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.)

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 Part II: Books


Will I ever read this Baudrillard scroll?

Kelly’s summary of the methods of Japanese tidying guru Marie Kondo seems to have struck a nerve both on our blog and in Facebook. Some people find Kondo’s techniques liberating and in others they instill an existential dread. More than a few expressed a desire to drag a reluctant partner into a Kondo cleansing.

One of the first steps on Kondosans’ path to a tidy house is to go through one’s books. We managed to accumulate more books than our shelves could hold. An untidy and anxiety producing book pile had developed in the living room. It was time for a book cleansing.

But let me first state our rule about buying books. My gym is mere steps from the Los Angeles Central Library from which I can easily access over 6.2 million books, movies, CDs and downloadable media. I don’t buy books that I can check out at the library unless I need it as a reference book or if the library doesn’t have it. Even with this rule we still managed to accumulate a library’s worth of volumes, some never touched.

The triage I went through:

The book was released to the universe if:

  • I had read it and absorbed the information
  • The library has a copy
  • It does not give me joy
  • I don’t think I’ll ever read it
  • My interests have changed
  • I read part but don’t think I’ll read the rest

I kept the book if:

  • It’s a volume I refer to for reference on a regular basis
  • It gives me joy
  • It’s especially beautiful as an object (only one or two books actually ended up in this category–I’m not a book collector)
  • I really intend to read it
  • I want to re-read it

Both Kelly and I got rid of I came to much the same conclusion as Nassim Taleb does in this tweet:

If time passes and a book get more relevant it’s likely to stay relevant (this is the Lindy effect Taleb is referring to). Just like Taleb, the books on philosophy and theology stayed in addition to most of the appropriate technology and gardening manuals. We have no math books (not our subject to put it mildly) and popular science and non-fiction books I get at the library. Everything else “died” and went to our local library’s book sale.

What can make it difficult to let go of books, even ones we never really intend to read, is that our personal libraries are an external manifestation of our souls. And, in my case that external manifestation is so distinctive and crazy that our friend and neighbor Doug Harvey, when perusing the weekly library book sale, instantly recognized that I had purged my books. He actually bought at least eight of them. And he noted that I had gotten rid of The Food Journal of Lewis & Clark that he had gifted to me over the holidays. A lot of the books that I purged can only be described as 90s geek-boy paranoia. If you’d like some of those 90s books plus a few outdated poultry care books, get thee to the Edendale library book sale on Wednesday. That’s assuming our local hipsters haven’t scooped up all my books in a fit of 90s nostalgia.

Have you done or are you considering a book purge? What will stay and what will go?