BOOK REVIEW: Minimal by Laurie Barrette and Stéphanie Mandrea

Laurie Barrette and Stéphanie Mandrea are two childhood friends and the owners of the Quebec brand Dans le SacWhich primarily sells reusable fabric bags. I attended a virtual interview that Indigo (a Canadian Bookstore) did with the authors. They seem quite nice. The few things I really remember about their talk (I lost the page I wrote my notes on) was their idea of Zero Waste, which isn’t trying to having all your trash for the year fit in a mason jar. But more the 5 Rs: Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Rot.

Photo Source

The book is a pretty short read at about 220 pages, Libby said that I finished the book in about 2 hours. Overall, I enjoyed it. There’s a lot of lists and DIY projects for different areas of the home and life, such as cleaning products, skincare and baby bum sprays.

I enjoyed the first couple chapters the most and got the most information out of them. They might be a bit basic, but cover the ideal of minimalism, the impact of humans on the environments and the idea of making ones on products to have more control of what is entering ones personal environment.

From the cleaning chapter onwards, they started to loose me a bit. Barrette and Mandrea really love essential oils! I have a below average sense of smell, so I don’t care about aromatherapy or essential oils. Also there’s a few really large multi-level marketing companies that sell oils. And that sales/company structure isn’t something I believe is ethical. To be clear, they weren’t pushing a certain brand or anything like that, just my prior knowledge of essential oils going into this book make me have a generally negative option about them.

I truly disagree with one point they had in there book. That was that essential oils are good for the planet. They mention that oils “triggered their green journey”. Kinda ironic given how material intensive the process can be (like 10,000 lbs of roses for one 1lbs of rose oil).

Also they encouraged putting essential oils on babies, they did have a disclaimer that it’s “controversial” to put these types of oils on babies but their didn’t have any issues with their kids. John Hopkins has an article with recommended amounts/usage. But I personally don’t think it’s a great idea. I’ve used tea tree oil on my skin before, and found it burnt a lot so I can’t imagine how a baby would feel.

I don’t have children but I did enjoy the chapter about raising minimalist kids that are environmentally conscious. A lot of it just leading by example but they have this list of environmentally friendly family actives that I just found really charming. Examples, like making salt dough, building bird houses, and growing veggies. That list is without a doubt my favorite part of the book.

At the end of the day it’s a pretty easy read, with really lovely photos, and with content you can find mostly on their website or if you spent enough time on Pinterest. I did read an interview with them that has a quote, that I think captures their intent with this book: “Packed with DIY project ideas, practical tips for reducing waste, and utterly drool-worthy photos, Minimal is a must read whether you’re motivated by love of the planet, the ‘gram, or both.”

Photo Source

To conclude, I would have enjoyed less essential oil talk, but others may not find it as annoying. If you see this book at a book store or the library I would say give it a quick flip through and read the kid friendly activity list but I don’t recommend spending money on it.

BOOK REVIEW: Project 333 by Courtney Carver

I’ve heard of Project 333 a few times over the years, so I was really surprised to find that this book was published March 2020. The concept of Project 333 is very simple. You only wear a combination 33 items of clothing (included shoes and accessories) for 3 months.

Project 333: The Minimalist Fashion Challenge that Proves Less Really is So Much More is the second book by Courtney Carver. She’s been featuring Project 333 on her blog for a few years and this book is an extension of the concept (about ten years after she started it). Which explains why I’ve heard of it before. Some Minimalist YouTubers I watch have mentioned the book and author before.

The book is a tad slow to start. It takes until Chapter 11 before she officially introduces the rules of Project 333. The majority of the chapters before were about her journey with finding minimalism and answering a lot of the questions people typical have about the project. The book does assume you sorta understand the high level concept of the project before introducing it. I think that the rules should have been introduced sooner then the FAQ .

The idea, as mentioned at the top, only wearing 33 items of clothing for a period of 3 months. There are some exemptions, such as wedding ring/sentimental jewelry, workout gear, under garments, lounge wear (only to be worn exclusively at home. Leggings you wear out to do groceries or whatever count to your 33 items), and work uniforms.

Photo by Liza Summer on Pexels.com

She has more that 33 items, as some items are seasonal. That’s why the project is three months, to match the seasons. But she has way less that 132 items, since most of her closet carries over.

After the chapter with the rules and looking at her closet, the book goes a bit more ‘woo woo’ or metaphysical about the larger knock on effects of having a small closet. Lots talk about mediation, the joys of quiet moments, not having to clean as much, downsizing. The standard package of a minimalism book. Although she made no comments about losing weight, and she was pro renting. So 4/6 minimalism tropes isn’t bad.

Overall, I enjoyed the book. I don’t know if it will be everyone’s cup of tea, since it’s a rather repetitive. I can also imagine her tone of her writing wouldn’t be everyone’s favorite (you can tell she was a blogger first). There were moments as I was reading I was going back and forth on if I enjoyed the style or not.

If you are looking exclusively for the rules of Project 333, her website (https://bemorewithless.com/project-333-challenge/) is definitely the resource for you.

