The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up

Monday, August 31, 2015

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up
The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing
By Marie Kondo

I’ve always loved organizing, but I also tend to be a bit of a pack rat. I get sentimentally attached to old t-shirts and concert ticket stubs. Combining those two things can sometimes be interesting, but in recent years I think I’ve gotten better at getting rid of things.

Since getting pregnant and thinking about adding another whole person to our home. I’ve been wondering where on earth we were going to put all their clothes, pack and plays, strollers, etc. For a tiny person, babies sure do need a lot of stuff. I've also been thinking about all the things I need to go through and get rid of. Turning our guest room into a nursery is going to take some effort and the first step is getting rid of stuff. So I dove right in and ended up having a huge garage sale with all the stuff we purged.

(Yard sale with items we purged!)

I’d heard a lot about this book and wanted to check it out before I started my big purge. Kondo’s approach to organization is methodical and merciless. She has a good systems and lots of practical tips which I appreciated. I'll admit that some of what she says didn't resonate with me at all. I do not need to give my socks a rest; I'm still going to fold them. I'm not going to empty my handbag every night. I'm going to dump it by the door and leave all the contents in it and grab it the next day when I leave. But there are other things in her book that I just love.

I thought her system for the order in which you should go through your belongings to get rid of them was very smart. It does seem easier to start with clothes, then books, then papers, and sentimental items. I went through every closet, drawer and cabinet in my house over the course of a couple weekends. I got rid of tons of told paperwork, clothes, books, outdated electronics, shoes, and more.

(The guest room closet, full of my clothes, before)

(The guest room closet after. Half of it will be filled with baby things.)

One of the most helpful things she said was that certain things have fulfilled their purpose even if you’ve only worn them once. I tend to feel like I have to get more use out of an item in order to make it worth it. Even if it’s a bridesmaids dress or a top that I hate, I hang on to it because it seems wasteful to only wear it once. I felt like her philosophy gave me the freedom to let those items go. She said that maybe that items purpose was to teach you that a particular style doesn’t look good on you. Once you realize that you don’t have to keep the item, which you never wear, in the hopes that you’ll one day get more use out of it.

(Before the yard sale was set up)

BOTTOM LINE: A useful read and one that definitely inspired me to dig deeper into my closet and keep filling those Goodwill boxes.

“Keep only those things that speak to your heart. Then take the plunge and discard all the rest. By doing this, you can reset your life and embark on a new lifestyle.”

“I recommend you dispose of anything that does not fall into one of three categories: currently in use, needed for a limited period of time, or must be kept indefinitely.”

Love and Freindship

Friday, August 28, 2015

Love and Freindship
by Jane Austen

At this point I’ve read and reread all of Austen’s novels. Each time I dive into her work I discover new things to reflect upon. This was my first foray into her juvenilia and I was surprised to find her sharp wit and sense of humor were already developed. She clearly improved her character and plot development with age, but these early works still have her tone.

I’d already read Lady Susan, which is included her, but the rest was new to me. I have to say the Penguin Clothbound Classics edition was excellent. The introduction includes information about the pieces in the book and Austen’s life, which provides context and depth.

"A remarkable feature of the juvenilia is its ability to subvert limitations imposed on young women, especially in the field of education."

Each of the tales focuses more on a single plot point than on character development. There's the girl who accidentally gotten engaged to two different men, and then commits suicide because she felt so bad. Another flirts at a ball and is scandalized. There are also quite a few glimpses of her later novels. In "From a Young Lady crossed in Love to her freind" we meet a young woman who is overwhelmed with heartbreak when she is betrayed by a man named Willoughby, just like Sense and Sensibility.

Austen’s sense of humor is particularly obvious in “The History of England”. She declares it is written by "a partial, prejudiced, and ignorant Historian". It includes lines like…

"During his reign, Lord Cobham was burnt alive, but I forget what for."

Her dedications at the beginning of each story became one of my favorite parts of the book. They’re intentionally overly serious and very amusing.

BOTTOM LINE: Austen’s juvenilia is playful and fun, but it also shows the promise of the writer that she will become. I loved having the chance to learn more about one of my favorite authors through her early work. A must for any true Austen fan!

Wordless Wednesday: Lauterbrunnen

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Lauterbrunnen, Switzerland
Wordless Wednesday
Photo by me.

Nonfiction Mini Reviews

Monday, August 24, 2015

Bad Feminist 
by Roxane Gay 

I might be the last person to read this collection of essays but I got to say, all the reviews I read about it did not make it sound appealing. I got the impression that it was a head-shaking, staring-down-your-nose-at-someone book about what we were all doing wrong as feminist. I was so far off! Now that’s not to say that the book is all humorous. Gay tackles some incredibly tough issues. She talks about racism in pop culture, birth control, gang rape, etc., but she does so in a very accessible way. 

The author’s essays cover everything from her love of Sweet Valley High books to her scrabble tournament skills. She's funny and witty and she is brutally honest about herself. This is not a book about what everyone else is doing wrong as a feminist. It's a book about her, what she likes and doesn't like and the issues she feels passionate about. I really enjoyed it. 

BOTTOM LINE: A wonderful collection of essays! I’m looking forward to trying her novel “An Untamed State” though I’ve heard it’s much darker.

Five Days in London, May 1940 
by John Lukacs 

The title pretty much tells you what you’re getting with this one. Lukacs drilled into a short time frame after Winston Churchill became prime minister and some of his cabinet members wanted avoid war with Hitler at all costs. The subject matter is interesting, but his writing style is a bit stale. It feels a lot like he’s defending his dissertation instead of just writing a book. He keeps circling back on a point and explaining why he made it, which was distracting. The actually history was interesting, but the writing style didn’t work for me. 

