KonMari Project 5.1: Komono (kitchen equipment)

The fourth stage of the KonMari Method is when you tackle komono, which is Japanese for “miscellaneous items.” Ideally, you’ve sorted through your clothes, weeded your books, and gone through your papers. You’re not ready for your sentimental items yet, but now it’s time to tackle Everything Else. But that’s a lot of stuff.

I get why komono gets one amorphous step to itself.  Kondō could assume that most of her readers owned clothes (!), books, and paperwork. And most people have sentimental items: the trick with those is the emotional attachment more than the items themselves. But everything else in someone’s home varies from person to person. Instead of being one small volume, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up would have to be a set of encyclopedias to cover all the different kinds of things that people own. Best, from the author’s standpoint, to give general tips and then stand back and let people work their own way through this. As taking everything I owned that wasn’t in one of the other categories and piling it in the living room wasn’t remotely feasible, I decided to break it down into broad categories. After all, I classify things for a living: this is second nature to me. I’m working through them one by one, and we’ll see how it goes. While I may very well revise my list as I get further into this, my first set of categories (to be tackled as the spirit moves me) is:

  • Kitchen equipment: cookware, bakeware, and the dishes and silverware
  • Audio/video: CDs, DVDs, cassettes, and the equipment to play them on
  • Bed and bath: towels, throws, sheets, and other things that lurk in the linen closet
  • Crafts: yarn, fabric, magic markers, and anything else that I may have been creative with
  • Everything else: (to be further subdivided when I get the first four out of the way and see what’s left)

And with that, I took on the kitchen.

Let’s start with the results. I did the main kitchen purge on July 4, and then went to CONvergence two days later. When I got back, I was a bit pressed for time, so I didn’t do major cooking. I just threw together a few ingredients and called it lunch for the following week. So it was almost two weeks before I did serious cooking in my newly-weeded kitchen. I opened the kitchen gadget drawer to get a strainer and was totally stunned by how easy it was to retrieve it. That drawer used to be so jam-packed that stuff would catch on the drawer above it and I’d have to work my hand in through a narrow opening and try to unsnag everything. Now opening the drawer was effortless and since the things in it were only one layer deep, I could easily see everything at a glance. This was so noticeable an improvement that it lifted my mood for the next half hour. So yes, totally worth the time spent pulling the kitchen equipment together and going through it!

Random thoughts from the kitchen

I started with the equipment I rarely use nowadays. I don’t use large skillets any longer, now that I have a sauté pan that I like, and anyway, the 12″ (30 cm) cast iron skillet was too heavy for me to handle safely. Eating habits have changed, and while I still adore layer cake with buttercream frosting, I rarely make it anymore, not even to take it into work for parties. I didn’t get rid of all the cake pans, but I tried to hold on to only the basics and only the specialty ones I fully expect to use within the next year. I need two 9″ round pans to make a layer cake, but I don’t need two Bundt pans when you only use one for a recipe. And it was time to accept that even if it improves the flavor noticeably, I’m not going to grind my own spices. Not enough to justify giving space to a spice grinder, anyway. I do grate fresh nutmeg, but I can use the grater for other things. The spice grinder was single-purpose and a lot larger.

If I couldn’t identify the item or it looked too dangerous to use, it went. Rationally or not, I’m convinced that the onion holder was a tetanus shot waiting to happen, not so much when it was in use but when I was washing it afterwards. My wariness of sharp blades and points is why a mandoline slicer has never made it into my kitchen. One of the reasons I prefer baking to cooking is that you don’t need to use knives nearly as much in baking.

Odd kitchen gadget lying on table and being held.
It took me half an hour to remember what this blue thing was (you use it to protect your fingers while slicing or grating food).

Often, one thing led to another. I’ve moved a pair of pie plates—not sure why I had two of them in the first place—from one apartment to another for years. Never mind that I haven’t made a pie in at least 12 years. So the pie plates went. And if I’m not making pies, then I don’t need to keep a pie keeper/carrier. Nor do I need pie weights, nor do I need a pie crust shield. Gone, gone, gone. I did keep the rolling pin—if it’s been at least 12 years since I made a pie, it has to be closer to 20 since I made pie crust from scratch—but that’s because I use it occasionally to crush cookies and the like into crumbs.

