13 reasons we love the J W Marriott in Mussoorie (even though we couldn’t find any walnuts on the walnut grove)

  1. This great way to start your day with a picnic by the stream

2. This view while chomping on your post-breakfast Danish

 

3. This walnut grove to hug

4. This evening of story-telling

4. This tiramisu you never tire of eating

5. This shortcut to lunch

6. This comfort of watching Harry Potter movies

7. This corn-on-a-cob at sundown

8. Or this lolling about on a beanbag

9. This magical glow after sundown

10. This hide and seek we never tire of

11. This quick screen time while mamma is at the spa

12. Or this play with water curtains that tells you she is still watching

13. And this new BFF who totally gets us

Saving a million trees, one smokeless chulha at a time

Last month, listening to Hrishikay on Radio One (the only way I can drive in peak hours), I chanced upon a conversation involving a Himalayan Rocket Stove.  The interviewee was Russell Collins, an Australian whose soul lives in India and this was something he had invented for the Himalayan region as a more environment-friendly way to cook and heat up the house. The stove works on a principle of vortex heating,  which burns even the smoke created by it, rendering it almost 70-80% smokeless, while creating such high temperatures that you can not only cook food on it, but also use to heat up the house in winter.

He had me at one million trees.

He had me at sustainable cooking solutions.

He had me at 40 lakh deaths resulting from indoor pollution.

He also had me at “we need volunteers for workshops”

As an extension of this idea for the rest of India, which doesn’t live in sub-zero temperatures but can still benefit from smokeless cooking – Russell’s company conducts workshops, which they are proud to call the Smokeless Chulha Project. The aim of these workshops is to train as many end users (and trainers) in the making of these chulhas while highlighting the hazardous effects of conventional chulhas, the drain on forest reserves they create and the inordinate amount of time and effort spent on collecting and transporting firewood. Consider this: Every day, women in rural India walk as much as 10-20 km in search of firewood, and usually bring back a few kilos. If they are lucky, it lasts two days. By the time she is 40, a woman would have walked the distance of Kashmir to Kanyakumari and back just in search of firewood.

If you are still wondering what the fuss about smokeless chulhas is all about, allow me some gory detail:

If this is what a conventional chulha can do to a wall, imagine the extent of damage it can do to your lungs and respiratory system. In contrast, the Smokeless Chulha creates 80% less smoke than a conventional stove and also uses 80% lesser wood.

I quickly shot off a message to Hrishi and prompt as ever, he shot me back a number of Nitisha Agrawal who manages the Smokeless Chulha project while Russell is in Australia. She is armed with years of branding and corporate experience, but is thirsty to be an agent for social change. She also rallies around to find people truly passionate about the project to give it further wings. As someone who is constantly reinventing the way I live, I was happy to be a catalyst to what I saw as a less consumptive way of living.

By the end of the week, I had signed up for their forthcoming workshop at Kanha Tiger Reserve, in collaboration with the Forest department of M.P, ably led by Sanjay Shukla and his deputy, Anjana Tirki. For a state that is abundant in its forest reserves, Madhya Pradesh wears them lightly. Watching this dynamic duo and their team at work, I realized that most of real conservation is silent. On one given night, Anjana was at our guest house at 8 pm, trying to get feedback about the workshops, what could be done to ensure that the villagers do indeed make these chulhas and train others to do so. She had to travel back 75 km to her home in Mandla, to a 15 month baby, but she was unperturbed.

Of course forest departments are believers in conservation; it’s in their DNA. But it’s quite another thing to recognize the potential of an initiative from an outsider and let them in and want it to be scaled up to your region and community. That requires vision, that these able leaders at Kanha had. There were two workshops on two different days, and for each workshop, they had lined up at least 30-35 people from different village communities around Kanha. The turnout was far more than that. 150 people from 75 villages turned up over two days to learn about Smokeless Chulha (cookstove).The first workshop was at the Eco Centre of the Khatia range of the Kanha Tiger reserve and the second at Gadi range, around 70 km away.  Although several of them had secured an LPG connection through various schemes, they knew that the chulha is here to stay. It is what is used to heat water, cook rice and of course make rotis (which always tasted better off the chulhas). Plus, everyone wanted their gas cylinder to last.

