Toys Will Be Toys

I recently read “The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up; The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing” and it’s sequel, “Spark Joy” by Marie Kondo.  Is it going to change my life?  Probably not in the big ways suggested throughout the book, but I’m really glad I read it, and I’m already trying to put as much of it’s information to use as I can.  And believe me, combined, there is a lot of information in these two tomes.

If you’re not familiar with these books, the first one was originally released in 2011.  It’s been a best seller, and has made waves in the news as a revolutionary way to declutter and as an abject failure as a decluttering method – depending on which review or article you read.  Her books have been so popular/ successful that the system she outlines in the books is now referred to as the “KonMari Method”.  Go ahead, Google it, it really is a “thing”; spell check even accepts it.

The naysayers tend to expand upon common themes.  Most of them say the KonMari Method won’t work for Americans.  We have larger homes.  Most of Japan is urban.  At the time of the first publication, the author didn’t have kids, kids come with stuff. We cook differently.  We prioritize things differently based on our cultural norms.  We have larger (generational) families and therefore more family heirlooms.  You get the idea.

To be fair to Ms. Kondo, it says right in the title, “The Japanese art of decluttering and organizing”, so you know starting on page 1, that there may be a few things that don’t make sense to someone who isn’t Japanese.  For me however, that was one of the reasons I wanted to read it – that and I’m feeling overwhelmed by stuff right now.

As Americans, we tend to live in a culture of stuff.  Advertising is constantly telling us we need to upgrade gadget X, replace unit G, eat the latest super food to live a better life, and change our wardrobe for the latest colors of the season.  McMansions are an everyday sight.  Many Americans believe that cars are a right, rather than a privilege of those that can afford them.  Then there’s the whole “He Who Dies with the Most Stuff Wins” attitude that so many of us have.  So sure, for the average American, her books might be an affront to what we don’t realize are cultural ideals.

I’m not saying that if you think her books are hoey that you’re being ignorant of cultural differences or that I think your lifestyle should be criticized.  You’re right.  Her books won’t make sense to many people because of a number of cultural differences.  It’s likely that a similar book on decluttering written by an American author wouldn’t make much sense to the majority of a Japanese readership either.

As mentioned, I’ve been feeling overwhelmed by stuff lately.  Our house, which is plenty large enough for The Goat and I, is still considered small by many Americans’ standards.  Because of this, we naturally don’t have as much stuff as some people simply because we lack the space to keep it.  However, I don’t want to give the impression that we’re minimalists.  I’d say we fall somewhere smack in the middle between hoarder and minimalist.  Which is likely a good place to be if you’re trying to declutter – there’s bound to be some excess, but not enough that the excess will be overwhelming.  Which also means, I was likely at a good place, mentally, to read these two books.

Did I agree with everything in the book and feel the need to jump head first into tidying our home using the KonMari Method?  Yes, and no.

She offers a proper order of attack by categorizing your belongings and working on one category at a time, in a specific order.  For example, start with your clothes, then move on to the other categories, with sentimental items always being last. Which makes some sense, but to my mind, leaves out a lot, or rather, the KonMari Method has really large categories.  She does expound upon the order in the “Spark Joy” and acknowledges that there will be subcategories or additional categories added or removed from each person’s list based on their life and lifestyle.

Based on my personal schedule and obligations, I’m not likely to follow the order given, however, one of the big takeaways from this categorical listing is that we should declutter by use, not by location.  All that means is that if you’re sorting your books, you do ALL of your books at one time, not the ones in your office one day, and the ones in your living room the next time you’re cleaning the living room.  By conquering them all at once, you get a better understanding of how many you actually have and it makes it easier to edit your collection in a methodical manner.

Simple idea, but it made sense to me, and I needed to hear it – especially as someone who keeps shoes by the door and in the closet, books in just about every room, medicine in the kitchen and the bathroom, and cleaning supplies in the pantry, bathroom, and kitchen.  Having to remember where all the same items are, also helps me realize how many of them we have and if they’re being stored in the best place possible.

Which brings me to another idea expressed in the books – the idea that every object “lives” somewhere.  I have a number of family members, myself included, who have been known to say something like, “That doesn’t live there.  I need to put it away.”  Because for some reason, and I don’t know where it comes from, we have a strong sense of where we think things belong, or “live”.  We often us “lives” the way many use “goes” (“The soda lives on the bottom shelf”, for example.)

Another interesting idea expressed in Ms. Kondo’s books is the idea of inanimate objects “wanting” to be of use.  Basically, every item was created for a purpose, and every item wants to fulfil that purpose.  Receipts want to noted, books want to be read, clothes want to be worn, bowls want to hold things, greeting cards want to say “Hello!”.  And once they have fulfilled their purpose for you, it’s ok to thank them and send them on – be it by disposing of it or donating it so that it can serve its purpose for someone else.  Sometimes this is a long term thing, such as with clothes or furniture.  Other times it’s a quick process, like with receipts or magazines.

This is a cultural thing, and she does explain that in one of the books, so it might sound a bit odd, or even new age-y to some.  To some it might even sound a bit sacreligious or as if we’re giving objects souls.  However, as someone who has been known to name and talk to her cars, trees, and appliances, it made sense to me.

