Tag Archives: Gretchen Rubin

Tidying Up Not So Life-Changing

magicEvery January, women everywhere go Elfa-mad, visiting the Container Store to find new ways to organize happiness into their lives.  “If only I had a place for everything, and everything in its place, how magic that would be!” they say.  But Marie Kondo, author of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, says no, don’t organize – tidy.  And by tidy, she means throw away.

And telling you how to tidy is what Ms. Kondo does.  At length.  204 pages worth.  And by the time I’ve read the word “tidy” for the 450 millionth time (estimated, I didn’t actually count), it has entered the realm where a word goes when you’ve said it so often it doesn’t make sense.

She instructs you in how to change your life through tidying with a kind of mystical, new age feel.  You must place all your clothing on the floor.  The clothes that “spark joy” will call out to you, and beg to be arranged by weight and type in the closet (they must “rise to the right”).  Sweaters, t-shirts, undies… the all want to be folded into little squares and arranged vertically in drawers.  Stacking them crushes the spirit out of the ones on the bottom.  And balling your socks stresses them out.  If it doesn’t spark joy, out it goes.

Ditto for books.  Put’em on the floor.  The books that you need to keep (those that spark joy, of course) will radiate a kind of gravitational pull when you put your hand on the cover.  Definitely DO NOT open the book or read any part of it.  That will only confuse you.  If there are words that call to you – what the heck, yank those pages out of the book and put them in a clear plastic file!  Most people can get a whole library worth of books onto a single shelf through ruthless culling.

Papers are also so much flotsam on the sea of life.  Toss out those manuals, throw away the credit card bills.  If you’ve touched it once, you’ve dealt with it.  No putting papers in a drawer to languish, forgotten.  (I actually agree with Marie Kondo on her approach to papers.  Out with it all!)

How did I feel after finishing this book?  Sad.  Sad and a little depressed.  Hardly any of my stuff sparks joy.  If I only wore clothes that sparked joy I’d be naked most of the time.  Not that that is particularly joyful, either.  It’s kind of chilly and it scares the dogs.  If I only kept the best of the best books, I’d miss out on the fun of lending books to other people, or even just re-reading all the Ian Rankin books in order.  Yes, I really do that.  Heck, even my husband doesn’t reliably spark joy.  Out he goes!

happinessMuch more helpful was Gretchen Rubin’s approach in The Happiness Project.  Cleaning and organizing was just one chapter in that book, and Gretchen’s cheery attitude and incorporation of what people actually do and experience really struck a chord with me.  I looked back to see my thoughts when I read her book, and you can see those posts here.  I’ve ended up recommending The Happiness Project to many people.

Bottom line:  If The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up is calling to you, hover your hand over the cover. If it still  calls your name, read the first chapter.  If there are sparks of joy, keep reading.  If not, switch over to The Happiness Project, chapter one.





Autumn’s here and I’m hankering for a cookbook

What is it about fall?  I went to the farmer’s market this morning, and the air was fresh and a little damp, the market was bustling with the parents of pink-cheeked children and heaps of vegetables and fruits and baskets of fall flowers.  I eyed all the produce and got a yen to cook some up… ah, if only knew how to do more than steam, boil and bake!  A quart bucket of honeycrisp apples and four tomatoes (not the heirloom $5.50/lb kind, but the ordinary ones that I could grow myself if I bothered) later, I’m back at home picking through old posts for the blogs I follow and The Tipsy Baker sends me to another site where there are dozens of cookbook recommendations.

They all look great (except for that one on offal).  I’m especially a sucker for books that mix recipes with reminiscence, such as Teaching Dad to Cook Flapjack.

Alas, I know myself.  I have a half a dozen cookbooks already, and the only one I really use is The Joy of Cooking.  It’s been around for 75 years now, and it’s the cookbook my mom had in our kitchen when I was growing up.  It has very cook-able recipes.  I usually recognize all the ingredients, and most recipes don’t have dozens of ingredients at 1/8 of a cup of this or a teaspoon of that.  Plus it’s very handy for reminding me how to do things I don’t do very often, such as make roast beef or cook a turkey.  And the baking section is full of good, basic stuff you want to eat: pumpkin bread.  Date bars.

So I will sate my cookbook ferver with a copy of this month’s Cooking Light.  At less than $5, I may only find one recipe I’d really want to make, but it does have interesting lifestyle-type articles and it won’t end up taking up space on my already-crowded bookshelves.

This kind of “downsizing” of desire is something Gretchen Rubin, in her book The Happiness Project, talks a bit about.  It’s all about doing what really makes you happy versus what you imagine some aspirational version of you would find fulfilling.  So while I imagine that I’d love to try a whole bunch of new recipes, the opportunity cost is just too great.  So I’ll downsize the dream and look for a low-points version of apple crumble.  Fun to make and even better to eat, accompanied by a cup of coffee, a library book and pugs.

