc and they are immediately next to the stove so I can always have em RIGHT there.

    I'm going to stop rambling now cause its nearly 4am cause I've been making paper flowers all night, loves ya'll!!! :D

    PS "My shit is clearly broken." Totally made my fucking day!

    2 agree

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