Reading about this concept made me mentally sigh in relief while picturing Disney’s Belle chit chatting with a tea cup, candlestick, and other furniture and household items.  I realized that it’s ok to pass along something that I once loved but no longer wear or use – think Jessie the yodeling cowgirl from Toy Story 2, all she wanted was an owner.  These two children’s movies exemplify the same idea, our stuff wants to be of use.  Is it really so simple that children understand it innately, but we dismiss it outright as we get older?

With minimalism being a huge trend of late, there are many people searching for a method of clutter management that works for them.  It is quite possible that Ms. Kondo’s tidy little self help empire (yes, the pun was intended) may have been the result of being in the right place at the right time.  Even though I don’t plan on following all the steps and tips in her books, I would recommend the books to anyone feeling overwhelmed by their stuff.

I know the concepts and ideas she covers may not be new to many, and many of them weren’t new to me either.  It was reading about it from a non-American point of view that helped reinforce a few counter cultural ideas that tumble out of my brain occasionally.  Getting another culture’s overall perspective on something as personal as one’s home and belongings was both inspiring and interesting – I can do something to manage this chaos we call home, even if we don’t have any enviable Japanese style closets.  And I really should pass along a few of my toys, afterall, they just want to be toys.


Another Unsuccessful Year in the Garden


I’m pretty sure I should quit trying to be a vegetable gardener; I should just accept my failures and move on.

But I keep oohing and ahhing over the beautiful catalogs containing so many tempting and unique varieties.  Especially now, as many of us start planning our fall and winter gardens.  I really do want to be more self sustaining, and growing our own veggies is a big step towards that goal – especially when I’m fairly certain we’ll never have chickens or livestock.

In recent years my vegetable harvests have consistently been a disappointment.  It’s not that I’m a terrible gardener.  As a matter of fact, not to brag, but I’ve inherited a bit of a green thumb from my mother.  And have you seen our yard?  It’s not that far of a stretch when we refer to it as an urban jungle.  The bug and bird noises will keep you awake at night, or wake you up well before necessary.

So what’s the problem?  Location and weather, time, and a very large adorable critter; together these factors make up the perfect storm of vegetable gardening disappointment.

IMG-5073We’ll start with the issue of the adorable large critter.  Earlier this week I found a dead cabbage in the garden path.  Yep, it had been shredded, to the stub, and uprooted from the raised bed – which is a pallet bed with a wire grid over it for protection from said critter.  Obviously the grid didn’t protect the plant from Charlie’s long, thin snout.  And to think I was excited to see that the cabbage was doing so well and hadn’t yet been harmed by bugs or chipmunks.

If you recall, I’ve gardened in the past with the same breed of dog.  But the Jasmanian Devil (our last Airedale) was a bit more discriminating as to when and which crops she would, ahem, “harvest”.  Charlie Brown the Airedale is not quite as discriminating.  With Jasmine I just had to monitor closely and make sure that I harvested before she did.  And while she was fond of cruciferous vegetables, she didn’t like all vegetables, so there  were a few that were safe from her prowling munchies.

Charlie Brown (CB), however,  loves his veggies.  I mean loves them!  He will run through his entire vocabulary of commands for a carrot top.  He’ll steal tomatoes right off the cutting board on the counter –  while I’m standing in the kitchen.  And now he’s discovered that the pallet fences and raised beds contain vegetables.  Oh, and terriers are diggers – so root crops aren’t safe either.

I knew he liked veggies as he ate our entire tomato harvest last summer.  So this summer I moved the majority of the things I thought he liked to a garden area outside of the fence.  So in his domain (inside the fence) I’m trying sweet potatoes, the aforementioned cabbage, peas, radishes, and hot peppers.

So far, I’ve caught him digging in the sweet potato bed once, but I suspect it wasn’t the first or last time he did that.  While he decimated the cabbage, he hasn’t touched the hot peppers (yet)!?  The peas and radishes were spared – for some reason he doesn’t like peas.  And I’m not sure he even knew the radishes were there.

That brings us to location and weather.  As mentioned, I did move much of my veggie gardening to a location outside of the fenced in portion of our yard.  I took over an area on the side of the house and relocated some pots, cleaned up the strawberry containers, and redid the borders to extend the garden that was already there.  I thought it would get enough sun, being on the sunny south side of the house.  But as it turns out, that location is only sunny when it’s sunny in our region.

I understand how silly that statement sounds, but this summer, while warm, has been exceptionally grey and dismal.  And our bright sunny blue sky days have been few and far between.  Which means that while my semi-protected-from-direct-scorching-afternoon-sunlight garden would be ideal in most situations, in this one, it isn’t.  The tomatoes aren’t ripening, good thing I have a good green tomato salsa recipe.  The other veggies are languishing as well.

Since these plants are outside of the fence, those tricky, annoyingly fast and ninja like chipmunks know they are safe from the giant terrier on the other side.  They’ve tried to get into the carrots and smaller crops.  But I did put layers of netting over them with various forms of cages (insert your favorite villain laugh here).  And so far that’s helped.  But then again, the veggies aren’t producing much and therefore don’t look very tempting right now.

