Queen of Konmari Challenge: Stage 2 – Books

Well, I thought that sorting out the books would be a piece of cake, but it turns out I was so, so wrong. Putting my books through the Konmari wringer was very difficult for me, basically because it was just so labour-intensive!

I started off by walking around the house, just picking up every single stray book and putting them on the spare room bed. This took me about half an hour, and as you can see from the picture below, I hadn’t even emptied my book shelves before the bed was completely covered in books.

Once I started emptying my bookshelves, that’s when I started feeling nauseous and lightheaded. My thoughts were all over the place. How could I possible get rid of any of these precious books?! It was unthinkable! What am I doing? WHY am I doing this? THESE ARE BOOKS!! Also, why have I put random bits of paper and all sorts of rubbish around my books?

I was almost going to stop, but I decided to press on. I broke out into a cold sweat and started retching whilst trying to get all the books out of the cupboard and into stacks as quickly as possible. I also managed to gather together a bag of garbage, mostly half written notes, receipts or grocery lists, even junk mail that had somehow found their way into the pages of my books.

It took me a whole hour to get all my books together.

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On left: All the books from around the house. On Right: All the books.

After I emptied my bookshelves, I had so many books stacked on the floor and on the bed, that I had essentially blocked off my exit from the spare bedroom! Additionally, the books on the bed weren’t staying in neat stacks but had started to slide all over the place, and I risked knocking the whole lot onto the floor.

This is probably why Konmari advises one to lay everything out on the floor. It’s much easier to step around piles on the floor to get things that are out of arms’ reach, and if anything starts to tip over, at least it won’t fall too far! I shall keep this in mind once I reach the part where I have to handle breakables.

Fortunately, the spare room is connected to the children’s room by a balcony, so I had the kids let me in through their balcony (you can see how this could have gone VERY wrong, huh?).

I shut the spare room door and told the kids not to enter, then I went to get a drink of water and sit down for a few minutes to calm down. Then, I threw away the bag of rubbish that I accumulated. That was where I decided to stop for the day, because I knew I didn’t have the emotional strength in me to start sorting through the books as well.

The next morning, I was feeling slightly better, so I started out by going through the children’s books first. I slowly took out books that I never really liked, completed books that the kids would be unlikely to read again, or books that were repeats (surprisingly we had many of these). I kept all the books that I loved and that I loved to read to the kids, or books that I loved to see the children reading on their own.

Then, I went back and looked through the stack of children’s books that I didn’t like, and removed all of the ones that I knew that the children loved.

Then I sorted the ‘keepers’ into piles using my Volcano Method. This is when I pile stuff of the same category together until they form a chain of volcanos. Eventually, things start to flow down the sides to form new islands of interrelated topics. You can see in the picture below, the neat stacks of book volcanoes on the far left.

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Sorting the books using the Volcano Method

At the end of the second hour-long tidying session, I had a tall stack of children’s books that I (and the children – I let them eyeball the books first) had decided not to keep but could be donated or given away (you can see them in the pictures above), some random textbooks that could probably be given away, and a bunch of books that needed to be returned to my friends! I also kept finding random brochures and magazines which totalled TWELVE plastic bags! I threw all of those into the recycling bin.

I spent the third session just putting all the children’s books back into the cupboards. By this time, the cupboards had been well aired out, and I’d also replaced the dehumidifiers to keep the books from getting musty.

I organised the books by reading level, and I’d also tried to arrange them vaguely by height, putting the taller books to the right of the cupboard. I put books that I wanted the kids to read at their eye level – that is, picture books right at the bottom for 1 year old Thumper, early readers and easy chapter books for 5 year old Little E on the bottom and middle shelves, advanced books on the top shelf for 8 year old J.

The next two sessions were spent sorting through and organising our collection of novels and reference books. I took all the books that I wasn’t terribly interested in and showed them to the Barn Owl, and he decided which ones he still wanted to keep. I got rid of all our outdated textbooks and manuals. I listed all the novels that we didn’t want (and weren’t worth keeping for the kids) to be given away on a freecycling website – and someone picked them up at the end of the week.

