Saturday Tweets: From Archery to Jaywalking

An indispensible urban tool: the titanium spork

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One of my best allies in my effort to cut down on my use of disposables is a titanium spork. It’s strong, pleasant to use, and weighs virtually nothing. I bought it many years ago in preparation for a long hiking trip, but it soon proved its utility in the urban environment. It’s always in my bag, a permanent part of my “everyday carry”, and I use when I’m eating food from home as well as in situations where I’d otherwise be forced to use plastic flatware.

I love its simplicity and utility. The prongs of the spork are substantial enough to work as a fork, but aren’t hard on the mouth when it’s used as a spoon. I have another so-called spork, not a true spork, if you ask me, but a Frankenstein’s monster with a spoon on one end and a fork on the other. Do not be tempted by the promise of having a full fork and spoon in one utensil–it just doesn’t work. When one end is in your mouth, the utensil on the opposite end threatens your nose and eyes, not so much literally, but psychologically. That’s disturbing, so it remains with the camping gear. (KonMari will want me to set it free soon.)

My true spork, the REI Ti Ware spork, is a perfect blend of form and function. While I bought this spork many years ago, REI is still selling a version of it which looks identical, except for having a more prominent logo.  REI no longer carries this particular spork, though it carries other titanium sporks. There’s also a very similar looking titanium spork over at Amazon, produced by Toaks.

Some of you may wonder whether I need a knife, and the answer is I don’t need one in most situations. I usually carry a pocket knife, and I can bring that out if I need to slice something like bread or cheese, but 95% of the time the spork alone is sufficient. Also, it’s sturdy and thin edged, so the side of the spoon can cut through softer foods.

I’ve heard that back in the day people did not expect to be provided with eating utensils in public establishments, so travelers carried their utensils with them. Today this might seem crazy, but to me, if anything is crazy it’s the idea that we have the God-given right to be provided with a set of plastic flatware which we will use once and only once, for the approximately ten minutes it takes us to down a combo platter, and then consign that set of plastic utensils to an immortal afterlife in a landfill. Meanwhile, I imagine that I’ll request that my spork be buried with me, along with the rest of my grave goods.

 Addendum: I just found a cool titanium spork, the Apocalyspork, which is more expensive than mine, but is handcrafted in the US out of aerospace scrap. In addition, the handle is tricked up with a bottle opener, a hex key and who knows what else.

034 Decluttering

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On episode 34 Kelly and Erik discuss their experience decluttering the house using the methods of Marie Kondo. During the discussion we mention:

If you want to leave a question for the Root Simple Podcast please call (213) 537-2591 or send an email to [email protected]. You can subscribe to our podcast in the iTunes store and on Stitcher. The theme music is by Dr. Frankenstein. Additional music by Rho. A downloadable version of this podcast is here.

Everything Must Go Part 5: The nitty gritty

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A reader asked to see unvarnished “before” photos of our place, so I took a few pics which will illustrate this post. Above is a zone we’ve not attacked yet–the dreaded hall cupboard. Note the VHS tape on the far right.

Welcome back to the never-ending saga of our de-cluttering initiative, inspired by The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up, by the tidying consultant Marie Kondo.

Sorting and purging has slowed down here at Root Simple as we bog down in the details. In Tidying Up, Marie Kondo, aka KonMari, has a specific recommended order for sorting your belongings. The first three categories are clothing, books and papers, respectively. At the end of her list she places photographs and mementos, as these are the most difficult to sort due to the emotional baggage attached them. This makes sense. And those first three big categories are easy to tackle, and make a big difference quickly, so they also make sense as a starting place. But where things get difficult is in the middle categories.

I don’t understand KonMari’s logic here. After the first three categories, she calls everything else in the house komono, which translates as  miscellaneous items. I think of it as a handy word for the contents of a junk drawer. Within the category of komono, she has a recommended order of proceeding, starting with sorting CD/DVDs, followed by beauty products, accessories, valuables, electrical equipment…and so on.