I got rid of most of the “cute” equipment. I think there’s a perception that if you’re single, you need smaller quantities of food, like casseroles with only 2 servings. But here’s the catch: it takes almost as long to make a small amount of something as a regular amount. Think about it: why would it take twice as long to dip a 1-cup measure into flour and level it than it does to dip a ½-cup measure? So while I kept the bread maker that makes small loaves because they’re good for potlucks, I got rid of the tiny baking pans and other pots and pans that were only large enough for one or two servings. I like to bake, but I don’t like to cook all that much, so I prefer to cook regular size amounts and eat away at it over a week. It helps that I have a really high tolerance for leftovers.

It’s hard to get rid of anything when there’s a little voice whispering But everyone needs a skillet. How can you not own a pie plate? But what if you want to make waffles some day? I had more trouble with the “what ifs” with kitchen equipment than with the other things. I have a lot of specialized kitchen equipment. If I got rid of the waffle maker, I couldn’t easily substitute something else if I decided I wanted a waffle one morning. Whereas with the clothes, if I gave away one shirt too many, all that meant was that I couldn’t wear that shirt, not that I’d have to go to work naked. And that’s why I still have the waffle maker, at least for now.

Kitchen equipment piled on the floor.
Some of what departed.

End result: about 80 pounds (36 kg) of kitchen stuff went off to Goodwill or to interested friends. Oh, my hypothetical future movers, you don’t know how I’m making your lives easier.

All the feelings

I started with the kitchen equipment because of all the komono, I figured I had the least sentimental attachment to it. Which was technically true, but there were feelings anyway. With much of the stuff I’ve gotten rid of, it’s because I’ve outgrown it, like weeding most of my books on Wicca because I’m no longer Wiccan and because I’ve learned much of what was in the books and don’t need to refer to them as often. But I still like to bake. (Cooking, not so much.) Some of the baking equipment went because it was reminding me that I don’t get to bake as much as I used to, and the reminders were kind of sad. Am I still a baker if I don’t bake all that much? Is it all right to bake when most of the baked goods I like to make are on one naughty-no-no list or another? Will I bake much in the future? I catch myself scheduling my favorite recipes to make sure I cover as many of them as possible: vanilla pound cake for a potluck later this week, something easy to carry for the family reunion next month, chai-spiced pound cake or maple cake for a potluck in September, and definitely gingerbread and Grandma’s pumpkin bread for sometime this fall. But in trying to make sure all the favorites get covered, there are fewer chances to discover anything new, and I enjoy that as well.

Melancholy aside, remember those great results I got with just the kitchen gadget drawer. And I no longer have to offload every baking pan I own onto the floor just to get to my 9″ x 13″ pan (22 x 33 cm). I’m sure I’m not conveying how thrilled this makes me, but I’m downright ecstatic every time I go into a manageable cupboard or drawer and easily retrieve something. I’m definitely pressing on with the KonMari Project. I don’t know what I’ll be dealing with next, but I continue to inch ahead. More later!

KonMari Project 4: Papers

The third discard stage of the KonMari Method is getting rid of papers. After the long, drawn out process of weeding my books, I figured this stage would be quick and easy. I like books; most papers don’t generate nearly the same interest, much less warmth and affection. And since you can say that for most people, this stage uses different criteria. We keep most papers for legal reasons, financial reasons, and information. So this stage is a matter of coolly evaluating the papers you’ve got and asking yourself if you really need to keep them. (Pointing out the obvious here: if most people, myself included, could coolly evaluate anything we own, decide if we really needed it, and follow through on getting rid of the unneeded, Kondō’s books wouldn’t be international bestsellers.)

