When is it okay to give up on a book? I’ve seen a couple articles on the web addressing this question, but my answer is shorter than those I’ve seen: It’s always okay to give up on a book. Of course there are a few exceptions: if you’re in school and the book is required reading, if your boss is asking everyone to read a specific book, etc. But unless the book is mandatory reading for some reason, you can give up on it any time you like.
You may have some personal guidelines about how many pages you want to read before abandoning a book. But as I’ve noted before, even authors give up on books they don’t enjoy — sometimes very quickly.
Sadie Trombetta wrote an article for the Bustle website entitled 10 Signs You Should Give Up On A Book You’re In The Middle Of (No, Really, It’s OK) and it made me smile because the first reason she lists — you hate the main characters — is exactly why I stopped reading the last selection from my book club. By page two I knew I despised the main character’s best friend, and that meant I didn’t think much of the main character, either. I quit right then, while other members forced themselves to finish the book. Only one person in our book club really enjoyed it. One other person didn’t finish, and she felt guilty about it. But she said she understood, for the first time, my feeling about not wasting time on a book I don’t like.
We all have limited time in our lives for reading, so it makes sense to be judicious in our choices. I don’t mean you have to read serious books — I just mean it makes sense to focus on well-written books that meet your own personal selection criteria. That could include books that amuse you, books that inform you, etc.
Tony Kushner, the playwright, was recently interviewed by Tim Teeman for The Daily Beast website. He said:
I love that line in The Normal Heart (that Felix says to Ned about his books): ‘I think you’re going to have to face the fact you won’t be able to read them all before you die.’
That pairs nicely with something Eric Roston wrote on Twitter:
God, grant me the serenity to accept there’s things I’ve no time to read, time to read the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.
Sometimes you may pick up a book and then decide it’s just not what you want to read right now, and set it aside for later. But if it’s a book that is never going to excite you, feel free to unclutter your bookshelf and your reading list — and move on to another book that you’ll enjoy more.
Post written by Jeri Dansky
I have taken many steps to try to get my laundry problem under control, but I continue to wrestle with it. The kitchen is a similar stress aggravated by the fact that my husband and I eat three meals a day at home. Then, there is the family room where things come in and never leave.
These three areas have one thing in common: they have a constant supply of input. Every night I deposit clothes into the hamper. Every day I sit and knit or read or watch TV or whatever I’m doing to relax in my family room. Every meal I dirty pots, pans, plates, utensils, and cups, and every week I bring in more food to repeat the cycle.
I’ve been working diligently recently to keep these areas clutter free in my own home, and can share a few tips and advice. I hope that you find at least one or more helpful.
- If you haven’t already read it, start by going to my previous post on dealing with laundry clutter. Following these tips have made my laundry situation bearable.
- Additionally, I recommend making your laundry room as welcoming, cheerful, and serene as possible. A laundry room that is pleasant to be in makes doing the laundry much less of an annoyance. A dark, dreary basement with bare concrete walls isn’t inviting. Spruce up your space so that being in it is a reward, not a punishment.
- Institute a “no food” rule for your family room. No food outside the kitchen or dining room is a good general house rule, too.
- Assess the amount of furniture in your family room. Do you really need four end tables and two coffee tables? I find that the more tables I have in a room, the more stuff I set on the tables.
- Every time a person leaves the room, have them put something away. If everything is properly in its place, celebrate.
- Have a vacuum cleaner/broom easily accessible to the room. I find that I need to vacuum the carpet in this room twice as often as in the rest of the house. Having the ability to use it with very little effort is essential.
- Have a place for everything in the room: a knitting basket with a lid, a storage system for your video games, a chest for children’s toys, a bin for piano music, a CD and DVD solution, etc.
- My first suggestion for the kitchen is to get your hands on Martha Stewart’s Homekeeping Handbook. The kitchen section in the book is really good and I learned a great deal from reading it. I reference it a handful of times a month.
- Put dirty dishes straight into the dishwasher. No plates or cups should ever sit dirty on the counter.
- Own dishwasher-safe stainless steel cookware and other kitchen items. If you have to wash it by hand it is likely to sit cluttered on the counter.
- Avoid unitasker appliances and utensils. Based on your cooking style, a few may creep into your home, but it’s best to try to keep these numbers small.
