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Monday, May 1, 2017

Books, Reviews and Reading Lists

Posted by Tim Stobbs on March 15, 2016

I love books, like A LOT.  Like to the point the librarians at our local library branch know me by first and last name, which isn’t surprising when we go there almost every week of the year.  As some of you may recall I even used to post the odd book review here on relevant titles, but I’ve more or less stopped that as I read too much and couldn’t keep up with what I finished reading. (For reference my reading goal for the year is 100 books, which isn’t really that much of stretch for me. I did say I read A LOT.)

Yet now I found the crack for book lovers website: aka Goodreads.  While I’m rather new to the site I’m slowly building up a listing of books I’ve read and like and will even put in the odd review for those that might be interested in following my reading tastes this is my profile.  Please be patient with me as building up what I’ve read over the years is a work in progress.   I do hope to offer you all an idea of what retirement books I found useful over the years plus a heavy dose of other business books, fantasy and science fiction and even some young adult books (yes I like Harry Potter and Percy Jackson).

So if somehow you are curious about what I’m reading in a given week I now am giving you all collective permission to stalk my reading habits.  Hopefully this will be more effect means for keeping you up to date on books that may help you out on your own journey to early retirement.

Book Review: The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up

Posted by Tim Stobbs on May 7, 2015

So after hearing about The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo a fair bit in the media I borrowed a copy from my library and started to read.  After all I’ve had passing flirting with minimalism over the years so I figured it couldn’t hurt.  But to be honest, I didn’t expect to learn much from the book. Damn I was wrong.

For for being a fairly short book Marie manages to pack in a lot of insightful comments on people’s behaviour to our stuff.  The first one to struck me as being hugely helpful is the average person is never taught how to purge or organize anything except in a haphazard way from family or perhaps friends.  So what happens is our homes (no matter how large or small) tend to build up WAY to much stuff.  Now how messy you are will determine how obvious the problem is, but volume still often exceeds what we can reasonably store in our homes.

Then people try to deal with this huge backlog of things but often try to do it just a little at a time which is like trying to swim up a river a foot at a time.  You might make some progress but you are going to feel exhausted from it all the time and likely give up.  So Marie’s solution is simple…do one monster size purge in your life and then you are done (it may take months to finish).  This isn’t to say you don’t need to do a little purging once and a while afterward, but organizing your stuff if pointless until you get rid of a huge amount of it.

Marie’s method is interesting because she doesn’t focus on what to purge, but rather what to keep.  Her criteria of it must ‘spark joy’  as you handle each item sounded weird to me until I stumbled on the idea of  that means: do you love the item?  So by default there is no maybe pile…you either love and keep it or it gets purged.  It’s a somewhat brutal method, but given the amount of crap people own it is surprising effective criteria.

Then to hone your decision making skills she points out a method of doing it by category of object for the entire house instead of by room.  That way you get practice on the easier decision items and work down to the hard decisions like sentimental items.  Her suggested list is clothes, books, papers, komono (miscellany) and lastly mementos.   Komono is further broken down into CDs/DVDs, skin care, makeup, accessories, valuables (passports, credit cards…), electronics and cords, household equipment (stationary, pens, sewing kits…), household supplies (expendables like tissue, detergents, medicine…), kitchen goods/food supplies and other.  Your stop point for purge is when you feel comfortable with what is left.

After you do your monster purge then you start to organize things .  At which point most storage solutions are not really required since you actually have like 25 to 80% less stuff.  Then the trick to preventing clutter from all from coming back is to keep everything in its place.  Assign a home for EVERYTHING and put it back when you are done using it.  She cautions not to try and organize as you purge as you will lose focus and then stop.

Overall I’m done clothes, books, DVDs and still working on papers…I got side tracked by having to finish my taxes.  I have to agree with the idea of the monster purge idea as once you get going you hit a sort of momentum that makes the effort of keeping going easier.  My motivation for this is the dream of waking up in  house where I love everything that is there…my neglected items are gone and I can FIND things easily.  She rightly points out without some kind of goal in mind the process really won’t work.

This isn’t to say that some of her ideas are a bit odd like unpacking your purse or bag completely at the end of each day after you get back home from work.   Umm, no thanks. Too much work for no real point. Or that she treats objects like they have personality and you should thank them for their service.  So feel free to ignore the really odd ideas in the book…I am.

In the end, I have to say I was pleasantly surprised by the book and I am finding it useful so far.  It remains to be seen if I can complete the process, but I’m enjoying the results so far.  So have you read the book yet?  Do you think Marie is nuts or brilliant…or perhaps in between?

Book Review: How to Be Free

Posted by Tim Stobbs on January 29, 2015

I came across a reference to Tom Hodgkinson’s How to Be Free recently and of course based on the title I knew I wanted to read it.  Yet after finishing the book I have a hard time wrapping my head around some of his chapters as some were bloody well brilliant and others show an ignorance so profound I nearly stopped reading the book entirely.

Overall Tom offers some excellent advise on being more free like embrace thrift and lower your expenses, get rid of your debt and pay off your mortgage (or avoid getting one in the first place).  Then he spends a lot of book dealing with many of the issues of freedom that exist solely in our heads.  While somewhat obvious, this is something we can forget.  We chain ourselves down in obligations and activities that we don’t enjoy and then complain about them.  Well stop hitting yourself on the head and stop doing those things or change our mind about them…obvious when you think about it but in some cases we need a bit of a reminder.

As an example of the philosophy elements of the book that I liked he talked a bit about chores and one that personally hit home to me was his point about housework.  It’s only a chore if you want it to be one.  If you lower your standards just a touch to accept not doing a perfect job and attempt to make it a bit more enjoyable by listening to music or doing it with others it can be something that isn’t nearly as bad as some people make it out to be.

Then in a few chapters I literally shook my head in disgust on the man’s ignorance.  For example, in chapter 22 he talks about pensions and points out that people who sell them often use fear to sell you their product and that money managers can make lots of money off of your money (in fees) which are true.  But then his solution for this is to forget about a pension entirely. PARDON?!?!?  He offer the following as solutions: keep working, own a home and use that equity to live on or just give up on saving anything and put your fate in God’s hands (aka: depend on your family, friends and neighbours in your old age).  Dear me, what a bloody stupid idea.  Let’s forget about tomorrow and assume I can work forever and hope my house is worth enough to pay for some kind of period of not working in your old age.  Or worse yet do nothing and depend on fate to cover my ass.  Then again that sounds an awful like most boomers retirement plans, but that is another story entirely.

The only other thing that drove me a bit nuts is his excess use of comparing middle ages Catholic approach to life (which was a bit more carefree) to the Protestant norm (think stiff upper lip and belief that work is good) that now exists in England.  While cover it once was a useful insight to the English mindset and you can even easily extrapolate that to North American views, he goes back to it over and over again in the book.

Yet his financial advice is down right dangerous in some cases.  The author clearly points out that he is often in overdraft for his bank account and he doesn’t keep much (if any?) savings.  This obviously can also be a barrier to freedom as you can often relieve a lot of worry in your head just by having a bit of saving for when life tosses you a curve ball (something breaks, insurance claim, or job layoff).  I’ve mocked his point about pensions already, so I won’t beat that dead horse.

So yes I agree with much of the advice in this book which is nicely summed up on the back of the edition I borrowed from the library: life is absurd, be merry, be free.  I would add just don’t forget to put some money side of the world and you will be just fine.