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Aug 7 2015

It Changed My Life! (sort of)

by Dea Anne M

As much as I enjoy housework in general and organizing in particular, you might believe that I possess a clothes closet that is perfectly organized, terrifically efficient and, in general, a joy to behold. Well, all I can say to that is that people used to believe that the Earth was flat.

Up until very recently, my closet was a tangled, snarled mess–full of clothes that I could never see because everything was layered on top of everything else–in short, a disaster. I would go in and weed through and carefully fold, sort, and stack or hang all that was left. Seemingly a day (and sometimes mere hours) later the closet would be back in the same ridiculous and unusable condition. At one point, I decided that the problem was not having the right sort of storage containers. This may have been an unconscious excuse to spend money because I am, at best, an unenthusiastic shopper–but I love, love, love Ikea and The Container Store.

Well, putting things into other things didn’t really work for my closet because I could never use anything because I couldn’t see it. My “solution” at another stage was to put on hangers absolutely everything that could be put on a hanger, but for some reason that never worked for me either. Then I picked up an odd little volume called The Life-Changing Magic of magicTidying Up by Marie Kondo. You might have heard of it. The author, who is Japan’s premier organizational consultant, lays out in the book her “KonMari Method” of decluttering and organizing one’s space. The book has been a runaway best seller in Japan, Germany, the UK, and now here. In fact, The London Times dubbed Kondo “Japan’s preeminent guru of tidiness, a warrior princess in the war on clutter.” I haven’t actually read the entire book yet but I look forward to doing so. From what I have read however, I see that Kondo provides specific organizational guidelines for only three broad areas–clothing, books and papers–and this makes sense really because these are usually the areas where many of us have the most trouble. Her organizational tenets are few, and on the surface of it, very simple. They are:

Let go of things to make room for the things that matter.

Keep only things that spark joy.

“Someday” never comes.

Treat your possessions as if they were alive.

Your possessions reflect your state of mind.

Now a lot of this made sense to me, at least on an intuitive level, although I knew that some of it would require more of a leap of faith on my part. Anyway, this past weekend, I decided to take that leap of faith in a small way. I thought “I’ll do one drawer in my clothes closet and then we’ll see.” One of Kondo’s directives is that you cull your clothes to the point where you are left only with those that “spark joy.” Not stated, but I think implied, is that usefulness is a part of joy. I don’t think that Kondo is suggesting that anyone get rid of absolutely everything they own and spend money replacing it. After culling the one drawer, I was left with a much smaller and much more reasonable collection of apparel. I then proceeded to the next step in Kondo’s program…storage.

Kondo insists that you find a place for each object to “live,” put it there, and always put it back in the same spot. Next, any clothing that can be folded should be folded (into neat rectangles no less) and stored in drawers, or on shelves, vertically with the edges facing you. What you don’t do is stack anything. “This isn’t going to work,” I thought. “Oh well,” I told myself as I dived in. “It’s only one drawer.” Well, a few hours later, I had what I can only call my dream closet. Not only that, I didn’t have to buy a single extra hanger or storage item.

Another of Kondo’s premises is that you already have all the space and tools you require–and while I don’t think that this is necessarily true for everyone, it certainly was true for me in this instance. In fact, my closet now has room to spare. I plan to move on to the books this weekend, and there I will really test myself since books–looking at books and having them–are very much an emotional issue for me.

As far as the clothes closet goes, several days later I think I can safely report that the system is working beautifully for me. I can get dressed faster, and the vertically “filed” clothes don’t flop over as you might think. In other words, I am a convert. I don’t think I’m ever going to be one of those true believers (and there are many right now) who call themselves “Konverts” and post before-and-after shots on social media, but I’m here to tell you that this method is definitely starting to make a difference in my housekeeping…and maybe in my life.

To be sure, some of the zeal with which MariKon disciples describe how the method has made a difference in their lives can seem a bit over the top.

  • “I love green vegetables now!”
  • “I lost 30 pounds!”
  • “I folded my husband and my children into neat rectangles and organized them into drawers!”

Of course, I’m joking here, but I hope you get the point. I think some of this fervor obscures the real value of this program, which is that mindfulness can indeed work a sort of “magic” in our lives and that we can change a great deal of we might be dissatisfied with simply through paying attention…even to, or maybe especially to, the smallest things.

