THE LIFE-CHANGING MAGIC OF TIDYING UP

goat IIThe Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up
By Marie Kondo

I love this little book. And I’d recommend it to the tidiest and un-tidiest among you. Whether you become a true convert to the KonMari Method or not, I think there’s a little something for everyone in Marie Kondo’s philosophy.

Becoming a KonMari acolyte was easy for me because I agree with her primary premise: clutter is distracting. I’ll even go so far as to say I find clutter depressing. It saps my energy and steals my focus. Marie has a simple solution for this: only keep the things that spark joy.

Now, I’ll warn you, Marie has a whole system for how to go about doing this and what she’s recommending is pretty intense, even for me. One category at a time, Marie wants you to pull together every item throughout your house that falls into a particular category (for instance, tops) and place every sweater and shirt you own on the floor. Then, pick up each top individually and consider, “does this shirt spark joy?” If it does not, you should discard it. Marie wants you to do this with every item in your house until you are left with only the things that spark joy in you. As you can imagine, many of her private clients end up parting with a good 50% of their possessions this way. Only after you have completed the discarding part of the project are you to consider where you will store the items you’ve decided to keep.

As someone who’s moved a lot over the past few years, I’ve been using a variation on Marie’s system for a while, the conscious criteria being, “Is this item worth the effort to pack, unpack and pay someone to transport?” So while I don’t necessarily have a lot of possessions at this point, Marie had some very interesting suggestions for me regarding folding (yes people, I said folding) and my elaborate storage systems (bottom line: I don’t need them, fancy storage systems are for hoarders with resources).

But here’s what I really want to emphasize to those of you whose finger is hovering over the mouse, a half-click away from shutting down any more references to the perfect fold or drawer dividers. Even if you don’t follow Marie’s systems to a T (no pun intended), she has some valuable insight to offer. By putting our house in order, we clear the physical clutter and the mental clutter lifts as well. Sometimes a lack of distraction forces us to face things we’d rather avoid, but it can also allow us to find focus and clarity. And through her particular method, Marie’s clients find that they have strengthened their decision-making skills. In some cases, this has led to greater professional success and even improved health.

Beyond these quantitative measures, I liked what Marie had to say about gratitude, letting go, learning to live without, and balance. And it is on this last note that she truly won me over because, I have to admit, by the end of the book I was starting to get a little concerned that maybe Marie was going just a little overboard with this whole tidying thing. But then I came across her final message, in which she stresses that her obsession with helping others tidy is really about helping them move to the next stage of their lives. “Your real life begins after putting your house in order,” says Marie.

What do you think? Is this just the latest craze of a privileged class that has time to consider what household items spark joy in their hearts or is Marie on to something here?

Note From The Land That Invented Curbside Recycling: While my adoration for Marie burns bright, during the reading of this book, I did grow increasingly concerned about the lack of references to donating, recycling and composting discarded items. From what I can gather, I think Marie is pretty much fine with people tossing half their worldly possessions into the landfill. Please consider responsible disposal options if you decide to follow Marie’s advice.

goat I

 

THE POWER OF HABIT

habit

The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business
by Charles Duhigg

After being completely devastated by We Are Not Ourselves, I needed a break from drama for a while, so I picked up Supportive Husband’s copy of The Power of Habit. Even though it’s something he’s been reading for work (and much of it focuses on how business uses information about human habits), I figured this book would be self-helpy enough to feed all those aspirational cravings that tend to pop up around the first of the year. (Note: the following turned out to be more of a summary than anything else, but you may still find it interesting)

According to Charles Duhigg, our brains create habits (and many of them!) in the form of a habit loop that satisfies a particular need. A good example is snacking. Perhaps you get peckish around 3pm everyday. With little conscious thought, you may get up from your desk around this time each afternoon and wander down to the cafeteria for an afternoon nosh. If you want to stop this habit loop, Duhigg says that first you have to figure out if it is really hunger cueing you to snack or if it’s something else. Often people discover it’s actually boredom, in which case, wandering over to a co-worker’s desk for a quick 10-minute chat may carry the same reward as that doughnut (I know, hard to believe).

And so we arrive at the discussion of willpower, a trait most of us probably consider a skill. Some people have a lot of willpower, others just don’t – right? Well, it turns out that willpower is actually more like a muscle, so when we exercise it, it grows stronger.

