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Posted on Jan 26, 2015 in How to simplify, Resources

Book Review: The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up


I remember a discussion in a college class, a long time ago. We were talking about cognitive assonance, an experience when new information fits nicely with your own beliefs. The opposite experience is cognitive dissonance, when new information contradicts or challenges your beliefs. Dissonance is uncomfortable for most people, because it is so difficult to hold two opposing ideas at the same time (Here is a nice description). The point of that ancient discussion was that it is very difficult to convince someone in an argument if their fundamental understanding of the world is different from yours. There is just too much to get past from their life. This book is a little of both for me.

In my own life, I have experienced a lot of joy from de-cluttering. Not just reducing possessions to those that I regularly use and love to look at, but removing activities and social obligations that take up my time and bring me nothing positive. In my experience, de-cluttering has brought only empowerment, increased happiness, more time and clearer thinking: real life-changing magic.

You can probably guess that I expected a nice dose of cognitive assonance when I checked this book out of the library. If this were a podcast, now would be the time to play the sound of a needle dragging across the vinyl record (why do they still use that sound when things go awry?  Most people these days have never scratched the arm of a turntable across a record).

One one level, this book is sort of a tough-love version of de-cluttering 101:

  1. Decide to do it and do it.
  2. Keep only what brings you joy.
  3. You can expect to confront your reasons for collecting clutter in the process.
  4. Afterwards, your life will be better.

The book repeats the message over and over, which might be helpful for those just starting out. It only talks about possessions, which for most people is only one part of their clutter. But there were some other messages that are unique to this book:

  1. Do it all at once
  2. Do it all in one place
  3. Start with the categories that have the easiest (least emotional) decisions.
  4. Do it my way because any other way is just an excuse to fail.

The author spent her life organizing and re-organizing her home, and as a child, her family allowed her to discard their possessions during her organizing sweeps if she decided they were not worth keeping. This would increase stress in most households, unless everyone in the house was in agreement on each decision, and working together (I hear that record-scratching sound again).

There is some good advice in the book. Keep your goal in mind as you go through the process, don’t exempt anything from the process, use your own intuition, don’t let anyone tell you what you should keep of your own things. There are some insightful thoughts about why we have trouble letting go of things. On the other hand, a lot of pages were devoted to how to fold things correctly, based on how the clothing wants to rest. For me, spending a lot of time folding my weekly laundry would be a barrier to keeping it up. It makes sense to have a process that is sustainable (simple) than to stroke the clothes until they tell me what they want.

It seems that the core of this process is making decisions. Should the object stay, or should it go? Establishing clear criteria to make this decision over and over is a good idea before you start the process. Finishing the whole job in one clean sweep is satisfying, because it does not allow the objects to migrate to another place while you are progressing from room to room. Surveying your tidy house will fill you with pride. Difficulty with making decisions is a major source of accumulating clutter, though. It is easier to just put something down or hide it in a closet to decide what to do about it. Like most things, addressing the cause of the problem is the key to the solution.  Cleaning house may not be enough.

A lot of people have reported success when using this authoritative do-it-now, you-can-do-it-if-you-do-it-my-way method. It’s kind of like your Mom telling you to clean your room before you can go out to play. You find a way to do it if the motivation is strong enough. I ask myself where the joy and empowerment will come in.

My silliest self keeps picturing her as Niecy Nash coming in with her team and making things fabulous, but this is not the author’s intention.  She tells us that you must do the process yourself for it to stick, and this is likely true for most people. The author says that after implementing her process, most of her customers keep their houses tidy without having to periodically de-clutter. Maybe the thought of doing it again is enough motivation to keep things tidy. And for some, this may be truly magical and life-changing.

It is hard for me to accept that there is one best way that will work for everyone. I will have to hold onto these opposing thoughts for now.

The book is: The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondo

Have you read this book? What did you think?

What is your experience of de-cluttering your life?

 Picture credit: Eirik Solheim


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Posted on Jan 1, 2014 in How to simplify, Resources

2014 Things to do in 2014


OK, so I didn’t count exactly, but this is a long list of things that will contribute to a simpler, happier life.