The book was a light quick read filled with 80’s pop references and generally has feel good motivational vibe.

Photo by Alena Shekhovtcova on Pexels.com

I feel for the author, her book was published at a really bad time to start the Project. Since most people have been working from home since publication. In general clothing and fashion haven’t been a main priority for most people. 

Although it will be interesting to see how that effects peoples clothing choices. I know for me, I’ve been wearing around the same 30 items. But that’s because I’ve been living in sweatpants and hoodies, unless I have to go to site or have a cameras-on zoom meeting. Imagine a worst version of what a typical university student would wear during exams, but for the past year and a half. 

When reading the book I was thinking I would do the project and see how I feel about it. Last weekend I was planning on going through my closet and sort what I want to keep, since I was inspired by the book. But I made scones and took at nap instead.

The next recommended start time is September 1st, so I have the summer and maybe slight return to pre-covid times to help me plan my choices. If I do it, I’ll do my best to document and report back on how I feel about it. I can also start in July or any other time. I have some other decluttering projects I want to tackle in the immediate term, but I do want to circle back and try this.

BOOK REVIEW: New Minimalism by Cary Telander Fortin and Kyle Louise Quilici

New Minimalism is written by Cary Telander Fortin and Kyle Louise Quilici. It was published in 2018, after their blog and consulting service of the same name grew in popularity.

This books angle in the minimalism landscape is including a sustainable lens for how to declutter.

The majority of the book explains the standard why minimalism is good for you and how to declutter your house. Their method is sorta similar to the KonMarie method by Marie Kondo, bring all similar items from a categories together and sort from there.

The differences are the categories, and for the clothes and home décor sections, the first step should be to pick your 5 favorited items that you definitely want to keep. That will help you visualize your personal style and guide you through your maybes. Which I think is a good idea, particularly when it’s your first round of full house decluttering.

They also mentioned the four archetypes of people that are starting their minimalism journey and which categories will be hardest for them and some tips to help. I think this section could have been fleshed out more. They mentioned their experience with their clients and I would have liked to hear more about that and the timeline of the whole thing.  

The archetypes are as follows:

  • Connected: They wants to keep things from loved ones and are very sentimental about their items.
  • Practical: They want to keep stuff because it might be useful one day.
  • Energetic : They take on a lot of projects and hobbies. Then they don’t want to get rid of any of it, even though it’s unlikely they will complete it.
  • Frugal: Keep items because of the money they spend on it. Or the idea the item may increase in value.
Image Source: New Minimalism

There’s actual mentions of therapy! It was a one off sentence in an anecdote but I appreciate that they mentioned a client being in therapy that helping them figure out why they held on to certain items.

So many books, and even this book in previous chapters, mention a client just “eventually coming to the realization” on something massive. I guess it can happen that way, but I think that those types of stories really gloss over the work a individual has to do to get to that point. They just seem to think minimalism will solved everything in a dudes life.

I wish they had gone deeper on that or clients that didn’t do therapy but came to figured out their hurdles. Like more on though process to get there.

The last portion of the book was about interior design, they include 12 design tips/elements to incorporate into your final design when your done. I won’t go into them. But they made sense: use existing storage before buying more. Your drawers should be only filled to the point you can open and close them with one hand. Find a home for everything.

Photo by MART PRODUCTION on Pexels.com

I wished that this book had gone a bit deeper in the route of sustainability. They encouraged donating instead of throwing away and using more simple “natural” cleaning products. I don’t remember 2018 that well but I believe that we were more evolved in the eco and decluttering world by then.  They mentioned very briefly donating to more specific originations than just your local Goodwill but don’t explained why (ps: The big places get too overwhelmed with donations and end up trashing most of it).

I did quickly look at their blog, and it seems like nothing has been published since they released the guided journal extension for this book in 2020. A few of the articles touched on items directly mentioned in this book.

Image Source New Minimalism

Overall I just found this book under developed and I would just suggest taking 10 minutes looking through their blog posts and you will probably find all the important parts of this book.

Not to end on a bad note, the book had a lot of pictures of interior spaces, and I really liked them. There was colour, and nice, natural materials. Which is sometimes lacking when you think of minimalist décor. So that was nice to look at when you got to a end of a chapter.

Book Review: How to Avoid a Climate Disaster by Bill Gates

I was originally going to skip this book. I had seen some of the sponsored videos from a number of the eco lifestyles Youtubers (and Legal Eagle) and I wasn’t interested. I don’t really like Bill Gates. I appreciate that he does a fuck ton more philanthropy than any other Billionaire, but I don’t think that makes him a hero.

I ended up watching an unsponsored book review by Kristen Leo. I really enjoyed it, and I would recommend you watch it. She complained about how much he talked about concrete and fertilizer. Hi, my name is Zoe. My interests include knitting, crochet, concrete, and fertilizer. 

So I placed a hold on the book at the library, since I don’t think Bill needs my $. And here we are.

