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

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.

2015 Resolutions

vintage-new-years-card-1359488426
It’s time for the annual confessional: did we stick to our resolutions from last year?

And in this same post we’ll state our 2015 goals for the record, so we can take this same walk of shame next year.

(And is it just me or does 2015 not seem like a very futuristic date? Where is my jet pack?)

Erik’s 2014 resolutions:

1) Finish hardscaping the backyard, grow more vegetables.

Sort of a fail here. Some work was done but there’s more to do. In the last hours of 2014 I did manage to finish a cool hexagonal deck by the chicken coop.

2) Perfect a 100% whole grain sourdough bread

Success! I can make a reliably good whole grain boule. Now I’ve got to write up the recipe!

3) Take a class —which involves a a trip

Nope, unless going to the Heirloom Exposition in Santa Rosa counts.

4)Good health

Success! Paying for a few sessions with my Y’s rehab specialist have paid off.

Kelly’s 2014 resolutions:

1) Make shoes in 2014

I did this!

2) Make or buy a new bed.

I did not do this. It remains a conundrum. And in the meanwhile, the lumps in our old mattress have shifted or something so it’s not as uncomfortable as it was when I made the resolution. In other words, there’s no urgency behind this one right now, but it will come up again. (For reference, see this post from 2013)

3) Learn to surf.

I’ve been making a little progress. I’m not a surfer yet by any means, but I’m getting good at paddling and spinning the board, but need to work on speed and timing. I  need to spend more concentrated time in the water this coming year.

So, what is my score? About 60%?

Next up: resolutions for 2015

A joint project for Erik and Kelly:

Refurbishing the kitchen: new paint, new floor, cleaning everything up. We’ve been putting this off, and it needs to be done this year. Preferably in the first quarter of the year.

Erik’s 2015 resolutions

  1. Write a whole grain ebook. Now that I can make a decent whole grain loaf it’s time to see if I can teach it.
  2. Take an electronics class. I’ve built circuits in the past but I can’t say that I fully understand how they work. I’ve also fooled around with an Arduino, but I need to deepen my knowledge.
  3. Take a woodworking class. I’ve got some basic skills, but it’s well past time to get better at carpentry.
  4. End internet addictions. No more procrastination by idly checking Facebook, Twitter etc.
  5. Athletic challenge. I’d like to go to the national fencing tournament in San Jose this year. But I need something else. Maybe a long run or backpacking trip.

Kelly’s 2015 resolutions

  1. Produce the uniform. The uniform idea came up during 2014, and I’ve been learning how to sew, and now have a machine, so there’s no excuse not to be modeling my uniform for all you folks sometime this year.
  2. Design and produce a ceramic oil lamp
  3. Take up archery again. This is not a very specific goal, but I’d be happy if I got my equipment in order and went out stump shooting a few times before the weather gets hot.
  4. I’m committing to daily exercise, and exercising more than once a day–breaking up my exercise into shorter intervals so I don’t have those sedentary days where I sit on my rear all day long.
  5. I’m also committing to limiting my internet access to two daily sessions. No more checking email throughout the day, no more going on Facebook “for just 5 minutes.”
  6. And finally, I commit to meditating quietly for a few minutes the first thing every morning.

Big List of Earth-Friendly (homemade, compostable, recyclable, no-plastic) Holiday Decorations



My previous post on this subject garnered so many excellent suggestions that I decided to condense all the suggestions into one big list for easy reference. In addition, I’ve added a new board to our Pintrest account called Compostable, Recyclable Homemade Holidays.  I’ve started gathering projects which reflect this list.

A big thank you to Bellen, fishbee, Hazel, Indigotiger, rainey, Michael and Practical Parsimony for offering suggestions!

I know–the last thing Pintrest needs is yet another board devoted to holiday decorations! But I figured my standards are a little sterner than most, so it is a worthwhile project. I really want these decorations to be able to return to the earth. This means I’m avoiding paint, glitter and Styrofoam (not to mention plastic and batteries!)  and I prefer things which don’t feature glue, or can use a simple non-toxic white glue.

Why this obsession with natural ornaments?

I like the idea of ephemeral decorations–decorations which are meant to last only for the season, maybe only for a week or two. It is more work to make decorations afresh every year, but gathering materials and making simple ornaments is an act of meditation and appreciation.

This kind of work helps us slow down and reconnect with nature. This alone can be enormously calming at a stressful time, and may help us back into a more expansive state of mind. The holidays can be so loud and jangly and rushed. Just stepping back and spending some time admiring the geometry of a pine cone or the cleverness of an acorn helps cleanse the mind of all that noise.

