Hello, my name is Sandy.

KonMari: Life-changing magic, one year later

Just over a year ago, I tried the konmari method for sorting out my home and life. For anyone who hasn't encountered this yet, it's a system of cleaning house based on one simple principle: joy. Here's some reading to bring you up to speed:

So, let's be honest here. My house is still a mess. Let me show you.

Be warned, these photos are nowhere near 'social media perfect', which I feel makes them important to share. After a year, I think, taken seriously, konmari will lead to positive changes in your life, but not through magic, and not guaranteeing a magazine aesthetic. But I'll cover that as we go.

messy, dusty bedside table

Here is my bedside table with books I'm reading, a junk box, junk that hasn't yet been put in the junk box, emergency topicals (Vicks, lip balm, moisturiser, tea tree oil), and bits and pieces that don't belong but ended up here by accident.

a messy desk spread

My messy desk.

cluttered kitchen bench

Our kitchen bench is almost always cluttered. There's a caveat here I'll discuss in a moment, but first, let's run through the mess. Everything left out falls into one or more of these categories: Heavily used, recently used, in urgent need of use, or will probably be used in a few hours. Sometimes we put out stuff that we aren't in the habit of using, but want to use more.

Looks awful, doesn't it? I've learned sometimes I need mess to function properly. Partly as a visual thinker, and partly because I like to assess my 'usage trends' in a new environment. This configuration of clutter has changed 4 times since we moved here last April. I'd really like to find a definitive system of organising this space, but nothing's felt right so far. I have more to say on this too in a moment.

messy clothes pile sitting on a clear plastic crate

Now, this is the worst. To me, it's the antithesis of what I imagined a konmari life to be. However, you can see some semblance of order inside that plastic crate. There are pockets of order elsewhere too.

a slightly more ordered craft room

The craft room, for example, which is a work in progress as we save up for the right sort of furniture and decor. We're taking it slow. The last thing I want is to add stuff just to fill a gap, without considering whether it's the right function and style for us.

slightly more ordered kitchen cupboard

Here's the kitchen cupboard, featuring my supply of jars, baking powders, tea, ferments, spreads and sprinkles, oils, special tools and materials, and expired foodstuff used for household purposes (like yeast for trapping garden slugs).

tidy array of books

This is a tidy collection of planning tools and reference material, occupying the better half of my messy desk.

my very organised stationery collection

And the thing that brings me a lot of joy - my very organised stationery collection. Three tiers of hot Swedish R├ůSKOG, filled with tools and supplies for everyday creativity and productivity.

With all this in mind, can I really say the konmari method has changed my life? After all, mess is mess, and there's still so much of it, so it's bunk, right?

WRONG. Since adopting the konmari system, I have:

  • Found a career that's meaningful to me
  • Moved to a nicer house with a bigger garden and more natural light
  • Rekindled my love for books
  • Rekindled my love of writing fiction
  • Met other people like me with a similar hodge-podge of hobbies

None of this is down to magic. Throughout the year, I kept an eye out for disconnected or miraculous events, but found none. Coincidence and luck, sure, but not magic. What changes your life is the perspective you get from tidying up and applying a healthy, self-oriented criteria to your life choices.

When I first started, I'd be km-ing often late into the night. Sometimes I'd go to bed and fidget until relenting to the urge to go through my stuff again. We call this "konsomnia".

konsomnia: the inability to sleep because there's clutter to tidy up. source:

The next morning, I'd wake up sleepy but content that a part of my... life? mind? cognitive capacity? had become unshackled from surplus. I'd leave for work wistful, wanting to just stay home and tidy up some more.

The final stage of konmari has you sifting through sentimental items. This was hard. I threw out heaps of kipple I kept over the years. Some memories really aren't worth keeping.

Then a funny thing happened. I started looking at non-material things through the konmari lens. Friendships, relationships, sentiments, assumptions, prejudices, habits, customs - everything fell under the microscope. Even lifestyle factors like my sports schedule, my career, my hobbies.

Trying to find a system for organising my kitchen is a great representation of the bigger life picture here. I need something that works for the way I work, otherwise it won't stick and I'll be back to a mess. Not that mess itself is bad. Clutter isn't even that bad, in my opinion, as long as it's comprised of stuff that does bring you joy. I don't hate anything in my kitchen now, so I don't mind the mess while I figure out a system I can enjoy.

