Saturday, January 30, 2010

2010 Newberry Award Winner

I love Newberry Award winning books. I've read quite a few of them, often out loud to my own children. This year's winner is Rebecca Stead's When You Reach Me. Sounds intriguing.

From School Library Journal
Sixth-grader Miranda lives in 1978 New York City with her mother, and her life compass is Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time. When she receives a series of enigmatic notes that claim to want to save her life, she comes to believe that they are from someone who knows the future. Miranda spends considerable time observing a raving vagrant who her mother calls the laughing man and trying to find the connection between the notes and her everyday life. Discerning readers will realize the ties between Miranda's mystery and L'Engle's plot, but will enjoy hints of fantasy and descriptions of middle school dynamics. Stead's novel is as much about character as story. Miranda's voice rings true with its faltering attempts at maturity and observation. The story builds slowly, emerging naturally from a sturdy premise. As Miranda reminisces, the time sequencing is somewhat challenging, but in an intriguing way. The setting is consistently strong. The stores and even the streets–in Miranda's neighborhood act as physical entities and impact the plot in tangible ways. This unusual, thought-provoking mystery will appeal to several types of readers.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Following Through

Back to my simplification quest.

One of the strategies to make my house cleaner and more clutter-free and to lower my stress level that I've been trying lately is something I read about that's called Following Through. Much of the disorganization and messiness of our homes and offices comes from our failure to follow through or complete the cycle of our actions.

Now we've all been taught this concept. Whose Mom hasn't said "If you get it out, put it up!" or "If you open it, close it!" And on major things, I did this already. I cleaned the kitchen right after we finished a meal. As soon as I undressed, I put my clothes into the hamper.

But the small things were getting me. I'd kick off a pair of shoes, and there they'd stay--maybe even to be joined by another pair the next day. The mail, as we've already talked about, I dumped on the kitchen island. I'd read the newspaper, and the sections would end up in a pile on the floor next to my chair. I'd do a load of laundry and ignore that annoying buzzer telling me to fold and sort--sometimes even for a day or two. I'd walk in the door in the winter time, and often my coat and purse would land on the nearest flat surface. Before long, no matter how "clean" my house might be, it sure would be cluttered. And it would make me feel terrible. Plus, after a week of this, it would take a devoted amount of time and concerted effort to set things to rights. And, since my behavior didn't change, my house would immediately begin reverting back to its natural state.

Now, I'm trying to complete my actions, to follow through. When I take off my shoes, I pick them up and put them in my closet--right then. As soon as we finish reading the paper, it goes in the trash, not in a pile on the floor. My husband installed a nice big coathook on the back of a closet door for me, and when I come home, I hang my coat and purse there immediately. When the buzzer goes off, I fold and put the laundry away--no procrastination allowed. You get the picture. Each thing only takes a few seconds, and my house stays picked up (and my clothes aren't wrinkled). I explained my mail system earlier, and it's a pattern now that I follow through every day. It's actually starting to feel normal to me, no effort required.

I'm getting better at all my followings-through, and I hope they soon become as natural-feeling as my mail system. I have high hopes.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

What I'm Reading Now

This is my first time ever to read a graphic novel, and I think I've chosen a good one. One thing that's really intrigued me is how language is used so differently in a graphic novel than in a traditional one. For instance, while the text is often witty and occasionally profound, there is little or no symbolism or imagery. The symbols and images are not in Satrapi's words but in her pictures.

I'd highly recommend this graphic novel.

From Publishers Weekly
Satrapi's autobiography is a timely and timeless story of a young girl's life under the Islamic Revolution. Descended from the last Emperor of Iran, Satrapi is nine when fundamentalist rebels overthrow the Shah. While Satrapi's radical parents and their community initially welcome the ouster, they soon learn a new brand of totalitarianism is taking over. Satrapi's art is minimal and stark yet often charming and humorous as it depicts the madness around her. She idolizes those who were imprisoned by the Shah, fascinated by their tales of torture, and bonds with her Uncle Anoosh, only to see the new regime imprison and eventually kill him. Thanks to the Iran-Iraq war, neighbors' homes are bombed, playmates are killed and parties are forbidden. Satrapi's parents, who once lived in luxury despite their politics, struggle to educate their daughter. Her father briefly considers fleeing to America, only to realize the price would be too great. "I can become a taxi driver and you a cleaning lady?" he asks his wife. Iron Maiden, Nikes and Michael Jackson become precious symbols of freedom, and eventually Satrapi's rebellious streak puts her in danger, as even educated women are threatened with beatings for improper attire. Despite the grimness, Satrapi never lapses into sensationalism or sentimentality. Skillfully presenting a child's view of war and her own shifting ideals, she also shows quotidian life in Tehran and her family's pride and love for their country despite the tumultuous times. Powerfully understated, this work joins other memoirs-Spiegelman's Maus and Sacco's Safe Area Goradze-that use comics to make the unthinkable familiar.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Mental Clutter

As you can tell if you've been reading my blog lately, I've begun a quest to simplify my life, and things are going well. I'm gradually implementing routines and pracitices that are really working.

