apartment progress: order of operations.

October 13, 2021

What’s the first thing you do when you move to a new home? Besides turning the key and setting down your bag and opening the windows? How do you make your very first mark on a place?

For me, it’s often swapping the light bulbs. They’re nearly always mismatched or broken or otherwise all wrong. Technically the responsibility of the landlord to keep up, I’ve found choices in bulbs to be rather personal and I’ll happily take over the responsibility if it means I get to pick. Then what? Lately, I’ve been thinking about the order of operations. What do I do first? What do I leave well enough alone? What do I intend to address but time or resources or the general will to tackle it leaves it never started?

Some of you might recall that earlier this year I swapped our old office door for this even older one. It was such a triumph for me—free, if time consuming, and a big improvement over the hollow-core door that was there before. What’s less obvious from most pictures is that the interior of the door and its trim is still currently two shades of white. I stopped painting this side of the door after just a few strokes and never decided on a color to finish it with. On the wall next to the door remains the bicentennial-era light switch cover that I first shared photos of last fall, and here we are a year later, with the eagle still lording over us and no replacement found. Next to that is an old hanger hook that we can call a valet if we’re feeling fancy. I’ve been meaning to remove it altogether but a few weeks ago Rose was over and she convinced me, maybe, not to.

In the past year I’ve tackled a hundred little projects in this apartment and there are easily three hundred still to do. Sometimes I look around and I can’t find a rhyme or reason for what I’ve done and what I haven’t. I was never very good at math, but it’s occurring to me that maybe, for this type of slow and simple stewardship, the order of operations is really besides the point.

Last week I tacked the enamel sign with tape covered edges to the back of our office door. “What good shall I do this day?” is an encouraging enough query from Benjamin Franklin and I’ve hung this little sign in each of our Brooklyn apartments, but as I hammered the sign into the back of the mismatched door and stood beside that busybody eagle, it struck me anew. I’m not interested in overly moralizing apartment progress, but tackling one good—one thing—at a time in this old place does make me generally feel happy and productive and energized, which is better for me than feeling sad or overwhelmed or sluggish, especially as we hit mid-October.

So: “What largely inconsequential but still generally satisfying household task shall I do this day?” Maybe I’ll paint the door. You?

PS. Yesterday a reader sent me this Tiktok, which made me snort and sigh.

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  • Reply Steph October 13, 2021 at 3:33 pm

    After 10 years in our 600 sqf apartment, there are still so many things I want to change! I’ve learned to dissociate though, and wait for 3-day weekends or sudden (rare) spurts of energy. The best thing I did this past Monday was replace the toilet seat. It had looked worn from the day we moved in, but we felt bad getting rid of such a big piece of plastic just for looks. Then one of the hinges connecting it to the toilet broke, and after dealing with sliding around for it for a couple of months, I had enough. The new seat is a slow close (so glad not to hear the lid banging anymore) and it makes our bathroom feel totally luxurious.

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE October 14, 2021 at 10:57 am

      Here’s to the slow close! Game changer!

  • Reply Gerry October 13, 2021 at 3:42 pm

    I like to live in a space for a while to get a sense of how we will use the space. Then I find solutions based on needs and functions. With kids this changes often. My next project is going to be doing something with our photos. I have been taking photos for years and never actually did anything with them. I am going to sort and then have them printed. I plan to store them in boxes where we will be able to look at them. I may make albums for my kids for the holidays if I can get them finished in time.

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE October 14, 2021 at 10:57 am

      Needs and functions here, too! But sometimes also just good looks 😉

  • Reply Megan October 13, 2021 at 3:53 pm

    With 300+ projects here as well, today I will organize outgrown kids clothes into pass it down, pass it on, and turn into stuffing for a doll’s bed.

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE October 14, 2021 at 10:56 am

      A noble pursuit!

  • Reply Cal October 14, 2021 at 6:52 am

    We own our home, it’s a small Victorian terrace house in the north of England. I have zero cash to get anyone in to do all the major work that needs doing (repointing, new roof, possible rewire etc) so I’ve taken my inspiration from you and I’m tackling small jobs that I can control. So next up is replacing a kitchen cabinet hinge and glueing a broken kitchen drawer back together.

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE October 14, 2021 at 10:56 am

      Excellent! Both fixes will feel so good!

  • Reply mado October 14, 2021 at 9:36 pm

    Yesterday I suppose I should have unpacked the new dishwasher and figured out who to call about installing it but instead I shoved a bunch of sticks into an old cut off water jug and hung it up on the patio in the hopes that pollinators will find it a nice place to lay some eggs.

  • Reply Ellen October 22, 2021 at 6:58 pm

    We’ve lived in our current home since 2010. It was a house with “good bones” that hadn’t been touched since 1970. The colorful shag in shades of yellow, green, red, and purple all had to go, plus the ancient heavy piled carpets in the bathrooms (even the memory of this stirs up nausea). In short, it is now 2021 and we have finally finished the project of a full home renovation as of this month. It was unbelievably costly but until three years ago we both worked jobs that netted generous paychecks. We paid cash for each stage of the process. Neither of us have good skills for the amount of work that was required for each project, so we used our earned resources to trade for getting the work done. There are still small things I’d like to to tweak further, but my medical retirement hobby is graduate school so that is my priority for now. I love reading your posts. Once the Master’s is achieved I may tackle some DIY projects.

  • Reply Corinne January 5, 2023 at 1:21 pm

    Ever since I have seen glimpses of this valet hook in a few different posts I have been raiding the internet trying to find her!! Here’s to success, someday 🙂

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE January 5, 2023 at 1:40 pm

      Aw, I’d bet money this was bought at the corner hardware store in the 1970 or 80s! V basic bordering on ugly and covered in many coats of paint IRL!

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