I think konmari works by helping you develop a habit of eliminating things that don't resonate with you. Rather than holding onto something out of obligation, guilt, or "just in case"-ness, you ditch it so you can focus on what does work, and make room for what might work.

People can argue all day about good reasons for keeping or discarding things, but no one can tell you what does or doesn't bring you joy. Minimalism didn't work for me because it was too pragmatic. Hoarding didn't work for me because it was too sentimental. Konmari has turned out to be the ideal system for an in-between, here-and-there person like me, still figuring out where they stand and where they're going.

I am happy to report that this konmari experiment has been a success. :)

First and ferment

First project of the year: fermenting.

I have begun my adventures in breeding microscopic livestock. Let me tell you about this smelly and already-tasty undertaking.

Making kombucha

Just after Christmas, we bought a bottle of MOJO Ginger Kombucha after rattling around our area looking for a health food shop that a) was open and b) sold SCOBY. SCOBY is a symbiotic culture of bacteria & yeast, sometimes referred to as a "mushroom", but it's no fungus. It's the kombucha mother, which floats on the surface of a sweet tea, producing tasty kombucha through fermentation.

kombucha mother beginning to grow

I found an article on how to grow your own kombucha mother from a store-bought drink. It was a long shot. The first 4 days were intense. I'd check on my jar 2-3 times a day to see if any fuzzy mold had formed, but none did. Instead, from day 2, I saw a film begin to form on the surface of my tea. This would grow thicker and larger each day until it formed an ugly blob. My mother was born.

SCOBY mother at day 4

Last night, my SCOBY got to 1/8" thick and, according to the article, ready for another feed. Before topping up the jar with more sweet tea, I poured out half of the original liquid and had a sip.

After just 9 days, we went from having bottle dregs to something that definitely tastes like kombucha. :) It's been more than 12 hours since, and I've not been sick yet. Can't say for sure until the SCOBY is ½" thick and producing regularly, but looks like we're doing all right so far.

I've read that mother grown from bottled drinks might not make strong children, so we may end up having to do this all over again at some point. As a home science experiment, though, I'm very curious to see how well this baby mother will go. Right now, I'm brewing only black Madura Tea Premium Blend, but I've read it's worth trying other types of tea for different flavours, so there may be more experiments to come.

Making kefir

homemade kefir and muesli

Perth has been warm lately, and my little workers have been going like the clappers! Mum gave me kefir culture less than a week ago, and I've already had two little serves of homemade 'yogurt' with muesli. Did not get sick after. I call it a win.

The kefir process was less involved. I had someone to show me how to do it, which brought my stress levels way down. I don't think I could have done this before, when I was first offered kefir cultures. Yogurt wasn't on my regular menu, and I didn't understand fermentation enough to feel safe trying it. But it's easy now, and seems to fit well into my life. Let's see how long that lasts, huh?

A kefir culture looks like little cauliflower florets. They're also a SCOBY, bunch of yeasts and bacteria just hanging out. I got a culture that was wet and already working, but if you buy them from a store, they may come dry and require 'activation' (basically soaking them in milk until they're soggy and plump). I added full cream cow's milk and my kefir got to work.

It takes a little doodling to figure out how much milk to use and how long to leave it for, but a reasonable guess worked well enough for me. Again, the first few days saw me checking a few times a day. The pantry smells odd, with both kefir and kombucha fermenting together, but not unpleasant. Sour and clean.

my kefir and kombucha cultures

What else to make?

I'm only a week into fermenting, so it's hard to say whether this is a sustainable activity or just flavour of the month. The hot weather has all but destroyed my motivation to garden, which makes me doubt my commitment to everything. Ho hum. I thank last autumn's surge of activity for providing us with zucchini, basil and grape tomatoes over the last month and a bit.

We did get sunflower seeds after all. Learned it's much faster and less painful to harvest the seeds first, then let them dry. Plucking tiny kernels from a rock-hard flower head is for people made of stronger stuff.

Anyway, sourdough is next. A friend gave me a Herman the German sourdough starter today, so maybe we'll bake something wholesome and fuddy-duddy soon. :)

Changing and learning and Christmas

Year's end approaches, and I don't feel like the calendar brings a fresh start this time around. I suppose it's because the last 12 months have been full of fresh starts. So 2016 must be about continuing, learning, experimenting, getting used to life as it is now.