A lot of my focus so far has been on decluttering--getting rid of things that clutter up my house and office, and, therefore, my life. But yesterday's post about attitudes started me thinking about all the mental clutter in my life. Now, some of my mental clutter is being cleared up by a few of my new practices and routines (which I'll post about later). For instance, making lists takes things off my mind and puts them on paper. But the kind of clutter I'm talking about now is the mental clutter caused by improper attitudes towards myself.

As I wrote earlier, I'm a perfectionist. So, for some weird reason, there are all these impossibly high standards and goals floating around in my brain that really don't apply to me or make no logical sense whatsoever, but I still hold on to them, thinking I need to do more, be more, try harder, change this, change that, and finally, and only then, will I be acceptable and have a wonderful life.

You know what? That's just crazy. And it adds unnecessary stress to my life. Now, I'm not talking about having reasonable goals or expecting to work hard and do my best. This is not a way to excuse myself from what needs to be done or ought to be done. It's the realization that who and what I am is okay and that I'm already living a wonderful life. For example, I'm never going to be an Olympic athlete or the women's front runner in the Boston Marathon. So, as long as I'm doing enough exercise to keep me fit and healthy, I shouldn't feel guilty that I'm not faster or stronger or that I don't work out for hours on end. Enough is enough. I'm never going to be one of those professors who's read everything written since the dawn of time, can quote almost every poem in both the British and American canons, and knows the definition to every literary term without even peeking at a dictionary. But I'm prepared for my classes, I'm a life-long learner, always reading and growing, and I have a life outside my job. That's enough. I don't need to look like someone else, or sound like someone else, or act like someone else, or dress like someone else to be happy and content.

Think about how much less stress we'd have if we'd just accept ourselves for who we actually are and appreciate the blessings in our own lives.

This might be the most succesful simplification strategy I've tried so far. I feel a post about authenticity coming up, but I've got to think about it a while.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Attitude Adjustment

I read in an article somewhere, maybe by Martha Beck in O Magazine (but I'm not sure), that there are two types of mentalities--an Abundance Mentality and a Scarcity Mentality. People with an Abundance Mentality trust that they will have enough or be able to easily obtain the things that they need when they need them. Those with a mentality of Scarcity feel like there's never enough. They don't have enough. They've never had enough. And they probably won't have enough in the future. And not only do they feel lacking, they also feel that there is a limited supply of everything, and what one person has diminishes what another can hope to have, so of course they need to make sure to grasp for things and hoard their "fair share."

I guess you can see how these two mentalities would play out in regards to clutter. The Abundance person would stock reasonable amounts of food, have reasonable amounts of clothes, a reasonable number of things, and be less stressed overall. The Scarcity person would have more than they could ever eat, wear, or use; cabinets, closets, and storage units stuffed to overflowing; and constant stress.

OK. So I don't stockpile cool whip bowls or twist ties or bread wrappers, and I don't have 52 cans of green beans in my pantry. I don't rent a storage unit, and my closets and drawers do close. But in some areas, I do have a little more than I need. And although I can easily let go of some extra things, I have trouble with others. I think I have a Mixed Mentality--in some areas I trust that there'll be abundance; in others I feel like it's every woman for her self. Thinking about this makes me feel a little ashamed and confused. All my life I've been well taken care of; I've been blessed. I don't want to be a person who holds onto things I don't need when they could be of use to others. I want my hands to be open, not clenched or grasping.

One of the things I've been doing has helped me with this, I think. It's my one-thing-a-day decluttering. I have a box or bag in my closet, and one item a day goes in it until it's full. Then it goes to charity. Some items are easy to drop in. Others are much harder. There's this internal monologue: I just know I'll wear this one day. I may need it. I paid a lot of money for it. But it was a gift from _______. Yada yada yada.

The reason the one-thing-a-day plan is working for me is that it doesn't require me to get rid of half my wardrobe in one fell swoop. I only have to decide on one item a day. It can even be the pair of shoes that always rubs a blister. Or the purse I never carry. And, too, I'm not giving the item away today. I'm just dropping it into a box. Where it will remain. For several days. I can take it out if I decide I can't live without it. And guess what? I haven't yet taken anything out of the box, and putting things in is getting a lot easier.

And it feels really good.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Booking It--Favorite Unknown

Who’s your favorite author that other people are NOT reading? The one you want to evangelize for, the one you would run popularity campaigns for? The author that, so far as you’re concerned, everyone should be reading–but that nobody seems to have heard of. You know, not JK Rowling, not Jane Austen, not Hemingway–everybody’s heard of them. The author that you think should be that famous and can’t understand why they’re not…

Hard question. I'm not sure that I have a favorite "unknown" author. There are a couple of authors that I really like, and I know others read them because they are famous and on the best seller list, but nobody that I know personally reads them. When I read a Jodi Picoult, I have plenty of people to talk about the novel with. But when I read Patricia Cornwell or Daniel Silva, it's me, myself, and I.

Am I mistaken? Are there any other Cornwell or Silva admirers among my readers?

