The Horror Beneath the Armoire

IMG_0527I lost my keys, and being in that state of advanced desperation where you search for your keys in the most unlikely of spots, I made the mistake of looking beneath our armoire.

This ungainly piece of furniture has a mere inch or two gap between its lower face and the floor. Better it should have a higher clearance, or no gap at all, but instead, there is this little gap that resists brooms and vacuum wands.

Of course, tidy people would approach this difficulty by moving the armoire so they could dust beneath it at decent intervals. Or maybe they’d wrap a coat hanger with a dust cloth and slither around on their bellies, stabbing into the darkness. Really, who knows what lengths tidy people might go to? Not us, that’s for certain. We choose to ignore that space entirely between the times we paint the bedroom.

So, anyway, looking for my keys, I turned on the flashlight on my phone and peered into the gap, but still couldn’t see very well, because the gap was so low. So I took some blind pictures with the flash, and they revealed a horrifying yet charming landscape of dereliction: a dollhouse version of the Blair Witch Project, in which three lost mice are hopelessly trapped in nightmare landscape of dust bunnies and cobwebs.

And, ironies of ironies, while I did not find my keys, I did find a lost vacuum cleaner attachment.

(Apologies for any trauma these images have caused our tidy friends.)


How to polish your silver effortlessly–with Science!

silver 1

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!

silver 2

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.

silver 3

Flatwear in the rinsing bowl, looking much better!

De-Cluttering for DIYers, Homesteaders, Artists, Preppers, etc.

Interior of a Laboratory with an Alchemist. David Teniers II. Oil on canvas, 17th Century

Interior of a Laboratory with an Alchemist, David Teniers the Younger, 1610-1690, Eddleman Collection, CHF, Philadelphia

We are a special people and we need special exemptions, yes?

Our posts on de-cluttering seem to have hit a nerve, judging by the amount of feedback we’ve had, on the blog, on social media and on the street. We’re really happy if we’ve helped anyone at all streamline their lives a bit. But one protest, or exception, or question which comes up a lot is, “What about my [specialized materials] for my [craft, hobby, preparedness lifestyle]?”

I figure anyone who reads this blog–anyone who is more of a producer than a consumer–will have collected tools and materials for production. These tools and materials don’t fit neatly into the KonMari scheme. The KonMari method, as well as other types of de-cluttering programs, including techno-minimalism, seem to assume our homes are places where we simply relax, surrounded by our well-pruned and curated items.

In a DIY household, there is always something messy going on. For us, relaxation is tinkering and making and cooking and repairing, not reclining on our immaculate sofa, quietly tapping on our iPad.

Continue reading…

034 Decluttering


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 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.)