The joy of throwing stuff out

an organised dresser top, holding bags, hats, scarves and socks

For the last 3 days, I have been on a discard bender. I've not done much, yet four heavy bags of clothes have already been sent for donation. Seriously, how did all this stuff get here? I hope I don't wake up one morning and wonder how I accumulated so many years.

My good mate @Elle_Emmm recommended a book - The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo - which, on the surface, suggests decluttering based on categories, rather than rooms or areas, but is, deep down, about connecting with your personal values and the kind of life you want to live.

The criteria is simple, "Does it spark joy?" When tidying-up using the KonMari method, if you do not feel joy upon handling an object you own, it's time to thank it for its service, and send it on its way.

a cubby hole of tops, rectangle-folded and arranged side-by-side instead of in a pile

Throughout my childhood, there was always such bad energy and obligation associated with domestic activity. Chores were utilitarian, routine, process, the thing you do to get it out of the way. The thing worth shouting at people for. This changed a little once I moved into my own place, but it's hard to shake off one's conditioning.

So I am touched by this book. I feel it speaks to a quiet part of my self that, over the years, became obscured beneath piles of obligation and chore. Whether something in your life makes you feel joy is a simple, but pressing question. It forces you to look past the distraction of shoulds and oughts, and listen to your heart.

Mum used to say I was terrible at tidying up cos I wander too much when I come across sentimental items. This book tells me it's perfectly fine to wander, and say, how bout you wander along this way and fully appreciate those feelings of yours.

socks rolled like sushi

While cleaning, I realised I have trouble letting go of things I once loved. I hope getting practice in mastering this habit for owned stuff will help me master it for life stuff in general.

Some epiphanies are less la-di-da. I have some nice clothes I'm really not into - they're only there in case I need to go to a party. But I don't even like parties. What if I just say no to parties and free up that space for clothes I do like? :)

thinned-out wardrobe, day 3

The photos in this post are of my work in progress. I started on a rack with 2 hanging shelves, bursting with clothes like a jaffle pie with gravy. I'm down to one hanging shelf now, fewer t-shirts and pants, and only a handful of undies and socks cos it's fun to live on the edge.

This morning was a whirlwind of bags, hats, scarves and shoes. It's amazing how many things you don't mind throwing out when your head's unanxious. I think I could have been the cleaning diva Mum always wanted me to be, had we taken a more soulful approach to our home and possessions. I have kept some ugly and unusable things, for no reason other than they bring me joy.

my cat is helping me clean

It is surprising at times, this approach to decluttering. You learn about yourself as you go. That makes it a lot of fun.

A little house flower

Vinca bloom in a bottle vase

A couple weeks ago, I read an article on how to make your chores suck less by putting something nice on display when you're done. The display piece serves as a reminder of your efforts and contributes to your feeling of satisfaction. I'm going with flowers.

Not heaps of flowers, mind. Just something small I can keep on my very messy desk. And it only seems fitting to use a Vitamin Fix bottle, since doing something responsible for our home coincides with getting off my arse and doing somthing good for my body.

My flower today is a vinca... It will probably also be my flower for ages cos I'm not a flower person and don't have many in my garden. Maybe this is a good reason to change that.

Plant profile: Vinca

Common names: Vinca, Rose Periwinkle, Madagascar Periwinkle
Botannical name: Catharanthus roseus (fka. Vinca roseus)
Family: Apocynaceae

The vinca is an evergreen subshrub, growing upright, up to 35cm in height with up to 20cm spread. Leaves are glossy green, oval to oblong in shape, arranged in pairs opposite each other on the step. Flowers are hermaphroditic, and have five overlapping petals, ranging from white to dark pink.

References: PanAmerican Seed, Wikipedia, Benara Nurseries

More floral inspiration

Pumpkin plant at 2 months

pumpkin plant at 2 months

My pumpkin is just shy of 2 months old now. It is time to talk about making babies.

male pumpkin flower

Male flowers have been blooming for the last couple of weeks...

female pumpkin flower

...and more recently, female flowers have emerged and withered. I'm not sure if this one's been pollinated. Doubtful, but should I be so lucky, this little guy, suspended at the top of one trellis, dangling in a cramped space, is in the most awkward spot possible for a pumpkin to grow.

