Archive for the 'Organization' Category

“Clutter Free with Kids”

Friday, May 29th, 2015

I checked Clutterfree with Kids by Joshua Becker out from the library, hoping to get some insight into decluttering in an American family home, since one of my new favorite books, The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo, is written more for single people.

But Becker’s book is long on platitudes, and short on strategy, plus his strategies tend to be more in the kind that Kondo helpfully debunks, like doing a little bit, or one little thing, at a time.

Skip the Becker. Buy the Kondo.

Things I’ve Learned about Books from KonMari

Thursday, May 14th, 2015

Perhaps you are as sick of hearing about Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up as my 9yo son Guppy is. He has been a less-than-enthusiastic participant in our recent attempts to clear stuff from our house. But even his resistance is a lesson, one to have less stuff to organize, and just enough that one can enjoy it but not be burdened by the having of it. Her method is called KonMari, and I’ve used it thus far to clear out clothing and books from our house. She recommends starting with clothes, then doing books, then “stuff”, then papers, then mementos, because this tends to be in order from least to most attachment issues.

Her books exhort the reader to keep the things that “spark joy” and give or move out those that don’t. What I found as I went through my books, though, were many books I didn’t want to give away for a variety of reasons: I knew the author, they’d been inscribed to me, I’d spent money on them, I’d received them as gifts. Many sparked guilt, or regret, rather than joy.

I noted that one bad habit of book buying I’d got into over the years was going to an author reading, buying books of theirs and having them inscribed to me, sometimes with a personal note. This is great if I loved the book and read it, but a burden if I never feel moved to read the book, or don’t like it. My solution was to either rip out the signed page, or black out my name and give away the book in the hope that someone else would be excited to find it.

With growing horror, I realized I’d been foisting this bad habit off on family and friends, too, buying personalized books as gifts that they might feel obligated to read, or reluctant to give away because of the inscription. I foolishly thought I was doing something cool by getting them signed; it didn’t occur to me I was sending something that could be a burden.

I make many book vows, as regular readers of this blog know. I’ve written before about the burden of books as gifts, but I didn’t take it to heart till I saw evidence of this on my own shelves, and witnessed my own guilt over gift and inscribed books.

I fervently hope I have finally learned the lesson to buy a gift with the recipient in mind, not an agenda or a ’should’ factor, and to make it as free of burdens as possible, with gift receipts, no inscriptions, and the assurance that it is freely given, for the person to do with it what they will.

Also, in future I hope I’ll attend author events simply to hear the author, and not feel compelled to buy the book, especially if it’s not one I plan to read next. And I don’t want to have it inscribed. I want to feel free to do with it what I will.

So please, if I’ve ever given you a book that doesn’t spark joy, I apologize, and do whatever you want with it. I’ll not be getting inscribed books for you again.

I did keep the small collection of books by people I know who might visit my house. Most of these do actually spark joy–the happiness I feel for friends who have published books.

What I found after I’d weeded out the non-joy-sparking books that had been inscribed or given to me, was that I had much lighter shelves, which allowed me to see better which books I really want to read soon. I’ve read, enjoyed, and returned one book a friend lent me last year. I read immediately one another friend lent me. And of the books I’ve bought in the past few months, I’ve read most immediately.

In fact, I think the only books I’ve bought since we’ve done the purge was one for 9yo Guppy, since he started it in the bookstore and wanted to finish, and my own copy of Emily Nagoski’s Come As You Are, which I wanted to have my own copy of to refer to and read again.

I’ll be interested to see if I gradually return to my old, book-acquisitive ways. But one of the benefits of the Kondo book and KonMari process are the changes in perception about buying and having stuff, and these changes feel like they’re takign place on a deeper, more permanent level than my many years of “book vows.”

A Moment of KonMari

Monday, May 11th, 2015

My two sisters and I visited my parents to help them clear out decades of stuff. Before you ask: No one died. They’re not moving. This visit was prompted after I got my mom one of my new favorite books, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo.

After reading it, my parents started to sort through the basement and attic, but soon realized they’d need to ask each of us if we wanted this or that thing that belonged to this or that relative. Our solution was to go, without partners or kids, to my parents’ house for the weekend, identify what sparked joy, and move out what didn’t.

We spent the weekend going through bags and boxes. We laughed, we cried, we recoiled in horror. And we had the great good fortune to spend a whole weekend with each other, our nuclear family, as adults.

My mother was the most reluctant participant. She has trouble letting things go. When she and had a few hours to tackle her books, we weeded four shelves, plus one cabinet (not pictured). We filled five banker boxes to donate, and by the end she was getting the hang of it.



What you can’t see is that the four shelves are actually double stacked, with books behind and in front. Both in front and behind, many were stacked horizontally, not vertically, so Mom could pack more in.