Saturday, January 23, 2010

What I'm Reading Now

At Harding, all of our senior English majors are required to participate in Senior Symposium. They choose a paper written for a previous class, and under the supervision of a faculty mentor, expand it into a scholarly research paper, which they present to an audience of faculty and fellow students.

Faculty mentors can get lucky several ways. First of all, you can be assigned to a student who wants to write about a book you've already read--not as much work for you. Secondly, the book your student has chosen to write about is not one you've read, but it is one that's been on your huge, nebulous, ever-growing to-read list (so you're forced/you get to move it up to the top of your list, and it becomes work-related reading, which relieves guilt. I've got to read it! It's my job!). Thirdly, you can be assigned to work with a great student. Or, if you're really lucky, you get assigned to a great student who wants to write about a book you've already read.

Well, it's not a book I've already read, but I believe I'm really going to enjoy working with my student. And the book she's chosen to write about, Arundhati Roy's The God of Small Things, is great reading. I started it last Friday, and I'm almost finished with it.

From Publishers Weekly
With sensuous prose, a dreamlike style infused with breathtakingly beautiful images and keen insight into human nature, Roy's debut novel charts fresh territory in the genre of magical, prismatic literature. Set in Kerala, India, during the late 1960s when Communism rattled the age-old caste system, the story begins with the funeral of young Sophie Mol, the cousin of the novel's protagonists, Rahel and her fraternal twin brother, Estha. In a circuitous and suspenseful narrative, Roy reveals the family tensions that led to the twins' behavior on the fateful night that Sophie drowned. Beneath the drama of a family tragedy lies a background of local politics, social taboos and the tide of history, all of which come together in a slip of fate, after which a family is irreparably shattered. Roy captures the children's candid observations but clouded understanding of adults' complex emotional lives. Rahel notices that "at times like these, only the Small Things are ever said. The Big Things lurk unsaid inside." Plangent with a sad wisdom, the children's view is never oversimplified, and the adult characters reveal their frailties, and in one case, a repulsively evil power, in subtle and complex ways. While Roy's powers of description are formidable, she sometimes succumbs to overwriting, forcing every minute detail to symbolize something bigger, and the pace of the story slows. But these lapses are few, and her powers coalesce magnificently in the book's second half. Roy's clarity of vision is remarkable, her voice original, her story beautifully constructed and masterfully told.

Friday, January 22, 2010

In & Out

My new paperwork/mail/email systems work like this:

Mail: I get the mail. Immediately I trash the junk mail. I open everything else right then. My magazines go in my reading basket by my chair. My husband's magazines go in his reading basket, yes, you guessed it, in the bathroom. (It's a guy thing, I guess.) I file what needs to be filed. If it's a bill, I throw away all the inserts and put the bill in the new tray I bought for the office desk. If it contains information about a meeting or appointment, etc. I record that information on my calendar immediately. That's it. It takes only a minute or two, and both my desk and my kitchen island (where mail used to languish and multiply) stay clean. Every couple of days, I pay the bills that have accumulated and file them. Nothing's lost and nothing's forgotten.

Email: A week ago my email inbox contained, I'm ashamed to admit, 1252 items. 1252!!! The number alone gave me heart palpitations, but surely all that must be important, right? Wrong. I started with the oldest ones and deleted wholesale. If I didn't even have any idea what was back there, how important could it be? As I got nearer to today's date, I paid closer attention to what was there, but most of it was simply stuff I hadn't deleted way back when I should have. So I deleted everything but a couple of items. Those, I created folders for and moved them into the appropriate one. My rule now is to handle every new email as soon as I read it. If it's junk, I delete it. If I need to respond, I do it right then and then delete. If it's an appointment, I record it in my datebook and delete. If it's something that I may need later, I move it to the appropriate folder. Right now, there's only one item in my inbox, and it's only still there because it's an ongoing group conversation that I'll delete as soon as all have responded and the matter's settled.

So easy. So simple. Right? It's just a habit that I'm trying to do until it becomes second nature. I'm breathing easier already.

Thursday, January 21, 2010


A couple of items on the list really jumped out at me--#26 Create a simple mail and paperwork system and #30 Keep your email inbox empty, for instance--but it made no sense to attempt to alter my patterns without recognizing and dealing with some prerequisites. It doesn't matter how I handle incoming mail if my office looks like a tornado just passed through, or you can't see the color of my desk because papers cover the top of it.

So, I put those two off until I'd done the basics. I told you yesterday about cleaning and organizing our home office. I also started the process at work. The first thing I did was to follow #28 Clear your desk. I began by completely cleaning off the top of my desk. Now, it holds only my lamp, a couple of framed pictures, a blotter, a pencil holder, a coaster for my coffee cup or water bottle, a business-card holder, and an inbox. It looks so much better now. There's plenty of space for working--a vast, peaceful expanse--and my inbox contains only items that I will handle within the next day or two. Everything else was filed, recorded, or thrown away. The drawers aren't too bad, but I'm taking it slowly and organizing one drawer a day. Another new rule: I do not leave work for the day without my desktop being clear. It forces me to handle things immediately, and it feels wonderful to walk in my office the next morning and see that clean desk. Such a simple rule, but so effective. Seeing all that clutter as I entered my office every day used to raise my stress level before work even began. Now, I see the desk and actually feel calmer.

