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Spring Cleaning for the Mobility Impaired

Updated on March 4, 2009

Pink Coreopsis sketch, a symbol of spring

The reason for my Spring Cleaning

 Most people in their fifties are used to doing Spring Cleaning every year. I had a different life. I've got multiple disabilities that interfere tremendously with all my Activities of Daily Living, from right-side hemi-hypoplasia (my right leg is over an inch shorter than the left, arm the same, that whole side of my body is weak) to fibromyalgia -- two different causes for chronic fatigue, but the fibro adds excruciating pain to any stress. Plus stress caused asthma, a dust allergy that's probably to dust mites since pastel dust doesn't set it off, some arthritis and scoliosis just to complete the picture. I'm a physical mess.

Mostly housebound, I'm doing good just to manage to stay bathed and groomed at a level more acceptable in areas of Europe than in the USA. I can't operate a vacuum cleaner at all, even a lightweight one. I get really sick of people saying "But it's easy, anyone can do it" about activities that if I tried them would be abandoned a quarter of the way through because I collapsed and wound up with a month's bed rest recovering from the minor sports injuries caused when I try to keep up with the abled.

So I had this habit all my adult life of moving regularly, two to four times a year. It was costly sometimes. It lost me a lot of important or expensive things, some of which I still miss, furniture I miss, paintings that were stolen, art supplies I'm still in the slow process of replacing. I was homeless for three years in a shelter and then spent two miserable years in subsidized housing without enough help to keep up with the cleaning -- and unable to move because I was cut off from my friends who were in other parts of the country.

People will help you move about ten times easier than they will come over and help clean your apartment. The natural reaction of friends to "please come help me clean up" is "I wish someone would do that for me!"

But if you're physically disabled, it reaches a certain point where it's impossible to maintain. Good habits can stave off that point. I'm efficient at not leaving a mess. I added some of these habits consciously, like making sure a trash bag or small can was right next to any place I'm going to sit more than five minutes so that I don't leave trash on the floor to be picked up. Then my routine is to tie off the bag when full, put a fresh bag in, move it the next time I get up for something and keep moving it toward the door till I go out and toss it in the can. That worked until I couldn't go out any more and it has kept me from having to do the regular weekly "pick up all the stuff from the floor" cleanup that most abled people do in half an hour without thinking about it.

Their way of doing it may actually be more efficient for them.

Then a good happy thing happened in my life. My daughter's uncertain finances stabilized, she got rid of the deadbeat and bought a house and got a new husband. I love my new son in law. He is a gem. He is a deeply good man, big and furry and strong, very active and he does things all the time. He's smart, has an anthropology degree but also is a skilled professional carpenter and amazingly skilled all around fixit guy -- so he's great company and also one of the most good natured men I've ever had a joy to know. He'd be my friend even if he hadn't lucked and caught my wonderful daughter's eye.

Since I moved in, I haven't had to worry so much about the vacuuming. He does the house routinely and will come through and vacuum my room very often -- so that staved off the "It's time to move" level of overwhelming chaos much farther than I thought it could be put off.

It took something much subtler for me to notice something was wrong.

 The day to day cleaning went great. I had help, I didn't have to try to prepare my own meals, I've been living well for three years and I'm starting to regain my strength from the bad years when overexertion and poor nutrition pushed me to the brink of death. Yes, literally, long story.

I get my organizing done when I first move in. I prioritize things on how soon I think I'm going to be able to use them. Some art supplies take a lot of space to spread out and set up, like oil painting. Others don't, so they wound up in the spots I could get at them easier. Some got buried just because I didn't think I'd get at it for a year or two.

Wow, it's been a year or two and another one and some of the things that got pushed out of the way three years ago because I didn't have the energy or the time at the time to get at them and use them are starting to become important. I haven't yet gotten to the point of burying something under clutter and then replacing it because I can't find it -- but I came close on the dang drafting brush. What cleaning I can do without getting up gets done, ruthless and continuous. The drafting brush keeps dust and tobacco crumbs off everything that's in my reach. It was something I lost in a move and replaced sometime around the first year I moved in.

Looking for it and not finding it for an entire month of frustration was what led me to look at the way things are organized.

I have spaces under tables next to me on my right and left that I thought of as good spots to put art supplies I'd like to be able to get at soon. Not top priority but next-priority. I organized them sensibly in boxes so that I could grab just the box and pull it out.

Only when those boxes stack up with other stuff and other stuff on top of them, getting at the thing in the back is impossible. That is where the drafting brush turned out to be. It just fell off the back of the table and slid behind everything.

Deep storage stuff that I put on shelves across the room was easier to get at. So I needed to empty those spots. I realized the same thing had happened to my books -- the shelf right next to me takes standing on the chair to reach any of them while the one out in the middle of the room is what's easiest to just grab. This also marks a change in my health and mobility. There was a point not long ago where crossing the room was a very big deal.

