Of Mudrooms and Dreams

As a kid, I had plenty of dreams. I yearned of flying, meeting Charlie Sheen (for real; I blame Lucas, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, and Major League), becoming a veterinarian (fail), becoming a music therapist (closer!), traveling the world, learning the cello.

If I could talk to my younger self, never once would I have believed, at 40, that one of my greatest dreams would come true… and it would be having a mudroom.

Sometimes, a girl has to go big or go home.

We’ve loved our house since moving in nine years ago; it’s just the right size for us, and felt especially just-right after The Great DeClutter of 2015. Still, “just right” means “jam-packed” and “not a lot of storage,” plus the house lacked a practical entryway.

This bore itself out like so:

  1. We had to put things in odd places (dog kennels in the kitchen and dining room; coats hung on kitchen cabinets; paper towel stored in the garage; wet swim suits draped over dog gates; sports bags hung on railings)
  2. The outdoor stuff that would normally be kept together was spread all over (gloves and hats: closet; winter boots: basement; hockey gear: dining room; coats: front hall)
  3. School items were in at least three different locations, despite my attempts to create systems that helped us out
  4. The kitchen floor was ALWAYS FILTHY because it was the path of least resistance to the backyard, bicycles, and toys. I tried towels. I tried mats. I tried a little hedgehog boot cleaner guy. But when three dogs and two children tromp straight from the yard/grass/garage into the kitchen 3976 times per day, the floor is simply unfit for habitation basically all of the time
  5. Rochester mud season lasts approximately 14 months a year. ‘Nuff said.

The dog kennel started off in the kitchen – a fur trap that also took up a heckuva lot of space.

We eventually moved it to the dining room… where it was still a fur trap and also encouraged us to use it for storage (see above: baskets, boxes, and guitar cases on top of the kennel that’s squished in the corner).

My carefully constructed school systems were probably as good as we could get, given the parameters…

… but it was still a pain having to cross-reference the kitchen and the front hall, not to mention that, organized or not, as the girls g0t older and their stuff got bigger, the front hall seemed to shrink.

And then there were these brilliant organizational hacks.
Feel free to pin.
Sports bags hanging from the railing – an improvement, believe it or not, from storing them in the dining room.

Nick’s and my coats (and purses) hung on the kitchen cabinets just inside the garage door. Note the white multi-hook-thingy upon which the orange jacket is hanging; WE TRIED, Y’ALL.

Since forever, my grandma (Phoofsy) would bemoan that our house was too small for us. Every visit, we’d hear the same refrain – not enough space, too much stuff – and were told that, really, we needed to move. Since forever, we’d laugh and assure her that our house was perfect for us – if we only had a mudroom, all of our woes would disappear.


This – wanting a mudroom – began as a one-off statement, became a pipe dream, and eventually took over our fanciful If We Could Afford It discussions. As “wanting a mudroom” stretched on for years, it became a real goal. I researched. I schemed. I pinned. I pined. At last, after saving and planning and designing and meeting with architects and contractors, we began our formal house addition/remodel this past spring.

Folks, angels rode unicorns across the yard. You probably heard our jubilation from wherever you are.

In less than two months, we went from this (garage abutting the house, going right into the kitchen):

… to this (garage “moved over” and a mudroom inserted between it and the kitchen).img_6868
(Technically, this is like 4 months later – which explains the overgrown trees and the drought-weary lawn…)

The outside is so lovely, you guys! The contractor (who was amazing) matched the paint perfectly, there are new gutters everywhere. and the roofline is so cool.
And now we have a plain white door that is just begging to be decorated for the fall (and Christmas and Valentine’s Day and if I can find anything that screams Winter Solstice you bet I’m gonna do it. Pinterest page: added).

The back looks swell too:
No, we still haven’t removed the sticker from the door’s window. Why rush?

We hadn’t felt that there was anything wrongwith the original garage interior – but the final plan more or less called for a full remodel. Considering that we didn’t even know our garage was lacking… this is pretty fantastic.


