I wish there were a better euphemism to use for translating the Swedish word döstädning than the phrase “death cleaning.” Okay, that may be the most metal thing of all time, but it may cast an unfairly gloomy pall over what is really a very charming and sweet book. Maybe let’s call it... life sifting. Then let’s move on and talk about how this is just the best book, one that deserves worldwide success.
The author, artist Margareta Magnusson, claims to be “somewhere between eighty and one hundred.” She put together The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning while sorting her own belongings. She did the same process after the deaths of her mother, her husband, and her mother-in-law, among others, and she points out that this work usually falls to the women in the family. She says: “I have death cleaned so many times for others, I’ll be damned if someone else has to death clean after me.” One of the reasons for doing this work ourselves, Magnusson says, is to prevent fights between family members. For instance, rather than have her five kids quarrel over an heirloom bracelet, she sold it! In my work, it is more common than not for my adult clients to have siblings, aunts, uncles, and sometimes parents or kids who have not been on speaking terms in years over some piece of jewelry or furniture. If death cleaning can prevent these stupid materialistic arguments and keep families together, that is reason enough to do it.
The other reason is that as far as I can tell, the majority of bereavements result in grief clutter that is still hanging around, years or decades later. Almost every storage unit I’ve encountered in my practice includes boxes of the ordinary domestic wares of a relative who has passed on. Often, the boxes are stacked up in the adult child’s home. There has never yet been a time when anyone has been “ready” to process and clear this type of grief clutter. I know of one home with three generations’ worth. Clearly our culture is in need of some new mourning rituals and traditions. Swedish death cleaning, why not?
My beloved mother-in-law did this process after her fifth lymphoma diagnosis. She spent the last months of her life systematically sorting through all her things. She had a lifetime’s worth of wacky costumes, hats, costume jewelry, and stuffed animals, including all sorts of prizes and joke gifts from her different clubs. She invited her friends to visit, one by one, and had them choose things that spoke to them. She sorted through every shelf and closet. When she was done, she taught her husband how to cook all of his favorite recipes. I believe this methodical clearing work helped my mother-in-law to make her peace, while also pacing those inevitable goodbye visits that might otherwise have been overwhelming. She wasn’t Swedish, but that process is reflected in this book, which even closes with some bonus recipes.
The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning is a light-hearted, breezy take on a situation that could really use it, viz. mortality. The author’s illustrations add just the right note of whimsy. Read it, share it, bring it to book club, and give out copies to everyone in your family. Then let’s all push up our sleeves and get started.
The Self-Love Experiment is a story about Shannon Kaiser’s exploration of self-compassion. This is a very raw, immediate, real look at what it’s like to do deep inner work. It will speak to anyone who has body image issues or who struggles with self-loathing. Hence, nearly everybody.
Self-compassion is the antidote to shame. Unfortunately, the first level of defense that comes from toxic shame is to convince the ashamed that they are undeserving of compassion, or anything good in this world. It always boggles my mind when I work with clients who are so convinced that they are terrible people, even though everyone else around them sees them as kind, sensitive, caring friends. Trying to love yourself when you feel unlovable must feel like ripping off your own skin, like a nakedness beyond nakedness.
Shannon Kaiser talks openly about her issues with depression, eating disorders, drug addiction, and body dysmorphia. If she could learn to love herself while fighting all of these demons, then surely there’s something here for everyone.
Something I found really intriguing in The Self-Love Experiment was the differentiation between the “rebellion self,” the “reward self,” the “protection self,” and the “lonely self.” These are aspects of the personality with different drives, and they explain a lot about coping behaviors.
This is a very approachable, yet multi-layered and complex book. There’s enough here that some chapters could keep someone busy for a year. If you’re a Feeler, if you’re dissatisfied with your life, or if you are ever mean to yourself, it would be a self-compassionate act to read this book. Try the Self-Love Experiment for yourself.
It never occurred to me that trying to change my outside world was a desperate attempt to feel better on the inside.
To stop loathing myself is to reduce the negativity and pain in the world.
Despite what you might believe about yourself, you are not broken, you are not your problems, there’s nothing to fix, you’re not off track, there isn’t something wrong with you, your insecurities are not hindering you, and your flaws don’t make you weak, unlovable, or unsuccessful.
High Performance Habits is destined to be one of the ten best self-improvement books of all time. I’m not saying this lightly. This book is really amazing. It’s based on years of research and input from thousands of people. Even if you’re already a high achiever, you’ll learn something from this book. For the rest of us who still struggle with stress, low energy, lack of focus, or anything else holding us back, there’s even more to be gained.
