by Ann M. Colford

Ah, new beginnings ... It's a brand-new year, and the old slate has been wiped clean. Oh, sure, it'll fill up again soon enough, but there's a wonderful feeling of optimism that takes hold at the start of every year.

Along with the hopefulness come the inevitable resolutions: This year I'll incorporate regular exercise into my schedule; I'll definitely lose ten pounds (or 20 or 30) before summer; I'll quit spending money on books and start an IRA instead. (OK, I may as well just admit defeat right now on that last one.)

But what about resolutions for the home? Whether a homeowner or a renter, everyone has those nagging tasks that never seem to get done. Organizations from the National Association of Home Builders to the Consumer Products Safety Commission have ideas about things we should all resolve to get done this year around the house - just in case we're not beating ourselves up well enough. Their suggestions make sense, of course, and the list looks like all those things we know we should be doing anyway, all those things perfect householders do without even thinking.

* Make sure routine maintenance is up to date. Check vital systems like water, electricity, and heating. Examine the roof for loose shingles - once the snow melts, that is - and don't forget to clean the gutters and downspouts come spring. Routine maintenance is just like an annual medical checkup, the experts advise; it'll save money in the long run and catch little problems before they grow into big ones.

* If family circumstances have changed in the past year - the addition of a new baby, perhaps, or maybe Grandma's moved in - review your home with an eye toward safety.

* Get your finances in order. Start a reserve fund for emergency repairs and a yearly budget for routine maintenance; plan ahead for necessary capital expenditures. Check on your homeowners' or renters' insurance, making sure the limits reflect your current situation. Keep all receipts for home improvement projects that increase the value of your home; it'll help at tax time when you choose to sell.

OK, those are the experts' recommendations. And they're fine suggestions. But let's get real: either you've already done all that stuff, or you already know you should be doing it and a flimsy little resolution isn't going to make it happen. What we need - or what I need - are goals that are definable, measurable and achievable. In the spirit of community service (another resolution), I put forth the following thoughts.

Organize the junk drawer. Yep, everybody has one. Mine's in the corner of the kitchen. It's a catch-all for all those little things that I need while working around the house: rubber bands, recycled plastic produce bags, those little twisty-tie things for closing the recycled plastic produce bags, a 10-year-old tube of rubber cement, and the spare keys to an apartment I moved out of in 1988. (You never know when those will come in handy.)

Now, I'm not suggesting that you eliminate the junk drawer. No, the place of the junk drawer in American culture is a subject worthy of a master's thesis. But cleaning it out will help you find those critical items when they're really needed. I like to clean mine out about every five years - usually when I move.

Lest you think this is a meaningless waste of time, take heed from the story of my friend Bob. His junk drawer morphed into a junk closet and later grew into a junk room in the basement. Beware.

Finish those projects you've started but never completed. We all have a few of these, too. Remember when you started to hang a new curtain rod last summer but then the phone rang, and you've just never gotten back to it? It's time. Again, I'm not insisting on full completion of every single unfinished task; just focus on one -- or two, if they're small. Remember: definable, measurable and achievable.

If completion is too much of a challenge, then cut your losses and move on. Admit defeat - but remove all traces.

Unpack the boxes from the last time you moved. If you moved within the past year, then you may include this one on your list without embarrassment. If, however, you've been living in the same home since the Reagan administration, then you've got some explaining to do. In that case, it's probably better to just give the stuff away.

And, remember, if exercising is on your list of personal resolutions, then doing a few maintenance chores can burn off the calories, so you'll be working toward two goals at once. Happy New Year!

Publication date: 1/08/03

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