Book Review: Organized Simplicity by Tsh Oxenreider

Most people I know, even those who have little in the way of financial resources, live lives of “too much.” Too much stuff, too many activities, too much stress. Our homes are cluttered with accumulated possessions that we don't have time to enjoy because our days are cluttered with so many appointments and activities, including all the time it takes to clean, maintain, or pay for all those possessions. We're distracted and worn out by all this clutter. We have more than any previous generation and enjoy it all less.

Tsh Oxenreider has written Organized Simplicity (about $12 on to address this issue. This is not an ivy tower treatise on organization and time management that advocates a spartan lifestyle or carefully scheduled days. Organized Simplicity is written from the perspective of a mom who has to live in the real world. She starts by asking “What does it look like for a modern-day family to live simply while still participating in afterschool sports, errand running, and getting enough sleep to not go insane?” That is the $64,000 question, isn't it?

Subtitled “The Clutter-Free Approach to Intentional Living,” the book starts with an explanation of her purpose: “I want to help you find that peaceful place, where your pocketbook, your home, and your weekly routine reflect your family's convictions and values.” She offers some background on the why of simple living and some thoughts about typical modern family stress, talking about the growth in average American home size in the last fifty or sixty years (and how we continue to fill that extra space with more stuff) and the overworked and overbooked nature of most Americans' lives, and makes a case for the benefits of simplifying life:

“Your living space needs to reflect how you want to live your life: at peace, with enough time and money for the things that matter and without things that just don't matter.”

Before digging into the activity part of the book, Oxenreider asks the reader — most likely a female “home manager” (whether or not employed outside the home, most women are responsible for managing their homes) — to think deeply about her family's values and purpose, to work with her family to create a family purpose statement that will serve as a touchstone during the process undertaken in the rest of the book: to declutter, reorganize, and simplify the reader's home and thereby her life.

After laying that foundation, Oxenreider uses the rest of the book to take the reader methodically through the family's finances, schedule, and home (room by room), with a simple, practical process of evaluating belongings and weeding them out so that the decluttered home actually reflects the interests, personality, and priorities of the family that lives there.

“A peaceful home requires a change of attitude, a habit of regular maintenance, and a lifelong commitment to place higher priority on relationships and events than on things.”

Organized Simplicity includes a nice mix of philosophical underpinnings and practical, down-to-earth, time-and-money-saving tips to help get your home in the shape you can actually relax and enjoy. Suggestions for tools and supplies (including recipes to make your own environmentally friendly cleaning solutions, in case you're so inclined) and helpful checklists are scattered throughout the book.

The last chapter is a Q&A in which Oxenreider offers some pros and cons on questions such as “Should I take time to clip coupons?” or “Should we have a landline phone in addition to cell phones, or cell phones only?” Rather than telling you how you should live, she offers information and ideas for you to consider in reaching your own conclusions.

At the end of the book, Oxenreider includes a fairly comprehensive list of resources — books, magazines, and websites — for the reader who wants to learn more about the various topics she touches on in the book, including financial health, green living, food and cooking, etc.

Organized Simplicity is a nicely written resource for the woman who's looking for some guidance in how to create a more peaceful, enjoyable life for her family. Oxenreider is not a professional organizer, but an obviously intelligent woman who writes from her own experience as a wife, mother, and homemaker. The book struck a chord with me at a time when I've already been pondering what can or should be done about my own family's tidy collection of too much stuff. One of my goals this year is to simplify our home and our life so that we can enjoy both more. The suggestions in this book will help. I recommend it.

Read more of Tsh Oxenreider's writings on intentional living on her blog; learn more about her at her website and at*

*I bought my copy of Organized Simplicity online at Amazon. I do not know Tsh Oxenreider personally, have never communicated with her as of the date of this posting, and am not affiliated with Simple Living Media. I just liked this book and thought it was worth sharing.