My mail/paperwork/email systems? Tomorrow.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The Next Step

Ok. Confess. How many of you have put an item on your to-do list that you've already done just so you have at least one thing to check off and feel relieved about? Come on, come on.

That's how I felt when I was reading over the list for the first time and ran across #39. Exercise. Aha! At least that's one I already do. 6 days a week I do some form of cardio, usually power-walking or jogging, and 3-4 days a week I strength train. My program's not set in stone. I change when I'm bored or discover something new and interesting, but the main idea is that I do it. I know I need to add Yoga, but I haven't found any classes that work with my schedule, and I haven't been able to discipline myself to do a video. But, I digress . . .

As I said yesterday, I wanted to start with things that would provide an immediate and positive impact on me. One of my first choices was #9. Purge your stuff. The desire to purge my stuff is one of the things that set me on my quest to simplify, but how do I do it without becoming overwhelmed and quitting? I came up with a one-thing-a-day plan. I resolved to do one thing a day that will declutter the spaces I live and work in. I might clean out one drawer, or one cabinet, or one shelf. I put a bag in my closet, and one item a day that I don't ever wear or that I don't really like or that doesn't fit me just right goes into it. When it's full, I donate it to charity. This rule does double duty, because I declutter one thing at home and one thing at work every day. I've been amazed at how easy this is and how good it is making me feel.

I did get one good jump-start last weekend. During the pursuit of my doctorate, I neglected things around the house a little bit, and our home office had become a wilderness, a totally out of control space. Just thinking about it spiked my blood pressure. Walking past it made me want to cry. Papers and books were piled everywhere. It was hard to find anything, and I was always worried that I hadn't paid one of the bills or that an important paper we needed was lost. So last Saturday I decided to just jump in, and my wonderful husband joined me. We cleaned off every flat surface, organized every drawer, went through the cabinets. (Well, except for two that contain only family pictures, baby books, high school annuals, etc. They need organizing but not purging, and they don't affect my daily stress level. I'm saving them for a summer project.) Every paper was filed or thrown away. I was so happy and relieved, and for the rest of the day I'd occasionally just go to the office, walk in, and smile.

Tune in tomorrow for my next step.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Stressing over Simplifying

In three installments last week, I published a list of 72 ways to simplify your life that I found at I think it's a really great list. As soon as I found it, I knew it would help me on my quest to declutter and simplify. The problem, as is always true for me, is my perfectionist personality.

You see, perfectionists are not perfect. They just feel strongly that they should be, and that's the problem. Being one, I feel as if I should do all things perfectly, and preferably yesterday, which of course is a huge reason that I've had trouble simplifying. Simplifying your life is a huge, overwhelming task, and since I couldn't do it all right away (and perfectly), in the past I didn't do any of it. I just worried over it and stressed about it.

But this time, I'm doing it differently. I decided to choose a few items from the list, implement them, and when I've accomplished those or feel comfortable with a new habit, I'll choose one or two more and move forward.

So far, so good.

The first item on the list instructs you to make a list of your top 4-5 important things. By realizing what you value most, you'll be able to prioritize your decluttering and simplifying accordingly. So, here's mine:

  1. Spending time with my husband, family, and friends.
  2. Having time for non-work-related reading.
  3. Living and working in a peaceful and orderly environment.
  4. Being well-prepared to do my job.
  5. Exercising and eating healthfully.
  6. Having some time for myself every day. (No, this is not a duplication of my pleasure reading priority. More on this later.)

OK. I cheated. But that's my top six.

Come back tomorrow for the next step in my quest for simplification.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Booking It--Flapper? Or Not a Flapper?

Do you read the inside flaps that describe a book before or while reading it?

Sometimes before. Sometimes during. Sometimes after.

I'm always tempted to read them, and sometimes I do. But they often contain spoilers, which I hate. And they shape the way I experience the book, which I don't like. Additionally, sometimes the supposed blurb actually contains an interpretation of the story that I disagree with, and that's aggravating to me.

So, the best time for me to read the flap is after I've read the book. Then I've experienced the book on my own terms, and I'm ready to argue with the flap if need be. :-)

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Simple Living Manifesto, Part III

Last installment:

51. Live life more deliberately. Do every task slowly, with ease, paying full attention to what you’re doing.

52. Make a Most Important Tasks (MITs) list each day. Set just 3 very important things you want to accomplish each day. Don’t start with a long list of things you probably won’t get done by the end of the day. A simple list of 3 things, ones that would make you feel like you accomplished something.

53. Create morning and evening routines. A great way to simplify your life is to create routines at the start and end of your day. Read more on morning routines and evening routines.
54. Create a morning writing ritual. If you enjoy writing, like I do, make it a peaceful, productive ritual.