Are you interested in organizing your space in a way that works better for you? Are you simply feeling overwhelmed at all the “stuff” in your life? You may not buy into all, or any, of Kondo’s suggestions. As an example, Kondo asks you to empty your purse each evening, thank it for its service to you that day, and put it in its own special spot to “rest.” Sound wacky? I know, and yet I must confess that I have started doing this and it really does make a difference in some subtle way. Anyway, whatever your organizational inclinations may be, DCPL has resources to help. Here are a few that I recommend.stuff

One of my favorite organizing experts is Julie Morgenstern. Her Shed Your Stuff, Change Your Life: A Four-Step Guide to Getting Unstuck is a thoughtful guide to making change happen through surrounding yourself with only those elements essential for you to live the life that you desire. Her older book Organizing From the Inside Out: The Foolproof System for Organizing Your Home, Your Office, and Your Life is still relevant today and is a classic of its kind.

peaceI think the best books on organization take a psychological approach to the subject (as opposed to focusing exclusively on systems and tools), and Cindy Glovinsky’s book Making Peace With the Things In Your Life: Why Your Papers, Books, Clothes, and other Possessions Keep Overwhelming You and What to Do About It  is one of these. Glovinsky, who is a therapist along with being a professional organizer, helps the reader learn to distinguish between the “things” in her or his life and the “Things.” Very useful indeed and, in any case, the subtitle says it all.

The success of companies such as Zipcar and Spotify indicate that there may bestuffocation growing numbers of people who value access over ownership. Stuffocation: Why We’ve had Enough of Stuff and Need Experience More than Ever by James Wallman is not so much a guide to organizing what you own as a treatise on living in a more satisfying and conscious way by letting go of the imperative to accumulate possessions instead of experiences. I found some of the real-life stories of people who have actually done this both fascinating and somewhat irritating. Irritating because so many of these people were able to break the grip of possession overload primarily because they possessed a certain level of financial wherewithal. Someone who has to work multiple jobs in order to keep themselves and their families clothed, housed and fed probably doesn’t have the leisure to think about optimizing the experience factor of his or her next vacation. In fact, she or he may never be able to take vacations at all. Actually, I think Wallman’s real aim in the book is not in promoting a certain lifestyle so much as it is to encourage a mind shift in the prevailing culture. Interesting, provocative, and well worth reading.

Do you think that you need help getting organized and what is your biggest area of challenge? Maybe your organizational skills are already finely honed. If so, do you have any tips for the rest of us?

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clockMy ideal work day begins something like this: wake-up, meditate for 20 minutes, exercise, shower and dress, have coffee and breakfast, pack lunch, hit the road and arrive at my branch with a few minutes to spare. In actuality, even though I truly am a morning person, there are plenty of mornings when some of this, or maybe most of this, doesn’t happen. Obviously, I’m going to show up for work but many have been the mornings when something else simply has to give.

I’m trying to practice compassion these days, and that includes compassion for self, so I try not to give myself grief, but I do sometimes wonder about the nature of time and why there never seems to be quite enough of it. I mean couldn’t it maybe just, I don’t know, stretch a little bit? Of course, to some degree, time is a relative concept. I used to work in an office with a man who was constantly pointing out that, because he set his watch by Greenwich Mean Time, he was the only person in the office who could possibly know what time it “really” was. Obviously, this became tiresome and most of us stopped listening to him altogether. I’ve wondered since if he ever learned that Coordinated Universal Time replaced Greenwich Mean as the global standard long ago. I imagine him on his way somewhere secure in the certainty of being “on time” when actually he is running a minute “late,” and I find myself wanting to snicker in a gloating manner. But I am trying to practice compassion now, so I don’t.

Still, although you and I could have a protracted discussion about whether or not the current time is 2:11 or 2:14, I think we would probably agree that the sun rises but once in 24 hours and sets the same. I mean as an observable phenomenon. Except then you might start pondering the question of what an hour actually is. Is it something materially real or simply a human concept? Except plants and animals seem to follow patterns based on light and dark, don’t they? Before you know it, you might find yourself tangled up in some sort of philosophical knot that would probably be fun to unravel on paper or in a classroom setting but probably doesn’t give you a lot of practical guidance in daily life.potter

So what’s a time-stretched person to do? Well, you can’t conjure up a forty-eight hour day and, unless you move in very different social circles from me, you won’t be deploying a Time Turner like Hermione Granger did in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. Ultimately, time-management is self-management and DCPL has resources to help you with that.

