Review: “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing”

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing book cover

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondo is really inspiring. I would say the hardest thing about the book was trying to hold off on implementing the recommendations until I finished reading. The way the author describes the end-result is incredibly appealing.

Kondo is repetitive in some sections, but not in an irritating way. She reinforces the concepts she’s trying to convey by referencing them multiple times throughout the text. The way that the author refers to things in a house and houses themselves was confusing and a bit odd until I understood that this was a reflection of her Shinto beliefs regarding divine essences being present in all things. When she talks about things having energy or life or greeting your objects, that’s part of her religious belief, but it makes sense to take care of and to value and appreciate your belongings. The better you care for them, the longer they’ll last.

What did I get out of this book? It helped me to reevaluate the way that I surround myself with things. It helped me to think about my apartment as a place for living rather than for storing. Do I really need these old knick-knacks from 5 years ago? Do I even look at them? When did I see this pair of pants last? Should I hang onto this shirt because I spent money on it and haven’t used it much, or get rid of it because it isn’t something I enjoy wearing?

Kondo encourages her readers to treat the places they live as living spaces rather than as storage spaces. She wants people to understand that surrounding themselves with just those things that bring joy will improve their lives. She also thinks it can help provide direction for people’s lives because, when you pare down your possessions to what you really value, it can help you discover what you’re genuine interests are.

KonMari (as she is often called) made me think of what’s really important to me and inspired me to turn my living space into a place that I really enjoy being in. I don’t expect my screwdriver or every undershirt to spark joy in my life, but as much as possible I want to limit my possessions to just those things that I derive joy or inspiration from.

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Playing With Fire

Today was one of those big bursts of cleaning activity that I mentioned in the last post.  We just looked around and decided that we couldn’t stand it anymore, changed into work clothes and then got cracking on taking out the trash and cleaning up the dining room, kitchen, the side and back of the house.

I did the side and back of the house because it required quite a bit of lifting of heavy stuff.  There was a huge amount of half rotten wood laying around, most of which looked like broken bits of carpentry and cabinetry.  I did find one piece of wood that looked like a gnarled tree branch stripped of bark.  I have no idea what that was doing back there.  I also found a basket full of torn and shredded clothing that I took out.  Everything else was scrap metal, paper boxes, Styrofoam lids, broken broom handles, bottles half full of God only knows what sort of liquids and little plastic bits from broken toys.

So, what to do with all this crap?  Well, in this rural neighborhood burning shit is completely legal, so I unleashed my inner pyromaniac and built a massive bonfire out of all of this rubbish, with the exception of the scrap metal which I intend to sell and reinvest into renovations.  I heaped on the regular household trash as well as random sticks and yard debris that was in the area.  I even through a half-rotten wooden bench into the pile.

I lit it off with burning newspaper and the end result was a big ball of flame that reached at least 8 feet into the air and kept me about 5 feet away from the fire until it burned down quite a bit.  Who knew plastic burned so well?  The wood burned down into a nice bed of coals that left me with a great place to toss other rubbish as we found it for the remainder of the afternoon.

It turned into quite a spectacle and after about an hour, half of the neighbors on the street were out to watch, including kids who decided to add whatever they could find to the blaze.  It was inspirational.  Other people decided it was a good time to burn their yard waste as well.

Unfortunately, the idea of taking pictures slipped my mind during the excitement, so I’ll just have to post a picture of the aftermath tomorrow.

I did get a picture of a giant toad I found though.  It was hiding under some half-rotten wood on the side of the house.  Kinda scared the crap out of me too.  I didn’t know what I was looking at for the first few seconds.  The toad is about the size of my outstretched hand and would sit comfortably on your average dinner plate.  The second photo has my thumb in it for a bit of comparison, but I kept my hand a good distance away.  I didn’t know if it would try to bite me or spray poison or something.  There are a lot of weird animals out here.  I had already dodged two giant brown cane spiders while clearing the back of the house previous to this find.



I also took a picture of the huge box full of scrap metal I collected.  That’s not all of it.


The box in the above picture is the same box from yesterday’s post, just so you have some basis for judging it’s size.

By the end of the day I was covered in dirt, ash and grime, but I was feeling pretty good about the progress we made.  I wasn’t quite as happy about the black boogers I was blowing out of my nose though.

The Real Battle Begins Now!


We had that litterbox for two years. I’m sad to see it go because it’s really nice looking and you can’t find litterboxes like that in the Philippines.  Or at least, we couldn’t find one.

