Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Finding Joy in the Mundane

(The layout of this post and photos might be 'off' and messy if you're viewing this on your mobile device or on a laptop with a screen resolution different from mine. Sorry about that!)

About 2 years ago, I wrote a post on how I personally felt that the world revolves around 4 things and one of them was our obsession to feel. I went on about how some might have felt that adulthood felt boring in comparison to childhood because we had less 'firsts' and we were becoming desensitized to many things. Well, you can read about it here if you're interested.

I don't know how true that was, but it was just something I was starting to feel at the time and I was trying out this new thing called 'doing one new thing a week'. I wanted to experience many 'firsts' again. The articles on the internet were throwing grand suggestions like travelling to new places and trying out extreme sports, but I decided to just create my own list. This list was of things I was curious about, lifehacks I wanted to try out or things I wanted to do when I was a child but couldn't for various reasons. It just made sense at the time. I was turning 30, I had access to stuff then, so why should I whine about never having the opportunity to, say, learn a musical instrument? I mean, I was almost 30 then, dammit. If I really wanted something that badly to still be bitter about it by 30, I should just go ahead and do it, not whine about how envious I was of the kids who could learn playing the piano in primary school. 

Going through the list made me realize I didn't really want some of the things I thought I did. One of the items in my list was 'using a dishwasher' (well, this should give you a glimpse of what kind of list I had). I've just always hated washing the dishes and fantasized about using a dishwasher every time I saw it in a film. My opportunity came when my tenancy agreement came to an end in 2014. Immediately after, I rented an AirBnB which happened to have a dishwasher. It was then I realized I actually hated dishwashers and that I found it more of an inconvenience more than anything. Plus, I felt guilty because I felt like I was running up the water and electricity bill every time it ran. So the dishwasher and I parted ways. I was relieved though, because at least I knew now. At least I won't end up being a 60-year-old who is still fantasizing about using a dishwasher.

I've got to be honest, it really wasn't one new thing a week. Unless me watching a new movie every week was categorized under me doing a 'new thing'. I usually did that one new thing on the weekends, and some weekends I was catching up on work and others were me lazing around watching Netflix. Some months I only did one new thing a month, and others were one new thing every week. So I averaged them out and called them my 'one new thing a fortnight'. Most of them were fairly simple things too, like trying out a new recipe like making almond milk or burger patties from scratch, or exploring a new local attraction. They were my short-term happiness. 

But recently, I rediscovered.. a slightly longer-lasting form of happiness through it.

I've been renting for a couple of years now, and it's usually old houses run by old folks in their 70s who love to DIY. I love 'restoring' (for lack of a better word, the stuff I do is really simple, nothing fancy) old furniture and exchanging tips with my landlords. My previous landlord in 2014 actually taught me a cool plumbing trick which I found useful to this day. I was that kid who, after learning about the U, S and P bends in Kemahiran Hidup in secondary school, went home eagerly to apply my newfound 'knowledge', much to my parents' dismay. So when these lifehacks articles and videos were making rounds on the internet, you can imagine how excited I was. I was that person who'd go and buy a small bag of walnuts for £1 to buff out some old wooden furniture in 2014. It was just so, very, oddly satisfying.

Before and after buffing an old wooden furniture at the place I was renting with three pieces of walnuts.

Then I moved out and into a modern home and kind of forgot about the whole restoring thing. Until recently.

Last year I moved into an old home. For me, it was ideal: Unfurnished, my landlord was nice and my neighbours minded their own business. I knew it was old, because of the poor insulation and the guy who lives above me told us he's been renting his flat since 1988. My landlord is 73 with a twisted sense of humour and doesn't bother me much. Once, during a fire safety check in my flat, he told the woman from the City Council that she didn't need to check the locked cellar, it's just where I kept my stash of drugs and alcohol. Needless to say, she was not amused. He also insisted on repainting the rooms before I moved in (it really was to cover up the mouldy walls, but never mind).

The old flat had its own charm, even though almost everyone who visited us was blind to it. Haha. The previous tenant seemed to have left in a hurry. The freezer stank of something fishy and was filled with some brown liquid and no amount of lemons, dishwashing liquid, lemongrass or baking soda got rid of the smell. You know what worked in the end? I found a container of frozen kaffir lime leaves in an Asian supermarket, tore up about 20 pieces and threw it in the freezer. Yeah, daun limau purut. Amazing.

After a few months the place started to look like a home, but there was something that never failed to bother me. The poor caulk job in the bathroom. It was messy and mould was starting to set in the rubber. What's caulk? Well, it's that black or white sealant you always see around sinks, bathtubs, walls and things like that. Let me just google up a photo of what it is:

For nearly a year, every time I looked at the sink or bathtub, I was filled with annoyance. Every single shower, every time I used the toilet, every time I brushed my teeth, I felt like the shitty caulk job was taunting me. And I didn't want to bother my landlord about it since he was 73 and would probably insist on doing it himself. I had a sinking feeling he was responsible for the previous caulk job anyway. Can't blame him, it's not as easy as it looks.

"Well, why don't you do something about it?" my partner asked.

"It doesn't bother you?" I asked.

"No, not really."

So that was that. That was gonna be my 'one new thing a fortnight' thingy for that week. 

I watched a couple of videos and read a few blogposts to see what I was getting myself into, and went shopping on Amazon. I was pleasantly surprised to find that everything I needed cost slightly under £13.

Piu piu piu! Check out my caulking gun.

So, below (on the left) is what's been irritating me every morning. 

Before and after removing the old caulk. New caulk hasn't been applied at this point.

Ugh, just looking at the 'before' picture is making me irritable. The sinks were fairly easy. But then came the bathtub..

No amount of scrubbing got rid of the black mould on the caulk. There was no other way, I had remove all of the previous caulk and re-caulk it. I wasn't prepared for what greeted me when I removed the caulk though.


It was nasty! Just nasty! I had to clean them up before re-caulking. I don't know how long ago the previous caulk job was, but I'm glad I got the anti-mould caulk for this. To be frank, the whole thing was tiring, especially when it required me to squat or kneel for hours in the bathtub while doing it.

But I felt like the results were so worth it.
It wasn't perfect, but it made me feel so much better. It kind of made the tub look new too.

Let me just skip through the boring and tedious process of caulking, especially when it comes to curved edges and you don't have a masking tape for the straight lines. I used my fingers to push and smoothen the caulk and ended smelling like ammonia in the end, well, rubber tappers would know that smell. I didn't have any spirit or whatever for the caulk that ended on the metal taps, so I used WD40 instead and that worked fine. Then I ended up smelling like WD40. But my taps were shiny.

With the caulk and WD40 applied. See, shiny. I had spent so long on this that the sun had set after I was done so I had to take this picture with the bathroom light on. 


So in the end, my back and legs hurt, I smelled terrible, my fingers were sticky but my taps were shiny and the previous messy caulk job was gone.

It's incredible how doing this small thing changed the days after. Looking at the sink while brushing my teeth made me happy. I started smiling while staring at the bathtub. I was like a crazy person.

I suddenly had this newfound appreciation for neat caulk jobs and those who did this thankless and unappreciated job. 

And that's the thing with my previous 'one new thing a fortnight' activities. They just felt so, temporary. I'd cook something new, eat it, and then it's gone. But when it came to something like caulking, I really felt like this small thing changed my daily life in a big way. So here's to more of doing things like these, especially those I've been postponing, and to rediscovering joy in the mundane.