A classic of its kind is David Allen’s Getting Things Done: the art of stress-free productivity. Slanted more towards increasing productivity at work, Allen’s methods (surprisingly basic) can certainly carry over into other aspects of life. Allen recommends writing everything down and dating the note and this simple step, mindthough not actually easy to make a habit, might just make all the difference for you.

If you suspect that part of the problem for you might be the onslaught of information that we are all exposed to day after day, and seemingly minute by minute, you might check out The Organized Mind: thinking straight in the age of information overload by Daniel Levitin. Levitin mixes neuroscience scholarship with practical guidelines for organizing information. Levitin, who is also the author of This Is Your Your Brain On Music: the science of a human obsession, is always an tidyingengaging writer and, who knows, you might be able to figure out why you keep misplacing your keys.

…and speaking of keys, my own method consists of always, and I mean always, putting them back in the same place. I have praised before Marie Kondo’s quirky, and for me very useful, book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up . Allow me do so again. One of the best tips that I learned from Kondo is to empty my purse every time I get home. Now, this might sounds ridiculous – a big waste of time – but I’m telling you that this one little habit has made a huge difference in keeping me organized and collected on a daily basis.

organizedSometimes being a good steward of our time means knowing what to let go and Organized Enough: the anti-perfectionists guide to getting and staying organized by Amanda Sullivan can help you with that. Sullivan is a witty writer and the conversational tone of her book will draw you in while really practical advice will help you manage your things, your time and your life without driving yourself straight up the nearest wall.  After all, sometimes good enough is just fine.


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Aug 8 2016

The Great Indoors

by Dea Anne M

Despite my abiding love of gardening and the ocean, I’ve never been what you’d call an “outdoorsy” sort of person. While I was growing up, my decided preference for indoor activities never presented much of an issue except when it came to my yearly summer visit with my maternal grandmother. Every summer, my brother and I spent several weeks away from our parents and with grandparents and a wide assortment of aunts, uncles and cousins. Mostly this was a wonderful time and something to which  I greatly looked forward – the only hitch in the unalloyed pleasure for me being the fact that Grandma was of a generation who resolutely believed that all children (along with other animals), belonged outdoors. This was fine with my brother and cousins who spent the days happily outdoors coming inside only for lunch.

I, on the other hand, preferred reading and drawing to almost any activity available outside. Anytime of day presented its problems – afternoon (sun!), dusk (mosquitoes!), nighttime (slugs!) and unless it was early morning, or we were at a pool, I opted for the indoors every time. This presented a dilemma for Grandma who truly needed for there to be no children “underfoot” in order to do her daily housework but who also had a genuine desire to help her eldest grandchild (me) enjoy the summer. So, I wound up inside tucked away with my book or drawing pad in an unobstrusive corner. Grandma eventually even stopped commenting on how odd it was any child would rather be inside rather than out in “the sunshine and fresh air.”Actually, I think Grandma wound up enjoying my company, especially when it came to watching her “stories” each afternoon. Usually unenthusiastic about most contemporary culture, Grandma sure enjoyed her daily soap operas although she often reminded me that the shows were better “back before aliens or the FBI started showing up in every episode.”

Well, I don’t keep up with the soaps anymore, but these days I still venture outside as little as possible, at least between June and sometime in late September. As a gardener, I have to devote daily time to my plants but this happens in the early hours of the day. Other than that, you’ll find me inside and happily so.  Maybe you feel the same way but need some suggestions for new and different ways to “nest” when it’s ridiculously hot outside. Well, allow this list give you a few ideas – along with suggestions for resources available from DCPL.

1. Practice preservation.

Canning has changed, a lot, from the stress-filled and steam-weary marathon sessions of decades ago. Small batch canning is entirely possible now – and even more desirable for many of us who don’t possess the large living spaces and their attendent storage options that people once had access to. Say you return from a local farmers marketpreserve with an extra pound or two of peaches or a gardening friend planted a little more okra than she could use herself and gifted you with some of it. With a large pot, a few ingredients and some sealable jars you can turn that surplus into jam or pickles in quantities that won’t have you renting a storage locker for the overflow. I recommend America’s Test Kitchen’s excellent Foolproof Preserving: a guide to small batch jams, jellies, pickles, condiments and more to provide you with all the tips and recipes you’ll need to keep your own pantry stocked with just the right amount of luscious and useful treats.

