Archive for organization

The Start of a Book Purge

This post originally appeared on Murder Is Everywhere.

A doctor once reassured that it’s normal for a writer to be disorganized. Clutter goes hand in hand with creativity. That my excuse for my lifelong for tendency to fall victim to clutter. But looking at it doesn’t make me feel calm.

Because of my issues, I find it escapist entertainment to read books and watch TV programs about cleaning and organizing. I recently binge-watched a great program on Netflix, “Tidying Up With Marie Kondo.” I’d already read her two books, The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up and Spark Joy, although I’ve followed of her teachings so far is to declutter about thirty percent of my clothes.

I’m charmed by Marie’s warmth and playful excitement when it comes to transforming chaos into serenity. Yet critics are attacking her for her ideas about book tidying. In truth, she does not advise a certain number of books for anyone, just as she won’t guide people on which items to discard from their drawers. But she does suggest paring down in a few different ways in order to make sure what we have are books that are used or that are physical embodiments of comfort and happiness.

I decided to see if Marie’s approach could help me with my book problem. I typically donate dozens or up to a hundred books every few years. Such book purges are often inspired by moving house. I only throw away a book if it’s damaged. When every town had several used bookstores, I’d find buyers for some of the haul. Used bookstores are so few and far between these days, so it’s easier to donate.

When I lived in Minnesota, I could drop off used books in good shape to be shipped to readers in Africa, part of a humanitarian effort our own Michael Stanley championed. In Maryland, the best option is to carry cartons of books to The Book Thing, a nonprofit located in an old industrial building a couple of miles away from my home. Every Saturday, The Book Thing attracts browsers who pick up whatever they’re drawn to. It’s got the same vibe as used bookstores I remember from the old days, only instead of the books costing $1 to $10, they are completely free.

As I think about this, I visualize people discovering my books, hopefully feeling like they got a steal on an immaculate coffee table cookbook or autographed mystery. The trouble is I have to get the books off my shelves first, and decide who gets to stay in the nest and who will be sent out to fly.

Marie advises gathering all the books into one place and then start sorting. But when we are talking about a couple thousand books on three floors, that sounds like hard physical labor.

I like the expression “to pick low hanging fruit.” So I began with the long, built-in bookcase my husband built for our cookbooks in the butler’s pantry. Cookbooks are unemotional handbooks not literary keepsakes—and we have more than three hundred. Yes, three hundred cookbooks owned by a couple who probably cook dinner four times a week!

Tony and I began buying cookbooks when we married in our twenties and were dreaming of a domestic future. If we tried to cook every recipe in this collection once, I am certain that we would die before we were done opening cookbooks. Morbid thoughts aside, I addressed the bookcase.

Most of my cookbooks feature cuisines of different countries. I’ve always rationalized storing them as authoritative resources I may turn to in the future, when I am cooking as often as Nigella Lawson (ha ha). Tony has his own favorite cooking tomes from his hometown of New Orleans, as well as Julia Child classics that I am keeping without question to preserve marital harmony. There are also a few easy cookbooks I received when I was a little girl that must be saved for future grandchildren. Jammed in between the books we often use are slick, trend-driven cookbooks that publicists sent to the Baltimore Evening Sun when I used to write their cookbook reviews, and dozens of cookbooks collected when I was in Japan and India that are part and parcel of the novels that I write. When I describe a Japanese rice gruel that is spoon-fed to the ill, or a caramelized onion dal served at a palace, the origins of these dishes are in my cookbooks.

I hardly ever cook Japanese food anymore, so I’m only saving two of those books. However, I continue to cook Indian food regularly, so most of these cookbooks, large and small, weathered this purge. But I thanked about twelve of them for their service and hope they find homes with Indian food lovers who shop at The Book Thing. They will be part of the donation of about one hundred cookbooks.

I can’t boast that my shelves look splendidly organized, but at least everything’s in the right section. I know to locate any Italian cookbooks on the far-right bottom shelf, the vegetarian cookbooks in the case’s top shelf, and all fifteen Louisiana cookbooks stacked in a column running down the center.

It took two to three hours to go through this book case, which is not an inconsequential amount of time. Yet the hours spent sorting turned out to be a sentimental return to past journeys and meals.

I came away feeling certain that that books are food … and food is better when shared.

A Fresh Page for 2019

This post originally appeared on Murder Is Everywhere.

Hark! A new year means a new Bullet Journal!

I’d love to start everything fresh in the new year. Clear Desk, Clear House, Clear Fridge seem to promise a Clear Mind.

