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Cleaning indoor air with science

My doctor tells me I have a condition called atopy. Wiki makes the symptoms sound severe, but I think in terms of suffering, I probably don't get it as bad as the average afflicted. I'm sensitive to sudden changes in weather and too much of certain foods, but most of the time, I get reactions when the air isn't right.

Maybe there are lit cigarettes nearby, or someone walks ahead of me with musky perfume, or if there's been a bushfire or a stuffy room full of dust - it all goes the same way. Niggly sinuses, sometimes a headache, itchy eyes, difficulty breathing, and once in a while, a skin rash (yay, TMI!).

Anyway, all this fuels my curiosity about air and how to keep it clean. Wanna see some interesting things I found on the net?

These plants that clean indoor air

In the 80s, NASA did a study on plants that clean indoor air (lovely infographic). Strictly speaking, it wasn't the plants themselves that did the job, but microorganisms present on the leaves and in the potting soil - either way, you pop some of these plants in your home, and it should help reduce the volatile organic compounds (VOC) in the air.

Notable, hardy and easy-to-care-for varieties include certain species of palm, dracaena, philodendron and ficus. I wrote a piece on them here: 4 indoor plants that purify the air in your home. Of all those plants, we have just a young Benjamin fig in a pot. :)

More details in the paper on the NASA site.

a formaldehyde-cleaning ficus

This air filter that disintegrates pollutants

Molekule. This gadget is neat for two reasons.

One - it pulls in air, traps larger particles like dust and dander, and uses photoelectrochemical oxidation to break down airborne VOCs, mold and bacteria into constituent compounds. Clean air comes out and the greb stays in the internal filter.

Two - IoT integrations. You can monitor the Molekule from your smart phone, so you know when to replace the filter... OR you can set it all up so new filters are sent to you automatically when the old ones are about to get full.

Plus their site is neat too.

Molekule air filter Pic via inhabitat

A purifier that turns bad gases into solids

Dust is far easier to get rid of than bad smells and noxious fumes. So this GPAO contraption turns those stinky, toxic gases into dust by exposing them to ozone and fluorescent light. Inside the GPAO is also an electrostatically charged surface, which dust particles readily cling to, so they stay out of the air.

The process mimics nature's way of cleaning itself, only this machine does it faster in a contained space. It's already in use at industrial sites, and I'm so picturing a future where we can recycle/upcycle some of the nasty shit our civilisation produces.

Video via University of Copenhagen

This humidifier, filter and circulator in a pretty planter box

No mad science here, just everyday science combined in a nice way. The EcoQube Air is a pretty desktop greenhouse with mechanical and charcoal filters to trap dust, pollen and unwanted gases.

The full-spectrum LED bulbs mean you can grow lovely plants inside, which reoxygenate the air that gets pumped through the box. The lights also double as a light therapy system, which you can adjust according to your sleep/wake cycle.

The Kickstarter comments say they will ship to Australia, but it's currently looking like US$40-60. Maybe when their commercial stock is ready, some bright spark will do a bulk import? (someone, pls!)

EcoQube Air by Aqua Design Innovations

Pic via Kickstarter

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: pinterest.com/Starduststuff/konmari

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. :)

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 something 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

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.

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