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!

KonMari Project 1: Lifestyle

It’s January, the traditional time of my people to make life-altering resolutions. (Actually, it’s late January, the traditional time of my people to abandon those resolutions, but I’m running a bit behind.) I’m thinking big this year, and I’ve decided to work my way through the KonMari Method as both a life-altering and home-altering resolution for this year.

Now as I’ve said, almost no one mentions visualizing their ideal lifestyle in their descriptions of applying the KonMari Method; they mostly talk about the decluttering and the sparking of joy. But it’s clear that lifestyle planning is how you’re supposed to start. If I’m going to follow this plan, it would be silly to screw it up this early in the game. So, Step One:

Before you start tidying, look at the lifestyle you aspire to and ask yourself, “Why do I want to tidy?” When you find the answer, you are ready to move on to the next step: examining what you own.

As I’ve also mentioned, I never really spent much time thinking about the lifestyle I wanted to have when I grew up. My current lifestyle developed along the lines of “life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” So Kondo’s first step was two steps for me: to figure out what lifestyle I aspire to and to answer that question.

The lifestyle of my dreams

First off, I don’t hate the life I’m living right now. I’ve barely done a thing to plan it, but the decisions I made throughout my adult life have gotten me the lifestyle I have today. For example, I chose to go to college almost 500 miles away from my hometown and to not move back after I graduated. I moved to some neighborhoods and not to others. I made relationship decisions that resulted in my staying single and childless. And this series of decisions where I was trying for the best possible outcome turned into a lifestyle that could stand to be tweaked, but I hope won’t need to be completely overhauled. What I want out of all of this is to consciously create the life I’m living, not fall into it absentmindedly.

For a few weeks now, I’ve been documenting my current lifestyle. What do I like? What do I want to be rid of? I’ve also been noting what I see in other people’s lives that I either want to have as well or wish to keep avoiding. I’ve ended up with pages of notes in no particular order: I like sitting in cafés to write, I like being in walking distance of interesting or useful stores, I don’t want to have a commute to work that’s more than an hour long, I haven’t decided if I want pets again or not. A lifestyle is made up of little things. I haven’t covered everything yet because I keep thinking of new things to add, but I’ve got enough to work with.

Why tidy?

I already knew I’m uncomfortable being around clutter. That’s probably true of most people who read Kondo’s books. I do like a place to look lived in: a sterile home is a home without life. But too much stuff piling up leaves me feeling claustrophobic. I have a pretty low trigger point on this, and I know that by many people’s standards, my apartment isn’t cluttered. Still, I look around at what is clutter to me and because I can’t just wave my hand and make it all disappear, I feel overwhelmed and ineffectual. Even if Kondo’s method does nothing to change my lifestyle, it offers a way to make my home less oppressive and I figure that’s worth the price of the books.

Also, even when I’m not feeling defeated by the mess, clutter is distracting. I sit down to do something and notice piles of papers and books (and sometimes yarn) around me. Then I’m torn between doing what I was planning to do and stopping to straighten everything up. I don’t like being scattered and unfocused, especially at home—it’s “anti-Vestal.” Yes, Vesta is the goddess of focus, so to speak: the English word comes from a Latin word for hearth and Vesta is the goddess of the hearth. Focus starts at home, it seems. So to answer Kondo’s question: by tidying and decluttering, I will bring my life into clearer focus, aligning it with what I want and like. I’ll make a living environment in which it’s easier for me to focus. And through all this, I’ll be honoring Vesta.

fireplace
A search for “lifestyle” got me lots of photos of the Sims, so enjoy this nice picture of a hearth instead.

I don’t know as I’ll find the perfect lifestyle buried in my apartment, just waiting to be revealed as I discard various random items. But I figure my apartment should reflect the life I’m living now, not one that I was living years ago, and I think the KonMari Method can help me with that. Off to figure out what sparks joy!

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photo credit: A Rare Sight! – 52WFND 6/52 via photopin (license)

Hidden in plain sight

It took me a while to notice the KonMari Method. I eventually realized that I was hearing about the same book from both Facebook friends and my knitting group, and that articles about it were sailing across my feeds. I resisted reading it for a while mainly because it was so popular. (I’m weird that way: if something gets too popular, I don’t trust it, which is no more rational than adoring it only for that same popularity.) But I decided that if I was going to discuss it with people, it would be better if I knew what I was talking about.  Reading the book itself was a good thing, both for being able to talk about it and because the articles I’d read hadn’t given me the entire picture.

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo

Every article that I’ve read focuses on Marie Kondo’s approach to decluttering: if an object doesn’t “spark joy,” it goes, unless there’s a compelling reason to keep it (your old tax returns probably don’t spark joy, but hang onto them anyway). This was great, because I’d already been doing something like this: if an item gave me a feeling of guilt or obligation, out it went. (And it’s amazing how many things I own do exactly that, but that’s another blog post for another day.) So like many readers, well before I finished the book, I was already looking around, considering what I could toss.* But, tempting as this is,  it isn’t the way Kondo wants her method to be followed.

“Before you start, visualize your destination,” Kondo writes. Sure, her book is about decluttering. But this is decluttering in the service of a larger purpose: creating the life that you want to live, rather than the life you’ve somehow fallen into. This isn’t a secret buried in the heart of the book, available only to initiates. The title clues you in: The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing. We seem to notice the “tidying up” bit more than the “life-changing magic” bit, but it was there from the start. And Kondo gets to the point right away, saying on page 2: “A dramatic reorganization of the home causes correspondingly dramatic changes in lifestyle and perspective. It is life transforming.”

So why the near-complete overlooking of a major point of the book? I figure, Kondo’s purging process is so dramatic, it distracts people from anything else. She does spend more time explaining how to declutter than how to visualize your ideal lifestyle. Decluttering and organizing are pretty much the same for everyone. Kondo can’t tell readers which clothes to keep, except that they have to spark joy, but it’s a safe bet that everyone reading this book has clothing. On the other hand, lifestyle changes are specific to individuals. Beyond saying that the first step is that readers need to concretely visualize the lifestyles they want and offering a few examples, I doubt she could get more specific. That visualization is a challenge in its own right. I don’t know what it’s like in Japan, but in the United States, we ask children what they want to be when they grow up. We don’t ask them—or ourselves—what kinds of lives they want to have when they’re adults. So should it be a surprise to discover as an adult that maybe you have a job you like, but that other parts of your life are not what you expected or wanted? (What did you want, anyway?)

It’s said that sculpting is the art of seeing a statue in a block of stone and then chipping away all the bits that aren’t that statue. The magic of the KonMari Method appears to be the act of removing the clutter in your home to reveal the lifestyle that you really want. Kondo warns that if the reader skips the visualization step, there’s a higher danger of relapse. So we’ll see: how many people are aiming to change their lives and how many aren’t hoping for anything more than a bedroom closet that isn’t bursting at the seams?

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*I’m using “toss” as a catch-all term for give to someone else, donate to charity, recycle, throw away, or whatever would be the best way to get an object out of my home. Rest assured that dumpsters are my receptacles of last resort.