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…

Ghee for the skin

baby Krishna stealing ghee

Baby Krishna stealing ghee

Ghee, a form of clarified butter, is a well known cooking fat. What is less known in the West is that it is also used for skin care and as medicine in Ayurveda. In fact, it’s basically a panacea in Ayurveda. I’m no expert in Ayurveda, but it is interesting to know that it has such a long track record in India as a topical treatment.

What I have discovered so far is pretty neat. It is in the nature of ghee to sink into the skin rather than sit on the surface. This makes it a really excellent moisturizer. It is not the type of moisturizer which seals in moisture, or protects you from the elements, but it immediately soothes dry and chapped skin.

For instance, during my last head cold, I used it on my much-abused nose. The ghee saved my nose and my lips from a terrible case of chapping. I always keep my lips and nose balmed-up during a cold, but the ghee worked better than anything else I’ve ever used, in terms of absorption, relieving discomfort and quick healing.

Since then, I’ve been using it on my face and hands to fend off the dry, itchy skin of winter. Since it sinks in so fast, it helps to use it in conjunction with another moisturizer, one which stays on the surface of the skin, to seal everything in.

Color me totally fascinated with ghee. There’s much research to be done on it here at Root Simple.

Here’s an interesting fact: ghee doesn’t go bad. Ever. In Ayurveda, aged ghee is particularly treasured.

See, butter becomes ghee when you remove the sugars and proteins and water, leaving only fat. Without that other stuff in it, the fat alone can’t go bad. Ghee’s only enemy is water–which is true of all fat-based foods and cosmetics. Water sets up conditions for bacteria to breed. So keep your ghee dry.  In fact, you should never store it in the refrigerator, because this may cause condensation inside the jar, which will lead to spoilage. Just keep it on the shelf, and scoop it out with a dry spoon, and it will keep until it’s all gone.

That’s all I have to say on ghee, so far. I don’t know much yet, but I like the way it feels. More will follow, I am sure. I’m going to experiment with making body butter and lip balm with it.

Do any of you use ghee for medicine or skin care?

(Also, I’ll be making my own ghee soon, and will post on that, but in the meantime, there are loads of recipes for it out there. It’s basically just boiled butter–anybody can make it. You can also find it ghee in many “regular” super markets these days, as well as in health food stores and of course, Indian markets.)

An indispensible urban tool: the titanium spork

titanium spork
 

One of my best allies in my effort to cut down on my use of disposables is a titanium spork. It’s strong, pleasant to use, and weighs virtually nothing. I bought it many years ago in preparation for a long hiking trip, but it soon proved its utility in the urban environment. It’s always in my bag, a permanent part of my “everyday carry”, and I use when I’m eating food from home as well as in situations where I’d otherwise be forced to use plastic flatware.

I love its simplicity and utility. The prongs of the spork are substantial enough to work as a fork, but aren’t hard on the mouth when it’s used as a spoon. I have another so-called spork, not a true spork, if you ask me, but a Frankenstein’s monster with a spoon on one end and a fork on the other. Do not be tempted by the promise of having a full fork and spoon in one utensil–it just doesn’t work. When one end is in your mouth, the utensil on the opposite end threatens your nose and eyes, not so much literally, but psychologically. That’s disturbing, so it remains with the camping gear. (KonMari will want me to set it free soon.)

My true spork, the REI Ti Ware spork, is a perfect blend of form and function. While I bought this spork many years ago, REI is still selling a version of it which looks identical, except for having a more prominent logo.  REI no longer carries this particular spork, though it carries other titanium sporks. There’s also a very similar looking titanium spork over at Amazon, produced by Toaks.

Some of you may wonder whether I need a knife, and the answer is I don’t need one in most situations. I usually carry a pocket knife, and I can bring that out if I need to slice something like bread or cheese, but 95% of the time the spork alone is sufficient. Also, it’s sturdy and thin edged, so the side of the spoon can cut through softer foods.

I’ve heard that back in the day people did not expect to be provided with eating utensils in public establishments, so travelers carried their utensils with them. Today this might seem crazy, but to me, if anything is crazy it’s the idea that we have the God-given right to be provided with a set of plastic flatware which we will use once and only once, for the approximately ten minutes it takes us to down a combo platter, and then consign that set of plastic utensils to an immortal afterlife in a landfill. Meanwhile, I imagine that I’ll request that my spork be buried with me, along with the rest of my grave goods.

 Addendum: I just found a cool titanium spork, the Apocalyspork, which is more expensive than mine, but is handcrafted in the US out of aerospace scrap. In addition, the handle is tricked up with a bottle opener, a hex key and who knows what else.

034 Decluttering

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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 5: The nitty gritty

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A reader asked to see unvarnished “before” photos of our place, so I took a few pics which will illustrate this post. Above is a zone we’ve not attacked yet–the dreaded hall cupboard. Note the VHS tape on the far right.

Welcome back to the never-ending saga of our de-cluttering initiative, inspired by The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up, by the tidying consultant Marie Kondo.

Sorting and purging has slowed down here at Root Simple as we bog down in the details. In Tidying Up, Marie Kondo, aka KonMari, has a specific recommended order for sorting your belongings. The first three categories are clothing, books and papers, respectively. At the end of her list she places photographs and mementos, as these are the most difficult to sort due to the emotional baggage attached them. This makes sense. And those first three big categories are easy to tackle, and make a big difference quickly, so they also make sense as a starting place. But where things get difficult is in the middle categories.

