Book Reviews: Five new releases on simple living and productivity

Five really terrific books have been published in the past few weeks that might be of interest to our readers:

Born for This: How to Find the Work You Were Meant to Do
by Chris Guillebeau

Living an uncluttered life isn’t always about stuff. It’s also about clearing clutter from aspects of your life that keep you from doing what you would rather be doing. Chris’ book is perfect for anyone looking to unclutter a bad job or career from your life to do exactly what you should be doing. This isn’t a “dream big” book that leaves you inspired but without steps and tools to achieve what you want. This book is full of every tool you will need to make your job and/or career change happen. If you’re a regular reader of this site, you know that I’m a bit of a fangirl when it comes to Chris. One of those reasons is because his advice is based on years of research and includes examples from actual people who have taken his advice and found success with it. If you’re unhappy or disgruntled with your work, his book is exactly what you’ll want to read to move productively in a new direction.

90 Lessons for Living Large in 90 Square Feet (…or more)
by Felice Cohen

A few years ago, we wrote about Felice because she lived such a full life in such an itty-bitty NYC studio apartment. Since that time, she has sat down and written an entire book exploring her strategies for occupying such a tiny place. You don’t have to live in an extremely small space to benefit from the advice in her book, though. I found her text easy to read — it’s mostly lists that are direct and simple to follow. There are 90 “lessons” in the book to go with the 90 square feet theme. If you know any graduates heading to college or a big city with a tiny space, this book would be perfect for him or her.

Parent Hacks: 134 Genius Shortcuts for Life with Kids
by Asha Dornfest

Asha has been writing the ParentHacks website for more than 10 years, and her latest book is a cultivation of all the best advice she’s seen during this time. The book is illustrated and in full color and every page is packed with useful tips to make parenting easier. My favorite thing about this book is how often it transforms objects that on the surface seem to be unitaskers but shows you how they’re really multi-taskers. (16 uses for a baby wipe tub, 13 uses for non-slip shelf liner, 8 uses for a baby bath tub, etc.) If you’re a parent, you will want this book. If you have a friend or family member who is becoming a parent, they will want this book. This book is my new go-to gift for anyone who announces she’s pregnant or becoming a parent in another awesome way. There are so many real-world tips in this book that almost every page contains a piece of advice you can use to make life with kids easier.

The More of Less: Finding the Life You Want Under Everything You Own
by Joshua Becker

Today is the release of Joshua’s book and it’s perfect for anyone who is coming to uncluttering with the hope of having a more fulfilling life. His book explores the topic of simple living in a much more philosophical manner than what we usually delve into here on Unclutterer. And this minimalist philosophy speaks to a lot of people, so if that sounds like you, pick up this extremely resourceful and guiding text. The advice is solid and practical. It’s not an organizing book — it’s a live with less stuff book. It’s a must-read for anyone looking for a step-by-step guide to minimalism.

The Inefficiency Assassin: Time Management Tactics for Working Smarter, Not Longer
by Helene Segura

I had the pleasure of reading an advanced copy of Helene’s book and have been eagerly awaiting its release so I could recommend it to you. If you struggle with productivity and time management, THIS is the book for you. The review I emailed to Helene immediately after finishing reading it sums up my opinions about the helpful text: “The Inefficiency Assassin is a concise, straightforward, and comprehensive plan that provides realistically attainable tactics to solve every major productivity problem. It details precisely how to eliminate these issues so you can have the professional and personal life you desire. With Helene Segura’s help, you can say farewell to guilt and exhaustion and to being overworked and overwhelmed.”

Uncluttered and minimalist aren’t the same

Some people are happy living in a minimalist space. I recently read a blog post by Derek Sivers that described his home:

I live in a little pre-furnished apartment with no stuff, and I love it this way. I have no books, knicknacks, decorations, and really no personal items at all. Just some minimal clothing, my laptop, headphones, and not much else. All the kitchenware and furniture just came with the place, and will stay here when I leave.

