Spark Joy: An Illustrated Master Class on the Art of Organizing and Tidying Up

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I figure by now that there are few of you, at least those of you who have de-cluttering on your radar, who don’t know that Marie Kondo, author of Tidying Up, has a new book: Spark Joy. We’ve been shamelessly selling it in our margins here on the blog for a good while, but I’m just now getting around to reviewing it. Of course, we wrote extensively about our journey with Tidying Up here last year.

If you’ve read Tiding Up, your first question would probably be, “Do I really need another book by her?” and the answer is, no, in the spirit of decluttering, you could do just fine with the first book, especially if you are fully satisfied with the decluttering you accomplished with that book.

However, I think the second book is helpful, and I’m glad I have it. It has re-inspired us toward more tidying activities. We did some good decluttering last year, but we had sort of fallen off the wagon, allowing clutter to accumulate in certain hot spots and continuing to avoid working on our most dreaded clutter zones.

This book has me excited about tidying up once more. It also clarifies some of her philosophy and drills down a bit into the specifics of decluttering different types of things and spaces, like kitchens and craft supplies. There are also–praise be–diagrams of her arcane folding techniques. These things made the book worthwhile for me.

The book itself is interesting as an object. It’s smallish, and pretty. Inside, the illustrations are Japanese-cute line drawings. It doesn’t look like any cleaning or organization book I’ve ever seen, and that is what makes it special. Kondo understands that tidying is a spiritual activity, not an organizational activity.

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The same week we got this book, we also had a library book out about home organization. Erik had grabbed it off the new book shelf at the library without looking at it until we got home. It shall remain nameless, but we quickly realized it was just a copiously illustrated catalog of things you can buy to more efficiently store all of the junk that you’ve bought. And that is exactly what we over-consumers do not need.

Kondo wants to teach us discrimination–how do we tune in to what we love, how learn what “sparks joy” in us. She holds up a vision of us all living in homes which are self-constructed shrines dedicated to that which we truly love. In such a world, we would not own many things, but we would love the things we own, and be in positive relationship with those things.

Many of us feel overwhelmed or confused by our possessions, perhaps guilty that we have so much, but yet still unsatisfied with what have, and meanwhile guilty about the money we’ve wasted on things we do not use. Yet we keep buying as we search for happiness. This is the trap of consumer culture. Kondo offers us a way out by asking us to re-evaluate our relationship with our possessions. This re-alignment or re-evaluation is actually a very interesting spiritual maneuver. I need to think about this some more, and will do another post on that topic specifically. But in the meanwhile, yes, it’s a worthwhile read.

Let me know if you’ve read it–I assume many of you have by now, because I know we have some KonMari folk in the readership–and whether you have found it useful or not.

p.s. Thanks to Pilar for tip me off to this book to me in the first place!

George Rector: M.F.K. Fisher’s Dirty Old Uncle

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We struck gold in the depths of the library the other day when I dug up Dine at Home with Rector: A book on what men like, why they like it, and how to cook it, by George Rector, c.1937.

Rector (1878-1947) was a restaurateur and popular author. This book is ostensibly a cookbook–I don’t know what else it would be–but it doesn’t have recipes per se. Instead, he just mentions how to cook things as he’s steaming along. I’m in love with the hardboiled yet strangely comforting prose (though I do have to ignore the casual sexism and racism of the period).

Seems most cookbooks these days range from bland to, at best, passionately sincere. Old George is just in it for the fun. The pleasure of reading him is filed in my brain alongside the pleasure of reading M.F.K. Fisher, though he’s more like her dirty old uncle. Which is to say you’d happily read either them even if you have no intention of ever cooking anything ever again.

Speaking of casual sexism, I’m particularly fond of the chapter titled “When the Wife’s Away”, which steps befuddled menfolk from the basics of grilling a steak (“Steak is a good thing to begin on; don’t be scared off because it’s one of the aristocrats of the cow kingdom…”), to how to scramble eggs over a double boiler (“that’s the dingus Junior’s cereal is cooked in…”) to making “that noble experiment known as Rum-Tum Ditty” for the boys when they come over for cards. Rum-Tum-Ditty, I have to say, defies explanation. Let’s just say the ingredients include whipped egg whites, a pound of cheese and a can of tomato soup.

Speaking of befuddled menfolk, Erik is quite fond of this passage about making Hollandaise sauce (from the chapter titled “A Touch of Eggomania”), not least because it has introduced the term “hen fruit” into our lives:

For eggs Benedict, you need Hollandaise sauce, an additional contribution of the hen fruit to the pleasures of the palate, and to the confusion of cooks. Hold on to your hats and we’ll round that curve. Add four egg yolks, beaten to the thick, lemon-colored point, to half a cup of butter melted in a double boiler. Stir as you add the eggs and keep stirring–stir with the calm and temperate perseverance of the mine mule making his millionth trip down the gallery. That’s the secret–that and getting the water in the bottom hot as blazes without ever letting it come to a boil. Just before the mixture gets thick–timing again–put in a tablespoon of lemon juice and cayenne pepper to taste, and I hope and believe you’ll have a crackajack Hollandaise. Which is something to have, because it’s cantankerous stuff, as the tears shed by millions of cooks down the ages all testify.