55. Learn to do nothing. Doing nothing can be an art form, and it should be a part of every life.

56. Read Walden, by Thoreau. The quintessential text on simplifying. Available on Wikisources for free.

57. Go for quality, not quantity. Try not to have a ton of stuff in your life … instead, have just a few possessions, but ones that you really love, and that will last for a long time.

58. Read Simplify Your Life, by Elaine St. James. One of my favorite all-time authors on simplicity.

59. Fill your day with simple pleasures. Make a list of your favorite simple pleasures, and sprinkle them throughout your day.

60. Simplify your RSS feeds. If you’ve got dozens of feeds, or more than a hundred (as I once did), you probably have a lot of stress in trying to keep up with them all. Simplify your feed reading.

61. But subscribe to Unclutterer. Probably the best blog on simplifying your stuff and routines (along with Zen Habits, of course!).

62. Create an easy-to-maintain yard.

63. Carry less stuff. Are your pockets bulging? Consider carrying only the essentials.

64. Simplify your online life. If you have too much going on online, pare down.

65. Strive to automate your income. This isn’t the easiest task, but it can (and has) been done. I’ve been working towards it myself.

66. Simplify your budget. Many people skip budgeting (which is very important) because it’s too hard or too complicated.

67. Simplify your financial life.

68. Learn to pack light. Who wants to lug a bunch of luggage around on a trip?

69. Use a minimalist productivity system. The minimal Zen To Done is all you need. Everything else is icing.

70. Leave space around things in your day. Whether they’re appointments, or things you need to do, don’t stack them back-to-back. Leave a little space between things you need to do, so you will have room for contingencies, and you’ll go through your day much more relaxed.

71. Live closer to work. This might mean getting a job closer to your home, or moving to a home closer to your work. Either will do much to simplify your life.

72. Always ask: Will this simplify my life? If the answer is no, reconsider.

How am I doing? Tune in next week for an update.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Simple Living Manifesto, Part II

26. Create a simple mail & paperwork system. If you don’t have a system, this stuff will pile up. But a simple system will keep everything in order.

27. Create a simple system for house work.

28. Clear your desk. If you have a cluttered desk, it can be distracting and disorganized and stressful. A clear desk, however, is only a couple of simple habits away.

29. Establish routines. The key to keeping your life simple is to create simple routines.

30. Keep your email inbox empty. Is your email inbox overflowing with new and read messages? Do the messages just keep piling up? If so, you’re normal — but you could be more efficient and your email life could be simplified with a few simple steps.

31. Learn to live frugally. Living frugally means buying less, wanting less, and leaving less of a footprint on the earth. It’s directly related to simplicity.

32. Make your house minimalist. A minimalist house has what is necessary, and not much else. It’s also extremely peaceful (not to mention easy to clean).

33. Find other ways to be minimalist. There are tons. You can find ways to be minimalist in every area of your life.

34. Consider a smaller home. If you rid your home of stuff, you might find you don’t need so much space. I’m not saying you should live on a boat (although I know some people who happily do so), but if you can be comfortable in a smaller home, it will not only be less expensive, but easier to maintain, and greatly simplify your life.

35. Consider a smaller car. This is a big move, but if you have a large car or SUV, you may not really need something that big. It’s more expensive, uses more gas, harder to maintain, harder to park. Simplify your life with less car. You don’t need to go tiny, especially if you have a family, but try to find as small a car as can fit you or your family comfortably. Maybe not something you’re going to do today, but something to think about over the long term.

36. Learn what “enough” is. Our materialistic society today is about getting more and more, with no end in sight. Sure, you can get the latest gadget, and more clothes and shoes. More stuff. But when will you have enough? Most people don’t know, and thus they keep buying more. It’s a neverending cycle. Get off the cycle by figuring out how much is enough. And then stop when you get there.

37. Create a simple weekly dinner menu. If figuring out what’s for dinner is a nightly stressor for you or your family, consider creating a weekly menu. Decide on a week’s worth of simple dinners, set a specific dinner for each night of the week, go grocery shopping for the ingredients. Now you know what’s for dinner each night, and you have all the ingredients necessary. No need for difficult recipes — find ones that can be done in 10-15 minutes (or less).

38. Eat healthy. It might not be obvious how eating healthy relates to simplicity, but think about the opposite: if you eat fatty, greasy, salty, sugary, fried foods all the time, you are sure to have higher medical needs over the long term. We could be talking years from now, but imagine frequent doctor visits, hospitalization, going to the pharmacist, getting therapy, having surgery, taking insulin shots … you get the idea. Being unhealthy is complicated. Eating healthy simplifies all of that greatly, over the long term.

39. Exercise. This goes along the same lines as eating healthy, as it simplifies your life in the long run, but it goes even further: exercise helps burn off stress and makes you feel better. It’s great.

40. Declutter before organizing. Many people make the mistake of taking a cluttered desk or filing cabinet or closet or drawer, and trying to organize it. Unfortunately, that’s not only hard to do, it keeps things complicated. Simplify the process by getting rid of as much of the junk as possible, and then organizing. If you declutter enough, you won’t need to organize at all.

