Deep Cleaning

If you’ve followed this blog, you must know that since news of the pandemic, and the pandemic itself spread, I moved back to my childhood home and I’ve spent most of my time here – barring a few days in May. While that has provided the opportunity to work on several projects and knuckle down to use the time as best as possible, it has also given me the opportunity to reflect on how I lived here while growing up.

I stayed in this house full-time between the ages of 10 and 17, moving away to attend University and returning only as a part-time visitor. As a result, I came back home to the house being in the same condition as when I had departed. My room even had my Grade 12 board examination pouch and all the copies of my hall ticket I had made. That prompted a lot of clean-ups.

While my approach to cleaning my room was defined by Marie Kondo and trying to eliminate everything that did not spark joy, cleaning up the rest of the house has been a bigger challenge. There are several reasons for this. First, I am not the sole owner of everything within the rest of the house. It is a common space, and there are attachments to those objects that my parents and other members of the family have. As a result, I could not be the sole judge of whether an object sparked joy – my judgment would have led to several things being disposed of, that perhaps brought happiness to somebody else at home. Second, I was not aware of everything that lay hidden around the house. I have perfect knowledge of the items within my room. Beyond that, is a world of adventure. Given how my parents and I have taken turns visiting the house, it was difficult to actually collect information on what was located where, and what category of items I may find in a particular spot. Third, I did not know where to start. The house is the perfect size for our family, but when it comes to storing items – and cleaning, it suddenly starts to feel very, very big. I felt this way for the first couple of days in April where I fended for myself and did all the brooming/mopping. It is overwhelming.

I had to figure out a fresh approach.

I spent most of April and May thinking about what I wanted to clean-up/fix, deciding the areas of improvement I could see for the house and discussing strategies with my parents. We figured out how to tackle each of the problems I listed. Since transplanting the Kon-Mari method here was futile, we decided to prepare an itemized list of the big items so my parents could make a joint decision on the same, based on why the object was with us. The smaller ones, I had agency over. While discussing this, we realized that it was not necessary to know what I would find prior to cleaning-up, but that I would have to adapt my cleaning-up method as I went along and discovered new items. This meant localizing the clean-up and fixing particular areas to clean – emptying every cupboard out, and then segregating to clean up. Finally, I decided to take control of what areas of the house to clean, by asking myself: what caused me the most angst? It felt like a natural consequence of this would mean that when that place was cleaner, I would be less angsty, and happier. That led to three places: the kitchen, the guest bedroom, and the bureau.

I started with the bureau. It was closest to my room, and so meant that I could return to the sight of a clean space within an instant when I passed by a mess. The reason the bureau frustrated me was that there were way too many things we no longer used or required, and they were all over the place. It took me two weeks to clean the bureau, which yielded a large amount of electronic waste but provided the opportunity to examine more closely two parts of my parents’ lives I had no involvement in: the foundation years in their relationship, and their academic study. The first was just really lovely because it prompted a discussion on how much my parents valued letter-writing and how that has translated to e-mail. The latter showed me why my parents placed expectations upon me: their own credentials, experiences, and efforts in getting their qualifications. It was lovely to find their dissertations, read them – and try to get them to remember stories from their University days, just as I came to the close of my own journey. There are photos from that time where my father, in his early 20’s, looks exactly like I do today – minus the glasses, which was fun to look at.

Then I moved on to the kitchen. I couldn’t really clean much, but what I really wanted to do was to look at the appliances and try to get them all working. To my parents’ and my dismay, we had to let go of our oven, but the microwave was repaired. That was sufficient. It has helped me cook potatoes quicker, and I imagine that my chili con vegetales would have cooked faster if I had it in April. That was a quick job – not too much effort, and a useful break before taming the giant.

The guest bedroom.

There was a lot to work through here because it was delightfully clean on the outside, but I had to organize the cupboards and I had no idea where to begin. It’s why (apart from work), it took me a month to actually finish up. I finally managed to segregate all the materials into four distinct categories for the ease of my parents’ access, and sort out things that did not possess utility any longer (for us), to give to society.

I don’t know if you can tell (you probably can), but my enthusiasm to clean-up started out really high, and tapered off as time went by and I understood the magnitude of the task I had taken up. I’m glad it’s done now, to be honest.

There is a lot I’ve learned, however. Deep cleans are worth it. If nothing, they teach you how to better appreciate what you have, while giving you the opportunity to evaluate whether there is somebody else in this world who may be able to use the same in a better way. That process itself is extremely rewarding because it really puts into perspective two things. Privilege, and priorities.