That's when it hit me hard. I've lived here three years. There isn't going to be a move next summer or next fall to reorganize. It'll stay like this getting gradually less convenient until I can't find anything I own and do turn into one of those spendthrifts who replaces things because they can't find them and winds up owning eight tool sets because of it.

The Remaining Clutter

Treat it Like A Move

Four days ago I talked to my son in law. Bless him, he said that once I cleared the floor he'd not only vacuum and get behind and under the furniture, but since he was going to all that effort he'd bring in the carpet steamer and clean the carpet. He always does something like that, he'll go one step farther than asked and do a spectacular job with any household chore or favor he does for someone, he's got a big heart and big mind and big muscles all in the same good man.

Thank you, Karl, for making this possible at all.

I tore out everything from the allegedly convenient places under the tables and heaped it up on the chair and the bed. Turned out he was strong enough to move the chair even with the stack, though I was prepared to hobble around pulling the stuff off the chair after getting it out. I pulled everything off the easel shelf, which is my priority one spot for current-project art supplies. He put the easel in the living room and moved the big stack of large boxes of mat boards and single sheets of watercolor paper etc. into the hallway.

So between us we got everything out of the room. He vacuumed and steamed. By then I had spent three days getting up, working for ten minutes and then collapsing for several hours of rest and was starting to get a bit woolly in the head from this. Fibromyalgia produces this fog effect, my IQ drops down to something that would make people seriously consider rubber pants if they didn't know the context and I start having the judgment of your average drunk on a three week bender.

Fortunately I did all the planning before my brain degraded from pain and exhaustion so it has been going excellently well. I had all the high priority stuff on the chair, it came off the chair and I found new places for it. Getting the bed cleared off after the day he did it was the toughest part, because I was already wiped out. I needed to lay down but couldn't until the stuff from the easel and the portfolios were back on the floor and easel respectively.

I managed it, mostly through playing Diablo a lot and waiting for the floor to dry before even starting. After doing the bed and the chair, I'm left with the two stacks in the basket and that pile on the floor on a plastic bag.

The things that were in the living room have been moved back in here. They came back in before the kids got up from their nap. I am continually amazed at the speed of abled people, what I would've taken days doing he got done in a couple of hours during the grandkids' naptime.

Reorganization continues. I need to find good places for all of the stuff in those heaps and then gradually start in on the books. The books are their own project.

I have subscribed to magazines since I moved into a place I wasn't going to move out of. All the ones I wanted when I was on the road moving sometimes out of state two to four times a year. I can't say that there weren't some sacrifices living on the road, but it was an adventure and it was fun. Now... now I'm enjoying some of the perks of housey-folk for the first time in my adult life, actually enjoying being in one place.

Till the National Geographics and Artist's Magazine and Pastel Journal and Natural History and Smithsonian issues that were so much fun and make such great long term references started overflowing along with all the art supply catalogs that accumulate -- and used to get thrown out in moves. Anytime I moved, I'd keep only the current catalogs and the covers of the ASW ones because I like the art. That stack would shrink.

Now it grows and I'm thinking of adding science fiction magazines too. So I have reached a point of needing actual magazine storage if I don't want to turn into one of those old men living behind a fort made up of stacks of bundled old National Geographics. Every one of them is good for reference -- articles and photos both -- and they are scattered randomly all over my bookshelves and into shelf space that ought to hold art supplies.

It's reached a point where it actually would make sense sorting by title and putting them all on the same shelf, or even looking for magazine binders on eBay and yard sales so that I can protect them better. The choice is to keep them or start tossing them as soon as they're read. I'd rather keep them since I do go rummaging through them all when I need a peregrine falcon photo and want to find every falcon photo I own before mutating them into a painting.

There is one next stage to this reorganizing after what I'm doing now, which is why I'm not too worried about the "moving-in" stacks at the moment. It's stable. They're in the way so I am motivated to pick at them, find something and put it away as I go past just the way I do with picking up trash bags and will slowly melt away throughout the month.

Next month I am getting an actual taboret on Clearance from Blick, one with five drawers to hold all the assorted art supplies that are on bookshelves. Books can go in the cleared shelves. I am also finally getting a drafting table, which may never get tilted up or I might try to keep the surface clear so I can use the tilt. It's the Alvin Craftmaster II -- the four inch wide organizer trays on the side for loose pastels, kneaded erasers and push pins have lids that can snap on to keep the cubbies from getting too dusty except the ones with pastels in them. It also has two dangling four-drawer units with small drawers for the stuff that needs to be put away.

I can just imagine taking all the shells out of that cardboard box they're in and storing those in one of the drawers, all the polished stones gathered from everyplace they land and put those in another, keep several of those small drawers for Small Still Life Objects. I ruin normal office chairs by the crooked way I sit, on my short side I have an effect like a 350lb man on chairs because all my weight is concentrated on that side. But a squashy armchair Karl is bringing in here already has casters on two of its legs, so I'll just adjust the table height to "short" and use the floor guides rather than its casters and have a chair I can use with it.