We did sit down together and sort out our CDs– what a trip through the 90′s that was! But we did not make much progress on thinning, because all it did was ignite a desire to digitize all these old albums.

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Holding my camera high to capture the top of the armoire, revealing a veritable Tutankhamun’s Tomb of hidden treasures.

From there on, though, our sorting took a turn for the worse. We just couldn’t make ourselves work in those smaller categories, because the  categories headings and their order didn’t seem to work for our stuff. What we started doing instead was attacking certain areas of the home, e.g. the cabinet under the kitchen sink, the dust bunny refuge under the bed, the mysterious items on top the armoire, the pantry shelves. This approach works, sorta, but not as well, I think, as category driven sorting. There’s more hesitation, more confusion.

Were I to do this again, I think I’d make up my own list of lesser categories, and stick to that. It is more logical to sort by category, because by rooting up all similar items in a household, you can quickly determine how much redundancy you have, what you should keep, where it should go.

We still have a few more spaces to unpack, and it’s too late to return to categorical sorting, so we’re just going to have to finish what we started.

An interesting discover: we’ve gone solo on these smaller sorting missions–these sorting sorties, if you will–and instead of being a more efficient use of time, solo work somehow makes everything less efficient. Alone, we dither. Together, we bicker, but the process moves along quickly.

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A peek into the shadows beneath our bed. In the bag, a pair of boots meant to go to the consignment store two years ago. The floor beneath the bed is all clear now.

Be aware, also, that solo sorting can lead to tears and recriminations. For instance, I disposed of a several dusty old 12 oz bottles of homemade mead–a few of which were helpfully labeled, “Bad Mead?”–which have sat on a back shelf unloved and undrunk for many years, for so long the printer ink on the labels was fading. Far longer than any aging period.

Erik caught me draining the bottles and just about had kittens. He’d planned on carbonating these bottles…someday…to see if that would improve the flavor and now I’d gone and ruined all of his work. He gathered up the survivors in his arms and hustled them off to the garage.

You see, Peaceable Sorting Wife had transformed into Ruthless Disposal Fury. It can happen to anybody.

And yes, yes, I should have consulted him before I acted–I was in the wrong. Honestly, I was caught up in the momentum and didn’t want to wait to consult him.  In my feverish mind I knew he’d want to keep them, but I also knew also he’d never even notice if they vanished. And I would have gotten away with it, too, if not for those meddling kids and their dog…

In short, sort all but the very most personal items as a household, so everyone has a say in what stays and what goes.

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Once we gathered them all in one place, we discovered we had enough jars to can all the artisanal kraut in Brooklyn.

Another thing which happens as the sorting deepens is that you turn up some really puzzling items.

For instance, would anybody like a poster signed by all the stars of the Jim Rose Circus Side Show c.1991? I suppose it should go straight into the paper recycling, but after surviving a quarter of a century in a tube, it claims value it simply does not have. There are many things like this hidden in the depths of our closets, things you do not want, but which seem like they might be valuable, due to age or oddity. These are the most dangerous items of all.

Or perhaps you’d be interested in my not-so-attractive family china? Why couldn’t they have chosen a better pattern? Does this go to the thrift store, or should I try to consign it? But honestly, who would pay good money for such a fuddy-duddy china?

I did find that company which buys old china so they can sell replacement pieces to other people, but they put up so many hurdles just to tell you if they’ll take your set, I can’t even deal with them.

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You know, our family never once ate off this stuff. My grandma kept it squirreled away. Who knows when it was last used–but I suspect prior to WW2. My mother was sly like a fox to fob it off on me.

And what about junk silver? That is, silver coins without collector value, bent silver spoons, ugly jewelry. Do we keep it to trade for MREs and water during the zombie apocalypse? Do we take it to one of those seedy CASH FOR GOLD! places and accept whatever bad deal they offer? Do we borrow a kiln and melt it all down into DIY silver bullion? That, at least, would save space in our drawers. What do we do????

The further we get down this road, the more irksome the remaining unsorted areas become. They’re the canker on the rose, the stye in the eye, the pimple on prom night. As tired as I am of sorting, I’m dying to get into those places and root them out.

