Book Review: Spark Joy

I couldn’t manage to borrow a copy of the acclaimed KonMarie book “The Life-Changing Method of Tidying Up” but found a copy of “”Spark Joy” from the National Library instead.  This book is indeed inspirational too!

Whether as a FTWM or a SAHM, I have often feel that our house is always overly cluttered.  Our 3-room HDB flat often seems overwhelmed with soooo many things that every once in a while I’ll buay tahan to the max and complain to Dear1 that I want to do a spring clean.  Indeed, at every new milestone, like when just before Baby1 was born and the “maternal instinct to clean out everything” suddenly kicked in; and same thing when just before Baby2 was born; when we chased Baby1 and Baby2 out from our bedroom to their own children’s room; or when the storeroom seems to be filled to the brim every now and then.  After reading , I found out that this urge to “spring clean” is actually more philosophical than purely just spring clean!

Basically, a tidy house:

  • Reflects your tidy life, and your tidy character.
  • Makes you understand what you really want (ie your material needs and wants)
  • Makes you ponder on what you want in life too. “Tidying orders the mind, while cleaning purifies it”.
  • Makes cleaning easier.  When there’s less things in the house, faster cleaning means more time for play.
  • Makes finding things easier. Because every item has it’s own place.
  • Of course means you spend more wisely since you’ll be cautious of what you add to the house.
  • Leaves only items that “spark joy” in your house.  If you see items that spark joy everywhere in your house, naturally you’ll feel happier.
  • Makes you discard all the items that don’t spark joy for you. When these dreaded items are out of sight, they’re out-of-mind, so there’s nothing to spark unjoy.
  • Enables better air flow.  When there’s no stagnant qi and better flow, everyone’s supposed to feel better!

Reading the book, it seems there’s already a large part that I have employed in my own life all this while (perhaps I can be a consultant just like KonMarie, giving lessons to other people, writing books, all merely passing on to other people what I do on a daily basis.  ;p).

1) Tidy by Category

Whenever I do spring cleaning, clothes is always the first category to be axed.  I often noticed that when my wardrobe is much neater, aka when I can better sight the clothes that I’ll wear, and sell to karang kuni those that I won’t wear anymore, this alone is very therapeutic. Or rather, the sense of over whelmness will absolve very fast.

KonMarie also advocates clearing the clothes first, followed by books, papers then komono (miscellaneous).  Her rule of thumb is, only keep those that “spark joy”.  This is where I come short, because very often, you tend to keep certain clothes that are barely worn, for “just in case”.  KonMarie says that this is a no-no, for if that time really comes (ask y0urself, really got?), you can always find a substitute from your existing pile.  Also, because it’s an item that “sparks joy”, you feel happy during this once-in-a-while usage too.

Clearing papers has been part of our habits too (but one that Dear1 and I only discovered in recent years.  Perhaps this is part of us maturing and gaining more life experience over the years?)  Like her, we have decided to discard most papers nowadays.

KonMarie also says always to tidy by category, and never by location, ie tidy bedroom first, then living room next.  You run the risk of transferring your garbage from one room to the other if you do that!

2) Keep Similar Items Together

This is also a rule of thumb when I keep things at home. Batteries and cables in 1 location, spares toiletries in 1 location.  Sometimes when Dear1 asks for a random item, I can usually retrieve it easily even though I can’t remember it’s exact location most of the time.  Because similar items are stored together, the random item will usually be found where it’s peers are!

3) Tidy Komono and Sentimental Items Last

The rule is, you tidy the easy ones first, and leave the tricky ones to the last.  It’s easier to settle all the easier clothes, books and papers category first; this gives you more confidence, more peace of mind, and more time to handle the supposedly more time-consuming ones.  For komono, aka miscellaneous items, every one may have different categories, for instance kitchen tools, hobbies (sewing, robots, art and craft etc), so tackle each sub-category one by one.  Again, the rule of thumb, discard those that do not spark joy, and keep only those that spark joy.

4) Kitchen as Ease of Cleaning

KonMarie refutes the common conception that the kitchen should be designed for ease of use.  Throw this concept out of the window!