- Monitor what small appliances and entertaining dishes you use, and get rid of those you don’t. I’ve used our reader-suggested dot system for my monitoring with great success.
- If you must store small appliances on your counter, only have out those you use often. My toaster, coffee pot, vacuum sealer, and mixer sit out all the time. I use all of these daily or almost daily.
- Organize your kitchen so that what you use is stored next to where it is used. It’s a bit of a no-brainer, but things like pots and pans should be next to the stove and leftover storage containers next to the refrigerator.
- If you’re like me, don’t use a bread box. I put bread in there, forget about it, and then discover it weeks later all moldy. I currently store aluminum foil, wax paper, ziplock bags, and such in my bread box instead. I set my bread on top of the bread box.
Please feel welcome to add suggestions in the comments section. There are so many effective strategies out there that I couldn’t possibly name them all in this post. So, let us know what works for you!
This post was originally published in July 2007.
Post written by Erin Doland
Alice Grove is finished. I'm going to take some time to just do QC for a while and then start another side project sometime in the fall. Patreon subscribers will get sneak peeks, advance previews, and other stuff as it develops. Thank you for reading my comics.
Saddleback Leather makes some lovely products. As Alan Henry on the Lifehacker website pointed out, the company’s tag line is “They’ll fight over it when you’re dead.”
But despite claims like this, many times the heirs do not want many of the items being left behind — even those of outstanding quality. Maybe that Jonathan Adler zebra bath mat just isn’t their style, or doesn’t fit the color scheme of their bathroom.
There are many reasons that an item that’s valued by one person might be of no interest to another:
- Different tastes. Sometimes that’s generational — for example, certain furniture styles are out of fashion right now. But often it’s a matter of personal preferences.
- Different lifestyles. Someone living in a small apartment isn’t likely to want large furniture pieces. Those who don’t entertain much at home may not want a 12-piece place setting. China or glasses that can’t go in the dishwasher may be of little interest to others. And depending on a person’s job, that person may have little need for a fantastic briefcase.
- Homes that are already furnished. For example, those who already have a nice toaster are unlikely to want another one.
So what does this mean for seniors who are thinking about the future of their possessions — and those who eventually inherit those items?
To me, the most important thing to keep in mind was summarized by Tyler Whitmore, who was quoted in The Washington Post. “It’s not that they don’t love you. They don’t love your furniture.”
If something isn’t right for the inheritor, I believe getting it back into use by someone who will value it honors the prior owner more than letting the item sit hidden away in a closet. This exchange on Twitter captured that sentiment perfectly:
From Peter Nickeas: ebay is flooded with guys who inherit hand tools and have no idea what they do, no appreciation for craft.
Reply from Bill Savage: better the tools get sold to and used by people who do know and respect the craft. Otherwise? Clutter.
Another point worth considering is that sets of china, glassware and such don’t have to be treated in an all-or-nothing manner when it comes to giving them away.
My family had large Christmas gatherings every year at my grandparents house. My grandmother used her china, that she saved hard for, at these gatherings. When she died she left it to me and I kept it for 30 years … I emailed to all nieces, her great grandkids, cousins, etc., saying … Hey remember that china? I split it up between many who were happy to take a plate, cup or setting.
Another anecdote along the same lines: When my stepmother died, my father asked my brother and me what we would like to take from the many household furnishings. I took two cut glass wine goblets that aren’t my style (so I had no desire for the full set) but that bring back many happy memories.
And if items are going to be sold, it’s important to be realistic about their value — which is often much less than what the items originally cost and much less than what you might have expected. If seeing items get sold for low prices is difficult emotionally, you may find it easier and more emotionally rewarding to donate them.
Wayne Jordan, a licensed auctioneer and certified personal property appraiser, wrote about what can happen when those who are downsizing aren’t realistic about their possessions:
More than once, I’ve heard from the children of Boomers about parents who put their treasures into storage because the kids didn’t want them and they “weren’t going to sell them for pennies.” Then, they paid storage fees until they passed away or until the contents of the storage unit mildewed. Ultimately, these items ended up in an auction or in a landfill anyway.
That’s not the type of uncluttering any of us wants to see happen.