I hope most people who read Kondō’s books realize early on that you can’t follow the program unthinkingly. Kondō says “My basic principle for sorting papers is to throw them all away”—trust me, that was tempting—but she’s writing for Japanese readers who have to deal with Japanese rules about hanging onto documentation. Only a few sentences later, she writes, “…I recommend you dispose of anything that does not fall into one of three categories: currently in use, needed for a limited period of time, or must be kept indefinitely.” The tricky part is figuring out what’s needed.

File box and file cabinet.
The destination and the starting point.

Generally, my papers fall into four categories: knitting and crochet patterns, owner’s manuals and warranties, tax returns and financial papers, and interesting articles and clippings. The whole lot filled a two-drawer file cabinet. I’d love to get rid of that file cabinet. It’s attractive, but the drawers are a few millimeters too narrow for standard hanging folders (?!), and I don’t want two drawers worth of papers in my life. Where it sits makes it difficult to get to the air conditioner, but there’s no better place to put it. A file box would work just as well and I could push it under the desk or into a closet.

The easiest papers to toss were the patterns. Most of them were working copies and I didn’t need them any longer. I prefer to work from PDF patterns, and I keep pattern notes on the knitting blog and Ravelry nowadays. Owner’s manuals and warranties were a bit more of a struggle. I have a hard time tossing them, even when it’s obvious how to use the device and the warranty runs out in 90 days. (Yes, I have kept IKEA assembly instructions for furniture that will never be disassembled until the time comes to throw it out!) But as Kondō says, if you really need them, you can usually find them online.

Financial documents don’t spark joy, but that doesn’t mean they don’t generate emotional energy. I had no real feelings about my personal tax returns and was content to shove them into the back of a closet. But I was also storing the tax returns for two estates, and I loathed them. They reminded me of a miserable time in my life, and I felt forced to give them space in my home, which is pretty much the opposite of what the KonMari Project is about. But even though the last estate had closed 14 years ago, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was going to be in big trouble if I threw them out. So in the past, I would come across the estate tax returns when looking for something else, feel powerless to do anything about them, and then try hard to forget about them entirely. This time, buoyed by the success of getting rid of clothing and books, I made myself ask my tax preparer about them. The best way I can explain why I hadn’t asked earlier is that if she’d said I had to keep them, it would’ve felt even worse than it already did. I’d have known I was powerless. Ugh.

Turns out I could toss them. 🎉

Including other confidential papers I had weeded, I ended up lugging about 12 pounds (5.4 kg) of paper away to be shredded. It was absolutely delightful feeding the papers into the collection unit. I felt both literally and figuratively lighter.

That leaves the articles and clippings. I’ve halved the collection, but what remains is stubborn (I know, I know: it’s that I’m stubborn about keeping them). I need a different way to store them. All that filing them accomplished was to hide them from view and allow me to forget about them. Keeping them in notebooks is a possibility, although most of them are on acidic paper and are already turning yellow. I don’t care if they disintegrate after I’m done with them, but they need to be readable for as long as I choose to keep them. I’m stuck with the file cabinet until I figure out what to do with them, which is excellent motivation to keep working away at the problem. The fight goes on!

KonMari Project 3: Books

It took a while—almost a year—but I’ve wrapped up the second stage of the KonMari Project: books. This was definitely more challenging than sorting through my clothes. I suspect that Marie Kondō doesn’t feel about books quite as strongly as I do. From what I can tell from The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up and Spark Joy, books seem to be more like objects to her than, you know, books. Perhaps I am being unfair. It’s just that she made it sound a lot easier to weed books than it proved to be. But I’m determined to finish the KonMari Project this year, so I declared the books stage completed on February 20, and am moving on to the third stage, which is papers.

