Abandonded Christmas trees: the sad sights of January


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)

Everything Must Go Part 4: How to Fold Your Clothes


Welcome back to the continuing saga of our de-cluttering initiative, inspired by The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up, by the tidying consultant Marie Kondo (aka KonMari–her method is called the KonMari Method). Today I’m just going to focus on folding clothes.

This may seem a little extreme, but this simple change in behavior seems to be making all the difference in our dresser drawers. Very simply, KonMari politely insists (while flicking her pink glitter cat o’ nine tails) that we shape our all of our foldables into neat rectangular packets and stand them cheek-by-jowl in our drawers, rather like file folders in a standing file.

As someone who has always folded clothes into squarish shapes and stacked these squares vertically in drawers, this small change has made a lot of difference for me. You can fit more stuff in a drawer by stacking vertically, certainly, but it’s hard to keep the drawers tidy, because you’re always rooting through the stacks looking for things. You can try to be careful– heaven knows I’ve tried–but eventually the stacks topple and chaos ensues. This is especially true when your drawers are overcrowded to begin with.

When clothes are lined up vertically, like file folders, you can find what you’re looking for at a glance, and remove it without disturbing the other garments. Your drawers remain tidy.

For a simpleminded soul like me, who never thought of this before, it’s a miracle.  Drawer tidying–reasserting the stacks–was always one of my least favorite household chores. I’d let it go for a long time, and live by shamefully rooting through my tangled clothing each day, searching for a certain camisole like a truffle pig rooting through oak leaves.

However, unless you have a vast plentitude of drawer space you will need to thin down your wardrobe before doing this, because you can’t cram the drawers full anymore.

I’ve discovered that this technique applies to panties and bras and socks, too. All my small things are now folded into squarish packets and arranged in two shoe boxes. It works amazingly well. My underwear drawer used to be the most chaotic of all drawers, and now everything exists  in sushi-like tidyness.  I am not sharing an image of this with the Internet. You will just have to imagine it.  It’s pretty simple. Two shoe boxes, one holding socks, the other holding bras, panties and hankies. Two rows in each box.

Let me stop here and talk about the folding itself. When I first read about the folding in Tidying Up, it sounded complicated, in fact, it sounded suspiciously like origami, which I was always bad at. Then I looked at YouTube and found videos of KonMari and similar ones by other neatnicks, who can fold like precision assembly machines, some of whom seem to enjoy arranging t-shirts compulsively by color gradient. And KonMari’s discussion of socks just plain confused me.

But here’s the deal. It’s not hard. Don’t be intimidated by the precision folding. All your foldables, from jeans to underwear, just need to be folded into vaguely rectangular packets by whatever method you think best. Fatter shapes are better, because fat bundles stand up better on their own. KonMari is big into the standing up thing, but since clothes rarely have to stand on their own (say, if you empty your drawer of all but one shirt) it really doesn’t matter.

All you have to think about is the width of the drawer or the shoe box or whatever space you are using. It makes sense to maximize this space by determining how many rows you can best fit in the drawer and how wide each rectangle should be to make that happen. Does that make sense? Our drawers are quite narrow, so they hold two rows of t-shirts. I fold accordingly.

Here’s a short, straightforward video showing KonMari folding a shirt. Her creases are scarily precise–just ignore that–but the overall technique is understandable, even for the slobby. That shape she ends up with is the kind of shape you’re going for. That’s all you really have to know. Peruse YouTube at your own risk for folding fetish videos:

One helpful refinement I’ve discovered is to fold as to make the item more identifiable in the drawer. You can fold t-shirts so their design ends up on the upper edge of the rectangle, for instance, so you can tell one shirt from another. Or you can fold a garment so the neck hole or waist band is facing up, so you can see the tags or logos inside.

My underwear is folded into rough squares, as I said above. That just worked better with their shape and the dimensions of the shoe box. Erik’s boxers and boxer briefs, being more substantial than my panties, are folded into rectangles and live in rows in a drawer, like his t-shirts, unconfined by a shoe box.

I’m still not sure what KonMari is on about with the socks, but I get that it’s not good to stretch the cuff of one sock over the top of another–it stretches the elastic over time, leading to a bad case of floppy sock. So no sock balls. But as far as folding socks, I just sort of roll/fold them up like cinnamon rolls and tuck them into the shoe box in rows. It works in the shoe box.

Our cat, Phoebe (PhoebeKatz), especially approves of this new arrangement. You see, our drawers are not in a standard chest of drawers, but are part of some arcane Ikea organizing system that we repurposed and installed in the closet. There’s head space between each drawer. When we had more clothing, this head space was stacked full of clothes. Now, that space is free. This means that the cats can get into the drawers. Phoebe has made the lowest drawer, where I keep my pants, her new nest, and defends it against all comers. I see her eyes gleaming balefully in there as I write. She just drove off Trout with some truly threatening growls and one good swipe from the depths. I tried to take a picture for you all, but it’s impossible to photograph a black cat sleeping on black pants in a dark hole.

