Book Review: The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up

You won’t die if your house isn’t tidy, and there are many people in the world who really don’t care if they can’t put their house in order. Such people, however, would never pick up this book.


I enjoyed this book very much. Essentially, Kondo’s advice boils down to:

  1. Assemble every object you own in a category (e.g. clothing and subcategorize into shirts, pants, etc.)
  2. Handle each object and only keep it if it “sparks joy”

Only after your possessions have been thinned out do you start to think about storage. For Kondo, the key to storage is to not have very many possessions in the first place. But she also had some great tips that I implemented. For example, she suggests that whenever possible, clothing that should be stored in drawers as it takes up less space that way. She also suggests folding clothes into rectangles that you can stand on end and arrange horizontally in the drawer.

This is a sideways view of my drawer with clothing stacked horizontally instead of vertically. It does make it much easier to find what you are looking for.

I wish that Kondo had included a specific chapter about children’s things in this book, because I find that it is a big struggle for me to know what to keep and what to discard. She does have a section about family members and suggests that you never discard other people’s possessions without them knowing and that if they see you tidying and discarding your own possessions it will inspire them to do the same.

The problem with small children is that they don’t tidy and they receive a lot of possessions for Christmases, birthdays, and even “just because” grandma is coming for a visit or saw something cute. We are also storing a lot of things that RJ has outgrown because we think we will have another baby at some point and wouldn’t want to re-buy all the baby things (e.g. we have two vibrating chairs, a swing, and a bassinet that we are storing along with two and a half huge boxes of clothing in sizes 0-12 months).

We are lucky to live in a large enough house that it can still feel spacious with all the junk we keep. The space isn’t really the issue, what appeals to me about discarding and tidying is the idea that I could be surrounded by items that “spark joy” instead of having to wade through closets and cupboards full of junk to find the item i’m actually looking for at any given time.

So I wonder if the criteria for “sparking joy” applies to my relationship with RJ’s toys as well? To some extent I know whether an item sparks joy in her or not, however, she often loses interest in a toy and regains it later. That being said, her favourite toys tend not to be toys anyway, so just how many toys should I be keeping around the house?

How do you make decisions about how many possessions you need to keep in your home for yourself and your children? Please leave a comment.




Book Review: The Dorito Effect

The Dorito Effect was a very interesting and perhaps somewhat alarmist book. In a nutshell, the book argues that modern agriculture has bred both our animal and vegetable foods to optimize transportability and yield and neglected to breed for flavour. The lack of flavour in our food is remedied by synthesized flavour chemicals that are added to make our food palatable. According to Schatzker, the major problem with this is that in nature, flavour is an indicator of nutrition. So our flavour-poor foods are also nutritionally-poor, and we are being coerced into eating these things because food additives are tricking our bodies into thinking we want to eat them.

There was a particular section of this book that interested me as a parent. I have included the two pertinent pages below (my apologies for the slight blurriness). These pages discuss a study done back in the days when there weren’t ethics review boards. Children of “teenage mothers” and “widows” were fed an experimental diet consisting of 34 different whole, unprocessed foods. The children were allowed to choose whatever they wanted to eat at each meal from the options, and permitted to eat as much as they wanted. Not every meal the children chose for themselves contained all of the food groups, but overall, they ended up with a balanced diet and were in excellent health at the end of the study.


At another point in Schatzker’s book he talks about how flavour chemicals are used in raising livestock. In that particular context they are referred to as “palatants” and they can make livestock consume many more calories than they naturally would and grow much faster (which is great for farmers to maximize profit).

This, in addition to his description of the nutritional experiment with children got me reflecting about RJ, who is still way at the bottom of the growth chart for her weight (somewhere around the 1 percentile mark). She is a good eater and we avoid giving her processed foods. I started to wonder where the numbers on the growth chart come from, and if perhaps the children on which the growth charts are based are fed more processed foods with flavour chemicals (aka palatants) than RJ is, and therefore they might inevitably consume more calories and be more plump than she is.

Fortunately another blogger whose work I really admire, Alice Callahan over at The Science of Mom had written a well-researched post on growth charts in 2011. I learned from her post that the WHO charts are based on the measurements of a total of 882 children from Pelotas, Brazil; Accra, Ghana; Delhi, India; Oslow, Norway; Muscat, Oman; and Davis, CA, USA. It turns out that children who were “super lean were excluded so as not to skew the data.” I can only speculate that many, if not all of the 882 children ate processed foods with flavour chemicals. According to Schatzker’s book, flavour chemicals are so ubiquitous that it’s hard to imagine that there are children in the world who aren’t exposed to them. I wonder what a growth chart from 100 years ago would look like, if such a thing exists. Would RJ have been at the bottom of a growth chart 100 years ago before processed foods, or would her weight be more average compared to those children of the past.