Ever since we have our own house, my philosophy is to store all condiments, pots and pans and as much as everything within closed doors.  Finally there is someone who agrees that this is the better method, as compared to having a “ease of use” method.  While having to open and close cupboard doors and drawers frequently when cooking every meal, I find that a neat kitchen stove is more appealing than an oily-looking one. And KonMarie aptly coins this as the “ease of cleaning”.  Wah, what a revelation!

5) Fold and Stack Clothes

We converted the deep Toyogo drawers to shallow Ikea drawers when Baby2 came along, and started to store the clothes in horizontal rows rather in vertical clothes so that all the clothes are easily visible, and easy to extract.  A neater wardrobe is so pleasing to the eye!

“Spark Joy” also sheds a couple other points that are new to me:

1) The Annual Spring Clean is to Clean, not Tidy

How often have I felt overwhelmed and extremely exhausted whenever I do spring cleaning.  Because I have been doing it the wrong way!

KonMarie says cleaning and tidying are not the same thing (ermm, so obvious, but yet not so obvious, right?).  So when you do Spring Cleaning, means you only clean.  But tidying first then clean is definitely much more efficient and less daunting, so please always tidy first!

2) Praise your Spark Joy Items, and Bid Goodbye to the Rest

KonMarie really appreciates all her items.  For those that spark joy and remain, she’ll praise them for bringing beauty to her, or being a great helper, or for bringing joy to her life (isn’t this what all of us should do, being appreciative to what you have in life?).  For those that she decides to discard, she’ll thank them for being part of her life once, or for having served it’s function, and keep these out of her life forever (again, isn’t this reminiscing the good times before and being grateful, but resolve to remove them when they become an obstacle?).

3) Dorn your House

KonMarie must be a super feminine lady; she dorns her house with many pretty things and stores all her things in nice pretty boxes, even all the underwear. I think this must be their Japanese culture where Japanese craft is always so delicate and pretty.  And when you see many pretty things, you’ll naturally feel happier too?  She arranges all the bras in color code, with the brighter ones in front and the darker ones at the back.  For underwear, each and every piece is folded and wrapped like a candy, exposing the front detailed laces.  Seems very elaborate, but perhaps seeing all your under garments arranged so prettily and colorfully really brightens your day, and wearing these cherished pieces in the inner wear really makes you feel cherished and confident too?

4) Compare

KonMarie says the best way to know if something sparks joy is to compare. When we cling on to too many material possessions, this tip becomes so useful!  All these pyjamas are favourites, but between this and that, which one sparks more joy?  Or when there are too many art pieces by Baby1, choose only the top 3 to keep.

5) It has to come from your Heart

If someone wants to tidy, it has to come from within.  In the book, the example is, you can’t get someone to tidy if he doesn’t want to, because he simply does not have your same perspective that things are not in order.  On this, I have to acknowledge that I finally understand why Dear1 does not always see the need to do spring cleaning, because things did not seem out of place from his perspective….

“Spark Joy” has been very enlightening. I’ll be trying to incorporate some of these ideas in our home, and in our life.  It’s also especially heartening to know that my minimalist personality and lifestyle actually have been recognized by some to be beneficial.  :)

– Dear2

Our Scooba 390

Mopping is a tiring task. We mop our floor once a month, on the first weekend of every month. To some, once a month is far too little. Some families mop once a week! And maybe that’s true. By the end of the month, the floor does feel a little sticky, even with Roomba vacuuming the floor every weekday.

It actually doesn’t take very long to mop our house. Our house can be easily divided into 4 zones – living room, adult bedroom, children bedroom, and kitchen. It takes about 1 pail of water to mop each room, so that’s 4 pails in total. The mopping of the whole house can be completed in 1 hour.

We started off with the traditional mop, the one where the operator has to wring the mop head dry each time. It was difficult to mop because of the numerous bending down. It was also difficult because the hands and palms will get wet each time.

Some time later, we bought the spin mop. The spin mop has the advantage that the wringing of the mop head is handle by the built in spinning mechanism, which can be operated standing upright. So that meant no more bending down and no more wet hands. It was definitely much easier.

