DCPLive is a blog by library staff at the DeKalb County Public Library!


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?







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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Nov 28 2012

Home Matters

by Dea Anne M

I have a confession to make.

I keep house. In fact, I love to keep house.

Not very shocking is it? Yet there was a time in my life when such a confession would have provoked riotous laughter (not to mention downright disbelief) from those who knew me best. As a child, and as a teen, I was profoundly messy. I always enjoyed visiting non-messy friends. I would marvel at their orderly rooms and yet it never seemed to sink into my young brain that a neat,  relaxing space requires  a modicum of organized thinking as well as daily attention. All I knew was that the request (usually delivered through clenched, parental teeth) of  “Clean your room” sentenced me to several hours of arduous and deeply resented labor, the effects of which never seemed to last more than a day. Now if this makes me sound like some kind of spoiled brat, well…

Fast forward a number of years later when I am living alone in my own apartment. My father calls to chat and asks what I’m up to.

“I was just mopping the kitchen floor,” I said.

Several moments of silence followed before Dad said, “You’re kidding, right?”

While I’ll never be proud of my former habits, I’m glad that I finally figured out how much comfort and relaxation can be had when one’s home is clean and tidy. For me, housekeeping isn’t about cooking, decorating, or crafts—although I enjoy those things too. Real housekeeping for me has more to do with practicing habits and routines that turn a living space into a home—a place that consistently provides comfort, respite, and pleasure for those who inhabit it. While I didn’t grow up learning to keep house, mainly because I resisted the process so strenuously, I finally picked up the necessary skills, albeit very gradually and piecemeal.

Are you a late-blooming housekeeper? Maybe you’re already accomplished in this area but you want to refine your skills. Either way, DCPL has the resources to help.

My all-time favorite reference work on housekeeping is Cheryl Mendelson’s wonderful Home Comforts: the art and science of keeping house. Mendelson is a lawyer and a professor of philosophy as well as the author of the well-regarded new book The Good Life: the moral individual in an antimoral world. Be warned—this book is huge. Don’t allow its size to overwhelm you though. Inside you’ll find information on absolutely everything that you might ever need to know about keeping house. As a bonus, the author’s engaging writing makes the book as readable as a novel. If you’re looking for a housekeeping book to live with then I can’t recommend Home Comforts highly enough. I purchased my copy when the book first came out and I use it all the time.

If you’re looking for a more basic sort of reference book, try The Complete Household Handbook: the best ways to clean, maintain, and organize your home from the Good Housekeeping Institute. Packed with practical advice, this book is easy to use and contains some unexpected but very helpful tips. I had never thought about keeping two mops—one for the cleaning solution and the other to mop clean—until I read about it here, but that advice has made all the difference in the quality and speed of my floor cleaning. Another very useful reference is Cleaning: plain & simple by Donna Smallin. Smallin’s motto is “Work smarter, not harder,” and she shows you how to do just that by breaking major jobs down into smaller more manageable stages. I especially appreciate the alternatives that she suggests to the standard (at least for some of us) working person’s once-a-week cleaning. You can spend 30 monutes a day cleaning or pick one task a day and do it for the whole house or stick to one day a week. The important thing is to find what works for you.

An interesting slant on the traditional housekeeping book is Get Crafty: hip home ec by Jean Railla. As a staunch feminist and women’s studies major, Railla had cultivated an ardent disdain for domestic life. She found herself in her twenties living in New York City and pursuing a lucrative career as a web designer yet her life felt moorless and unsatisfying. Gradually, she found that making improvements in her living space began to improve her quality of life overall and, most importantly, did nothing to strip her of her feminist credentials. Get Crafty is a lively DIY manual full of great advice for decorating projects, thrift store shopping, and home made cleaning products. Railla’s voice throughout is funny, generous, and completely modern. Highly recommended.

Take a look at Susan Strasser’s Never Done: a history of American housework the next time you find yourself  faced with carpets in dire need of vacuuming or an Everest of laundry. Strasser’s fine history reveals that the work of the home was so consuming for the typical woman (and housework was done almost exclusively by women) of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries that she virtually had time for nothing else. Take that laundry for example: one day a week—often a Monday—the family’s clothes were soaped, boiled, beaten, scrubbed, rinsed, wrung, and hung. It was a process that required many hands and literally took up an entire day. It was draining, back-breaking work that probably wrecked the health of many. I try to keep this in mind as I pop a load of wash in my machine and go back to whatever else I was doing. This is a fascinating, enlightening book.

Thinking on this topic has me remembering a friend from my early days in college. Always beautifully dressed, this woman’s tiny apartment was equally impeccable. When I asked for her secret: no sleeping or eating in favor of housework? hired help? pixies?  she simply smiled and said, “It all starts with making the bed.”  At the time, it sounded like some sort of Zen koan but now, at long last, I think that I’ve started to understand.