Post written by Jeri Dansky
It seems we’re always looking for better ways to prepare bacon — more uniform cooking and less mess to clean up. The Nostalgia BCN6BK Bacon Express Crispy Bacon Grill touts itself as the best way to cook your favourite breakfast meat.
This electrically powered, 5.5-pound monstrosity sits on your counter-top and cooks up to six, strips of bacon (store-bought thickness only) in minutes. Because it cooks the bacon vertically, the grease drains away and the slide-out drip tray catches bacon grease.
Not only is this a unitasker because it cooks only bacon, it cooks only store-bought thickness bacon.
I think we’d be better off using the multi-purpose frying pan to cook bacon. Some frying pans are large enough to cook more than six pieces of bacon at a time. We can cook bacon of any thickness, shape, or size with a frying pan and we only have one thing to clean (the pan) instead of all the parts from the Bacon Express.
Post written by Jacki Hollywood Brown
When you live in a small home, having multi-purpose furniture is essential. Most people are familiar with sofa beds as multi-functional pieces however, many are uncomfortable as beds and not very stylish as sofas.
Vancouver company, Expand Furniture aims to change the way we look at multi-purpose items by providing high quality, stylish furniture that saves space and puts the fun back in functional.
My favourite unit is the Compatto, a three-in-one; queen-sized wall bed, revolving bookcase, and table (probably because it makes me think that this would be something that Batgirl used in the 1960s TV show Batman). This is a real space-saving versatile package. The attached dining table would comfortably fit 4-6 people and a 6-inch deep, queen-sized mattress would allow guests to have a good night’s sleep. Watch the video to see how easily this piece converts from one layout to another.
I also like the Trojan console dining table with four hidden chairs. This item would be great if you lived alone and only needed a larger dining table some of the time. It would also be useful in a small office. You could wheel it out only on those occasions when you needed a large work surface or had meetings with several people. The rest of the time, it would be out of the way leaving more room in the office. The video shows how quickly this console becomes a table.
If you have a small space but occasionally have overnight guests, for example your grandchildren, the Murphy Bunk Bed system would be ideal. It includes two mattresses and the rail ladder. It is well-built and sturdy enough for adults to sleep in yet easy enough for young people to set-up and fold away. Also, the top bunk tilts downwards so you don’t have to climb over the mattress to make the bed. When collapsed, the bunks only stick out about ten inches from the wall. The video demonstrates all the features of this Murphy bed system.
Post written by Jacki Hollywood Brown
By Leo Babauta
I’ve been studying how to learn, as I try to teach myself new skills … and absolutely love learning new things. But I keep running up against a few key problems:
- Becoming overwhelmed. The more you learn, the more you see there is to learn. The beginner doesn’t know how much there is to study, but as you start to explore, you find new caverns, and they are immense. Then as you explore those caverns, you find even bigger ones. It can become overwhelming, and lots of people eventually give up because of this feeling.
- Failure feels bad. If you want to learn to play chess, you’ll lose a lot at first. Then you get better, and lose a lot. In fact, no matter how good you get, you’ll probably lose a bunch of times. This happens not just with games, but with learning languages, physical skills, academic subjects — you’ll fail a lot. There are ways to set it up so that you rarely fail, but then you’re not really learning much.
- It can feel like you’re just treading water. In a fantasy world, you’d learn at a breakneck pace, downloading new skills and knowledge into your brain like they do in the Matrix. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work like that. You read and read, or practice and practice, and a lot of the time you barely get better. Other people seem to be learning at twice your speed! Sometimes it seems like you’re not learning anything. This can be really discouraging.
- There’s always a strong feeling of uncertainty. Humans don’t like the feeling of uncertainty, for the most part. We avoid it, become afraid of it, get angry or frustrated. But when you try to learn a new skill, it’s almost all uncertainty. You constantly forget things, you don’t understand anything, or when you think you do understand, you try it and it turns out you didn’t understand at all. This feeling of uncertainty causes a lot of people to give up.
OK, so we all want to learn skills — new languages, programming skills, physical skills, history, math, writing, games, so much more. But these four problems stand in our way.
Let’s take them on. We’re going to discover four keys to overcoming these four problems, so that we can tackle anything we want to learn.
