Tag Archives: minimalism

My E-reader Died!

It started so innocently. Multnomah County Library ran an online ad encouraging people to check out an e-book. I decided to try it out, as I had never attempted to use the e-reader I had gotten for free from the breakroom at my office for anything other than free, public domain titles.

Halfway through Marie Kondo’s The Life-changing Magic of Tidying Up, my e-reader wasn’t sparking very much joy. It had randomly died, then apparently forgot I had loaded any books on it at all! When I tried to connect wirelessly to sync up with my Kobo account, the device was stymied.

I had gotten this device for free about a year and a half earlier. It was sitting on a table in the breakroom of my office, and I was drawn in by the cheery red case. In MPub e-books were a hot topic (some of my colleagues even did some actual real-life work with them!) but I was solidly unconvinced that they’d ever be a part of my life. After all, users had already started learning about the down-side of digital rights management when Amazon digitally yanked 1984 from e-readers without notice to their customers. When the e-reader hadn’t been claimed by my next visit to the breakroom, I nabbed it, thinking I could experiment with creating ePUB files of my own. Kobo, after all, was a Canadian company and I knew they didn’t require a proprietary file type like Amazon devices did.

I read one whole book on the device—Anne of Green Gables—long before loading the library book.

Once I started having issues it wasn’t long before I was in an epic back-and-forth with Kobo support techs—one of whom eventually became far more helpful than the others. It took a while, but the helpful tech ultimately decided that the device was done for. Which is what I had suspected weeks before.

Thus ended my e-reader experiment. I did put some effort into procuring another Kobo but it wasn’t too long before I figured out the newer models were far too fancy for my liking. These devices had color screens, some played video, and the cost was far above the budget I was willing to spend on such a thing.

Ultimately I decided that it wasn’t worth the modest utility I got from it—being able to stir a pot and read, or go on a trip and have a variety of titles to read, from Northanger Abbey to the gargantuan Ulysses. Paper will still be my go-to…for now, anyway.


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Less is More: Simple Ways to Be More With Less

Minimalism seems to be a pretty hot topic these days. Films like Affluenza and The Story of Stuff have people thinking about all the stuff society encourages us to covet, leaving us feeling unfulfilled until we can afford that next gadget. As a result of this thinking, many people I know can’t stop talking about tiny houses, barefoot running, or blogs like Zen Habits. Even the Harvard Business Review recently ran an article about minimalism applied to one’s career!

About a year before I moved to Vancouver, BC, I started ruthlessly downsizing my possessions. In the process I started becoming more familiar with the community of minimalist bloggers and their work. Over two years ago, I published a review of Simplicity by Joshua Becker, the writer over at Becoming Minimalist.

Today I’m in a far different place than I was three years ago, but I’ve still been continuing to read the literature. Unclutterer is my favorite practical guide to keeping my stuff under control (check out Unitasker Wednesdays for a laugh!), and Becoming Minimalist exemplifies how an average family of four can live simply without going to extremes.

Another blog I often enjoy is Courtney Carver’s Be More With Less, which focuses on cultivating intentionality in readers. One of my favorite posts is “Immediate Gratification is for Sissies,” which encourages readers to keep their eye on the prize and not compare their progress to anyone but themselves.

This week I had the opportunity to read a review copy of Carver’s ebook Simple Ways to Be More With Less. 

At the beginning of the book I started getting trepidatious. Most of the thoughts seemed extremely simple, and seemed to be addressing an audience that had just discovered minimalism last week. As I read though, I got engrossed. The chapters about dreams and dream-killing gave me much food for thought, and I remained engrossed through the end. After reading the last chapter, I realized the book was progressing to offer something of value for everyone. Content curation can be as important as creation.

Many minimalist bloggers seem to be fond of monetizing their blog content by releasing ebook or print versions of their posts, and this book wasn’t completely free of that tactic. For example, this post about drinking a glass of water first thing in the morning was right in front—albeit slightly enhanced. While I didn’t go searching every chapter to know if it had appeared in blog form first, a quick search of the guest contributors seemed to suggest their words had not appeared on Be More With Less before. In the case of Leo Babauta though, his chapter was about Focus—incidentally, the name of one of his ebooks.