Our last day in Singapore was a pretty exciting one.  We went downtown, saw menstrual blood splattered all over a train seat, met the guy that runs the @Trattoriasg Twitter account (who is a part-owner of Trattoria in Somerset), did a little shopping, transferred money from our Singapore accounts to the Philippines, celebrated a birthday, and then went home late to finish clearing out our place and packing our bags for the flight.  We finally got out the door around 2 AM.


This seat was really reserved, by menstrual blood.

Changi was a lot quieter than I expected.  The place is usually bustling with people, but I guess even an international airport can empty out in the early morning.  Did you know that between 2:30 AM and 5 AM the Skytrain doesn’t even run?  You have to take a free shuttle instead, which we wound up using because we went to another terminal to find a place to eat at.

Our check-in was incident free, but the flight was probably the most uncomfortable I’ve had.  It was through no fault of the airline though.  I expected to have a quiet, stress free flight this time, because we didn’t have our cats with us.  Unfortunately, three Filipina prostitutes were in the row behind us.

Let me ask you guys something?  Could you sit in a plane and speak loudly about how many guys you’d fucked over the past two weeks?  How about for 3 and a half hours straight?

Well, these hookers could.  They kept ordering alcohol too which just made them even more obnoxious.  By the time we landed in Manila, everyone for three rows in every direction around them was pissed off and giving them disgusted looks.

They didn’t care.  They were ugly though, so maybe that was the only way they could get attention?

After getting out of the airport we went directly to the taxi.  As usual, the fare wasn’t right.  Even though it was a metered taxi, he suddenly wasn’t willing to use his meter for the area I wanted to go to.  He said it was too far away.  He wanted 1,180 PHP to go to Antipolo.  That’s 380 PHP more than what we paid when we used the same taxi service on the 6th of last month.  So, instead we told the guy to keep his meter on and just drop us off at a place called Junction.  The meter was at 470 PHP.  We jumped into an FX (another form of privately owned public transportation like a van) and paid 40 PHP to get to Antipolo and then paid 70 PHP to ride a tricycle to my wife’s neighborhood.  So, 580 instead of 1,180.  If we’d taken the taxi to the nearest mall and then taken an FX from there, the total bill would have likely only been around 260 PHP.

Anyhow, flight and travel drama aside, the real battle for the house begins now.  Our earlier visit was like a scouting mission with minor skirmishes.  Now I have an idea of what needs to be done and, after getting the furniture tomorrow that we didn’t get today, I can pick up where I left off and get this place into tip-top shape.  Well, as good as it’s going to get anyway.  I’m not going to sink our entire savings into fixing up this place.  It’s just not practical.

Yesterday we rested.  I was up for 25 hours straight and my wife only got about an hour’s worth of restless sleep on the plane.  Today we snored until 1 PM, had lunch and then went to the town to drop off laundry we’d left here for washing and then we hit the grocery store.  I don’t know where the time went but by the time we got home it was 10:30 PM.  Then, we spent about an hour and a half cleaning the kitchen and giving the fridge a thorough scrubbing / defrosting before putting anything in it.

I’m tempted to just hire a dozen domestic helpers and handymen for a few days, but I haven’t given up yet.

House Cleaning Update!

The process of cleaning this house and doing repairs is going to take longer than expected.  The biggest time killer has been going into town and finding the best deals on materials like paints, cement, brushes, and other necessary items.  My in-law’s house is in a rural neighborhood in a valley between two mountains, outside of Antipolo.  It takes about 30 minutes to get into the town by tricycle and then walking around from small shop to small shop can eat up a whole day before you know it.  Next thing you know you’re dizzy from the heat, haven’t found a damn thing and the sun is going down.  Then you have to get something to eat and get back to the house before the crazies start coming out.

There hasn’t been a whole lot of progress to report since the door was put in.  Nothing major anyway.  The cement is done on the door and it needs to be painted.  Also, I rearranged the second floor landing (which is as big as a bedroom) but I’m holding off on photos until I finish putting everything back in place.  Just getting the furniture moved was a lot of hassle because everything was covered in boxes of junk that I had to either carry up to the attic or down to the curb, depending on its potential usefulness.

What I’m planning on doing with the 2nd floor landing is turning it into a small library.  This house may be packed with useless crap, but it’s also packed with TONS of books, most of which are still worth reading or have a lot of practical value, like history books, encyclopedias and stuff like that.  There are also manila envelopes full of college notes, papers and projects that belong to my wife and her brothers.  I want to arrange it all by category and make the area useable.  There’s even a couch, but you can’t get to it now because it’s buried under photo albums, Reader’s Digests, and Cosmo magazines.

The first floor is gradually improving since we’ve stocked up on cleaning supplies.  We can’t take all the credit for that though.  A cleaning woman came by and she broke her back getting the floor and counters cleaned.  We’ll just have to maintain and improve on that.