Good thing I don’t have any white pants, eh? (White pants! Can you imagine??? They’d have to be made out of paper so I could burn them at the end of each day.)

Everything Must Go Part 3: Clothing

buck clothes

Cats love the chaos of cleaning

In this post we continue the tale of our tidying up using the KonMari Method discussed in this post.

Clothing is the first category Marie Kondo (KonMari) recommends for sorting, presumably because her clients find it least confusing category to tackle–and also, I suspect, because it is the most immediately rewarding as well. It’s really pleasing to see your shirts hanging in a tidy row, your drawers brought to order, and it can happen fairly quickly.

To begin, she asks that you empty your closets and all of your drawers all at once, and search around the house and root out clothing that might be hiding elsewhere, like the laundry room or your gym bag, and dump them into a huge sorting pile. (In her method you also tackle coats and shoes and handbags at this point.) I put all my things on our bed. It’s sobering to see how much you have, all in one place. My mound filled our entire queen-sized bed, even though I believe my wardrobe was fairly small, relatively speaking.

The premise behind all sorting in the KonMari method is to only keep things with give you joy, things which feel good when you hold them in your hands, things with which you feel a rapport. If you don’t feel this connection, you thank the item for its service to you and “release it” to the thrift store.

For KonMari, it all comes down to your emotional relationship with the item–your positive relationship, that is. Nothing is kept through guilt or false nostalgia. She doesn’t believe in following the more usual sorting advice, such as discarding anything you haven’t worn for a year, or  doesn’t fit your current body shape, etc.,  but I also kept those ideas in my mind as well as I sorted through my clothes.

In the end, I kept very little. My new wardrobe is a little austere, I have to admit. I could probably fit all of it in a large suitcase. But I also have to say that I would pare it down more if I could, because I don’t love any of it all that much–I kept the best of it and what I knew I needed. Ever since I thought of the uniform idea, I see all of my current clothing as something I will soon be rid of. So I suppose I’m not the best role model for someone who genuinely likes her clothes and is struggling to pare down her wardrobe.

But anyway, here are some things to think about when sorting through your own closets. This is more me than KonMari, but the sternness is entirely KonMari inspired. Everything must go!

  • That stain won’t come out, and no, you will not eventually dye over it or  sew a patch over the stain or upcycle it in any other way
  • You probably won’t repair it, but if you insist, set aside things which need mending/hemming/buttons etc. and give yourself a strict deadline for repairing them or taking them to a tailor/seamstress-and a near deadline too, like 48 hours. If you haven’t bestirred yourself to fix the problems, it’s time for the clothes to go. I fixed the buttons on one blouse, and made a failed attempt to upcycle a t-shirt. Having made these gestures, I feel okay about sending the rest of it off.
  • You don’t need so many t-shirts. Seriously, how many do you have?
  • Related: You don’t need so many work clothes. Yes, you need some grubbies, but not drawers full of worn out shirts, disreputable shorts, raggedy jeans and stretched out yoga pants. Remember, today’s clothing is tomorrow’s work wear. There will always be more. The same goes for “comfort wear,” which in our house is fairly indistinguishable from work clothes. I’d like to sturdy functional, pocket-rich work clothing and clean, comfortable, attractive lounge wear. Somehow this will all work with the uniform idea.
  • You don’t have to keep it because it was a gift, or because it was expensive, or because you wore it on a special occasion. The memories are in your head, not in the garment.
  • Take an honest look at your underwear. Treat yourself to some new underwear for the new year.
  • Some items of clothing are perfectly lovely and have fond memories attached but just are not you anymore. They relate more to the person you used to be, and we are always changing, after all. Better to let them go free, and find someone else who can love them now, than to doom them to sit in the back of your closet. (This was the most difficult one for me. This round, I finally gave away some of my more fanciful clothing, stuff which related more to my younger self. I gave away my  silly hats and opera gloves and silk scarves and even the black shearling coat I wore at our wedding. I simply don’t wear these things anymore. The coat was the hardest of all. I loved that coat back in the day, but now I only love the memory of loving it. To comfort myself, I try to think of some Young Thing shopping in the thrift store, thrilled to find my rock star coat, as I was thrilled to find it in my day.)
  • On the other hand, it is okay to keep some things simply because they make you feel good when you see them and touch them. KonMari tells the tale of some hideous old t-shirt she’s had since she was a teenager which she won’t wear in public but loves, and won’t give up. The key is that the thing should earn its space in your closet. If it gives you joy in the present, it should stay. If it gives you only memories of joy, it should probably go.
  • Don’t get too hung up on the item’s destination. You may intend to sell some of your things, or give them to someone in particular, but don’t let them malinger, waiting for you to deal with them. That’s the path to renewing the clutter in your home. Imagine bags of things marked “to sell” hunkering in some corner, gathering dust – don’t do that to yourself. Don’t undermine your tidying. As with mending, give yourself an action deadline, and if you don’t meet it, accept that it’s okay to give these things away.
  • Finally, a cheat of sorts, one which KonMari would not like. If you have an out-of-sight space, like a garage,  you can, for a short period, put aside a sack of clothing which you are unsure about giving away. Think of it as a trial separation. Honestly, as in most relationships, that “not sure” feeling usually translates to “no.” But sometimes we need a little help letting go. Enjoy your spacious new closet. Don’t look at these items for a month.  Then open up the sack. If you feel a sense of “Oh, I missed you so!” then maybe that piece of clothing should stay. This is rare. I’ve done this many times, and I’ve only reclaimed clothing once or twice.