Brendon Burchard has personal credibility. He survived a near-fatal car collision. As if that weren’t enough, he also got a concussion in another accident, and he mentions in passing that, oh, he had a spinal birth defect. If the habits that he teaches have been any help to him, then there must be something to them.
The core message of High Performance Habits is that we can direct our behavior by priming our own emotional state and acting in accord with our values. High performers are happy instead of stressed. They’re able to sustain their results over the long term without burnout because they manage their emotions and their energy level. Burchard studies how people are able to do this, and his claim is that anyone can adopt these habits and this high-achieving mindset.
Reading this book made me realize that while a lot of things I’m doing are on track, there is so much more I could be contributing and accomplishing. I like that the message is strong on personal ethics. I highly recommend High Performance Habits and I believe it’s Brendon Burchard’s best book so far.
“I’m scared to go to the next level... because I’m barely surviving this one.”
What’s achievable is not always what’s important.
...only you are in charge of your enduring emotional experience.
“What’s the positive thing I can focus on and the next right action of integrity I should take now?”
...no one credits fatigue and a bad mood for their world-class performance.
I ordered this book with great anticipation, because I’ve been following the Frugalwoods since they still had a secret identity. There’s a small community of people on the path to financial independence who are sharing their progress through blogs, podcasts, newsletters, et cetera. Obviously not everyone can come out publicly and say, “We’re quitting our jobs soon” without suffering repercussions. Meet the Frugalwoods is not just the story of a young couple who escaped the rat race; it’s also the official debut of a pair of superheroes ripping off their masks.
The premise of a frugality book is always that anyone can do this. With enough information and enough gumption, anyone can live on little money. That makes it more or less the opposite of a book on entrepreneurship, career growth, or stock market investing. There are lots of paths to financial freedom. Elizabeth Willard Thames and her little family happened to choose the classic path of voluntary simplicity. Not to put in too many spoilers, but they saved hard, learned to DIY a lot of manual skills they hadn’t been taught in childhood, and wound up buying a house in the woods.
I’m also a frugal person - seriously, you should have seen my annotated paperback copy of the Tightwad Gazette - and it was fascinating how the Thames family had almost the exact opposite financial priorities that I do! My hubby and I are city dwellers, partly because it enables us to live car-free in a small space we don’t have to furnish or maintain. While I would never again take in used furniture, after a close friend’s brush with bedbugs, I’ve never been much on clothes, cosmetics, beauty treatments, shoes, etc. We also don’t drink alcohol. It’s probably a good thing this book exists, because it shows a path to financial independence that’s more broadly appealing than my personally idiosyncratic version.
The book tells the story of how two young people made decisions and chose their path in life, the path that led to that house in the woods. There is some excellent stuff in here about how couples negotiate and influence one another, how they juggle priorities and nudge each other’s behavior. They cut each other’s hair. A married couple working as a team can achieve financial independence much more quickly than they could separately, if only they know how to talk to each other about money without quarreling. The Thameses should consider teaching workshops about financial communication!
One strength of the book is that Thames spells out the ways that she and her husband, and their families, benefited from privilege. This is a topic I’ve never seen addressed in a personal finance book before. She also mentions that they have a special type of investment set up to enable them to make charitable contributions. I really appreciated this and took notes.
Thames managed to save $2000 of her $10,000 AmeriCorps stipend. While living in New York City. This helps to explain how the two of them were able to save 40-50% of their take-home pay; not only did they commit to frugality, they also enjoyed the benefits of avoiding debt. Meet the Frugalwoods has a lot of specific advice about how to plan and save, how to hunt for bargains, and how to assess spending patterns. The results surely support the examples. This is a path to freedom that could be within reach of anyone who wants to travel it.
Frugality opened my mind up to what I can do with my life, as opposed to what I can buy.
The only thing better than a book by one of your favorite bloggers is when the book turns out to be even better than the blog. Eric Barker is in my top ten list, along with probably everyone else’s, and Barking Up the Wrong Tree has just locked that down. This is an incredibly fascinating read that may turn everything you think about pop psychology upside down. It is indeed, as the subtitle says, “the surprising science behind why everything you know about success is (mostly) wrong.”
Why is this book so great? It’s because Barker has been researching and writing in depth about these topics for years. More than that, he has a knack for illustrating concepts with historical examples and storytelling. Where else are you going to find anecdotes about submarines, drug cartels, mixed martial arts, Genghis Khan, Spider-Man, and Batman all in the same book?