There are certainly benefits to owning fewer things. Derek moves every year or two, so owning very little makes those moves easy for him. Owning less stuff also means there’s less to collect dust, which can be important to those with allergies. And you can choose to rent or buy a smaller home, thus saving money. Of course, you also save money by buying fewer things — or you might spend the same amount but find you can afford to buy things of higher quality.

But many other people would feel unhappy living as Derek does. They would agree with the woman who created the website entitled Stuff Does Matter, where she wrote, “Stuff has the power to nourish us physically, emotionally, spiritually, and mentally.”

And you certainly don’t need to be a minimalist to be uncluttered and organized. If everything you own has a home, can be found when you need it, and makes you happy (or serves a vital purpose), you’re doing just fine.

Some people like a house or apartment that’s sparsely furnished while others enjoy filling their homes with art, books, music, mementos, cherished collections, etc. That’s a matter of personal preference, and people on either end of the spectrum can be organized.

Of course, having fewer things can make it easier to get organized and stay organized. It’s easier to find a place to store everything when there isn’t as much to be stored. It’s easier to put something back into a closet or drawer that has plenty of empty space than into one that’s close to full. If you want to do any home projects such as painting the walls or replacing the carpet, those projects will go quicker if you don’t have as much to box up and move out of the way — and then move back and unbox.

On a now-defunct blog I’ve had bookmarked for years, someone wrote about his approach to his possessions, which he called mediumism. As he explained, “I buy only what I need, but I have no desire to live with just 100 things. I watch very little television. … I still plan to keep my 32-inch LCD for now.” If minimalism feels wrong for you, maybe mediumism will resonate.

Just remember that the idea behind uncluttering is to have a home that pleases you and supports you in achieving your goals. That may mean you own 150 things, 1,500 things, or 15,000 things. There’s no magic number — there’s only the answer that’s right for you.

Unclutter your tech with the Rule of One

From time-to-time, I’ll think about this post I read on Apartment Therapy back in 2010. For whatever reason, the post stuck with me. The advice in the post espouses The Rule of One, which breaks down like this:

Keep the things you own (especially technology) down to only one.

I like the idea, but am still trying to figure out if I can apply it to everything in my life. I certainly need to have more than one shirt, for instance. But, in other areas, could it make sense for me? I especially like this insight:

Listening to music? One iPod. One speaker set … Hold on to that one item for as long as possible.

Like I said, it’s impractical for me to apply the Rule of One to all aspects of my possessions. I have several baseball hats and I like to wear them all, so I don’t imagine I’ll ever get rid of all but one of them. But, a quick glance at my iPhone reveals a problem. I have seven weather applications. I’ve also got four note-taking apps and four camera apps. Yes, each does something unique, but honestly none of them is markedly different than the other. I don’t need all four camera apps, for instance, and should decide on one “keeper.” The rest are clutter in that they consume precious storage space on my iPhone and clutter my mind, as I must stop and choose one every time I want to take a picture.

I also like Nguyen’s advice to “hold on to that item for as long as possible.” My Internet buddy Patrick Rhone of Minimal Mac has written about this topic several times. In an article called “The Season of Stuff,” he gives good, pre-emptive uncluttering advice for the holiday season:

You can pledge to get rid of an amount of stuff equal to the amount you receive. You can let those who love you know that you do not want more stuff but want something less tangible instead (breakfast in bed, money for a favorite charity, etc.). Ask for specific stuff you really truly need that will add years of value to your life on a daily basis.

Now, if you have superfluous tech that you’d like to get rid of, don’t just bring it to the dump. There are several ways to recycle it responsibly:

  • Donation. Is there a group, organization or school nearby that would love to have it? Give them a call.
  • Best Buy. This American big box store will accept three electronic items per household per day for responsible recycling. It’s free, and no-questions-asked. You didn’t have to buy the item there to recycle it there.
  • Seek a local alternative. For example, Free Geek is an Oregon-based service that takes your electronics, similar to Best Buy’s program. Search around to find something similar in your area.

