Thursday, December 23, 2010

Simpler Living: A Back to Basics Guide to Cleaning, Furnishing, Storing, Decluttering, Streamlining, Organizing, and More by Jeff Davidson

Book Review by Zinta Aistars

• Hardcover: 456 pages
• Publisher: Skyhorse Publishing (June 30, 2010)
• Price: $24.95
• ISBN-10: 160239976X
• ISBN-13: 978-1602399761

One of my first tests of a book is when the review copy arrives in my mail box: just how eager am I to read it? When I received my copy of Simpler Living (for the full title, see above, as it is far too long and complicated to repeat!), I winced. Hoo boy, some real heft here, with 456 pages and heavy hard covers and glossy pages filled with stock photos.

The book appears to address those of us who have busy lives and are forever on the run, trying to find a way to organize and simplify. Well, a book of this kind of heft and size isn’t going to be simple to carry with me for the kind of reading I have to do on my schedule. As one of those too-busy people, I tend to grab a page when I can, on the run. I put a book in my purse or briefcase, I read a few pages before sleep and then put it on my nightstand, or I take it along on whatever errand I have to run, just in case I find a spare moment. This is impossible with a book this size. And so, it stayed on a desk in my spare bedroom. And it stayed. And it stayed. No, it doesn’t belong on my coffee table. That space is reserved for my favorites, art books and travel books, a book of poetry or a magazine. More than that and we begin to look at clutter—just the thing this book is trying to tell us to avoid.

Out of sight, out of mind, but eventually I picked the book up again—and yes, was forced to tote it along in my briefcase so that I could do some lunch hour reading. The author warns us up front that this is not the kind of book one reads cover to cover, which I had already figured out. But as I started to skim through, reading a page here and a page there, I had to consider just how would I use such a book? And is it formatted for that kind of best use? After all, I am all for simplifying. Indeed, I have been steadily doing so in all areas of my life. My plan is to eventually retire to a one- or two-room cabin, so extra stuff will definitely have to go and simplifying my life is actually one of my highest priorities these days.

This book would have to go. Not only because it is so large and so heavy, but because it attempts to cover far too much—some 1,500 hints on how to simplify one’s life. Perhaps the author should have considered his own advice and simplified in order to be more relevant, timely and accessible. The book is a clutter of far too much information. Less really is more. In this day and age of easy access to the Internet, I'm not sure I see the purpose of this book at all.

The idea of Simpler Living seems to be that when I am contemplating what to do about a cluttered closet, or a broken-down appliance, or out of control debt, or a lackluster relationship, or redecorating that spare bedroom, or entertaining a group of friends, or preparing to go grocery shopping, or … I would go looking for this book for advice?

Um, no.

If my car has stalled, I will go to my most trusted mechanic for advice. When I am redecorating, I will check my local handyperson stores and talk to a contractor or browse through some books and magazines specifically about home decor. When I am getting ready to throw a party, I will page through my best cookbook. When I am considering my financial options, I will set up an appointment with my financial advisor, who knows my resources and my goals for my future.

Photos (stock) unfortunately are at odds with content. For instance, we read advice about keeping one's nightstand no higher than one's bed for ease of access and view of clock (that's sensible), even while some pages later is a large photograph of a child's bed with the nightstand a good 10 inches higher than the bed.

Simpler Living certainly has some good, general advice within its many pages. Although geared for a middle-class to relatively wealthy family in its advice, it tosses out a few nuggets of wisdom some of us could use. Yet these nuggets are too hard to find. In fact, at first blush, I can’t recall any. Most everything in the book is very general and painfully obvious. Throw out what you don’t really need. Pay off the highest interest credit card first. Backup your files on your computer.

But you knew that already, didn’t you?

There is also some questionable and odd advice. For example, the author suggests attaching one’s bedside lamp to the wall rather than on one's nightstand, as that way there should be more room on the nightstand (for more stuff??). This, the author asserts, can eliminate the need to dust. Huh, wait a minute. Why would I not need to dust a lamp just because it is affixed to the wall instead of standing directly on my nightstand?

Another painfully obvious example: “When you send a fax, remember to indicate whom it is for and who is sending it. Keep a supply of transmittal forms near your fax machine.”

I had to just blink at that one. Most of us in 2010 no longer use fax machines, but if we do, surely we know this basic information about sending a fax. If we don’t, somehow I would guess this book won’t help. Has America really sunk to such dumbing down levels? Reminds me of the label I recently read on a jar of peanut butter: “Warning: contains peanuts.”

And then there is this: “Instead of spending your money on books … pick up the New York Times Book Review.” The advice goes on to state that once you’ve read the review of the book in this publication, you will no longer have to read the book at all in order to discuss it “intelligently” at the office water cooler.

See previous paragraph about the dumbing down of America.

And then keep your money for paying off debt and pass on buying this one.

Author Jeff Davidson is founder and director of, an organization devoted to helping people live and work at a more comfortable pace. He is the author of 56 books, including 60-Second Organizer, 60-Second Self-Starter, and 60-Second Innovator, and the iPhone App "Making Life Simpler." He lives in Raleigh, North Carolina.


Weasel-Words said...

looks you like you picked on 1/2 half of one percent of the tips to tee off on, ignored the other 1493 tips, and are unaware that it's a coffee table books

Zinta Aistars said...

I suggest you read this review more carefully. For obvious reasons, I can't discuss all 1,500 tips or I would be in danger of writing another un-simple book. The tips are predominantly too general to be useful. I am quite aware it is a coffee table book; my point is that this format is inconvenient for this type of book. It is meant for those who have a hectic lifestyle. Such readers won't usually be found lounging near a coffee table.