2. Organize something!

Most of us have a closet, a shelf or a drawer somewhere inside of our living space that could use some rethinking and persona blazing hot day might be the perfect time to pour a cold glass of lemonade and tackle the job. And don’t think that you need to purchase a lot of tools and supplies in order to get organized. According to Marie Kondo in her book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, you already have all the space, tools and containers that you need to organize perfectly. After applying Kondo’s method to my own clothes closets and all of my bookshelves, I have to say that I think that she’s right. Kondo’s method has worked well for me, but some of you may find it a little more off-beat or time-consuming than feels comfortable. Check out The 8 Minute Organizer by Regina Leeds or Stacy Platt’s What’s A Disorganized Person To Do? for practical tips and bite-sized projects that anyone can tackle, and feel good about, in record time.

3 Rediscover the power of cool.

Remember going to the refrigerator for a glass of ice water that hot July afternoon when you were nine years old andpops finding the chocolate wafer cream cake resting on the middle shelf atop Grandma’s special cut glass platter like a treasure hunt prize? “Don’t you touch that cake!” Grandma (who seemed to have eyes everywhere) yelled from upstairs. “It’s for after supper!” Remember playing with your cousins out in the backyard when someone would hear the distant lilt of the ice cream truck playing its music from a couple of streets away? Remember running to meet it with everyone clutching their change and jostling to be first in line? Recreate those days with Icebox Cakes: recipes for the coolest cakes in town by Jean Sagendorph and Jessie Sheehan or Cesar and Nadia Roden’s Ice Pops!: 50 delicious, fresh and fabulous icy treats.

4. Stretch your boundaries.

Awhile back, one of my co-workers told me that she sets herself a challenge every summer to read at least one book countthat falls outside the scope of her usual preferred genres. I have yet to try this myself, but I think that it’s such a great idea. Say you read almost exclusively books about science or military history – why not try a western or a contemporary romance? Do you only read young novels? Try a collection of political essays or a work of popular history such as How to Be a Tudor: a dawn to dusk guide to Tudor life by Ruth Goodman. And remember, summer is a great time to dip into a classic such as David Copperfield by Charles Dickens or Alexandre Dumas’s The Count of Monte Christo.  Or you could try a few titles from a well-regarded list such as Books All Georgians Should Read or the American Library Associations list of Banned and Challenged Books.

I don’t know about you, but I believe the height of summer seems like the true inclement season here in the Southeast, and I plan to stay inside. What about you? What’s your favorite way/plan to while away the hot weather days?







Feb 26 2016

Frozen assets

by Dea Anne M

I was at the grocery store last week and found my eyes drawn to a display of small chest freezers for sale. When I say small, I mean small, these petite beauties were 5.0 cubic feet – cute as buttons (does anyone else I know talk about, or even think of, kitchen appliances in such terms?) and just the right size to nestle in a corner somewhere. Even in an apartment.

“I can put it in the basement,” I said to myself as though the item was already on its way home with me. “All this storage!” I exclaimed as I opened it and leaned inside. Like all chest freezers this one had plenty of vertical capacity. I found myself dreaming of all the food that I would “put up,” all the “emergency supplies” I could have at hand and all the future grocery store trips I wouldn’t have to make because I would be so amazingly well stocked. I might not have to leave the house for weeks at a time! Snow days…bring them on!

Then I started to remember the other chest freezers that I have known – namely those possessed by my paternal grandmother. You will notice the plural construction inside that last sentence. My grandmother owned not just one but two freezers apart from the rather ample freezer section that was part of her regular refrigerator. On her side porch, she maintained a stand up unit devoted to frozen goods as well as a chest freezer which I seem to remember as being roughly the size of a Cadillac. You might ask why so much space was devoted to frozen goods and all I can say is…I’m not really sure. For many years, my grandparents grew an enormous vegetable garden every year and there always seemed to be tons of corn and field peas and okra and green beans to prepare for the freezer as well as strawberries, blackberries and peaches. Well, maybe not tons but it seemed like it to those of us who helped to shell, shuck, cut, rinse, slice, blanch and bag it all. Of course much of that produce did get used during the course of the year but not all of it. Over time, as my grandparents aged, freezer space seemed to become less and less devoted to produce.  Bags of vegetables still resided there but these came from the store and seemed to function as cushioning for the more desirable items which skewed in the direction of “minute steaks,” ice cream, Sara Lee cakes and a seemingly endless supply of Cool Whip.