Anyway, I should not be so negative. This is just a frustrating phase. The initial excitement has worn off and now it’s down to hard work. That said, there is pleasure in seeing free space opening up around the house.

The changes are not super-obvious–it’s not like we started off living in a tottering labyrinth of our own possessions like the Collyer brothers–but the little improvements are really pleasing to the soul.

It’s so nice to open a cabinet or drawer and see empty space. Or find a cat sitting in the vast cleanliness beneath our bed. The tidy dresser drawers remain a daily joy. I finally took care of that shopping bag full of seeds which have been living behind the bedroom door for a year. All of our spare change (a hundred bucks worth!) has been collected and converted to a more usable form. These are all like little pockets of sunshine. It’s going to be good to finish.

Abandonded Christmas trees: the sad sights of January

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The last of the Christmas trees are appearing on sidewalks and curbs. When I look at these, all I see is organic matter crying out to return to the earth. These trees don’t want to go to the landfill, they want to stay in the flow, to become nutrients and habitat. The way I see it, we owe them decent treatment in return for the joy they gave us over the holidays.

It’s not that hard to strip the branches off a tree, and throw those branches and needles beneath another tree as mulch. The trunk can be made into firewood–or hugelkultur!

(Of course you don’t want to mulch with trees sprayed with fire retardant or anything other fishy business)

Local Politician Tom LaBonge Wants LA Covered in Astroturf and the City to Pay For It

Astroturf and Tom LaBonge

Our local utility is offering residents a sizable rebate to remove lawns and replace them with less water intensive plantings and mulch. This makes long term sense in what appears to be a permanent, climate change related drought here in California.

Unfortunately, Los Angeles City Councilman Tom LaBonge is pushing for the inclusion of artificial turf in that rebate program. He, apparently, has a vision of Los Angeles, as one big tawdry miniature golf course. Here’s his motion annotated with my opinions:

As drought conscious residents of the City of Los Angeles look for ways to reduce their water consumption, business is booming for the synthetic turf industry. [And that’s a reason to give them more money?] A recent study revealed that the annual amount of water needed to maintain the average lawn each year is about 34,000 gallons or about 670 bathtubs full of water.

The quality and appearance of synthetic turf has gained popularity, and especially with the drought, turf has become more accepted. [By whom? It’s still plastic. And you need to water it in the summer to make it cool enough to walk on and to wash out pet urine. It provides no benefit for wildlife.] Residential turf is growing exponentially in Southern California, but home installation still accounts for less than 13% of the total turf installations. [Again, is this a reason to subsidize it?]

With rising water rates and with the current lawn removal rebate programs that are offered to residents of the City of Los Angeles, there is a need to look at options such as artificial turf as an alternative for drought friendly landscaping.

I THEREFORE MOVE that the Department of Water and Power be requested to report back with a study on the potential benefits of implementing artificial grass for home installations and how it can make an impact in the current drought conditions. [I’m certain that local water officials already studied the option and, wisely, concluded that they did not want to subside artificial turf. Why waste staff time?]

Let me predict the results, should Tom’s AstroTurf vision become law. In a few years we’ll see acres of ripped, smog and dog feces stained plastic turf that will eventually end up in our overflowing landfills. The present rebate program is an opportunity to create landscapes that support birds, bees, butterflies and other wildlife at the same time as they reduce water consumption.  Tom’s future is just a plastic version of the same old lawn paradigm that just doesn’t make sense in our climate.

Thanks to Travis Longcore for the tip on this.

Saturday Tweets: Methane, Almonds and Werner Herzog’s Life Advice

More Thoughts on Thinning the Library

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The books on our shelf we want you to see.