So this raises the question of whether I should intervene, selecting female flowers for some hot hand action, based on how conveniently placed they are in the garden bed. I'm not sure yet. I'd prefer if nature took its course, but that could well lead nowhere.

pumpkin vine growing upward

By the way, a pumpkin vine is suprisingly easy to train up a trellis. It's heavy enough to settle when you rest it somewhere, so you don't have to wait for the grabby tendrils to grow (unlike my snow peas). It's strong enough not to snap or crease if you take a slightly wrong bend (unlike my hops). And it's soft enough to change direction (unlike my creeping fig).

To secure the vine, I've been using cut-up strips of pantyhose, purchased for a dollar at Good Sammy. Those $6 balls of jute look on in jealous redundancy.

pantyhose ties

Organised clutter

scissors, cardboard and cute stationery

My home is full of clutter. My life is full of clutter.

Since reading The Joy of Minimalism, I've been wondering how to clean up. Every thought is haunted; every desire tinged with guilt. I can see this becoming a manic obsession if I'm not careful, so I want to take it slowly and consider my reasons for keeping or throwing things away.

We have a lot of stuff. Not knick-knacks, but things made useless by quantity. We don't need so many pint glasses, for example, we're not a fucking pub. Yet, somehow, I feel the need to stockpile all this old paper and cardboard.

paper, yarn and scraps

It's a 10-year habit, from when I made my first zine, keeping paper to use as backgrounds and textures in photocopied art. The excitement of artistic recycling has stuck, even though I'm not into zines any more. When I look at junk, I don't see clutter - I see supplies.

I don't like the idea of just throwing stuff out. I don't want to be a mindless conduit between factory and rubbish tip; I want to make stuff count before it hits the bin. Among my clutter piles supplies are tools and decorations that can give scrap paper a second life. I've used plastic shopping bags to pad out stuffing in sewing and amigurumi projects. And sometimes I recycle pretty junk mail into colourful envelopes to penpals.

washi tape, glue, awl, paste brush, card stencils, clips, and string

But this is where I struggle. How do you reconcile minimalism with a crafting lifestyle? How can you have less stuff, and still have enough to make things with, without having to buy new materials all the time?

This isn't a build-up to some clever insight. I really don't know the answer. I've no way to tell if slowing down the 'hand to bin' process actually has an impact on the environment because we're a small household, but spending time working with clean household trash does help me appreciate how much comes in, and how little we need.

more piles of paper

According to the book, the core value of minimalism is an attitude favouring purpose and quality. My parents raised me with a sense of saving, and I can see how for all its usefulness, being untemperedly frugal can make life harder than it needs to be.

Like with clothes. I bought 3 tops for work at $7 each and thought I was so clever. But after just a couple months, the elastic began to go. Compare this with a top I bought for $40, which now years later still looks nice enough to garner compliments.

Then there's the cheaper dental fillings that don't last, which diminish my teeth whenever they get replaced. The bargain call-out mechanic whose fix-up came so close to costing thousands in car damage. The annual patch-up sanctioned by the strata, which must by now be nearing the original quote for a proper replacement.

I get that timing matters, and there's no once-and-for-all solution, but at some point, saving is no longer saving - it's wishful thinking. Spending more for quality saves the things for which there are no substitues: your time, your peace of mind.

a toppled Jenga tower

Anyway, that's clutter for the noticeable, physical stuff. My email is a mess too. My twitter, reddit and feedly cast a net so wide, I sometimes avoid logging on because I feel so overwhelmed.

That's probably a good example of being owned by one's belongings. Clearing out the virtual stuff will probably take more effort than the physical stuff. There's always starting over completely, but uuunnnggghhh, my FOMO~

So, baby steps. Yes.

Have a break, have a kit cat

Gracie the overweight cat at Cat Haven's Wet Nose Day

This weekend's been awesome because we've had no plans except for Wet Nose Day and football. We saw lots of cats. And I ate a hot dog. And got a hat trick. I'm taking all this as a sign that quiet time is so right right now.

It's hard, though, because garden school is over and it's springtime and I've got the crazy. I want to do all the things, and then I fry my brain thinking about them too much.

Close friends have told me to take a break. And you know, I absolutely mean to, but then I'm swept away by the excitement of all the things, and I'm making plans again. This is my vicious cycle, my downward spiral.

long cat taking a break

People have been asking me what I plan to do with my Horticulture qualification. I must sound so boring when I tell them, "Not much," but that's the deal.