However, to someone tall like me, mopping is still a back breaking task. I would always have to bend over to operate the mop. Once, I tried using a longer mop pole handle. It did help a little, but the long pole handle made it difficult to maneuver around our little house.

Ever since we bought our Roomba, we have always eyed the Scooba. But it was a little expensive. Several months ago, we made up our mind – yes, we will get a Scooba. It will save us a lot of energy, and a lot of time, so we can better spend this time and energy with our loved ones. We just have to wait for a sale.

And a sale did arrive for Christmas. We bought our Scooba 390 in December 2015 @ $758. Delivery was prompt and we received our Scooba the next day.

We eagerly set it up and let it run. It’s first run was in the kitchen. It was rather cool. Our floor was being mopped and we didn’t have to lift a finger. Well, sort of. We still have to load the detergent and clean water and unload the dirty water when it was done.

After the first run, I went to empty the dirty water. It was a very dark shade of gray. I was amazed, both at how dirty our kitchen was and how great Scooba was. The floor was just a bit damp and dried up quickly within the next 5-10 minutes.

Over the next few days, we let the Scooba run for many more times. The living rooms and bedrooms wasn’t quite as dirty. However, the kitchen took about 4 runs before the dirty water turn much less murky.

I boasted to Dear2, “I mopped the floor twice today! Wuahaha…”

We can definitely feel the difference with our feet. The floor feels more squeaky and clean. Now, we can afford to mop the floor weekly instead of monthly. Yeah… I think Scooba is a wonderful additional to our home.

  1. Saves time
  2. Saves energy
  3. Saves water (yes, it uses so little water)
  4. Cleaner floor, better hygiene
  5. No more backaches

We would still let Roomba run first to pick up all the hair and dust before letting Scooba scrub and mop the floor. I think robotic cleaners are matured enough as a household companion and I would definitely recommend every household to get one.

It is well worth the money.

-Dear1

Pre-reno Spring Cleaning

We’re currently in the midst of preparing and converting our study room into a children’s bedroom. And there is a big list of things that we are planning to do to realize this mini renovation project. For the study room, we have:

  1. Clear out all the cupboards in the study room (Spring cleaning).
  2. Give away old furniture to make space for new children furniture.
  3. Paint the room.
  4. Replace the air con (because the existing air con broke down a few weeks ago).
  5. Replace the curtain/blinds (to block out the sunlight, heat, and sounds from the coffeeshops below).
  6. Buy pull-out bed and mattresses.
  7. Buy study tables.

For the rest of the house:

  1. Clear out the toys area.
  2. Re-organize Dear1’s collections (board games and Gundams).
  3. Create more space in the living room.

For the past weeks, we have been slooooooowly clearing out the cupboards. We’ve given away lots of baby stuff to Dear2’s sister. We’ve dug out lots of old bills and statements and receipts and books dated as far back as 2006 when we first moved in. Wow! We’ve really accumulated lots of things over the years.

So, just as we’ve sold our old clothes for recycling the last time, we sold 8kg worth of old clothes and 18kg worth of paper this morning and received $3.40 for our recycling efforts. Thus far, we’ve sold more than 70kg of recyclable stuff and we’re 30kg away from earning our first loyalty reward of $1.50. :)

We’ve also sold off an Osim uPen and a set of speakers that we don’t use anymore to some friends. Dear2 is also taking the opportunity to clean the windows that we have not cleaned in a long time. It’s quite satisfying to clear out the clutter every once in a while. The house does seem brighter and more spacious.

Looking forward to see the final product of our renovation project.

-Dear1

31 May 2015: We sold another 10kg worth of recyclables.

Our Roomba 650

We used to dry mop our floor with the dust mop. It work decently but it always required time and effort. Any parents of young kids will tell you that time and effort is something that they cannot afford much of. Initially, we thought that a regular vacuum cleaner solve our problem, and so we bought 1. After using it for several months, we realized that it didn’t really reduce the time and effort required. As of now, the vacuum cleaner sat in the storeroom, it hadn’t been used in a looong time.

That was because we bought the Roomba 650.