Look at the tech you use every day and decide, is any of this superfluous? Can I follow the Rule of One in this area of my life? If so, unclutter the extraneous items and enjoy having fewer distractions.

Share stuff: one way to reduce clutter

How much stuff do we have in our homes that we seldom use? The infrequent baker may have muffin tins, cookie cutters and such that hardly ever leave the cabinet. The person living in a warm climate may have clothes for the once-a-year ski trip; families may have tents for twice-a-year camping trips. Homeowners may have tools bought for a single need — tools that are rarely if ever used again.

If you don’t like giving your space (or your money) to these infrequently used items, you may want to investigate ways to rent or borrow these items. Or, perhaps you enjoy owning certain items, but would like to allow others to save money and space by borrowing from you. You can rent all sorts of things, but for now I’d like to focus on borrowing.

You may well have friends or family members who you can borrow from (and lend to), but what if you don’t?

If you’re in a condo, your homeowners’ association may already have items available for members to use. On the Ask MetaFilter website, one person said:

My old condo HOA had a lot of game/sports stuff. For instance, you could borrow the croquet set and put it up in the greenbelt behind your townhouse. It was a random mix of games and toys but it was actually really nice.

Neighborhood, condo, or apartment building Facebook groups are another way to facilitate sharing. MetaFilter member Jacquilynne Schlesier shared her experience:

We have a very active FB group for our building on which people are constantly asking if anyone has an X they can borrow. Most if not all of those requests are fulfilled within about an hour. I’ve lent people my sewing machine, my grocery cart, my c-clamps and my drill. I’ve borrowed a flatbed dolly, and also asked people to save up their empty cereal boxes for me instead of recycling them so I could use them for a project. Our FB group gets a bit testy, but people helping each other is actually one of the things I love about living here.

If you have a good local freecycle group, and your group allows borrowing, that’s another possible route to go. There are also websites focused on facilitating this kind of sharing.

NeighborGoods, which Unclutterer has mentioned before, defines itself as a “social platform for peer-to-peer borrowing and lending. Need a ladder? Borrow it from your neighbor. Have a bike collecting dust in your closet? Lend it out and make a new friend.” NeighborGoods also has sharing guidelines that include things, such as:

  • For borrowers: “Return the item in better condition than you received it.”
  • For lenders: “State your expectations for the maintenance of your item up front. If your item needs to be cleaned or serviced before return, be clear about that before lending it.”
  • Over in the U.K, Streetbank is “a site that helps you share and borrow things from your neighbours.” People can add things they want to lend or give away, and can include skills they are willing to share, as well as their stuff. As the FAQ states: “Communities that help each other are closer, nicer, and friendlier to live in. Streetbank can help make your neighbourhood a nicer place.”

    I haven’t used NeighborGoods myself — the closest community is an hour’s drive away from me — but the idea behind NeighborGoods and Streetbank is appealing. I have done some lending; for example, my neighbor borrows my manual juicer when she needs one.

    While it always makes sense to take reasonable precautions when borrowing or lending, sharing with others lets all of us live a somewhat less cluttered life.

    Book Review: Joshua Becker’s Clutterfree with Kids

    Clutterfree with Kids by Joshua Becker is not a book of organizing tips. It does not tell you what type of baskets to buy. It does not tell you how to arrange clothes in your closets. This book helps you evaluate the choices you make and develop new habits to lead a life that is full of meaning and free of clutter.

    The book begins by introducing the concept of minimalism and leading a minimalist lifestyle. Many people believe that a minimalistic lifestyle is stark and boring but Mr. Becker explains that “minimalism is the intentional promotion of the things we most value and the removal of everything that distracts us from it.”

    Mr. Becker describes the empty promises of advertisements and their attempt to convince us that the more we own the happier we will be. He recounts the journey he and his typical American family have taken towards living a minimalist lifestyle and the challenges they faced.