Photo by MART PRODUCTION on Pexels.com

Right off the bat, the introduction and a large majority of this book is pretty pretentious. Gates was talking about how, in 2015, people were asking him to disinvest in oil and he was like ‘nah’ until 2019. And we are supposed to be impressed that he did it? (Also, I don’t know when in 2019. It’s possible he saw Covid-19 spreading in China and dumped his oil stocks, anticipating a price crash due to possible shut downs. However, I have zero evidence to back that up.) Either way, although he does do a lot of charity and investments in riskier start ups, the dude is a product of ~Capitalism~.

So don’t get fooled by the fact that Billy Boy looks like your coworker who will try to dance in the lunchroom the latest Fortnight dance his grandkids taught him. He likely dumped his oil stocks because he suspected they would lose value, or because he was writing a book about the Climate and it would be bad public relations if he was still invested in oil at that point. I don’t know for sure, but I really wasn’t as impressed by this story of him not doing the bad thing as I think he was.

It was also weird how proud he sounded in the first few chapters about not being interested nor wanting to invest in green projects for a number of years, yet would attend meetings with experts. I just don’t understand the logic of why he would waste everyone’s time like that. Those experts and the likes could have used that time to further their work or have meetings with actual possible investors.

Anyways…

At one point later in the book, he calls out myths of people who don’t want to disinvest from oil… seems a bit close to home, Bill. It seems an awful lot like what he was doing less than two years ago.

Let’s move on beyond the introduction of the book. The tone of the writing is incredibly weird. Maybe this would be better as an audiobook. The writing is very informal, so it might sound less wrong in audio form. The book is written like a white mommy blogger turned New York Times bestseller’s debut self-help book. It gets a tad less painful as the book progresses and he focuses on the topic at hand, but his weird writing style will surprise you throughout. Example: when he talks about farts in the chapter about cows and factory farming. He mentions farts, and talks about enjoying saying the word fart far more often than needed.

The cows are judging you Bill… – Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Gates was right in commenting that reducing vehicle and air travel will not be the things that will stop emissions and prevent the Climate Crisis. This was proven last year when the world was as close to stopped as it will probably ever get. In 2020, global emissions dropped 5% – from around 51 to 48 billion equivalent tonnes of CO2. 

The rest of the book goes into each of the largest polluting sectors and suggests some ideas or technological advances that may reduce emissions.

Given Gates’ background, it’s no surprise that the book is all about emerging tech that can hopefully solve all our problems. But maybe instead of improving our technology, we can also work on reducing our needs overall (when I say our, I mean developed countries that have benefited from all the activities that emit carbon).

Despite Kristin Leo mentioning that Gates talked about concrete for too long, I personally found the materials chapter (particularly concrete) too short and vague. He mentioned carbon capture a number of times throughout the book and never really explained what it is. He went into so much detail about nuclear fusion and fission (which was relevant for one chapter), but added no details about carbon capture, like what it is and how it could improve the energy and construction/concrete industries.

One of the things that horrified me the most in this book was the suggestion that if we are behind schedule on dropping emissions, the worst case scenario is that scientists can geo-engineer the clouds to artificially cool the earth, which could buy us a few extra years. He does then admit it’s a bad idea. IF IT’S A BAD IDEA, WHY IS IT IN YOUR BOOK?

This just reinforces my feeling about the book being detailed in areas that don’t matter and vague in areas that might.

My friend Lillian edited this post for me and pointed out that Gates probably added geo-engineering into the book to sound cool and he wants to reminds the reader that he’s smart and hip. I agree with her assessment.  

Photo by eberhard grossgasteiger on Pexels.com

I really didn’t like the way they cited sources in this book, it’s not MLA or the style guides that have the numbers after the concept so you can easily find the source. The back of the book is just a list of the chapters and sources. Not very intuitive if you wanted to look into the things he discussed in more detail.

He rarely discussed lifestyle changes. This does make sense, since lifestyle change has the smallest of small impacts on emissions compared to industry. But even then, his lifestyle suggestions don’t even feel as strong as they should. I think the most he suggested was LED lights and reducing meat consumption. Also to lobby. In this section he mentioned that he used to underestimate the power of Lobbying and wished he did it sooner with Microsoft.

The government basically prevented him from creating a monopoly. He pretty much admitted in that chapter that he wished he used his money and resources at the time to prevent that from happening. Why am I supposed to take this author seriously?

To conclude. I would give this book like 1.5/5 stars. It’s not the worst book I’ve ever read but I’ve read so many better books that touch on industry and the effects on the planet (The Story of Stuff by Annie Leonard and Secondhand: Travels in the New Global Garage Sale by Adam Minter are both mostly about consumer goods but I really enjoyed them, there’s also my last book review of A Good War, specifically about Canada). Overall, I don’t believe that Bill Gates was the best person to deliver the message about emerging green tech, but maybe this book is a decent intro for tech bros to understand the Climate Crisis. Maybe there’s a small chance they will take some action.

Below are a bunch of things that I found more interesting than Bill Gates’ book. If you are going to waste time, I would strongly suggest any of these instead of giving more of your attention to a billionaire.

