The only thing I knew about Kyle Cease when I picked up this book is that one of my friends adores him. The next thing I learned was that the book includes a picture of a taco. Color me impressed! You have my attention, taco. I mean, Kyle. I read along, giving the benefit of the doubt to this funny little thing called I Hope I Screw This Up. Then something happened. Somewhere near the end of Chapter Three, I started bookmarking things. I started bookmarking more and more as the book went on, and then I knew he had me. Kyle Cease, you have completely, utterly failed to screw this up. I mean, what were you thinking, seriously. Santa is not going to put any failure in your stocking this year. Back to the drawing board.
I Hope I Screw This Up is a tricky book, a lighthearted and approachable introduction to some very deep spiritual work. Study went into this. Apparently Kyle Cease does two-day workshops, and I can easily see that he has tons of material to draw on. One brief book really isn’t enough for a complete, encyclopedic treatise on these topics. Learning to recognize our inner hater, tapping our passion and creativity, letting go of old outdated stories about ourselves, figuring out what meditation is for… These are really just the beginning.
Who am I if I’m not my body, my beliefs, or my emotions? This is a lifetime-level question. As Cease asks, “Will I risk letting go of my old limiting story to leap into my infinite potential?” Oh dear. Will I? Will I?
I loved this book. In many places, I felt that it was written specifically for me, which is not a feeling I have often, especially if I’m reading a book with a lot of car chases and people hanging out of helicopter doors. Fortunately this isn’t that kind of book. It’s one of the rare few that has had me typing out quotes in all caps, which is my signifier for PUT THIS ON YOUR LOCK SCREEN WHERE YOU’LL SEE IT EVERY DAY. Kyle Cease, if you’re reading this, the only way you can screw this up is by writing another book with no tacos.
“When I’m happy, things will happen.”
“Very often we keep things that we think will get us what we want, but they’re actually keeping us from getting what we truly want.”
“…when you’re justifying or explaining something, you don’t actually want to do or have that thing in your life.”
This is one of the best decluttering books out there, and I can tell for two reasons. One is, obviously, that I read it. The other is that mixed in with the reviews are a few talking about how incredibly helpful it is, and at least one by someone who has read it three or more times, working slowly through the chapters and then starting over again. Andrew J. Mellen is a professional organizer, and this book really can help you to Unstuff Your Life!
What makes Unstuff Your Life! different from other organizing books is that Mellen pauses frequently to address hypothetical responses, criticisms, naysaying, and pushback from the reader. A book with every possible negative and resistant response would be a million pages long, and new pages would be added as fast as they could be typeset. I can always tell when someone is too far down the Readiness Scale to work with me when I start hearing the monologues I call "let me explain in meticulous detail why this could never conceivably apply to me."
At the beginning of the book, Mellen addresses the problem of why we can't find things, and the process of wandering around and setting something somewhere without creating a memory. Good stuff. He also goes into the nature of procrastinating by not understanding that time applies to our plans, and explains the thinking errors behind "bargain" shopping that leads to consumer debt. So much of what we do as organizers is not emotional work, but mental homework, explaining the difference between default thinking and organized thinking. Mellen includes several lists of questions to delve into this mental homework. "What's the difference between an excuse and an explanation?" "Does your stuff seem to have a life of its own?"
Another thing that Unstuff Your Life! does very well is to teach how to categorize objects and make decisions about them. This always sounds obvious to organized people, but I can tell you that it feels like mysticism to my people. The intellectual failings behind hoarding are being unable to see individual items as a group or a room, and being unable to devise functional systems. I say this because my people are extremely intelligent and creative, and they like to see themselves as A students. It helps to frame "being organized" as an academic skill well within the reach of anyone who has a solid grasp of grammar and punctuation (and, frankly, most who don't).
The truly best parts of the book are when Mellen shares conversations he has had with his organizing clients, or, in one instance, his own mother. In one, he walks a client through why she would keep an expensive jacket, but not an ex-boyfriend, even though he was "expensive" too. In another, he talks a client through the painful realization that the broken clock she inherited from her father is not actually her father. These are bittersweet, funny, and entirely relatable.
Unstuff Your Life! can teach you how to do everything. Sort your mail, make emotional decisions about old magazines, calculate the cost of your storage unit, figure out what does and does not go on your kitchen countertop, set up a sorting area, define 'trash,' sort photos and sentimental items, and know for certain which papers to file, shred, or recycle. Most of us were never formally taught how to "be organized" or clean house, and this is where Andrew Mellen comes in. This book is something rare, a readable and amusing unstuffing manual.