After KonMari

There are no longer books hidden behind; all books are visible. Almost all the books are stored upright, with extra space on each shelf.

I think the biggest challenge my mom had was with books she’d bought in the past, fully intended to read, still wanted to, or felt she ’should’, but hadn’t.

I had the same problem when I went through out books. What helped me was to ask, do I feel excited to read this book? Is it something I could read now, if time and too many book groups allowed? Or, is it something I feel I ’should’ read because I bought it, or it was given to me, or I wanted to really read at one point and didn’t get around to. Giving the latter books away was a huge relief to me, and really opened up my shelves to show me the books I really wanted to read.

Have any of the rest of you tried the KonMari method?

Random Thoughts and Laundry Hints

Monday, February 25th, 2013

My friends often ask, “How do you read so much?”

First, I’m a freelance writer and stay at home parents of two kids in school full time. I don’t make much money, but I have a lot of wiggle room in my schedule.

Second, I tell them to come look at my house and its escalating level of filth.

Alas, sometimes the filth gets so noticable, or I need something and unearthing it starts an accidental organization project, which is what happened this morning, and lo and behold, I did some cleaning.

No reading, no writing. Alas, some time on Facebook kibbutzing about the Oscars (which I mostly enjoyed. Socks in the dryer and giant-eyed sock puppets! Shatner! My boyfriend Channing Tatum dancing!)

For me the same thing is true of cleaning that is true of any other work like writing: I don’t like doing it, but I feel good about having done it.

So, in honor of my recent burst of housewifery, some advice I’ve received, or things I’ve learned over the years about laundry.

1. If you’re in a bad mood, do a load of laundry. It won’t make you feel better, but you’ll have a load of clean laundry. (shout out to the Steve who said this, wherever he may be.)

2. Do two loads. No matter how backed up laundry is, if you do two loads a day, you will eventually catch up, and two loads won’t kill you (See #1).

3. Always empty the lint trap before you start the dryer. Clothes dry faster (one of the lessons I learned in college. An expensive one, my parents would agree, but useful.) plus if you forget and take it out once it’s started, things can get clogged and flame-y in there, sez a friend named Jen.

4. If you can’t face doing laundry, do a load of pants. This one’s from my friend The Hoff. They’re easy to fold. Leave the socks and underwear and dish towels for a day you’re feeling more resilient.

5. Powdered detergent, and not much of it. Liquid detergent is a scam.

6. Borax does not dissolve very well and will clog your machine. Beware.

Inbox Zero?

Thursday, February 21st, 2013

I’m not sure I can recall the last time (ever?) I got my inbox to zero. My feed reader, yes. Trying to practice new habits, I saw Inbox Zero for Life.

Doable? I don’t know. Has my smart phone made my bad email management worse? Don’t know.

I’ve been whittling away at the inbox today, and am down about 75. Only 850 to go…

Wonder if I can get to zero.

Staying Put

Thursday, November 8th, 2012

This past September I passed a couple of personal milestones. My husband, I, and 9yo Drake have lived in our current house for 8 years. I believe this is the longest time I’ve ever lived in one residence. My previous record was a house in a far-flung suburb of Columbus, Ohio. We moved there when I was 10 and I left for college at 18. I came back the following summer, but my parents and I clashed over my very bad behavior, so I began my sojourn on the East Coast, almost 11 years in DC and Philly. I lived in, at my best guess, a dozen different places during those 11 years. My husband and I got married and moved to MN when he got a job here. We rented in a close suburb for 3 years, bought a condo downtown (which was great until we had a baby, then it sucked) and then (finally I hope) bought a house in a family-friendly neighborhood in Minneapolis where we’ve been ever since.

As best I can figure, I lived non-consecutively in OH for about 13 years, and consecutively on the east coast for 11 years, and consecutively in one Ohio house for slightly less than 8. Other than that long stretch from when I was 10 to 18, I never lived in any one apartment/space longer than 3 years. I’ve now been in Minnesota for 14 years, and in the same house for over 8.

About five years ago (when we’d lived in the house just over 3 years), I became very anxious about the accumulation of stuff and where to put it, and bewailed my lack of organizational skill. I even made a category on the blog for Organization. (It has very few entries.) Then I realized–prior to that point, I moved so often that my life had purging built into it, and I was feeling anxious at about the time–3 years–that I usually moved. Now that I was and would be in one place, I no longer had the urgent excuse to purge that moving provided.

