More Thoughts on Thinning the Library

books

The books on our shelf we want you to see.

Kelly’s series of posts on the KonMari tidying method and my post on thinning out the our books, have thrown an ugly spotlight on the inner hoarder in all of us. I don’t think any other posts on this blog has been rewteeted as much as these tidying rants. Mark Frauenfelder linked to the book post on BoingBoing and the resulting comment thread contained a lot of great ideas and resources (and some awesome bookshelf porn). I thought I’d roundup a few BoingBoing reader notions:

Go Digital!
A BoingBoing commenter added a rule to my list, “If you can find a digital copy on Google books or other, toss it!” As far as ebooks go, I’m just not a fan of looking at screens for hours at a time. But the shift to “E-ink” displays is a game changer. Kelly has a Kindle Paperwhite she really likes. Ebooks bring up a lot of thorny issues, of course, about the future of libraries, digital rights management and the fragility of digitally stored information. These are topics well beyond my area of expertise. Let’s just say I’m open to both digital and old fashioned paper. I like that a lot of classics are available online for free and that digital libraries don’t take up space in our house. But I also appreciate the look and feel of physical books and the fact that they don’t require batteries.

Selling Books
I do this too. I sell through Amazon and just started using an Amazon seller’s app on Kelly’s iPod to facilitate this. One problem with this is that you end up with a pile of books that sit around until someone buys them. And just because a book has a high used price on Amazon doesn’t mean that anyone wants to buy it (weirdly high prices are often, in fact, indicate a book nobody wants). To avoid having stack of books sitting around waiting for a buyer, one commenter in Portland noted how easy it is to go down to Powells and sell and purge all at once. Alas, that doesn’t fly in Los Angeles (note to locals: please correct me if I’m wrong about that).

Bookcrossing.com
I had to resort to Wikipedia to grok Bookcrossing:

Bookcrossing . . . is defined as “the practice of leaving a book in a public place to be picked up and read by others, who then do likewise.” The term is derived from bookcrossing.com, a free online book club which was founded to encourage the practice, aiming to “make the whole world a library.”

The ‘crossing’ or exchanging of books may take any of a number of forms, including wild-releasing books in public, direct swaps with other members of the websites, or “book rings” in which books travel in a set order to participants who want to read a certain book. The community aspect of BookCrossing.com has grown and expanded in ways that were not expected at the outset, in the form of blog or forum discussions, mailing lists and annual conventions throughout the world.

For me, Bookcrossing confirms our hidden animistic view of our possessions. I’m not sure this facilitates getting rid of stuff. If you’re a Bookcrossing fan, please correct me. Despite reading the Bookcrossing website multiple times, I’m not sure I understand what it’s all about.

Scheduling Periodic Purges
Several people noted that curating a library (or clothes, for that matter) is an ongoing process. Some pare possessions quarterly, others yearly. Others, like us, wait for a crisis. Some have a kind of one in, one out rule–basically limiting your library to what will fit on your shelves, disallowing homeless tomes or buying more bookshelves.

freelibrary

Jennie Cook’s Little Free Library

The Little Free Library Movement
Our neighbor Jennie Cook installed one of these down the street from us. It’s a box in the parkway. Anyone can leave or take a book. One funny thing that’s happened is that I’ve managed to pick up an number of our neighbor Doug Harvey’s books out of this box while he managed to pick up a half dozen of my books at the local library book sale. Thanks to our local Little Free Library, I’m looking forward to reading Doug’s copy of Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake.

Public Library Quality
No doubt about it, local libraries vary in quality and the quantity of holdings. One the reasons I enjoy being in a big city is access to a large library system.

Vanity
I love this comment by BoingBoing reader “Medievalist”:

You reveal my guilty secret… I arrange my books based on vanity, essentially peacocking my tastes and attitudes to visitors. Guy de Maupassant is not likely to be down at child’s-eye level, nor is Charles Schulz likely to be five feet off the floor. The bookshelves visitors see make me look far more erudite than I really am, with my vast collection of pre-1970 science fiction de-emphasized and my much smaller collection of philosophical, religious and art books well to the fore.

Yeah, it’s probably shallow. Or at least in my case it is, since I’m kind of embarrassed by it and would never have admitted it if you hadn’t done first.