Next up, we’ll continue with clothing and talk about KonMari’s thing about folding clothes and drawer organization.

Everything Must Go: Tidying Up at the Root Simple Compound

We live in a small house (900 sq feet) which was built in 1920. The upshot of this is lots of charm but very little storage space. Folks back in the 20’s simply didn’t have as much stuff as we do now, and this is reflected in the tiny closets and minimal drawer space of older homes.

Erik and I aren’t hoarders (at least I don’t think we are…), but stuff does have a way of piling up over the years, especially when you’re a maker/DIY/homesteady sort of household. As a result, our house was bursting at the seams. Trying to find a place for everything was becoming a Sisyphean task, reminding of nothing so much as playing with those seriously un-fun tile games which children used to get in goodie bags–I dearly hope they’ve become obsolete by now–those little plastic grids of moveable tiles with only one open space which needed to be arranged into some sort of order.

At our house, books which could not fit on shelves stood in towers on the floor.The kitchen table had become some sort of horizontal storage depot for everything from bags of whole grain to random root vegetables to homeless Mason jars and shopping bags. Cabinets and drawers were all filled to capacity. Cleaning around all this stuff was a huge chore. No matter how much we cleaned the house, it would rebound into un-tidyiness overnight.

Then, the other day we had an epiphany, which I call the Junk Drawer Epiphany. We were standing in the kitchen, bickering about the lack of storage space there and solutions for that–we disagreed on what type of new storage systems we’d add on to accommodate all the homeless things. Finally, Erik stalked over to one of our kitchen drawers–we have 3 kitchen drawers in total–the one dubbed the junk drawer, opened it up and said, “What’s in here, anyway?” I realized that other than some tape and glue and a few light bulbs, I neither knew nor cared what was in there. If the whole thing burned or was transported into another dimension I’d never notice the loss.

I fished through it and took out the few things of real use, most of which belonged in the newly organized garage, and few of which belonged in elsewhere. A few more things were good enough to send to the thrift shop, and the rest I gleefully tipped into the trash. Suddenly we’d increased our kitchen drawer space by 1/3.

This made us start to look around the house with new eyes. Our new mantra became Everything Must Go.

At this point we remembered a book one of our readers mentioned, and which has been making the publicity rounds of late, The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up, by the tidying consultant Marie Kondo (aka KonMari–her method is called the KonMari Method). She’s from Japan, where people have the same rabid hearty consumerist impulses as we do here in the U.S., but considerably less space for storage.

When I first read about the book, I understood the gist of it, but wasn’t prepared to engage with those ideas. It seemed unrealistic, frankly, and a little anal-retentive. But after The Epiphany, it all made sense and we were both were ready to hear what she said, so we bought the book.

Her premise is simple enough, and there’s no need to buy the book if you’re resolute enough and don’t need prodding. Basically all she’s saying is that we have too much darn stuff for our own good, and all of the sorting and rules and organizational systems in the world are never going to overcome that basic fact.

If you have too much stuff, you’ll always be caught in the endless hamster wheel of searching for a place for your junk and cleaning around it. It’s a disease caused by the combination of relative affluence and cheap consumer goods. The only way to organize your house and ease your cleaning routine is to take the plunge and just get rid of a ton of stuff. And we’re not talking about sending a bag or two to the thrift store every now and then, mind you. Her private clients typically pare their possessions down by two-thirds or even three-quarters over the course of one intense purge.