I put all our books back into the cupboards, making sure that our favourite books were at eye-level, and putting darker coloured books or book series towards the left, lighter coloured books towards the right.

Here’s what our shelves looks like now:

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Tidy and organised!

I have to find some props to hold the books up so that they don’t fall over, but the best thing about all this is that I’ve now got some space for more lovely books! YAY!

I’m really glad that I kept the books that were the kid’s favourites, even if they weren’t my favourites. They were so happy to see their beloved books displayed neatly on the shelves, it was totally worth it.

P.S. Why am I doing this? Here’s why.

P.P.S. Check out the rest of the Queen of Konmari series here.

If you haven’t read the books already, you can get them here:

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organising

Spark Joy: An Illustrated Master Class on the Art of Organizing and Tidying Up

Upcycling for Kids (Using Teeshirts) Part 4: No-Sew Braided Rug

Perhaps you have got a few Teeshirts that are very worn out and not even worth giving away. You could rip them up and use them as cleaning rags, or you can try extending their usefulness by braiding them into a nifty rug, old-school style!

I actually tried making a similar rug earlier this year using old towels, but sewing the towel braid together hurt my fingers – and the rug didn’t hold together as well as I liked.

Using old teeshirts for this braided rug worked better for me, because the braid was easier to work with, and I could weave the rug together – no fussing about with needles and other pointy hurty things. This craft turned out to be straightforward enough for Little E to do it on her own! We ended up with a lovely, soft rug which made a great bathmat – and it’s washable too.

In this tutorial, I use a four strand braided technique (like a ‘fishtail’ braid), because I feel this gives a wider and flatter weave, but you can use a three stranded braid if you feel that a puffier rug works for you.

How to make an Old-School Braided Rug from Old Teeshirts

Materials:

  1. Old Teeshirts (I used about 3 large men’s tees to make a round floormatbut you can use more if you want a bigger rug)
  2. Scissors

Instructions:

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  1. Cut the tees into 1.5-2 inch strips widthwise so that you end up with a bunch of loops
  2. Stretch the loops as far as they will go until the fabric rolls in on itself
  3. Cut the loops open on one end so that you are left with long strings
  4. Choose 4 strings and knot them together. I decided to go with 2 strings of contrasting colours to get a nice chevron pattern.fishtail-braid-four-strand-rug-tee-shirt
  5. Cross the outer (green in the picture above) strings over each other, right string over the left to form an X.
  6. Take the next set of outer strings (dark blue in the picture above). Cross them over the centre of the braid, right over left, to form a second X.
  7. Take the following set of outer strings (green) and cross them in the centre again, right string over left, to form a third X. You are now back to your original position, having done three layers of braiding!
  8. After you have done about 4-5 inches of braid, roll the braid into a spiral, with the original knot in the spiral centre. Now you can weave the free braid together to form the rug.
  9. Take the string that is closest to the centre of the spiral and pass it through one of the loops of braid that it is nearest to it (see the picture below).
  10. Pull the string tight to secure the free section to the rest of the rug.
  11. Continue to braid, securing each section every 1.5-2 inches.braided-teeshirt-rug-upcycle-recycle
  12. When the lengths of string become too short to braid, you can add another string to it by knotting the ends together. To make a less bulky knot, snip a small hole about 0.5 inches from the end of both strings that you wish to join together.
  13. Pass the end of the old string through the hole in the new string.
  14. Then, push the other end of the new string through the hole in the old string
  15. Pull tight and it should form a small, tight knot!
  16. Continue braiding your rug until it reaches a size that you are happy with
  17. To finish off the rug, knot the ends of the free braid to one of the loops from the braid next to it, securing the end of the braid to the rest of the rug. You can then trim off any excess string or tuck the strings into the rest of the rug to make them neat.
  18. Enjoy your soft new floormat!

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    Left: Eleanor braiding using two sets of contrasting colours to form chevrons, Right: Another rug that we made using four different colours

Queen of Clean Konmari Challenge: The Book Reviews

Okay, so following the success of the Happy Family Plan, one of my cousins bought me Konmari’s books, “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organising“and “Spark Joy: An Illustrated Master Class on the Art of Organizing and Tidying Up“, as gifts for Christmas.