The constant in all workshops is the chief trainer Tanzin – trekker, naturalist, horse-doctor and farmer with a huge love for the forests and mother earth and who mourns the infestation of plastic and consumerism in our daily life. Tanzin is the official trainer of trainers, local communities and volunteers for all smokeless chulha workshops , but clearly we need more Tanzins. We need to create more of them.

What does it take?

The doughnut mix:  (this forms the basic skeleton of the chulha and you can stack up three to five depending on what height you need for cooking) : clay, sand, puffed rice (murmura) and bhusa (dried hay)

The fuel for the smokeless chulha: Twigs, dry leaves, cowdung cakes, etc. You don’t need large pieces of wood, which means trees need not be felled to cook your meals

What it costs to make: Well, not more than a hundred rupees.

Well here is a video on how to make a smokeless chulha with step by step instructions. The video is in Hindi, but an English version is also available

After two days of observing an eager and enthusiastic audience, asking questions, devising their own chulha hacks and promising to go back home and make a chulha for themselves, it was time to go home. It was a small milestone, these 150 people, but what we left behind was larger dreams, a few leaders and a renewed passion for the environment. Meanwhile, the Kanha team was already talking about the next workshop. More villages. More people. More chulhas. Less smoke.

If you wish to request a workshop in your region, click here

If you wish to volunteer with this project, click here 

To follow their work on facebook, click here

 

On un-ambition, the bigness of small things and a love affair

I know. I meant for this to be a new year post, but looks like time has run ahead of me already.

Every year in December, WordPress  sends me  ‘my year in blog’. It’s a pat on the back that includes statistics: how often I had posted, how well the posts had done, how many  new visitors had there been, how many old ones had kept coming back, how many comments, shares, likes, reblogs, and all the things people do to show you virtual love.

This year, they sent me nothing. It’s the sort of thing we do when we don’t have much to say to a friend. We stay quiet, hoping they will understand.

Perhaps they were too embarrassed to point out that I had, indeed, had a more or less abysmal year in blog. At best, there were a few guest posts or travel blogs that I had committed to do. I didn’t post enough, I didn’t engage enough, I didn’t share enough.

Somewhere in the course of 2016, I decided I had nothing to declare.  I felt nothing. No bylines I wanted to flaunt, no articles I wanted to pitch; I was tired of having opinions, a point of view on everything. I was tired of trying to stay relevant. It was as though I wanted some time to be in a state of un-opinion.  I wanted to be the audience, the reader, the observer.  Perhaps after years of putting myself out there: columns, features, reviews, this blog…I felt depleted. It reached a point where I felt I was at the tipping point of social media, as though the boundaries between real life and virtual life were blurred. I had an epiphany when I read this article.

I had discontinued my column, stopped posting on my blog and decided to watch my life go by. It had been a while. I hadn’t given myself the time or the luxury to grieve all that had gone wrong with it. Yes, I was sad, but the tears just wouldn’t come. I was on autopilot mode. I was a get up and go girl, how could I stand still? Stillness was unimaginable. Movement kept me sane. Do this, fix that, plan this, post that.

Plus there was Re. His conversations, his wisdom, things he wanted to share, his energy, his enthusiasm, his never-ending desire to always collaborate with me for things.

But last year, I held his hand and allowed him to lead me. The world also seemed interesting through his lens. Sometimes we have to un-parent to become better parents.

He is an artist; I wanted to learn how to draw and paint too. I joined a small art class. I found joy in watercolor. I was always fascinated by it but too intimidated to try it. 2016 was about trying everything.Like this Shakira song, which Re and I often danced to whenever either one of us needed a pick-me-up.