Couldn’t have managed this without my parents’ trust – and I’m really hoping I haven’t disposed of something they value. I think I’ve scared my mother that I may have.

Minimal | The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing (Magic Cleaning #1), by Marie Kondo

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing
(Magic Cleaning #1),
by Marie Kondo, translated by Cathy Hirano,
Published by Ten Speed Press (2014)
Rating: 
*****

Introduction

At University, the last evening before it was certain that we would be packing up and returning to our respective homes, one thought stood above all else in my head. Over the past five years, try as I might, I had accumulated a fair number of possessions. What was I going to prioritize carrying back? It was pretty straightforward that evening. I ran through everything I had, thought about what I had left at home, and prioritized accordingly. My approach to it was simple: if I never was able to return to University, what would I be alright letting go of?

I returned home to a house that stood suspended in time, to a room that looked exactly as I had left it in June, 2015, right after my Grade 12 board examinations. I’ve returned here several times on short stints, but never been invested enough in making my room look like I had evolved from the state I was in during that time. So answer papers from past exams were strewn around, a few revision guides were in my shelves, and my exam stationery kit remained exactly as is.

Considering I had time on my hands, I figured I ought to reorganize everything. I wanted to be methodical in the manner I did things, which is why I picked up this book. It did not disappoint.

Structure

Kondo is right about one thing. Nobody really teaches us how to tidy up. I certainly wasn’t taught, or “explained” why things went in particular places. My parents decided where things best fit – and we sort of stuck to those principles, even if (and I never did) come up with better ways to store things. Kondo treats this book as an opportunity to teach. Hence, there’s a lot of structure in the manner she writes, and that’s one of the things I appreciated most about the book. It lays down the premise of why there’s a high likelihood we know very little about what tidying up and decluttering truly means at it’s essence, and builds from there into the philosophy and evidence of how tidying up has assisted her and her clients. It is only after that she goes on to explain and illustrate how to apply these principles, along with additional principles per category of tidying up.

There’s a reasoning to her beliefs about cleaning up that I found extremely helpful, because they allowed you to opt-out and drop out of reading the book, or buying into her system – the one she’s popularized, rather, at any point. That reasoning is at the core of the book, and explains why she remains so passionate about the subject: something that comes to the fore when you watch her TV show.

The Language

Translating this would not have been easy. This is true of all translations: they require a lot of patience and a degree of meticulousness that aids in conveying precise, technical information to a wider audience in a language distinct from the source. The translator has done a fabulous job, not in the least because I smiled throughout my reading of this book. I couldn’t stop smiling because there was a simplicity and joy in the language that communicated the joy of cleaning up so well.

Conclusions

The book works if you buy into it, or go into an open mind and consider implementing any of the things she talks about. Even if you don’t, it’s an excellent theoretical read. For me, though, results were instantaneous. My room, today, is everything I am, personified. Less clutter and all, and that’s definitely helped my headspace.

Quarantine of Solace

The title is an excellent James Bond reference that I am hopeful everybody who reads this blog will be able to recognize.

Today was Ugadi, the New Year festival for some South Indian states. As such, my aunt and uncle seemed rather disappointed that I was unable to join them for the festivities – however limited they might be, owing to the present circumstances. I must admit, I was sad too. Being with family on special events like today would’ve meant some celebratory food – like sweet dishes, or something to relish and keep the day in my memory. In preparation though, my chikamma had sent me a payasa recipe, and I was very keen to try it out. Alas, this morning I forgot that I wanted to make payasa, and I ate corn flakes for breakfast, exhausting my milk supply.

I have vowed to make myself some payasa when I secure milk next – to celebrate the festival.

Not all was lost though. I had Shrikhand at home and ate that after my bath to ring in the new year.

This morning a friend of mine told me that a New Year tradition she had followed in her household was to practice, on New Years’ Day, everything you hoped the year would bring. I took this to heart, and one of the things I want this year to bring – for me, is the ability to let go of materialistic substances. Things that I no longer have use for, I would rather give to people who will be able to make use and take care of them. Thus, this afternoon, after motivating myself by reading Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, I set away on the adventure of a lifetime: figuring out what books I would donate whenever I could donate next.

My books have always been a large source of joy for me. Before leaving to University, I had amassed a fair number of books for my library. I’ve always been a bit of a hoarder when it comes to books, and despite my reservations about re-reading books, I’m okay with it when it’s a hard copy. My childhood dream was to have a library of books available to me so I could set something up for the community I stayed in, so people could walk in and read, and walk out with borrowed books. Without any membership fees, just to encourage reading. I read so much as a child. My mum used to hide my books from me during exams – by placing them at a height I could not reach, so I would focus on my studies.