    In the first section, “Change Your Thinking”, Mr. Becker presents an alternate way of thinking about uncluttering and organizing. He explains the impact minimalism can have on contentment, generosity, and honesty in one’s life and also debunks many of the myths of living a minimalist lifestyle. It really is not stark and boring!

    The section of the book that focuses on parenting states, “the lifestyle of minimalism requires far more inspiration than instruction.” It describes how parents can best model the minimalistic lifestyle. It also outlines the benefits of family life where possessions are deemed less important than self-development and interpersonal relationships.

    Mr. Becker outlines a roadmap to becoming clutter free and explains how to include your children on this journey. He does not stick to hard and fast rules but asks questions that allow the reader to choose the minimalistic path that is right for his/her family.

    Clutterfree with Kids will show readers new ways of thinking about, and establishing better habits, regarding children’s toys, clothes, artwork, and collections. There is advice on how to adjust schedules to spend more time participating in developmental activities and reducing the amount of ‘screen time’ – be it computer or television.

    Some other practical advice provided in the book includes how to:

    • Become clutterfree with a reluctant family member
    • Deal with gifts and excessive gift-givers
    • Resist the influence of advertisements in our consumer-driven culture
    • Prepare for a new baby
    • Pack for holidays and vacations

    Clutterfree with Kids is an enjoyable, refreshing, easy-to-read book. Mr. Becker provides practical advice in a non-judgemental way. He encourages readers to adopt a level of minimalism with which they are comfortable. Whether you are new to minimalism or you are new to parenting, this book can help you move toward a happier and more minimalist life.

    Dyeing to love my clothes again

    Today’s guest post is from my hometown friend Rebecca Bealmear. Lawyer by day and aspiring minimalist by night, she writes about her adventures in simple living, bicycling, and whatever captivates her attention on her personal blog Seven2seven8.com. She currently lives in St. Louis, Missouri. A big welcome to the lovely Rebecca. — Erin

    For the past three years, I’ve joined up with the women on my husband’s side of the family for a once-a-year shopping trip. We often time it in the fall, to celebrate my mother-in-law’s birthday, and to get a head start on holiday shopping. And so, I found myself with my in-laws, at the Osage Beach outlets in Missouri this past October 26. This time, however, I didn’t feel like buying anything.

    The funny thing about our tradition (and the point at which I became part of it), is that it coincides with the time I started to question all of the belongings I was holding onto in my home “just in case” they became useful or somehow morphed into what I really wanted or needed. This was especially true in my clothing closet — my tiny, circa-1939, approximately 10 square foot closet.

    It was then my clothing projects began. I donated, but then I replaced more than I donated. I tried storing just a quarter of my huge wardrobe (full of inexpensive and trendy items) in my closet, with the remainder hanging on racks in my basement. And this worked, well, not at all. Then, it took a turn for the worse when I was bitten on the hip in February 2012 by a brown recluse spider that moved into a pair of pants I had been storing downstairs.

    Suddenly, donating clothing I was not consistently wearing became so much easier.

    Fast forward to today, and my wardrobe is easily a quarter (a sixth? an eighth?) the size it was a couple of years ago, and I have found a wardrobe system that really helps me evaluate the remaining items.

    In February of 2013, I decided to try Courtney Carver’s Project 333. I tailored the challenge to the size of my current wardrobe, so I could reasonably cycle through almost all of my clothing in a year’s time (by dividing six rounds of 33 items across two months each). I have now completed four of my six rounds, and I am hooked, and I am changed.

    I can no longer tolerate excess in my wardrobe or home, though I am still negotiating for myself what is “enough” and what is “excess.” I am simultaneously surprised, relieved, and horrified by the volume of items I have donated to charity organizations, and by the lack of sustainability I have learned is inherent in our fast-fashion culture. I struggle with ethical concerns raised by the toll rampant consumerism has taken on the lives of garment manufacturing factory employees in places like Rana Plaza, in Bangladesh, where the April collapse of a building (costing the lives of thousands of workers) has resulted in almost no improvement in conditions for workers — those who make the clothing we often wear just once or twice before discarding it for the next great deal.