Aside from looking clean and shiny, the best part is that it’s a few feet wider, which means we can fit both cars (at the same time – holla!) and the scooter and even open all four doors on both cars, something that was previously impossible. HAVE MERCY.

Instead of a banged-up door with pock-marked, blue-paint-tested drywall leading right into the tile kitchen…

… we now have smooth, pristine walls – and a new, up-to-fire-code door (important, no?) leading into the mudroom (!!).img_9102
You can kind of see it, can’t you?? Is it not already incredible??

In fact, there’s the best of all – the reason for this whole endeavor:
The mudroom itself, complete with cubbies (omg!!) and shelves and a closet and hooks and cubbies (have I mentioned the cubbies?). Due to other projects, our contractor had to finish this part nearly two months after completing the rest of the construction… But Sweet Fancy Moses, was it worth it.

Are you ready?? Okay. Deep breaths.
After all the searching and measuring and pinning and discussing and dreaming, I present you: The Mudroom.

When you come in from the garage, instead of slopping into the kitchen, you dance on air into this:


 Not gonna lie: I feel like a better human being when I’m in this room.

Look! All of the girls’ school papers are now in one spot (omg) on the kitchen door; no more checking in several locations! My favorite little nook is the corner where the cubbies meet the kitchen door because of the adorable chalkboard/corkboard/keyhook thing that Nick hung. 

The dog kennel is on the left (no longer in the dining room – HALLELUJAH), with our dog accoutrements on the shelves (!) above it, along with the paper towels and toilet paper (no more garage-dusty cloths, thanks). After moving everything, we even have a whole empty cupboard now. We are so fancy.


I sometimes contemplate curling up and just sleeping right here, it’s that beautiful.

Do you know what there is space for? ALL OF THE STUFF. We – every one of us – has room for our coats, hats, bags, shoes, winter gear, and whatever else our hearts desire. In one place! CAN YOU IMAGINE!!

That door over there with the windows is the cute white one which leads to the driveway (and the Arbor Day decorations). Between the doors? The new space for all of The Systems! Family calendar, kids’ calendar, extra room for holding papers and writing notes and drawing inappropriate pictures! Hot diggity dog!!
That superb little table was a Home Goods steal that makes us look all reclaimed wood chic (that’s what I’m telling myself).

Here’s the view when you walk in from the driveway (after passing the Grandparents Day decorations). The stuff on shelving in the back isn’t pretty, but man, is it functional. Oh – and now we’ve got loads of hooks on which to hang our bathing suits, towels, sports bags, and snowsuits.

Go ahead. Pin it. I am.
(Cute CCI pup not included.)

The pièce de résistance? This delicious sign (above the window), courtesy of my mama. img_8957

Not only is the room SO SO SO PRETTY and functional and SO LOVELY – it actually does what it was intended to do! All of our outdoor things are finally in one place! The dog stuff is together – and nowhere near where we eat! Our railings are clear enough to actually grasp! The school supplies are easy to see and find! It feels tidier, smarter, like we can actually handle life’s hard things and have fun in the process. We finally have some space in the rest of our abode to feel a little less boxed in; the entire downstairs feels like a different, spacious home, which is its own bit of marvelous sorcery.

And the kitchen floor? NOT. DIRTY. Because the dirt gets trapped in the mudroom (obvs).

So, no. It’s not the cure for cancer or de-stigmatizing mental illness  or saving refugees. But this one room has made our just-right house as perfect as we ever imagined; and, in so doing, has made us as happy here as we’ve ever been. Phoofsy would be giddy.

If you can’t find me, I’m probably in the mudroom. We may even celebrate Thanksgiving in there. Come on over; we’ve got places to hang your coat!


Sparking Joy (aka I Gots Me Some Organizing Religion)

I haven’t been around here recently nearly as much as I’ve been in the past. Part of that is due to a conscious restructuring of my time (I’m playing the piano a lot more – holla!), but part of it is because something really big has been going on that’s been taking up every not-otherwise-occupied moment of my time.