I will say, I now have a much better idea of why I’ve held onto so many books. Of course, I have my favorites. These are the books that as I looked at each one, I distinctly experienced a feeling of fondness for it. For fiction, I might remember a scene or two from the book. Nonfiction triggered memories of an argument the author made or an insight I got while reading the book. These were definitely books to keep. But I realized that I’ve kept a lot of books out of habit. Whether or not I’d read them, I got so used to them just being there that I no longer saw them, like wallpaper. Heck, I moved them from one apartment to another on autopilot. These were the books that were easy to discard using Kondō’s recommendations, because when I focused on each of these books individually—took it off the shelf, held it, and really saw it—it dawned on me that I felt no real connection to them anymore. Many of these books were ones that were important to me in an earlier part of my life. I let go of many knitting books because I’m experienced enough now not to need them. Having a lot of books on Wicca was right for me when I was Wiccan, but my Paganism has wandered far enough away from Wicca that it was time to let them go.

I erred on the side of keeping books. Lots of them weren’t my absolute favorites, but still made me feel happy when I saw them. It was also easy to justify keeping a lot of astrology and tarot books because they’re out of print. I may not have referred to them recently, but it’s hard to shake the feeling that if I get rid of them, I’ll need one again some day and won’t be able to get a copy of it. After all, astrology and tarot books aren’t all that easy to find in public libraries. But I’m proud of myself for getting rid of some books that I had mixed feelings about. I had a lot of books on Japanese, from studying it years ago. But I haven’t had the time to return to it, and anyway, Latin is calling to me now. It was tempting to keep them, promising myself that I’d use them someday, but I acknowledged that when I see them, they don’t spark joy. They spark feelings of obligation, a bit of guilt, some frustration, regret. This is exactly what Kondō is saying that you don’t want from the stuff you keep. So I thanked and released them.

bookshelf_space
Realizing that many of you may not be any more familiar with empty space in a bookcase than I am, here’s what it looks like.

So there have been some bittersweet moments, but generally, weeding the books has been a good thing, and probably something I wouldn’t have done to any great extent if I hadn’t been prodded by Kondō’s books. I’m enjoying seeing open space in my bookcases. Mind you, it looks unnatural to me. I’ve bought bookends (gasp!). I’ve never needed them before because every shelf was packed. So far I’ve only bought plain black utilitarian bookends, with the exception of one set of bright yellow ones because I love the color, but if I become someone who always has space in her bookcases, maybe I’ll get some fancy ones. And I’ve opened up about ten cubic feet in my storage unit by removing several boxes of books. It’s definitely an improvement to open the door without fearing that a mountain of boxes is about to topple over on me. On to papers!

KonMari Project 2: Clothing

I’ve finished the first discard stage of the KonMari Project: clothing. Yes, I own fewer clothes now, although the results weren’t as dramatic as some of the anecdotes from Kondō’s books. Having gone through every piece of clothing I own, I filled nine kitchen trash bags and took them to Goodwill. The difference isn’t all that noticeable in my closet, except that it’s now much easier for me to hang up what’s left because it’s not so tightly packed. I managed to empty three dresser drawers, though, and the underbed storage boxes no longer resemble sardine tins. Success!

KonMari2clothing
Partway through the process: seven bags of clothes (and some other stuff) to donate.

I found the discarding process interesting psychologically, beyond just the thrill of piling up no-longer-wanted clothes. Kondō recommends that you do your weeding by yourself without distractions, not even music playing. Okay, not my preference, but again, trying it her way first. So not only did I work without music, but I spoke out loud to everything I discarded, thanking it, like she suggests. (Okay, that was a lot easier to do without other people around! 😀 ) It didn’t take long before I was talking to everything, stating as clearly as I could  why I was or wasn’t keeping it. This is something I learned from studying the tarot: say your readings out loud (or write them down) even if you’re reading for yourself, because this forces you to put your intuitions into words and be conscious of them.