Guilty as charged! My Harvard classics library is at eye level in the living room. My embarrassing books got purged. I suspect Doug now owns my copy of Nazi UFO Secrets.

Everything Must Go Part 4: How to Fold Your Clothes

erikdrawer

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

192luw5c2uh7ojpg

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?

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.

029 Toasters, a Pledge and a Compostable Christmas

b9a90c7df4722208a0510692b32b646c

On the holiday edition of the Root Simple Podcast, Kelly and I discuss non-electric toasters, Kelly takes a pledge and we conclude with a conversation about compostable Christmas decor. During the podcast 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.

Who Killed the Non-Electric Toaster?

pyramid non-electric toaster
I don’t regret my unsuccessful attempt this Sunday to fix our broken toaster. It made me remember designer Thomas Thwaites’ attempt to build a toaster from scratch and how well that project showed the complex, interconnecting supply chain involved in manufacturing even the simplest electronic device.

The failure of our toaster was caused by a break in the heating wire. Following these instructions, I attempted to mend the break, but it was in an awkward location and, like most objects these days, the toaster was not built to be fixed.

Disassembling the toaster laid bare the flaws in the design of all toasters. The heating wire (called nichrome wire–short for nickel-chromium) is fragile and extremely vulnerable to an errant bread crust.

I vowed to find an alternative and remembered seeing non-electric toasters that people used to use back in the 1920s when our house was built. These types of toasters have not died out entirely. Most non-electric toaster designs look like the one above. Some Googling  also led us to an innovative looking non-electric toaster called the DeltaToast.

Counter-intuitively, all of these simple stove top toasters coast about twice as much as electric toaster, at least in the US. This leads me to my question for you, our dear readers. Have you used a non-electric toaster? How do they compare to electric toasters?

Note from Kelly:

I noticed that the stove-top or pyramid toaster seems to live on in Australia and New Zealand, judging by the number of businesses I found selling them there. The toasters were also much more reasonably priced than they are here– but shipping to the US was crazy expensive, scudding that possibility entirely. So I’m particularly interested in responses from readers in these countries. Who is buying and using them?

Also, there are many antique stove-top toasters available on Etsy for about ten to twelve bucks, but they’re all rusty and worse for wear.

How to add sparkle to your natural decorations: sugaring

sugaredtoyon

In my last post, about our mostly all-natural Christmas tree, I mentioned that some of the ornaments are sugared leaves and berries. Sugaring is a really easy, simple way to bring a little bling to natural ornaments, and to invoke snow and frost inside the comfort of our cozy homes.

Sugaring is the green alternative to spray paint and glitter, or heavens forfend, that white foamy stuff that comes in spray cans. After the holidays, this all-natural bling can go straight into the compost pile, or out into some remote corner of the yard to be reabsorbed into nature.

I associate sugaring mostly with cake decorating (think of pretty little sugared violets and borage flowers on wedding cakes), but I remembered it when I wanted to fancy up my ornaments.

It’s super easy. Or more specifically, the basic technique is easy, though I think bakers who capture delicate flowers in a perfectly even coat of shining sugar have the skill down to a fine art. But sugaring sturdy things, like berry clusters or leaves, is simple.

You’ll need:

  • One egg white, furiously whipped
  • White sugar
  • A small paint brush
  • Possibly a fine mesh strainer to shake the sugar though, but you can sprinkle sugar with your fingers, too.
  • A system for holding the finished product while it dries. Things on sticks or with stems can be propped up in a tray of sand or rice. Flat things can go on racks. Things already hanging from ornament hooks could be dangled from a clothes hanger to dry.

All you do is paint the object with a thin coat of egg white, then sprinkle sugar over it while wet. If the egg white coat is too thick it will A) form snotty looking drips and B) soak up all the sugar after a few minutes. If this happens, you can just add more sugar, but the sugar layer could get kind of chunky looking if this goes on too much.  Oh, and I also discovered C) the hard way: a very thick coats of egg white may encourage mold development before it manages to dry. So keep it thin.

Put the ornaments somewhere safe to dry, as mentioned above, and don’t let them touch each other, or they’ll stick. They’ll be dry in a day or so, depending on your weather.

And that is it. If you want more pictures, details and pro-tips, there are really nice instructions over at The Wandering Spoon.

sugared sage