Empty Your Attic!

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One of the occupational hazards of how-to book authors and bloggers, such as myself, is a tendency towards ex cathedra statements. But sometimes you’ve just gotta stand out on that balcony and release a bull. I’ve got a short but important one for you today:

Thou shalt not store crap in your attic.

Here’s my reasoning. If you’ve got stuff “out of sight and out of mind,” you don’t need it. Two weeks ago, I pulled everything down from our attic and sent most of it to a thrift store and some to the trash.

If your attic is unfinished, as is ours, it’s also a horrible place to store things, even in a mild climate. Temperatures in our attic can swing from the low 60s to well over 110º F (43º C) in a day. And then there’s the rats. For some reason people associate rats with cities like New York and Chicago. You really should think of our hometown, Los Angeles, as America’s rat capital. There are as many rats here as there are sub-par doughnut shops. All the stuff I pulled out of our attic was covered in a layer of rat droppings and urine. It’s a wonder I didn’t succumb to hantavirus.

I take great, smug comfort in sleeping at night underneath an empty attic. And should the central heat or vents need to be serviced they are now easy to access. My only regret is that I did not take a before picture to better enhance my bragging rights.

A note to the locals: if you need to donate stuff please consider my favorite thrift store, Berda Paradise, which benefits the Hollywood Sunset Free Clinic. Berda Paradise is located at 3506 Sunset Blvd.

Kitchen KonMari Session, Illustrated

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Few topics in the home arts cause as much ire, backpedaling and recrimination as the techniques of tidying up guru Marie Kondo, a.k.a. “KonMari.” In the interests of full disclosure, I thought I’d show yesterday’s kitchen KonMari session, illustrated with crime scene type photos. Clutter is a crime, right?

On the day real estate speculators grab hold of our house, they’ll no doubt blow out all the walls, head to Ikea and install a cheap Dwell Magazine type kitchen with stark white melamine cabinets, acres of marble counter-tops and a bar people can saddle up to in their flip flops. What we’ve got right now is the original 1920s kitchen, a cramped and sealed off room with small cabinets. Space is as precious as in a sailboat’s galley, which is why we had to clean out the main storage cabinet. I wish I had the foresight to take a before picture of the cabinet, but I did get a “cabinet dump” photo, above, showing what happened when we emptied the contents of the cabinet into the breakfasts nook.

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KonMari suggests holding each object and asking if it “sparks joy.” When you do this with someone else there are, of course, things that are easy to part with and things that cause controversy. At one point I managed to snap a series of photos of Kelly running off with–get this–a bag of cat hair which she claimed would someday be used in some kind of highly conceptual cat hair felting project.

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After some tense moments, we managed to purge a decent number of unused kitchen items and Kelly rearranged the cabinet to place frequently used items on more accessible shelves.

Ironically, the kitchen cleaning session overlapped with the lunch hour preventing meal preparation. We decamped to a local Mexican restaurant for a meeting with a friend and Kelly finished this KonMari session on her own later.

I’d call it a victory but we’ve still got to tackle the pantry.

[An editorial note from Mrs. Homegrown: First, I cannot believe he has shared this cat hair business with the world! The age of chivalry is long gone. Also, yes, I know it’s a crazy lady thing to do, to collect cat hair, but I have an Idea and will not toss the hair just yet, not until I’ve tried it. Also, the bag of hair was not stored with our cooking stuff, which would be genuinely disturbing and wrong and taboo breaking, but rather was tucked away in our utility room off the kitchen. Erik rooted it out as sort of a decluttering sideline. I could point out that the very same day Erik clung with equal fervor to his crusty old pasta maker, despite the fact he has owned it for 15 years and made homemade pasta exactly…once? Twice? It seems we have both attached imaginary futures full of possibility to rather useless objects and are reluctant to let go of these fantasies. All in all, I figure it’s a successful session if each of us only holds on to one useless object when all is done. N.B:  A good rule of of decluttering with mates: No blame, no recrimination!]