But now, it is done. It is finished and complete and the weight of the world is off my shoulders and I feel SO FREAKIN’ GOOD about it, I can finally declare it to all of the internet world:

What? You were expecting other momentous news?

THIS IS EXTREMELY MOMENTOUS NEWS! For the first time in – ever? – I’m actually happy with my house and what’s in it. This is big, people. Really big.

Nearly every time she’d come over for dinner (which was several times a month), my grandmother would comment on how our house was too small for us; we needed more space. And every time, we’d laugh and reassure her that we loved our house – it was plenty big for us – and as soon as we took the time to do some reorganizing and purging, it would feel much more spacious. Taking that time, however, proved elusive.

We were probably destined to go on much as we always had if not for the convergence of two things this summer: the plan to add on a mudroom and my learning about Marie Kondo’s book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. The former has been a longtime dream of ours. It’s tough to live in Rochester, where snow is plentiful and mud season is long, without any kind of mudroom.

Additionally, one of the main entries into our house (and the only one that the dogs access) is directly from the garage into the kitchen – meaning that the kitchen is constantly filled with mud, leaves, dirt, etc. Add to that a general lack of storage (see: dog kennels in the dining room, Nick’s and my coats hung on the side of a kitchen cupboard…) and we’ve been itching to create a space for our coats and winter gear, the dog kennels and food, and the girls’ backpacks and school accoutrements. After speaking with an architect and drawing up some plans, we were on our way to making our dreams become reality.

In order to do so, we knew we’d have to make some changes. Specifically, the stuff in the garage would need to be stored somewhere during the construction – ideally inside – meaning we had to have space to hold it. Thus, the first bit of inspiration: in order to make space, we should probably, like, get rid of some of our current stuff. Simultaneously this summer, we were unexpectedly the recipients of some furniture from my grandma’s apartment, so we had to make room for new (to us) couches, too – which involved a lot of shifting our current furniture around and getting rid of other pieces.

This might have gone off fairly smoothly and quickly had it not been for the second bit of inspiration: the book. Three different people, on three separate occasions, mentioned to me that they had read Ms. Kondo’s book – which (I’m paraphrasing here ever so slightly) instructs folks to go through all of the items in their house in a particular order and keep only the things which “spark joy.” Each of these three friends said that this advice was, indeed, life-changing, and that they loved what this particular style of decluttering had brought to their lives.
Exhibit A: the area underneath the fish tank that had been used to store games.

decluttering games
Exhibits B and C: games now stored on bookshelf (books previously on shelf = donated), shelves and storage bins beneath fish tank for cold weather gear, school supplies, etc.
decluttering fishtank

I didn’t then have a copy of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up (my mom gave me one a couple of weeks ago – yay!), but my friends spoke so highly of it, I spent a lot of time with my boyfriend, Google, trying to determine whether or not the KonMari method might work for me. I read articles, listened to interviews with Ms. Kondo, and watched countless YouTube videos on her clothing-folding method (yes, there’s a method. And many, many videos… the internet is a strange place, y’all). As I did my research (so official, no?), I came to the conclusion that I could totally get behind her approach. BRING IT ON.
decluttering drawer
New folding method. Not sure how long this will last; check back in a month.

And so, while we emptied out corners of the house to hold the stuff from our garage and rearranged furniture and replaced old carpeting with laminate flooring, I made a conscious effort to approach each reorganization and clean-out using (what I hope is) Marie Kondo’s plan.

Which means I went through everything in our house. No, I mean Every. Single. Thing*. I opened every drawer, every closet, every cupboard and took out every single item, held it in my hands, and determined whether or not it brought me enough joy to keep it. Every baking dish, every linen napkin, every bottle of nail polish, every board game, every mitten, every ornament. EVERY. THING. If the items made me happy (photographs) or were useful/necessary (staplers, Spanx), I kept them. If they didn’t fit those criteria, they were donated or trashed.
*except the things in the girls’ rooms. It’s crazy up in there, yo. That’s on them.