At University though, I’ve moved onto reading ebooks. I was genuinely inspired by the KonMari method and wanted to see if it would be effective.

So I held my first book up. No bodily response.

Then I held up Harry Potter. Immediate bodily response.

That’s when I figured out what sparking joy felt like. That’s bought me solace today. Long may my cleaning spree go. Hopefully, the excesses in my life disappear.

De-cluttering the Internet

The title is a little unclear. There were better options, but I’m not doing you or me any favours unless I confuse you sufficiently to make you intrigued enough to read the rest of what I have to say for the day. If you’re here now, welcome: I’m happy to have you. Please read through till the end for a delightful surprise. Where, you know what you’ll find? Thanks to infinity scroll, another post of mine. Delightful, I know.

I spent the better part of late evening yesterday and today morning decluttering my life on the internet. I’m not entirely sure what prompted this decision. I feel like I got to this deep desire to clean up my internet footprint because of a desire to procrastinate some work I had – and yes, unlike previous occasions, where I’ve slipped into calling everything I do “work”, I’m talking about actual work this time – with deadlines and a deliverable. Imagine. I had completed all my usual procrastination techniques, ended up on a weird place on YouTube, which is when I decided to take this step. It took my about 5 hours, and I’ve ended up in a place where I now have a clear idea of how better I can declutter. So of course, you get to read all about it.

I have 3 active user profiles that enable me to login to web services. 2 of these are hosted on Gmail – and I’ve been using Gmail since 2006-ish, when you had this amazing counter that showed you how much storage Google would offer you if you signed up – every time you moved to the login page. At the end of my YouTube binge, I felt the need to organize my e-mail inbox better: put labels on everything, make things easier to navigate. So I started doing that, and about half an hour into it, I realized it served no purpose for me. I pretty much knew most e-mail IDs I regularly e-mailed. I usually mark things that need a response from me as “unread”, and I keep a journal to remember whom to respond to – it’s very rare that I miss e-mails as a result. So after 30 minutes of painstakingly figuring out how to label things, and what sort of labels I envisioned in my ideal inbox, I ditched that idea altogether – deleting every single label I had created, including some automated ones.

Then, I realized I used a few services on the internet where I had duplicate profiles. This disturbed me. I don’t like having two profiles. I’m a straightforward person on the internet, and I’d rather have everything that’s public about me attributable directly to me – rather than through some web of discovery and trail searching people have to push themselves to go through. Most of these duplicate profiles were created through legitimate accident. How, you ask? Simple.

Like I said earlier, I have two Gmail accounts, right? Well, one was my first Gmail account – and my daily usage e-mail ID till I finished up Grade 12, at which point the alternate e-mail ID was my spam box (I signed up for subscriptions & things with it), and post Grade 12, because I needed to look more professional (my old e-mail ID, as you may be able to tell, was not), I switched them around. The old alternate ID became my primary ID, and the default moved over to my secondary. That ended up in a couple of changes and at that time, I reconfigured mails to move around accordingly. Everything was peaceful.

Except, then this thing called Gmail integration came along and erupted around 2013-14. The problem with Gmail integration is that it is super convenient and easy. You don’t have to keep creating multiple accounts & remember multiple passwords. All you need to do is remember your Gmail password, and you can pretty much sign-in to every service imaginable on the internet today. So why is this a problem? Well, for people like me – who are signed in to two e-mail IDs, sometimes we make the mistake of accessing the service with the wrong Gmail ID. That leads to the creation of a duplicate profile. This happened on multiple applications.

So what I did yesterday was I reversed that process. First, I figured out all the applications to which I had given access to my Gmail. Then I logged in to each of those services and deleted my user profile. And finally, I revoked Gmail’s access to these applications. Several of them are applications I don’t use anymore, or will never use in the near future, so it’s a good thing they don’t have my data. 

Similar things had to be done with WordPress as well. Massive kudos to them though, their Happiness Engineers basically helped me migrate an entire website, content, and a domain to my alt (but default) profile in a jiffy.

Then, the closure of the entire Gmail process was to delete an e-mail account I had created exclusively for the purpose of backups, given that my 15GB storage on my primary account had expired. Given that I purchased Google One this year, I no longer needed it. So I migrated all the data and shut that off too.

The result: a decluttered internet footprint. Something still in progress. I’m sure I have accounts I don’t remember creating and data I don’t remember sharing (but have consented to), but it’s time to live a leaner life here. Keep fewer passwords to remember, not give random applications access to my e-mails. Just be a little more aware of what I’m giving up & for how much convenience I’m trading off my information for.

One day I’ll figure it out.