Most of the time, I already knew why I didn’t like a particular item, and all I needed to do was admit this and let it go. But doing this weeding  Kondō’s way, by picking each item up and mindfully considering it, led to a few surprises. For instance, last spring, I’d bought a pinpoint Oxford cloth shirt. I like Oxford cloth shirts, the shirt fit well, and I loved the color: an unusually deep blue. Yet I’d only worn it once or twice. So I knew something was wrong, but I didn’t know what. I picked it up and began to list the reasons I liked it—and heard myself say, “I don’t like how you feel against my skin.” Given a moment to think about it, I realized it was true. Sure, the shirt looks great. But there’s something about the texture that repels me. I’d managed to ignore that because I was distracted by the pretty blue color, but handling the shirt and talking to it brought those feelings to consciousness. When I looked for my other pinpoint Oxford cloth shirts, I found them all already in the discard pile. My regular Oxford cloth shirts? All back in the closet. If I go no further with the KonMari Project than this, I’ve at least learned never to spend money on anything made from pinpoint Oxford cloth, no matter how beautiful it is (and I thanked the blue shirt for teaching me that).

KonMari2clothing2
Out! Out! (And thank you!)

I’m fascinated, though, by how that reason came right out of my mouth without my conscious intention. If I’d ignored Kondō’s advice to speak out loud as I made my decisions, I doubt I’d have learned anything. I would have silently listed all those good, solid reasons for why I liked the shirt, and likely ended up keeping it. Because, you know, I’d already spent money on it, and maybe I’d wear it more if I told myself to do so, and it really was a lovely shade of blue… The talking out loud bit makes it harder to rationalize away your feelings, and it gives your intuition a chance to make itself heard. Literally.

This is the sort of thing I’d hoped to get from the KonMari Project: not just a reduction in my material possessions, nifty though that is, but better knowledge of what I like and don’t like, which basically means better knowledge of who I am. A lot of the clothing I got rid of was fine when I bought it—it matched the person I was at that time. Gradually, I changed, and I stopped wearing the clothes that didn’t go with the person I’d become. But I’d never really acknowledged that change, except in the most general way: I’m getting older or When I was in my thirties…. And so I didn’t think to let go of the clothing that no longer worked.

Oh, and I did look at Kondō’s suggestions for storing the clothes you keep. Okay, fine, I’m folding my socks and putting them in rows in the drawers. I’m not convinced that the socks care one way or the other, but I admit that this takes up far less space than rolling them into balls. But I’m not committing to anything beyond this yet!

The pilgrimage

pil·grim·age: n. 1. A journey to a sacred place or shrine. 2. A long journey or search, especially one of exalted purpose or moral significance. (American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, 5th edition)

This is the third year I’ve observed Vestalia. I feel drawn to the holiday and to the goddess it honors, but I’m having trouble translating that attraction into practice. Most of the rituals I know of (for Vesta or any other deity) assume that you are a theist, that you believe in the deity you’re worshiping. Semi-atheist that I am, I see Vesta as an archetype, as a astrological asteroid, and I want to deliberately acknowledge that archetype in some way. But a ritual designed to please a deity I don’t believe exists feels pointless. So I try a little of this and a little of that, searching for something that will resonate with the “feel” of Vesta. Meditate on a candle, per Francis Bernstein’s suggestion in Classical Living. Clean the apartment. Those sorts of things.

This year, I went to IKEA.

One of my goals is to make my office/craft room usable. I tend to treat it like a room-sized junk drawer, shoving random stuff into the closet, under the table, or just piling it on top in the hopes that it will put itself away somewhere. But as my rent goes up each year and I’m paying more for each square foot of this room, I want to make better use of it. Thus, off to IKEA to find  “storage solutions.” Between the travel time there and back, and the time spent navigating the store itself, it’s a day trip, and since I was taking Vestalia off from work anyway, it seemed like an excellent time both practically and symbolically to make the trip. Certainly recommitting myself to making my apartment a home was appropriate for Vestalia.

When I was first trying to think of a title for this post, I used the term “pilgrimage” facetiously. After all, a trip to a humongous home furnishings store is hardly a journey to a sacred site, and while it’s nifty that I went there on Vestalia of all days, it’s not, you know, meaningful. Unless I make it so—and I can. In this case, with what I just called “nifty:” timing my trip to IKEA for the day in my calendar most focused on home.