Article:

The Guardian – Bill Gates: ‘Carbon neutrality in a decade is a fairytale. Why peddle fantasies?’

Podcasts:

99Percent Invisible – Built on Sand

99Percent Invisible – The First Straw

Freakonomics – Two (Totally Opposite) Ways to Save the Planet

YouTube Videos

Kristen Leo – The AUDACITY of Bill Gates’s new book

My Green Closet – Which Ethical Brand has the Best Quality? 👕 Fabric, Fit, Price, Sustainability & Ethics of 5 Tees

Slidebean – Beyond Meat vs Impossible Foods: a fight to take away my steak

Sustainably Vegan – 100 ZERO WASTE SWAPS YOU HAVE TO TRY

The Story of Stuff Project – The Story of Stuff

NPR – Is Recycling Worth it Anymore? The Truth is Complicated

Although a bit on the intense side, particularly if you don’t like the sight of blood: Seaspiracy on Netflix

Book Review: A Good War by Seth Klein

Back in January 2021, I was walking down a sidewalk getting my lunch while I was on site for my job. I passed a cute book shop (Great Escape Bookstore check it out if you’re in Toronto), and they had a sign and A Good War on display. I saw the big ass windmill, Canada, climate and I was in. I immediately DM’ed the shop to buy a copy since they were closed due to Covid restrictions for Wave 2.

Going in, I was expecting the book to be all about green energy in Canada. I will tell you right now, it is not. I would have known if I read the back before buying the book. But let me tell ya, I was confused in the introduction when Klein was talking about the World Wars. Anyways…

The book’s main thesis is that we are in a Climate Emergency and as a nation we should be treating it as such and get our shit together similar to what they did in World War II.

Klein focuses on the different players, individual people, communities, corporations, and (for the largest part) the Government.

Photo by Lachlan Ross on Pexels.com

It took me forever to read this book. Since there’s a lot of information in it, I had to take a lot of breaks. Between reading this and seeing climate and Covid stuff on all my social media, I was just getting a tad overwhelmed and melancholic. Thus this review is being posted four months – and one pandemic wave – later.

In general, I enjoyed the book. Most of the books I’ve read on the climate are about the USA, so it was refreshing and more relevant to read about the place I live. Klein was also really conscious to include Indigenous voices and their Governance throughout. Again, this isn’t something you see if you aren’t reading a book about Canada. 

I have no interest in history, so pretty much all the information about World War II was new to me.

At a high level, I do agree that we are in an emergency/war against carbon emissions and we all should be acting as such. I don’t fully agree with the details of some of Klein’s methods, but I see how he got there.

One thing I wish was a bit more explicit in the conclusion was what the reader should be doing after reading this book. I finished it up and was like, now what? Now I have all this information and nothing to do with it. The clerk at the bookstore, who sold me my copy, told me about how much she enjoyed it and how she was sending letters to our MPs to convince them to take action. I guess this is the main thing we need to do. A lot of the big changes needed won’t be done unless forced to. Examples: purchasing electric vehicles, not fracking, reducing energy consumption in buildings.

I work in existing buildings, so I do want to talk to my boss and see what we can do to be pushing our clients towards more resilient, less oil/natural gas dependent equipment replacements. That might be a hard sell, since gas is currently cheaper than electricity (in Ontario, it is different in other provinces). I’ll update if there’s anything worth reporting on that front.

Photo by Lukas Rodriguez on Pexels.com

I would recommend this book. I found Klein’s suggestions and vision for a sustainable future way more realistic and rooted than Voluntary Simplicity (Link to review), which was basically living in a commune.

Below is a list of the ideas  that I found the most interesting, in case you aren’t going to read the book or want a little preview:

  • Use terms such as ’Climate Crisis’ or ’Climate Emergency’ instead of ‘climate change’ or ’global warming’ like The Guardian started to do in 2019. It puts into focus that this is a pressing issue that should be addressed instead of sounding like a passive item.
  • The government could make Green Bonds, similar to Victory Bonds, which would help raise capital for massive green infrastructure projects, but provide slow yet predictable yields for the investors.
  • The level of infrastructure change is going to be massive. Do you know how much of your day-to-day life relies on oil and natural gas? A metric fuck tonne: your car, your house/apartment, your take-out containers. This will be a complicated process that will require not only more (and new) jobs but lots of money. It will be worth spending because most people enjoy being alive. Also, not screwing over future generations would be cool.
  • Creating new Crown Corporations like they did in the war to keep companies competitive in tenders. (Ex. If there are 1-3 companies that can do a thing, they will bid high cause they know they can get away with it, since exclusivity. A crown corp would bid fair because why would the government want to screw the government, and keep other companies staying competitive). Or to do the stuff that was just too cost-prohibitive for other companies to take on. I really enjoyed this part of the book, maybe because the tendering process is part of my job, but also because I didn’t know that was something that was done during WWII. Again don’t know if I agree with the idea but still interested in the suggestion.
  • A Crown Corporation to buy the old GM plant in Oshawa, and turn it into a factory making electric Canada Post vehicles. See Green Jobs Oshawa for more information on the group working to lobby for that.
  • Oil companies = evil. That’s not how it was described in the book, but that’s the short and dirty version. Oil companies are destroying our environment and not paying enough taxes to do it. Klein suggested either upping their tax rate (similar to what other countries have done) or expropriating it and turning it into a Crown Corporation. I personally think taxing makes more sense, but that may cause the companies to bail on Alberta. Which means we (more like the government or something) should be working on transitioning those workers into a job that isn’t oil based.
  • AKA: the Green New Deal, like the resolution AOC proposed in the State but here and tailored to our landscape.
  • In order to prevent CO2 emissions rising to dangerous levels, everyone needs to be involved. Not as a suggestion, but as a requirement. Every Canadian did something to help in the war effort in WWII, either as direct support to the war efforts, or due to rationing, recycling, and general cutbacks to one’s lifestyles. That needs to happen, particularly to the 1%. We are the 1% of the world, so we should be doing more, but the 1% of our country should be doing the most, since we are in this mess because of ~Capitalism~.
  • The previous point – and most of the suggestions in the book – will require government (mostly Federal) intervention. I don’t love that this is what we need to rely on, because it would be nice to think that people/corporations can do the correct thing if simply asked to. But this past year (2020) has proven that you can’t expect anyone, even your government, to do anything.