The research behind Barking Up the Wrong Tree is bound to stir some inner resistance in most people. There are so many findings that contradict common wisdom, and that will probably also conflict with some closely held values. One is that making your boss happy is more important to your career success than your actual performance. Essentially, if you please your boss, even mediocre performance won’t matter, and if you annoy your boss, excellent performance won’t matter either. I can practically feel the temperature rising as steam comes out of ten thousand pairs of ears.
There’s so much to surprise, delight, challenge, confuse, frustrate, and ultimately impress readers. Optimism and pessimism, introversion and extroversion, grit, creativity, altruism, willpower, networking, success, and even hostage negotiations have their place here. If you’re ready to have your mind changed about a wide array of cultural assumptions, make sure you’re not Barking Up the Wrong Tree and read this book.
“Cognitive biases prevent us from understanding cognitive biases.”
“TO-DO LISTS ARE EVIL.”
This is a story about desire, willpower, and self-control, although I’m pretty sure none of those words appear anywhere in the book. Cait Flanders has written a brave yet quietly modest account of her personal battle with addictive urges. While The Year of Less is an outstanding work about minimalism and financial independence, these are almost tangential to the struggle for self-mastery. Flanders makes a strong case that if she can do it, anyone can.
The Year of Less shows what happens when someone develops a bias toward action and plunges into something. Flanders sets a challenge that she won’t shop for a year, except for a few predetermined categories such as food. This is a process goal, rather than an outcome goal. Part of the magic of process goals is that it’s really hard to predict what will come of them, what will happen when we actually stick to the plan. Almost always, it far exceeds the original expectations. That certainly happens here. There’s something of a surprise ending.
There’s also a surprise middle. Flanders is partway through her experiment when she is poleaxed by some major family drama. She shares her anguish, and how it sends her into an emotional tailspin. It’s very impressive that she managed to stay on track with her project, and it’s also helpful to see how she did it, being honest and accepting support from some trusted friends. There’s also the deep hook of that public commitment to write about her progress on her blog, a commitment that eventually led to the publication of the book.
The insights that come from a long-term project of this nature tend to be of a different quality than the occasional sudden epiphany. Flanders realizes that she’s never thought of herself as a spendthrift because she’s not a fashion victim. Yet she’s able to cut expenses and earn enough from selling off her extra, unneeded purchases to fund a replacement bed. She winds up getting rid of about 80% of her stuff and saving $17,000 on a fairly modest income. Where was it all going in the years before? Living a default, everyday lifestyle probably never would have provided the answers.
An inside-out version of this book could be imagined, a version in which Flanders emphasizes the results of her Year of Less, with a few footnotes about the emotional component. There are dozens of books of this type already, training manuals for the DIY crowd. This book is special because it’s so personal. It’s about learning to face difficult circumstances and dwell in difficult feelings. With this, a handbook for emotional resilience, you could do anything.
I wish everyone would read this book. The Fear Factor is that incredible thing, a highly readable popular science book that deserves to become a major cultural touchstone. I’m obsessed with making Alison Marsh’s research as widespread as possible.
Marsh studies both psychopathy and altruism. Who knew there would be such strong connections between them? As a true crime fan and compulsive news junkie, I was riveted. Putting psychopaths into an MRI machine turns out to have been a really great idea, and it answers so many questions.
Q: Why are they like that?
A: Amygdala visibly smaller, different brain activity than normal people
I don’t want to give out too many spoilers, but I had ‘aha’ moments on nearly every page.
As many questions as The Fear Factor answers about psychopathy, it has equally as much to say about altruism, which is a hobbyhorse of mine. Why has altruism persisted in both humans and animals if “survival of the fittest” requires individuals to be selfish? Why do creatures help each other across species?
A pervasive belief about altruism is that it’s actually selfish. Either the person is doing it biologically, to benefit kin; doing it cynically, to get attention; or the fact that altruism makes them feel good somehow invalidates the act. Marsh says that psychopaths don’t help other people - in fact, the opposite, because they find it entertaining to harm people - and if altruism were innately pleasurable, then psychopaths would do it, too. “The fact that, for most people, alleviating others’ suffering and bringing them joy can be a source of personal pleasure is, in my view, what distinguishes most of us from psychopaths—it is evidence that we have the capacity for genuine altruism.”
The title “The Fear Factor” has to do with a key difference between altruists and psychopaths. This is that psychopaths can’t recognize fear in themselves or other people, while altruists are more sensitive to fearful expressions. Part of what intrigues me so much about this is that altruists are instead less sensitive to anger! I’ve read elsewhere that most people misconstrue sadness as anger, seeing angry expressions and behavior where there really are none. This would definitely be a fascinating topic for further research of Marsh’s style.