I found that water was forgiving. And generous. And that even if you never ended up with what you envisioned, it always gave you something to smile about. And that when things dry up, they become different things.

img20161214103425

The earlier competitive me would have said: so when do I get really good at this, start selling my art, illustrating books and whatnot?

The me now said: Wow, I can make a hollyhock. Tomorrow, I’m going to try roses.

I also started taking violin lessons with the same teacher who teaches Re the piano.

The earlier-me would have wondered when would I be able to compose my own tunes, figure chords of songs.

The me now said: Lalli, as long as you don’t touch the second string while bowing on the first one, you are doing fine.

In another time, I wouldn’t have factored these in as victories or even milestones. But now they were big. They mattered.

I became diligent about homework. The earlier me was cocky. She didn’t believe in practice. She thought she was beyond homework. The new me couldn’t wait to get home and do her homework.

I think I like the new me more. I’m falling in love with her..

And there was Amma. When I was tired of being the parent, she let me be her child.

The universe was kind. Kindness came from lovely places. Old friends who I thought I had lost. New friends who I never knew I had. Strangers who wowed me with their generosity.

Whenever I was low or too clammed up to say so, someone always picked me up. Sometimes, all it took was a ping on my phone. A comment. A message in my inbox. Food. Tea. Silence. Words. A mosaic tiling workshop. An evening in a yacht. Goa.

And then there were letters. Postcards.  Books.

A friend sent me Brene Brown’s Gifts of Imperfection and it was perhaps the best gift of last year. It was a letting go of what I was supposed to be and an embracing of what I truly was. With all my glorious flaws and imperfections. I wrote more letters to my future self, in the delicious stationery a friend gifted. How did she know this is what I had to do?

There were many more gifts and several random kindnesses. The universe opened its arms, big and wide, and welcomed me into its lap. It was a year of going back into the womb. Of submitting to the universe  that I needed nurturing, that the child in me wanted to look out the window because she was so tired of looking within, looking after.

One of the most valuable lessons I learned last year was from my friend Jo. I was sharing with her my concerns as a single mother – that I couldn’t orchestrate things beyond a point , that I was beside myself with constantly curating like-mindedness: whether it was friendships for  my child, or myself, that something felt wrong when friendship took so much work. And she said to me what will perhaps be the most valuable parenting advice anyone can ever receive “It’s not about like-mindedness or finding people-like-us. It’s the random kindnesses from people. And it’s mostly people you have nothing in common with.”

She was right. You can’t count on PLU. There is a demand-supply situation out there. What you can count on is the kindness of ordinary people. They may not get the books you read or the shows you watch or the movies you like, but you can count on them when you are trying to raise a child. They are your village.

Some invited me to their homes for a holiday. Some fed me food or words. Some played board games or had meaningful conversations with my child when I was too spent. Some listened. Some spoke. There were free EFT sessions. Inspiring podcasts.Videos. Cake. Jam.

My body was forgiving too. After years of inaction, it was delighted to be stretched,  twisted and contorted by yoga. It was forgiving when my backbends didn’t turn out as I had planned.

I often wondered why people posted shiny happy posts on instagram  while they were actually sad. I know now that they were sending affirmations. Or just expressing  gratitude. And there’s always plenty to be grateful for.

So dear 2016, thank you for all the small things. You deserve a hug. And some roses. Better late than never.

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Why Sol De Goa is a good place to soul-search

When I said yes to an invitation from Sol De Goa a few months ago, little did I realise that it would open my heart to a very different Goa – where one feels faint need to go even close to a beach (although Candolim beach is just 2 km from this tucked away resort in Nerul, overlooking the Sinquerim river). Strangely, Sol De Goa seems unperturbed by its more opulent neighbour LPK, which going by the signs all along Candolim, seems to be some sort of party capital – a thing I am perhaps too old or too sensible for.

Once a getaway for distinguished Portuguese officials, Sol was redesigned, renamed and restored by its current owner, Suraj Morajkar – one of the few real estate people who genuinely cares about restoration and heritage. Designed by acclaimed designer Tarun Tahiliani with strong Goan influences and a classic Portuguese feel, the property includes 21 rooms: four suites, two deluxe suites and 15 well-appointed rooms. All these are made further charming by the fact that they hug a beautiful central courtyard pool, flanked by some exquisite pottery.