This is the kind of sacred activity that speaks to me the most: doing things that correspond symbolically  to a holiday or to a goddess or something, while at the same time having practical results. Maybe it’s all the earth in my chart, but I need that practical aspect as much as I need the spiritual. We Pagans often look for the sacred in the mundane world rather than draw a line between the two. IKEA is huge and generic, but it is about home, in the most physical, earthy sense. (Okay, it’s probably overstating matters to think of it as a giant temple of Vesta, even if the delineated path through the store does remind me of a labyrinth!) I’m not going to make an annual rite of this trip, of course, since my apartment would burst at the seams from all the new furniture I’d be hauling home. But linking action to a symbolically corresponding day is an act of magic—or of ritual.

Storage bins.
Much more useful than a reliquary.

W is for waxing and waning

Waxing and waning are terms that mean “growing” and “shrinking” respectively. Neither is limited to an astronomical context (“As he waxed eloquent on his own magnificence, her interest in him waned.”), but they often refer to the monthly changes in the apparent size of the Moon as it moves from new to full (waxing) and back again (waning).

montage of the waxing and waning moon

Planning activities to coincide with the waxing or waning Moon is an easy form of magical timing. Many everyday calendars show the phases of the Moon, so you don’t need buy a special book or bookmark an obscure website. The idea is, start activities related to growth and increase during the two weeks of the waxing Moon. If on the other hand you’re trying to reduce or diminish something, then time it for the two weeks that the Moon is waning.

Lunar gardening makes extensive use of the waxing and waning Moon, although it gets a little more complicated than just growing and reducing. For one thing, stuff that goes on above the ground is related to the waxing Moon, while that which happens in the ground is related to the waning Moon. You can refine the system even more by paying attention to which sign of the zodiac that the Moon is in, since some signs are considered fruitful and others barren. 

Sample activities for a waxing Moon:

  • Cut your hair if you wish it to grow faster. Similarly, you’d mow your lawn now if you wanted it to grow faster, but I don’t think I’ve ever heard someone say they wanted that to happen. Maybe if you’d just seeded your lawn, but then you wouldn’t have anything to mow yet.
  • Sell things for the best chance at a good price. While selling something means you’re getting rid of it (waning Moon), you’re focusing on what you can get for it, which relates to the waxing Moon. Centuries ago, the astrologer Dorotheus of Siddon concluded that the second quarter is better than the first for getting a good price, so this is when I haul books to the used book store.
  • Plant annuals. Usually we’re interested in their flowers, fruit, and/or leaves, which counts as above-the-ground.
  • Harvest herbs for their flowers and/or leaves.

Sample activities for a waning Moon:

  • Cut your hair if you wish it to grow slower. Ditto for mowing the lawn, only I bet this will be a much more popular time.
  • Declutter a closet, clean out the garage, etc.
  • Plant biennials, perennials, bulbs, trees, and root vegetables. The waning Moon favors the roots, and you want good root structure to support these plants for years—or to make great potatoes and carrots for this year.
  • Harvest herbs for their roots.
  • Weed the garden.
  • Prune trees and shrubs.

But does it work? I…don’t know. I choose to act as if it does. I prefer the idea of a cosmos in which energy moves in accordance with planets, where waxing and waning moons have observably different effects. It’s a major part of the “magical lifestyle” I want. At a practical level, it gives me deadlines to work to: clean out the refrigerator before the Moon begins to wax again, remember to sell these books before the Moon becomes full or be stuck with them for another month. And if that gets me to do something that needs to be done, a lot of the time, that’s enough.

Vestalia recap

The nine days are over, and it is the end of Vestalia. I’ve enjoyed the holiday, although I’m convinced that the full run of days is too much for one person to handle without a sisterhood of Vestal Virgins to call on for support.  Next year, I’m likely to just observe the festival day on June 9, or at most that and the first and last days. It has meant something to light a candle to Vesta every day, but that was all I could think of to do most of the time, and it would be too easy for that to become routine.