“You can freeze it!” my grandmother would marvel as she extracted yet another huge vat. “And it tastes just like whipped cream!”

Well, I will always disagree that Cool Whip tastes like whipped cream. I certainly have never preferred it, but I kept my opinion to myself because, after all, my grandmother was nice enough to give me dessert to begin with. Plus, in matters of taste, who is ever really correct?

The first refrigerators marketed for use in the home appeared during the early 1900’s which when you think about it walshwasn’t all that long ago. The freezer sections of some of the earlier units can look unbelievably small to us today – roughly the size of a couple of ice cube trays. In some ways, a smaller freezer space can make practical sense because, as we all know, “stuff” tends to accumulate to fill as much space as is available. Knowing this, I think that I’ll hold off buying a chest freezer for now since I can see myself filling it with all sort of “necessities” and then forgetting that they are there. That sort of situation drives me nuts and with my new found passion for “Kondoing” (ala The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo) I find myself more and more wanting to know exactly what I have and where it is. In Section 306 of Peter Walsh’s How to Organize Just About Everything, Walsh recommends that we sweep through our refrigerators once a week tossing out overextended items and cleaning up spills. That’s a laudable goal, whether homewe meet it or not, and there’s no reason that a similar sort of schedule can’t be followed with your freezer as well. Walsh, by the way, recommends not having a second refrigerator or freezer and unless you’re a hunter (or know any) or a quantity gardener you might want to reconsider that purchase too. Also, think about upkeep if you do decide to purchase. Cheryl Mendelson’s excellent book Home Comforts: the art and science of keeping house (which I have referenced in this blog previously and highly recommend) advises us that we “need not wash the freezer every week” but we are encouraged to wipe up spills and crumbs and regularly patrol the contents.  Mendelson, by the way, also posits the theory that “all good housekeepers are list makers” which feeds right in to the nagging desire that I have to create a refrigertor/freezer inventory (complete with relevant dates) which can live on the door and be updated as needed. To say that this idea would probably be greeted around my house with some odd looks would be putting it mildly. “What’s next – a map of the linen closet?” is one comment that I can imagine. Maybe I’ll do it anyway.

Now you may have different plans for that potential extra freezer – plans that involve no food stuffs at all. Extraordinary Uses for Ordinary Things from the folks at Reader’s Digest informs us that we can remove wax from candlesticks with the aid of our freezers. Also, any burned-on messes in pots will be easier to remove if we simply freeze the cooking vessel for a coupe of hours. Handy to know about but I don’t usually have enough wax encrusted candlesticks and burned pots sitting around my house to warrant an extra freezer. Your situation, of course, may be different.

So, for now, though there appears to be no spare freezer in my future, I am interested in using the freezer space that I have more effectively. The irreplacable wisdom born of making mistakes had taught me certain things. For example, my small household will generally not be well-served by freezing huge packs of chicken or ground beef – not, that is, unless I want to wind up with an enormous mass of protein impossible to separate into usable components. I’ve also found that berries, unbaked cookies and the like tend to work best if I take the time to spread them out on a cookie sheet or plate and freeze first before transferring to bags. I’ve also found that bagels are easier to handle if I cut them in half before I freeze them (you can toast the halves still frozen). I think though the most important thing I’ve learned is that food freezes best if I can make the package as airtight as possible. Many people swear by vacuum sealers and these freezedevices certainly look effective but, for me, good old Press and Seal plastic wrap seems to work well toward eliminating ice crystals and the dreaded freezer burn.  You find these tips, and more, in Susie Theodorou’s excellent book Can I Freeze It? How to Use the Most Versatile Appliance in Your Kitchen. Along with freezing wisdom (such as the best methods for freezing cooked rice and pastry shells) Theodorou offers some scrumptious looking recipes for foods that freeze particularly well. Seafood Pie and Chocolate Chunk Cookies look especially appealing to me. There are also useful chapters on effectively freezing leftovers and cooking and freezing ahead for parties.

What about you? Do you love your freezer or does it frustrate you? What are your best freezing tips?