My Favorite Books on Decluttering, Tidying, Simplifying, and Minimizing

The first time I remember doing anything to reduce my consumption and gently remove myself from the Keeping Up With The Joneses rat race was when I traded in my giant Cadillac SUV for a Suburban. I know, bear with me. I was still in my early 30s and it was a first very small baby step. I had a loooooong way to go and I hadn’t really thought much about what it meant to live a good and fulfilling life.

It took many more years before I took the big step of moving into a much smaller (and cheaper) house than I had ever owned. That decision required the selling off of furniture and many trips to Goodwill with all my extra dishes, kitchen gadgets, books, clothes, shoes, etc. It was about this time that The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up came out. That little book helped me go through all my possessions and free myself of excess, and it’s permanently altered my attitude toward stuff and spending money.

There are many reasons people choose to simplify. For some, it’s about wanting to spend more time doing fun things and less time cleaning and managing objects and physical spaces. For others, it’s the financial freedom that comes from living below your means. For me, it was realizing that I was living in a way I’d never chosen but had instead absorbed from the dominant culture around me. The big house, the big car, the Christmases overflowing with presents for the children, were all things I did without thinking. When I finally thought about it, I realized that lifestyle wasn’t good for me or my children.

No matter the reason you might be thinking about decluttering, I have a few books and other resources for you, from light and fun to serious and challenging. Here we go!

Light and Fun (but still challenging you to think differently):

Outer Order, Inner Calm. I love this little book and it really inspired me to do little things around the house to tidy up.

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. Very approachable but requires a lot of you. If you follow this book’s steps, it WILL be life-changing.
Cozy Minimalist Home. A very easy book on home decorating with a focus on coziness, comfortable spaces without a bunch of stuff.
The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning. A little book on decluttering and downsizing as you get older so your family doesn’t have to deal with your stuff when you die. I wish some people in my family would read this one!
Lose 200 Pounds This Weekend: It’s Time To Declutter Your Life. Written way back in 2000!

A bit more serious, with a bigger emphasis on how clutter and too much stuff correlates with poor life choices:

Throw Out Fifty Things: Clear the Clutter, Find Your Life. This one explores the relationships between our clutter and mental health. There is a saying that “how you do one thing is how you do everything” and I think that applies to cluttered homes and too many possessions and how we cling to the past and fear moving forward or letting things go.
Let It Go: Downsizing Your Way To a Richer and Happier Life. I skimmed this one but the premise makes sense: holding on to things crosses boundaries. Take charge in one area and you might notice changes in other areas as well.
The More of Less: Finding the Life You Want Under Everything You Own. One of the very first people to introduce me to the concept of minimalism was Joshua Becker and he still has a top-notch blog on the topic.

Clutter-free Adjacent: Books on more specialized topics that have a minimalist/intentional living emphasis.

Simplicity Parenting. I think the people in our homes that benefit the most from having less stuff are our children.
The Year of Less. A memoir of a no-spend year.
The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less. A great book to read if you want to understand why too much choice and too much stuff messes with our heads.

There is so much good information out there on this topic. Ultimately it comes down to deciding that a more intentional, minimal, simple life is an important value for you and your family and finding ways to make moves in that direction. Let me know if there are other books on this topic that you would recommend!

February 2020 Goals

Here is what I plan to do in February:

Healthy and Wellness Habit of the Month: Drink one gallon of water per day. This is such a challenge for me but I feel so much more energetic when I get it done!

From the 20 for 20 List:
1. I would like to have 2 dates with Andrew this month (my goal is weekly but we will both be out of town separately for two straight weekends so that might not be realistic this month).

2. Continue to celebrate birthdays better. Last month we celebrated Lily’s 17th birthday and I did a little better by using balloons and streamers, buying party supplies, and writing her a letter. This month is my dad’s 75th birthday and I have a plan to visit him and take him out to dinner!

3. Create one printable or digital art to sell.

And some more…

I’ll also be doing an intimacy challenge with Andrew that requires us to have deliberate physical intimacy every day, whether sexual or non-sexual.

AND one more thing I am really eager to try: I want to check my email only twice per day, which means I think the best thing to do is take it off my phone! I can’t wait to see how this turns out.

January Goals Recap

I feel pretty good about how I did this month despite some serious setbacks. I got into a car accident and my minivan was totaled (no injuries). That is just another financial blow for us while Andrew is still unemployed. It’s our second auto accident in the last 3 months and we also had to file a homeowner’s claim in October!

