Originally published on Urban Affairs Magazine on December 7, 2017

Winter has arrived in Bangkok with cool mornings and breezy evenings. It’s that time of year when you reunite with good friends and things at the office hopefully start to run at a slightly slower pace. It is also a time for reflection and for setting goals. One of my goals is to live more with less. The other day, my husband picked up something of mine, and asked me, “When are you going to use this?” Although I’ve been decluttering regularly for the past few years, I realize I’ve fallen off the decluttering bandwagon and need to get back on.

I first started decluttering a few years ago after I read an article in The New York Times about the Kon Mari craze grappling the US. I was curious and went out to buy Marie Kondo’s book The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing. I immediately saw why it was a hit. The book was both humorous and eye-opening. After reading it, I looked around the house and started seeing things I hadn’t used in years. Ever since, I have been working on minimizing the amount of “things” in my life.

Marie outlines her Kon Mari Method which is a guide to acquiring the right mindset for creating order and becoming a tidy person. Purging and throwing away things takes a lot of mental power as it is all about making decisions. I find myself asking a myriad of questions: Should I keep this or that? What if I would later need to refer to these old lecture notes? This was a gift or this was once my favorite bag/shoe/dress. Should I save this for when I lose weight?…And it goes on and on. The reasons as to why I should keep something are endless and mentally exhausting. Looking back, some of them are quite funny. My husband solves this by suggesting I take photos of things I’d miss.

Marie Kondo’s method is simple. You keep the things that “spark joy” when you touch it. That is her sole criteria for whether you keep or throw something out. If you decide to throw something out, she says you should also thank it for the joy it gave you when you bought it, and for letting it teach you that it doesn’t suit you and to let go. This part reminds me a bit of Buddhism.

Following the Kon Mari method does not mean you tidy by room or area as we often do, but by following a systematic Kon Mari approach. We start with clothes, then books, papers and miscellaneous items. This is to prepare our minds for decluttering more difficult categories. Each category is subdivided. For example, under clothes you start with tops (shirts, sweaters, jackets, etc.). You take all the tops you have, wherever they may be in the house, and pile them altogether. The size of the pile gives you a sense of how much you have. The first time I did this I was shocked. I was never much of a shopper, but I certainly had more than I needed and there were certainly a few I hadn’t touched or thought of in years. It was a bit overwhelming. I had to take a deep breath and go for it and I’m glad I did. The outcome is cathartic. A house clear of unwanted and unloved goods feels amazingly good.

A wonderful side effect of decluttering is that you save money on buying storage and you save time because it becomes much easier to find anything you need. Money and time for you to live your life and accumulate more experiences. Isn’t that wonderful? Marie Kondo sums this up well in her book: “when you put your house in order, you put your affairs and your past in order, too… You become surrounded by only the things you love… pour your time and passion into what brings you most joy, your mission in life.” Life begins when your house is in order. Now let’s get on the decluttering bandwagon!

Myth 1: Wooden cutting boards have more bacteria

In our lives, sometimes we hear things, we read things and we live by it thinking it’s right.  Sometimes it turns out it is just a myth.  So tonight, I’m going to start a little series about some common food myths. The first myth being that one should never use wooden cutting board for meat because they are full of bacteria.

It is commonly believed that the sharp knife cutting into the board causes little scratches, through which later juices from meat settle into.  They become a breeding grown for bacteria that cannot be easily washed away.  As a result, wooden cutting boards become a ‘no no.’  Plastic cutting boards are better.  Now some even say they are made with anti-microbial technology that ensures it remains bacteria free.

Sadly, it’s all just a myth.  It doesn’t matter what kind of cutting board you use, wooden or plastic, it does not reduce the number of bacteria, according to University of California: Davis, Dean O. Cliver, Ph.D of the UC-Davis Food Safety Laboratory.

Although bacteria does go through the cuts in the wooden cutting board, the bacteria are said to settle deep inside where it is very difficult for it to resurface.  You would have to splot the board open first.  Once they are inside, they also do not multiply and often die.

Plastic cutting boards too result in bacteria even after cleaning.  I suppose this means, that whether you use wooden or plastic cutting boards, there will be bacteria.

The most important lesson though, is to ensure that you keep your cutting board clean.  Clean well after each use.  Which one is better? I cannot tell, but I can tell you I love the feel of cutting down into a wooden cutting board.  Others may like plastic because its light and convenient and feels ‘clean.’  It’s really up to you.   Myth be gone!  Wood is as good as plastic!

De-Clutter and De-Stress!

Earlier today I read an article in the New York times entitled “Organize This” and in my attempt to organize all my accumulated treasures and some not so treasures, I found the article extremely interesting.  It tells of a how a certain Barbara Reich whizzes into a doorman apartment, clears, throws and organizes away piles of belongings of the rich and wealthy.  Three hours later she is $450 richer and has more than a dozen garbage bags.  I think its awesome.  It’s an awesome job for Barbara, and it’s awesome to have a house organized and de-cluttered.

Clutter equals stress and by helping people organize their things, she helps them reduce stress.  Of course if you can afford her $150 rate, go for it.  For the rest of us, who are not so well off, I guess we just have to do the de-cluttering ourselves and relieve ourselves of unecessary things.  I’ve been trying to de-clutter my apartment for weeks, months and years but to no avail. 