Things to do for yourself every day 

(This is more than 3000 things right here)


Get a good night’s sleep

Get up early

Start the day with an intention

Make a (short!) to-do list

Eat some fruits and veggies

Move around more than necessary

Tell someone you love them

Give a (sincere) compliment that is not expected

Write down 3 things you are grateful for

Think of 3 good things that happened that day before you go to sleep

Spend time with someone you like


Things to donate


Old phones, GPS, cameras, TVs, watches, computers,

Clothes that don’t fit, you don’t like, you don’t wear regularly

Clothes you bought for others that they do not like or wear

Kid’s old toys and clothes, no matter how cute

Gifts that you keep out of duty or guilt (take a picture of you wearing it or using it and send to the giver, or post it on Facebook)

Books that you have already read

Books you have owned for more than 6 months that you haven’t read


Old magazines (declare amnesty on anything before the January issue, and drop them by your doctor’s or dentist’s office)

DVDs that you have watched only once

Out-of-date media (video tapes, audio tapes, albums-Hipsters excepted)


Things to let go of


Cancel subscriptions for anything you don’t look forward to every month

Cable TV (here are some alternatives Hulu, Netflix, Amazon Prime, and more )

Land line

Recipes for things your family dislikes and things you feel you SHOULD eat

Copies of bills already paid

Paper bills.  Sign up for auto bill pay or electronic bill paying though your bank

Food past its expiration date (maybe)

Medications past their expiration date (dispose of them safely)

Prescription medications past their purpose (don’t save them to give away!)

Food containers that have no lid

Lids that have no food containers

Tins, plastic containers and jars from food (if you haven’t used them this week)

Single socks (even if you think you will find the mate the next day)

Wire hangers from the cleaners (try recycling or giving them back!)

Buttons and thread for clothes you no longer have

Broken stuff that you have been meaning to fix

People that you have been meaning to fix

People that are a source of pain in your life

Expectation that people will change


Take care of these and feel the glow of accomplishment


Send one delayed email per day

Keep a box of notecards with a pen and stamps, and send a thinking-of-you or thank-you note as soon as you think of it.

Pay bills every week on the same day

Put a load of laundry in the washer whenever you turn on a movie, the TV or computer.  The load of laundry will help you keep track of the time, and you will be productive while you relax.  Fold the laundry while you watch and it will be (almost) painless

Catch people doing the right thing (loading or unloading the dishwasher, picking up their stuff, walking the dog) and give them a big smooch

Let one person per day make a mistake on the road for free (you might try two per day next week!)


Photo credits:  brad_holt,  matsuyuki,  Yukiko MatsuokaWickerfurniture,  Sharandra








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Posted on Dec 2, 2013 in How to simplify, Menus and Recipes, Resources

Simplify Your Holiday Entertaining and Enjoy Your Own Party



Photo credit: Pinti 1

Photo credit: Pinti 1

I love parties.  I like to go to them, and I like to have my friends over to my house.  Even still, sometimes, just when everyone starts to arrive, I’m exhausted and wearing workout clothes covered with sauce from when I dropped a dish on the floor.  It’s terrible to be tired and sweaty just when the fun times begin.  Fortunately, there is a solution.  Plan ahead and simplify.  Here are some ideas to make your next party fun for your guests, and more you:

Plan ahead

I’m not talking about spreadsheets and 6 months of daily task lists (Although that would be fine if you want to go this route–no judgements).  I mean thinking first about some basic ideas, then setting them into motion as you have time.  Once you have that done, simplify a little bit more.

First, simplify with a few decisions:

What kind of party will it be?

    • Open house with flexible arrivals and departures
    • Hosted dinner at a restaurant or club
    • No holds barred event with dancing and kid’s activities, entertainment and scavenger hunt (You know who you are)
    • Buffet meal in one room and guests hanging out all over  the house
    • Sit down dinner (adults only? kid’s table? assigned seating?)
    • Pool party and BBQ
    • Costume party with strolling musicians and catered food
    • Fully-staged civil war re-enactment with historically correct rabbit stew cooked over a campfire
    • Sedate get-together for colleagues and customers
    • If you are really energized, think about a theme party.  You can find ideas here, here and here.

OK, some people thrive on all-out galas that take months to plan.  It’s always great to have friends like this, and once in a while it’s fun to do it yourself.  But it is not necessary to do this in the middle of the holidays, and it’s not necessary go all-out to throw a great party.  Buffets, and cocktail parties are easier to plan than seated dinners.  Having set hours and a limit on guests, drink choices and dishes can make things simpler and more enjoyable.