One thing I really like about the better minimalist books, including Simple Ways to Be More With Less, is that they are worth returning to again and again. On first read, the chapter about dream-killing tickled my fancy the most. Perhaps by the end of the year, I’ll return to the chapter about gift giving. The book can meet you where you are at a given point and still offer you something. I’ve had a print copy of Leo Babauta’s The Power of Less for two years now, and  I’ve revisited the book a number of times for a minimalist perspective on specific conundrums.

If you’re new to minimalism and dying to buy your first ebook by a minimalist blogger, this would be a pretty fair choice! If you’re an avid reader of Be More With Less and the other major minimalist blogs, you may discover a couple more voices in here you hadn’t know about before. At any rate—worth a read if you are so inclined.

Thanks to Courtney Carver for the review copy of her book! Find it here: Simple Ways to Be More With Less.

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Why and How I Gave Up My Books

This morning my technology class was discussing libraries and the hot topic (in publishing, anyway) of ebook lending, specifically in relation to the HarperCollins fiasco. Our professor asked the class if anyone used libraries a lot. When I raised my hand, I was put on the spot, and got to tell the story of how I made it a goal to get rid of most of my books, and strengthened my already staunch support of libraries in the process.

When I was in high school and college, I equated the size of one’s personal library to the amount of knowledge they had. Teachers and professors were extremely knowledgeable and wise, and their offices were often lined with books. Jocks at my high school on the other hand, often didn’t bring a backpack to school, their lives were so free of books—and my conversations with some of them suggested a distinct lack of knowledge. At some point while navigating high school, I decided to keep all books I had ever bought in case I ever needed to refer to them again. (“The medicinal use of nettle tea? A Midwife’s Tale talks about that! Let me grab it and look it up!”) The only book I valued so little to part ways with it before about 2007 was Alexis de Toqueville’s Democracy in America. Books had an almost mystical value, and getting rid of them was like throwing away knowledge.

After many years of acquisition, in about 2007 I had a dismal epiphany: I would never be able to move anywhere–I had too many books! Graduate school? Forget about it! Getting out of The Ghettohaus [the name of my grand estate], with its abysmally poor insulation, collapsing roof, sinking back end, lack of a foundation, mouse problems, etc.? It would be impossible to move, simply because of the sheer amount of books I owned! A friend suggested I toy with the idea of trying to sell some books to Powell’s (above), and soon I set along a new path.

Meanwhile, a love of libraries was being cultivated in my heart. As I worked as a researcher for several years, I was accessing library materials constantly. My usage ranged from checking out library books to find the exact translation of a quote, browsing titles to search for reference photos, to accessing online databases like the Oxford English Dictionary from off-site. Eventually I started checking out CDs to expand my musical horizons, and DVDs to get up to speed on the world’s cinematic classics. Later yet, when I was interested in a book but did not know if I wanted to buy it, I would put it on hold at the library in order to preview before purchasing, to ensure my limited dollars would be spent most effectively.

As I wanted at least the option of moving at some point, I decided to stop acquiring more books by instead checking them out of the library. Once I had my next step defined in my head (graduate school in Vancouver BC), serious efforts were made to sell boxes of books to Powell’s (with remainders being donated to Ledding Library for their annual book sale). Soon I discovered and started pondering minimalism literature, and expanded the downsizing to the rest of my belongings as well.

It was really tough giving up books in the beginning, as physical books are more valuable than just the information contained therein. They’re beautiful to look at and touch. Perhaps your copy is signed by the author or was given to you by a dead relative. The frayed edges of a paperback may jog special memories. Becoming Minimalist covered the sentimental issues of giving up books last August, and Rowdy Kittens covered purging of sentimental items (not just books) recently as well.

I did it in baby steps. Slowly.  It seems the more I’ve purged, the easier it has gotten. But I haven’t given up all my books yet. To date, I have sold or donated about 75% of what I once had, and hope to continue the trend when I return to Portland. The less stuff I have, the less there is to pack if I need to move, the less there is to clean, the less there is to worry about. One of my favorite things about getting books out of the library is that they’re often more beautiful than the copy I would have purchased for myself—I don’t have to store the thing and ruin it with dust, yet I can access it almost anytime I want!