After the initial rush of effort we burned out.  I even got sick.  Hell, the handyman that put in the door for us and did a few other odd jobs got sick too.  I blame it on a combination of the heat and bacteria laden dust that was all over the place.  I’ve never burned through a bottle of Lysol so fast in my life as I have here.

I’m recovering now.  We’ve been putting in a lot more ‘do-nothing’ time this week.  We spent some time in Manila too, soaking up the sights and the air conditioning.  It feels good to just relax for a while after putting in so much effort cleaning and organizing a house.

After arranging all of the books in the ‘library’, I’m thinking my next project will be painting.  I’m going to start off with a fresh coat of white just to get everything looking clean and attractive.  Then, for our bedroom, we’re going to get creative.  These are our walls, so why not?  Maybe a house there, a tree over there… a field with a river.  I may even get a guy to come in and do some anime graffiti on two walls if he doesn’t charge too much.

Anyway, I’ll be heading back to Singapore for about a week starting on Sunday.  I have some more stuff there that I have to collect up and have shipped over.  It should be fun to just hang out there for a while.  Living in Singapore made the place feel like an onerous burden, but when you’re just going somewhere temporarily, you savor the experience more.  I’m looking forward to having more chicken rice and jogging at Bedok Reservoir and Pasir Ris Park.

Oh, and here are some photos of cats, to liven this post up a bit:


This is Gibor, a cat that lives at my wife’s house in Antipolo.  He’s the male version of Thumper and you could almost confuse the two, except Gibor doesn’t walk funny and he has a huge pair of balls that we need to get whacked off.



 The Siamese in this photo is named Pepper. She snuck into our bedroom to see if she could beg for an extra serving of cat food.  Notice the bootleg litter box under the desk.  Thankfully we got that replaced with a real litter box and now that we have a real door installed it’s in the bathroom.




p align=”center”>Dapper, Thumper and Marble are investigating a rush mat I bought.  It’s a local woven mat called a ‘banig’ that you roll out on the floor to sit or lay on when you want to relax, but haven’t showered yet.

Finally Making Some Progress Fixing Up My In-Law’s Place

So, in the last post I was talking about finally making some progress and that progress was seeing the first load of refuse being hauled away.  Both my mother-in-law and father-in-law have been collecting things, mostly junk for lack of a better word, for quite a few decades.  I’m talking rusty, broken knives, bits of wiring, broken figurines, worn out brooms, and other things that no longer work that they didn’t want to get rid of because some day they might figure out a use for it again.  The result is that the house was so packed with crap that there wasn’t even enough room to actually live in it.

My wife and I are making our best effort to solve that problem.  I wound up getting a lot of exercise, a lot irritated and I also got in a lot of yelling before the garbage went on its merry way.

Thank God.

Anyhow, with that stuff gone I can start putting things that are worth keeping in the attic, or clean them up and leave them on display, rearrange the furniture, get the electrical wiring installed correctly, fix the plumbing and the roof and then do some repainting.  The place is in a state of disrepair that’s ridiculous, and I can’t see letting them continue on living this way, even though we’ll only be living here temporarily.  In a few months we’ll be moving again to Manila proper for work and school and we’ll be renting an apartment.  I want to improve their standard of living before that happens and then maintain it by visiting weekly.

Besides the accumulated junk, the problems I see in this house really blow my mind because they’re things that I took for granted in the US (and to some extent in Singapore) without even realizing it.  Among other things, there’s a water shortage.  We have to get up at 5 AM to fill drums of water to use throughout the day because by 6 AM the taps run dry.  It’s an interesting experience, and I suppose it’s not very depressing for me because it’s just temporary, but I can’t imagine facing the realization that life would be that way every day, forever.


As for our own sleeping arrangements, we walked into a bare bedroom.  It didn’t even have a bulb in the light fixture and for the first 7 days we couldn’t find one to fit it.  We were using a lamp but our cats knocked it over and broke the bulb so we spent the last few nights with an LED flashlight hanging from the fixture.  We finally found a hardware store with the bulb today while shopping for concrete and when we plugged it in, I was excited, because it was like crawling back out of the stone age into modernity again.


We also had to get a dresser for all of our things.  We found one we liked and had it delivered.  I was afraid of the amount of time I’d have to put into assembling it but the delivery guy set it up himself.  He did it in about an hour… without a manual.  That’s impressive to me.  See the pictures below to get an idea of how many parts the thing has.