The idea of buying a Roomba surfaced when I heard my colleague was using it in his rented room. In fact, the Roomba belonged to the lab that he was working at. However, he brought it home to clean his room on occasions. I borrowed it over 1 weekend to test it out. Wow. I wouldn’t say the cleaning was fantastic, but it was quite decent. At least Dear2 and I don’t feel the thin layer of dust that tends to accumulate on the floor after just a few days. And the best part was, it required no time and effort. Probably just a bit of electrical bill to charge it up.

With that, we made up our mind and bought one.

At first, we were rather cautious and decided to monitor it during its operations. As such, we tend to only run the Roomba on weekends and always with supervision. It wasn’t until perhaps a year later that we decided to let it run on the timer instead. Currently, the Roomba runs nearly every day, alternating between the living room + bedrooms, or the kitchen. This was because our kitchen floor is lower than the rest of the house, hence we had to decide which section to set up the Roomba in before it starts.

Now, the floors are always decently dust free and we wet mop the floor on a monthly basis. I would say that the $580 we spent on purchasing the Roomba and the electricity that goes into charging it was money well spent. Anything that helps with the housework and can free up time that can be better spent with family members is worth it.

Right on, we’re considering several other devices that may help us reduce the time and effort spent on housework. One of it is a washer/dryer. In washing/drying, a lot efforts are spent on hanging out the clothes to dry. A lot of weekend time is hinged on whether the weather is good or whether the laundry can dry on time. A dryer may go a long way to address this. We’re also considering the Scooba which is able to help with floor scrubbing. This may help us to eliminate even the monthly wet mopping that we’re currently doing. Another possibility might be the dishwasher. Anyone who cooks at home will attest that the bulk time spent in preparing a meal goes into food preparation and the washing up.

In our busy lives, time is really precious. If a little money spent on kitchen appliances can buy additional time for the family, I think it is money well spent.

-Dear1

Our uAngel

I think everybody likes a good massage, and we all know how money draining it is to go to the massage parlour for a rub.  Minimum $40 per hour depending on whether is it a foot rub, or shoulders, or back, or whole body massage, oh how extravagant!

So when we saw the promotional package for the uRelax and uCoxy at just slightly over $300 back in 2011, it was a good buy.  Product guarantee for 1 year, it is about $1 per day if you use every day.  Or 10 sessions as compared to going to the parlour.  And since there’s 2 items, both Dear1 and Dear2 can use them simultaneously.  Dear1 will sit on the uRelax in his study chair, while I’ll use the uCozy to massage that knotted spot on the shoulder, and we can have a relaxing chat on Friday nights.  Perfect.

Did anyone ever tell you how goods can malfunction miraculously at the one year mark?  Let me tell you this, it really happens!   The uRelax just dropped dead when the one year warranty is over.  And there goes our relaxing Friday nights.

Dear1 was depressed for a while.  He didn’t really like the uCozy as it doesn’t give a good rub to his aching lower back.  I was okay without the uRelax since it was a good-to-have anyway, and the uCozy comes in handy when I need the deep press on the knot on the shoulder.

Then Osim launched their uAngel.  Before that, Dear1 was cooing over the uSoffa.  “Super comfy”,  he says.  “No way, we don’t have the space for it”, I say.  We can consider that when we upgrade our 3 room flat, but god knows when that will be.  So even if we dare to splurge, the space constraints makes it a firm No No.  uDivine was an even bigger definite No No – no space and no money for it.  5, 6 thousand!?!?

But the uAngel is so small!  It’s really just an armchair’s space, and we’ll really just have to adjust a few furniture items in our house.  Bravo!  We gave away 1 study table and 1 coffee table, we kept and fold up Baby2’s cot (as she was climbing out of it too), we moved the kids’ rocking horse and walker to the grandparents’ house, and we placed the play yard in the bedroom (so that Baby2 gets to sleep in the bedroom with us too).  Bingo, there’s effectively a space in the study room that is large enough for the uAngel (opps, it’s really just an armchair space needed, when it’s folded, but we forgot to cater for the space behind and in front of it when it extends).  Ermm, so actually still a small massage chair size.