I pushed very hard for the first three months of freelancing, and now in Month Four, I'm in a good place. I like my clients, I'm interested in my work, I reckon I can ease off the accelerator and try a few things out. I don't want to call this a groove, because a groove so easily becomes a rut when you're not looking. This is a pit stop.

What I'm excited to try over the next few months:

Finishing my manuscript. Forget the thrill of completing a first draft - that's so three weeks ago. Now, it's like someone gave me a new toy for Christmas. One I can fiddle with until it becomes something another person can read without vomiting. It's nice to not be starting from scratch. Even though my first draft is a pile of poo, I am still one first draft ahead of where I would otherwise be. Yay!

Making a product. I spent the last 6 months in prototyping and testing (ie. ruminating over a test piece). Then my prototype failed. Then I found a better way to go about the production. And now I'm waiting on materials so I can make a batch. I'm spending a lot of spoons on the freelance writing side of my life right now, but nowhere near as many spoons as when I was still working an office job. So, hopefully the new materials are legit, and this thing can finally be done.

Trying fermenting and pickling. Since I can't keep furry and feathered livestock yet, I shall start with microscopic ones. A friend gave me a glossy wipe-clean booklet on fermentation, and offered one of her Herman babies when he's ready. That plus a kombucha SCOBY, kefir from Mum, and whatever vinegar mothers I find in our pantry should jumpstart a nice bubbling, smelly kitchen.

Cleaning my typewriter. Did you know one of the best typewriter oils on the market is the same oil you use in a gun? Neither did I. I have an old Olivetti Lettera 22 I've been meaning to get in touch with. As time passes, my fingers grow increasingly itchy to pull it apart, scrub under the folds, and give it a rub down. Today, I made a shopping list of tools and supplies for this project.

my cousin's Christmas ham

This Christmas felt like the least stressful in a long time. Instead of everyone buying gifts for everyone, we played Secret Santa. I used to have doubts about this game, as it's always been associated with office parties and buying for people I hardly know. But it's way less awkward among friends and family. Turning our family gift habits into a game made things fun again. Especially with a low price limit, giving us licence to get creative.

Actually, we tried a couple new Christmas practices in my family this year. The main one being that Mum doesn't shoulder the burden of feeding everyone. She's our local matriarch, and has always assumed responsibility for putting on a banquet. But this year, family lunch was pot luck.

What I observed:

  • Everyone contributed.
  • Every dish was a conversation piece.
  • There was no one person having to worry about everything.
  • There was no reason for anyone to feel like they weren't doing enough.

Best of all, Mum didn't have to spend a day and a half preparing everything.

I've learned I'm sensitive to patterns and repetition. Particularly in the last few years, I've felt at odds with my family's Christmas habits. They're more habits than traditions, as we don't fiercely cling to them as much as fall back on them when the holiday arrives. At times, they've struck me as the perpetuation of activity long after we'd run out of circumstances that made them ideal. Like when people move from mild climates to arid ones, yet still insist on keeping a lawn.

I suspect my growing stress over the years has had something to do with falling back on habits no longer suitable for the climate. I daresay we once found our groove, and somewhere along the way, it became a rut. At least for me. My mum is not old, but older. Us kids - my siblings, cousins and I - are now the adults. We have income and responsibilities, passable cooking skills and a new generation of kids to treat. And as people, we change and grow, and learn new things about each other. Maybe I'm the only one in my family who thinks so, but these new habits seem to me like the right fit for where we are today.

Can I call them "new habits"? Next year could be different still. Hopefully we'll be able to adapt.

Eggs for breakfast

The only free range eggs at my supermarket had a week left on their Best Before date. No problem, I think, I'll find a way to eat twelve eggs by then. This will be no problem.

Six egg sandwiches later, I'm thinking about the times you need to adapt to the changing circumstances in your life. Sometimes these changes surprise you (death and redundancies); sometimes you get to plan for them (Best Before dates and corrective surgery). And other times, the only change is you finally realising.

Last month, I interviewed to join a team of groundskeepers maintaining an upmarket campus garden. The interviewers were nice and seemed positive, and I left feeling there was a very real prospect of my getting the job. This made me feel sick. Not fooly sick - I mean the bad kind.

I had that same sick feeling after interviewing at a lovely local garden shop. I didn't get the job. I didn't get the groundskeeper job either. And both times, upon receiving the rejection, I felt relieved. It's weird, isn't it? Most of the time, we fear rejection, but there have been many times in my life where something inside me responds with, Shit, you dodged a bullet there.