41. Have a place for everything. Age-old advice, but it’s the best advice on keeping things organized. After you declutter.

42. Find inner simplicity. I’m not much of a spiritual person, but I have found that spending a little time with my inner self creates a peaceful simplicity rather than a chaotic confusion. This could be time praying or communing with God, or time spent meditating or journaling or getting to know yourself, or time spent in nature. However you do it, working on your inner self is worth the time.

43. Learn to decompress from stress. Every life is filled with stress — no matter how much you simplify your life, you’ll still have stress (except in the case of the ultimate simplifier, death). So after you go through stress, find ways to decompress.

44. Try living without a car. OK, this isn’t something I’ve done, but many others have. It’s something I would do if I didn’t have kids. Walk, bike, or take public transportation. It reduces expenses and gives you time to think. A car is also very complicating, needing not only car payments, but insurance, registration, safety inspections, maintenance, repairs, gas and more.

45. Find a creative outlet for self-expression. Whether that’s writing, poetry, painting, drawing, creating movies, designing websites, dance, skateboarding, whatever. We have a need for self-expression, and finding a way to do that makes your life much more fulfilling. Allow this to replace much of the busy-work you’re eliminating from your life.

46. Simplify your goals. Instead of having half a dozen goals or more, simplify it to one goal. Not only will this make you less stressed, it will make you more successful. You’ll be able to focus on that One Goal, and give it all of your energy. That gives you much better chances for success.

47. Single-task. Multi-tasking is more complicated, more stressful, and generally less productive. Instead, do one task at a time.

48. Simplify your filing system. Stacking a bunch of papers just doesn’t work. But a filing system doesn’t have to be complicated to be useful. Create a simple system.

49. Develop equanimity. If every little thing that happens to you sends you into anger or stress, your life might never be simple. Learn to detach yourself, and be more at peace.

50. Reduce your consumption of advertising. Advertising makes us want things. That’s what it’s designed to do, and it works. Find ways to reduce your exposure of advertising, whether that’s in print, online, broadcast, or elsewhere. You’ll want much less.

To be continued . . .

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Simple Living Manifesto, Part I

You know me. I can't do anything without researching it first, and simplifying is no different. I ran across this list, Simple Living Manifesto: 72 Ideas to Simplify Your Life, at A lot of these suggestions really make sense to me. I'm going to post the list over the next couple of days, and then, if I'm brave enough, I'll let you know which of the suggestions I try to implement and how I progress.

The Long List

There can be no step-by-step guide to simplifying your life, but I’ve compiled an incomplete list of ideas that should help anyone trying to find the simple life. Not every tip will work for you — choose the ones that appeal and apply to your life.

One important note: this list will be criticized for being too complicated, especially as it provides a bunch of links. Don’t stress out about all of that. Just choose one at a time, and focus on that. When you’re done with that, focus on the next thing.

1. Make a list of your top 4-5 important things. What’s most important to you? What do you value most? What 4-5 things do you most want to do in your life? Simplifying starts with these priorities, as you are trying to make room in your life so you have more time for these things.

2. Evaluate your commitments. Look at everything you’ve got going on in your life. Everything, from work to home to civic to kids’ activities to hobbies to side businesses to other projects. Think about which of these really gives you value, which ones you love doing. Which of these are in line with the 4-5 most important things you listed above? Drop those that aren’t in line with those things.

3. Evaluate your time. How do you spend your day? What things do you do, from the time you wake up to the time you go to sleep? Make a list, and evaluate whether they’re in line with your priorities. If not, eliminate the things that aren’t, and focus on what’s important. Redesign your day.

4. Simplify work tasks. Our work day is made up of an endless list of work tasks. If you simply try to knock off all the tasks on your to-do list, you’ll never get everything done, and worse yet, you’ll never get the important stuff done. Focus on the essential tasks and eliminate the rest.

5. Simplify home tasks. In that vein, think about all the stuff you do at home. Sometimes our home task list is just as long as our work list. And we’ll never get that done either. So focus on the most important, and try to find ways to eliminate the other tasks (automate, eliminate, delegate, or hire help).

6. Learn to say no. This is actually one of the key habits for those trying to simplify their lives. If you can’t say no, you will take on too much.

7. Limit your communications. Our lives these days are filled with a vast flow of communications: email, IM, cell phones, paper mail, Skype, Twitter, forums, and more. It can take up your whole day if you let it. Instead, put a limit on your communications: only do email at certain times of the day, for a certain number of minutes (I recommend twice a day, but do what works for you). Only do IM once a day, for a limited amount of time. Limit phone calls to certain times too. Same with any other communications. Set a schedule and stick to it.

8. Limit your media consumption. This tip won’t be for everyone, so if media consumption is important to you, please skip it (as with any of the other tips). However, I believe that the media in our lives — TV, radio, Internet, magazines, etc. — can come to dominate our lives. Don’t let it. Simplify your life and your information consumption by limiting it. Try a media fast.

9. Purge your stuff. If you can devote a weekend to purging the stuff you don’t want, it feels seriously terrific. Get boxes and trash bags for the stuff you want to donate or toss.

