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!

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!

A Day of the Dead Altar

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I’ve been observing the Day of the Dead in one way or another for many years, because I believe it is important to acknowledge the presence of death in life, and to remember my dead family, friends and pets in a more direct way than the usual way of carrying loss around quietly within my own heart.

Also, I live in Los Angeles, which used to belong to Mexico, and still does in many ways. Halloween is big here, and Día de Muertos (more often called Día de los Muertos, at least up here in the north, but I believe Día de Muertos is correct–although it may be one of those cases where the incorrect swallows the correct via common usage) reigns alongside of Halloween, extending the celebration over the course of three days.

The Mexican celebration of the dead goes back to the Aztecs, at least, and during the colonial era was grafted onto the Catholic three day festival, or triduum, of Allhallowstide: All Hallow’s Eve (aka Halloween), All Saints Day and All Souls Day. Care of grave sites and genteel remembrance of the dead is practiced during this period in Catholic communities worldwide, but this more pagan, colorful celebration of the dead is distinctly Central and Southern Mexican– yet it is spreading through Anglo culture, especially in the southwest, and I believe it will spread more widely still, rather as the American version of Halloween has spread across the globe.

I believe the Day of the Dead is taking hold because, as I said above, we need a time to remember our dead as individuals, families and communities–and be reminded of the eventuality of our own deaths. In our death denying culture, such thoughts have been considered morbid, even unhealthy, for a long time–but that is changing.

Continue reading…

How to Shave With a Safety Razor

I grew up towards the end of an era that promised jet packs, flying cars and the perfect shave. Of these three fantasies the most absurd was driven by the ever changing technology of men’s shaving products. Along with the myth of shaving progress came ever greater prices for blade cartridges. A few years ago I had enough of the price gouging and bought an old fashioned safety razor.

Unfortunately, I didn’t really know how to use it and thought that the haphazard stubble I’ve put up with (and Kelly has to look at) over the past few years was proof that those expensive modern razor cartridges really are better. That is, until I watched the helpful video above by shaving guru Mantic59. It turns out my technique was all wrong. It’s true that those fancy disposable razor cartridges are easier to use. But an old fashioned razor works just as well if you know what you’re doing. And they are a hell of a lot cheaper.

Maybe someday I’ll man up and try a straight razor, the fixed gear bike of shaving. For now I’m happy with the my safety razor and way too old for a fixie.

How do you shave?