How to polish your silver effortlessly–with Science!

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Tarnished flatware waiting for a bath

Here at Root Simple, we live high on the hog. We eat off of silver spoons every day. It’s true. I inherited a set of silver flatwear and utensils from my mom’s side of the family, and instead of saving them for Christmas and Thanksgiving, I use them every day.

This is fairly revolutionary, as I come from a family of Savers. Recently, I unearthed a set of six snowy white damask dinner napkins from the family treasury, painstakingly ironed into perfect squares, centered on a cloth covered board and wrapped in a lace cloth and tied with a ribbon. They’re so perfect it’s clear they’ve never been used.

These may have been a part of my grandmother’s wedding trousseau, or maybe even my great-grandmother’s. But whoever gathered them together so carefully, they never thought any dinner party in their entire life was special enough to use them.

Well, this attitude ends with me. Erik and I don’t have kids, and we’ve hit middle age, so I’m burning the bridges behind us. Everything must be used. No more squirreling and saving. Which brings me back to the silver.

We use silver every day, but it gets tarnished. It’s used too frequently to get that  heavy black tarnishing which afflicts unused silver pieces. Instead, our forks and knives and spoons turn a sort of purplish grey. It’s not real pretty.

Hand polishing the lot of it would only be fun if I could do it in the butler’s pantry in Downton Abbey while gossiping about the gentry upstairs. So I looked up that “foil trick” that was half-lodged in the recesses of my mind, and I discovered its a real thing, and it works like a charm.

Tarnishing happens when the silver combines with sulfur in the air and forms silver sulfate. The black stuff, the tarnish, is silver sulfate. When you clean silver by hand, using silver polish, you are physically rubbing off the tarnish–and some of the silver. When you do this trick with the foil, you are actually reversing the chemical reaction–turning the silver sulfide back into silver. In other words, you become a wizard. And I ask you, would you rather be a wizard or a scullery maid?

The caveat: This process strips away tarnish very effectively–too much so, say connoisseurs of fine silver and the gentle patina of age. It will strip all of the tarnish out of all the patterns and nooks and crannies on your silver objects, rendering the surface somewhat flat and new looking in its universal brightness. Just so you know.

The incredibly easy process:

My primary reference for this was this lecture demonstration from the chemistry department of The University of Massachusetts. There are many versions of this trick on the Interwebs, but some of them are unnecessarily complex or persnickety. You do not need vinegar! You do not need batteries!

This linked information is straightforward, and being from a chem department rather than some random blogger (like myself), it’s reliable. It also explains the science if you’re interested–seems like it’s an oxidation and reduction process? As an art major, I’m just waving my hands around at this point.

You’ll need

• A non-metal container to hold the silver to be cleaned. For flatwear, a glass or enamel baking dish works well. You want to be able to spread everything out.  (I hear you can also use an aluminum baking pan, like one of those disposable roasting pans. In this case you can skip the foil.)

• Aluminum foil

• Baking soda (sodium carbonate)

• Salt

• Hot water

1.Line your dish or other container with foil.

2. Arrange your silver in the container.  All the pieces should touch foil and be completely submerged. Don’t crowd them too much.

2. Stir a small amount of salt and soda into hot water. How much salt and soda? How much hot water? I don’t think exact quantities matter a whole lot except that you should use equal amounts of salt and soda, and don’t dilute it to a crazy extent.  Let’s say use a tablespoon each of salt and soda per quart or two of hot water. UMass used rather less, but this is what worked for me.

3. Pour the hot soda/salt water into the container and watch the magic!

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A minute or two into the bath–the color change comes quickly

You should see some changes right away. My not-so-tarnished flatwear only took a couple of minutes total.  A more heavily tarnished piece will take longer, maybe up to 10 minutes or so.

4. Remove the clean pieces of silver from the water and rinse with clean water and dry with a cloth. You could opt to further bring out the shine with some polish or a polishing cloth.

The solution is non-toxic, so you don’t have to worry about wearing gloves, and you can pour it down the sink without guilt.

Just FYI, I was able to do three consecutive batches of flatwear in the same water bath, although I could see some weakening of the effect by batch #3.

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Flatwear in the rinsing bowl, looking much better!

Soil Positive or just Soil Curious? Join Nancy Klehm For a Workshop on Soils

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Our friend and soil guru Nancy Klehm is coming back to town soon, and will be teaching an awesome day-long “soil truthing” workshop for a small group of lucky people. Come to learn about soil health, life and remediation via compost and mushrooms and mulch. In this era of climate change, healthy soils key to resilience, carbon sequestration and water conservation, so come and learn!