Now, I actually put these books on my Christmas wish list because I had come across Marie Kondo‘s home organisation technique whilst completing the Happy Family Plan. I mean, if you google ‘decluttering’ or ‘tidying’, you will eventually come across her books sooner or later.

My idea of tidying was to put all the mess out of sight as quickly as possible, which is only a short term measure of keeping things neat and organised.  Soon, the cupboards and drawers were beginning to spill over all over the house again. In fact, when I was completing my Happy Family Plan, I realised halfway through that I was becoming fatigued and overwhelmed. This was because I was trying to do everything all at once and it wasn’t working for me.

For example, I really wanted to reorganise my cupboards, so I started out reorganising the Craft Cupboard, and soon this expanded to ‘reorganisation of the Games Cupboard’ which led to the ‘reorganisation of the Mementos Cupboard and Household Tools Cupboard’.  I ended up with a bunch of half-organised, half-full cupboards, and a bunch of half-organised, overflowing cupboards. At one point, I found myself spending a whole hour just emptying and repacking the same things into different cupboards like a crazy person.

Eventually, I decided to call a stop to the reorganisation of the cupboards and just move on with the rest of the Happy Family Plan.

I wanted to read Marie Kondo’s books because she claims to have a ‘ONCE AND FOR ALL TIME’ plan. You complete her method ONCE AND FOR ALL TIME and never return to your previous state of disorganisation and mess. And because I am an inherently lazy person, I like the idea of doing things only once.

So, I have read both of her books, and I have come to the conclusion that:

  1. Yes, they are very useful because they set down a very clear and logical framework that you can follow.
  2. Yes, if you really want to follow her plan, buy both books.
  3. The Konmari method works especially well if you are the sort of person who tends to procrastinate, if you are constantly looking for good storage solutions and if you feel guilt about your messy house but you are not a tidy person by nature.

And now, my thoughts on each book:

Thoughts on The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organising

Okay, the biggest criticism that this book has is that it uses some flower child hippie descriptive language. I mean, there is literally a whole paragraph in the book dedicated to examining the inner feelings of socks and the horror and abuse that is balling your socks up in the drawer.

Well, the first thing to remember is that this book is written primarily for a Japanese audience, and that culturally, all objects in Japan are described as having a spiritual nature. So in order to reach the heart of her audience, Konmari very cleverly appeals to the Japanese innate appreciation of objects as well as for all things cute and cuddly, in order to achieve to change in psychological mindset.

If you strip away all of that, what you are left with is a very concise and logical method of managing the task of curating and organising personal possessions as well as household items. Marie Kondo explains the development process behind her method, and understanding the theory does help you focus on tackling the problem of household mess in a positive and manageable way. Additionally, I think that following her advice on how to store or display items (or fold clothes) will actually help you to prolong the lifespan of your treasured possessions. She also has some very useful advice on what to do with items that have outlived their usefulness, things that you are holding onto out of guilt or some other emotional reason, or that you are keeping in store for a rainy day.

Conclusion: This book is very useful if you do not like tidying, and you need some help getting started.

Thoughts on Spark Joy: An Illustrated Master Class on the Art of Organizing and Tidying Up

I think that this book is only helpful if you have already started to tidy your house via the Konmari method, or if you have read the first book and you have more questions.

This book is written as a companion to the first one. It already assumes that you have read Marie Kondo’s book, and so it proceeds to explain everything in much more detail. It covers her entire method in a very thorough and detailed manner – with pictures, descriptions and very practical, helpful tips to help you along if you start feeling discouraged.

However, if you don’t understand the theory behind the Konmari method or if you have an obsessive personality, this book will hinder more than it helps as the amount of information it contains will be too overwhelming.

Conclusion: This book is immensely helpful as a quick reference guide for people who are already committed to the Konmari method.

So, Meimei, now I have completed reviewing the Konmari books as per the Queen of Clean challenge. Haha!

Author Showcase: Chris Haughton – Children’s Book author and illustrator

Last year, we were very fortunate to have been able to attend a workshop at the Singapore Writer’s Festival led by one of our favourite authors, Chris Haughton.

