Where did the notes go?

As I went through the KonMari thing earlier this year, I peeled back layer after layer of accumulated material possessions. It was like doing an archaeological study on myself. I could ‘date’ many of the layers of my stuff, going back to when I was a toddler (which is when I started living in this house).

The most abrupt transition was between the layer from right before I went to Asia, and the layer from when I returned to Asia. That is partially because that is the longest period of time (almost four years) that I have been away from this house. The layers before and I after I lived in Mountain View were also distinct.

When my dad or I find old stuff in the basement that we remember but haven’t seen in years, we call it an ‘archaeological find’ (and he’s the one who started using the word ‘archaeological’ not me). Two examples of archaeological finds from my past are the 3D Taj Mahal puzzle (which was found in the basement) and these writings from when I was 7 years old (which was found in my bedroom).

Recently, we’ve were working on a household project in the basement which involved objects which might not have ever been moved since before I was born. For example, literally today (the day I starting writing the first draft, not the day this post is published) we finally got rid of some materials which were left over from the renovation – and had not been moved between the renovation and when we decided to move them a couple weeks ago. The renovation of the house happened in the early 1980s. Yeah, that stuff had been sitting there for more than 35 years. (The reason there was a time delay between when we initially moved the materials and when we finally discarded them was that we had to schedule for someone to come by our home and take them away).

I find it hard to imagine that we’ll find much in the house which has been in place since before the renovation (unless it’s fixed to a wall), but maybe something has eluded the renovators and us. But there are older layers in the sense that my parents have stuff which they’ve possessed for a lot more than 35 years. For example, during the very same project, I also found some of my mother’s really old documents, such as her graduation diploma … from her elementary school. Continue reading


Exploring the Homes of Early 21st Century Middle Class Los Angeles Households (Part 2)

Continued from Part 1


The researchers noticed a correlation between what was on the outside of the refrigerators with what was in the home in general. Generally, homes which had more stuff on the outside of the refrigerator had a higher density of items throughout the house, and homes which had more organized refrigerator displays were generally more organized.

When I was a child, on the refrigerator door we had various colorful magnets each representing some letter of the alphabet, some magnets we had picked up from businesses listing their phone numbers or something, and a few other random magnets, but not much else. Now, we have nothing on the refrigerator door, and I think it’s been years since there has been anything on the refrigerator door. Maybe there was a calendar at some point on the refrigerator door, but if there was, it was a calendar we all ignored and never updated. I do not recall ever seeing pictures posted to the refrigerator door.

Visiting other people’s homes, I have definitely seen pictures and photographs posted on the refrigerator door, so it’s not a specifically Los Angeles thing.

Though the disorganization of what we put on the refrigerator door may have correlated with general disorganization throughout our home, the relative lack of thing on the refrigerator door did NOT correlate with a low density of items throughout the home (or, maybe it did, I think we did have less stuff when I was a kid, at least until I went full KonMari). And the fact that we don’t have anything on the refrigerator door now most certainly does not correlate with an absence of items throughout the house (even my room, which probably has the lowest density of items of any room in the lived-in part of the house, has much more than a hundred clearly visible items – and that’s not including anything in the closet or inside my covered bookcase).

I think the lack of stuff on our refrigerator door when I was a child, and the total absence of anything on the refrigerator door today, is mainly a reflection of the fact that the kitchen has never been the center of home life for us. Continue reading

Exploring the Homes of Early 21st Century Middle Class Los Angeles Households (Part 1)

I recently read Life at Home in the Twenty-First Century: 32 Families Open Their Doors, based on a detailed anthropological/archaeological study of 32 households in Los Angeles done during the years 2001-2005. All of the households in the study are 1) in the Los Angeles metropolitan area 2) have two parents who work at least 30 hours per week for pay outside of the home (30 of the households have one mother and one father; 2 households have two fathers and zero mothers) 3) have two or three children 4) at least one child is between the age of 7 and 12 and 5) self-identify as ‘middle-class’. Though I don’t think they listed it as a criteria, it seems that every single one of these households owns a detached house which is also where they live. The writers of this book have also put together a short documentary which is available on YouTube.

I thought this was a very interesting book, which offered some excellent anthropological insights into this type of household.