10. Get rid of the big items. There’s tons of little clutter in our lives, but if you start with the big items, you’ll simplify your life quickly and in a big way.

11. Edit your rooms. One room at a time, go around the room and eliminate the unnecessary. Act as a newspaper editor, trying to leave only the minimum, and deleting everything else.

12. Edit closets and drawers. Once you’ve gone through the main parts of your rooms, tackle the closets and drawers, one drawer or shelf at a time.

13. Simplify your wardrobe. Is your closet bursting full? Are your drawers so stuffed they can’t close (I’m talking about dresser drawers here, not underwear). Simplify your wardrobe by getting rid of anything you don’t actually wear. Try creating a minimal wardrobe by focusing on simple styles and a few solid colors that all match each other.

14. Simplify your computing life. If you have trouble with too many files and too much disorganization, consider online computing. It can simplify things greatly.

15. Declutter your digital packrattery. If you are a digital packrat, and cannot seem to control your digital clutter, there is still hope for you.

16. Create a simplicity statement. What do you want your simple life to look like? Write it out.

17. Limit your buying habits. If you are a slave to materialism and consumerism, there are ways to escape it. I was there, and although I haven’t escaped these things entirely, I feel much freer of it all. If you can escape materialism, you can get into the habit of buying less. And that will mean less stuff, less spending, less freneticism.

18. Free up time. Find ways to free up time for the important stuff. That means eliminating the stuff you don’t like, cutting back on time wasters, and making room for what you want to do.

19. Do what you love. Once you’ve freed up some time, be sure to spend that extra time doing things you love. Go back to your list of 4-5 important things. Do those, and nothing else.

20. Spend time with people you love. Again, the list of 4-5 important things probably contains some of the people you love (if not, you may want to re-evaluate). Whether those people are a spouse, a partner, children, parents, other family, best friends, or whoever, find time to do things with them, talk to them, be intimate with them (not necessarily in sexual ways).

21. Spend time alone. See this list of ways to free up time for yourself — to spend in solitude. Alone time is good for you, although some people aren’t comfortable with it. It could take practice getting used to the quiet, and making room for your inner voice. It sounds new-agey, I know, but it’s extremely calming. And this quiet is necessary for finding out what’s important to you.

22. Eat slowly. If you cram your food down your throat, you are not only missing out on the great taste of the food, you are not eating healthy. Slow down to lose weight, improve digestion, and enjoy life more.

23. Drive slowly. Most people rush through traffic, honking and getting angry and frustrated and stressed out. And endangering themselves and others in the meantime. Driving slower is not only safer, but it is better on your fuel bill, and can be incredibly peaceful. Give it a try. Read more.

24. Be present. These two words can make a huge difference in simplifying your life. Living here and now, in the moment, keeps you aware of life, of what is going on around you and within you. It does wonders for your sanity. Read tips on how to do it.

25. Streamline your life. Many times we live with unplanned, complex systems in our lives because we haven’t given them much thought. Instead, focus on one system at a time (your laundry system, your errands system, your paperwork system, your email system, etc.) and try to make it simplified, efficient, and written. Then stick to it. Here’s more. Another good article here.

To be continued . . .

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Amen, Alex

Continuing my simplifying theme, here's a great blog post from Alex.


Then let me know what you think.


Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The Urge to Simplify

Stress. Stress. Stress.

I hate stress.

It's weird. I have a great life. I'm healthy. I have a wonderful family. Dear friends. A good job. A nice home.

So why do I feel so stressed?

There are lots of reasons, I guess, but one is simply having too much stuff. Too many clothes. Too many shoes. Too many kitchen gadgets. Too much stuff stuffed in junk drawers. And so on. And so forth. You have to clean stuff. And sort stuff. And choose between stuff.

So, lately I've really had the urge to simplify. A strong urge. I know simplifying reduces stress, but I'm not quite sure how to get from where I am to where I want to be.

I'm on a mission. Any suggestions?

P. S. The only thing that I have a lot of that doesn't stress me out is books--well, I am stressed that I don't have enough time to read all that I want to, but that's another story . . . .

Monday, January 11, 2010

Booking It--Gifts

What books did you get for Christmas?

My oldest son got me The Man Who Loved Books Too Much. Sounds really interesting, doesn't it? He also gave me an gift certificate, which I may use to finish out my Jodi Picoult collection. I admit it; I'm hooked.

Which books did you get?

From Publisher's Weekly:
Bartlett delves into the world of rare books and those who collect—and steal—them with mixed results. On one end of the spectrum is Salt Lake City book dealer Ken Sanders, whose friends refer to him as a book detective, or Bibliodick. On the other end is John Gilkey, who has stolen over $100,000 worth of rare volumes, mostly in California. A lifelong book lover, Gilkey's passion for rare texts always exceeded his income, and he began using stolen credit card numbers to purchase, among others, first editions of Beatrix Potter and Mark Twain from reputable dealers. Sanders, the Antiquarian Booksellers' Association's security chair, began compiling complaints from ripped-off dealers and became obsessed with bringing Gilkey to justice. Bartlett's journalistic position is enviable: both men provided her almost unfettered access to their respective worlds. Gilkey recounted his past triumphs in great detail, while Bartlett's interactions with the unrepentant, selfish but oddly charming Gilkey are revealing (her original article about himself appeared in The Best Crime Reporting 2007). Here, however, she struggles to weave it all into a cohesive narrative.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Patience, please . . .