So unwittingly, I found pieces of my soul in different ways at Sol De Goa:

Like when I entered the resort and felt it was someone’s grandparent’s home, with all that old world charm.

img20160902113001Or when the same night, it transformed into this high octane place that never went to sleep. Thursdays is when  Goa’s best come to shake a leg at Sol De Goa:

 

Or when I sat in my balcony the next afternoon and nibbled at my chilli cheese toast, listening to bird song by the Sinquerim river. img20160901171044Or when I partnered with the resident chef, a lovely man named Prashant in creating mangane, a traditional goan kheer of sago, yellow gram, coconut milk and jaggery for Ganesh Chaturthi. And had two full bowls of it.
img20160902080006Or when I stared into space, eating my pancakes with strawberry butter one morning, wondering just how long would the twin towers of Our Lady of Hope church be. img20160901090738Or when I attained zen just by loUnging by the courtyard pool, doing nothing, wondering which one was a more exquisite shade of blue: the pots or the pool.img20160902113025

 

10 reasons to love Novotel Goa resort and spa

So I spent a few days in Candolim during my Goa R&R last month and one of the places that hosted me was the Novotel Goa resort and spa (Pinto Waddo, off Candolim road). Here’s why you should go too:

  1. There as much room to do nothing as there is to pack it all up
  2. img20160905154352There is splashes of color when you need it
    img201609051223323. And then there is tranquility when you need it too. And some wonderful spa treatments at their poolside spa.img201609051523154. And how can I forget the memorable Sunday Brunch at La Briese, their beach-side restaurant, which also features a live band every weekend. And is also a great spot for sunset cocktails. img201609041427195. Just when I was missing the boy, I saw this father-son duo X-box connecting or Nintendoing (to me, it’s all the same) in the lobby. There’s plenty more where that came from. img201609051222076. And certainly it’s not all about the kids. Some things are all yours img201609051524277. And while you sip your poolside cosmopolitan, you can stare at this viewimg201609051526228. Or take a selfie (or if you are lucky, a photo) before you say good bye to it all photo-79. Did I forget to mention there is a special tree sandwich for those you have the eye for it? img2016090413201410. And how can I leave you without a sunset? photo-8

Want to make your children better travelers? Start with yourself

travels in new york

It’s a maxim universally marketed that having children kills the traveller in you. It is something often quoted in the “Why not to have kids” bibles and generally nodded to and sighed upon. ‘Herculean task’, ‘nightmare’, ‘horror story’ are commonly used words by people to describe traveling with kids. And then there are pre-boarding facilities and goody bags from airlines, overload of activity timetables at resorts – all aiming to subtly announce that a holiday with children is going to require supreme engineering.

When I threw open the question of how do we make our children better travelers on my blog’s forum, I received the usual formulaic responses, since no one realized it was a trick question: Plan well, involve the child, tell them about where they are going to travel, show them pictures, videos, show them the place on the map, plan their meals (or pack whatever you can),  get them excited about what they will do on the plane , make a list of activities, take their favorite toys, carry board games, carry their favorite food, favorite puzzle, favorite soft toy,  favorite movie.. and so on.

Why travel at all, I wondered? Why bother if you are going to simulate the same kind of life in a different address? When you do the aforementioned, you are raising the opposite of a real traveler. I do realize that holidays need to be planned (especially when kids start formal schooling as there are at best three windows to choose from). But that should be limited to bookings. In my experience, Air BnBs and homestays work better than hotels and if you choose locations you have friends living in – nothing like it.