I indulged in a few days of introspection. You know the drill. You get on with life, sparing clock cycles out of every task to mull things over in the back of your mind. In the end, I realised there was no denying it. I don't want to work as a gardener. I enjoy my private, casual garden jobs because they're with people I know and trust, and I can plan a schedule that works for everyone.

I also realised I'm enjoying the freelance writing way more than I expected. I thought the business side of it would kill me by now, but it's been fun meeting new people, getting reacquainted with old colleagues, and getting to explore the very broad spectrum of what being a writer entails. The hustle, on my own terms, has made me feel awake.

I feel a lot of pressure to get experience in the garden industry. Maybe it's my impostor syndrome kicking in again: how can I call myself a horticulturist if I'm not employed to act as one? I certainly can't call myself a homesteader until we're on a rural block... or can I? We're eating lemons off our own tree. I ate tomatoes from my own garden. I grew the ridiculous zucchini that taunts me from the fridge. Once again, identity seems to play a huge part in being comfortable with life decisions. I don't want to be a gardener. I'm pretty sure I want to be a homesteader, among other things.

Perhaps the experience I thought I wanted isn't the experience I need. If we do make it out to the sticks, I don't see myself amped about driving around to maintain people's gardens. I want to grow primary produce and create good products with as little evil as possible in the supply chain. Seems obvious now, in saying that, where my focus should be.

Today, I boil two eggs for breakfast. When I get back to my desk, I find the cat has stolen my chair. No problem, I think, I will steal someone else's chair. Life happens. We happen.

And we adapt.

the cat sleeping in my chair

My planning stack

Last year, I joined a planning group for ideas on how to organise my life better. Yes, it's exactly what it sounds like. It's a group for people who are into planners, diaries, notebooks, stationery, art and crafting. Want to see?

Anyway, when you delve deeper into the 'planning' lifestyle, you come across a concept known as 'planner peace'. Even without being ga-ga over this hobby, I instinctively knew what they meant by this. I think anyone with even a mild planning lilt will understand.

It's where you don't wish your planner, diary, notebook or journal was bigger. Or smaller. Or simpler. Or more colourful. The layout, shape, look and feel are perfect for the way you work, and simply flow into your day. You don't spend your time wrestling with your tools - you just use them as tools, with all your energy directed at the stuff you need to do.

So, with planner peace in the back of my mind, I muddled around with stationery, trying to tune into my needs as someone who is more maker than manager, yet only feels comfortable making when things are adequately managed. I think I've finally found a system that suits the way I work.

Planner peace is different for everyone, because we all do things differently, but I wanted to share what's working for me at this point in my life.

Life buckets with Post-It notes

my simplified life bucket system, expressed in post-its

Before adopting this system, I grouped everything by project. I have a habit of taking on too many projects at once, and things got unwieldy. I was constantly overwhelmed. Life buckets isn't a real system, just something I made up to try and cut down the number of categories I was working with. I wrote every major or interesting area of my life on a post-it note - football, martial arts, big projects, little projects - and stuck them on the wall.

Then I grouped them by similarity. Crochet, knitting and sewing, for example, could go together. I'm in the same headspace when I do those things, and tend to talk about them with the same people. My sports could have been grouped together, but they each linked to different activities and were connected to different groups of people, so I kept them apart.

Finally, I replaced each group of post-its with a new post-it bearing a collective name of the group. I ended up with 15 'buckets' - mental containers for stuff I do - a damn sight better than 30 odd projects. My life made more sense now, and I could see roughly where I was distributing my time. The buckets don't stop me from trying new things; they keep me aware of the sorts of things I gravitate toward, and provide a handy reference for ensuring I don't get lazy with stuff that's important to me.

Over the next 6 months, I refined my buckets so I wasn't juggling 15 things. I regrouped, renamed, made conscious lifestyle changes that would reflect the bucket pattern I wanted to see when I looked at my wall. I whittled 15 down to 12, and now I'm at 9.

I see this as applying konmari to an abstract model of my life. It seems to be working. When I feel I'm spending too much time writing, I move onto making or self-care. Or hanging out with my cats.