He would cite a letter or speech word-for-word as if he’s trying to prove that the point he was making was based on fact. If I’m reading nonfiction books on a historical event I tend to trust that the author has done their research. There’s also usually a biography full of the cited works at the end of the book that people can check if they want to. 

BOTTOM LINE: I won’t be searching out any more work by this author, but I enjoyed learning more about this short window in history. It was interesting to see how much can hinge upon what seems like a small decision.  

The Ghost Map 
The Story of London's Most Terrifying Epidemic--and How It Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World 
by Steven Johnson 


Johnson tells the story of the massive Cholera outbreak in England in the 1850s. He traces its impact on society and the lasting impacts that still resonate today. He discusses the contaminated water sources that caused so many problems and made frequent reference to Dickens novels that were written around the same time. 

One point the author made that I did find fascinating was his conclusion about modern day society’s alcohol tolerance. He says our population went through a “genetic bottleneck” and many of us are descended from people who can tolerate alcohol, because those are the people who survived the bad plague outbreaks in Europe. Native Americans and Aborigines’ descendants in Australia on the other hand were never forced to go through that form of survival and tend to have a higher tendency towards alcoholism. It’s something I never considered, but it’s an interesting conclusion. 

BOTTOM LINE: The book is impeccably well researched, but not too readable. It had a hard time keeping my attention. Skip it unless disease outbreak, medical research, etc. are of particular interest to you.

I Heart LibraryThing

Friday, August 21, 2015

In 2006 my friend emailed me about this new website, LibraryThing. A little while later I was signed up for a lifetime membership and I haven’t looked back. I catalogue ALL of my books here. I particularly use it to track my reading each year and as a record of what I own. Every time I purge books from my home library I updated my LT profile to note that I don’t own that book anymore. This is incredibly helpful when I’m in a used bookstore trying to figure out if I already own a copy of something (I usually do). 

I’ve tried Goodreads and a few others, but none of them work well for me. I’m on Goodreads, but I hate that I get bombed with author requests all the time. LT keeps a tight rein on that. I also wish Goodreads allowed you to do half-star ratings, but no such luck. If you’ve ever thought about switching they even have a page to help you out here.

I swear I'm not getting anything to plug LibraryThing, I just love the site and am always surprised when fellow readers haven't heard of it. They have done a great job creating a community for discussing books. I love the tagging feature, which allows you to catalogue your books however you want. In about two seconds I can see how many books I read each year since 2006. I can see what books I own, which ones are on my kindle, and what children’s books I have. 

Here's my Library Thing profile. Where do you all track your reading?

Wordless Wednesday: Infinity Room

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

The Infinity Room at the House on the Rock
Wordless Wednesday
Photo by me.


Monday, August 17, 2015

I love participating in Austen in August each year. Jane Austen is one of my favorite authors and I never tire of returning to her work. This year I reread Emma.

by Jane Austen

When I read through Austen’s main six novels, this one was the last one I read. It was 2006 and after reading Persuasion and Pride & Prejudice, Emma did not become my new favorite. Rereading it, as always, has given me a greater appreciation for the book and for what Austen was able to do with the character.
Oh Emma, you are so self-involved and sure of yourself. I loved this one so much more the second time around. The first time I just had such a hard time liking Emma. That’s not a bad thing; in fact in this case it means there is a lot more room for the character to evolve.

Emma is treated like the mature woman of the house because her older sister is married and her mother past away. But in so many ways Emma is still a young, immature girl. She thinks she’s always right and that her pleasure is the most important factor in most situations. So many of her decisions and matchmaking choices are based on what she wants and who she wants her friends to marry. She was raised in environment where she always got what she wanted and that selfishness continues to permeate in her 20s.

I adore the fact that Mr. Knightley is the only one who will call Emma on her BS. While everyone else is fawning over her he is challenging her to be a better person and think about her actions and influence on others. In my opinion, that’s the kind of partner every person needs. Mr. Knightley isn’t charming or entertaining, but he is the best kind of man. He lets his actions speak for themselves and is always looking out for the people around him. I’ve noticed that in Austen’s novels she has a lot more respect for men like this (Darcy, Knightley, Ferrars) than she does for those that immediately charm (Willoughby, Wickham, Crawford).

Speaking of the charmers, Frank Churchill is such a jerk. As I reread the book, knowing how it was going to end, I was so frustrated by his behavior. The way he manipulate situations and takes advantage of people’s good nature is horrible. I also thought it was interesting that Mr. Elton is often shown as the villain or at least someone you don't end up liking, but he really didn’t do anything wrong. He’s not a character I particularly like and his choice of a spouse is abominable, but I think most men would've thought Emma was interested in them based on her actions.

BOTTOM LINE: It’s Austen, so it’s delightful. I definitely have a great appreciation for this book now and I loved Knightley even more this time around. I think that Austen did a wonderful job showing character growth in this novel, second only to Anne’s in Persuasion.

“One half of the world cannot understand the pleasures of the other.”

“I may have lost my heart, but not my self-control. ”

“I cannot make speeches, Emma...If I loved you less, I might be able to talk about it more. But you know what I am. You hear nothing but truth from me. I have blamed you, and lectured you, and you have borne it as no other woman in England would have borne it.”

I think of all the Austen novels, Emma has led to some of the greatest film versions. Clueless is just amazing, Emma Approved actually made me appreciate the novel even more, and the 2009 miniseries was just beautifully done.