Thoughts on Home Improvements


Thursday May 26, 2016 comments   

I think this has been the longest break from blogging ever for me. And after making a post about how long my blog has been active!

I didn’t mindfully take a break; it just happened. I spent March painting, installing appliances, and just overall spending every moment working on the house. Then in April relatives came to visit and family occupied a lot of my time. May has been dealing with my health. A flare-up had me feeling mostly miserable lately and trying to get into the headspace of dealing with chronic illness.

So that brings me to here. I wanted to talk about my home improvements and also the Minimalism documentary I caught earlier this month.

A few months ago I got into listening to The Minimalists podcasts. It was good timing as I was beginning my home improvements. I ended up getting tickets to a screening of their documentary which was very good as well as the Q&A afterwards.

A lot of it built off my whole Marie Kondo experience from before. Only taking it a step further. Discussing relationships. Discussing the societal influences of capitalism. And within that finding my own way for a life less complicated. I put more time into my relationships. Some of it paid off. Some of it was a disappointment (but nevertheless a lesson.) But I learned and moved on.

The home improvements were another great lesson. Doing the whole house clean-out back in September made it easier to pinpoint things I wanted changed. At first I did the usual thing of going online and comparing my home to that of specifically-designed-aesthetic-spaces… mistake. HUGE mistake.

“Comparison is the thief of joy!” I remind myself often. I thought I’d need to make big pricey changes. New cabinets, paint every room!? … but did I really need those things to be happy? And then I realized I was doing everything in my power to work against the space rather than with it. When I started appreciating the existing elements things became much easier.

I looked at inspiration that came to mind right away (magazines, sites.) I read in Marie Kondo’s Spark Joy that looking through inspiration should be done all at once en masse and across styles so you can swiftly see what you like, why you like it, and move forward. It worked really well in focusing my decisions. I found 1 major reference I referred to throughout the process.

magazine clipping
magazine clipping

This came from the first issue of Lee I ever picked up. I remember seeing these pictures and something just clicking for me. I realized the kitchen was dark like mine. My kitchen isn’t near any windows so there are shadows and what I liked about this kitchen was how the lighting worked with that fact. I liked the clean utilitarian surfaces. The magnetic knife strip especially. And just overall how simple, useful, and easy it seemed. It wasn’t trying too hard. It didn’t seem preoccupied with perfection. I didn’t need all new kitchen cabinets. I needed better lighting, more space over the stove, and my favorites at an arm’s length.

magazine clipping
magazine clipping
magazine clipping

After all was said and done I ended up removing the above stove range and replacing it with a more powerful, quieter, ventilated hood that had two super bright LED lights. I ditched the wood block for a magnetic knife strip which made space for my 2 most used cooking pots. I added a few large counter-wide chopping boards that tied in the cabinets natural wood texture. I also put up a backsplash using adhesive glass tiles. No grout necessary! And they don’t budge trust me. We replaced the leaky faucet with one that’s also a spray hose. Beyond the kitchen we upgraded our TV, repainted the home office, hung new light fixtures and art work all over the house, took the guitars off their stands and hung them up, built a new TV cabinet, and took a lot of things to the recycling center. A LOT. And when I was done I came in way under budget.

I wouldn’t have been able to do any of this without the whole Konmari part earlier in the year. If I had clutter everywhere I wouldn’t have even considered new light fixtures. I would have felt “what’s the point, the place is still a mess.” Now I can do these upgrades and really feel they were worth the time and effort.