First Key: Small Focuses
Yes, it’s true: there’s a vast amount of things to learn, and it can be overwhelming. But that’s true of life itself — there’s so much to see and do, and no one can ever do it all. All we can do is one step at a time.
So we have to not focus on all the innumerable huge caverns that have yet to be explored … but the ground right in front of us.
What small area can we study right now?
What small focus can we conquer? What little area can we explore?
Ignore all the vast uncharted territories for now, shut the rest of the world out, and just be in this one place. Just study this one thing. One small step at a time, a few small steps each day, and we can explore a lot over time.
Second Key: Flip Failure on Its Head
Did you all see the video of Deepmind’s AI after it taught itself to walk? The amazing thing about this is that it did all of that through trial and error. Every single mistake was a lesson.
In fact, that’s similar to how we learn. We don’t know that our knowledge is wrong until we test it out and see whether it works. We can’t truly learn something new until we try and fail a bunch of times.
We all learned to walk that way … wobbly, falling down, until we got the hang of it. That’s also how we learned to talk, to feed ourselves with a spoon, etc. Sure, we had the benefit of being able to see examples of doing it right, but we had to try and fail a whole lot of times before we got it.
Unfortunately, at some point we start to fear failure, but that fear is just holding us back. Failure is really the learning process. Every loss at chess, every falling down when we’re learning a backflip … those are lessons.
So instead of looking at failure as “bad,” we have to flip it on its head. Failure is a lesson, an opportunity to get better, a wise old teacher telling us where we need to focus our learning efforts.
When you fail, smile and say thank you for the lesson.
Third Key: Find Enjoyment in the Process
It’s a tough thing when we feel we’re not making progress, that things are moving too slowly. We want to get to expert level (or at least “advanced beginner”) as quickly as we can, and when it takes five times as long, we can get frustrated.
The answer is to forget about the pace of our progress, but just focus on enjoying the process of learning.
It’s like when you go on a hike, and you’re fixed on getting to your beautiful destination … but it’s a long journey, and you get frustrated by how long it’s taking. Instead, focusing on the journey itself is a better way of traveling. Enjoy the scenery, the exertion, the beauty of each step.
When we’re learning, instead of focusing on where we want to be, we can enjoy the particular focus we’re studying right now. We can be grateful for where we are, for having the opportunity to learn at all. We can enjoy the falling down, and any progress we’ve made so far.
Whenever we find ourselves wishing things were moving faster, that’s a good sign to change focus to where we are.
Fourth Key: Learn to Relish Uncertainty
I think the uncertainty of learning something new, of being in such a foreign place, is probably the most difficult thing. We don’t like that uncertainty, and we usually shy away from it.
With conscious practice, we can change our feeling about uncertainty. We can start to find the joy in this place of not knowing, of not being in complete control, of not having solid ground under our feet. That might sound weird, but it’s possible.
Let’s take a few examples:
- You’re learning to play Go, and you are playing your first few games. You keep losing, you don’t have any idea where you should play, you worry that every stone you place is a big mistake. This is a place of uncertainty. Can you enjoy this process of trying something and not knowing how it will turn out? Be curious about what might happen when you play your moves? See it as an exciting opportunity to experiment, to explore, to play and have fun!
- When you’re learning a language, you might be deeply afraid of speaking, because you don’t know what you’re doing (uncertainty). But if you don’t speak, you’ll never learn. So instead of fearing this uncertainty, you dive in and make a complete fool of yourself. Better to be a fool who’s learning than the chicken who doesn’t learn anything new. It’s like dancing wildly with random moves in the middle of a crowd … just have fun being silly! You can do the same thing with speaking a new language — try it, look foolish, enjoy this place of wild abandon.
- When you’re learning to play music, you can get stuck on the certainty of learning songs from sheet music, because it’s easy to just follow pre-written instructions. But you don’t really learn until you put the sheet music away and try to play the song on your own. And you really learn when you try to play without following someone else’s pre-written music — just playing your own song, riffing and making it up as you play. Of course it’s much more uncertain, and will probably suck. But so what? Just have fun and make stuff up. Relish this place of creation and uncertainty.
So uncertainty can be enjoyed if we think of it as play. If we think of it as creation, learning, exploration, curiosity, finding out, experimenting, openness and newness. It’s courage.