As for the ebook lending fiasco, HarperCollins has nothing to fear from me. I don’t buy ebooks, I don’t borrow ebooks–the only time I have acquired an ebook at all was when it was the only available option, and free. But I do give both money and used books (to be sold for revenue) to my local library, and will continue to do so for years to come. Power to the libraries!


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The Power of Books

As the desire to clear my house of clutter has been reborn with the coming of spring, I’ve discovered some more good reads to share in terms of taking charge of your living space and how you run your life.

Although I had read a couple of posts on Zen Habits and Mnmlist that friends had shared with me, it wasn’t until a few weeks ago I discovered blogger Leo Babauta had published a book about the same concepts, called The Power of Less. Although I lack motivation to finish the five books I’m currently in the middle of reading, I picked this up from the library and NOM! NOM! NOM! the book monster devoured its contents in three hours. I’m already attempting to incorporate one of the concepts in my daily life, in order to keep me progressing daily toward the larger goals.

On page 60, I found something hauntingly familiar:
Let’s say we have a huge task staring us in the face: “Write Annual Report.” We look at that task, and we stare at it, and we know we should do it, but we stare at it some more. Then we check our email, or check our bank account (“My balance is still negative?”), or log on to a forum or site we enjoy, or call a friend or coworker. The large task doesn’t get done.
Ah, Leo, you understand me like nobody else.

I’d like to buy a copy of this book as a reference, but that’s kind of the opposite of what I’m going for here, you know? I’ll have to settle for checking it out of the library again when I’m ready to incorporate another idea into my daily life.

Even before I had read The Power of Less, I had downloaded The Art of Being Minimalist during a day on which you could do so for free. The author, Everett Bogue, also blogs about minimalism at Far Beyond the Stars and lived in Portland a short time.

While I found a lot to value in this e-book, I also felt that Bogue clearly had an easier time embracing minimalism and working remotely because of his age and life status. He admits most of his money was spent on going to bars instead of buying material items that cluttered his life. Bogue, unlike Babauta, is not a married homeowner with six(!) children, and his writing better addresses the twenty-something hipsters than most of middle America. As a homeowner who has a life commitment to her dog, the urban ascetic life Bogue suggests is impractical for me, but I still found great ideas I can use to continue moving forward.

Now that my purging spirit has been revitalized, I’ve weeded out more clutter to donate to the thrift store, and another couple boxes of books to sell to Powell’s. A few new things have been listed on Craigslist. Onward!

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The Urge to Purge

Anything in your life that suffocates you is junk. Anything that crowds the life out of you is junk. That which restricts our living, loving, thinking, and feeling is junk, be it a thing, habit, person, place, or position. Anything that builds, edifies, enriches our spirit–that makes us truly happy, regardless of how worthless it may be in cash terms–ain’t junk. ( Not for Packrats Only, p. 142)

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These days when friends ask me what I’ve been up to, I usually start beating around the bush, telling them about working on my bike or the poop cupcakes I made last week. Eventually though, I must explain that the bulk of my mental energy the last few weeks has been dedicated to decluttering my house, and why it has been so important.

A year ago, I felt like my life was out of control. My house only reflected that chaos. Instead of being a sea of calm in a cruel, cruel world, any notion of respite at home was laughable at best. There was so much “stuff” catching the dust my rickety old house generated, I couldn’t really keep anything clean with the little time I had. After about six straight months of intense drama in the outside world, I decided to make my home a pleasant place to be for me. This spring I started reading books like Clutter Control and various web sites like Unclutterer, and made some slow, steady progress thinning out my immense book collection. Then this summer I started watching Hoarders.

If you haven’t seen it, each episode of Hoarders (which you can view online!) features two compulsive hoarders whose living spaces are so packed with stuff that they face eviction, jail time, losing their children, or more. During the episode, they try to clear their house aided by a mental health and/or organization professional who specializes in working with compulsive hoarders. There is an amazing age/gender diversity among the hoarders, and many of them function so well outside the home that they regard their house as their one huge, shameful secret.