I know, I know. I'm late posting today. Actually, I usually write my posts days in advance and schedule them to post automatically. But I have to admit that the ideas are a little slow in coming lately. I think I'm just plain tired. I want to curl up in front of the fire and read, but I need to be reviewing and prepping for the classes that begin on Monday.

Maybe once I get back in the swing, the ideas will start flowing and my energy will be renewed. Until then, have patience with me.

Friday, January 8, 2010

No! I Don't Wanna Go!

Well, it's officially a back-to-work day. Those pesky departmental meetings always take over the last few days of vacation.

It's not that I haven't done any work over the break. But working from home in your PJs is so much better than curling your hair, putting on your sweater and pearls, and heading back to the office.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

My Excuse

I haven't gotten to read as much as I'd hoped over Christmas break, but I've got a good excuse. I've been doing this instead:

This is our first time to go skiing, but I really hope it isn't our last.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

What I'm Getting Ready to Read--and Why

I'm teaching an Honors class this Spring called Human Situations I, which examines how the arts explore and attempt to answer the Great Questions. One of the units I'll be doing, of course, is the question of Good and Evil. This is not a literature class, but literature will be a part of every unit, and the obvious choice for this unit is Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. However, I didn't want to revisit a classic most of these students have probably already read in AP English. So I chose this novel, a re-telling of that classic from another point of view. That'll bring J&H into the discussion and also let us wrestle with postmodern ideas of multiple points of view. This retelling will also illustrate that authors keep asking and attempting to answer the Great Questions.

I'm really looking forward to this class.

From the acclaimed author of the bestselling Italian Fever comes a fresh twist on the classic Jekyll and Hyde story, a novel told from the perspective of Mary Reilly, Dr. Jekyll's dutiful and intelligent housemaid.

Faithfully weaving in details from Robert Louis Stevenson's classic, Martin introduces an original and captivating character: Mary is a survivor, scarred but still strong, familiar with evil, yet brimming with devotion and love. As a bond grows between Mary and her tortured employer, she is sent on errands to unsavory districts of London and entrusted with secrets she would rather not know. Unable to confront her hideous suspicions about Dr. Jekyll, Mary ultimately proves the lengths to which she'll go to protect him. Through her astute reflections, we hear the rest of the classic Jekyll and Hyde story, and this familiar tale is made more terrifying than we remember it, more complex than we imagined possible.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

What I Just Re-read

The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde is the original title of a novella written by the Scottish author Robert Louis Stevenson and first published in 1886. It is about a London lawyer who investigates strange occurrences between his old friend, Dr Henry Jekyll, and the misanthropic Mr Hyde.

The work is known for its vivid portrayal of a split personality, split in the sense that within the same person there is both an apparently good and an evil personality each being quite distinct from the other. The novella's impact is such that it has become a part of the language, with the phrase "Jekyll and Hyde" coming to mean a person who is vastly different in moral character from one situation to the next.

Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde was an immediate success and is one of Stevenson's best-selling works.

Tune in tomorrow to see why I re-read this classic.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Booking It--History

Given the choice, which do you prefer? Real history? Or historical fiction? (Assume, for the purposes of this discussion that they are equally well-written and engaging.)

Historical fiction, of course! Not that I don't like history, but to be honest, I've never read a history book that was as "well-written and engaging" as a great historical novel. Have you?

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Persuasions On-Line & Me

JASNA has published its new edition of Persuasions On-Line [Volume 30, No. 1 Winter 2009] – and one of the articles is mine!

Table of Contents: from the 2009 AGM on Jane Austen’s Brothers and Sisters


Friday, January 1, 2010

Reading Resolutions

I read a lot, so I don't have to resolve to read or to read more. What I do resolve this year is not to let work-related reading take over my life and crowd out all room for pleasure reading. After all, the joy I receive from reading is what led me to this field.

I'm not being unrealistic. I know that I can't read for pleasure as much or as often as I'd really like to and still be as prepared as I need to be for my classes. But I truly believe that teachers of literature can't just bury themselves in the classics. We need to at least attempt to stay current, to read some of the best-sellers, an occasional Pulitzer Prize winner. I can choose one book I've been wanting to read and enjoy a chapter or two before work, or during my lunch break, or right after I get home as a way to wind down from the stress of the day. I like it when a student asks me if I've read a book they're currently enjoying and I have and can discuss it with them. I like to model being a reader rather than just being a teacher.

I'm challenging myself to read at least two books a month simply for pleasure. This is a low-end goal. I hope to read much more than that. And, of course, I'll keep you posted about what I'm reading.

How about you? How are you going to challenge yourself as far as reading goes this year? Come on, you can tell me. I'll hold you accountable.