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Marie Kondo in My Life


Sunday January 03, 2016 comments   

Marie Kondo folding clothes

I’ve been asked for a while if I could blog about my experience with the whole KonMari method of tidying and decluttering my entire house. I don’t want to be some zealot pushing this approach onto uninterested people. Marie Kondo even states that only those who want to read her book should read it and buying the book for someone else is a bad idea. And it makes sense. Before you really put a lot of thought into the ways your life needs decluttered you too easily point to someone you know wishing THEY’D be more organized first. But in reading the book, and going through the process, you actually let go of how others organize their lives. You realize it’s a very personal experience; decluttering. And after you do it others will often approach you about it. But then some might take offense to something they deem as a “drastic measure.”

photo of a bookcase

In my office I cleared away all remaining Japanese magazines that no longer sparked joy. I went through each one individually and kept only the ones I cherished. There were hundreds to go through. I had to make a separate trip to the recycling center just to deposit them (as the library did not want them sadly.) This process was easier than I expected as I could remember my favorite issues by just the cover. I did sort them twice. I went through my “sparked joy” pile a second time just to be sure.

photo of a wooden desk with a houseplant and aya takano art hanging

I made the mistake of mentioning to my mother that we were organizing the house last September. She’s very sentimental and she’s aware that I don’t “hang onto things” (her words not mine.) It resulted in a very heated argument over the silliest things (that I shred old bills and other very random disagreements.) There’s a chapter in the book about not “letting them see.” The people in your life can easily take offense to even just knowing you may be giving away “perfectly good ____.” So… it’s a very personal journey.

For that reason I knew I didn’t want any before and after photos. There was no reason to compare the two. I wasn’t trying to “throw away the most stuff” or “develop the most creative stacking system.” I was simply trying to surround myself with only my favorite items. Things that… spark joy.

photos of my closet showing the clothing rack and makeup vanity

Before reading Marie Kondo’s book I was already doing some of the methods on my own. I’ve always been an organized person. Ultra-tidy; tad obsessive. But I also always hit brick walls. On days I was sick the house would fall apart. Some days I would just feel bummed entering a certain room even if it was neat and clean. I’d then turn it upside down trying to “fix something” but I never knew exactly what. I looked at my possessions in more of a “what can I get rid of” way. And this approach comes up in the book. I’ll be honest; many parts of this book really struck a nerve. The craziness and frustration I would sometimes feel… it was a relief to know I wasn’t alone.

When I started seeing my items, all of them, one by one as sparking joy or not it became much easier. I realized that many of my favorite things were hidden behind or next to some items I never even had feelings towards. So why was I keeping it? To take up space on my bookcase? Because a magazine somewhere one day said I needed this to “have a real home?” I’d get sucked into that nonsense pretty easily.

The clothes I keep hanging

I used to hang all my clothes but I actually prefer the method the book recommends. I’m able to get dressed so quickly now and I never feel I have “nothing to wear.” I hang all my skirts and a few shirts or tops that didn’t seem happy folded in the drawers (wrinkled too easily or fabric not suited to folding.)

The two items on the shelf are new from Christmas. I like to display new or favorite items until I feel ready to fold them up with everything else. I like walking in and seeing them there.

shirts I fold and keep in my IKEA shelving unit

I played around with color order but definitely got the best results from Marie Kondo’s advice to go from dark to light.

Socks and tights plus belts stored in an IKEA organizer and an organizer from Target
A wire basket from Target where I keep my 2 favorite pairs of shoes

I like keeping my current favorite shoes out both for easy access and to have them on display so I always feel like I have great options.

It’s a daunting process that can take weeks. It’s done in stages. And I did everything. From clothes to bath goods, medicines, pots and pans, and even our food. Immediately after the process (which for me was like a high,) I felt both relieved and at a loss. Similar to finishing a long binge watch of a TV show. I somehow wished I could do it again but I couldn’t because it was done. Soon after living just became… easier. I got sick a month later and the things that usually fell apart didn’t. Laundry didn’t end up piling on the floor. I wasn’t behind on groceries or cleaning house or picking up. In fact “picking up” was no longer even a daily task of mine anymore. And that’s why I loved the book. My life truly is easier. It’s more at peace. I don’t feel like I always “need something new.” I’m still amazed when I go to find something and there it is in the spot it always is.

vanity area with lighted mirror and muji brand makeup case

I don’t even know how many times I purged my makeup stash in my life but it always felt like a never-ending process. I had to set a real vision of what I wanted from my makeup items before going through each item individually. It was harder than doing clothing. I ended up parting with expensive items such as Hourglass Ambient Lighting Palette which never suited my skintone and always frustrated me when wearing.