In my limited experience of seven years and 13 trips with a child, I have come to realize this: The problem, very often, is not the child. It’s the adults. Because you pass on to your child how you have been programmed to travel and if you are the kind who bursts a capillary because you forgot to pack your iPod speakers, chances are, you are already raising a high maintenance child who may prove the cliché right. But this is not a post that tells you what to pack in their bag or how to pacify an irate kid on a plane. Instead I will tell you this:

Don’t behave like you are moving there. You are just travelling.  Stop being so manicured about your travels. Your child will follow suit. On my first travel date with fellow parents, I noticed that they came armed with a suitcases full of toys, dolls, books and games for a three night stay in Matheran. “Why do you need so much?”, I asked.  “Oh, you never know. It’s better to be prepared,” they said. But isn’t that what travel is about? Not knowing?

Don’t oversell the destination and what you will do there. Don’t sell the journey either. Parents have a tendency to do this. This disallows the child any room to have his own her own experiences, and they are forced to look at the entire trip through a readymade lens, which will never allow the real traveller in them to come out.

Allow the place to happen to your child.  Don’t tell them what to expect. This usually means giving at least four to five days in one location to give enough time to experience it, rather than location hopping. Improvise. If things always went as they were planned, it’s not travel. It’s stasis. I think this works better for adults too.

Travel is not about being constantly entertained and your child needs to know that.  And if you in that trap,  you are teaching them that this is how life is – a series of fun-filled, action packed time capsules on loop, where there is no time for recovery, stillness or nothingness – you are in a dangerous place. It’s a slippery slope from there.

Give gadgets a break. Try clouds instead. Or birdsong. Technology is an easy weapon used by most parents – I see it in airports, holiday destinations – each child with a gadget, adults with theirs, swiping away. It’s time to  talk to each other and not our gadgets.

Children have fewer expectations than you. Don’t build it up. The problem I have with checklist-y travel is that it is often more hectic than real life. This whole ‘things to do’, sights to see, monuments to tick off lists, photoboosk to make back home is quite sapping for adults so I wonder what happens when children are subjected to it.

Food is an integral part of the travel experience. Always make your kids try out the local cuisine. They may not like everything they try, but there might be that one thing that calls out to them. Take chances. The first time we traveled post having a child (my son was five months), I was raw, and still blemished from all the negative press traveling with kids seemed to have garnered. I was armed with a small rice cooker and supplies to cook from at the resort we stayed in. But that was the first and last time I traveled with supplies. I decided that when in Rome, we will do as Rome does. So on the next trip, my son and I went to Thailand and happily tucked into mango and sticky rice and fruit platters with prik-kab-klua, the Thai chilli-salt mix. And by the time my son was two, he was trying out gourmet meals at restaurants at every place we traveled to.

Slow down. Linger. You may never look at that selfie again, but you will always remember how it felt on that mountain, with the wind kissing your hair and your child pretending to take off in flight.

Remember you were a kid once. Go on, make that paper boat. Try and put yourself in your kid’s shoes. Remember what you were like as a child and how you liked to travel and be treated and the things you enjoyed doing.

Travel is not an old timetable in a new bottle.  Encourage your child to have a new routine. Shuffle things around. Let them wear what they want. Let them skip baths. Let them eat breakfast for dinner. What is the worst thing that can happen?

Make it about the journey. Not about the destination. We did our first long train trip when Re was 2.5. It was to a wedding at Chandigarh and the journey was 36 hours. He and I had to share a berth, as the Indian railways doesn’t allot berths to children under 5 years (yes!). In the middle of the night, I almost rolled off, as Re had occupied most of it and I stayed up all night, playing with my phone, as I couldn’t turn on the light to read a book. But it was this trip that Re and I tried pull-ups and swinging off the berth ladders.

Start them young. If you look at traveling with kids as a problem, you will always be finding ways to delay it. Instead if you look at it as an opportunity to see the world with a different lens, you will find ways to make it happen. And it’s never too early to start them. In fact the earlier the better.  

Encourage your child to be a resident, not a tourist, wherever you go. Blend in, be part of a community. Give something back. And that’s how we went gathering achhoos (wild gooseberries) in Himachal with the ladies who worked at the Bhuira Jam factory. Or puppy-sat the neighbours’ pups while they worked in the strawberry fields. Or when Re went about picking garbage in Landour, after having noticed that “humans throw things everywhere else but in dustbins”.