I've also put a 60 drawer small-things organizer on my Amazon basket for tiny things that would be easier to use if sorted by what they are -- kneaded erasers, pencil sharpeners, push pins, sofft tool covers, tortillons, stumps. That can live on top of the taboret providing more storage space. It was surprisingly low priced for being twice the size of the 30 drawer one that I have missed ever since 1995 when I lost it in a move.

So this reorganization is taking place before I have the furniture I'm getting. Feels like a move actually. If I had taken all my books down and boxed them to move somewhere then I would be putting them away gradually after moving in and getting them all sorted by how often I want to get into them -- I did that three years ago and doing it again is going to make this room as livable and comfortable as it was when it was new.

So I'm moving in again. Wish me luck on the month's continuous efforts. I will post a new hub when I get the furniture and it's complete. My room will actually look like a good art studio that happens to have a waterbed in it at that point. That's just how I like it.

If I had a studio set up elsewhere in the house I would not be doing daily art. I'd be doing weekly art if I was lucky, the farther I go from where all my stuff is, the less likely I can manage to haul myself back and forth. The specifics of living with these disabilities make me live like a hobbit or an old sailing ship's captain -- everything has to be brutally organized and at my fingertips so that on days when I can't walk more than the half a dozen steps from bed to chair, I can still do something sessile that takes having all the tools handy.

The table's going to make that a joy. I can spread out three trays of colored pencils for a spectacular realism project, or spread out four or five sets in order to use multiple textures within the same painting. I can get out all of my artist grade oil pastels at the same time and still have room for the painting and my laptop. I can set up my webcam to show the whole setup from a good angle and make my art instruction videos -- all the possibilities are so exciting.

It'll take awhile to get it that way. When it does though, I may even start doing larger artwork because what I need for it is all in reach.

Oh yes -- a footnote about the stack of stuff on the floor. That big pink box is a plaster casting Girl Set that I've got set aside for Sascha's birthday in April. She hasn't noticed it but I should probably put something in front of it till it's put away again so that she doesn't realize it's hers yet. I want the great cleanup done before then so she can come in here for plaster casting and we'll have fun together with Walking with Dinosaurs running in background on my laptop.


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    • robertsloan2 profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from San Francisco, CA

      Thanks, Dorothy! It'll be good to read about it from another point of view, I have had scoliosis all my life and only found out at sixteen that it could've been corrected by surgery at seven or eight. What crafts do you do?

    • dorothy23 profile image


      9 years ago from Arizona

      From one disabled person to another, I wish you the best. I'm new to HubPages and have not had the time to write any articles – yet. I will concentrate on my love of crafts and adult scoliosis for my articles.

    • robertsloan2 profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from San Francisco, CA

      Thanks, Karen! It's rough but it is so much better now. To my happy surprise, moving in again is less work than moving was all those times -- mostly because I do have real help in this home.

      Christa, I'm so happy this inspired you! It can completely stifle creativity when art supplies are disordered and buried under clutter. Moving in again will probably turn up any number of fascinating supplies you haven't seen in a long time, or even cool things you bought but didn't get a chance to use yet that are absolutely new and sparkling, inviting you to try something cool.

      I always get a huge spurt of productivity right after I've reorganized my corner. I fell into a habit of doing that seasonally because in three months it'll get disorganized -- this cleanup is just extending the idea to the entire room and retrieving everything I want to use next that was buried in hard to get at holes.

      There's also the sheer momentum of distraction.

      If you get tired while cleaning up and the latest neat art supply you just found is a supreme temptation to create, set that aside to put on top of the stack and push to get the rest of the clutter taken care of. All the moments of longing you have to use the stuff and cool ideas for artworks using it will come back when you have it clean. It may help to dig out a small sketchbook and jot ideas quickly with the nearest pen while cleaning so that you can remember these inspirations when all is done and the art room looks like a place to create instead of a grumpy teenager's place to shut the door on.

      I had less to get rid of than I thought, but I'm sorting more ruthlessly for what goes into deep storage and what gets to stay out for ease of use. Once the table's in, this room should be so new that it's like I just got a new home.

    • Christa Dovel profile image

      Christa Dovel 

      9 years ago from The Rocky Mountains, North America

      Clutter seems to be one of the biggest hazards to being settled! Having lived in the same home for some time now, I am really struggling to get my art room in order. For several years I had no chance to use it (due to being pregnant and restricted in use of the stairs, plus running a business). Now I am back to normal, but face a pile of clutter that makes art unappealing. I am going to take your advice, and "move in again", getting rid of what I don't need, boxing up what I won't use for a while, and making the things I will use in the next 6 months most accessible. Thank you so much for the inspiration.

      I look forward to your instructional videos.

    • PeacefulWmn9 profile image


      9 years ago from Michigan

      As one who also has multiple disabilities, I wish you all the best. It sounds like you are doing well with getting organized. I am glad you have some regular help now : ))



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