We are totally fucked…

Photo by kien virak on Pexels.com

I really admire Klein’s optimism throughout the book. It’s not in your face, but he does seem to believe the best in people. He believes the government, with enough public support, will do what is needed to prevent the climate, and life as we know it, from collapsing. The book did include an epilogue about the Government’s response to Covid-19, and you can tell it was written early in the pandemic. It mentioned strong mask compliance, CERB, and a glimmer of hope for a vaccine. I’m writing this in Wave Three, with both a vaccine shortage, a bunch of empty vaccine appointments for 70+, and no paid sick days. It feels like every level of Government has abandoned us.

Klein did mention in the book that he would keep an updated epilogue on his website. I looked for it but  couldn’t find it. I’m not sure if it was because of the website formatting on my tablet or not. But I would be interested in reading it.

As mentioned before, the main actionable item from the book is letting the Government know that reducing emissions and addressing the Climate Crisis should be a top priority item. Below I’ve put a letter you can send to your government representative to show we care. This letter was heavily adapted (ie mostly copied) from the one found here, on the David Suzuki Foundation page. I also liked this one from Greenpeace.

Dear [Prime Minister Trudeau, or your Member of Parliament],

As Parliament prepares for Budget 2021 and beyond, let’s ensure that the pandemic recovery is green and just, benefitting people and the planet. Every day when I see the news, I see either Covid-19, the climate crisis, or the housing crisis. This budget is the best opportunity to make the environment, sustainability, and resilience keys part of the Countries recovery plan.

I urge you to invest in measures that support communities and create jobs while setting Canada on track to: 

-Reduce carbon pollution to limit warming to 1.5 C and enable Canada to do its fair share to contribute to a livable climate. A few suggestions are:

  • increasing taxation on oil, fossil fuels and eventually slowing/stopping oil and natural gas production;
  • reducing subitizes for animal agriculture and reinvesting it in plant agriculture;
  • More grants/tax cuts for retrofitting homes and offices to assist in transition off oil/natural gas heating. Generally increasing the number of grants and/or tax rebates for energy, and water efficiencies retrofits. 

-Address the biodiversity crisis by protecting, restoring and investing in nature as the foundation of our health, economy and well-being, and reforming industries that interact with it. I’m not sure if this is within the scope of the Federal Government power, but a good start would be to prevent the Ontario Provincial Government from developing protected wetlands in Pickering.

-An end to the use of single-use plastics. Growth of a circular economy, and improve our domestic recycling programs. We reply too often on sending our ‘recycling’ to other countries, instead of dealing with our own messes. 

Budget 2021 must also invest in upgrading the core environmental functions of government necessary to support a green recovery, like chemicals management, pesticide regulation and environmental law enforcement.

Canada’s COVID-19 response and recovery plan must also uphold these principles for a just recovery: 

-Put people’s health and well-being first. No exceptions. 

-Strengthen the social safety net and provide relief directly to people. This past year has shown that providing directly to the people is much more effective than to companies.

-Build solidarity and equity across communities, generations and borders. 

-Uphold Indigenous rights and work in partnership with Indigenous Peoples. 

We don’t have to choose between managing the pandemic and creating a sustainable future. If we don’t get significantly more proactive about reducing Carbon emissions and reducing our collective environmental impact, viruses such as the one we just lived through may be the norm. Which you may not be alive to see happen but I will. So will the generation of kids who already don’t know what the bottom half of a stranger’s face looks like since they don’t have any memories from before this Pandemic.  

All this to say, that pandemic recovery, and Canada’s sustainable future are inseparable issues, and the upcoming budget is the time to take steps for both issues.

Will you commit to supporting budget measures that enable Canada to build a clean-energy economy swiftly and justly?