    This is how I found myself uninterested in purchasing clothing on my recent shopping trip with my in-laws, and strangely attached to some clothing in my own closet — specifically, four items that had disappointed me over various rounds of Project 333: (1) a white t-shirt, too sheer and becoming discolored; (2) a white button-up tunic, stained with bicycle-basket oil; (3) a white blouse with a lace panel, discolored from overuse; and (4) a chevron-striped blue skirt in a color I found difficult to wear and weirdly cheap-looking.

    My solution? They had to dye.

    Armed with one box of Rit Dye in Denim Blue, a large stockpot, and the four items to dye, I set out to improve the items in my closet. These are the items before:

    And these are the items after dyeing, rinsing, washing, and drying:

    I am pleased with the results. The practical life of each garment has been extended, and they each have a different personality in the new blue versus the original shade. And, if I ultimately donate a garment, it might actually find its way into another person’s closet now, instead of landing in a rag heap or landfill – a much better fate than the tops would have met, had I donated them in their stained or discolored states.

    The box of Rit Dye cost about $3 and since I already owned the clothing, it was free. I’d recommend getting some rubber gloves to protect your hands. I simply followed the provided instructions, which were very well-written. I dyed the skirt first for 20 minutes, then all three shirts together for another 20. Once finished, I rinsed the clothing well, and ran them, alone, through a heavy-duty wash cycle with a generous amount of detergent, then dried them.

    No shopping, no landfills, no waste. I’ve deemed it a success!

    What we have been reading

    I feel like I have been unintentionally collecting links to great articles recently. I’ll spot something clutter/organizing/productivity-related in the news, immediately think it would make such a terrific topic for an Unclutterer post, save the link to a text file of post ideas, and then do nothing further. Apparently, I want ALL the links for myself. All of them. Mine.

    Since this is ridiculous and there is no good reason for me to be collecting all these links and not sharing them, I thought an ol’ fashion link roundup post was in order. Please enjoy all of these links that have been catching our attention:

    • Why aren’t hoarders bothered by all that junk? Scientists find a clue
      This article from NBC looks at a recent brain study by psychologist David Tolin that was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. According to the research, clinically diagnosed hoarders’ brains respond differently to physical stuff than the brains of the general population. As a result, their ability to make decisions is significantly limited.
    • Three habits that drive down productivity
      I’m still trying to decide what I think about this article from the Memphis Business Journal. The article references a study that analyzes the work product and attendance records of employees with very different lifestyles at three large corporations. The article concludes that healthier people are more productive workers and it specifically names smoking, poor diet, and lack of exercise as productivity killers.
    • Plan of Work for a Small Servantless House (3 or 4 in family)
      After the war in Britain, many homes and estates that once had servants found themselves unable to afford any servants in the house. To help women learn how to keep house, someone (the British government?) published this guide for how a woman should spend her time. My friend Julie introduced me to this page from the I Love Charts tumblr, and I think it is a fabulous look back in time. I’m still confused as to how a woman with one or two children only seems to attend to them for an hour and a half each day “if necessary,” but maybe “servantless” doesn’t include nannies?
    • Re:Re:Fw:Re: Workers Spend 650 Hours a Year on Email
      This article from The Atlantic confirms that most people with desk jobs (referred to as an “office stiff” in the text) spend “13 hours a week, or 28 percent of our office time, on email.” A quarter of one’s job is consumed with reading and answering email. The article also reports that time spent on tasks specific to one’s role at the company only consumes 39 percent of one’s time at work.
    • You Probably Have Too Much Stuff
      This short piece from The New York Times looks at the burdens of being “over-prepared.” I like the use of the phrase “over-prepared” in the article because it so aptly reflects the “I might need this one day” mentality.