Which brings me back to the idea of giving up on veggie gardening.  I don’t really want to!  I want to be successful at it and to be able to can or freeze things that came from our own garden, as little as it is.  I love supporting our local farmers and shopping at farmers markets and buying local produce whenever I can.  I really love when those items are purchased to supplement what’s in our garden.  I worry about food scarcity, monocultures, and Big Agra.  I want to know where and how my food is grown.

But my current track record isn’t the best.  Am I wasting my time?  Should I be concentrating my efforts elsewhere?  Should I switch to herbs or a pollinator garden?

Oooh, look!  A winter gardening catalog arrived in today’s post!  I’ll worry about the failures later.  I’ve got a winter garden to plan.








Stumbling into Summer

A few months ago The Goat and I took a leap of faith and I “shuffled” my business into a larger space.  Let me first explain, I use the word shuffle instead of move, because move implies that we relocated, got a new address, new phone, and had to go all out to notify people of the process.

That’s not what happened.  My shop is in a large historic building that currently houses 4 businesses.  That number has fluctuated over the 6 years we’ve been in the building; businesses start up, expand and move out, or sadly, close and leave.  Through all of the various changes, two things have remained constant, my shop and the coffee shop.  But even the coffee shop is on it’s second set of owners/operators.

A few months ago, a larger space in the same building became available, and we decide to move into it, hence the word “shuffle” and not move.   Because we remained in the same building we were able to keep the same phone number and address.  Although, moving the landline was a comedy of errors.  Did I mention the building is old?

The new location has proved beneficial, and it’s been mostly positive.  The shop now has its own entrance and furnace.  This makes us easier to find, easier to heat/cool, and it’s made having hours of operation that differ from the other businesses much easier too.  The space is quieter, which is a weird thing, as I knew it was noisy in the old space, but I didn’t realize just how noisy until the noise was gone!

But, (You knew there was a but didn’t you?), it’s also increased my stress level.  I’m sure that will eventually change, but for now, it’s a struggle.

You see, with a larger space comes larger bills – rent, utilities, maintenance, fixtures, and even inventory to fill it.  And I knew that going in to it, that’s why it was a leap of faith.  But lately, this has been weighing heavily on me.  Mainly because I see other similar shops in the region seemingly thriving while I feel as if I’m floundering, and I get terribly frustrated by that.

Now I know that like personal social media, business social media is all about image and “keeping up with the Joneses”.  But that doesn’t make it any easier when you’re struggling to pay your bills and you know that your competitors are doing things you should be doing but that you can’t do for reasons that include funds, time, and resources.   All things needed to run a business.

While I have a pretty strong support system, I’m still pretty much a one woman operation.  The Goat is great about helping around the house when needed, especially during the summer when he’s not at his paying job.   I have a great young woman that helps me out on Thursdays, and I’ve got 2 or 3 talented local artisans who help with class instruction.

But the majority of the operations still fall to me.  And while I’m diligent and find that I really do get a helluva lot done, it’s hard to reconcile and accept my frustration when I hear about others who have actual paid staff to help them brainstorm, schedule, man the shop, help customers, and handle all the extra events.

Again,  I knew it was going to be hard work when I started the business.  I’m not looking for a pity party or an “I told you so”, I’m just trying to express this frustration that’s been bubbling up as anger and indifference lately.

As I watch so many similar businesses seemingly succeed at what I’m struggling with – community events and the shops own schedule, commitments of our household, trying to keep up with the trends and changes in the market, and trying to offer the customers the next great thing while maintaining the solid foundation of items they expect – I start to reexamine the big picture.


A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte by Georges Seurat (image from wikipedia)

And the big picture, like a Seurat, looks very different the closer you get to the details.  It’s those details that are causing me to stumble and doubt right now.

While everyone else is looking at things from a distance, and seeing a cohesive image. I’m the one picking the colors for the dots and making that big picture look like something recognizable.  And I feel like I’m running out of the colors that I need, like that picture is going to become something else than what I had intended.

It was a long winter – yes I know it’s June.  It’s been a rainy, grey, damp and cool Spring.  Summer’s schedule is jam packed.  My health isn’t what I’d like it to be right now.  All of these outside factors dim the bigger picture.   I know they shouldn’t, but they do.  They make it very difficult for me to stay motivated and stay positive.  And that lack of motivation and positivity can make it difficult to skip through the sunshine and warmth of Summer (if it ever gets here – more rain and storms in today’s forecast) and to see the progress I have made at the shop.

I’m doing my best to keep the big picture clear and in focus.  And I’m doing my best not to let the little things change it; but some days that’s really difficult.  Maybe I just need to step back more often and not think about the stumbling steps that get me there.  Easier said than done.  But it can probably be done.

And if you’re stumbling too, you’re not alone, it takes a lot of tiny dots of color to make a cohesive picture, and every dot is important.  Some are bright, and some are not.  But together they make something grand.  Whatever the color you’re dealing with today, try to remember that it’s important and part of something much, much, bigger.

So, here I go,  stumbling with a palette of colorful experiences, into Summer…

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