Friday, October 15, 2010

Make It Go Awaay Week: The Shredder

Photo courtesy Flickr

I finally bought a shredder with a realistic capacity. If it didn’t make it hard to vacuum, I’d keep it by the mail slot in the front hall. I don’t use a dishwasher, dryer, microwave, or automobile, but that shredder is high on my “grab it if the house is on fire” list.

The bin is lined with plastic produce bags, and when I work out the fire safety concerns, I might pile them in garbage bags and use them as extra insulation in the attic over the winter. Come spring, if Washington Toxics Coalition says it’s OK, I could much with the leavings.

In the meantime, the fluff recycles with the rest of the paper. It could very well fill a duvet cover and serve as a comforter in a pinch.

There are other shredder-equivalents on the property: a thirty-year evolution of ferocious worms and bacteria chew up kitchen waste in one corner of the garden (two weeks start to finish, even in summer drought), the lawn mower makes short work of garden debris, a rolling knife and self-healing mat allow me quickly to process worn t-shirts into wipers, and I dismantle solid waste into its various components for recycling.

No thing ever truly goes away, but a little consideration transforms a hassle into slick productivity.

-30- More after the jump.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Make It Go Awaay Week: Traffic Indoors


Photo courtesy Flickr

I doubt that many lit majors in recovery had the chance I stumbled across last summer. I met the lab assistant who tried to teach me biology and was able to offer him pity and thanks for his efforts. My erstwhile mentor introduced me to the slime mold. I love animals, and it was a revelation to meet one that was a little piece of gunk.

While I was fruitlessly trying back in the day to comprehend the difference between mitosis and myosis, I split to visit an aunt who lived in Liberty Heights in San Francisco. From her living room, I looked out over the city at night and realized that the reversible flow supporting the life processes of a slime mold is identical to the traffic patterns of commuters.

In my youth, knowledgeable housekeepers were aware of the importance of room layouts for supporting comfortable and efficient home life. It’s been a long time since I heard anyone comment on a “floor plan”. In the interval I’ve had twenty-four opportunities to command domestic space no matter how inadequate the facility seemed to be.

Put aside rigid notions of how a room is “supposed” to be used and limitations disappear. Sir Terence Conran discusses re-working assumptions about space in his first House Book. Watch out for terminology: it shackles thinking. Labeling rooms with numbers or letters, calling them “chambers” or something like “the northeast room on the second floor” makes it easy to puzzle out how best to use the space.

There is no final answer to how to use a defined space. Life and households change too often and too quickly to be lazy-minded about a facility. The market is all too ready to supply pat, and expensive, answers to housekeeping problems. Take some time to think for yourself, and you’ll save thousands of dollars and expand your range of choices.

Unless it’s made of stone or noble metal, dormant inventory rots. Those little piles of paper, shed clothing, and backpacks are gangrene-in-waiting. They also signify the vitality of the household, tracing the movements of the people who live there. Work with them, and chores become invisible.

Place a container under each mess. I use sixteen-quart dairy crates from thrift stores. The container doesn’t have to be full. Sometimes I have only an envelope in a crate, because the convenience of a consistent storage format outweighs the apparently absurd load in one. Label each container with its destination and the person responsible for it. Use a bold marker. I apply shipping tags, super-sticky notes, or blank business cards secured with mounting tape. Writing directions means having to make a decision only once.

Each person handles his own stuff. Period. Each thing in the house has a home position. It’s best if the home position is at or close to the place where the thing is used first.

In a previous incarnation, I was an apprentice traffic engineer. Last week, I had a blindingly obvious revelation about home inventory: the traffic control signs that dot the streets of this semi-dense neighborhood apply to things as well as vehicles. Two hour parking, no parking, loading zone are as good a shorthand for getting things moving through the household as anything I’ve heard or read on home management. They’re also free of gender bias.

A domicile circulates like a slime mold as laundry flows from clean to dirty and back again, and it behaves like a gut when new things are acquired and discarded. Whichever process is involved, the system is healthiest and happiest when it’s reasonably dynamic.