Week planning with Hobonichi Weeks

Hobonichi Weeks planner next to my old Filofax Metropol Pocket

Morning, afternoon and night. That's how I like to plan my time. In blocks, with respect to the week. Enter Hobonichi Techo Weeks, with days already split up into three portions, enough room to write and doodle, and a page just for notes. The special Tomoe River paper is super light, and bleed resistant. I can use watercolours on it, and the other side is still OK. Ah, combining work admin and art. Love it.

The whole Hobonichi Weeks book is as thick as my finger. Which makes it much easier to carry around than the Filofax Metropol Pocket I used to use.

my thick Filofax

Reference keeping with Filofax

doodles and recipes in my Filofax

I don't blame my Filofax for not planning my week very well. It wasn't what I bought it for. Originally, I wanted it as a reference diary - a place to keep evergreen information. As my penpals started sending me recipes and notes, I needed a place to stash them.

The default ruler marks the stuff I'm in the midst of using. If I'm in a cooking phase, for example, I'll stick it in there. I use a variety of page markers too for quick opening - washi and paper tabs, a magnetic clasp, and two conspicuously pink flamingo paper clips.

There are sections for penpalling (postage prices, notes), go-to recipes and cooking times, and project notes. Plus a few business cards and ephemera in the front pockets. Nice chunky, tactile storage for chunks of information.

Tracking with Wunderlist and IDoneThis

my wunderlist for today

My Wunderlist is a dumping ground for the tasks of today, tomorrow, next week, next year, whenever, whatever, blah! When I'm in a listy mood, I create a new list just for the day (or weekend, or week) and fill it with new items plus some old items from the dump list (labelled "Waiting list" in the picture).

At the end of the day, I do a little debrief on IDoneThis. Is it superfluous? Maybe. Is it helpful? Yes. It preserves the daily Agile scrum from my dev life, combined with a Done List approach.

Art journaling with Hobonichi Techo

a spread from my art journal

This isn't strictly planning, but sometimes treads into that territory. It helps me organise my thoughts and frame my perspective on things. I use an A5 Hobonichi Cousin Avec for a cross between scrapbooking and art journalling. I note high points, low points, ponder points, thoughts and lessons, and surround them in shape, colour and texture. The end result is visual and kinaesthetic feedback, simple mementos that trigger memories and mood. I guess it triggers a different part of my brain to when I'm just reading words, and I like having those zones lit up.

The d2p (day to a page) limit forces me to focus on what I can fit in a restricted space. I like having a lot of room, but I'm going small next year, downsizing to an A6 Avec.

Standard journalling with Moleskine and a fauxdori

my moleskine journal

Finally, my trusty pretty-much-text-plus-some-doodle journal for freestyle notes and thoughts. I use blank pocket-sized Moleskine Cahier notebooks or homemade hand-bound notebooks, strapped into a leather fauxdori.

A fauxdori is a homemade version of a Midori Traveller's Notebook, for people who want sizes, colours and materials that Midori don't offer. I got mine from Paperflower Design Studio and was delighted to learn they're based in WA. Yay, supporting local craftspeople!

I wish I had known more about leather when I bought it. I'm curious now about the tanning and sourcing process. But live and learn. I shall have to take good care of this fauxdori for a long time out of respect for the animals and people who produced it.

photo of my hobonichi from the side

So that's my planning stack.

I'm sure it sounds epic and redundant to most people, but there's not a lot going on here that requires any effort. Each of these tools fits nicely into the way I go about my day, freeing up my headspace or offering a welcome distraction when I just want a pen in my hand.

And when I don't feel like being facilitated at all, I simply shut down, close the books, make tea, and not think about any of it. I've come to accept that my habits are temporal - I need gridlines sometimes, blank spaces other times. I need structure and logic, and then for all that to get out of the way while I'm in the zone. I do words and pictures, and transition between long-term and short-term thinking. So this mishmash of tools suits me fine. I am enjoying my planner peace... for now.


Today, it happened. I hit 50k words. Aaaaaaaaaah! I am done!

Reckon I have more to go to complete this manuscript, but as far as the November challenge has gone, I am done and I feel GREAT!!

My spiffy PDF-generated 2015 NaNoWriMo winner certificate

Thank you, NaNoWriMo, for getting me off my arse (and making me sit on my arse to get this done). Thank you to friends have family who have been supportive of my venture, patient with my whinging, and understanding of my absence.

So now, will this abomination of a mostly-written story ever become a novel worthy of publishing? Will it ever even be finished? Only time will tell.

It is time for another cup of tea. ^___^