Kelly’s series of posts on the KonMari tidying method and my post on thinning out the our books, have thrown an ugly spotlight on the inner hoarder in all of us. I don’t think any other posts on this blog has been rewteeted as much as these tidying rants. Mark Frauenfelder linked to the book post on BoingBoing and the resulting comment thread contained a lot of great ideas and resources (and some awesome bookshelf porn). I thought I’d roundup a few BoingBoing reader notions:

Go Digital!
A BoingBoing commenter added a rule to my list, “If you can find a digital copy on Google books or other, toss it!” As far as ebooks go, I’m just not a fan of looking at screens for hours at a time. But the shift to “E-ink” displays is a game changer. Kelly has a Kindle Paperwhite she really likes. Ebooks bring up a lot of thorny issues, of course, about the future of libraries, digital rights management and the fragility of digitally stored information. These are topics well beyond my area of expertise. Let’s just say I’m open to both digital and old fashioned paper. I like that a lot of classics are available online for free and that digital libraries don’t take up space in our house. But I also appreciate the look and feel of physical books and the fact that they don’t require batteries.

Selling Books
I do this too. I sell through Amazon and just started using an Amazon seller’s app on Kelly’s iPod to facilitate this. One problem with this is that you end up with a pile of books that sit around until someone buys them. And just because a book has a high used price on Amazon doesn’t mean that anyone wants to buy it (weirdly high prices are often, in fact, indicate a book nobody wants). To avoid having stack of books sitting around waiting for a buyer, one commenter in Portland noted how easy it is to go down to Powells and sell and purge all at once. Alas, that doesn’t fly in Los Angeles (note to locals: please correct me if I’m wrong about that).

Bookcrossing.com
I had to resort to Wikipedia to grok Bookcrossing:

Bookcrossing . . . is defined as “the practice of leaving a book in a public place to be picked up and read by others, who then do likewise.” The term is derived from bookcrossing.com, a free online book club which was founded to encourage the practice, aiming to “make the whole world a library.”

The ‘crossing’ or exchanging of books may take any of a number of forms, including wild-releasing books in public, direct swaps with other members of the websites, or “book rings” in which books travel in a set order to participants who want to read a certain book. The community aspect of BookCrossing.com has grown and expanded in ways that were not expected at the outset, in the form of blog or forum discussions, mailing lists and annual conventions throughout the world.

For me, Bookcrossing confirms our hidden animistic view of our possessions. I’m not sure this facilitates getting rid of stuff. If you’re a Bookcrossing fan, please correct me. Despite reading the Bookcrossing website multiple times, I’m not sure I understand what it’s all about.

Scheduling Periodic Purges
Several people noted that curating a library (or clothes, for that matter) is an ongoing process. Some pare possessions quarterly, others yearly. Others, like us, wait for a crisis. Some have a kind of one in, one out rule–basically limiting your library to what will fit on your shelves, disallowing homeless tomes or buying more bookshelves.

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Jennie Cook’s Little Free Library

The Little Free Library Movement
Our neighbor Jennie Cook installed one of these down the street from us. It’s a box in the parkway. Anyone can leave or take a book. One funny thing that’s happened is that I’ve managed to pick up an number of our neighbor Doug Harvey’s books out of this box while he managed to pick up a half dozen of my books at the local library book sale. Thanks to our local Little Free Library, I’m looking forward to reading Doug’s copy of Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake.

Public Library Quality
No doubt about it, local libraries vary in quality and the quantity of holdings. One the reasons I enjoy being in a big city is access to a large library system.

Vanity
I love this comment by BoingBoing reader “Medievalist”:

You reveal my guilty secret… I arrange my books based on vanity, essentially peacocking my tastes and attitudes to visitors. Guy de Maupassant is not likely to be down at child’s-eye level, nor is Charles Schulz likely to be five feet off the floor. The bookshelves visitors see make me look far more erudite than I really am, with my vast collection of pre-1970 science fiction de-emphasized and my much smaller collection of philosophical, religious and art books well to the fore.

Yeah, it’s probably shallow. Or at least in my case it is, since I’m kind of embarrassed by it and would never have admitted it if you hadn’t done first.

Guilty as charged! My Harvard classics library is at eye level in the living room. My embarrassing books got purged. I suspect Doug now owns my copy of Nazi UFO Secrets.