But I can’t blank out what’s already going on. For this writer there is my work in progress—Perveen Mistry #3, about 1/4 written—and various contracts for audio and foreign editions that need to be managed, book signings, as well as family responsibilities.

In my house, there are dogs that need to be walked every few hours, a dry Fraser Fir that needs to go to composting heaven, and two fireplace mantels full of holiday cards.

The refrigerator has become a library of sorts, full of small containers of leftovers. TBE shelves—To Be Eaten. Ha ha!

The only new thing I can count on enjoying January 1 is my Bullet Journal™.

The index is waiting for my 2019 life to take off!

Last year, I shared some information about my fondness for this type of planner. I’m even more in love with it as time goes on. The system of organization was first implemented personally by the Austrian graphic designer Ryder Carroll, who has lived in the United States since the 1990s. His back-to-the-pen method in the era of digital organizing hit a chord with his colleagues who urged him to share his strategy with the world. He started with a blog. Now there are untold thousands using the trademarked bullet journals manufactured for Carroll’s company, or using the blank books of their choice.

How is it different from a datebook or daily planner?

It’s blank. This means one lays out a calendar using a ruler and pen, allowing spaces for to-do lists, gratitude lists, activity logs and more. In the trademarked bullet journal, there are a few pages with instructions like this to help:

Ryder Carroll’s instructions come inside the notebook

I began my odyssey into bullet journaling in the middle of 2016, when I had barely any space left in the dated calendar book I carried in my purse. Yes, I had a calendar feature on my smart phone, but I could not rely on myself to remember to pull the app up several times a day. The app’s calendar setting didn’t provide enough room for me to take good notes. I am not a fast keyboarder, I frequently hit the wrong letter, and worst of all, events sometimes disappeared from the phone due to various calendars not showing. For me, having a paper calendar book that has enough space for me to quickly scrawl down things is a joy.

Leuchterm is the German stationery company that has had its sales explode internationally after the Bullet Journal ™ phenom took off. These notebooks have very firm covers and pages that are stitched together, rather than the cheap spiral-bound style The notebook pages bear a very faint dot grid. This is perfect for drawing lines and blocks and writing text so it doesn’t meander at an angle. Also it offers so much more flexibility for the size of your handwriting. The ideal journal has pages that are numbered at the bottom and has a multi-page index at the beginning, so you can simply look in the front and flip to the place where you want to be in the 249-page book. 249 has turned out to be exactly the right length for my year. A built-in elastic band holds the day’s spread ready for quick reference—and also can keep your book closed and the pages safe when you’re carrying it in a bag.

I need to come clean about the lousy condition of my 2018 notebook. It’s the result of traveling throughout the year and constantly stuffing the book in the skinny pocket of the airplane seat. I do not recommend jamming your book into small spaces. I also sometimes forgot to use the elastic band to keep it properly closed. I have promised my new cornflower blue book I’ll be gentler than I was with the turquoise 2018 book.

You might think that I’d throw away my 2018 book because I’m not using it anymore. No way. As the Japanese organizing guru Marie Kondo suggests, I will thank the book for its year of hard service, and also for managing not to get lost. But while she would say to take a snapshot of the journal and put it in recycling, It’s headed for the special shelf in my study where other old journals and datebooks live. Occasionally, I page through these books, large and small, enjoying seeing addresses of my old haunts in Japan and India, and reading the names of overseas friends I haven’t seen in years.

The thing about having a serial pattern of Bullet Journaling is that you can learn from the old books and be more efficient with the future ones. All you need are colorful pens, a ruler, and maybe a stencil. And here are a few more things I’m taking to heart:

I followed the Ryder Carroll video on breaking in a journal and stretched all the page spreads to relax the notebook’s spine. This should guard against the spine separating from the cover. As he suggests in the video, I’m following a simpler system of listing upcoming events for a month on one page, so they can easily be transferred to the two-page spread that shows one week at a time.

I am starting “collections” of topics—such as film and literary references—in the back of the journal, gradually moving toward the center of the book. Naturally, the weekly calendars of events, grocery lists and the like will march from front to back. This strategy comes from  a YouTube video posted by a young Englishwoman with the ominous title Top 7 Bullet Journal Mistakes. Unbelievably, there are hundreds of people around the world shooting videos and writing blogposts about their journals in progress!

Still, with January 1 fresh start in mind, some goals and encouraging mottos for me are in a section up front, so I can’t avoid facing them. Things like:

Getting Writing Done in the Morning is Easier and Makes Me Feel Accomplished.

Lean Into Invitations! 

Easy Does It With Exercise.

These are my resolutions packed into a blank book for 2019.