KonMari’s philosophy is that you only keep those things that bring you joy and resonate with you, so wherever you look in your newly-purged house, you feel and sense of peace and well-being, as opposed to the guilty, overwhelmed and vaguely harassed feeling we too often experience when we look at our bulging closets.

After such an extreme winnowing, there is a place for everything in your house–an easily accessed, logical, spacious place. She’s dead set against organizational gadgets and schemes. If you pare down your belongings sufficiently, you don’t need them. It’s easy to put your things away at the end of the day because there’s no more shifting, cramming or stuffing to make room for them. You have a handle on your possessions–you know what you have. You’ve reconciled with them, and honored them. The house stays clean.

It is difficult to deal with the guilt over “wasting” things, just throwing away a perfectly good object, but it does help to realize that if you don’t even know where something is, or remember that you have it at all, it is already in effect, wasted. It is existing in a forgotten limbo in a bin under another bin at the back of your closet. The only way to make amends with the world on that front is to reform yourself so you will only bring truly needed, wanted and loved things into your house henceforth (and know how to release things when they are no longer needed). In the meanwhile, there’s no need to punish yourself by keeping stuff around, because you vaguely think it’s worth something, or you might find use for it someday, or because it was a gift, or because you’re embarrassed that you bought it at all and don’t want to face that guilt.

KonMari has a specific methodology and a sequence for purging your household, and we’ve been following that–not because it couldn’t be done another way, but because following her scheme seemed safer and easier than making up our own (our own methods never having worked before, after all). Most importantly, she places the sorting of photos and personal mementos last on the list, because these are the hardest things to sort through, and are the points where we all tend to get stuck.

Personally, I like KonMari’s approach, especially her Shinto-influenced tendency to personify objects. I’m a bit of an animist myself, so it was easy for me to take her advice of trying to see clutter from the object’s point of view. They do not desire to be squashed, neglected, forgotten and/or resented. They want to be of use, or set free. More hard-nosed types might find this way of thinking a bit silly.

Also, I enjoyed imaging soft-voiced KonMari standing over me in a prim little pink suit, keeping me on task like some sort of bizarre cross between a good fairy and a dominatrix.

Certainly there are many tidying books out there, some of which may suit you more. Just today we were reading a very positive review of It’s All Too Much by Peter Walsh in the Cool Tools book, which sounds similar in its insistence that a purge is the way to start, and that by clearing your clutter, you clear your mind and your heart, and make room for new growth and possibilities.

We’re deep in the heart of the purging process now. As I write from the island oasis of our sofa I’m looking out at a sea of bags destined for the garbage, the recycling bin or the thrift store. It feels good. We’ll spend a couple more posts talking about how we worked through some of these purging categories, and what we’re learning along the way.

Behold the bodkin


There’s nothing as pleasing as using the right tool for a job. Take the bodkin.

First, isn’t bodkin a fantastic word? It’s so…medieval-y. And it feels good in the mouth. I checked the OED on it, and it is a very English word, but its origins are obscure. It used to refer to several things: a dagger (he himself might his quietus make / With a bare bodkin), a long hair pin, an awl, and the meaning it has retained through today: a needle-like instrument with a blunt knobbed point, having a large (as well as a small) eye, for drawing tape or cord through a hem, loops, etc.  

It also had another meaning, which is totally fun:  transf. (colloq.) A person wedged in between two others where there is proper room for two only; esp. in phr. to ride or sit bodkin .  How wonderful is it that there is a word for being that person uncomfortably wedged between two others in the back seat of a small car (or  in the olden days, a coach)?  I refer to this state as “riding the hump” but “riding/sitting bodkin” is so much better. Modern usage would be: “I’ve got short legs, so I’ll ride bodkin.”

Let’s make 2015 the year “riding bodkin” came back into the language. Come on, people!

Uh…where was I? Oh yes. The sewing bodkin.

I had to buy a bodkin as part of my kit for sewing class–they insisted we have it for drawing elastic through casings and whatnot. But oh my goodness, this thing has been such a happy little miracle around the house for pulling errant drawstrings back through sweatpants and swim trunks and things like that.  Yes, you can use a big safety pin, but somehow I never have a big safety pin on hand. Before the bodkin, I often accomplished the task with a small pin, or nothing at all. It is possible to shove a naked cord through by force of will, it just takes hours.

But I tell you my friend, if you have a bodkin, it takes about 10 seconds to fish a cord through a garment.

There are a few different models of bodkins, though they are all essentially large blunt needles. Mine is extra fancy in that one end opens up, like a pair of tweezers. A ring on the needle’s shaft slides down to lock the arms in place with a firm grip. This allows you to hold onto the tape or cord which you are drawing without piercing it with a hole. The opposite end has a big needle eye for pulling thread and string.

I love my shiny little bodkin.