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The Curious Cat Blog is all about writing, for writers, by a writer.


Book Review: The More of Less

Carina Sitkus

I've blogged several times before about why I think practicing minimalism is good for writers. There's a new book by Joshua Becker out called, The More of Less. Last summer, I read the The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo, so I was interested to see how they compared.

What I disliked about Tidying Up I liked about this book. Kondo had a somewhat extreme approach to tidying--I wasn't sold on the talking-to-your-objects stuff. (If you read my review of her book, you'll know what I mean.) Becker was more practical and gave good tips for becoming minimalist while recognizing that everyone has a different lifestyle and, therefore, different needs. And his reason for pursuing minimalism was more purposeful.

Critics say only privileged people can practice minimalism, and they have a point. The idea is that only people of means have the ability to get rid of their objects because if they should ever need to, repurchasing them wouldn't be a problem. Poor people need to hang on to whatever they accumulate because it's more burdensome to repurchase an item should they get rid of it and need it again down the road...or so the argument goes. However, Becker flips this on its head by saying that minimalism is great if it can help you live a more purposeful life, but that the true benefits and meaning come from what you are then able to do for others:

"Still, I do want to make a special plea: Not only is your life too valuable to waste chasing material possessions, but it is also too valuable to waste pursuing only selfish interests with the freedom you have gained. Instead of pursuing only objectives that benefit you, make sure you are also doing good for others. I suppose, after minimizing your possessions, you could move to a beachfront cottage and spend every day fishing. Or you could show up at the golf course day after day. And if something like that appeals to you, it’s up to you. But I think you have a better choice available to you: improving the life of someone else.
How about mentoring new business owners for free with the knowledge you gained during your career?
Or starting a program to connect the homeless in your community with the public services that are available to them?
Or setting up a scholarship at your alma mater?
Or taking charge of a ministry team at your church?
Or organizing a group of doctors and dentists to provide free services in a region of the world that lacks medical and dental care?
Or letting your mom stay with you instead of living in the nursing home that makes her miserable?"

Becker is religious, so parts of the book may teeter on that edge for those who are not expecting it. Because religion is such a big reason why Becker and his family are minimalists, I thought it only made sense that he would write about it. But most of the book is focused on the practical advice you would need to become minimalist.

I really enjoyed this section on maintaining minimalism (skim if you must, but I just had to include the whole thing!)

1. Make your bed each morning. Mess attracts mess. One of the easiest places to see this is the bedroom. Your bed is the centerpiece of the room, and if it is left unmade, clutter begins to accumulate around it. The first, best step when cleaning a bedroom, then, is to make the bed. And the first, best step for everyday clutter-free living is to make the bed first thing in the morning.
2. Wash dishes right away. Hand washing some dishes takes less time than putting them in the dishwasher. This applies to cups, breakfast bowls, dinner plates, and silverware. If you hand-wash right after eating, it will take hardly any time at all. If, however, hand washing is not an option, be sure to put used dishes in the dishwasher right away. Nobody likes walking into a kitchen with dishes piled up in the sink or on the counter, and it’s even less fun eating in there.
3. Fill your recycling containers and garbage containers. Use every trash pick-up day as an excuse to fill your recycling receptacle and garbage can. Grab a box of junk from the attic, broken toys from the playroom, spoiled food from the pantry, outdated paperwork from the office — whatever has built up. Then put it where the trash person will pick it up. You’ll quickly get the hang of this. You may even begin to look forward to trash day. (Okay, maybe I shouldn’t go that far.)
4. Always leave room in your coat closet. There’s a good reason why coats, boots, and outerwear end up scattered throughout your home. It’s because your coat closet is so full that it’s a hassle to put things away and retrieve them quickly. So leave room on the coat-closet floor, on the hangers, and on the shelves for members of your family to quickly put away or retrieve items.
5. Keep flat surfaces clear. Kitchen counters, bathroom counters, bedroom dressers, tabletops, desktops — these are areas that just naturally collect clutter. Put small kitchen appliances away. Scoop up coins. File receipts. Stick toiletries in a medicine cabinet. Keep an eye on your flat surfaces and dive in as needed to keep them clean.
6. Complete one-to two-minute jobs immediately. Clutter is often a result of procrastination — decisions put off or small jobs left unfinished. Counteract this procrastination in your home with a simple rule: if a job can be completed in less than two minutes, do it now. Take the garbage out, scrub the pot, return the remote control, or place your dirty clothes in the hamper. Every time you see a task all the way through to completion, you’ve forestalled the development of clutter.
7. When you finish a magazine or newspaper, process it immediately. Good recipe in there? Put it in your recipe box and recycle the rest. An article that your husband will enjoy? Clip it and recycle. Coupon too good to pass up? Cut it out and recycle. Stacks of magazines and newspapers serve little purpose but to clutter a room.
8. Place junk mail immediately into a recycling bin. Take note of the natural flow of mail in your home. Placing a recycling container near your mail drop-off zone can catch most of that junk mail so it won’t even reach your counter. And as an added bonus, you’ll begin to look through less of it and therefore be less enticed by the advertisements to buy what you don’t need.
9. Take care of clothes immediately. When it came to clothes, I used to be a throw-them-on-the-floor guy. Now I handle each item right when I take it off. Dirty clothes down the laundry chute. Clean clothes back to the hanger or drawer. That’s it.
10. Nightly, return items where they belong. Tell your kids to put their toys away at the end of every day. You need to do the same with the items you’re responsible for. Just make a sweep of the house, grab whatever misplaced items you see, and stash them in their places. Do this every night without fail, and it will allow you to begin each morning in a house that’s fresh, clean, and clutter-free.

Some of the advice contradicts what you may have learned from Tidying Up, but that may be a good thing for those of you who thought the KonMari method, as Kondo called it, was a little crazy. For example, Becker advocates for a leveling method where you put items into a box in a storage room and see if you miss them. If not, you get rid of them the next time you stumble across them. Konmari would only let you hold an object once before making a decision.

What I didn't like about the book is that I already read a lot of minimalist blogs and listen to The Minimalists podcast, so I didn't feel like any of Becker's advice was particularly new or earth shattering for me. But if you don't know much about minimalism and want to or are even just interested in simplifying your life, I think you'll benefit from picking up a copy.

*I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

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