Monday, 21 January 2019

Simple Matters: Book Review

Author: Erin Boyle
Subtitle: Living with Less and Ending Up With More
Publisher: Harry N. Abrams, 2015
Length: 192 pages

Goodreads Description:

For anyone looking to declutter, organize, and simplify, author Erin Boyle shares practical guidance and personal insights on small-space living and conscious consumption. At once pragmatic and philosophical, Simple Matters is a nod to the growing consensus that living simply and purposefully is more sustainable not only for the environment, but for our own happiness and well-being, too. Boyle embraces the notion that “living small” is beneficial and accessible to us all—whether we’re renting a tiny apartment or purchasing a three-story house.
 
Filled with personal essays, projects, and helpful advice on how to be inventive and resourceful in a tight space, Simple Matters shows that living simply is about making do with less and ending up with more: more free time, more time with loved ones, more savings, and more things of beauty.


My Review:

I don't always connect with books on organization, decluttering and simple living, but I did connect with this one. What made the difference? 

For one thing, tone. Unlike many others on the subject, this one isn't preachy. While Boyle seems to have her "act together," she admits that it's been a learning process, and the reader's journey to simplicity will be a work in progress as well. We won't always get it right; we'll make mistakes and learn from them. There's no need to beat ourselves over the head; from trial and error we discover what to do (and what not to do) next time.

For another thing, the book itself is a piece of art. One reviewer refers to it as a "coffee table book" and she has a point. Lots of photos complement the text, the paper quality is excellent, and though some might call it colorless overall, there's a simple beauty in that that feels calming and peaceful. Just the sort of environment I personally hope to achieve...eventually. 

Boyle herself lives in a tiny apartment, a space much tinier than my bungalow. To an extent, necessity is the mother of invention. On the other hand, I'm sure there are people in tiny apartments who pack them to the max. The question is, how well are they living? Boyle suggests that doing with less, having more space, leads to a better quality of life. There's less to clean and maintain so you have more time for the people and things you love. That sounds very valid to me. When I look around my home, I am sometimes (often?) frustrated and overwhelmed with all the things I have to  care for. It makes sense that if there were fewer of them, I could devote more hours to my family and to writing, reading, etc. 

I'd have liked to know more about Boyle's upbringing. She doesn't indicate if her practices are things she initially learned at her parents' knees. Certainly it is much easier for people who grew up in more sparse environments to replicate those as adults. She does mention visiting museums with her mother and being captivated by the Puritan style, so there was some early influence that not all of us share. My mother kept a clean home, but like many raised during the Great Depression, she had a hard time getting rid of things that "might be useful someday." And after she returned to post-secondary education as a mature adult, the house became more cluttered with papers and books. Since I am a book-lover myself, the apple doesn't fall far from the tree (to use a well-worn cliche).

Boyle's book has already had some impact on me. If you read my last post, you know I had a measure of success with my powder room Saturday. I even used Boyle's "tests" to determine what to keep and what to let go of: Is it lovely? Is it useful? Do I have more than one of these? 

The next projects I plan to tackle are my closet, dresser and nightstand. I can't promise that I'll always post pictures (my husband wasn't too thrilled with the last set, LOL), but I'll do my best to keep you updated. And I'll keep reading and sharing reviews of books that purport to help.

I recommend this one.

My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars.


Saturday, 19 January 2019

The Powder Room

I spent all day in the powder room today. Does that sound like too much information? LOL

I've been reading Erin Boyle's Simple Matters, which deals with simplifying your life and home so you can enjoy them more. One of the areas she's mentioned is the bathroom, and since it's a small room where one can see almost immediate results, I thought I'd tackle mine today. As you know, one of my goals for this year is to become more organized. 

This isn't our main bathroom obviously, but it probably had just as much in it in terms of odds and sods.

Here are the before (left) and after (right) pictures of the medicine cabinet. Section 1:


Section 2:





Section 3:



I hope you can see an improvement, especially in the middle section! I went through and disposed of any expired items as well as items we hadn't used in a while or were never going to use, and though there's still the occasional duplicate, I think it's a lot better.

This was our shameful bathroom counter:


 And here it is after:



I forgot to take a 'before' shot of under the sink, but trust me, it was worse than this 'after' pic. 







And here we are under the counter beside the sink, before and after.







Even though our powder room is small, we have lots of storage. These are the shelves in the cabinet above the toilet. Before on the left; after on the right. I had to make the pictures smaller to fit side by side. Sorry.