Happiness is a warm puppy

I’ve been keeping up with my Happiness Project follow-up.  You might recall that I wrote a post about Gretchen Rubin’s book, wherein she devoted a year to becoming happy.  Along the way she assembled a series of things she focused on, month by month, to achieve greater happiness.  Any book that can put a spiritual journey, marriage improvement, and decluttering your house together in a coherent whole that actually means something relevant to you, personally, is a pretty big accomplishment.

Of course, it is one of the many books/cultural phenomena which encourage people to believe that if they do something novel for a year, they’ll get rich and famous.  Thus, following Oprah’s advice for a year.  Cooking ala Julia Child for a year.  Doing without buying anything for a year.  I’m wracking my brain for what I can do for a year… so far I’ve come up with:  work at the ADA for a year!  Walk dogs daily for a year!  See a movie every weekend for a year!  And yet, no fortune or fame.

Someone else who was struck by this is Dave Holmes.  He actually has a blog devoted to the topic called My Year of Everything.  He’s reading one of those books a week and blogging about them, plus other life events.  He’s currently reading Sweater Quest: My Year of Knitting Dangerously.  This is a brave man.

Anyway, the point to this blog entry is that I also follow Gretchen Rubin’s Happiness Project blog and today’s post was about reading books that make you happy.  Starting to think about books that have made me happy reminded me of one of my earliest pleasures, which was reading Peanuts in the newspaper.  It’s not as funny now to me as it was when I was a kid, but my brother and I had tons of Peanuts books.  And I do still agree that a warm puppy greatly increases happiness.

The last book I read that gave me a deep feeling of satisfaction from reading it was the third book in the Stieg Larsson Girl series, Girl who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest.  It was extremely exactly what it should be.  But I’m on the prowl for another one, preferably not a mystery.  Perhaps something heartwarming in the Elizabeth Berg vein.  Suggestions welcome.

The Happiness Project taps deep desires

Who doesn’t want to be happy?

And, in particular, in today’s multi-tasking, strive-for-success, be-better-than-ever-at-everything world, who isn’t looking for ways to focus on the things that bring satisfaction while jettisoning the dissatisfiers?  Gretchen Rubin spends a year exploring one theme a month.  Whether you find your happiness by living a more orderly life (as one of the tactics outlined in January, when the theme is “Boost Energy”) or by examining your habits, good and bad (October, “Pay Attention”), there is bound to be a lot to relate to in The Happiness Project.

The book began with a blog (as so many seem to do these days, whether you’re living a year with Oprah or cooking your way through Julia Child) and still has a very chatty, yet mesmerizing web site for those people for whom the book is just not enough.  You can dip in and out by topic or just sample chronologically – she posts twice a week so there’s always a new thought.  Gretchen has an engaging voice and is appropriately self-deprecating and open about her personal foibles.

Still not enough?  Visit The Happiness Project Toolbox and start your own happiness project.  I admit I started an account.  Like Gretchen, I love plans and charts – few things give me a sense of satisfaction more than viewing the little green dots I placed on my calendar for every day in which I kept to my exercise plan.  How can you have 29 green circles on your calendar and not haul your sorry heinie out for a jog in order to get that 30th dot?  So setting goals, identifying steps, crossing things off… all to achieve happiness!  What could be more happy-making?

Somewhat off-putting – in order to use the tools provided, much of the information you put up doesn’t really belong to you anymore.  So if you’re hoping to download a template, it really doesn’t work that way.  It’s more like Facebook. Picking the privacy settings for everything associated with the toolbox was too overwhelming for me right now.  Maybe I’m too busy to be happy?  Or can’t stick to one thing long enough?

The book itself is well worth the time, and while I got it from the library, I do intend to buy it (perhaps with my 40% off Borders coupon) because I know I will want to refer to it now and then.    I enjoyed Gretchen’s 12 commandments:

  1. Be Gretchen.
  2. Let it go.
  3. Act the way I want to feel.
  4. Do it now.
  5. Be polite and be fair.
  6. Enjoy the process.
  7. Spend out.
  8. Identify the problem.
  9. Lighten up.
  10. Do what ought to be done.
  11. No calculation.
  12. There is only love.

Initially enigmatic, these commandments make a lot of sense once they are put in context by the book.  Be Gretchen, for example, is short for “to thine own self be true.”  In other words, you don’t need to remake yourself to be happy.  Don’t force yourself to become something you’re not, thinking this will make you happy.  It won’t.  Be your best you.

Also fun are some of her secrets to adulthood, such as “If you’re not failing, you’re not trying hard enough” and “you don’t have to be good at everything.”  I thought about my own adulthood secrets.  These include:

  • Time spent with a dog on your lap is never wasted.
  • If it makes you feel bad, it’s wrong.
  • Electrical appliances sometimes magically fix themselves, so if it’s broken today, try again tomorrow.
  • If it’s hard to do, it’s probably the right thing.
  • One cookie can’t hurt, but don’t fool yourself, honey.
  • You can change people’s behavior, but you can’t change their personality.
  • Control top pantyhose doesn’t fool anybody.

So explore your own happiness!