Dear1 persuaded me to test try the chair in the showroom.  Hmm, surprisingly it’s really quite powerful.  The back rollars can cover the whole back, and the foot massage is almost quite equivalent to the uPhoria’s strength.  I really was still skeptical about getting it, but considering that Dear1 has HPB and he really needs to relax to lower it (the nights up coaxing Baby2 just makes it worse), I decided to get it as a Mother’s Day present to him (paid using our Joint Account, of course).   At $1998, we got a free uMist and a Pillow too, plus 2.3% rebate when we paid with the CapitalMall Card at IMM.

For now, I’ll imagine the rollers loosening those tense back muscles, and improving the legs’ blood circulation, and perhaps helping to ease away pockets of gas trapped in the system.  It must be more than just giving a ‘massage feeling’ right!?  Loving it <3

– Dear2

(As for the uRelax, we got it repaired for around $50 and gave it to Dear1’s parents to use.)

A Housewife’s 3 Best Friends

I want to introduce my 3 best friends to you.

My first best friend costs only a few dollars, yet can help you to save time and energy in cleaning glass panes.  I remembered those days before I moved into my own house, I used to clean the balcony’s glass doors every year end during spring cleaning at my mum’s place. 4 big glass doors and lots of newspapers was enough to drain me out entirely just cleaning them alone.  Though it was just a yearly affair, it was my most hated task every year.

When we moved to our own house, I followed the same cleaning method for our kitchen glass door and wall too.  It took a few rubs of newspapers to get that one water stain out, urgh.  Finally I decided to buy a glass wiper.  Wee!  Wee!  Wee!  Wow!  It really just takes a few swishes and your glass is cleaned, amazing!  I turned from wasting one whole day using newspapers to effortlessly and happily cleaning the glass.  What a few dollars can do, superb!

My second best friend is wet wipes.  From cleaning dusty surfaces to window panes to ceiling fans, I’ll used wet wipes to wipe off all that dust first.  The wet rag will follow after that to complete the cleaning job.  Yes, it’s kinda wasteful when only rags are usually used throughout the cleaning process, but that few minutes saved in washing the rag, plus climbing up and down to replace the dirty rag really makes the cleaning process less tiring and a lot faster.  Housework is already so dreaded, so I don’t mind spending a few cents just so to make it less tiring, of course I’ll use the lousier and cheaper wet wipes to do these dirty jobs.

My third best friend is more costly.  At $59.90, she only helps to reduce the task of wring drying the mop.  Considering that our floor is mopped only monthly, it means that she gets into action only 12 times a year.  But you’ll be amazed by how much effort is saved by the mere action of not having to bend down and use your hands to wring dry the mop, it really saves a lot of energy!  And not to mention the fun in seeing the mop go spin spin spin.  Mopping becomes more enjoyable now!

I admit that I am a very lazy ‘housewife’.  I buy cleaning solutions because I am lazy to make my own concoctions, I use disposables when housewives are supposed to be the best Money Savers.  But I’d rather spend a few dollars more just so to conserve my energy and time so that I can better spend the energy and time with my loved ones – Dear1, Baby1 and Baby2.  :D

– Dear2

We sold off our old clothes

Several reason led up to our house cleaning plan. I’ll highlight 2 main considerations.

First, since the arrival of Baby2, we started to feel that our house needs more “space”. Well, truth be told, we’ve already started feeling the clutter since Baby1’s toys and equipment started piling up. Therefore, we decided that it’s time for a proper house cleaning and create more living space for our new family of four.

Second, our quest for a new house turned out to be a tough one. With property prices at all times high now, we are not comfortable with spending our hard earned savings just for a property. It’ll be putting all our eggs in one basket. After a “future of our family” review with Dear2, we decided that we will not be headstrong on getting our second property. We will continue to observe the market and wait for a downtrend. So, we’ll instead focus our efforts on infusing our current 6 year old home with new life.

Cleaning and throwing out things will be a start.

Since Dear2 is currently on maternity leave, she started doing some cleaning around the house. This includes cleaning the many surfaces and the floor. For the floor, we’ve found a simple solution – buy a Roomba. We’ll have another post our Roomba at another time.