Who will be invited?

Think about the location and limits you have to make.  Sometimes this is a simple question of how many will comfortably fit around your dining table.  Sometimes, it requires some strategy.  For example, if you invite all of your neighbors, you might avoid a midnight visit from a grumpy pajama-wearing neighbor.  When I moved into my house, I told my neighbors who asked about enforcing the noise rules of the homeowner’s association that if I can hear their party, I consider it an open invitation. This is a rule I live by for my own parties.  If you can hear it with your windows closed, come on over.

Simplify by putting some thought into who will be invited.  Going to a party where you don’t know many people can be stressful.  If you are not going to greet each guest and introduce them to at least one person who they will connect with and enjoy a conversation, make sure there are a few that will make friends with everyone.

Simplify by using an online invitation like Evite, PunchbowlFacebook, and Google (all free), Paperless Post and Pingg (not free) instead of printing (or writing) and mailing paper invitations.

Photo credit: danhodgett

Photo credit: danhodgett

What will you be doing?

    • If the party is organized around a meal, this can be simple.
    • If you are planning a cocktail party, having a seat for each guest is not necessary, since people will not stay as long, and you will serve simple and light food.
    • If there will be children there, think about having them in a separate room with activities and snacks separate from the adults, or have activities that everyone can participate in without getting bored.
    • Plan music that doesn’t compete with conversation, speeches (if you must) or games.  If you are not sure of your music, invite someone who loves to make playlists.  You can do this weeks in advance, and get playlists from more than one person.  It’s nice to have something lively for when people are arriving or dancing, and quieter music during meals and when you want people to go home. Or, you can try Pandora or Spotify (both are free!) to play a mix of music to your tastes.

How long will it last?

If you don’t tell people, they will decide for themselves.  If you have an open house, you will have people coming and going, and there will be crowded and quieter times.  If there will be a sit-down meal or activities at a specific time, make sure to put this on the invitation, so your guests won’t miss out on the fun.  This time of year, people often have more than one event, so they will be dropping in late or leaving early.

Directions and Parking

Send a map.  Yes, most people have smartphones, but for the sake of those that don’t and those with chronically dead batteries, include a map and directions in the invitation, whether you send a written or email version.  If you live in a city, parking is not trivial.  If your guests need instructions for where to park, you can include this information on the map, and any advice for finding parking spots in crowded neighborhoods.  Even better, include directions for public transit, if possible.

Food and drinks

This is where you can go crazy, or simplify to make your party easier to plan and execute.  I love to cook, but you don’t have to heat one pan to have a successful meal.  You can choose a caterer (I did this once for a work party I hosted, and I was happily shocked to find that they did the dishes!), or order a stack of pizzas.  If you do cook, simplify things: don’t try a seven-course gourmet meal of dishes you have never tried.  This is the perfect time to show off your go-to recipes.  You will have an easier time shopping and cooking.  The other thing to consider is any dietary restrictions for you guests.  It is simpler to provide delicious foods that don’t need a lot of complicated preparation, or any that need to be kept warm in the oven or cold in the refrigerator, and replenished constantly.

Photo credit: Skånska Matupplevelser

Photo credit: Skånska Matupplevelser

How to simplify the food at your next party

One way to simplify is to have a limited selection of drinks.  Serve just sort drinks and wine, or beer.  Have a signature cocktail.  You can show a few people how to make it, then let everyone mix their own, or make a pitcher full, and walk away to enjoy your guests.

Resources for great wines at reasonable prices.

Resources for choosing beer

Photo credit:

Photo credit:

Resources for cocktails

Resources for calculating how much to buy for your party

    • Evite has a drinks calculator
    • Better Homes and Gardens has help for planning all of your party’s beverages
    • has advice for planning a cocktail party

A few other party planning resources


Have a great Holiday season, and many happy parties!

Don’t forget my invitation.




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Posted on Nov 8, 2013 in How to simplify, Resources

Simplify Your Holidays With Gifts That Are Not Stuff


The Holidays can be a dilemma if you are trying live a simple life.  How do we reduce our focus on material possessions and spend time and energy building a more meaningful life this time of year?  First, it seems that the shopping season comes earlier each year.  The time we set aside for our families are now becoming specified as shopping days.  You can reduce this stress and purchase gifts online, and you are not limited to just gift cards, toys and other things that add to clutter.