The latest thing going on for us is having a real door set up to partition my wife’s bedroom, hallway, and bathroom off from the rest of the house.  There are various reasons for this, but mostly it boils down to privacy and security.  You can see in the photos of the dresser that we got one with locks on it.  The windows also have bars on them.  In these small villages crime is rare because everyone knows each other, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist and it’s more prevalent if you make your house inviting to potential robbers.



Anyway, the guy is about halfway done with the door installation.  He was redoing the concrete around the door frame right before he quit for the night.  This should finally get done tomorrow and then we’ll stop renovations until June, when we want to redo the electrical and repaint.

Other than that we’ve been trying to get familiar with the layout of the town again.  We’ve been spending time finding cleaning supplies, buying some pots and pans and other necessary items for daily living.  We’ve also been meeting up with family and eating out in Antipolo to try to relax a bit.  Like enjoying this big halo-halo at Chow King for instance:


I have a feeling that the next few weeks are going to be filled with quite a bit of work, but in the end I’m sure it’ll all be worth it when the house is clean, orderly, and comfortable for living in again.

Cleaning, Cleaning, and more Cleaning

After arriving here on Wednesday we’ve spent the last 5 days cleaning for about 5 hours a day and the end is nowhere in sight.  I’m something of a clean freak to start with, but just getting things to a level of basic sanitation and orderliness is my current goal.

For the first few months of my stay in the Philippines I’ll be living out of my in-law’s house, which is a bit north of Manila in a surrounding town.  The house has been mostly derelict for about six months, with only an occasional visit to make sure it’s still standing.  My in-laws were both living out of other houses in other provinces until just recently.  So, the place is a disaster area.  Besides the accumulation of junk from decades of things being left here as a store-and-forget drop off spot, there’s dust, cobwebs and the buildup of grime to deal with.  So, there’s quite a bit of work to be done to get this place into a condition that’s suitable for living in.

I wish I could just throw money at the problem and make it go away, and for some parts I can, but most of it is just going to require hard work.  I have to haul stuff out of the house to the curb and do quite a bit of scrubbing, wiping, dusting, and brushing.

I didn’t realize just how much work it would be.  We spent 7 hours on just one room today.  It was the worst room, though.  It had been unoccupied the longest, so it was full of bags of junk, sometimes literally.

I suppose when you have more than one house, you can’t quite keep up with what all you’ve left where, so arranging it, sorting out what needs to be saved and what can go, and then doing basic cleaning can be a long, long process.

The goal that I keep in mind is that once it’s all done, I’ll be able to relax and enjoy life here.  Hopefully with another week of work we’ll have everything wrapped up and ready to go.

Cleaning Up After Yourself At Fast Food Establishments

The past two years saw a similar campaign for food courts, but they were not well-received.”Encouragement has been done a lot, in schools, in army camps, in polytechnics, in universities, everywhere. But once they go to a food court, they have the habit of just (leaving the trays behind after eating), which I think is not very good,” said Sim.

Six fast-food companies – McDonald’s, KFC, Mos Burger, Subway, Superdog, and Long John Silvers – will have stickers on their tables for the rest of this year to remind customers to clear the trays and make everyone’s dining experience a pleasant one.

“I guess if it’s in the CBD area, there’s a larger concentration of local yuppies, the expatriates who are more aware of the needs of the diner after them. In the heartlands, people are closer to home, and they are used to domestic help, so probably they are still in that mind frame that people will clean up after them,” said Chan.


This is something that surprised me when I moved to Singapore. In fast food restaurants, people simply got up and walked away, leaving their mess on the table. It seemed horribly rude.

I spent some time thinking about it and I realized that there’s really nothing that rude about it. If you’re in a restaurant, you’re there to be served. Part of the reason you eat out is that you want to enjoy a good meal and not have to clean up after yourself. That’s part of what you’re paying for.

So, why is it that in the US we always clean up the trays after ourselves? There are no signs. It’s just what my parents did and what others around me did, so I did it too. There’s no bonus for cleaning up after yourself. No one will call the police if you don’t do it.

I try to clean up behind myself most of the time, except in hawkers. Occasionally a cleaner comes by in a fast food restaurant and clears the table before I’ve gotten up to do it myself. It’s kind of nice, but at the same time I feel guilty.

I just hope that this lazy attitude towards cleaning up after myself doesn’t stick with me after I leave Singapore, or I could find someone spitting in my hamburger at a fast food restaurant I go to frequently.

One last thing I wanted to point out is that if this does go through here in Singapore, it may reduce the cost of meals in the long-run, but I doubt it. The chains will probably keep the prices high to increase their bottom line. On top of that, it will cause people to lose their jobs in a time when people should be thinking about how to create them, for the sake of the economy and the livelihood of families.