I buy boxes to store my things, then they get stored so well, I never open them again.  Some boxes I have not opened in years, but when I do, I can’t seem to throw anything out.  They have memories.  I have my things from college neatly stored in lovely containers and my box of colored pencils and markers still in order since the fourth grade.  I still use them occasionally.  It’s been over two decades since I was in the fourth grade.  I store things too well.

After reading the article, today I was able to de-clutter a few of my belongings.  I just grabbed them, put them in a large bag and took them out before I could stop my myself from mourning over its lost and thinking how wasteful it is to throw away things in perfectly good condition. 

It felt good.  It felt good to declutter and get some space back into my life.  Some more breathing space.  I can’t believe why I kept that movie ticket for so long or that broken gadget.  I know I’d never use it again but it just never got thrown out.  It just sat there neatly in a corner.

So if you have time this weekend, de-clutter, throw out things you don’t need, donate and de-stress.  Having a clean and ordering place is certainly less stress!   It’s a great way to start the year!

Storage Tip: Earrings and Cufflinks

Happy Friday 🙂 It’s the first Friday of the month, and the first Friday of 2011. Somehow I feel like it has already been a few months since the New Years.  There is so much to do.  This year also sounds futuristic and as if it came from a sci-fi movie.  Nevertheless, it is here and ready for us to embrace.  The office opposite my building is certainly embracing it.  For a few hours now, they have been partying with food, music and dancing. It sounds fun.  

The New Years is also a time for us to get organized and clean up our living space.  I’ve been trying to clear up my accumulated junk, but the pile seems to come out from Mary Poppins’ bag.  Once I take things out of drawers and shelves, they suddenly blossom and grow in size. I have piles of things I have to donate, piles of things waiting to go into storage, and piles of things I have to sort.  The piles of things to sort is just so large sometimes I wonder if I’d every finish it this lifetime. 

I suppose I just have to one day take out a large black garbage bag, hold my breath and throw things in without a second thought.  It’s the memories of things that make it hard for us to throw away.    So in the process of doing all this,  I am also finding smarter ways to store my things. 

Today I want to share a great way to store earrings. For guys reading this, it could serve as a great way to store cufflinks or other small tie pins.  I used to hang earrings on little stands, but they got dusty.  No good.

Now, I found these plastic boxes at the department store and they are sectioned into lovely little squares, perfect for a pair of earrings.  They are also lined with foam so that your earrings don’t get scratched.   It’s only around 130 THB for a box big enough to hold 27 pairs.  They also have smaller boxes with 14 sections available.   Oh, and if you go to the Export-Import Fairs that are held twice a year in Bangkok (BIG +BIH at Impact Arena) you can get these boxes at really good deals!

Okie, that’s all for today folks! If you have other great ways and ideas in which to store things, please share with us!  I’m always eager to hear how I can better store my junk!

The bare essentials

When you ask me what I do on the weekends, a most common answer you’ll get is “clearing up my house.”  I have so many things and belongings lying around the house and it is forever in a state of clutter. I never seem to be able to get it to be as clean as I want it to be.  I want the house to be clean like a hotel room.

Bare except for a few essentials.

That’s my ultimate goal, but for as long as I can remember, I am forever “clearing up” my junk.   I spend hours on end clearing out magazines, advertisements sent through the mail, and sorting through the piles of paper.

I line the books up on my self, all categorized.  Everything has its own place.

Nevertheless, I have so much that if you tried to add anything new, there wouldn’t be any space for it.  It’d be lying out on the table or perhaps sit quietly in a corner.   I have things neatly hidden away from the eye. In drawers and boxes.

The question is:  who doesn’t accumulate new things?

Everyday we accumulate something new.  Whether it’s new mail, gifts from friends, or new little knicks or knacks we spot and just have to buy.   That cute little one-of-a-kind porcelein doll that would look lovely on a side table, or that handpainted box.  Perhaps its a new gadget for the kitchen or a new mug that was so cute.
My dilemma is I don’t like to throw away things that are still in good condition. I keep things so well, believe it or not, I still have my tin box of colored pencils and markers from grade 4, the origami packs of paper from grade 6, and the watercolour sets from highschool.  Everything is still in usable condition and I still use them everynow and then.

I have the old hair dryer that is so old, I don’t use, but I don’t throw away.  I have the old APS camera that no one uses anymore, and the polaroid camera that I haven’t touched in years.  I’d Ebay them, but I wonder if they’d sell.  Perhaps this weekend I’ll just take a deep breath and throw everything out.

I am starting to feel overwhelmed from all my accumulated assets over the past three decades.   A great way to think about clearing up junk is to do it Alex’s way.  He told me one day, instead of using up my weekends debating what to keep or throw away, why don’t I just take a picture of things I think I’d miss! That way, I’d save space and still be able to look at the object when I miss it !!!!

Funny isn’t he? 🙂  Perhaps I should seriously do that 😀

I still got a long way to go before I reach the bare essentials. What about you?  How do you cope with all the clutter?  I donate and throw, but it’s still not good enough 😦