I do take issue with the beginning “This book centers on the material worlds of American families just like yours (and ours).” Ummm, no, this is not a book about American families like mine. Heck, how do the writers even know that I am American (I am American, but I’m sure some non-Americans have also read this book). I have never lived in a household which matches their criteria – I have never lived in the Los Angeles metropolitan area, my mother was a stay-at-home parent for the entire duration of my childhood, and I have no siblings. That said, I did grow up in a self-identified middle class household in California, and though I am too old to have been included in the cohort of children they studied, I’m not that much older than this child cohort. However, I think the fact that this book studies households which are different than mine makes it more interesting (to me, at least).

As regular readers of this blog know, this year I have taking an interest in skimming/reading books about household management, as well dabbling in some podcasts/YouTube channels. When going through these materials, I occasionally encounter things which seem a bit odd, which don’t quite add up for me. Reading this book has helped clarify some of these things for me. I suppose many of the Americans who make books/podcasts/etc. about household management are thinking of an audience more like these Los Angeles middle-class households in detached housing than San Francisco middle class households in attached housing (I don’t think it is a coincidence that the book I read which seemed most tailored for a household like mine, New Minimalism, is also the only household management book I’ve read which was written by people who have lived in San Francisco). Now that I have read Life at Home in the Twenty-First Century, I think other things I read/listen to about household management will make more sense. Continue reading

Alaska, My Mother

When I was in Cooper Landing, a woman asked me why I wanted to visit Alaska. I gave some vague answer like ‘why wouldn’t I want to come to Alaska?’ She said that most people don’t think of traveling around Alaska. I pointed out the tons of tourists, and she said that most of them come on cruise ships. I think she is underestimating just how many tourists there are in Alaska (she lives in a small settlement on Kachemak Bay that is only accessible by water taxi or private boat), but her question was still a good one: why was I visiting Alaska?

As I’ve already said on this blog, I want to see and experience things which I cannot see and experience in California. But there are many places I can do that, so why Alaska and not somewhere else? My trip was partially inspired by watching the documentary Alaska’s Marine Highway (and that is a large part of why I am spending so much time on ferries). But even that is not the deepest reason.

There is my mother.

She had already been living in the United States (in the Washington D.C. metro area), but her first employer could not offer her a visa which would allow her to get a ‘green card’ (permanent residency in the United States). My mother wanted to live in the United States indefinitely, so she really wanted a green card. She was looking for a job which could get her one. The first job which she was able to get which promised her a green card just happened to be in Alaska. And that is how she ended up working and living in Alaska.

Eventually, her employer transferred her to San Francisco. When she was having trouble getting a mortgage to buy a house in San Francisco, her employer (who was the same employer she had in Alaska) stepped in and helped her get the mortgage (and they also paid her enough that she was able to afford to buy a house in San Francisco). That is how she became the owner of a house in San Francisco. And renovating the house (it was practically uninhabitable at the time of purchase) started a chain of events which led to her meeting my father. And then I came along, and I grew up (and still live in) the house that she bought. And it can all be traced back to the job she had in Alaska.

I have been to many museums in Alaska, and one of the pieces of Alaska history which sometimes is exhibited is the boom which happened after the discovery of oil on the North Slope. The oil boom created many jobs, including my mother’s job in Alaska (and even after she moved to San Francisco, her employer could afford to offer financial assistance with paying down her mortgage above and beyond her ordinary salary partially because they were making so much money from the Alaska oil boom). Thus, even though I wasn’t there, I consider that oil boom to be part of my personal history.

All my life, I’ve heard my mother make comments about Alaska. No particular comment stands out to me, but it conditioned me to think of Alaska in a certain way. In my thoughts, Alaska is a much more ‘major’ and ‘important’ place than, say, Minnesota, or Pennsylvania, or New Mexico, or Hawaii, not because it is objectively more ‘major’ or ‘important’ but simply because I grew up among people who almost never mentioned those other states.

As I’ve discussed travel with my mother over the years, she has a tendency to say things like ‘if you think [place] was spectacular, you should see Alaska!’

My mother has been more excited about me going to Alaska than any other travel I have undertaken. She enthusiastically tried to plan some of my trip for me, and I asked her to keep her armchair travel itinerary separate from my real travel plan. If she were twenty years younger, I’m sure she would have joined me and we would have traveled around Alaska together.