Why I Hate Running, and Why I Do It Anyway

Here are just some of the reasons I don't like to run (in no particular order):

  1. I don't like to sweat.
  2. I don't like to huff and puff.
  3. It's hard for me. I was born with malformed hip sockets, leading to two separate hip replacement surgeries in the last few years (I'm now fully bionic!). Calcification in one of the artificial joints limits my range of motion, and many years of pain-induced inactivity gave me atrophied muscles, so it's just very hard work for me to make my legs run.
  4. I look funny when I run, so I feel self-conscious. The aforementioned birth defect and surgeries left me with legs of unequal length (in addition to those weak muscles), so I have very goofy looking gait when I run. (I'm also very, very slow.)
  5. It takes time. I have a demanding job, a long commute, and family and household responsibilities that are important to me. There are other ways I'd rather use my limited free time instead of sweating and huffing/puffing and working hard.
  6. I'm just basically a lazy person who'd rather lie on the couch and read a book than exert myself.

And here are some of the reasons why I do it anyway (also in no particular order):

  1. I used to be quite overweight, and I did not like how I felt. I don't want to get fat again.
  2. I'm in my early 50s, and as I get older, things don't work as well as they used to. I don't mind getting older, but I don't want to be old and decrepit. Running (and strength training, which I also do a little bit of) is something I can do to make myself stronger and enable myself to stay healthy and active longer.
  3. I prefer the kinds of clothes I can wear when I'm thinner.
  4. Although it seems counter-intuitive, I have more energy when I work out than when I don't.
  5. I spend most of my time indoors, working at a desk. Running gives me an opportunity to get outside.
  6. I can eat more if I exercise (and I do like to eat).
  7. I want to be healthy – running strengthens my heart and lungs as well as my muscles.

Everybody has to decide for herself whether the benefits of exercise outweigh the costs. I haven't yet felt that “runner's high” that I read about in the magazines. The act of running is not fun for me, and there are other things I'd rather be doing, but feeling healthier and fitter ultimately motivates me to put on my running clothes and head out the door. My workout mantra?

I don't have to like it. I just have to do it.

What about you?

Give Yourself Credit for the Effort

Are you as hard on yourself as I am? Do you find it easier to criticize yourself for the areas where you fall short, rather than patting yourself on the back for making an effort?

One of my primary goals for 2012 is to finish a novel manuscript, something I've wanted to do since I was in my teens. One item on my action plan for that goal is to start developing the habit of writing daily, by writing at least 750 words, at least six days each week. Week one went great (not in terms of starting the novel, but in terms of keeping my commitment to daily writing). But a vacation in week two put me off track. I did some writing most (but not all) days, but still none of it was on the novel. So a couple of days ago I realized that we're already three weeks into 2012 and I've got no work done on the novel. As is typical of me, I spent some time beating up on myself for setting a goal and then not working the plan I'd prepared to realize that goal: “What's the matter with you? How can you be so disciplined at work and so undisciplined about doing the writing you've dreamed of since you were a kid? How can somebody who drags her butt out to run regularly not be able to sit that butt in a chair and get words on paper?”

I was feeling pretty crummy and just a bit hopeless about ever achieving this particular lifelong dream. Part of the issue is that I feel the years flying by, and at 51 years old I feel like I have less and less time left to do the things I've dreamed of for years. And I'm particularly sensitive to it, I guess, because since I've “failed” at accomplishing certain goals so many times, I'm afraid of doing it again. The voice in my head told me, “You'll never be a writer. Just give up and stop kidding yourself.”

Looking at the calendar, though, I realized that maybe it was just a little too early in the year to give up hope. Yes, I'm three weeks into the year and haven't yet put words on paper specifically for that one project. On the other hand, it's only three weeks out of 52, and I have made some progress on several of the business and professional goals that I set for myself for this year. I've even done a pretty good job of writing the 750 words I promised myself most days, and even if they weren't for my novel, it's still practice toward developing a good habit of daily writing.

So I need to cut myself a break, right? I need to just keep reminding myself that even if I don't reach my target destination, by taking ANY steps in the direction I'm aiming I've at least gotten closer to where I want to be. Which really is progress.

