Elizabeth's January Cure: My First Week

January Cure Diaries

I approached the January Cure with a certain degree of trepidation. I'm not the most naturally organized person. I tend towards the impulsive, and I'm so up in my own head most of the time that I don't notice I've laid something out of place until I come home one day and wonder when the Dothraki hordes sacked my apartment. But one week in, the January Cure already seems significantly less scary than when I started.

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What we've got to work with: My husband and I moved to Germany in August, and it still feels like we're in the move-in stage. The apartment is a new-ish construction that seems to be a giant concrete box, which makes it virtually soundproof but very difficult to hang pictures, and means that very little natural light makes its way over to us. The walls and ceiling are white and popcorn textured, and we aren't allowed to change them.

The apartment as it stands is furnished with a mixture of things I love that we brought from our last apartments in New York and Beijing, things I don't love that came with the apartment or were left over from the previous tenants, and gaping holes where there should be lamps or storage or furniture items that just haven't made it into the budget yet. (All the art, for example, is in a folder waiting until we can get frames and hang it.)

The budget was one of my biggest initial concerns. How many things could I really improve without spending money? With a limitless budget this place could look like Versailles, but I'll just have to see what I can get done on my own.

Day 1: Make a list of projects.

I got a late start due to traveling and had to get my first week all done at once. (That might have added to the panic.) I started by making a list of problems to fix. Mine was four pages long. That's normal, right? How long were everyone else's lists?

I initially felt overwhelmed by the number of things I'd have to do and fix. I was sorely tempted to put the pad down and immediately start doing laundry or straightening shelves. But then I remembered that the January Cure is a month-long project, not a problem to be solved in one fell swoop. "Don't organize that shelf right now," I said. (I talk to myself.) "There will be an assignment for that later, and you'll do it then. Just do today's assignment today."

Phew! Suddenly everything seemed so easy and less panic-inducing. As long as I trust the schedule, everything will be fine. And as I went along, I started to see that only a few of my problems would require spending money. I decided to just put those off and concentrate on the others.

The biggest problems stuck out instantly:

• Dead Plant x 6
• Light Fixtures Missing Bulbs/Not Attached to Ceilings
• Every Surface = Laundry
• Bedroom basically undecorated

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I swear the plants were alive when I started making that list. And I beg out of blame for the light fixtures because they aren't my light fixtures; they belonged to the previous tenants who never installed them properly because the ceiling is concrete and almost impossible to screw into. I wish I could just replace all the lights with gorgeous vintage chandeliers, but for now I'm stuck with them. I might as well get them hanging properly.

The laundry is totally my own fault.

After going through my list, I decided my main goals for this Cure are going to be:

• Hang artwork. (I secretly want a frame cluster.)
• Learn to take care of plants, or acquire plants that cannot be killed.
• Arrange bookshelves artfully.

I recently installed a set of faux built-in bookcases made from IKEA Billys, and I love them. But our books don't fill them anymore since my husband moved his academic books to his office, we both got Kindles, and I decimated the remainder of the collection with a particularly psychotic culling during the last move.

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Day 2: Set Up The Outbox.
The Outbox is alien to me. I always feel more like I need to acquire missing items than like I need to cull the ones I already have. But I set up the box and went around looking for something to put in it.

My de-cluttering instincts appear to be broken, because the first things I picked up were a smoke detector and my husband's Ph.D. diploma. I retrieved those from the box and replaced them with a Pokémon plush toy and a shirt I haven't worn in a few years.

Day 3: Clean Floors, Buy Flowers.
Cleaning the floors is not my favorite task, but it's finished. If dust bunnies were real bunnies, under my bed would have been Watership Down.

But with that finished, I went out to get flowers.

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Now that I look at it again, I'm not sure this plant counts as a flower. (People who know things about plants don't wind up with Dead Plant x 6 on their Cure lists.) Whatever, it's pretty. I've named her George.

What's going on with your January Cure? What was the weirdest thing on your to-do list?

Visit The January Cure page

(Images: Elizabeth Licata)

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