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My Marie Kondo Obsession

Update: Root Simple reader Ruben left a comment with a very funny New Yorker cartoon about Kondo.

It’s the time of year, after the excesses of the holidays, when folks, including ourselves, start thinking of paring down. And when it comes to decluttering, the current reigning champion of the subject is, of course, Marie Kondo. She is both loved and loathed. Her philosophy, no doubt, splits many partners sharing the same abode.

Personally, I’m a fan, though I have to admit stalling out in the middle of her sequence of decluttering actions (I promise to start up again this year!). What I think Kondo understands that other decluttering experts don’t get is that we imbue objects around with supernatural qualities that makes stuff hard to part with. This, at least in part, reflects the influence of Shintoism on Kondo’s work (she worked at a Shinto shrine in her youth).

If your Marie Kondo fandom is as obsessive as mine (I proposed to Kelly that we put up a portrait of Kondo in the house) you will enjoy the NHK video above that introduces you to Kondo’s mentor Nagisa Tatsumi, author of the Art of Discarding. Once you declutter you’ll need to clean. To that end, the video features a segment on Japanese cleaning expert Keiko Takahashi. Sadly there’s some audio problems in that bit and the interwebs don’t yield any other information on Takahashi (too common a name to Google). If Root Simple had the budget you can bet we’d be flying a crew over to Japan to shoot a web series with Takahashi. At least you get to see her DIY, foaming stove cleaner tip.

Last night, in our nightly YouTube hole viewing experience that’s part of Kelly’s recovery process (and mine too!), we watched Kondo take on an American family with kids:

As usual the kids and the man of the house seem to have disappeared while the decluttering was taking place. In fairness, Kondo addresses this issue. She suggests soldiering on in spite of reluctant housemates in the hopes that your new clean habits will be infectious. I suspect there will be some grumbling in the comments about this thoughtstyling.

Perhaps my Kondo obsession reflects an attachment to the idea of decluttering rather than to the practice itself. My office sure could use some work! While things aren’t too bad in the rest of the house, but there’s always work to do. This includes, of course, not accumulating stuff in the first place.

How are your cleaning plans or actions going?

Tody: An App that Helps You Clean

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This will be another post for fellow members of the untidy tribe. Members of the tidy tribe will find it as unnecessary as those warning stickers on buckets and ladders. But we’ll let the tidy tribesters go on with their advanced cleaning tasks: Polishing brass? Dust bunny witch hunts? Chastising the untidy?

Back to us untidy folks. Let’s say you’ve taken the sage advice to clear the decks, as I discussed in my last blog post. You now have a clean slate, a vast playa on which to party with your broom and mop. But, as will come as no surprise to tidy tribe members, we untidy folks need a push. That’s where a simple little iPhone app called Tody comes in.

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Tody gives you a room by room schedule for tasks such as cleaning the bathroom sink, dusting the living room and wiping down electronics. You can create your own custom tasks. For instance, I made a reminders to change the cat’s water and sweep the front porch.

Setup is simple and the app suggests common sense cleaning intervals (which you can also customize to your own taste). The app generates a daily to-do list and has a kind of red, yellow and green color warning system. The interface is clean and simple, like a well tended house. Other apps that I tried had too many reminders, cluttered interfaces, distracting ads and annoying notifications. We untidy tribe members are easily distracted from our cleaning tasks and don’t need an app that offers temptations to sit on the couch and slack off.

Tody is well worth $3.99. An extra $2.99 a year gets you a family sharing plan that will let you chastise your spouse/kids/housemates via their phones.

Tidy tribesters who have read this far are, no doubt, wondering why it is that we untidy folks need an app and can’t simply look around the house and see those magazine piles or dirty toilet seat. Just remember that we untidy folks lack the visual acuity to see messes, kind of like how dogs can’t see things that aren’t moving. We need all the help we can get.

Tody is only for the iPhone. If you’re an Android user, feel free to suggest cleaning apps you’ve tried in the comments.

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!