Sincerely,

[your name will go here]

[your email address will go here], [your location will go here]

That’s pretty much the post. A bit of a departure from what I was planning on reading and reviewing on this blog. But I found the topic really interesting. April is Earth Month so this, and the book I’m currently reading might create a Climate Crisis theme for the blog.

Did any of the ideas that Klein mentioned resonate with you? I would love to hear it in the comments below. 

BOOK REVIEW: Voluntary Simplicity (2nd Edition) by Duane Elgin

autumn boots walking on wet wooden logs

As I was reading thing book I was complaining to pretty much anyone that would let me about how boring it was. They would ask why I’m bothering with it? I said I wanted to finish it so I had content for the blog. Now that I’m done, I can confidently say that the approximately 8 hours that I invested reading this book wasn’t worth it!

Voluntary Simplicity is a fantastic combination of being both boring and extremely pretentious. I went into this book with the intention of liking it. It was mentioned in The Story of Stuff, that I read over Christmas. I loved that book so I was hoping that this book would live up to the hype.

It did not…

Photo by Maksim Romashkin on Pexels.com

The thesis of the book is that everyone should reduce their level of consumerism and live more simply as a way to reduce their environmental impact. Sorta like everyone should be working to reaching ‘One Planet’ levels of consumption/way of living (If you’ve never taken the test, you should, the data is interesting and it explains the concept more).

In the introduction, he explained that living simple isn’t the same thing as poverty. I don’t love the way that he worded that portion, but it’s about how voluntary you are to the simplicity that impacts how much joy and longevity you will get out of it.

After that, there is over 75 pages of testimony’s about how great the voluntary simplicity lifestyle is, and it was so pretentious. It was like when you’re on a first date and you both just ordered appetizers. And that’s when you find out the person sitting across from you is the worst stereotypical of a vegan investment banker. That level of pretentious, self indulgent righteousness.

I can’t even say it gets better after that potion. The whole book is very repetitive. Chapter 5 got a tad better, there was a list of the negative impacts associated with over consumption. I enjoyed reading it the first time I saw it, then I saw a variation two more times. Same with the list of quotes for the major religions/philosophies that would support the idea of simple, sustainable living that I read in three chapters.

This book would have been better as mediocre content for a blog. There are so many  lists and quotes, that would have not been so boring or noticeable if they were spread out over numerous posts.

Here is one example that I screenshot:

The only part of the book I remember/thought about after finishing, is that one of the challenges of achieving a sustainable sociality is a lack of a “collective promise of the future”. Pretty much everyone is working on a different vision of how they want the future to look. Which makes it harder to work on the big societal/intuitional changes that the world (let be honest, first world countries) need to do to ensure we don’t destroy the planet as we know it. Unfortunately the idea it not developed much beyond what I just mentioned.

Photo by Leah Kelley on Pexels.com

The author listed some interesting concepts of what they believe the way of the future should be. Smaller, cohabitation communities close to farm land/food sources. I agree with the high level idea of a sense of community as a pillar of sustainability. However, I believe that their vision for sustainable communities don’t hold up if you think about it too hard. I don’t want to get into much detail about it since they didn’t really either.

The book doesn’t give you much information on how to actually go through the process of simplifying. It’s just a lot of Philosophy 101 mumbo jumbo with the words like environment or sustainability thrown in to make it ~spicy~. Ultimately, I believe that addressing overconsumption is a great way an individual can reduce their environmental impacts. I don’t think this book was the way to deliver that message. Also, that just a small piece of the puzzle of how we can try to solve the climate crisis.

PS. I read some reviews and they mention that the first edition is much better and the rewrites ruined the book. I will take their word for it, and I will not be reading the first edition to compare. 

BOOK REVIEW: Less by Rachel Aust

Rachel Aust is a lifestyle influencer. I’ve been following her YouTube channel for a few years and I knew she had a book that came out in 2018 but didn’t read it until now.

The book is advertised as a visual guide, but it didn’t have as many pictures as I was expecting. There’s a fair amount at the beginning and faded throughout. 

Although there wasn’t as many pictures as I expected, there were a lot of flow charts which I found nice. You can read paragraphs about a questions you should ask yourself when decluttering but a flow chart is more effective and easier to wrap your head around.   

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The book is about 144 pages, so it is an extremely short read. Libby said that I finished reading it in about an hour.  As it’s so short, it didn’t go into as much detail about one would expect for a book about decluttering. I found she did focus on the closet declutter, and finding your personal style. Rachel does have a background in fashion photography so this isn’t that big of a surprise. It would have been nice if other parts of the book where as or more detailed. In particular her chapter about living with a non-minimalist. Five bullet points doesn’t feel like enough for something that I know a lot of people that consider themselves minimalists have an issue with.  

I think if you watched her Minimalism playlist on YouTube, you would get pretty much all of the contents of this book. Every topic covered in this book, with the exception of the cleaning schedule, has a video about it that’s under 8 minutes. In her book trailer, she says the book it an expansion of the information in the videos. I would disagree and say the videos, plus the ones she’s created since the book publication are more detailed that this book. 

