The Secret of Tidiness Revealed

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I have a theory that the world can be divided into three types of people: tidy people, untidy people and hoarders. I’ll leave hoarders out of this discussion since that’s a confounding problem requiring years of psychological counseling. That leaves us with two remaining tribes: the tidy and untidy. Both view each other with great suspicion and confusion.

To the untidy person, the secrets of keeping a neat house seem as exotic a skill as singing popular hits in Esperanto. To the tidy person, untidy people possess a dim level consciousness, perhaps on the level of a mollusk–able to sense that something is wrong but lacking the limbs or neural networking necessary to pick up those piles of mail or dispose of that tangle of obsolete computer cables.

But I think I’ve discovered the secret to tidiness thanks to the loose lips of a member of the tidy tribe (thank you Caroline!). Tidy tribe members will laugh at the obviousness of this, but here it goes. The secret is a daily, perhaps twice daily, ruthless sweep of floors, counters, tables and desks. No random objects shall be allowed to be where they don’t belong.

Tidy tribesters are like ruthless cops, taking the nightstick to messes, slapping handcuffs on piles of old magazines, locking up things where they belong. No Miranda rights. Stuff’s just gotta be put away. The result? Clear surfaces and floors makes for easier cleaning. That’s it.

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We’ve seen and tried a lot of housekeeping schedules and schemes. In my humble opinion they are too complicated, hard to stick to and, in the end, doomed to failure. Clearing the deck, on the other hand, is both savage and simple.

Marie Kondo, the reining prophetess of getting rid of stuff, would likely argue that de-cluttering is a necessary first step towards tidiness since it’s hard to clear the deck if there’s no place to stuff the stuff. But some future, hypothetical de-cluttering exercise might also be used as an excuse for inaction by the generally idle members of the untidy tribe. The chicken and egg timing debate between clearing the deck and de-cluttering may be the only real nuance in my tidiness theory. I’ll concede that some measure of sending stuff to the thrift store first may be necessary for the more wayward members of the untidy tribe.

What do you think? Tidy tribesters–are you laughing? Untidy tribesters–are you weeping/making excuses/confused/skeptical? And I haven’t even touched on the issue of a tidy person living with an untidy mate!

Kelly Update and a Great Podcast

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Time to get back to blogging! But first an update on Kelly. It’s been exactly two weeks now since the doctors, nurses and staff of Kaiser Permanente’s Los Angeles Medical Center saved Kelly’s life. Kelly is back at home and, according to her new cardiologist, it’s unlikely that she’ll ever suffer another aortic dissection. Right now she’s spending a quiet six weeks recovering from the ordeal of open heart surgery. She thanks all of you for your kind comments, as well as our local friends who dropped off food and took care of us. When she’s feeling better Kelly wants to say something on the blog but right now she’s got to rest.

I’m also not quite up for the usual blogging just yet, but I did want to note a really nice podcast I heard recently that I’ve been thinking a lot about as I take care of Kelly. It’s an episode of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s Ideas with Paul Kennedy called “It’s the Economists Stupid.” The show features two outside of the mainstream economists, Dr. Julie Nelson author of Economics for Humans and Richard Denniss, author of Affluenza, When Too Much is Never Enough. One of the topics in the show is how many of the domestic arts this blog focuses on do not get counted by economists. All that cooking, cleaning, gardening, child and elder care count not one bit towards the sorts of calculations economists obsess over such as gross domestic product and the Dow Jones Industrial Average. This is particularly unfair to women who tend to be more responsible for what happens in the home. And let’s not even get into the ethical difficulties of placing a dollar value on human beings. It’s a great show that I think everyone should listen to.

094 The American Woman’s Home

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Listen to “094 The American Woman’s Home” on Spreaker.