There are three shorter shelves to the left of these, in a cabinet above our built-in laundry hamper. I'm not quite done those with those, but they're underway.

By the way, that built-in hamper was a pleasant surprise when we bought the house, but it sure does fill up fast. I split the rest of the day between laundry, dishes and food breaks.

Also by the way, my husband plans to get rid of the 80s wallpaper one day soon and paint the room. We are not wallpaper people!

I'm sure Erin would have saved a lot less than I have. All I can say is, it's a work in progress and next time I'll probably be even more hard core. 

I'm equally sure this post doesn't meet Jeff Goins' daily writing requirement, but hey, a picture paints a thousand words! :)

Friday, 18 January 2019

Influence (Five-Minute-Friday)

To celebrate the release of Kate Motaung's latest book, today's challenge word is "Influence." For those who aren't familiar with FMF, Kate gives us a word each Friday and we write something around it, then link up to a common blog post. We write for five minutes only, no editing allowed. My five minutes are bookended with the words Begin and End. Today's link-up is here.

Begin.

Just as in Spencer Johnson's book, Out of the Maze, there are thoughts that hold us back and thoughts that move us forward, in life there are influences that are detrimental and those that are beneficial. The trick is to recognize the difference. How much better off would we be if we recognized who had our best interests at heart and who did not?

We've all experienced both types of influencers, the good and the bad. In hindsight, we can see where we slipped up and let the bad ones in, allowed ourselves to go astray, down paths we never meant (or intended) to journey, and ended up somewhere we never wanted to be. Why can't we see this up front? Why do we let ourselves be drawn in and deceived? Are they such good cons? Are we that stupid?

Andy Stanley offers a very good question when it comes to decision-making: Given my past experiences, my present situation, and my future hopes and dreams, what is the wise thing to do? In terms of relationships, we might ask, given my past relationships, my present knowledge, and where I want to go, is this, or this not, a good person to have in my life?

Good friends encourage each other to succeed.

Stop.

That's seven words more than last week's effort; either I'm getting faster on my feet or the topic was easier to write about. The "problem" is, I wasn't done.

I suppose there are any number of reasons we can let a bad influence into our lives. One might be simple loneliness. We don't have many friends, so when someone comes along and shows an interest, we're far too eager to accept without really evaluating whether or not s/he's good for us. We don't even know him or her well enough to be discerning. Sometimes we can even be attracted to a person because s/he seems to get away with bad behaviour. And all of us can probably point to an example of a "good girl" who always falls for the "bad boy." It usually doesn't end well, if ever.

Attractive? Or dangerous?

Then there are people who really are cons, maybe even sociopaths, people who can present themselves one way, to suck you in, and before long you find yourself manipulated like a puppet on a string. You get confused because they can be so nice one day, so awful the next, and you ask, "Which version is the real one? Will the real [insert name], please stand up?" You want to believe the nice portrayal is the true one, but quite often it's not. It can take a while to get untangled from that type of situation because you're a good person and have trouble realizing that not everyone's like you.

I've had good influences in my life and I've had bad ones. And I can testify that the good ones are far better and yield greater rewards: trust, intimacy, encouragement, support, love. You never (or rarely) end up worse off than when they first came alongside.

If I can encourage you to ask one question as you consider a  friendship/influence, it would be the one I posed above and reiterate now: Given my past relationships, my present knowledge, and where I want to go, is this a good person to have in my life? If you don't know the answer right off, take things slowly and get to know the person better before sharing too deeply. You don't have to decide right away. But once you're in a position to determine the nature of his/her influence, don't be afraid to let go of the bad, even if they've been life for a long time. Just walk away. Run if you have to. Don't be afraid to get help.

Thursday, 17 January 2019

Out of the Maze: Book Review


Author: Spencer Johnson
Subtitle: An A-mazing Way to Get Unstuck
Publisher: Portfolio, 2018
Length: 96 pages

Goodreads description:
The posthumous sequel to Who Moved My Cheese?, the classic parable that became a worldwide sensation.

Who Moved My Cheese? offered millions of readers relief for an evergreen problem: unanticipated and unwelcome change. Now its long-awaited sequel digs deeper, to show how readers can adapt their beliefs and achieve better results in any field.
Johnson's theme is that all of our accomplishments are due to our beliefs: whether we're confident or insecure, cynical or positive, open-minded or inflexible. But it's difficult to change your beliefs--and with them, your outcomes. Find out how Hem, Haw, and the other characters from Who Moved My Cheese? deal with this challenge.
 My Review:

I really enjoyed Who Moved My Cheese? (as evidenced by the fact that I own two copies!) So I was curious to see what the author would have to say in this sequel. What had become of Hem, the Littleperson who refused to move on when the Cheese stopped coming? 