In January I wanted to do the following:

  • Walk at least one mile per day. DONE. I have walked at least one mile every day this month and will continue this habit into February.
  • Spend at least 10 minutes outside per day. DONE. I did this no matter the weather, which is a huge deal for me. I hate being cold and will usually do everything I can to avoid bad weather.
  • Build back my Etsy shop inventory. DONE. Although I am still low because I can’t refill faster than folks are buying, which is great.
  • Make a decision on a membership model for Pretty Old Books. DONE. I decided I am not doing this for now. I’m going to focus on exploring ways to teach others how to make money selling books instead.

I also made some progress on my 20 for 20 list, including continuing habits I already have: pushups every time I drink coffee, 8am-6pm eating window, reading two per week. I also ran twice (start running again), starting doing at-home yoga daily (I’ll do this until we can afford hot yoga again), and started the year with a monthly health challenge (walking and outdoor time).

Also, I finally decided that I wasn’t managing to stay ahead of my growing depression and went back on Wellbutrin. It’s been so many years since I took medication that I can’t help but feel like a failure EVEN THOUGH I KNOW HOW STUPID THAT IS. I did what I could to keep it at bay. Sauna, daily outside and exercise time, talking with friends, etc. But it just wasn’t enough given the stressors I am facing and I am glad I finally acknowledged bow bad I was feeling and took action.

Looking forward to moving on to some new challenges in February!

How We Started A Story Hour (Accidently)

Jack listening to me read him a story.

Last year I read a book called The Enchanted Hour about the value of reading aloud to children of all ages. It made me want to start a dedicated story hour with Jack in the evenings (not the same as bedtime stories), but I didn’t want to do this badly enough to actually, you know, do it. But guess what? It happened accidentally and I am thrilled.

It started in late December with our trip to Florida. We didn’t bring any books with us so I suggested to Jack that we look on my iPad for a library book to read through the Libby app. Since I was asking him if he wanted to use an ELECTRONIC DEVICE with me, he was very eager. We ended up reading for much longer than I anticipated, and after that first night we have been spending up to an hour per night reading books on the iPad together before we start the evening nighttime routine.

This works because Jack will take any opportunity to use an electronic device. It feels like a treat to him to use the Libby app, scrolling through books and picking what he wants, pressing the button to borrow the book, and going through our loans shelf to return the ones we have already read. It doesn’t take much to excite a 5-year-old, you know. It’s also a thrill for him when we happen to pick a picture book that has narration.

It also works because you can easily sort books on Libby by availability. I can select picture books and limit the search to only books that are available right then, so Jack won’t get frustrated by seeing books he can’t get. We can also search for our favorites like The Berenstein Bears or Richard Scarry by availability when he wants something familiar (which happens most of the time). As long as Jack maintains a suitable level of control over what we choose and when we return books, he is engaged in the process and it is enjoyable for both of us. It’s also helped us to branch out into longer chapter books and even a 200-page graphic novel (El Deafo, very good).

I am also enjoying this new routine because it takes up some of that dead time between dinner and bedtime that I would normally spend wishing I could do something by myself (like read my own book). We aren’t the type of family to be out and about every afternoon and evening with activities, and we eat early (5-5:30). That leaves us with empty time to kill most nights, and there is only so much independent play you can expect from a Kindergartener. While I still long for my own time, I’m also happy to be doing something enriching and enjoyable with my kid.

I know this would not have worked with physical books, and I am perfectly happy to continue this new habit on the iPad if it gets us reading more (and better) books. Even if that means I have to read Star Wars Sith Wars and other questionable titles. Hooray for accidental habit formation!

An Anti-Moderation Wake-Up Call

We all can expect (and hope) that as we age we become more nuanced, less harsh, more understanding, less judgemental. I like to believe that the more time we spend on the planet, the more we understand the huge diversity of lifestyles and beliefs and values out there that are very different from ours but no less valid.

For example, living in the South has taught me quite a bit about moderating the way I express myself and how I judge others. For 35 years of my life, I lived in places where it never occurred to me or anyone around me to ask someone where they went to church. It took me quite a few years of living in Tennessee to learn how to navigate this strange new world of Christian cultural domination but it certainly taught me a lot about “others” and I eventually learned to love some aspects of living in this culture.