I dream of running my own self-sustaining hobby farm one day, and have a hazy idea of what to do with my life, but in the last few years, I've learned I'm not good at fixed long-term plans. Things change. So in the near foreseeable future, I'm going to continue learning and experimenting, making and sharing, and see where that road takes me.

My head is full of all the things, but I don't want to set goals just yet. I feel a strong inclination to focus on my process moreso than my goals, and this kind of gutfeel usually takes me to a pretty good place. And also, I'm supposed to be taking a break.

man and cat, having a conversation

OK, so, raaaaa~ my break. Between now and the end of the year, I will try to take it easy. I will spend more time on my home and creative space. I will work on my Cruyff turn and try to be more conscientious about martial arts.

I will enjoy sinking hours into the new Civ and not feel guilty. I will quietly write to my penpals and play mail games and enjoy tea with my cats. I will not take on any stressful projects, including making promises about this break because that would be stressful too. I will try to slow down, and read and sleep more.

Hm, well, it's past midnight now, so I better make the effort on that last one. Good night!

DIY hardcover case for a Kindle

Kindle reader inside a home-made hardcover case

I bought a Kindle last month, and was determined not to let this new possession possess me - and buy itself a case, decals, bells and baubles. I fall into this trap often, and while sometimes it's necessary, it didn't seem necessary here. I did want a case, but I would have to make it myself.

I remember the first time I felt profound disappointment at a purchased item. The seam had come loose on my wallet, and I discovered beneath the factory-perfect machine stitching, behind the synthetic woven fabric... a sheet of cardboard. No different to a cereal box, just sans printing. The spell of storebought was broken.

Since then, I mentally deconstructed everything that crossed my path. Over the years, I found similar patterns of deconstruction used in everything from books to purses, clothing to cat toys. I couldn't replicate those patterns as perfectly myself, but felt increasingly sour about paying $50 for something that was essentially scrap paper, cotton and glue.

There's more to it, of course, and that's the more I want to learn by doing.

Kindle reader inside a home-made hardcover case

So here's my first hardcover item - a Kindle book cover. It's roughshod, and I would do some things differently next time, but just a few tools and salvaged materials can really go a long way.

using Kindle to measure cardboard


Mount fabric panels onto cardboard for stiff, nice-feeling things.

Materials & tools

  • 1 cardboard
  • 2 x scrap fabric pieces
  • PVA glue (white)
  • 4 strips of elastic
  • Scissors
  • Glue brush
  • Sewing machine

cardboard folded like a book cover

Measure your cardboard frame using your object (Kindle, tablet, notebook, whatever). Cut the cardboard slightly bigger than you need to - this leaves room for the thickness of the fabric when it bends.

fabric mounted to the outside of the cover

Brush glue on one side of the cardboard and stick one of the fabric pieces to it. Trim the fabric, leaving a 2-3cm edge around the cardboard. Fold the edges over and glue to the other side. This is the outer cover of your case.

completed inner panel

The inner panel is fiddly. Measure the fabric, and fold and pin the edges. Measure against the object and mark where you'll need the elastic holders attached to the fabric. Judge this based on your object, so the screen or buttons aren't obstructed. Pin elastic to fabric, except for the ends that go near the spine (we'll do this later).

Hem the edge, stitching across the elastic when you get to it, being careful not to attach the elastic on both sides of the fabric. That's the fiddly bit, so think about it beforehand. The elastic has to be loose on the other side, so the corner of your object can slide in.

You can reinforce the elastic with another line of stitches across the loose edge of fabric.

attaching the elastic near the spine

Now that the hem's done, we'll attach the remaining 2 ends of elastic. Where your markings are, cut a tiny slit, just enough to thread the elastic through. Stitch a line parallel to the slit, attaching the elastic to the other side. It'd look better to stitch a rectangle all around, but I didn't bother.

Finally, brush glue onto the inside of your book cover and stick on your newly assembled panel.

pen mark, from where I measured the elastic attachment

Learn from my mistakes

  • Don't use a pen to mark where your elastic goes - this isn't something you'll put through the washing machine after!
  • Wash your brush between uses so the glue doesn't dry on it.
  • Don't put your cover near piles of cat hair while the glue is drying.
  • If your scrap cardboard has printing on it, choose a thick, sturdy fabric that you can't see through. Or just avoid light colours altogether. Or prepare to decorate. :)
  • Consider a third piece of fabric to sandwich between the hard cover and the inner panel, so you don't get a dent where there are fewer layers of material. (pictured below)

Happy making!