On the podcast this week Kelly and I discuss a 19th century urban homesteading book written by Catherine Beecher and Harriet Beecher Stowe, The American Woman’s Home. The book was written mostly by Catherine, with some contributions from Harriet (author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin). It’s likely that Catherine realized that attaching her famous sister’s name would sell more copies. Published in 1869, The American Woman’s Home covers a great deal of territory, everything from indoor air quality to houseplants, to childcare to housing the homeless. The book is in line with her family’s activism on issues such as women’s education, temperance and the abolition of slavery. We discuss many of Catherine’s specific recommendations including: butter, bread, terrariums, indoor plants, earth closets and art (she suggests everyone own a print of Eastman Johnson’s “Barefoot Boy” and Bierstadt’s “Sunset in the Yosemite Valley“).

You can read the full text of An American Woman’s Home online here.

If you’d like 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. A downloadable version of this podcast is here.

A Cheap and Easy DIY Sewing Cutting Table

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Kelly, tired of hunching over the floor while she works on sewing her uniform, asked me to make a cutting table for her tiny sewing room, which is located in a vintage 1920s shed in our backyard. Using the Garden Fork TV ethos, “done is better than perfect,” plus a time limit of one day, I set to the task.

Cutting table dimensions
A cutting table should be just a bit lower than your palm when your elbow is bent at 90 degrees. Architectural Graphics Standards suggests that work tables be in the 36-inch to 38-inch range. My parents met in a club for tall people and Kelly’s dad played basketball in college which means that work table height around our compound needs to be higher. I ended up going with 36 inches, since that’s the size of the bathroom cabinets I scavenged for the project. I may end up raising the table, at some point, when I’m in less of a hurry to get things done.

Opinions about width and length for cutting tables vary in the sewing community. At minimum, a cutting table should be at least 3 feet by 6 feet. Slightly wider and longer would be better but there’s not enough room in Kelly’s 10 by 12-foot shed.

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When I built my workshop I discovered a formula for creating work surfaces. I used a similar process to make the cutting table.

Step one: go to the Habitat for Humanity ReStore or ReUse People of America and find two or more matching kitchen or bathroom cabinets.

Step two: get a sheet of melamine at the big orange store.

Step three: cut the sheet of melamine to size. To do that I bought a plywood blade for my circular saw (I don’t own a table saw). I clamped a scrap of plywood to the board as a guide and ran piece of masking tape along where the cut to prevent chipping. You could also get the lumber yard to do this for you.

Step four: attach the melamine to the cabinets with screws.

Step five: Apply iron-on edging tape to the melamine to cover the edges.

Step six: Pop open a beverage of your choice and call it a day.

Look closely and you’ll see that Kelly’s cutting table also accommodates 20 gallons of emergency water since that’s how she rolls.

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The Root Simple Anti-Subscription Box

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The Apocabox

Concurrent with the worldwide success of decluttering author and guru Marie Kondo has been a puzzling trend: subscription services that will send you a box of random crap. Averaging around $20 USD a month, these services will send you everything from dog toys to sex toys. You don’t get to choose the contents. Birchbox sends you beauty supplies. Blue Apron sends you food. Apocabox has you covered for the zombie apocalypse. You can even get 12 months worth of moss.

Marie Kondo would not approve. But I suspect she might approve of a new service offered by Root Simple: the anti-subscription box. For just $100 a month I will come to your house, while you’re at work, and remove a box of random crap. You don’t get to supervise, edit or comment. I have the final word. My guiding principle will be William Morris’ dictum, “Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.”

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My new uniform.

When I told this idea to Kelly and a visiting house guest they accused me of attempting to “disrupt” and “Uberize” the “legacy industry” known as burglary. I suppose corruption could enter into my scheme if I tried to resell the stuff I remove from people’s houses. To get around this I promise to donate all goods to the Salvation Army.

If you like this idea you can help fund the anti-subscription box’s parent company: the Root Simple Institute for the Present. If you don’t like this idea, as Marshal McLuhan was fond of saying, “I’ve got others.”

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