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 rootsimple@gmail.com. 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.