Out of the Maze tells Hem's story. As his story begins, Hem is alone, he's angry, and he's very, very hungry. He realizes that if he doesn't find Cheese, things are not going to end well. As much as he hates to admit it, he has to move on and try to find a new source of Cheese. Proceeding through the maze, Hem meets Hope and the two journey together, Hope offering encouragement as Hem begins to learn new ways of thinking. 

Johnson is a master at writing simple fables that capture big ideas and inspire readers. In Who Moved My Cheese? he helped people understand that change is inevitable and that accepting change with a positive attitude is the key to moving forward and being successful. In Out of the Maze his goal is to show us that some beliefs hold us back while others help us move forward. If we are stuck, we need to consider whether or not our current assumptions are true and beneficial. If our thoughts are preventing us from achieving our goals, we need to replace them with new thoughts. New thoughts lead to new actions and new actions lead us to new places, including, hopefully, the place we want to end up.

Since I am needing to get unstuck in terms of my writing habits, I found this little book very timely. I still need to do some thinking about the beliefs I've been holding dear and contemplate what beliefs can replace them. Have you engaged in this type of metacognition? What were the results?

My Rating 4 out of 5 stars

Wednesday, 16 January 2019

Rewards

In Jeff Goins' 500-words a day challenge, Day 3 (get up early), he included this postscript: "Try rewarding yourself with little treats when you finish your 500 words for the day. Withhold certain things (like checking email or taking a shower) as ways of bribing yourself to do the work."

I was thinking about this concept when I came across this post earlier today. In it author Nina Faye Morey asserts that "Writing is definitely hard work and if we don't create some little rewards for ourselves each day, eventually all that hard work will suck all the enjoyment out of it."

She has a point. Writing is a pleasure, but it can also be a struggle. It's especially challenging for a "pantser" (someone who doesn't outline or plan her stories) when she has trouble clearing a hurdle or comes up against a brick wall. 

Morey offers examples of rewards that work for her - things like a cup of hot chocolate, Chai tea or a good book. Incentives, she reminds us, needn't cost the earth. 

So what kinds of things can I use as celebrations for writing achievements?

For mini-successes, like writing a blog post or completing 500 words:
  • Reading a chapter in a book I'm enjoying
  • Listening to a song on my current playlist
  • Writing a note of encouragement to myself or someone else
  • Taking a break for a cup of hot chocolate, coffee or tea
  • Listening to an awesome TED Talk
  • Watching a YouTube video
  • Coloring a page in an adult coloring book
  • Calling a friend whose voice I haven't heard in a while


For larger successes, like completing a short story or longer work, I can:
  • Make it a night on the town! Dinner and a show
  • Get tickets to a concert
  • Invite friends over for a party
  • Throw a book launch
  • Treat myself to a mani-pedicure
  • Get my hair cut at a fancier salon
  • Go away for the weekend and stay at a nice bed-and- breakfast or vintage inn


Nina isn't such a fan of withholding rewards, which she views as a form of self-punishment and disincentive to write. I understand what she's saying, but I also get Goins' view of withholding as a way of enticing yourself. You're not failing to reward, you're just making yourself wait until you've got the job done. If I know, for example that I can't check my e-mail until I've written 500 words, or 250, that's probably an effective bribe. If I know that I'm not allowing myself any beverage but water until I finish that chapter, I'm going to work harder to finish the chapter even if (initially) it's not very good. 

When I started this post, I honestly wasn't sure if I'd be able to come up with very many rewards/bribes. It took some thinking, but I'm pretty pleased with the list I created and wouldn't mind expanding on it.

What are your thoughts on incentives? Got any that work especially well? Please share your ideas in the comments. I do my best to respond!

Tuesday, 15 January 2019

Bucket List


When I first started the 500-word challenge, Jeff’s daily writing prompts weren’t arriving in my inbox in a timely fashion. Most of the time I had my piece already written before I received his e-mail and I did have my own things I wanted to write about.

Today I’m going to go back to his challenge from Day 8 and use his prompt. He says, “Just write a list.”