Overall it’s a very relaxed quick read. I think it was designed to be a pretty coffee table than a life changing guide. The information isn’t wrong, but it would have been nice to have a little more detail. I cannot recommend purchasing this book, but I do enjoy watching Rachel’s YouTube videos.  

BOOK REVIEW: Year of No Clutter by Eve O. Schaub

I just found this book as a recommended title on Libby so I thought I would give it a shot and I’m glad I did. Year of No Clutter is a memoir by Eve Schaub of the year (I believe its 2016 or 2017) of her and her family decluttering their house, specifically the ‘Hell Room’ a room that seemed to have become the families dumping ground.   

I tried finding some info about Eve after finishing the book and it seems like she’s primarily a blogger. This is her second book, with the first one being Year of No Sugar which documents her family’s year of no additional processed sugar.  

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In the first chapter I was debating returning the book to the library. It’s primarily the story of Eve and the Hell Room, which sounded super super disgusting. There are boxes with cat pee stains, dead bugs and one dead mouse. When she saw the dead mouse she thought it was so gross that she wrote a post about it for her blog and decided the she needed to keep the mouse as a memento of the blog.  

Everyone that I mentioned this to agreed its nasty and asked why I was reading it. Which was fair, I was debating calling it quits because I didn’t want to read the memoir of someone who thought it was cool to keep little biohazards. But I pushed through, because I found her writing quite engaging.  

Once I got past the mouse, the book improved a lot. The book documents her year, and it’s not in a month by month play thought like The Year of Less (Link to Review). But a series of anecdotes of when her (and her kids) would work to tackle all the items in the room.  This is after she comes to the realization that she had hoarding tendencies and if left unchecked could become a full hoarding situation.  

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Things I like about the book: the decluttering process wasn’t easy. I will compare this book to The Year of Less again, since they are both decluttering memoirs. Cait was able to get rid of like 50% of her items in the first month. That isn’t something that most people can do, so Eve talking about her struggles with detaching memories from her items was interesting to read and I think better reflects most people’s struggle as they start the process. Decluttering is a muscle and needs to be built up before its really good for anything.  

I also enjoyed that Eve actually mentioned the part after making the pile for the donation bin. She talked about selling clothes to consignment, online and donating it to different organizations which I feel like so many minimalism/decluttering books skip or briefly mention. She also talks about the time requirements to go to all these places while trying to run a household.   

The last thing I will mention is that the family is filled with crafters/creatives which I feel aren’t mentioned enough in the decluttering/minimalism space. There’s a chapter where she talks about going on a weaving retreat and she talks about knitting which are things I really relate too and enjoyed they got a mention. 

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The main thing I didn’t like, how long she kept that dead mouse. But also how uninvolved her husband was in the process. Her and her kids would spend so much time looking at all this stuff (which a bunch of it was his, although he wouldn’t own up to it) and he would just complain there was piles waiting for to go to Value Village but didn’t seem to take any active role in maybe getting the stuff out of the house if it bother him so much. Her method of finally getting him to look through he’s shit was to just pile it in inconvenient places till he broke down and looked at it. I am not married but I feel like that isn’t the best way to do it. But that chapter was a strong reminder that this book is a memoir and not a guide.  

Overall I enjoyed the book after getting past the first couple chapters. The book isn’t a guide but she does share some of the things that she figured out. I think a lot of her epiphanies are things that were mentioned in Decluttering at the Speed of Life if you are looking for the step by step guide version of a decluttering process. 

BOOK REVIEW: What Your Clutter Is Trying to Tell You by Kerri L. Richardson

This is a short review for a short book.

It book doesn’t focus on physical side of decluttering but the mental side. Something that I wasn’t expecting going in.

In the introduction the author was discussing one of her clients having a difficult time dealing with the miscellaneous paperwork that lived on his desk (same, my dude). As the two discussed, they determined that the lack of creativity in his day job made him emotionally unwilling to deal with the paperwork. So once he noticed that, he started to chase after more creative work at his job…. and then boom! The paperwork wasn’t an issue anymore.

I didn’t find that example relatable (apart for the paper mess), I found it a little too “woo woo” or “granola” for my analytical brain to wrap its head around.

The rest of the book is more about sorting out what are the blocks in your life that are preventing you from decluttering. She also talks about the three common types of blocks and I will give you a high-level breakdown about ’em since it was the only part I found interesting.

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  1. Unrealistic expectations: maybe it’s the hobby you think you’ll do on when you get time. Or the dress you keep for when you lose that last 5 pounds (will circle back to her opinion on weight further down). But in general, its what you want from the item and what your getting isn’t the same.

Actually that’s a lie, I just reviewed the chapter. It’s about your expectations about how productive you will be when it comes to decluttering.  She’s a proponent of the Pomodoro technique (20 mins productive, 5 min break. Rinse and repeat). You wont lose as much momentum since you wont get overwhelmed as your breaking stuff down into smaller tasks.

I think my misremembering of this idea is also valid and I’m keeping it in my summary. In general, it’s evaluating the things and people around you and determining if it lines up with your current self and the self you are working towards.