How can we show our family and friends that we care without adding stress to our lives, and theirs?  The classic answer is to give on their behalf to a charity. If you want to give a gift to them instead of giving a gift for them, there are still a lot of choices.

You can find services online to design or create wonderful gifts.

  • Commission a drawing of a cartoon character in any style for your friend
  • Have a love poem written, or a song performed (write one yourself and have it written in calligraphy)
  • Record a white board or stop motion video and deliver a message
  • Have a sketch or caricature drawn of them, their children or their pet
  • Have a video game or app with them as a character
  • Have their horoscope drawn up

These can be competitive and professional (99designs, etsy) or simple and inexpensive (fiverr).


This is a nice way to spend some time with the person you are giving to.  You can give something as simple as a card with a note promising the recipient with a trip or ticket, you can find a picture or brochure for the event and wrap it up. If you are giving the gift, but not participating in the event yourself, buy tickets and wrap them up as a gift. There will be a box to unwrap, and they will never guess this.

  • Theater
  • Concert
  • Sporting event
  • Sport participation (Ice time, climbing gym, trampoline park)
  • Movie (blockbuster, chick flick or film festival)
  • Museum exhibits
  • Zoo
  • Water park
  • Lift tickets
  • Tee time


Who doesn’t love to know that they are part of something great? Memberships give people a sense of pride and connection to something that is meaningful to them.  As a bonus, memberships often give free admission all year, discounts for services and priority access to events.

  • Museums
  • Zoo
  • Public TV or radio
  • Conservation
  • Service organization


This can make someone’s dreams come true, or it can be a burden. Make sure your message is “I want you to have time to do the things you love” rather than “you could lose a few pounds!”  You can give lessons together to spend some time doing something you both love, or you could give them some time for themselves following their own dream.

  • Art (drawing, painting, pottery, glass blowing)
  • Sports (Tennis, golf, swimming, archery, fencing, race car driving)
  • Music
  • Personal trainer
  • Cooking (choose something fun or exotic, or something they have always wanted to learn, like decorating cakes)


Everyone likes food, and there is a special food gift for everyone, regardless of their diet or location.  You can make them yourself, use a kit, or buy them.  This can be nice at a time of year that everyone is short on time and planning a lot of dinner celebrations.

  • baked goods, candy or cake, baking kits
  • snack basket, care package, pet treats
  • jams, jellies, pickles
  • home-made liqueurs
  • Coffee, wine, tea

If you can’t make them yourself, get them at the farmer’s market or local farm stand.


This could be simple, like lunch or dinner.  But maybe something different:

  • Brunch
  • Drinks in a fancy wine bar
  • Tea and finger sandwiches
  • Tour of local food trucks

Something cozy and warm or fancy and special.  You can give a gift card, or make it a date and take them yourself.  Make sure it is a special gift, not just your regular Friday night pizza!


You can reduce their stress and give them more time to enjoy by reducing their household chores all year.

  • Gardening
  • Lawn care
  • House cleaning
  • Shoveling or plowing snow

If you are promising to do these yourself, make sure you can live up to the commitment!  Don’t leave them snowed in when you are on your winter holidays!


You can give to a charity that is meaningful to the gift-ee.  Here are some that might make them happy.  Here are some resources that allow you to find charities by topic (here and here).  There are also sites that rate charities for efficiency (here and here).  You can make it local, or change the world.  Remember to choose to feed the recipient’s dreams, not yours.

  • Animal shelters, ASPCA, PETA, Greenpeace, your local zoo or your favorite animal rescue (here is mine: Greyhound Pets of America).  Maybe instead of money, you could drop off a couple of bags of food, kitty litter or collars to a local shelter.
  • Museums, dance company, after school art programs, mural projects, open studio programs
  • Public radio, symphony, opera company, Donate an instrument to a public school
  • Soup kitchen, food shelf

You can combine charities with action by volunteering to participate with the recipient in an event for charity. Make the arrangements and pay the entrance fees, of necessary.  Pack a snack and work out parking for them.  Make it for them and for the charity.