Favorite quote: "If everything is precious, nothing is precious."
When people say, "I wish I had your willpower," or "where do you get the motivation?" I think the quality they're actually imagining is grit. Grit is the ability to do things you don't want to do, when you don't feel like it and you're not in the mood, even when it's really hard - and to keep on doing those difficult things over and over again for as long as it takes. Authors Linda Kaplan Thaler and Robin Kovel bring us Grit to Great, an approachable book filled with real-life examples of people who used grit to accomplish the seemingly impossible.
Grit makes a handy acronym for the traits of Guts, Resilience, Initiative, and Tenacity. Just reading these words makes me sit up a little straighter. You have to be brave enough to face things that scare you, flexible enough to deal with all the unpredictable frustrations that come up, bold enough to pursue your own ideas, and stubborn enough to never, never quit. The image from Grit to Great that brings this home to me the most is the story of James Henry, an illiterate fisherman who decided to learn to read at age ninety-two. If you're reading this, imagine not being able to. Suddenly life seems pretty cushy.
High IQ is not a significant predictor of success. Grit will outdo intelligence every time. People with higher education tend to be outperformed by less-educated entrepreneurs over and over again. The smarter we are, the more likely we are to find reasons to talk ourselves out of doing things. The larger problem is that of the fixed versus growth mindset. When we've always been told that we're smart, that we're good students, that we're well-behaved, etc, we tend not to push ourselves as hard. Expanding out of our comfort zones puts us at risk of failure, of challenging that image of the perfect A+ student. People with grit never quit. The desire to always be learning and improving and meeting new challenges means more failure on the small scale, but ultimately more success over a broader range.
I got a lot out of this book. I'm a big believer in the power of grit, but I hadn't realized all the ways that this quality is expressed. It made me determined. The example of Nick Wallenda caught my attention. He practiced walking a tightrope in 90-mph winds to prepare to cross the Grand Canyon on a tightrope. I also took heed of Jia Jiang's practice of Rejection Therapy, and Lee Yoon-Hye, a petite axe-wielding flight attendant who carried passengers to safety on her own back. These are the kinds of brave people I think about when I have to do something really hard, like fold laundry or wait in line. I can make my bed every morning, just like a Navy SEAL! (Except probably not as flat).
"If you want your dreams to become reality, wake up already."
"Happiness is not the absence of problems. It's the ability to deal with them." - Behavioral scientist Steve Maraboli
This is a money book for people who are resistant and uncomfortable when the topic of money comes up, people who don't think of money as a healthy or fun thing to think about. The Art of Money is the perfect book for creative, sensitive people who are looking for something more appealing and unconventional, a way to see finance as self-care.
Bari Tessler is a financial therapist. When she started her business, there was only one other person using that title, and now it has become an official profession. It turns out that anyone of any income level can have emotional issues around money. It's been my experience that talking openly about money can feel even more awkward and negatively charged for most people than talking about divorce, body image, trauma, or abuse. My clients tend to feel that thinking about money and increasing their income is materialistic, although their hoarding and compulsive accumulation is not, especially since many of their belongings were acquired at a discount or as castoffs or gifts. I see hoarding as primarily a symptom of scarcity mindset, inextricably bound with money as a flow of energy. This stuff matters.
Tessler talks about how her clients sometimes "check out" mentally when they are shopping or dealing with financial matters. I see this in my work, too, in the form of 'clutter blindness.' We choose to stop noticing certain things, or sing "LA LA LA LA LA" internally so that we can block out uncomfortable information. Tessler teaches a Body Check-In tool to bring our awareness back to the present moment.
The Art of Money walks us through how to bring more self-compassion into our relationship with money. We can learn to forgive ourselves and others, grieve past incidents, and work through delicate conversations about our finances. We can learn to recognize our Money Story and tell a new one. We can choose for ourselves what we consider to be the Basic, Comfortable, and Ultimate Money Tiers.
One of the practices in the book is to have a Money Date with your partner. (Life partner, business partner, financial planner - any kind of partner). I can attest to how helpful this is. My husband and I do this every Saturday morning, as part of a breakfast business meeting we call Status Meeting. ("Do you want to status your status?") I've learned how good he is at analyzing profit and loss statements, and he's learned how good I am at researching and picking stocks. Talking about money together is usually exciting and interesting for us, and it definitely helps us to bond and feel more respect and confidence in our relationship. No dark shadows. I can even say that 'financializing' problems sometimes makes it easier for us to discuss them together, when we feel that there is some way this problem can be solved with money.