As I have traveled around Alaska, and learned so much about Alaska, I have also realized how little I know about my mother’s experiences in Alaska. This is especially obvious when Alaskans ask me about what my mother did when she was in Alaska. I hope I will have the opportunity to ask my mother more about what it was like and how she lived when she was in Alaska.

How I, As an Asexual, Do Not Decide to Have Sex

In May I read a fantastic book called Deep Survival by Laurence Gonzales. It is about how and why some people survive extreme situations. The book describes a lot of the psychology of decision-making. It says that linear/logical thinking (associated with the neocortex of the brain) is terrible for making decisions. Instead, people rely on ‘emotional bookmarks’ to make decisions. ‘Emotional bookmarks’ are not just the brain, they involve much of the body. It turns out that ‘my gut tells me to do this’ and ‘my heart tells me to do this’ are not just figurative speech; the digestive organs and/or heart might be literally involved in the decision-making process. Animals with relatively few neurons in their brains can make decisions because it is not just the brain.

There are people with neurological damage who cannot use ‘emotional bookmarks’ or feel ‘gut feelings’ or their ‘heart’. They can still use logical/linear thought processes just fine, yet their ability to make decisions is severely impaired which means, for example, that they cannot schedule appointments.

I’ll give you an example of how I use emotional bookmarks vs. linear thinking. Right now, it is May 22 and I am aboard the M/V Kennicott (yeah, this post is going to be posted way after this is written). I told myself that I was going to start writing this post hours ago, but instead, I ended up working on a jigsaw puzzle. I did not think to myself ‘I am going to play with the jigsaw puzzle instead of turning on my computer and writing a blog post’. I just … played with the jigsaw puzzle. That is because I have an emotional bookmark which says ‘jigsaw puzzle are fun’ and so, when I pass by the area with the jigsaw puzzles, I end up playing with them instead of writing this blog post (though I eventually managed to pull myself away from the jigsaw puzzle and start writing this). Continue reading

Emphasizing Decluttering/Purging Material Stuff Is Also Materialistic

In the past few months, I’ve been reading essays, books, and watching videos about ‘Minimalism’. A common theme is that experiences matter more than material stuff. This is how I often react when this point comes up:

Minimalist: Minimalists choose to value experiences more than stuff.
Me: Okay, I’m like that too.
Minimalist: So that is why we declutter and purge stuff!
Me: Huh?

I think I’ve always valued experiences more than material stuff, not because I think it is a ‘superior’ position in any moral sense, but simply because I just care more about experiences than stuff. And that is why it took me so long to become interested in decluttering/organizing/tidying. I felt that experiences were more important than stuff, so why bother dealing with getting the stuff in my home in order when I could spend my time instead on cool experiences? Choosing what to keep, and then getting what I don’t want to keep out of my home takes time and energy. Time and energy I could spend on something else, like writing a blog post.

It seems a lot of minimalists assume that people are holding onto a lot of material items because they highly value material stuff. That is certainly true in some cases, but in my case, I was holding onto as much as I was not because I valued material stuff so highly, but because I did not consider putting my stuff in order to be worth my time and energy. Continue reading

I’m a ‘Butterfly’ and a ‘Bee’!

Generally, I don’t take personality quizzes seriously. So I watched “What’s your Organizing Style” from the Clutterbug channel mainly to amuse myself. But then, when I heard Cassandra Aarssen describing ‘Butterflies’ I thought, “that is me!”

I went to the website and took the quiz and the official result was that I was a ‘Bee’. At first I thought ‘this quiz is wrong, I’m totally a butterfly’ but after watching Cas’ videos about ‘Butterflies’ and ‘Bees’ I realized that I also have a lot in common with the ‘Bees’. Thus, I figure I am in between. The main distinction between ‘Butterflies’ and ‘Bees’ is that ‘Butterflies’ favor simple organization systems, whereas ‘Bees’ favor detailed organization systems. I think I favor organization systems which have a medium level of detail.

I am definitely not a Ladybug (like Cas) or a Cricket (like Laura) – Ladybugs and Crickets, y’all don’t make sense to me.

Like many Butterflies, I’ve gone through life believing I was a naturally messy person. Continue reading