Travel is what you make of it, and if you have an open mind, you never know what will come along. I wouldn’t have chased ducks in the park in Irvine, California. I would have never met a “lady bird’s cousin” if I had been preoccupied with leech-proofing ourselves in our first forest trek in Dandeli when my son was three. Nor would I have enjoyed a ritual dance in the Erawan temple at Bangkok as my son fervently joined his hands in prayer even though I am a non-believer.

Bangkok with kids

Have them know that the world is a safe place. Every place has a story to tell, or it becomes a new story when you are in it. When my child saw images of the Paris bombings and asked me about it, I told him what had happened. He then said “We can still go to Paris no? The bombers must have left by now.” I said yes.

Use public transport: There is so much joy discovering a new world with the locals – these are the people who wear it easily, with whom there can often be meaningful conversations, even if you don’t understand the language.  take trains, buses, tuktuks, skytrains, subways and whatever you can manage.

Encourage them to document it. A travel journal or travel art book for drawing, doodling is far better than a toy or puzzle which has a limited shelf life. It is all we carry on our travels now and is more than enough to keep my son busy. Also there is no such thing as too many crayons.

Always check the weather and pack for it.  When they are dressed right for the weather, children are far happier and make better travelers. (it’s shocking how basic this is and how it is often overlooked)

When you take your child with you, leave your adult self behind. Children teach you the importance of being in the moment when you travel. This is harder to do if you don’t allow yourself to access the child in you

Show them how you can travel without going anywhere.  Sometimes a delayed flight or train may open up another adventure altogether. Like this time Re and his dad were doing hip-hop once in an airport. Or when waiting for a bus at Kasauli led us to an ongoing theatre performance by a group of monkeys.

Travel is about balance, and each trip is about finding something for ‘you’, ‘me’ and ‘us’.  If you look hard enough, you can. Having a kid couldn’t really be the end. In fact it is a whole new beginning. Of looking at the world through a child’s eyes, and that is a brand new, fascinating world with so many more stories to tell. You just have to stop getting in the way.

(A shorter version of this post appeared in Conde Nast Traveller here

parks in california

 

How a fairy called Marie Kondo left me some KonMari pixie dust and it changed my life

Earlier this year, a few weeks before my birthday, I was at my friend Jo’s house in Dehradun, en route to Mussoorie for a holiday with my son. The home was lovely, and bookshelves in every corner beckoned. Until a tiny unassuming book called out to me and I was lost for the rest of the day. It was Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic Of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art Of Decluttering And Organizing.

I had, at the time, not heard of the book, let alone the fact that it had sold over two million copies in its English edition (the original was in Japanese) and that the author was so big that KonMari (derived from the author’s name Marie Kondo) was now a verb. For someone who started as a tidying consultant, that is huge. I must add here that there is a minimum six-month waiting list for her services in Japan. Of course, her popularity in the US has also led to a backlash. So while The New York Times did an article on celebrating clutter, others poked holes in her methods. It might be disconcerting to some that in a country like the US, where minimalism is not a matter of pride, KonMari has had a pandemic effect over the last year or so.

In this book, she describes her step-by-step tidying method (now trademarked as KonMari): a simple but time-consuming process of going through every single thing we possess and keeping those that spark joy.

She had me at joy.

It’s such a simple filter really. Something we can apply to a lot of things, beyond clothes and books. We know it when we feel it; it’s strong and palpable, devoid of rationality, almost like a thrill. Plus it can be a great lens through which to view other life choices too.

I was riveted.

As I flipped through the 200-odd pages of Kondo’s book, I found myself nodding and sighing, being shocked and relieved in equal measure by some of the revelations. And yet it was all so commonsensical. She draws attention to the common mistakes we make while tidying (or decluttering, as we call it). Sort by category, not by room, she urges. Bring everything that belongs in one particular category, say, books, to one place (her preference is the floor) and do not put them back until you have gone through each and every item in that category and chosen what to keep.