Having more money can't solve every problem, but I believe it can solve most of them. More leeway for urgent family visits; more money for alternative health care, better nutrition, and insurance; more financial cushion; more money for education and professional credentials; more breathing room to make major transitions; more room for charity and gifts; greater ability to afford better-quality stuff that just works and doesn't break down all the time.
What I've found in my work is that people often suffer from lack of imagination: what would we do differently if things were easier? What do we want the most? What is our heart's desire? What would make us feel the happiest and most fulfilled? What would feel more positive in our life? The Art of Money is a truly excellent way to start finding answers to those questions.
If you haven't read anything by Brene' Brown yet, do yourself a favor and move any of her books to the top of your list. This book in particular should be mandatory assigned reading for everyone in the human race. The name says it all. I Thought It Was Just Me (But It Isn't). This book explains so much about why even our most casual conversations can be so unsatisfying and irksome. We're all looking for connection, yet somehow deflecting it without realizing when and why. At the root is shame.
Feelings of shame, rejection, and self-loathing are so dark and awful that you'd think we could figure out how to quit inflicting them on ourselves and one another! In my work with hoarding and squalor, shame is a constant. My people are virtually crippled by shame in most areas of their lives, feeling totally inadequate in anything and everything, whether it's the appearance of their body, house, or car, their career and finances, punctuality, or really just their ability to create positive change for themselves. We are so good at shaming ourselves and internalizing messages that we are not good enough, that being rejected or shamed or criticized by other actual living people can create devastating psychic wounds.
One of the first concepts we learn in this book is the difference between sympathy and empathy. Sympathy turns out to be a cheap and easy substitute for empathy, a simulacrum that is unpleasant both to give and to receive. Another common conversational ploy is when one person shares something emotionally important, and another person responds by trying to outdo that story. "You think you've got it bad... that's nothing." We wait until the other person is done talking so we can have our turn. There's a strain in our culture that shames any deep emotion at all with a great big GET OVER IT. We'll do just about anything to escape real empathetic connection.
The point of I Thought It Was Just Me is to learn to recognize that we are not alone, that the feelings of isolation and shame we carry are universal. Everyone feels this way sometimes. Brene' Brown's shame research has led to the purpose of teaching us how to reach out past our own dark, painful feelings and truly connect with one another. We can find the courage to practice this revolutionary kind of compassion.
By this time of year, almost nobody is talking about New Year's Resolutions anymore. We still have more than half the year left, but usually we've already given up on ourselves. Caroline Arnold has a better idea in Small Move, Big Change: Using Microresolutions to Transform Your Life Permanently. We can make the changes we really want to make by focusing on tinier, faster, easier steps.
It isn't always obvious how to go about breaking a big project or life change into smaller, more manageable pieces. If we had the idea, we'd be doing it, right? Small Move, Big Change has countless examples of microresolutions that real people have used. Simply reading them has a tendency to spark connections and clicks that make these changes seem easy and manageable. Because they are personal, they're memorable in a way that boilerplate advice often is not. The book covers such a huge range of topics that there is bound to be at least something transformative for everyone.
Arnold starts with sleep as the best area to start making microresolutions. I couldn't agree more. Most of our failure to have perfect "willpower" (a fantasy creature that only exists in storybooks) is due to tiredness. Too tired to even get ready for bed! As she picks apart her own issue with sleep procrastination, we can't help but compare her routine with our own. A busy, married working mom with a young child, Arnold's struggles are totally relatable.
Small Move, Big Change can help us get more sleep, save money, be on time, get organized, get fit, lose weight, and get better performance reviews at work. Best of all, there are ideas for how to transform relationships with our romantic partners, family, friends, bosses, and colleagues. We start to feel like maybe we can handle this pesky old Resolution thing after all. Small Move, Big Change is definitely a path in the direction of greater happiness.
I wish I wrote this book.
Rachel Hoffman is for real. She's going to say what she means, plainly, as we can tell straight from the title. Unf*ck Your Habitat: You're Better Than Your Mess. It's the uncensored speech that lets us know this is not a pretentious book about impressing people or following rules. You want to clean up your house for yourself, because it feels like time and because you deserve more from your life. This is a very approachable, comforting, and motivating book with enough actual instructional details for the novice.