Be courageous today, and put yourself in a place of uncertainty. And then let your heart fill up with the freedom of not knowing and flying without a plan.
When I was young, a phone was a communication device attached to the kitchen wall. Curly wire, a rotary dial, that whole thing. If you were lucky, the wire was long enough to reach the closet for a private conversation (and create an annoying obstacle for everyone else in the house).
A modern phone is more than just a glorified walkie-talkie. It is a camera, game station, note-taker and bane of many a parent’s existence, among other things. For now, let’s look at the phone as a note-taker.
I use my phone to jot down information that would have been relegated to paper a few years ago. My phone is always with me, making it convenient, and often a decent paper substitute. From creating a simple list to managing a full-on brainstorm, there’s an app for your note-taking needs. Here’s a look at some of my favorites.
When I want to brainstorm a new idea or project, I create a mind map. (I’ve written about mind mapping here before). It’s a more formal way to get the flood of ideas down, creating a nice visual that depicts the relationships between each thought. Yet, it’s still unstructured enough to not interfere with the process.
For me, the best option is MindNode. Unfortunately, it’s only available on the Mac and iPhone. If you use those platforms, go and grab this app. It syncs across devices almost instantly and is very easy to use. It also features easy import/export options, so getting your information out is as easy as getting it in.
If you’re an Android user, I recommend MindMeister. Like MindNode it’s easy to use, and makes collaboration easy, so members of your team/group/family can contribute.
Next up is Google Keep, which I’ve talked about it before. I’m happy to report that I still love it. Keep is lightning fast and feels streamlined and unclutterered. It syncs between the mobile app and a browser almost instantly and lets me jot things down nearly as quickly as I do with paper and pen. Plus you can categorize, tag, color-code, and share. It’s a real keeper.
Meanwhile, I know a lot of people who swear by Notebook by Zoho (available for iOS and Android), Notebook – Take Notes, Sync across devices on the App Store. What’s nice here is it lets you sort notes into “Notebooks” with custom titles and covers, making it very easy indeed to find what you’re after.
Dropbox Paper is a direct competitor to Google Docs, (which is in competition with Microsoft’s Office 3650. Like the others, Dropbox Paper goes well beyond simple note-taking and offers a suite of online productivity tools, aiming to be a way to create and share text documents.
It will be overkill for many, but if you’re looking for an alternative to those larger suites, give Dropbox Paper a try.
Is digital better? Yes and no. The near ubiquitous access is nice, and sharing is a lot easier. But I think paper is faster, plus it won’t crash or succumb to a dead battery or weak Wi-Fi connection. For more on the paper/digital debate, check out Reconciling paper and digital productivity and organizing tools.
Post written by David Caolo
My birthday is coming up and as always I’m getting asked what I want and as always, I don’t really know what to say. I have everything I need and most things that I want. Well, I never have a enough books, but since I read books via my Kindle, they aren’t an easy gift to give me.
I used to tell people that I wanted experiences. Those gift boxes for hotels or dinners or days at the spa, but then I almost always ended up using them at the last minute and only because they were about to expire.
A recent article in MoneySense magazine talks about the new middle class and how the younger generation wants gift cards so that they can buy themselves exactly what they want, when they want it. Personally, I’m against gift cards because they are impersonal and from my point of view, it means that the gift-card giver has to make very little effort to find a gift that fits with the person receiving the gift.
In fact, between receiving a gift card and not receiving a gift at all, I’d choose the latter. And don’t get me started on buying an acre of rain forest, adopting a wild animal or naming a star. If you want to make a donation to something, make the donation; don’t jazz it up saying that it’s a gift.
My mother had a good rule for birthday gifts: something the person would like but would never buy for themselves.
For example, for me that would be something like a virtual keyboard (I’m a bit of a tech geek) or a session in a tranquility tank (the movie Altered States and the show Fringe had a big impact on me). And, I’ll never say no to shoes or to fun kitchen tools (these days I’m dying for a decent marble rolling pin).
Speaking of the last category, one year a then-boyfriend bought me a rice cooker and I was thrilled! Friends were horrified and one even said that a rice cooker as a birthday present would be grounds for divorce in her house. But that’s what’s so amazing about really considering the person receiving the gift. What you might consider a relationship ender, for another person, might be the best, most awesome thing in the whole wide world!