Seasons come and go. Holidays come and go. Ornaments which reflect the seasons should come and go, too. The fact that they don’t last, that they have to be savored in the correct season, is what makes them special.

Also, this kind of decorating also saves on storage space, and saves the labor of packing up ornaments once the season is over.

Most of these things can go to the recycle bin or the compost pile–or just to some obscure corner of nature to return to the earth.

But, more romantically, they can be hung outside for the remainder of their lives: ornaments for the fairies. This makes it easier to part with them at the end of the season.

Finally, these ornaments are light–they don’t burden our earth with yet more plastic and toxins. They aren’t made in some far off factory by an underpaid laborer. They are not helping the bottom line of some soulless big box store.

The List

This is broken down into two parts: the first list includes ornaments that come straight from nature, and which will only last a short time. Collect them on walks around the neighborhood, collect them as mementos of trips to the mountains, the beach, or grandma’s house. Bring them home and hang them straight up! At the end of the season, they can be returned to the earth.

The second list is more crafty, requiring more input from you, and creating ornaments which you may or may not decide to keep.

Straight from nature:

  • Sturdy winter berries
  • Rose hips
  • Dried herbs and flowers
  • Moss
  • Feathers
  • Cool looking seed pods ( milkweed pods, thistle heads,  sweet gum tree pods, sycamore pods, star anise, Indian cigar tree pods, magnolia pods–keep your eyes open in the autumn and you’ll find lots) If you want sparkle, sugar them instead of getting out the glitter.
  • Nuts
  • Clusters of acorns
  • Sticks covered with pretty moss and lichen
  • Curls of bark
  • Seashells
  • Dried hops
  • Fresh ivy
  • Fresh holly
  • Dried citrus peel spirals
  • Dried citrus slices
  • Wild grapevines made into tiny wreaths
  • Pine cones
  • abandoned or human-constructed bird nests, filled with moss, pine cones, quail eggs, candy…
  • Succulent rosettes–should last a week or more after cutting

Some assembly required

These projects require some crafting, and some are not as ephemeral as the ornaments above–you may want to keep them from year to year. Or, they are made stuff you find in your house, instead of out in nature.

If glue is necessary, use non-toxic glue. Make the yarn and cloth projects biodegradable by choosing cotton or wool yarn, and natural fiber cloth. Making little cloth ornaments is a great way to use up scrap cloth and yarn. Save colorful scrap paper for the paper projects.

  • Popcorn/cranberry strings (pro-tip: stale popcorn threads better)
  • Gather a few evergreen branches by the branch ends to make a broom or fan shape, decorate with a spray of berries, tie with a ribbon. Much easier than a wreath!
  • A few cranberries strung in a circle= mini wreath
  • Re-purpose old jewelry directly as tree ornaments, or use pieces in making other ornaments (loose beads, pins, chain, etc.)
  • Tie scraps of pretty cotton ribbon into bows on tree limbs
  • Make paper chains
  • Sugared flowers, leaves, berries, etc. White sugar adds a little natural bling to things
  • Milkweed pods glued into star shapes
  • Bay leaves glued into wreaths and stars.
  • Paper cones with raffia hangers filled with…sweets? berries?
  • Blown eggs, especially quail eggs
  • Origami birds, stars, boxes, wreaths, etc. (use up scrap wrapping paper!)
  • Paper birds
  • Paper snowflakes
  • Gingerbread figures
  • Bundles of cinnamon sticks
  • Homemade rock candy
  • Orange peel roses
  • Citrus pomanders (you know, clove-studded oranges)
  • Oranges with decorative carving of the peels  (see this, scroll down)
  • Stars made out of twigs
  • Creatures and whatnot nestled in walnut halves
  • A tiny boat made of a walnut half and a paper sail
  • Make little creatures out of teasels, acorns, milkweed pods, etc.
  • Make cookie-type ornaments out of a simple dough made of applesauce and cinnamon–add applesauce to cinnamon until it forms a dough. Just leave to dry–no baking, or maybe try drying in a very low oven. These smell great, and their scent can be revived by sanding them.
  • Tiny God’s eyes
  • Hollow an egg and cover surface with beans and seeds and rice. Can dip the finished egg in wax to seal,  can also swirl some wax inside the egg to strengthen it
  • Make tiny felt dolls, dressed with scrap cloth
  • Crochet tiny stockings
  • Cardboard stars wrapped with yard
  • Bird seed ornaments, either to hang outside right away or after the holidays
  • Needle felted creatures
  • Hang up corks from special bottles of wine or champagne
  • Slice a loofa into rings and add natural fiber bows to make little wreaths
  • Goats made out of straw (Yule Bocks)– a Finnish custom

If you want to add to this list, speak up in the comments and I’ll move your suggestions into the list.