  • Race or walk (do the walk or help out with the event)
  • Religious group or mission
  • After school activities group like Boys and Girls Club, Girls Inc, Boy or Girl Scouts
  • Senior centers
  • Habitat for Humanity building event
  • Beach, park or community cleanup
  • Food kitchen or food shelf event
  • Care package preparation for those serving in armed services or missions abroad

Plan ahead to give, so you can get the thank-you note to wrap up for the recipient.  Some charities even have special cards you can

I hope you have a lovely holiday season this year.

Any ideas?  Add them in the comments!

Update:  Some ideas for simplifying your holiday parties and in this new post. Enjoy!


Photo credit: asenat29
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Posted on Oct 28, 2013 in How to simplify, Resources

Simplify your life: don’t waste

Photo credit: PAVDW

Photo credit: PAVDW

I spent the evening tonight at a party to celebrate the anniversary of a local restaurant.  Not only were the owners and staff there, but the farmers that provide the food as well.  It was not a fancy restaurant that serves miniature zucchini and  beef from cattle named after the owners, and massaged daily with almond oil while gentle flute music plays.  The ingredients were pretty simple, simply prepared, and mostly vegetarian.

With the respect for the food and those that grow it that the owners showed in their menu, I was surprised to see them in a video presentation, smashing squashes and pumpkins on the farm with their kids.  I guess they were not good enough to serve in the restaurant?  Maybe those squashes were going straight to a pig’s feeding trough?  Maybe they were collecting the seeds for next year’s crop?

That video, along with the expensive groceries I bought for yesterday’s post made me think about something I was taught as a child.

Don’t waste food.

I have always thought that this rule brings unnecessary guilt about eating.  I know the feeling of opening the fridge when it is time to pack my lunch, and stealthily taking the strawberry yogurt from yesterday’s trip to the store when there is still a honey/vanilla one from last week.  Maybe it will turn into a flavor I like better if I ignore it long enough.

So, if I spend more money on food that is fresher, less processed and grown on this continent, I will think more carefully about wasting less.  Buy only what I need and using it, even if I have to make biscuits out of that yogurt.

Need a recipe to use up what you have?

You can search for recipes by ingredients here and here.

Any advice on how to waste less food?


Photo credit: Mr. T in DC

Photo credit: Mr. T in DC

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Posted on Oct 23, 2013 in Inspiration, Resources

Coming Clean: A Memoir


One of the things that is clear from reading Kimberly Rae Miller’s Memoir Coming Clean, is that her life is a combination of embracing and rejecting her parents’ lives.  She spent her childhood living with her father, a described hoarder of collected junk and papers of all kinds, and her mother, a habitual TV shopping network shopper.  While her father withdrew to immerse himself in his paper world and radio news, her disabled mother purchased a constant stream of things from shopping networks that were never opened, let alone used.  While she never described her mother as a hoarder, it is clear that both contributed to her desire to hide the reality of her life to her friends and colleagues.

“…it didn’t matter where I was or who I pretended to be.  I would always be the girl who grew up in garbage.”

As a successful writer and comedienne, she looks back on her life with her parents, and her history of taking responsibility for cleaning her parents homes; partly to protect them from the world’s response to their lifestyle, and partly out of concern that their collection could result in fire, flood, infestation or unseen squatters, all of which had happened before.

In her own home, she cleaned constantly, worried about infestations of fleas and bedbugs.

” …convinced that no matter how much dusting, mopping, and sweeping I do, I will never really be clean enough.”

Her mother had to spend much of her days in bed, described her father:  “This is how he copes with stress, he checks out.”  Her father asks “How did I raise such a neat freak?” and Kim reflects that “He really did see it that way–that he had some stuff laying around and I was a pedantic minimalist.”

Kim coped first by studying and copying the behavior of “normal people”, once attempting suicide, and later by over-cleaning and purging possessions in her own space.  In therapy and with help from her friends, she discovers that her family is not unique, and finds her way to a life she can live without shame.

But every person and each family have their secrets.  It seems that opening the drapes and letting the light shine on them make them less shameful.  This book is as much about loving our families even with their faults as much as it is about her experience with hoarding.  Do we all expect others to judge us for what we don’t like about ourselves? I found it a quick read, and it made me reflect on my own life from a new perspective even if the story is different.

That is what we look for in a memoir.  I recommend it.


 Photo credit: JasonParis
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