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!

On Homesteading Burnout and the Need to Focus

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At book tour appearances we often said that, while we do a lot of projects as research for our books, readers should not try to do everything. Our message has always been that this movement is not an “all of the above” proposition; you don’t have to raise chickens, brew beer, sew, keep bees, make pickles etc.; you can go with your strengths and make friends with people who do what you’re not good at.

But do I follow my own advice? Not so much. I’ve been thinking lately about trying to focus on the things I’m good at and go KonMari on the stuff I’ve accumulated to do the things I’m not so good at. This is hard for me. By nature I’m a generalist not a specialist. But two potent memento moris showed up in my mailbox this week: my first AARP card along with an ad for the Disneyland of cemeteries, Forest Lawn. In the years I have left I’ll need to focus a bit more.

So what are the activities I can jettison?

Beer Brewing
The brutal truth is that I’m just not that good at it. I ruined the last three batches due to sanitation problems. I’ve never made beer better or cheaper than I can buy. The equipment takes up valuable workshop space. And then there’s the temptation of having five gallons of beer sitting around. Once I conquer the plantar fasciitis I’ll need to squeeze back into an unforgiving and unflattering fencing uniform. If I worked at it I could probably make some decent beer. But, again, I just don’t need that much beer sitting around the house. And to take the hobby to the next level I’d really need to start using kegs and that would mean more equipment.

Ham Radio
I’ve put this activity on hold. I probably should spend some time acquainting myself with my 2 meter handheld and checking in with some of the local nets so that I can use the radio in an emergency. But I don’t need to go any deeper than that right now. Maybe someday when I’m a little older and have activated my AARP card.

That I could only come up with two activities shows how much of a serial generalist I am. Not that there is anything wrong with being a generalist. In fact, the world might be better off if we were all a little less specialized. But there’s still a need to edit the list periodically.

How about you? Do you have some interests you have already or are thinking of ditching? Of your homesteady interests, which have been the most rewarding?

De-Cluttering the Garden

Kelly pruning the Pomegranate

At the risk of becoming a de-cluttering blog, I’ve got to point out that there’s a place for de-cluttering in the garden. I know, because I’m the gardening equivalent of a hoarder.

I cling to plants that need to head to the compost pile. I interfere with Kelly’s much more advanced pruning skills. I resist the periodic and necessary need to swap plants out. Gardens are, by definition, a mediation on impermanence. As Hereclitus says, “Everything changes and nothing remains still . . . you cannot step twice into the same stream.” Heed Hereclitus’ enigmatic saying and you’ve got the essence of gardening and nature: periods of equilibrium punctuated by change, sometimes fast, sometimes slow. De-cluttering our tended gardens is to work in imitation of and in concert with nature.

So what would be some de-culuttering steps in the garden that welcome and work with change?

  • First would be getting rid of junk such as construction debris and those failed projects Kelly alluded to in her last post. We’re pretty good about this, but the backyard has accumulated a few items that need to go.
  • Replacing under-performing plants. Particularly in small spaces like ours there is no room for plants that are sickly or just don’t look attractive. Ditto for fruit trees that have never produced. I’m with Piet Ouldolf on this: if possible, plants in our tended spaces need to look good year round (even when dormant) and they need to provide wildlife habitat.
  • Rethinking the garden. Even the best gardener has to rethink and renew a garden periodically. Many perennials become gangly, trees shade out other plants and things just generally change. Sometimes you have to mimic nature’s floods and fires and make a radical shift.
  • Weeding and thinning. We got behind on this and we’re paying the price. This is a matter of poor scheduling, subject matter for an upcoming series of posts (if I can ever schedule time to write those scheduling posts). Let’s just say there was some cursing while pulling out a robust and thorny Opuntia yesterday that would have been much easier to remove two years ago.
  • Pruning. This is a source of considerable marital discord. Kelly is much better at it than I am, and yet I end up micromanaging and mansplaining. The fact is that many fruit trees, particularly peaches, need to be hacked back dramatically when dormant. With the exception of avocados, everything else needs to be kept small for ease of harvest and to fit more trees in a small space.

What gardening de-cluttering steps did I leave out? When do you more northerly gardeners do your garden de-cluttering?

And a note on the photo which shows Kelly pruning our pomegranate tree. To her right is a cardoon and, at the bottom of the slope is a huge prickly pear cactus. Something all these plants have in common? Wicked thorns. This makes deferred de-cluttering even more curse-worthy.

Addendum
Mrs. Homegrown chimes in:

Erik spoke of some topics of marital discord in the garden, and yet none of those hold a candle to our perpetual debate about installing some kind of garden shed or storage system in our back yard. It’s shocking, really, that we don’t have such a thing, but he is very resistant to the idea, for reasons of time, effort, money and aesthetics.

All good objections! But honestly, how can one post about clutter in the garden and point to the poor plants when the real problem with clutter in our garden comes in the form of empty pots, bags of soil and amendments with no home, gloves housing spiders, tools leaning here, there and everywhere, never where you need them. Our climate alone allows us to (mostly) get away with this behavior. Elsewhere it would all rust or rot if left out like this.

I know it’s not the KonMari way to add storage space or devices to deal with clutter, but this is more like having a car with no garage, and then wondering why the driveway is always crowded.

So…um…if any artisanal shack manufacturer would like to send us a small shed for review, we’re open to proposals!

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…

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.