    As you also know, I’ve been doing some writing for the Women and Co. website lately. Most of what I’ve been writing continues to be about home and office organizing, but they’ve been letting me branch out a bit and pick up some other topics. It reminds me of the days I wrote the Sunday news for the local commercial radio station in Lawrence, Kansas, so very, very, very long ago …

    Anyway, this is what I wrote in July:

    Small spaces: Custom closet using Ikea bookshelves

    One of my favorite places for small living inspiration is Ikea Hackers. If you’re unfamiliar with the site, it’s a collection of reader-submitted modifications to pieces of furniture from Ikea. The hacks range from relatively small (like adding paint to a Lack table) to extremely involved (like turning a Spar butcher block into an electric guitar). The site has been around since 2006 and is teeming with ways to personalize Ikea furniture.

    Earlier this month, the site featured Regina’s amazing closet for her itty bitty Swedish apartment. Under what I think is her lofted bed, she has five modified Expedit bookcases (in the 2×2 configuration) that she added a piece of wood to the base and then attached four casters to the bottom of the piece of wood. In the U.S., these Expedit shelving units are just $40 a piece and the Besta casters are $10 for two, so the whole system probably cost less than $350 to create, which isn’t bad for a custom closet that could easily cost four times this price. Visuals from the article:

    The rolling bookcases not only hold her clothes, but also her hobby supplies (such as the sewing machine and fabric stash pictured above) and other necessities for her apartment. I like that she can roll the sewing Expedit directly to her sewing table, and then roll it all back into the closet when she’s done. The storage system is ideal for this small space, and I think could easily be utilized in other homes — small or large.

    Note: There are casters that are specifically made to hold the Expedit bookcase, but they stick out beyond the base of the bookshelf, so you can’t nest the shelves directly next to each other. They’re also $5 more for two casters, which adds $50 to the cost of casters, but gets rid of the need to attach a piece of wood to the bottom of each bookcase. If you don’t need the items to nest next to each other, the Expedit casters might be a good alternative for you.

    If you are unfamiliar with Ikea Hackers, spend some time perusing it for even more ideas. Most of the hacks are inexpensive and easy to do.

    Images by Regina as posted to IkeaHackers, and thanks to reader Shalin for bringing this closet to our attention.

    A single sweater, 12 ways

    While at my local outlet mall a few months ago, I picked up a Long Sleeve Classic Cozy from the Donna Karen New York (DKNY) shop. I was instantly drawn to it because of its versatility, and over the past few months have truly fallen in love with this cashmere and silk sweater:

    In theory, I can get 12 looks from the sweater. I’ve only been wearing it for 5 of the looks, however. Even wearing it just 5 ways, I feel like I got a wonderfully uncluttered deal with 5 looks from 1 sweater (and at the outlet store, I paid only $70 for it). It’s also ideal for travel and bringing to the office. Its instructions say to dry clean, but I’ve been very carefully washing it by hand with a little Soak Wash and laying it flat to dry. It’s my new favorite piece of clothing — flexible and fancy.

    There are videos for how to create all 12 looks and even a smart phone app. I’ve donated a number of my other sweaters to charity since I haven’t been wearing them. I love this multiple-look addition to my wardrobe.

    Big living in a small space

    We continue to be fascinated with people who live big in incredibly small spaces. Thanks to reader Leah, we now know about Christian Schallert in Barcelona, Spain, who has fashioned a beautiful home in a mere 258 square feet.

    Check out “Lego-style apartment transforms into infinite spaces” to see the adorable Schallert and his “Lego” home in action:

    Personally, I love the shower storage areas as well as the bed being stored under the balcony. I never would have thought to use such non-traditional storage solutions. I also enjoyed in the video when he admitted his tiny space forces him “not to be chaotic” and every time he comes home “it’s nice and organized.”