The Fear Factor is a truly fascinating book. I enjoyed it so, so much and I really want it to be as widely known as it deserves to be. Please go out and get yourself a copy before you find me running after you down the street, waving one over my head.
When is the book you carry around and thrust at people as soon as they start talking about how tired they are. Just what is this cultural enchantment we have with exhaustion? Aren’t we done yet? Let’s just all be tired of being tired and start mastering the secrets of chronotypes. Daniel Pink is here to show us what to do. With this research-based information, we can all be happier and healthier, prevent accidents, save millions of dollars, and even save lives.
This book is a how-to, or rather, as Pink says, a ‘when-to.’ Find out how to take a nap properly, when to exercise, when to schedule medical appointments, and when to go on job interviews, among other things. Although, it does raise the question, if everyone in society started taking this advice and feeling well-rested, would it be quite as important to time ourselves around other people’s internal schedules? Won’t that be the day.
I’m a night owl married to a lark. He wakes up around 5 AM without an alarm; if he wakes up at 4:30 for some reason, he just shrugs and goes to work early. There have been nights when I was still writing as he got up for the day. Let’s just say that it’s really obvious which one of us drives at night on road trips. It was interesting to read that people born in the summer are more likely to be night owls, and people born in the winter are more likely to be larks. That’s true for us. When he was born, there was six feet of snow on the ground, while I was born during a Tennessee heat wave. Apparently chronotypes change with age, and I’m just old enough in my forties to feel that this is true as well. It helps to feel a bit of validation about these natural rhythms, as I’ve felt that larks can be judgmental and critical toward night owls.
An example of this would be school start times, as Pink discusses in the book. Having raised a teenager, I can speak to this. What we think of as teenage traits (moody, surly, lazy, rude, sloppy, distracted, poor impulse control) correlate very strongly with the symptoms of sleep deprivation. Teenagers who actually get enough sleep are, in my experience, cheerful, funny, eager, enthusiastic, and empathetic. If we can ever drop our societal disapproval and caricature of “kids these days,” we’ll start seeing better grades and higher graduation rates, and maybe even a little less eye-rolling and aggrieved sighing.
The chapters on Beginnings and Endpoints really captured my attention because of my work with procrastination and chronic disorganization. It turns out that people are more likely to start projects at particular points in time, such as a Monday or the first of a month. Also, no matter the length of time given for a project, people pick up speed and improve their focus as soon as they realize they’re at the midpoint. That’s true whether they have ten minutes or ten months. This feels true, and I’ll use it in my work.
This is a breezy, interesting book with a lot of solid information that can quickly be adopted. My takeaway from When is that I’m going to continue to go to morning classes at my gym and work afterward, with a short nap break in the afternoon. I have to, because my upstairs neighbors like to run their blender at 6:30 AM, followed by the washing machine at 7:00 and the vacuum cleaner at 8:00. We’re still a long way away from a world that respects the need for sleep. Keep writing, Mr. Pink; we need you!
This is the companion book to Jon Acuff’s earlier volume, Start: Punch Fear in the Face, Escape Average, and Do What Matters. Readers and fans kept telling him that they had no problem starting projects, they just need help figuring out how to finish them. I can identify with this. There are at least two projects that I was working on when I read Start that I still have not completed four years later. If those projects were only four years old, that would be one thing, but, well, they’re older than that. I’m ready to Finish and give myself the gift of done!
This book is great both for chronic procrastinators and for multi-potentialites. Some of us may think we are procrastinators, when really our main problem is wanting to do everything at once. Acuff shows that he fits in this group when he describes his garage full of equipment that he’s only used a few times, including a telescope, a fishing rod, and a moped. Just because we’re curious, adventurous spirits does not mean we’re quitters or procrastinators, it just means we need to learn how to say we’re done with something.
One of the main reasons that we as humans struggle to finish projects is the planning fallacy. We’re just not very good at estimating how long it takes to do things. Another issue is perfectionism, the crazy idea that it’s better not to do something at all if we can’t meet our perfectionist standards. An example that Acuff gives is all the people who say they want to run a marathon but refuse to start with a 5k. Familiar as these are, there are loads more, and Finish gives us plenty of laughs as we recognize ourselves over and over.
Of course, knowing the issue is not the same as solving the issue. The real strength of the book, aside from its humor, is that Acuff knows what it takes to get people to finish projects. He tested these ideas with hundreds of real people, and the results were analyzed by a researcher working on a PhD. This is more than a motivational self-help book; it’s a description of what other people have successfully done. That’s important, because as we all know, motivation is like a shower. It works great and makes you feel good, but it only lasts for about a day.
