Some days I feel like a glorified Dumpster diver. I throw myself headfirst into the world’s big bin of home advice, rummage through the flotsam and jetsam, and surface with a few nuggets I think useful.
I buff them into little pearls and serve them up each week — at the end of some cathartic rant like this — in newspapers across the country, including yours.
And I just met another woman who’s also made a quasi career out of second-hand knowledge — but on radio. Maureen Anderson hosts Doing What Works, which airs in 101 U.S. markets.
Like me, she interviews experts and teases out, well, what works. Together, we’re like the Reader’s Digest of better living.
Anderson recently asked me to be a guest on her radio show. “Geesh, I could fill lots of air time with what doesn’t work,” I tell her. But she wanted to interview me about a topic I sadly am an expert on — moving.
Having moved three times in three years, I’ve got that drill down. I can pack and unpack a 3,500 square-foot house faster than you can say “What’s the address?” So Anderson and I spent a fun hour on her show yacking about ways to save time, money, antacid tablets and swear words when moving.
Shortly after that, a column idea hit me like a hand truck: Why not turn the tables and interview her, about the best home advice she’s gleaned from her subjects over the years?
“What I most want to be known for is uncovering great advice, finding what works and incorporating that in my life so it works better,” she starts off.
“Sounds like me talking,” I say, “but more eloquent.”
“I’m the student not the guru,” she said. “I’m learning, too, and am just as interested in the advice as I hope the people listening are.”
She then tells me she came to this by way of … an engineering degree.
“I know,” she said. “I’m about as far from an engineer as I could be. I can’t even use a can opener. But I thought a degree in engineering would prove that I’m not an idiot. You know, a lot of people look at journalists and say, ‘What do you know?’”
“True,” I say.
Then she asks, “What’s your day job? I should know this.”
“Uhh, journalist,” I say, then, after a flicker of awkwardness, add, “so I come by not knowing honestly.”
We laugh, because how can you not? Then Anderson shares these bits of home wisdom that work for her, and maybe you, too:
• Decorate with your gut. Let your intuition guide you when decorating. For instance, Anderson recently upgraded the ceilings in a house she’s renovating with a textured drywall treatment. She liked it so much she considered treating all the walls the same way. She called on her gut for advice. “I stood quietly in the center of the first room where the ceiling had been treated, and asked myself how I’d feel if all the walls were the same way. A current of fear ran through me.” She left the walls alone. The drywallers later reassured her that was the right move.
• Let the sun shine in. “I need natural light,” said Anderson. “Lots of it. I've learned how much it improves my performance and mood.” Her south-facing house is flooded with sunlight most of the day, especially after she ditched the heavy drapes and replaced double-hung windows with casement windows. “I know better than to live or work in the dark.”
• Tend to small comforts. Anderson also recently learned the importance of a good chair. “I had a long string of radio shows where I didn’t like how I sounded. I came off sounding strained. Then one day I sounded okay again.” It took her a while to figure out her better sound was due to a new, comfortable desk chair. The old one wasn’t comfortable. “I was stunned by how much better I felt and sounded.” She quickly replaced her home office chair, too, and noted: small changes can make a big difference.
• Break it down. Clutter is decision postponed. “When I see piles spring up, I chip away at them until they're gone,” she said. “If you break something down into bite-sized chunks, you won't dread tackling them.”
• Plop, plop, fizz, fizz. After talking with a guest who billed himself as America's Favorite Housewife she began practicing his tip: drop an Alka-Seltzer tablet in your toilet bowl 20 minutes before cleaning it. The bowl will sparkle for weeks.
• Presentation is (almost)everything. Anderson recently interviewed a former Disney employee. Both remarked on how good and inspired they always felt at the theme park and realized that’s because Disney is all about presentation. “Anything that needs painting they paint,” said Anderson. “A tree grows an errant branch, it’s pruned. Everything looks spotless all the time, which shows that those running the place really care.” Since then, she’s been striving to translate that good, caring feeling into her own home. “I pay better attention. I’m more conscious of what I can do to make the ordinary special. I serve dinner on the pretty dishes. It shows I care.”
• Laughter is the best décor. “What I love most about the people I live and work with is the laughter! There's so much laughter in our house. It's the best decor money can't buy.”
Syndicated columnist and speaker Marni Jameson is the author of “House of Havoc” and “The House Always Wins” (Da Capo Press). Contact her through www.marnijameson.com.