I'm not young. I do have fewer years ahead of me than I have behind me. But still, I have many years left to do the things I want to do. One step at a time is still progress. Slower than I want, but progress nonetheless. So I need to lighten up, right?

From conversations I've had with friends and acquaintances, I'm pretty sure that I'm not the only one who struggles with this. Many of us find ourselves focusing on how far we have yet to go, rather than celebrating the steps we've actually taken in the right direction.

I am trying to start a practice of keeping track of the little steps I take toward each of my goals. I'm keeping separate lists for professional and personal goals, and tracking what things I've done that advance the ball on the various goals I've set. Mostly I focus on my 90-day objectives, which, of course, are subsets of my year and long-term goals. So I keep track of the little actions I've taken toward each of the targets I've set for this quarter. I have a list started in my little Moleskine notebook, and I'll try to add to it each week, even if it's just an item or two.

Last week was rough, with traveling and then getting back to the office and trying to get caught up, but I got a few things done, and I have a list of a few specific things I'm planning to work on next week. So . . . one week at a time, one day at a time, one task at a time. Trying to be a little kinder to myself and give myself credit for trying, even if I don't get as far down the road as I had hoped.

What about you? Do you need to remember to give yourself credit for the effort, even if you don't accomplish all you hoped for? I'd like to hear about the steps you're taking toward your dreams!

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iPhone & iPad Fun – 3 of My Favorite Apps

Those who know me personally have already heard this, but I'll say it again anyway: I love my iPad. And my iPhone. They're fun, they're useful, and they work! One of the best things about these devices (besides the great Apple customer service) is access to the thousands of apps available through the App Store. I've tried tons of them, both free and paid. Some have been hits; others, not so much. From time to time I'll share my thoughts on some of them. Here are three that I particularly like (all available via Apple's App Store):

  1.  Noteshelf. As the name hints, this inexpensive app is used for taking notes on your iPad. It accepts both typed and handwritten input, the latter using either your finger or, more easily, a stylus – basically a rubber-tipped pen (available anywhere iPad accessories are sold – mine cost $15). You can set up “notebooks” for whatever topics or categories you want. Once you've entered your “stuff,” it's saved on the iPad. You can email the pages (or the whole notebook), print them wirelessly using AirPrint, etc. I've found it really valuable at meetings for work.
  2. Lose It!. For both the iPhone and the iPad. This free app syncs with the online program and across your devices and lets you keep track of both the food you eat and your activity, as an aid to weight management. The app has a huge database of foods (and exercises) that you can search and select to track your calorie intake. There's even a cool UPC code scanner that can read the codes on your foods and enter the nutritional info in seconds. You can enter information into your profile, including current weight, age, gender, and goal weight. The app calculates what your daily net calorie intake should be, and as you enter foods and exercise, it keeps track of how close you are to your daily target. Experts say that one step toward weight loss/management is writing down everything you eat, to become more aware of how much you're taking in. This app makes it easy to do that on the go. If one of your new year's resolutions is to lose weight, check out this app!
  3. Wunderlist: Another free app, available for both the iPhone and the iPad, as well as for Mac and PC computers. This is a fun and easy-to-use task management (i.e., list-making) app. Set up an account at, and link the apps on each device to that account. They sync via the cloud, so adding (or checking off) an item on one device automatically syncs to the others. In addition to “to-do” lists, I use Wunderlist to keep running lists for certain stores I visit regularly or periodically, adding items when I think of them, so when I'm at the store, I don't have to struggle to recall what I needed to look for there. I have lists for Walmart, Lowe's, Staples, the Container Store, and the mall. You can also share lists, so I have a “Honey-Do” list that syncs to my husband's iPad. When I think of a project that needs his attention at our farm, I can enter it on my iPhone or iPad, and it automatically shows up in Wunderlist on his iPad.

Today's technology — and the ingenuity of app developers — make iPhones and iPads handy devices that can make your life easier and more convenient. What apps do you like best?