How do you buy gifts? Are they obligations that you grab whatever comes to mind? Do you try to match the gift to the personality, maybe hoping to surprise the person? Or do you pick up something from a very specific list the person has provided you with?
Post written by Alex Fayle
By Leo Babauta
Dropping any story or narrative in your head about what’s happening right now … what are the sensations you’re feeling at this moment?
What are you smelling, tasting, feeling, hearing, seeing? What colors, textures, qualities of light can you perceive? What does it feel like where your body makes contact with your clothing, with your chair, with the earth?
This is your pure sensory experience, and it is rare that most of us let ourselves just stay in this place.
Usually, we’re caught up in a narrative about ourselves, our lives, our current situation, other people. We might notice the pure experience, but almost immediately we start judging it, wishing it were different, getting upset at it, or wishing it didn’t have to change.
Now, there’s nothing wrong with having thoughts about our experience — it’s natural. But it can be the cause of anxiety, fear, unhappiness, frustration.
Dropping into the mindfulness of pure experience is a way we can deal with those problems, in any moment.
Actually this is what meditation is, for the most part — dropping into pure experience. Many people misunderstand, and think, “I shouldn’t be thinking! I’m screwing this up, because I keep having thoughts.” This is not a problem. When you meditate, thoughts will come up. You will get lost in a train of thought.
What you want to do, in meditation, is get better at noticing when you’re lost in a train of thought. Then, after noticing, simply return the the immediate sensations of your breath and the rest of your current experience. It’s like waking up from a dream. Meditation is training to wake up more often, and stay awake longer.
Let’s talk about dropping out of thought and into pure experience.
What Pure Experience Is
So what do I mean by “pure experience”? Isn’t everything part of our experience, including thoughts? Yes, that’s technically correct (the best kind of correct), but it’s useful to distinguish between our train of thoughts (what I like to call our “story” or “narrative” about our experience) and the actual sensations of what’s happening right now.
A couple examples of the difference between the two:
- You feel coldness on your skin (sensation). You immediately think, “This sucks, I don’t like the cold, I need to get warmer.” This is your narrative about the situation, your interpretation, your judgment. It makes you unhappy. The pure experience of cold, without judgment or narrative, is just a sensation.
- You’re in an airport, and there are noises from people talking all around you, smells from the pretzel shop, light and colors and shapes and visual textures, and more. These are your sensory experience. Your story about how irritating the people are, or how you need to get a cinnamon pretzel in your belly right now, are your thoughts, judgments, narrative. The story can cause you to be unhappy with the situation, but the sensations are just sensations.
So right now, you can notice your sensory experience:
- What can you hear? Take a moment to pay attention to all auditory sensations you are receiving.
- What light can you see? What is its quality?
- What colors and shapes can you see? Soak in the visual sensory information you’re receiving.
- What touch sensations can you notice in your body right now? Can you feel your feet, your butt on a chair, your jaw, your chest?
What do you notice? Can you be curious about these sensations, and stay with them?
Noticing Thoughts, and Returning to Pure Experience
What happens when you (inevitably) start thinking about the sensations instead of staying with them?
Well, this can lead to an extended daydream as you get lost in the narrative about your experience. Now you’re not actually experiencing the moment, but caught in your story and judgments.
These judgments usually aren’t helpful — they say some version of, “I don’t like this situation (or other person, or something about myself) and I want it to be different.” Or, “I love this so much and I never want it to end, but it will, oh why does it have to end?” Either way, we can be unhappy, frustrated, clinging to what we don’t want to lose or rejecting what we don’t want to experience.
Instead, we can let go of the story, let go of the judgment, and return to the sensations.
We can practice getting better at noticing whether we’re “in our head” or “in our body.” That means noticing whether you’re lost in thoughts, or present with your experience.
Once we notice being lost in thoughts, we don’t have to judge that. We can just notice, non-judgmentally, and then make it a habit to return to sensation. What sensations can you notice right now?
Don’t judge the sensations, just pay attention to them. Don’t push them away and wish they were different, just be curious about them. Don’t cling to them if you like them, but notice with gratitude and let them flow past you lightly.
This is returning to pure experience, with mindfulness and gratitude.
This is the joyful mindfulness of the present moment. Practice now!