-30- More after the jump.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Make It Go Awaay Week:With a Little Help from My Tray

Photo courtesy Flickr

A portable flat surface makes it easy to usher something through one’s life. Old-fashioned service centered on the tray. In a formal house, the staff never handed something directly to a member of the family: it was always placed on a tray to be passed. It’s an interesting practice that may have had some value in eliminating the transmission of disease.*

My 1890 house has a pass pantry that’s designed for staging meals between the production kitchen and the service area in the dining room. Originally, there were two doors that served as an air lock to isolate noise and cooking smells from the dining area. There’s a C-shaped counter that seems to have been designed for trays. Incidentally, the pass pantry is the prototype of today’s fitted kitchen, so any conventional kitchen is a butler's pantry.**

Some years ago, the Great Big Northern European Home Furnishings Chain offered attractive rectangular trays at an even more attractive price. I bought a dozen to support informal meals in the back yard, and over time the “home cafeteria” has saved weeks of labor.

We can easily take a meal in the eighteenth-century French manner, anywhere that suits us, depending on the weather and the focus of the occasion. Consequently, the space in the house is more flexible and works harder. I was surprised to discover that the trays, a slightly refined version of the standard cafeteria model, support work flow as well as food service. Bits and pieces of projects and meal preps can be staged on the trays and look like progress rather than disorder.

Recently, I discovered a “paper platter” at my regular office supply outlet. I hate paperwork and have been paring away at the bulk of my home office. The goal is to fit the laptop, scanner, and all key daily papers into a vintage 1970s Samsonite briefcase. I went looking for an exceptionally thin clipboard and discovered the very thing rendered in colored Plexiglass. The new (to me) clipboards are so elegant I can fit several into the briefcase, so each one can hold a separate project. They’re transparent, so no mysteries hide under them while they lurk in the case.


*There’s a shockingly intimate scene in the film Mrs. Brown, a biography of Queen Victoria, in which her piper, Mr. Brown, passes her a written message with an ungloved hand.

**The food industry took over basic preparations that had previously taken place at home. Machines shelled the nuts, made the soup and saved it in cans, canned the fruit and vegetables, baked the bread, and roasted and ground the coffee. A fitted kitchen is a service kitchen at heart, which is why it’s inconvenient to make bread in one and why ventilation costs electricity. Susan Strasser details the evolution of the kitchen in Never Done, her blockbuster history of American housekeeping.

Thirty years in my “obsolete” production kitchen have taught me to model the space on the stainless utility of a coffee shop rather than the sleek enclosure of a suburban food-warming area. The fitted kitchen was designed for a middle-class Anglo woman of the 1920s who had previously always had someone in service and who had no manual skills.

-30- More after the jump.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Make It Go Awaay Week: The Wisdom of A Hip Matron

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The following notions were gleaned over many a glass of wine and many a year from a friend who raised her family on Telegraph Hill in San Francisco. She could well afford any life style and chose to live in what at the time was a modest neighborhood in walking distance of her husband’s work. It was an event when the family finally acquired a car.

Of an acquaintance, Benita remarked, “She has three suits. She buys a new one each year. Of course, you have to be wealthy to do that. If you’re poor, you keep things because you might need them someday.”

Regarding washday, “I use the wash and fold service around the corner.”

At dinnertime, “I send the kids to Speedy’s to shop. It costs a little more, but it’s worth it.”

-30- More after the jump.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Make It Go Away Week: The Old Switcheroo

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Make It Go Away Week is devoted to protecting our most important asset: the time it takes to give attention to one issue out of the thousands that yammer in the background. Deft opens with a step through the looking glass: sometimes doing something in reverse is amazingly efficient. The title, by the way, comes from my collection of vintage slang.

Leave the answering machine off when you’re out of the house and on when you’re home.

Sort mail on the way past the recycling bin rather than carrying junk into the heart of the house.

Quit. It’s a great way to get started.

-30- More after the jump.