The criterion for keeping something was simple: Does it spark joy?

I could already visualize all my books lurking in different places—the kitchen, the living room, the hallway, the bedrooms, the bathrooms, even the drying area. Clearly, there was a lot of work to do. I was soon making notes, promising myself that I would be practising what I read as soon as I got back to Mumbai in a week. Yes, I had been KonMari-ed, hook, line and sinker.

Like most people, I struggle with clutter in my life. Although I don’t buy clothes or books often and retail therapy doesn’t do for me what it did in my 20s, I find myself overwhelmed by stuff every two years or earlier. I rationalize that it is the frequent moving (I, like most city people of no permanent address, have moved more than I would have liked to—about 14 times in the last 24 years, since I left my parents’ home). I have done more than my fair share of donating clothes, books, electronics, furniture and utensils to NGOs and orphanages. I have had garage sales and barter meets in my home. I have gone off shopping completely for long periods (two years being the last stretch). Whenever I decluttered, which was often, I followed some blanket rules: Throw away anything you haven’t used in two years (or one year, or six months, depending on how irritated you are). At times I found smart storage solutions. For a year, I also spent 10 minutes every day getting rid of things you don’t need in the house. But within a few days, there would be a clutter relapse and I would feel the same as before.

It appeared like I had no control over the way stuff was multiplying in my home.

Yes, I was tidying up (to use Kondo’s quaint word for decluttering). Except, I was approaching it the wrong way. I was focusing more on the negative (“I really have to get rid of these things”) than the positive aspect (“This is what gives me joy”) of tidying up.

And that is why Marie Kondo’s book has created a tidying revolution of sorts: Choosing what you want to keep is far harder than deciding what you want to give away. It brings to the fore the anxiety of human decision making at its worst. It’s tedious and time-consuming and requires commitment. But once done, it’s a great feeling.

In a country like India, bred on Gandhian philosophies of minimalism, where Feng Shui is a recent religion of sorts, it is shocking how much stuff we accumulate. Some of it is inherited from our parents, some is a byproduct of marriage—that big merger of stuff (also, having children reinvents clutter in ways you never imagined). Some of it is nonsensical gifting by people we otherwise love, but most of it is things we buy and hoard mindlessly. Indians also have this knack of building storage systems—overhead swivel cupboards, beds with box storage, enclosed attics, kitchen units that extend up to the ceiling, dining tables that fold into storage units—if we have too much stuff, we find ways to put it out of sight. What you don’t see cannot harm you, is the philosophy most of us live by.

For the past year or so, I have been feeling ambushed by my own clutter. It was also the time when I was going through major life changes—my separation, moving houses (again), and having my mother move in with me. The upside was: I finally had all my stuff in one place. Trouble was, I still couldn’t find things, because I didn’t remember where I had put them. And I felt I had too much.

I returned home a few days before my birthday, ready to begin the rest of my life with Marie Kondo. I followed her instructions meticulously. She recommends clothes first, then books, then papers, komono(miscellaneous), sentimental items, mementos, and lastly—photos.

Clothes and books were far smoother than I had imagined. I found myself caressing each item of clothing, asking if it sparked joy (some were a straight yes or no, a few were ambiguous but not as hard as I had imagined). The yes was always definite. The no was sometimes overridden by guilt (“I paid so much for it, I should have worn it more”). But letting go was easier than I thought.

According to Kondo’s philosophy, there should be a designated place for everything that belongs in your home. Folding is a very important aspect of the KonMari method and I realized why my closet was so noisy earlier. I just wasn’t folding right. The book doesn’t have photos or illustrations, but there are several videos on folding ties, socks, underwear, shirts, T-shirts the KonMari way on YouTube (yes!). I folded all my clothes into neat little rectangle envelopes (it was somewhat challenging for typically Indian items like salwarssarisanarkalis, etc, but I worked around those). I trained my son to fold his and he said it felt like origami. It is, actually.