But this week I’ve been wondering if somewhere along the way I’ve become too quiet. If I’ve lost a little too much of me, the loud and different and bold parts. If I’ve become, gasp, bland. Oh my god, the horror. I’ve got a lump in my throat just typing that. I’ve become bland. This is the worst possible thing for an Enneagram Four, I swear.

I’ll tell you what got me thinking this. I listened to Penn Jillette’s interview on the Tim Ferriss podcast. A few months ago I read Penn’s book Presto: How I Made Over 100 Pounds Disappear because Gretchen Rubin mentioned Penn is a Rebel in her Four Tendencies framework. I’m always interested in how other Rebels live, so I was eager to read this book and so much of it deeply resonated with me. For example, a Bob Dylan quote you will hear Penn quote both in the book and on the podcast:

“to live outside the law, you must be honest”.

Listening to him on the podcast made me realize that he is much, much braver than I am. Everyone knows what he believes, how he sees the world. Yet he also maintains a commitment to kindness and non-violence. He’s both true to himself and invested in making the world better. Here are a few things he said that I had to write down:

“I’ve never wanted to do anything easy in my life. Why, with my health, was I deciding that was the thing I wanted to be easy”?

This quote hit me like a ton of bricks because I am the same way and I sometimes forget that. I never want the easy thing. I always want to do the hard thing, the challenge, the thing that I haven’t done yet. But I’ve almost completed eliminated these hard challenges from my life partly because (I tell myself) they require too much accommodation from my family. Or because I’m focusing too much on habits and daily living.

I don’t respect moderation and I don’t respect moderators.

Oh my gosh, YES YES YES. I cannot tell you how much it changed my life to learn about abstainers and moderators. I am an all or nothing person and it works so much better for me to embrace that and go 100% on or off in many things in my life. That’s why I went from my first sprint triathlon to an Ironman in 18 months. It’s why I have been sugar-free for over a year and plan to continue for the rest of my life. It’s why I have five kids. It’s why I don’t drink alcohol. It’s why I can do anything if I feel strongly internally motivated but can’t do the smallest thing if the motivation comes from outside or from other people’s expectations.

I know I am an abstainer and an all-or-nothing person. But what I realized while listening to this podcast was that I have never truly accepted and embraced those aspects of my personality. I’ve never seen them as something to be proud of, as an integral part of me. Instead, I’ve seen it as something that holds me back, limits me, when in fact, it’s been the source of my greatest achievements.

Listening to him say he doesn’t respect moderation unlocked something in me, gave me permission to say the same thing and be glad of it. I don’t respect moderation in myself. It’s not who I am. And I have often felt a lack of respect for a certain type of moderator, the one that doesn’t realize that everyone isn’t like them. The one that writes nutrition and weight loss books and encourages us to use a smaller plate, or eat just one cookie a day, or have a cheat day once per week. I think those types of moderators (and our moderation loving culture) do a lot of damage to abstainers.

If you know two things about a person and can guess a third, that person is boring and not worth getting to know.

I wrote this one down because I thought it was funny and very, very true. I like talking to strangers but I rarely meet anyone truly interesting. I think this is why. If you knew two things about someone (for example, they have a man-bun and like to go to the Farmer’s Market every weekend), would you be able to guess a third thing about that person easily? That they like indie bands, for example? Or own a rescue dog? Boring. If, instead, a third thing is something outside the mold? Perhaps they are passionate about sky diving or meteorology? Intriguing, perhaps a free-thinker, worth further time and conversation. How predictable do you think you are?

This ended up being a very cathartic post to write. Thanks for sharing it with me. I’m so glad I listened to that episode. I’m going to devote myself to reading more material from other Rebels in the future. Everyone needs role models, and I think I’ve spent too much time trying to mold myself in the shape of a majority culture that I know does not serve me. I’ve never prided myself on being like others or being in the majority, yet this episode made me realize how many of those dominant cultural messages I have internalized.

2020 Goals

This isn’t the best year for goal setting for me. I feel like I’m pushing against a brick wall and can’t get where I want to go. There are a couple of things I’ve been aiming toward for years that I’m just not doing and I know it’s going to take a huge jump in personal development to get me there.

I do have some things on my list, though. ANd I realized I had enough ideas that I could do a 20 for 2020 list.