I wish I could say that realization made me shape up and get organized. It hasn’t. My house is filled with blowing and drifting piles of crap. Now that 6yo Guppy is in 1st grade we have the avalanche of school papers from 2 kids, and I am fast losing my ability to know what pile something’s in. I spent half a day last week looking for a particular piece of paper. I am and probably always will be a sporadic perfectionist (occasional compulsive?) which means I make dents now and again, but then entropy takes over, piles grow and the cycle starts all over again. I probably should figure this organization thing out, though, since our house is small and I’m eventually going to run out of room.

It’s odd seeing how other people live, those who stay put and put down roots. I have no intention of moving, but life sometimes decides otherwise. I’ll have to wait and see if my plans and the future align.

Shelves as the Windows to the Soul?

Tuesday, February 14th, 2012

From “Shelf Conscious,” by Francesca Mari at The Paris Review, not so much a review as a broad overview/appreciation/personal musing over Unpacking My Library: Writers and Their Books by Leah Price, via The Morning News:

My boyfriend was ruthless. He chucked a book if he thought it’d be easy enough to get again for a dollar. ….

I’ve always felt an obligation to keep any book with which I’ve had some sort of relationship, even if it was an insignificant one–an assignment for a short review, for instance.

My husband is a hoarder. I’m a purger, perhaps because I’m a binger with a well-developed sense of buyers’ remorse. We’ve reached a sort of equipoise where I can get rid of some books, and I’ll store others instead of getting rid of them. Thus far, we have enough room to do this.

I simply CANNOT imagine not having organized shelves. Bizarre. That being said, organizing books is crazy and involves weird personal decisions, such as: most of my graphic novels are organized by title (e.g., Sandman by Gaiman is under S), except when they’re organized by author (anything by James Kochalka is under K). Other books are in 2 main groups by size: MMPB get their own shelves as I have bookcases well suited for their short selves. And then TPB and HCs get bigger shelves, but both groups are separated into read/unread.

What I believe my shelves say about me: I believe in organization, and succeed to some degree at a macro level but fail at a micro level, then just start stacking books here and there. Which is pretty much how I manage life.

Before and Afters

Thursday, March 17th, 2011

I am not an efficient or effective purger. My husband is actively opposed to purging. And since the birth of now 5yo Guppy, our house has gone into a slow, steady decline in neatness and cleanliness. I’ve vowed to clean and organize before; my organization tab on this blog is from 2007 (*wince*).

This time, I think I really mean it. I have two cleared horizontal surfaces to show for it. Fingers crossed that I can keep this up.

The magazine table, before (covered with things to donate):

magazine table, before

Magazine table, after:


Entry table, with five years of accumulated non-urgent mail (keep in mind, none of this is quite junk, either; I’m on the DMA’s do-not mail list plus recycle anything that’s obvious. This is all the non-obvious stuff, mostly financial statements):


Entry table, after:


I Did This

Sunday, July 5th, 2009

I Did This

Nemeses: small trees
are volunteers no longer
victims, you are now

This morning and afternoon, I worked on this side bed. I cleared a blanket of weeds and about a dozen volunteer trees, digging out roots from 18″ and 24″ down, then pruned the peony. Archeology: I found three matchbox cars from previous homeowner(s?).

A Clean, Well-Lighted Room of My Own

Monday, May 11th, 2009

For Mother’s Day, I de-crapified our back bedroom and unblocked the door to the closet/my office, which has been variously blocked over the past three years by a glider, crib, and changing table. I dusted, re-arranged, and brought order out of chaos.

This is the back room, which I envision as a reading room:

Reading Room

And the closet office:

Closet office Desk, detail

The other side:

Behind desk Dresser, detail

It’s small. It’s a closet. But it’s clean and well lighted. I’m reclaiming it.

It’s mine.

“The Cult of Done”

Wednesday, March 4th, 2009

From Bre Pettis, via Boing Boing.

The Cult of Done Manifesto

1. There are three states of being. Not knowing, action and completion.
2. Accept that everything is a draft. It helps to get it done.
3. There is no editing stage.
4. Pretending you know what you’re doing is almost the same as knowing what you are doing, so just accept that you know what you’re doing even if you don’t and do it.
5. Banish procrastination. If you wait more than a week to get an idea done, abandon it.
6. The point of being done is not to finish but to get other things done.
7. Once you’re done you can throw it away.
8. Laugh at perfection. It’s boring and keeps you from being done.
9. People without dirty hands are wrong. Doing something makes you right.
10. Failure counts as done. So do mistakes.
11. Destruction is a variant of done.
12. If you have an idea and publish it on the internet, that counts as a ghost of done.
13. Done is the engine of more

I think this might be the way to approach the kind of everyday stuff that has overwhelmed me, in general all my life, but specifically since the birth of 3yo Guppy. I have mail, email and magazines from February 2006, when he was born. Not helpful.