For the surfaces, the solution is to reduce the exposed surface and hence reduce the clutter. To achieve this, we decided to give away 2 pieces of furniture – our beloved Ramvik coffee table (which was functioning as Baby1’s play table) and the smaller of our 2 Galant study tables. It will be a pity if we had thrown them away. Luckily, Dear1’s parents were willing to take them in and they were transported away to Dear1’s parents’ house just last Saturday evening.

We had another low chest of drawers on rollers (from Vhive) that had 2 of the 3 drawers damaged. We had intended to throw it away but Dear1’s parents took interest in it and decided to bring it back to their place last Sunday.

Coincidentally, our living room standing fan broke. We was not sure how to repair it. Luckily, Dear1’s parents were willing to take the fan to a repairman they know and they will keep the fan once it is working again. And we don’t intend to get a replacement. They will come to pick up the standing this weekend.

Next was our Seahorse mattress. We had bought 2 pieces of the 3-fold Seahorse mattress. One of it was used as Baby1’s play platform where she would play with her Megabloks. It also acted as her step to climb onto our sofabed when she was younger. The other one was laid out on our master bedroom floor for Baby1, but she never got used to sleeping there. Dear2 had used it during her pregnancy with Baby2 instead. We decided and managed to convince Dear2’s mum to take one of the mattress while we kept the other one as a spare. I brought the mattress to Dear2’s parents’ house earlier this week.

Then it was the wardrobe’s turn. We were slowly running out of wardrobe space and hangers due to our ever increasing pieces of clothings. Although I seldom buy new clothes, I would still periodically receive new clothes in the form of run t-shirts, overseas gifts, event gifts, etc. Dear2’s clothes accumulated slightly faster than mine. But the fact is, we need to throw out clothes that were old, those that we would not be wearing anymore, and those that simply won’t fit. Last Sunday, I brought down 6 big packs of old clothes to our nearby market to participate in the Cash for Trash Programme. Lo and behold, we managed to sell off 21 kg worth of old clothes that paid us $4.20! We were amazed that we had that much unused clothes.

The next items to go were the miscellaneous items that began taking up space around our house. There were boxes that contained items that we don’t even know was there. There was this hamper basket that we retained from Baby1’s birth hamper. There were mooncake boxes that we kept because they looked pretty. We gathered up all these items and brought them to down to the void deck. As I was there, an old lady who was collecting useful items from the neighbourhood refuse caught my attention and expressed interest in the items we were throwing away. I gladly gave everything to her. I hope that she’ll be able to use or sell them off for some money.

Another big stash of items that had to go were study materials. These range from Dear1’s undergraduate study notes and textbooks, Dear1’s postgraduate materials and various thesis revisions, and Dear2’s textbooks from her ChFC diploma. We intend to bring these down to the Cash for Trash Programme again this Sunday. If they will not accept it, then we’ll just throw them away.

With much of the big items removed, our house is much more spacious now. There is more room in both our living room and study room. With the additional space, we intend to buy a table and chair set for Baby1 and Baby2 where they will be able to play, draw, read and write. A few days ago, we had already bought another large plastic box to organise Baby1’s toys. But we have to be careful not to buy too many new furniture that will end up cluttering our house again.

This is not the end yet. There are at least 2 more places we have to clear – our shelves and our storeroom. No doubt these place will yield yet another big pile of unused items that can be thrown or given away.

Phew! We’re not done yet, but what a ride. It was amazing to see the amount of things we have accumulated in our house. 6 years ago, we moved in with our bare essentials. Today, we have so much. I’m the type of person that keeps things, for keepsake, for they may become useful some day. Yet, having to evaluate and reevaluate my needs and wants while going through all these items, I feel liberated. I feel that I have the capacity (literally!) to look forward and be ready for what will come in the future.

Perhaps we should do this house cleaning thing more often.

16 Dec 2012 Update: We sold off a bunch of old magazines and lecture notes for $4.40. Each kilogram of clothings is worth 20 cents while each kilogram of paper is worth 10 cents. That means we just cleared 40+kg of paper from our house. Phew! We also received a frequent recycler rewards card – collect 1 stamp for every 10 kg recycled, collect 50 stamps to exchange for $8 cash. :)

-Dear1