Found these in the bookshelf. THIS WAS LIFE BEFORE GOOGLE. Good grief.

It took nearly six weeks, but it happened. One day, the kitchen cabinets and the area under the sink. Another, the drawers and cupboards in the girls’ bathrooms. The dining room hutch. The living room shelves. The front hall closet. Lastly came the basement, which held storage-y things like decorations and tools, but also the part that, according to Ms. Kondo, would be the hardest: memories. Photos and love letters and the boxes of my childhood mementos containing everything from first grade report cards to every single notebook and paper from every single class I took in college; EVERY SINGLE CLASS WTF.

It was the simple concept of Sparking Joy that made the clean-out process both easy and relieving. I hadn’t known just how many things I’d saved over the years because I thought I should — unused gifts from extremely kind and good-hearted friends, expensive kitchen gadgets that I’d felt guilty ditching, clothes that had made me smile but didn’t anymore. Once I realized that they were no longer making me happy but that they’d served their purpose (I loved remembering how wonderful it felt receiving the gifts, being thought of in such a sweet way; how excited I’d been for the kitchen tools, etc.), I felt completely comfortable in letting go of more stuff than I’d imagined possible. The same, surprisingly, went for my childhood mementos. (Full disclosure: I kept all of our photographs, every last one. They still spark joy.)

decluttering cassettes
Also kept: these, from my original cassette collection. 
Forget sparking joy; these are ON FIRE.

Taking up more space than anything else were my teaching boxes. If you’ve ever lived with a teacher, you know how much stuff we accumulate. Resources, ideas, professional development certificates, letters from former students and parents. It spanned my days as a K-8 music teacher, 5-6 homeroom teacher, 2nd grade teacher, and middle school music teacher — eleven years of papers, tests, quizzes, syllabi, transparencies, lesson plans, IEPs, meetings, goals, comic strips, and communications.

And that doesn’t touch on the textbooks, lesson books, planning books, references, gradebooks, three-ring binders, CDs, cassettes, office supplies, classroom posters (my favorite: “You can’t scare me. I teach.”), decorations, or hats (yes, an entire box of dress-up hats; teaching elementary music, these are essential, I tell you). Basically, when you’re a teacher, you need to assign an entire room of your house to hold all of your materials.

Once I finally accepted that, in all likelihood, I’d never be a regular classroom teacher again, I saved the music-related things (a good 10 boxes’ worth) but ditched the rest; it took a full Bagster dumpster to hold it all. Still-relevant resources were added to our donation pile, which took up half of our garage. When the day came to donate it to our school district’s annual second-hand sale, we wound up renting a U-Haul to hold everything.

There’s, like, an entire house’s worth in here!decluttering garage2
decluttering garage3 Steering this thing was not easy.decluttering garage uhaul2

It’s hard to describe the almost manic drive I felt to complete this project. For six weeks, it was all but an obsession; every spare moment that could have been spent on other things (like, um, writing) was devoted to going through the house. It was a completely consuming task… but in the end? Fabulous!

Above kitchen desk – beforedecluttering kitchen

Above kitchen desk: after
Because I actually made space in the cupboards (by ditching non-sparky things) to store the gift bags and tissue paper and boxes of cards. OH YES I DID.
decluttering desk

For the first time, every item in the house belongs there. Every room, every space, feels comfortable, joyful, clean. This isn’t (at all) to say that we no longer have stuff – we do – but the stuff we have is purposeful and meaningful. Plus now I have more time to write!

The one downside to this is that the house is so decluttered, when our awesome housecleaner comes, no one* notices.

(*I notice. She is amazing.)

The mudroom project has hit a snag so we don’t know when/if it might be completed, but in the meantime, the house is a happy, cleaner place to be. My only regret is that my grandma never got to see it like this… But I’m confident that, somehow, she knows.