Although RJ is a skinny little toddler, she seems healthy and I feel that I am doing the right thing for her by feeding her whole, unprocessed foods as much as possible. The Dorito Effect definitely underscored that belief.

Free toys

Buying toys for babies and toddler for Christmas is sometimes more about the enjoyment of the adult than the child. At 14 months, many of RJ’s favourite toys are not toys. Here are some examples:

1. A box of mason jar lids. This post is brought to you by this very box of mason jar lids I am referring to which she is currently playing with. The box is important because jangling them in the box and them dumping them out is part of the fun. Also we have just discovered that these are too big to fit in the heating vent slots. A great toy!

2. A box of clothespins. A bucket of clothespins works well too. Just try it.

3. Cassette tapes. I also let her push all the buttons on the little portable stereo. Warning: she freaks out when she accidentally turns on the radio and it is tuned to static. Second warning: she pinched her fingers in a tape case once. She was upset but not very hurt and considering how often she plays with tapes I still think it’s a low injury rate.

4. A wallet. We put cards we never use and some pretend money in her wallet. She likes to pull things out of wallets.

5. An empty plastic cup. I use this at the end of meals when she is finished eating but I am not. She usually puts her leftover food in and out of it.

6. Pictures of babies: in flyers, on cards, etc. she likes to hold them and look at them.

7. A chromatic tuner. Not everyone has one of these in their house, but we have two (hubby for tuning his guitar, me for tuning my harp). It has lots of buttons and lights up in response to sound. So it’s a good toy.

What are your child’s favourite household item “toys”? Leave a comment below.

Double Book Review: PK Hallinan’s Let’s be Thankful and Thank You, God

If you are a Christian, you should buy Thank You, God for your child. It’s a hard book to track down but I ordered my copy through

This book’s only mention of Jesus is on the page that reads as follows:

And thank you, dear God,

For all that you are —

From the cross on the hill

To the Bethlehem star.

I like this open-ended reference to the importance of the cross, because I don’t think we need to get all into atonement theology with our children right away. I’m still figuring out what the cross means in my own life, and I may very well spend the rest of my life still trying to work it out. So I think it’s good to introduce the cross as an important symbol to children, but not to try to give a tidy explanation about what it means.

This book also does not refer to God with any gendered pronouns. Inclusive language win! Because I don’t want to have to explain to RJ some day that even though I’ve been reading her books for years in which God is a “he,” God is not actually male.

Thank You, God has lovely, lilting rhyming verse, and highlights all the sweet and simple things in life that kids enjoy and parents sometimes forget to enjoy. It concludes with reminding us to be grateful for God’s love. Although I find the illustrations are nothing spectacular aesthetically, they do succeed in conveying the excellent message of this book.

If you are not a Christian, you could consider buying Let’s Be Thankful. Same author, similar premise and rhythmic verse, and if you live in the city of Winnipeg, you can just take it out from the library.

Even though these books are by the same author and about the same topic (gratitude), there is something that fundamentally changes when God is removed from the story. In a world, or book, where there is no God, gratitude is no longer directed to a giver or a provider of all the things we enjoy. Maybe you want to direct your gratitude towards “the universe” (people do that, right?). Well either the universe is indifferent or, if the universe is not indifferent, isn’t that kind of the same as believing in God?

Anyway, in an indifferent universe, the exercise of gratitude is mostly an exercise in self-improvement. On some level, Hallinan acknowledges this on the page where he writes:

For when I am thankful,

It’s easy to see,

I tend to spend life

Living more joyfully!

So in a way, this secular gratitude is a little self-serving. But hey, religious gratitude also can function in a self-serving way, and appreciating the world does bring more joy into one’s life. And the more joy you have in your own life, the more you can spread it around. And that is something we can all believe in and be a part of whether we believe in a higher power or not.

Book Review: I am a Bunny

Why am I obsessed with this book?

I’ve already read it to RJ twice today.

I actually chose this book brand-new from the bookstore (I usually only buy used children’s books or take them out from the library). Our friend had given RJ a copy of Each Peach Pear Plum for her first birthday but we already owned a copy from my own childhood. So we went to the bookstore to exchange it, but choosing a replacement book was a lot to live up to because Each Peach Pear Plum is an awesome book.