KonMari way of folding The idea is not to stack up but to arrange clothes vertically so you can see the edges of all your clothes (it took me some time to understand this). In the Indian scenario of cupboards/shelves versus drawers, this can be challenging, but it is still worth a shot.

A KonMari drawerNext was books. I can finally see the coloured back panels of my bookshelves and a month later, I still don’t regret giving away any book—a thing that would happen quite often earlier, causing me to go out and buy another copy of the book I was missing.

For me, papers were the most intimidating part, as one is always holding on to them for a “what if” scenario. Since there is no way they can ‘spark joy’ to most of us, KonMari recommends brutal discarding: How many bank statements, passport photocopies, bills, credit card statements, warranty cards, user manuals and car papers can you hold on to? I pared it down to a single box of papers, stacked vertically in simple files.

After two very productive weeks of sorting, discarding, folding and organizing, I was stuck. It was komono.

Komono, which Kondo defines simply as miscellaneous, is actually the biggest roadblock in the KonMari method. It is stuff that doesn’t belong anywhere and yet is all over the place. It is the rest of your crap and it is a lot of crap that includes, but is not limited to: CDs, DVDs, make-up/toiletries/cosmetics, accessories, valuables (what was she thinking?), passports (this terrified me!), electric equipment and appliances, mysterious cords, wires, household equipment (stationery, writing material), household supplies (detergents, medicines, tissues, etc), kitchen goods (spatulas, pots, blenders, etc). But I guess everyone’s komono is different. As Indians, we have way more komono than the Japanese, I am sure.

komono

I figured food was low priority for Marie Kondo, because in India there is no way kitchen could be komono. I also kept thinking, “She definitely doesn’t have kids.” Because she doesn’t factor in school things, toys, board games, portfolios, masks, art and craft supplies. Apparently she does have a child now, and I can’t wait to read her post-child KonMari.

I guess all the gaps in Kondo’s book can be books in themselves: KonMari of marriage, KonMari of children, KonMari at work, Digital KonMari, KonMari of relationships, friendships and more. It’s the kind of thing that can be extrapolated and applied to every aspect of your life, each time yielding the same results: Once you are clear about the noise of things that clutter your life and home, you can focus on enjoying the things that really matter. I don’t know what first-date conversations are like now, but it would be worthwhile to try and suss out a potential partner’s KonMari quotient.

If you want to start the KonMari method of tidying up, here are a few tips:

  1. Sort by category (for example, clothes, books, papers, etc.) and not by location (living room, bedroom, bathroom, etc.). 
  2. Tidy up in one go and do it alone, preferably.
  3. Gather all the items in a category on the floor, so you can see every single thing. Pick up each item and decide if it gives you joy. If it doesn’t, let it go.
  4. The focus is not what you must get rid of, but whether the things you want to hold on to make you happy. 
  5. Follow the right order: clothes, books, papers, “komono” (miscellaneous), sentimental items, mementos, photos.
  6. Have a designated spot for everything in your home (for example, bag, shoes, wallet, phone, etc.) and return it to that spot every day. 
  7. Store everything vertically, even clothes (you can, if you fold them right)
  8. Visualise your destination: How do you want your room, your closet, your bookshelf to look? Then work towards it. 
  9. After discarding, designate a place for every item and stick to that place, to avoid a clutter relapse.
  10. Empty your handbag every day. It’s where clutter starts.

I don’t know if the book has changed my life; I still have to tide over my komono, and my mother is still holding on to hers. But I am able to get more done in a day and I look forward to the next. I also feel I have KonMari-ed my life, in a manner of speaking—holding on to work, memories, people and things that truly spark joy. This little book about tidying ended up being about much more than tidying. There is a certain calmness in my cupboard and drawers and bookshelves, and perhaps some of it has passed on to me.

(This post first appeared in Mint Lounge on 3rd September, 2016.  http://www.livemint.com/Leisure/2Ox6Si3QDJnpF11nM8H0JL/Why-KonMari-is-the-new-detox.html )