We start by being less strict with ourselves, making our goals more manageable, and choosing what else to put on hold while we finish.
A tool from the book that I have used is strategic incompetence. I didn’t have that name for it, but I did it, all right. When I went back to school at age 24 to finish my degree, I decided that I would put fitness on hold until I was done. This wound up being kind of a bad plan, because it was a false dilemma and I unnecessarily gained 35 pounds. I did, though, get my degree. I had a clear vision in my mind that I would study during almost all my waking hours, and it worked. I used the same strategy when I decided to get fit, picturing myself doing almost nothing but going to work and being at the gym. That worked, too. I chose to just be bad at everything other than my goal for the window of time that it took to finish. Aim low, drop your standards, and win!
This book is a delight to read. Acuff emphasizes having fun and celebrating your successes. I’m dedicating 2018 to finishing, eliminating, or formally scheduling every incomplete project I have, and I certainly plan to celebrate when I’m done. That’s a party I know I won’t put off until later.
[Paraphrasing]: The opposite of perfectionism is not failure, it’s FINISHED.
“Might as well” is never applied to good things. It’s never, “Might as well help all these orphans,” or “Might as well plant something healthy in this community garden.”
This book is a total trip. I follow Benjamin Hardy on Medium, so I knew that his book would be worth the read, but I have to confess that it blew my mind. Slipstream Time Hacking! I’m still processing it. I have the suspicion that it has permanently affected how I perceive the nature of reality. If this intrigues you, you should definitely read it even if I make a complete hash out of this review. It’s short but it has a lot going on.
Briefly, a slipstream is a way of rapidly jumping forward in time. Not on Star Trek but here, in our ordinary daily reality, we can time-travel. Time hacking means that we can change our results by looking at time differently and learning how slipstreams work.
Historian’s note: We ARE traveling through time. We’re just doing it at 1x speed.
Okay, now that I’m wearing my historian hat, I have to keep it on, because it always puts a dent in my hair. Let me give a bit of perspective here. Compare a kindergarten-age child of 2018 to a five-year-old child of 818 CE. Twelve hundred years ago, that typical little kid would be small and frail due to malnourishment and early fevers. He or she would have a household job, like knitting socks, fetching water, or searching for firewood. This child would never learn to read or write, and might struggle with basic arithmetic as an adult. Now, quick! Grab the little tyke and run for your slipstream! After the lice treatment, the vaccinations, a long, hot bath, and a couple of visits to the dentist, enroll the kid in a local school. A year later, this medieval child will be living twelve hundred years in the future, literally and physically, but also mentally. Open the slipstream and send the poor kid home to the thatched hut where you found him/her. The villagers of 819 CE would find this very confusing. Where did this kinda large, clean child with the sparkly teeth come from? Where did this child learn to read, write, and understand basic sanitation? Worse, what the heck is this kid saying about cars, electricity, airplanes, rocket ships, “other planets,” phones, microwaves, dinosaurs, and Hot Pockets? Somebody call a priest.
Now, forget that poor medieval child and turn your attention back to the kid who was born in 2013. This child is exactly like a medieval child that traveled twelve hundred years into the future: a little child that still needs naps and snacks, gets skinned knees, and plays with an imaginary friend. The human part of us is the same. The difference is the cultural context in which we live. This is the part of us that can time-travel.
Here is where it gets crazy, and where it’s helpful to read the book for yourself.
Everything you are trying to do with your life exists on a time continuum. For example, let’s say you want to pay off a $20,000 balance on your credit cards. At your current rate, you hope to be caught up in four years. If you win a contest and use the money to pay off your cards, you’ve effectively traveled to 2022! Monetarily at least, you’ve jumped ahead into the financially secure future.
Now, imagine something similar happening with all your other goals. What would you do if you suddenly woke up and you were already at your relationship, career, financial, fitness, and home improvement goals? What goals would you make then? Why not just make those goals today and skip the middle steps?
This is the reasoning behind working with a trainer or a coach. If you can move to a specific vision for the future more quickly with a little help, then it makes every kind of sense to seek out that help.
Hardy’s book goes beyond these basic, ordinary goals. How do people make groundbreaking leaps in business, sports, publishing, and other fields? What are the geniuses doing? How do they strategize and make their decisions? This is the part that’s messing with my mind. Now that I’ve read Slipstream Time Hacking, I have to ask myself: What would I be doing right now if I lived a hundred years into the future? What would my home look like and what would I be doing with my day? Is there any reason why I couldn’t be doing that right now?
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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.