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2. Boundaries: Don’t have to declutter it if it never comes into your space in the first place. It’s also about not over extending yourself and not taking more responsibilities to be a people pleaser. She challenges the reader to disappoint one person per a day (about something small) for a week to improves ones ability to say “no” to things that do not bring joy.

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3. Old Beliefs: times are changing, so should our beliefs and the way that we treat people and things in our lives. It’s important to question why you are keeping items in your life. If you’ve moved past a phase and its time to make sure your space reflects.


After that is more woo woo shit about how your purposely keeping clutter, because your afraid to “graduate, spiritually, to the next soul level” that comes with having a cleaner space???

She also says at least 3 things that are pretty much fat shaming. Like your keeping yourself fat because your self conscious and using your weight to hide that. In the section about common places of clutter, the body is one. You know, since fat is bad and definitely something that every person can control 100% of the time… 

An excerpt from the book… Context: this conversation between Kerri and her client who said she would start online dating after her lost a certain amount of weight

I hope you can tell that I was less than impressed by her attitude in that respect. As well, she assuming that the reader would be a woman, by always referring to our inner critic by she/her pronouns. Which was more odd and annoying given the fact that she mentioned clients of all genders. So she does know that decluttering isn’t a gendered issue. Yet still wrote with that assumption.

To conclude, I cannot recommend this book. Even if you like books that more conceptual or emotion based, this book had me constantly rolling my eyes or being mildly disgusted by the authors views.

So please skip it, even if its short. Just read the Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up. Both will ask you to say “thank you” to the items your let go. But one won’t call you fat in the process.

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BOOK REVIEW : The Year of Less by Cait Flanders

I recently finished listening to The year of Less by Cait Flanders. Published in 2018, the book chronicles Cait’s journey through her year of being in a shopping ban. My friend Sam recommended it and I kept seeing it in Libby as related titles to other books I was reading.

The short review is: I enjoyed the book. I listened to the audiobook, which was narrated by the author which I though was nice, as it is her memoir.

I also liked that Cait is Canadian. As a Torontonian, it’s nice to read from authors that are in my neck of the woods (sometimes, most of the book took place in BC).

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The book starts with a prologue of Cait telling her friends that she’s going to do a shopping ban. Meaning she’s only going to buy food, gas, and an approved list of items. After that, each chapter is a reflection of one month of her journey.

As part of the ban, she also decided that she would  get rid of any extra items in her life. In July, her first month of the ban, she decluttered like 40 or 50% of her belonging. Which is pretty impressive.

The book is mostly reflection on her process, if you are looking for a practical guide or a step by step guide, this book isn’t it!

I noticed that the majority of the one star reviews come from people that expected it to be a guide, not a memoir. But if you read the full tile or the synopsis, this shouldn’t be an issue for you. But if you want a guide, see the last six pages of the book (#spoilers).

Although, its not a guide there were some take always. I though that her November chapter and facing Black Friday was the best, and most useful part of the book.

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Maybe because I was listening to large chucks of it at a time, I did find that some of her wording or things she was saying rather repetitive. For example, when she was talking about the stuff she quit before this year it would always the same words, in the same order.

This next part will seems cold, since her addictions are obviously important and transformative but I heard about it too often… I didn’t hear much about her trying to learn to sew or more logistics on how she was trying to go zero waste. Which would have been nice since those are both large projects.

Again it’s not a instruction manual, but I found she focused a lot on things that happened years ago than things that were happening during the year of her spending ban. It seems like she mastered sewing and going low waste without any sort of second thought, which I find unlikely. But I heard so much about her previous drinking habits in ways that didn’t make sense in the greater context of what was going on.

She mentioned in the epilogue she didn’t take up candle making but it would have been nice to have more of an exploration on her buying the supplies and why she ended up not using them. What was she doing instead? Not sure, it wasn’t developed.

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So overall a nice quick read/listen. I didn’t hate it, but it’s been a few days since I finished it and I don’t really remember much about it. I mentioned that to my friend that recommended it to me and we both agree on that point.

I do remember being very frustrated by her always buying books and never using her Library. She would donate her books to the library but didn’t actually use the resources. I found that part extremely frustrating!

On the podcast I listen to “Go Help Yourself” they always ask if this book needed to be written and who is it perfect and not perfect for. Which I think is a useful format to wrap up this book.

Did this book need to be written?

No. In my opinion, there was very few memoirs that need to be written. Without wanting to sound mean, this book didn’t present anything particularly new or revolutionary.

Who is this book perfect for?

I think its perfect for people that need to hear other peoples success stories as a way to motivate themselves. Very similar to people that watch cleaning videos to get themselves to clean. Or people that are just entering the minimalism/slow movement and want to see how others have done it.

Who is this not perfect for?

Based on the 1 star reviews on Goodreads, this book is terrible if you are looking for actionable advice and a step by step guide on how to live with less.

So that’s my review of A Year of Less by Cait Flanders. Have you read it or seen it in the bookstores/ library shelves? Let me know in the comments.