I work with hoarding, squalor, and chronic disorganization. It turns out that most people are never formally taught how to clean house or cook, just like most of us aren't taught much about personal finance, automotive maintenance, or animal husbandry. Arcane rituals! While we probably wouldn't judge ourselves for not knowing how to rebuild a transmission or adjust our own brakes, we do judge ourselves for our domestic skills (or lack thereof). It's when we moralize on ourselves that we bring in guilt and shame, which not only doesn't solve our problems, but makes them worse. This is why we need Rachel Hoffman.
I have taught many of the techniques and attitudes in Unf*ck Your Habitat and I know they work. Take 'before' photos. Work with a timer and take frequent breaks. Figure out a place for everything. My people have gotten rid of countless truckloads of excess stuff with these methods, and learned to keep clean homes for the first time. There is real pride and satisfaction to be found in doing this for yourself, your own way, on your own time.
One of the best parts of Unf*ck Your Habitat concerns negotiating with housemates. Whether you're the clean one or the messy one, whether cleaning up was your idea or not, these ideas obviously come from hard-won experience. There is also a section on Emergency Unf*cking that will stand the test of time.
Unf*ck Your Habitat should be taught in school. Maybe not elementary school, but certainly by freshman year of college. What a great, smart, and truly enjoyable read, a book whose time has come.
The Compound Effect is the kind of book that is incredibly motivating and inspiring for people who are already motivated and inspired, yet intimidating for people who are not. I say this as someone who probably would not have bought into it in my younger days, while knowing, through later experience, that everything in it is true. Believing is seeing.
Darren Hardy begins with his origin story. He had a tough dad who drilled discipline into him from a young age. These few opening pages could be off-putting to the majority of us, who would find such tough-love parenting tactics a bit scary and depressing. Just keep reading. I can attest that reaching your goals does not require drill-instructor parents or early success. You can build positive habits even if you're a late bloomer like me.
The Compound Effect refers to the way that our habits take us in different directions over time. Hardy offers the example of three imaginary dudes. One just keeps doing what comes naturally. One cuts 125 calories a day out of his diet, and the third starts cooking more recipes from the Food Network. Not quite three years later, Dude Two has lost over 30 pounds while Dude Three has gained over 30 pounds and the first dude is just the same as he ever was. I can scroll through my Facebook feed and point out several real-life examples of this phenomenon. In one case, I sincerely didn't recognize an old friend in a photo and thought she had been tagged incorrectly. I had seen her in person 2-3 years previously and she had somehow nearly doubled her body weight in that time. Meanwhile, another friend who had started in that weight range is now doing triathlon and is likewise nearly unrecognizable. Comparing the habit changes of my two friends would be instructive, although the first person would find that kind of question very hurtful and the second would be proud and flattered. This is what habits can do.
Hardy shares examples of various people he has coached, usually his employees. "Beverly" was overweight and lost her breath climbing one flight of stairs. Through his coaching, she lost 40 pounds and ran a marathon. Yeah, right, you might say. That story could have been about me! I only lost 35 pounds, but I not only got out of breath climbing a flight of stairs (at age 29), I would see black spots. I did wind up running a marathon, just like Beverly. I kept the weight off and I haven't been at my top weight in 12 years. I started just by walking 2 miles per hour on a treadmill for 30 minutes at a time a few days a week. Little habits really, really do add up. I didn't know that I would become a marathon runner when I started. I just knew that I was too young to have that much trouble climbing stairs, and there were people in their 60s with more energy than I had, and I wanted more for myself. Little by little, my efforts compounded. It works.
An idea I loved from The Compound Effect was to use your snooze button time positively. Hardy says his snooze lasts 8 minutes. In those 8 minutes, he does gratitude practice and then sends love to someone. I found this enchanting! What a lovely way to start the day. A variation on using your snooze time could be to record a video of yourself talking about how exhausted you are and how you want Future You to stop sleep procrastinating and go to bed half an hour earlier.
Ask yourself where you were five years ago, Hardy suggests. Compare where you were then with where you are now. Are you where 2012 You would have hoped you would be? Do you have the same negative habits you wanted to get rid of then? Have you built the positive habits you wished you had then? This is sobering. I found that I had indeed built some positive habits, but that I had slipped on others, and that some things I still don't seem to have figured out.
Only when you experience the compound effects of a habit do you start to feel and believe the power. It's delightful and addictive. You can change anything with just the tiniest increments over time! Hardy offers real-life examples, such as how he wrote down at least one thing he appreciated about his wife every day and then gave her a book full of the observations. I wouldn't have thought metrics could be applied to marriage until I read that. The Compound Effect is an eye-opener, with the kind of insights that can put everything in your life into new perspective.