I don’t understand KonMari’s logic here. After the first three categories, she calls everything else in the house komono, which translates as  miscellaneous items. I think of it as a handy word for the contents of a junk drawer. Within the category of komono, she has a recommended order of proceeding, starting with sorting CD/DVDs, followed by beauty products, accessories, valuables, electrical equipment…and so on.

We did sit down together and sort out our CDs– what a trip through the 90’s that was! But we did not make much progress on thinning, because all it did was ignite a desire to digitize all these old albums.

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Holding my camera high to capture the top of the armoire, revealing a veritable Tutankhamun’s Tomb of hidden treasures.

From there on, though, our sorting took a turn for the worse. We just couldn’t make ourselves work in those smaller categories, because the  categories headings and their order didn’t seem to work for our stuff. What we started doing instead was attacking certain areas of the home, e.g. the cabinet under the kitchen sink, the dust bunny refuge under the bed, the mysterious items on top the armoire, the pantry shelves. This approach works, sorta, but not as well, I think, as category driven sorting. There’s more hesitation, more confusion.

Were I to do this again, I think I’d make up my own list of lesser categories, and stick to that. It is more logical to sort by category, because by rooting up all similar items in a household, you can quickly determine how much redundancy you have, what you should keep, where it should go.

We still have a few more spaces to unpack, and it’s too late to return to categorical sorting, so we’re just going to have to finish what we started.

An interesting discover: we’ve gone solo on these smaller sorting missions–these sorting sorties, if you will–and instead of being a more efficient use of time, solo work somehow makes everything less efficient. Alone, we dither. Together, we bicker, but the process moves along quickly.

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A peek into the shadows beneath our bed. In the bag, a pair of boots meant to go to the consignment store two years ago. The floor beneath the bed is all clear now.

Be aware, also, that solo sorting can lead to tears and recriminations. For instance, I disposed of a several dusty old 12 oz bottles of homemade mead–a few of which were helpfully labeled, “Bad Mead?”–which have sat on a back shelf unloved and undrunk for many years, for so long the printer ink on the labels was fading. Far longer than any aging period.

Erik caught me draining the bottles and just about had kittens. He’d planned on carbonating these bottles…someday…to see if that would improve the flavor and now I’d gone and ruined all of his work. He gathered up the survivors in his arms and hustled them off to the garage.

You see, Peaceable Sorting Wife had transformed into Ruthless Disposal Fury. It can happen to anybody.

And yes, yes, I should have consulted him before I acted–I was in the wrong. Honestly, I was caught up in the momentum and didn’t want to wait to consult him.  In my feverish mind I knew he’d want to keep them, but I also knew also he’d never even notice if they vanished. And I would have gotten away with it, too, if not for those meddling kids and their dog…

In short, sort all but the very most personal items as a household, so everyone has a say in what stays and what goes.

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Once we gathered them all in one place, we discovered we had enough jars to can all the artisanal kraut in Brooklyn.

Another thing which happens as the sorting deepens is that you turn up some really puzzling items.

For instance, would anybody like a poster signed by all the stars of the Jim Rose Circus Side Show c.1991? I suppose it should go straight into the paper recycling, but after surviving a quarter of a century in a tube, it claims value it simply does not have. There are many things like this hidden in the depths of our closets, things you do not want, but which seem like they might be valuable, due to age or oddity. These are the most dangerous items of all.

Or perhaps you’d be interested in my not-so-attractive family china? Why couldn’t they have chosen a better pattern? Does this go to the thrift store, or should I try to consign it? But honestly, who would pay good money for such a fuddy-duddy china?

I did find that company which buys old china so they can sell replacement pieces to other people, but they put up so many hurdles just to tell you if they’ll take your set, I can’t even deal with them.

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You know, our family never once ate off this stuff. My grandma kept it squirreled away. Who knows when it was last used–but I suspect prior to WW2. My mother was sly like a fox to fob it off on me.

And what about junk silver? That is, silver coins without collector value, bent silver spoons, ugly jewelry. Do we keep it to trade for MREs and water during the zombie apocalypse? Do we take it to one of those seedy CASH FOR GOLD! places and accept whatever bad deal they offer? Do we borrow a kiln and melt it all down into DIY silver bullion? That, at least, would save space in our drawers. What do we do????

The further we get down this road, the more irksome the remaining unsorted areas become. They’re the canker on the rose, the stye in the eye, the pimple on prom night. As tired as I am of sorting, I’m dying to get into those places and root them out.

Anyway, I should not be so negative. This is just a frustrating phase. The initial excitement has worn off and now it’s down to hard work. That said, there is pleasure in seeing free space opening up around the house.

The changes are not super-obvious–it’s not like we started off living in a tottering labyrinth of our own possessions like the Collyer brothers–but the little improvements are really pleasing to the soul.

It’s so nice to open a cabinet or drawer and see empty space. Or find a cat sitting in the vast cleanliness beneath our bed. The tidy dresser drawers remain a daily joy. I finally took care of that shopping bag full of seeds which have been living behind the bedroom door for a year. All of our spare change (a hundred bucks worth!) has been collected and converted to a more usable form. These are all like little pockets of sunshine. It’s going to be good to finish.