It’s been a while since I updated my “bucket list,” and since this is still pretty much the beginning of the year and it fills the requirements of the prompt, I thought I’d share my latest version with you. You’re welcome :)

My bucket list includes only efforts that are a) fairly specific, b)can be accomplished in one fell swoop (or almost one fell swoop), and c) are easily checked off when done. In other words, it doesn’t include things like declutter my house and keep it clean and tidy, or build deeper relationships, even though I’m working on those as well (as you know if you’ve been following my posts over the last several days).

I’ve divided them into organized categories:

Career

  •          Publish at least one picture book
  •          Finish my novel and get it published
  •          Enter and win a writing contest
  •          Have a #1 Best Seller (hey, why not dream big??)
  •          Obtain a Master’s, or equivalent, in creative writing
  •          Study under/be mentored by an accomplished (maybe even famous) author
  •          Attend one of the “big” writers’ conferences
  •          Retire from my day job! :)

Spiritual


People
  •         Visit friends who live at a distance, especially, but not limited to, Armita, Catherine, David, Debbie, Libby, and Patty
  •          Find and reconnect with friends from elementary school: Gillian and Susan

Tasks

  •          Finish my son’s baby book
  •          Organize my photos and catch up on my photo albums
  •          Create a book for my son using Shutterfly (I've already done one for my daughter)
  •          Create a scrapbook for both of my kids

Health and Fitness

  •          Lose 5-8 pounds
  •         Take a ballroom dancing class, despite my two left feet
  •          Learn krav maga

Practical

This used to include things like learning how to sew, knit/crochet, make jams/preserves, etc. Now I am older and wiser. There are certain things I am just never likely to undertake. Do you have any suggestions in this category?

Travel

  •          Sweden
  •          United Kingdom (Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland again, but also England and Scotland)
  •          Vancouver Island
  •          Manitoulin Island
  •          Bermuda
  •          Curacao
  •          Chincoteague
  •          Colorado (again)
  •          Tennessee – not just passing through
  •          Texas (because that’s where Libby is)
  •          Drive the US west coast from Washington to southern California
  •          Four Corners (where Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Utah meet) – also visit Canyonlands, Monument Valley, Arches National Park, Canyon de Chelly

What’s on your bucket list?

Monday, 14 January 2019

Relationships, Part 3

You're right; I missed yesterday. I wanted to write, but had several other commitments as well, and when it came to choosing between blogging and catching up on my journal, my journal won out. I had fallen behind over the holidays and as of this morning am still only up to January 9th. Anyway, I feel we all need one day off a week and yesterday was it for me.


So, on to friendships. As someone who has no family locally (they're all a minimum of 45 minutes away, including in-laws), friends are important to me. I have a solid pool of people I'd call acquaintances, but not so many friends. And some of my actual friends are also an hour or more away. Whether they're long-distance or not, all of these relationships require a level of intentionality. Friendships deepen when people spend time together, learning about each other. What are your interests? Your pet peeves? Your goals and dreams? Your beliefs and values? Time has to be set aside for these conversations. But how and when when everyone's time seems to be at such a premium?

Like I said, intentionality is the key. I have one friend with whom I regularly go out for breakfast. Those "dates" are precious, but not really often enough for either of us. This friend is also one of my "Finishing School" partners, so soon we'll be resuming our once-a-week meetings, which will definitely help our friendship grow. 

I also have a book club that meets once a month and as with most such clubs, the discussions go beyond books and delve into our personal lives. Some of these relationships are going deeper as a result of getting to know one another in this group environment. 

Sometimes there's no option but to develop a relationship online and by text. It may not be ideal, but distance and geography are no barrier to true friendship. Some of the people I call my closest friends live very far away and the only ways we sustain our friendship are through Facebook, e-mail and the phone. 

Ugh. I'm not sure this has been a very helpful or enlightening post either for me or for you as a reader. My starting point for the subject of relationships was as a word for the year, expressing my desire to work on and strengthen relationships in 2019. Has anything in today's post been beneficial?

Let me recap and see if I can pull it together. 

  • Friendships are important, whether friends are near or far away
  • Intentionality is key, regularly making time for getting together, or making a point of consistently connecting via technology
  • You can get to know people in group settings and identify like-minded individuals as those to connect with more deeply outside the group
I guess the next step for me is to discern how to best manage my life in order to invest in more face-to-face connection. I started tracking my use of time yesterday, but didn't set the hourly alarm on my phone as intended. I'm off to do that as soon as I publish this post. My goal this week is to see where time's a'wasting. I don't want to waste hours in pointless activities when they could be invested in people. It's people who make our lives richer through the gifts of themselves and their time.