But when you open a drawer and you only see your favorites… it’s an amazing feeling. Guilt-free mornings choosing what to put on was worth the process. Much of my makeup only sparked joy with the initial purchase while others were still sparking joy on a daily basis for me.

red drawer full of makeup including lipsticks and blushes

Shopping has become so much easier. I stopped “stocking up” on things. I have vastly diminished impulse-buy cravings. And I don’t feel guilty spending on something I want.

Looking at every single thing I own individually made me realize what I’m passionate about. It was akin to a journey through my life as well. I was surprised at some of the things I still had hanging around. I also got a better sense of what I enjoy and how I became the person I am today. In a way it helps hone your own personal style from clothing, to decorating, to even cooking. I couldn’t believe I’d actually have pots and pans that “sparked joy” but I did.

Bedroom
table in the bedroom I rearranged after tidying up to display some current magazines and flowers

Being able to appreciate the things that no longer make you happy and letting them go was key in a bedroom filled with an old broken alarm clock I never used and a TV that was more of an eyesore 90% of the time than useful. The TV was also a reminder for me of the times I spent in bed 2 years ago when I was too sore and in pain to even move. I hadn’t ever realized I had made that association until I had to truly consider whether or not that TV “sparked joy.”

corner of the bedroom with a lamp, clock, and candles

I’ve become extremely familiar with that initial “yes” feeling that it’s spread into my daily life. It’s given me better decision making skills. I suddenly had all this practice in deciding what I did and didn’t like that it was easier to tell when I was doing something for myself or out of pressures and guilt.

This book was the missing piece I needed for so many years. I needed to know how to part with things that didn’t make me happy. I needed this all encompassing process to achieve the sort of reboot I had been searching for throughout the years. I haven’t returned to any of my old ways. It’s too obvious after you complete the process which habits make you unhappy and which spark joy.


more photos and captions…


a glass jar with nail tools

One of the suggestions from the book I loved was that you likely have everything you need already to organize your possessions. You don’t need to run out to a container store and buy 25 different storage bins. I repurposed an old candle jar for my nail tools. The book suggests smart phone boxes make great storage bins and it’s 100% true. I, of course, had all my old iPhone boxes lying around. Now they’re organizing everything from baggu totes to beautyblender cleanser.



My cabinet used to be overflowing with skincare. Much of which I rarely used or didn’t even like using. Now I only have my trusty favorites. I do still buy new things and I keep it in a spot on the counter until I’ve made my verdict. If it becomes a favorite I find space for it. But oddly enough I’ve stopped frantically buying so much and don’t really have a space issue. Unlike before, if I’m not 100% happy with a product, I return it.

I used to keep my hair care and hair accessories in a bunch of different places. The book really reinforces centralized location for similar items and this has made my life a million times easier especially on mornings I’m running late and my hair is a mess. Now I always remember that I have nice accessories or dry shampoo when I’m rushing to get out the door.

I dedicated a basket to all “relaxing spa” items. A whole basket I can just pull out when I’m stressed and find something to treat myself.

I was skeptical about clearing off small appliances from countertops in the kitchen but it has worked out wonderfully. Pulling them out when needed and returning them when done has been easier than expected and it’s kept the counters from getting cluttered when cooking.

I went through every single plate, bowl, and glass I owned. I used to have cabinets overflowing with dinnerware that never got used.

I forgot I had these Hello Kitty dishes. I never used them really. They’re from a gift set I was given while in college and seeing them really brightens my day then I realized I could use them every day for a multitude of things and not just for holding sauces. I use them mostly to hold spices while cooking and it’s made cooking a lot more efficient!

I did our food as well. Surprisingly quick and simple I found a few better ways to organize the food we eat and I have a better idea of what we have at all times now. I used to accidentally buy an item I already had over and over again. One time I ended up with 3 bottles of garlic powder at the same time. Not anymore!

I used a mixture of repurposed gift box lids and Target storage solutions. The bag I keep rice and potatoes in is a $3 burlap bag Target sells in their dollar area.

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