When the hoarders clean their house with the professional, a series of questions are asked about specific possessions. A high level of anxiety usually subsides, uncovering other emotional issues, which are then discussed and worked through one possession at a time. Although all the hoarders make some modicum of progress, it’s clearly a struggle, often exacerbated by external hardships like living with an alcoholic parent, a family’s impatience with the hoarder’s behavior, meeting an external deadline to avoid eviction, and so on.

Inspired by this show, I started noticing hoarding-like symptoms in myself and those around me. An entire closet shelf of different versions of my favorite game, even though the friends who come over don’t really enjoy playing it. Having difficulty finding seating in the room a relative spends most of their time in, because the room is packed to the brim with fabric and magazines which they claim will be used “someday.” Keeping an unplayable, unfixable violin for ten years because of my sentimental attachment to it.

My mind on overdrive, a few nights I woke up at 2am and started obsessively reading books about decluttering and the psychology of clutter on my new best friend, Google Books. Cut the Clutter and Stow the Stuff was instantly intriguing to me, as it seemed more in-depth than your average anti-clutter book, separating out different types of clutter personalities and pointing out specific pitfalls. Stop Clutter from Stealing Your Life was written by a former hoarder, presenting a compelling true story and digging into clutter/hoarding psychology a fair amount. Reading the Google previews of those books inspired me to start taking more drastic action with the stuff in my house.

And then I discovered Julie Morgenstern.

A friend forwarded me a link to a book she wrote about making your work life work for you, called Never Check Email in the Morning. (Oh, if only I had had that book a year ago!) I liked the Google Books preview so much, I requested the book from the library. At the same time, I watched the short video Amazon had posted to promote another one of her books, SHED Your Stuff, Change Your Life. In that video, she discussed her past life in theater, and when she finally got rid of her old scripts, her new organizing business suddenly billowed.

“Hey, I was just contemplating getting rid of all my old scripts the other day!” I reminded myself. It was like she was speaking directly to me, and I was hooked. Purging continued steadily as I sold my old piano/violin/vocal music on Craigslist, cleared out more books, trusted the universe to provide me with the clothes I needed if I would just throw out my nasty old T-shirts, and finally recycled some scripts.

At a thrift store last week, I found and started reading Not for Packrats Only while I waited for a friend. Perhaps I should point out here that I am refusing to buy any of these anti-clutter books, on the principle of stopping clutter before it starts. Instead of buying this book for $1.99, I checked it out of the library and have since been alternatively inspired and dismayed by the literary equivalent of a fluffernutter.

Regardless, I continue plugging along on my purging mission, asking myself a series of questions I’ve learned from the collected wisdom of these books. When was the last time I used this? Why do I still have it? Is it something that I feel I need to keep for my identity? What can I do or tell myself to allow me to let it go anyway? Is it worth the space it takes up? If I keep it in storage is it going to get worn or destroyed? Can I get another one when the “someday” I am saving it for comes? Would the money it could bring in do better in the bank than what the item is physically doing for me now? What’s the worst that could happen if I get rid of it?

Already I’m experiencing the impact of letting go of the old to allow in the new. Much like Julie Morgenstern experienced, an excellent, unexpected opportunity appeared on the horizon yesterday, supporting the direction I want my career to be moving in. I’ve gotten the shot in the arm to keep trudging along in my quest for a happy house.

Moving forward, I will strive to be more conscientious about the things I let in past the door. The past few years I’ve tried to help my relatives by giving them genuinely useful Christmas presents instead of more “stuff.” Some items I’ve come across I’m planning to use as gifts, creating a win-win situation–they get a useful present, and I get to get rid of my “stuff!”

Extrapolating from physical clutter, I’ve even started setting my sights on a philosophy much like the one at the top of this post, trying to keep mindful of people, ideas, situations, or whatever causes as much mental clutter as that milk crate of sheet music I just sold.

Thus, if I know you, you had better start “enriching my spirit” or I’m dumping you off at Value Village along with my old sheets!


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