So I looked through almost all of the children’s books while RJ squawked and I sweated, finally choosing this one. And it’s awesome. Hubby and RJ both agree with me.

To begin with, it has the right text to page ratio to hold the attention of a 1-year old. Secondly, it’s adorable and whimsical, even though I slightly disapprove of anthropomorphizing animals. Especially since we ate a rabbit for dinner the other night. So it seems kind of twisted to read this book one night and serve up a tasty rabbit stew the next. But I digress…

I thought this blog did a great job of describing how charming the illustrations (done by the renown and prolific Richard Scarry) are in this book. I like the simplicity of this book and how it describes the changing seasons. The changing seasons do seem more magical now that I have RJ. Life feels more rhythmic in a way, and I like to read books that talk about seasons.

This book was written in 1963, and there is something old-fashioned and innocent about it. You should check it out.

Cancer-causing meats and feeding the family

I’ve been feeling a bit disturbed about the WHO’s classification of processed meats and red meat as carcinogenic. Not that we eat a lot of processed meats in my family, but we do eat a fair amount of red meat, because I was all pumped this summer when I found a local grass-fed beef producer at the farmer’s market and bought a bunch of ground beef, which tastes amazing and is super versatile.

I heard a dietitian on the radio yesterday talking about processed meat alternatives for lunches. And for school lunches, peanut butter is out too, what does that even leave???

Tuna. She recommended tuna. And also she poaches chicken breasts in water with carrots and celery and then slices the chicken up for sandwiches.

These seemed like good suggestions, and I’d like to throw this question out to my readers…

What do you eat for meals that is super fast and healthy but doesn’t contain red meat or processed meats?

We’ve been eating a lot of scrambled eggs lately. We also have a local chicken hookup so we roast a full chicken fairly often and eat the leftovers for a few days. I really like the breaded haddock from M&M Meat Shoppe. I’m scratching my head to think of other easy and tasty foods we enjoy that I don’t put beef in. I guess I could start making vegetarian chili again like I did in my vegan days.

Please, load me up with suggestions, and even simple recipes.

Book Review: French Twist: An American Mom’s Experiment in Parisian Parenting

You’d think that after having read Bringing Up Bébé and French Kids Eat Everything (And Yours Can Too) I might be finished reading French parenting-style books written by North Americans. Well after reading French Twist, perhaps I am.

Not because French Twist is the be-all, end-all of American-French parenting books (I actually liked Bébé and French Kids better) but because I am finally tiring of this sub-genre (and have started reading biographies of Canadian political figures, reviews of which don’t really belong in this blog).

French Twist is different than the other two books because the author didn’t actually live in France ever. So this book loses the armchair travel dimension that the other aforementioned books had. Also, it makes her observations about French parenting more indirect. The author has some French-American friends and she gets parenting tips from them. In a way this is helpful because she is using French parenting techniques in a North American context, and something that I found disheartening about the other books was the realization that societal infrastructure (e.g. daycares, schools, close-knit family) that differs between France and North America has a huge influence on the process of raising children.

This book is also different from the other two books because the author attempts a lot of humour. This was okay for about half a chapter but then it felt tedious.

All three of these books really boil down to a few very useful principles though. Some ideas that have stuck with me include:

  1. Authority: A French parent is an authoritative parent. There is no bribing (rewarding) your children to do things. They do things because they are told to do things. That’s how it works.
  2. Dignity: I’m not sure if this is the right label, but by using the term ”dignity” I mean not always getting on the floor to play with the kids. Children and adults have separate interests, and adults are not expected to drop all of their interests to entertain their children. The children learn to be self-sufficient and entertain themselves.
  3. Food: You can never talk about French parenting without talking about food. I think some of the key concepts are that French adults don’t eat junk food, and French kids occasionally eat junk food but then grow out of it. I remember a scene from one of the books where there was a child’s birthday party with cupcakes, and only the children had cupcakes, not the adults present. That’s just not the way we operate in North America. French kids are introduced to a variety of healthy foods from the time they start solids (blue cheese for babies? They do that… but I have not tried yet with RJ. She has, however, had Brie and Camembert). French people, in general, eat fresher and whole foods. The parents eat healthily so the children eat healthily.

These are just a few of the ideas that have stuck with me. If you are interested in reading more about American-French parenting, I would recommend you start with Bringing up Bébé.