J and Little E were ecstatic when I told them that we were going to meet the author of one of their favourite books A Bit Lost – a charming story of a sleepy little owl looking for it’s mummy with some help from a friendly but confused squirrel.

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At the Closetful of Books pop-up store, holding their precious copy of ‘A Bit Lost’

We got to the workshop early so I had some time to browse some of Chris Haughton’s other award-winning books at the pop-up bookstore run by Closetful of Books.

Oh No, George! is a funny story about a well-meaning but unfortunate dog who is always getting into scrapes. I love the colours in this one, and I think kids can really relate to George’s many difficulties.

Shh! We Have a Plan is about a group of unsuccessful hunters who keep running into all sorts of trouble whilst attempting to capture a brightly coloured bird. This one is particularly good for reading aloud, and the kids find it absolutely hilarious.

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J reading ‘Shh! We Have a Plan’ to Little E and Thumper

When Chris Haughton arrived, he was utterly captivating from the start, managing to hold both J and Little E’s attention for nearly a whole hour. He talked about the different ways in which he planned and created each book, and the inspiration behind some of his character designs. It was enlightening, listening to him talk about his creative process and watching him engage with the children.

Mr Haughton showed us some pictures that he drew when he was a very young boy. He told us how he loved drawing and would draw all the time, everywhere. This was something that resonated with J especially, who owns a small sketchbook that he takes around with him.

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Dancing, puppetry and general awesomeness

Towards the end of the workshop, Chris Haughton demonstrated how he would use a single picture to tell a complete story. He got children in the audience to shout out ideas for a ridiculous and unlikely method of capturing squirrels, finally settling on the most outlandish idea of all (which you can see in the picture below).

The kids and I stayed until the very end of the workshop, and Mr Haughton was kind enough to autograph our books. He even gave J the picture that he drew during the session! J was so thrilled.

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Drawing with Chris Haughton

Chris Haughton, is first and foremost, an artist. It just so happens that his work as an artist includes creating children’s books using different mediums.

One of his other works is an app for children called ‘Hat Monkey‘. The app is an interactive story about a little Monkey who needs a lot of help, and kids can feed, sing, dance with and even talk to the little Monkey. Isn’t that cool?

Chris Haughton’s awesomeness doesn’t end there, by the way.

Before Mr Haughton started publishing children’s books, he worked as a volunteer designer for fair-trade organisations for over 10 years. After he published his first book, he went to Nepal and India to work with various fair-trade projects who now produce handmade toys and other products related to his books. These are sold on his personal website (where you can also get signed art prints), and all the profits from each sale goes right back into making more fair-trade projects.

Mr Haughton also set up aother fair-trade project called NODE, which works with a Nepalese non-profit technical school for disadvantaged adults. The employees are all given an education and apart from receiving fair wages, they also support a school and orphanage. The school now produces gorgeous hand woven rugs designed by Mr Haughton (and many other designers who collaborate with NODE to produce custom-made rugs).

I felt really privileged to have had the opportunity to meet with such a lovely person, who is using his skills for good and for awesome!

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Chris Haughton and the Owls Well fan club

Find Chris Haughton’s books here.

Download Hat Monkey here.

Support Chris Haughton’s Fair Trade projects here.

Find out more about NODE handwoven rugs here.

How NOT to Decorate Your Bedroom

Sorry Debs, I didn’t end up going to see Quidam this weekend, as the Boobook and I already had other plans.

We ended up at Pillow Talk, instead, buying sheets for the new Queen bed that we have.  Pillow Talk is by the way an absolutely fantastic place to buy new bedding.  Their clearance aisle is always good for a bargain.  I don’t mind buying shop-soiled and old bedding as the “soiling” is never biological and usually washes out easily.

Also, they have everything, from ugly ornaments and useless bric-a-brac, to duvets and towels, to beautiful bedspreads.

A Becky Lee:  Boobook!  Look at this!  It’s 500 thread count and it’s going for $20.  It’s soooo cheap!

The Boobook: Yes, but it’s also a Playboy bedspread.

A Becky Lee: But it’s cheap and it’ll feel fantastic.