Lotta Life-Hacking Links

Tuesday, March 3rd, 2009

From Wikipedia on “Life Hack

Today, anything that solves an everyday problem in a clever or non-obvious way might be called a life hack.

From The New York Times, “Low-Tech Fixes for High-Tech Problems.” I’ve tested using my head as an amplifier for my car remote; it works.

From Wired, “10 Geeky Tricks for Getting Out of Bed in the Morning.” I’ve adopted the glass of water upon waking up. It’s a great idea. (This and above link from The Morning News)

At Smarterware, a snapshot of good advice for getting through one’s day, “Simple Guidelines for Workday Quality Over Quantity” (My husband sent the link to me; I didn’t get it from a site.)

From In Style magazine via CNN, “Drop 5 Years in 5 Minutes” offers simple make-up techniques that have maximum impact. The day I tried a few, I got an unsolicited compliment from a makeup-artist friend.

Also from In Style’s January issue, some down-to-earth advice on losing weight:

“Restrictive diets don’t work,” proclaims nutritionist Oz Garcia, Ph.D. Instead, he suggests:

Sleep 8 to 9 hours
Massages to reduce stress
Dark chocolate in moderation to control cravings
Sunshine (the real thing or a light box)
Eat different things each day. Garcia recommends the Mediterranean plan from the Mayo Clinic.


Sunday, February 8th, 2009

I can scarcely believe it. I’ve gone through all my comments back through December. For most, I’ve replied in the comments.

I’ve begun to close comments after 2 weeks, to cut down on spam. Let me know if this seems too short a window. I was thinking up to a month, perhaps.

I may take a comment/email amnesty for everything before that, and declare email bankruptcy and start from scratch.

Ghosts of Christmas Past

Friday, January 9th, 2009

In a recent attempt to fight back the encroaching filth in our house, I was energetically dusting–not only the obvious surfaces, but down low and up high, too. I whipped my cloth across a high-up nook and dried pine needles rained down. I gave it another swipe, and more needles came down. I was surprised; my husband and I have lived in the house since 2004, and have never had a live Christmas tree or greens in the house. This detritus must have been from the previous owners, so the dried needles were at least five years old. I shudder to think what other “surprises” lurk in the house, waiting to mock my ever-more-lax cleaning standards.

Plastic Recycling in NE Mpls is Back!

Saturday, October 11th, 2008

Bring your plastics to the Eastside Food Coop for recycling on Saturdays (today!) from 10am to 2pm, and on Thursday afternoon and evenings, 3:30pmto 7:30pm.

The Benefits of Bulk

Wednesday, April 16th, 2008

My husband G. Grod and I finally started to rein in our household spending, and one of the first things we did was establish a grocery budget. As I’ve worked with the budget, I’ve changed my shopping habits, and with practice I’ve reduced our grocery bill with better planning and fewer impulse buys.

One of the key cost saving measures is buying items from the bulk aisle. Our grocery coop has an impressive selection of items. And if I plan ahead, I can bring my own containers to fill, so I’m reducing waste and not paying for packaging. I now buy a huge number of our staples in bulk: eggs, peanut butter, honey, olive oil, vanilla, pasta, flour, sugar, granola, popcorn, dried fruit and other baking supplies like oats and nuts.

Not only has our weekly grocery bill gone down, but this helps with inventory control, as I’m able to buy just a little at a time, and our recycling has been reduced, because we’re buying much less packaging.

Our coop
is having a sale on bulk till the end of April; if you live nearby, give it a try. Bring your own bags, bring your own bulk containers, and save money, space, and waste.

Excuse me?

Saturday, March 8th, 2008

I am finally trying to catch up on my huge backlog of comments, because you are all awesome for writing me, and I am hugely lame for not commenting and replying. I manage a few replies, then get a message from Word Press:

You are posting comments too quickly. Slow down.

So the spirit is willing but the free software is cranky. I’ll try again tomorrow. As always, thank you for commenting, and emailing, and I will try to reply to each one, someday!

An Elegant Design for Book Lovers

Tuesday, March 4th, 2008

Book TableOh, the geek in me loves how simple and functional this is, especially the bookmarking feature. Link from Boing Boing.

No Room for Another Bookshelf?

Wednesday, February 27th, 2008

Build a library into your staircase. No good for those of us with small kids, but one can dream. Staircase library (Staircase Library link from Boing Boing)

My House is a Hydra

Saturday, December 15th, 2007

Everything I did today spawned three more tasks. I put something away, but found three things in the wrong place that had to be put elsewhere. Lather, rinse, repeat. I put away clothes, but had to organize drawers so they could fit. I tried to put things in my closet, but had to organize it to find room.

I hate housekeeping; I would rather be reading or writing. Yet I cherish simplicity and order. It’s the domestic Catch-22. Argh.