Some questions from Chapter 5 to ask your friends:
"How do I show up to you? What do you think my strengths are? In what areas do you think I can improve? Where do you think I sabotage myself? What's one thing I can stop doing that would benefit me the most? What's the one thing I should start doing?"
Why is it that, as soon as the technology became available, so many of us started working around the clock? Between email and cell phones, 'evening' and 'weekend' barely exist anymore. Carson Tate wants to help us to Work Simply and reclaim our free time.
The first chapter introduces us to "The Myth of Time Management." It really isn't about doing everything more efficiently; we've all tried that by now. This is strategy. For instance, one of the most helpful ideas I found in the book was to get your manager to define what constitutes an 'emergency.' So much of "time management" is really about "manager management."
Tate provides a quiz that distinguishes four different types of organizers, and offers custom tips that will appeal to each type. This includes software, physical changes, and negotiating tips for the other types. I found myself identifying various people I know as one type or another. I'm a Visualizer and my husband is a Prioritizer. I suspect that a good chunk of chronically disorganized people like my clients are Arrangers, who have a greater need for social connection. Understanding the type of your boss is perhaps even more useful than understanding your own type.
Work Simply offers the suggestion to think of time as money. Calculate your hourly rate and then figure out how much fifteen minutes of your time is worth. In many situations, we would never give someone cash outright but we will squander our time, paying for it later with long days and late nights.
This book is a product of the modern corporate workplace. It deals frankly with problems like working so much your kids prefer the other parent, having a boss with no sense of priorities, or being too busy to use the restroom. Mastering these issues is the only way we can reclaim our time and mental bandwidth and find room to breathe again. In the words of Carson Tate, "Work simply to live fully."
Out of all the books I've ever reviewed, A Guide to the Good Life is the one I highlighted and bookmarked the most. In fact, it looks like I marked a full 20% of the pages! Who knew Stoic philosophy had so much to say? William B. Irvine subtitles this book: "The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy." I knew a bit about the Stoics going in, but this book is a true marvel. A prudent person would consider reading it.
An approach I found interesting was that Irvine sets out to compare Zen Buddhism to Stoic philosophy. He discovers that they have a lot in common and that Stoicism is more appealing to his questioning nature. I have to say that I agree with him. Quieting the mind is a serious challenge for most people, whereas Stoicism provides the means to grapple with life's most complicated dilemmas. At the very least, while we are sitting meditation and the monkey mind keeps acting up, we can use Stoicism to resolve some of these questions.
How do we respond to insults?
How do we deal with annoying people?
What do we do with regrets about the past?
How do we avoid hedonic adaptation, or, what do we do when our latest tech upgrade fails to satisfy?
How do we handle grief?
"...a life plagued with negative emotions - including anger, anxiety, fear, grief, and envy - will not be a good life." - William Irvine
A philosophical tool I had not seen anywhere else had to do with the desire to commit suicide. Suicide is wrong if our living "is helpful to many." Anyone who thinks philosophy is too abstract can surely see how a thought like this might change a life, or many lives. If you don't value your life, then you have an excellent opportunity to use it in service of a greater good, since nothing else is going to distract you or seem like a better use of your time. Social duty was a preoccupation of the Stoic philosophers, and we can probably use more of that line of thinking in our own time.
"Vain is the word of a philosopher which does not heal any suffering of man." - Epicurus.
One page of this book may well have changed my life. It has to do with receiving criticism. I have held back from writing on certain topics, publishing or hosting certain things, or posting on certain sites because I did not want to deal with moderating trolls. Irvine references the philosopher Seneca saying that "if you are going to publish, you must be willing to tolerate criticism." The fact that he formed this opinion two millennia ago, not only before the Internet but before the printing press, was the kick in the pants that I needed. If I have something to say, then perhaps it is my social duty to say it publicly.
Irvine presents a picture of active philosophy during antiquity. This includes philosophers walking into people's homes uninvited to harangue them about philosophy, or accosting people about philosophy on the street to the point that their interlocutors beat them up. He wishes at one point that philosophy would become so relevant to modern society that someone gets arrested for it. We don't have to go that far; Irvine also tells us that Stoicism is risk-free because we can practice it in secret and test it out for ourselves. There is little to lose and potentially much to gain. Reading A Guide to the Good Life is even easier than that.
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.