The Boobook:  It’s also a hideous shade of neon Fuchsia.

A Becky Lee: But we sleep with our eyes closed.  We won’t actually have to look at it.

The Boobook:  We are also not a teenage boy.

A Becky Lee:  Point

He didn’t let me buy the bedspread.

Small Spaces: Living in the Living Room

Over here in the owls’ nest, the kids spend more time playing in the living room than in their bedroom. To be honest, I prefer them in the living room where I can keep an eye on them when I’m fussing about the house.

In one corner of our living room is the music corner, which is where J and Little E will practice their violin each afternoon. It is also where our sound system sits in state, surrounded by great drifts of CD boxes as well as a mountain of violin cases and music books. Our house is never without music!

Music, Meccano and Munchkin

Music, Meccano and Munchkin

The kids have amassed a ton of toys due to the generosity of friends and relatives but having all their toys out at the same time can be overwhelming (and messy).

This is why I keep the children’s toys on rotation. Every so often, I will put one of the plastic toy tubs back into their room and bring out another tub filled with different toys. Sometimes it will be wooden building blocks, or a box of cars, or large floor puzzles. This week, it’s a new set of Meccano from the visiting Outlaws.

The only toys that are a permanent fixture in one corner of the living room are the LEGO, which are J and Little E’s ‘go-to’ toys.

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There is no such thing as too many Legos

J and Little E’s LEGO collection has been quietly expanding over the last few years, so keeping them organised is a real challenge for me.

Right now, I am using a combination of compartmentalised, stackable boxes from IKEA, takeaway containers and old chicken essence bottles1 to sort and store their Legos pieces. The bricks are organised by colour and type, with the tiniest pieces sorted into small glass bottles that fit nicely into a plastic takeaway container.

Everything is in clear containers so that J and Little E can find the bricks that they are looking for without having to dump everything out on the floor.

There is nothing more painful than stepping on a stray segment of Lego – and then having to placate the child whose half-finished project you have inadvertently dismantled. I always insist that completed or half-finished Lego projects are tidied into baskets at the end of playtime, which keeps them out of the way.

On the carpet

Thumper joins in

The kids love playing on their carpet, which is great for marking out the boundaries of their play. This way, the toys that the kids play with tend to stay on and around the mat, and don’t spread about the house.

Similarly, the kids also tend to stay on and around the playmat and don’t spread about the house. This is a neat trick that I learned from the Aged Ps, which came in especially handy when the kids were very tiny tots. I could leave 2 year old J on the mat, go have a nice long shower, and come back to find him still pushing his cars around, saying  ‘Vrrrrm’ thoughtfully to himself.

Now that Thumper has come along, he will sit quietly in a swing in a corner of the playmat or lay on his tummy on a quilt on the living room floor, observing his siblings. J and Little E will talk to him whilst they play, occasionally breaking off from their games to make faces at him or give him a cuddle.

A reading daybed

A reading daybed

My favourite place in the living room is definitely the window seat, which the kids use as a reading nook (or day bed). The windows of the living room look over some lush greenery, and you can often see birds and butterflies flitting through the trees. There’s plenty of natural light filtering in through our giant windows, so I don’t have to worry about their eyes.

Occasionally, the J or Little E will draw the day curtains in front of the window seat, and it becomes a little hideout for them!


11414780_10153059479483897_377168398_nUp next on the blog train is Jus over at Mum in the Making.

Jus is a stay-home mama to three little boys, and spends her days homeschooling, reading and doing crafts with her kids. She will be sharing the learning area that has been carved out for her boys from their home’s entryway, so do pop by on Monday to read about it! I’m really looking forward to Small Spaces on Mum in the Making – she has such a flair for interior design!

This post is part of the Small Spaces blog train (hosted by Mum in the Making!). Click on the button below to see more Small Spaces and find out how other families tailor their homes to accommodate their children!


1. I have discovered that New Moon chicken essence containers have better lids and their labels peel off after soaking without leaving any residue which makes them prettier to look at. Brand’s chicken essence containers have plastic lids which deform very easily and the label glue cannot be removed despite hours of scraping, but the shorter and smaller containers fit snugly into a takeaway container.