I started things off with a much cleaner apartment this year (!). A bit of housekeeping wouldn’t be bad preparation for most events, but it’s particularly relevant to Vestalia, which originally involved a ritual cleaning of the Temple of Vesta. I’d love to say it was my great spiritual devotion to Vesta that motivated me to do this cleaning, but it was actually an iPad app for housecleaning. Whatever works.

My apartment is hearth-less, but Vestalia is a holiday for bakers. I was busy with the breadmaker, baking one loaf of barley bread for the festival day, and another yesterday to finish things off tonight. It’s been unusually hot this month; being able to confine the heat of an oven to a relatively small area was wonderful. Between the LED tea light candle, the iPad app, and the breadmaker, this Vestalia was something of a celebration of domestic technology—definitely not part of the traditional festival, but fitting for the modern household. It’s a sobering thought to remember that if I had to clean the entire apartment without any technology—and not just the specialty items like the breadmaker, but the vacuum cleaner, the washer and dryer, and if you want to get really picky, indoor plumbing—I’d have been too worn out and short on time to celebrate anything, and not likely to be in any mood to try. Vesta may be a quiet goddess, but I’m guessing she’s also a hardworking one.

Of Jupiter, Saturn, and philodendrons

Gardening is not my greatest skill. Be it a vegetable garden or a windowsill of houseplants, once I get the plants going, I tend to slack off on their maintenance. Especially watering. Really, if the shamrock plant could jump up on my bed and poke me until I watered it, the way my cat used to insist on being fed, all my plants would be happier for it. And someone who barely remembers to water her plants is unlikely to remember to prune them. Indeed, it’s difficult for me to get past the notion that pruning a plant will harm it. Never mind that millions of Americans mow their lawns several times a year without killing them off, it feels counter-intuitive that snipping off branches and fresh new growth helps a plant in the long run.

Over the years, I’ve amassed a moderate collection of houseplants that have managed to survive my maintenance style. Among them is a philodendron. It has been one of my more successful home gardening efforts, sending out tendrils and unfurling new leaves with exuberance, and bouncing back remarkably well when I’ve watered it after a period of forgetting. I certainly haven’t pruned it.

* * *

In astrology, Jupiter and Saturn are symbolic opposites. Among other things, Jupiter represents growth and expansion. This is the planet associated with good fortune and boundless possibilities.  Jupiter brings with it the faith that it will all work out somehow, although this is the optimism that comes from never having had to grapple with a real problem. In the days of yore, astrologers dubbed Jupiter the Greater Benefic, and it’s difficult to see Jupiter as anything else than a good influence. Which of course, it isn’t always. Just ask anyone with a malignant tumor, a problem with obesity, or who is living on a planet suffering from ecological exploitation what the downside to unrestricted growth might be.

Saturn, the Greater Malefic, represents all those limitations and restrictions that Jupiter doesn’t comprehend. Duties, responsibilities, rules, delays, the passage of time, eating your vegetables before you get dessert, paying your dues, recognizing your limits—all of these are Saturn’s domain. Sure, nowadays we tell ourselves that these things are good for us, that they build character, but mostly we just put up with them.

* * *

Leaving the philodendron to grow as it would seemed reasonable at the time. Heck, I was thrilled that it was growing, period. Leafy vines covered the plant stand, helping disguise the fact that all of my plants look a bit tired (living with me isn’t easy). But today, I saw the philodendron without my rose-colored glasses and realized that it wasn’t healthy. It had reached the stage where there were more vines and leaves than the roots could support, both in terms of nutrition and in holding the structure of the plant itself together. Those cascading vines had more dead leaves on them than living and many were largely bare. Dried leaves were scattered around the plant, which had a stretched look to it as the vines were pulled straight under their own weight.

So I’ve had to prune the plant to give it a chance to thrive. Maybe two-thirds of the vines had to be removed (the image of the god Saturn with his scythe comes to mind). I struggled to untangle vines to find a safe spot to clip them and discovered that the philodendron had started climbing up itself, strangling itself in the process. It’s entirely possible that in waiting this long, I may have had to cut off too much for it to survive. We shall see.