I’ll outline by category:

Health:

  • walk for 20 minutes every day of the year
  • continue with my 8am-6pm eating window
  • do a 3-7 day fast at least once
  • get back to hot yoga
  • get back to running and stay injury free
  • one big hike (hopefully Grand Canyon again or something similar).
  • continue my habit of doing a set of pushups every time I drink a cup of coffee

Business:

  • start a membership site of some kind
  • build a printables and digital art shop on Etsy
  • blog at least twice per week on jessdollar.com
  • hire someone to handle packing and shipping books
  • transition to a Profit First accounting system

Personal:

  • start a podcast with my family
  • up my game on family birthday celebrations – I’m going to spend more time and effort on making my loved ones feel special on their birthdays this year.
  • restart a meditation practice
  • read 104 books
  • reinstate some kind of date night with Andrew every week
  • talk to each kid that isn’t living at home and my dad at least once per week
  • do a deep dive on Dante’s Inferno (inspired by Rod Dreher’s book How Dante Can Save Your Life).
  • do monthly challenges related to healthy habits

Are you doing a 20 for 20 list this year? Or some other kind of goal setting? What does it look like for you? How do you keep these things top of mind all year? I know that was an issue for me last year and I’m open to ideas for this year.

Coffee, Seasonal Depression, Books, and Chocolate

OK, here is a boring story about seasonal depression, coffee makers, books, and monk fruit.

I had a really bad early December with some very challenging family problems. That lent itself to me feeling like I was getting seasonal depression as the dark days of winter descended and it got cold. One way that manifests for me is waking up with dread, feeling down and hopeless, and generally having negative thoughts as soon as my eyes open in the morning. Lovely.

So, I thought I could maybe eliminate that pain point by getting a programmable coffee maker so I wouldn’t have to go through the whole routine of making my French press coffee in the mornings. I asked for one for Christmas and started using it and….I didn’t like it. The coffee didn’t taste as good, it wasn’t hot enough, and it had to stay on the kitchen counter and I cannot abide appliances living on kitchen counters. So, I ended up returning it and going back to the French press.

So what would my Christmas present be instead? Well, you can probably guess. First, I chose some books from my Amazon wish list. These are books I want to read but are not available from the library. Here are the ones I chose:

The Ultimate Harry Potter and Philosophy: Hogwarts For Muggles. I like these pop culture philosophy books. I’ve also read The Ultimate Lost and Philosophy and The Simpsons and Philosophy, which I borrowed from my dad. They really do help me become more familiar with famous philosophers and philosophies.

Home Comforts: The Art and Science of Home Making. This book is from 2005 so I’m sure some of it is outdated. I think it came recommended by Gretchen Rubin.

Adorning the Dark: Thoughts on Community, Calling, and the Mystery of Making. I heard about this book on a Simple podcast episode and thought it sounded like something I would really enjoy.

The Art of Typing: Powerful Tools for Enneagram Typing. I’m really excited about this one. It seems very hands-on. I heard about this one on the Currently Reading podcast.

The Happiness Equation. I heard the author of this book on The Knowledge Project and loved the episode so much I listened to it twice. I’m hoping I love the book as well.

Related to the book above, The How of Happiness was mentioned in that podcast episode and it’s a happiness book I haven’t read. I am a happiness book junkie, so on the list it went!

And then I also bought some dark chocolate sweetened with monk fruit. It’s yummy.

I can’t wait to dive into these titles over the next few weeks (and eat the chocolate). Have you read any of these? If so, I’d love to hear your thoughts!

January 2020 Goals

2020 is off to a good start. We began the year in Tampa and I came home feeling much better emotionally than I did when we left. The sun and warmth were very good for me. I gave lots of thought to goals for 2020 but ultimately, nothing really seems to be sitting just right with me. I am, however, committed to a few ideas.

One of them is to work on my daily habits over the course of the year, with the intention of creating a slightly better life for myself. I truly believe that what we do every day matters more than what we do once in a while and that how we spend our days is how we spend our lives. The best way toward greater fulfillment, therefore, is through the cultivation of daily habits that support the vision I have for my life.

In January I am focusing on two things: continuing my daily walking habit that I started on December 26th and spending at least 10 minutes per day outside. These are both habits that I think greatly impact how I feel and I am excited to spend 30 days cementing them into automatic habits.

In the business, I want to do two things:

  1. Build back my Etsy/website inventory of book sets (this is the lowest it’s been since my first few months of running the shop).
  2. Make a decision on changing my Shopify theme for something that supports memberships.

That’s all for January. No need to bite off more than I can chew so early in the new year like I normally do!