Soil Truthing – A Hands-On Workshop

When: Saturday, February 6th

Hours: 10am – 4pm

Where: Silver Lake, address provided upon registration

Cost: $75

Class size: 6 – 15 people

Facilitator: Nance Klehm, Director of Social Ecologies , www.socialecologies.net  (See bio below)

Class Plan:

1. introductions and bio-remediation presentation

2. landscape reading exercise in neighborhood

~potluck lunch

3. compost bin and soil tour of root simple front and back gardens

4. three soil installations – TBA

What you will learn:

– basic soil structure and biology

– qualitative methods of assessing soil health

– how to sample soil for a lab

– landscape reading skills

– backyard-scale bioremediation strategies including compost, mulch and working with fungi

Participants should:

Bring food to share at the potluck and their own water bottle

Wear work clothes and bring a pair of gloves, a notebook and a pen

Registration Information

Register via Paypal using “Register” button below. Your payment is registration.

First come, first serve: 15 people maximum

Refunds and cancellation: Full refunds available up to 48 hours prior to class, 50% refund within 48 hours.

Email us at [email protected]




Your Paypal invoice will say “Los Angeles Bread Bakers.”

About Nancy Klehm

Nancy Klehm is a steward of the earth. For over two decades she has designed landscape, taught ecological systems and built food systems in collaboration with others. Her approach is one of instigation and activation of already existent communities, and her work demonstrates her commitment to redefining the way human populations coexist with plant and animal systems on this planet.

Nancy has worked on projects for the Museum of Contemporary Art, the Lincoln Park Zoo, the Chicago Park District, the Field Museum of Natural History, the Annenberg Foundation, Heifer Project International, The Center of Land Interpretation in Los Angeles, The Edible Schoolyard (Berkeley), LearningSite (Copenhagen), GiveLove Haiti (Port au Prince) and other private, public, and institutional clients.

She has lectured/taught courses at UCLA, Northwestern University, The Hammer Museum, The Museum of Contemporary Art, Canadian Centre for Architecture (Montreal), The Graham Foundation, Archeworks, MICA, U of Cincinnati, University of Illinois at Chicago, The Art Institute of Chicago, Dartington College of Arts (UK), Jutland Kunstakademi (Arhus, DK), Machine Project (LA), City Repair (Portland) and a multitude of community groups.

More boneheaded plant representations from Hollywood

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Writing about the Star Wars Romanesco cameo reminded me of a truly egregiously bad plant representation I saw on TV recently. I have to admit that these rants probably only serve to illustrate how trashy my taste in entertainment actually is–so I have to admit that I pretty much deserve to be disappointed. Yet I cannot remain silent in the face of such horror.

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In the deeply unpromising pilot to the YA series The 100, a group of handsome teens are walking through a stand of ferns in a redwood forest-type biome. The ferns (and, indiscriminately, the adjacent moss tufts) have been studded with purple pansy heads by the set designers. Nevermind that ferns don’t flower. One kid picks a pansy head and tucks it behind his love interest’s ear. A smarty pants kid watching this interaction notes that they’ll be sorry, because, he says, the plant is poison sumac. He’s not joking or positioned to be wrong–his character is written as somebody who knows plants.

I ask you:

Would James Bond engage in a high speed chase in a 1995 Toyota Corolla?

Would the makers Friday Night Lights have the high school football players carry basketballs instead of footballs in the game scenes, because after all, a ball is a ball?

Would Carrie Bradshaw slip on a pair of Crocs and call them Jimmy Choos?

No, no and non.

We’d never make mistakes like that justify them as being unimportant because they were just small details in a silly movie or TV show. Details matter a lot when the objects have cultural significance, as designer shoes and footballs do. This is why it is fine to be  stupid about plants, because nobody cares about plants, and we have lost every last vestige of plant literacy.

I don’t think this is a case of me being picky. I’m not being a plant geek here, pointing out some minutiae of botany. I’m talking about the misuse of really common plants that people do know, or should know.

Ferns, for example, are a plant that even the most determinedly uninterested person will still be able to identify as a fern. If you can only identify five plants, a fern would be one of them, along with grass and roses. Pansies are not as easily nameable as ferns, though they are incredibly common. Even people who don’t know what a pansy is called will still probably recognize them as a flower they’ve seen in flower beds. So why mix ferns and pansies and call the resulting Frankenplant poison sumac? This combination of laziness and arrogance takes my breath away.

More, it’s sorta dangerous. Bear with me here. In this degenerate world, no one needs to know the name of any plant to get by day to day (food plants excepted), but if a person ever intends to go outside (optional, I know) they’d better know how to identify local plants which cause contact dermatitis. Like poison sumac.

Poison sumac (Toxicodendron vernix) is a shrub or tree which grows in wet spots in the Eastern parts of the U.S. and Canada. It looks nothing whatsoever like a fern. Or a pansy. It is apparently even more toxic than its itchy relatives, poison oak and poison ivy. Any teen who thinks to romp in those woods should know the difference between a fern and a poison sumac bush, and The 100 is doing a real disservice to its young audience by misrepresenting that plant. May the producers be looking at their iPhones the next time they sit down at a picnic, and miss that patch of poison ivy. My curse be upon them.