Duhigg points to a research study that put two dozen self-professed couch potatoes on an exercise program that increased in intensity each week. As the program wore on, the researchers found that the participants were pushing themselves harder and harder at the gym, using increased willpower each time they worked out. But what’s particularly interesting is how this increased level of willpower impacted other parts of their lives: their cigarette, alcohol, caffeine and junk food consumption all went down, they did more homework and less TV watching. Great outcomes, though as you can imagine, the researchers wanted to make sure that the effects they were seeing correlated with overall willpower, not just physical activity.

So they enrolled a different group of people in a second study involving money management. They gave participants savings goals and instructed them to avoid luxury spending, including dining out and entertainment. They also had to keep a log of their expenses. This is pretty fascinating: as the participants became more disciplined about enacting these habits, they also experienced the same benefits as the exercise group, which included healthier living and better work habits. “As people strengthened their willpower muscles in one part of their lives … that strength spilled over into what they ate or how hard they worked.”

That said, like our body’s muscles, our willpower muscle gets fatigued and needs recovery time. If we have a particularly challenging day at work, it’s going to be harder to go on that run when we get home. On a broader scale is the issue of autonomy, which is crucial for willpower. For when people don’t feel they have control over their lives, their willpower isn’t as strong, no matter what they are trying to do.

Now that my own willpower has been renewed (kind of, this post wasn’t very creative), I’ll be back with a fiction selection soon, courtesy of this blog’s original patron, my dad.

 

THRIVE

THRIVE
by Arianna Huffington

For those of you who know my father, you probably know this: the man can shop. If you’ve ever paid me a compliment on an item of clothing, a handbag, or perhaps a houseware, most likely my response to you was, “My Dad gave it to me.”

And so it was delightful but not surprising when a package arrived in my mailbox a few weeks ago from my father. Inside: a copy of Thrive by the articulate and well-heeled Arianna Huffington. I couldn’t help giggling – Arianna is just the kind of lady my dad would champion.

Like the last book I wrote about here, Thrive wasn’t at the top of my to-read list, but as I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to appreciate that in addition to his extraordinary taste and procurement skills, my dad may have a good suggestion now and again. (Let the record state that he has been telling me to start a blog about books for years) So I gave in to the charms of Arianna.

Here are the things that she wants us all (but especially women) to do:

Sleep
Meditate
Practice Yoga
Stand Instead of Sit
Remember We’re All Going to Die
Volunteer

Arianna’s main point is that our culture defines success in terms of money and power but these values don’t lead to “a successful life by any sane definition of success.” She has a nice metaphor where she compares money and power to a two-legged stool that may work temporarily, but will eventually topple without a third leg. Her solution (or, third stool leg, if you will) is a “Third Metric” which (bear with me) has four pillars: well-being, wisdom, wonder and giving.

I was surprised that a smooth-talker like Arianna couldn’t have come up with a cleaner way to organize her plan – the four pillars of a Third Metric was a little trippy for me – but nonetheless, she makes a reasonable point and has a lot of good examples and evidence to back it up. For example, I found it particularly compelling that she cites the Exxon Valdez spill, the Challenger explosion, and the accidents at Chernobyl and Three Mile Island as all being at least partially the result of sleep deprivation.

But here’s where books like Thrive bug me. One, they really don’t need to be full-length books. This one evolved from a commencement speech that Huffington gave at Smith last year and the message probably worked perfectly in that format. Her common sense propositions had me after the first example or two; I didn’t need twenty. Two, a message that resonates with the graduating class at Smith doesn’t necessarily resonate with larger swaths of the country. While I noted a couple spots where Arianna tries to offer inexpensive and/or quick ways to follow her suggestions, I couldn’t help but cringe a little at how very “Upper” the whole thing sounded. I mean, it’s pretty easy for someone who already has all the money and power she needs to tell the rest of us how much yoga we should be doing.

I’ll leave you with this. On her recent book tour, Arianna visited the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco and was interviewed by Sheryl Sandberg, fellow mogul-turned-advice-author. A woman in the audience asked both women if they could honestly say that they would be in the positions they are in today if they’d been following Huffington’s suggestions for a more mindful life every step of the way. While each woman extolled the virtues of all the sleep and meditation they were currently allowing themselves, neither one of them answered the question.