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Tackling the TBR [29]: December 2017

tackling the TBR

It’s once again time for my favorite feature: Tackling the TBR! There’s nothing I love more than picking out which books to read next, and this slightly organized method of reading has really amped my enjoyment to the next level. Bring on the mantras!

Read the best books first.
&
Life is too short to read books you’re not enjoying.

However you put together your TBR for the next month, the goal is to reduce the amount of obligation in reading and increase the fun.


Here’s a look at how the system works:

1. Identify the titles that take top priority in your TBR.
2. Combine them all in your own Tackling the TBR post.
3. Throughout the month pick from that pile as the mood strikes you. <-November 2017 I’m trying something new and reading them in a specific, carefully pre-determined order.

Here’s what mine looks like:

December 2017 TBR Tackler Shelf:

I, amazingly, read almost 75% of last month’s TBR Tackler Shelf. It might be too early to confirm whether I like having a semi-set reading schedule or not, but November’s stats showed a remarkable increase in completion rate. Considering those stats also included a Stormlight Archive reread and 80% of Oathbringer, I’m stoked to see what December can bring. Per my Incomplete Series Schedule shelf on Goodreads, these titles are next in the docket and I’m stoked! I’ll be finishing off several series and starting a few that I’ve been eager to read for months now. Oathbringer and Murder of Crows should be checked off by the end of the weekend. I’m most excited for the 9th Kate Daniels book. ^_^


Niki’s Incomplete Series Challenge [Via Fantasy Buddy Reads]

November 2017 Titles Tackled:

Series Finished: 2
 Dragondrums – Anne McCaffrey
The Infinity Gate – Sara Douglass

 Series Brought UTD: 0

Series Progressed: 6
 Working for Bigfoot – Jim Butcher
Magic Stars – Ilona Andrews
The Dragon Reborn – Robert Jordan
Magic Shifts – Ilona Andrews
Bride of Death – T.A. Pratt
The Human Division – John Scalzi

New Series Started: 0

Abandoned: 1
Bard’s Oath – Joanne Bertin [DNF]

Rereads: 2
The Way of Kings – Brandon Sanderson
Words of Radiance – Brandon Sanderson

YTD Totals:
Finished Series: 15
Up To Date Series: 21
Series Progressed: 50
New Series Started: 18
Abandoned: 9


What books are you Tackling this month? Even if you don’t specifically use my system, feel free to share your versions of how you manage your TBR pile (and the links to your posts if applicable) in the comments. :)

by Niki Hawkes

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Tackling the TBR [28]: November 2017

tackling the TBR

It’s once again time for my favorite feature: Tackling the TBR! There’s nothing I love more than picking out which books to read next, and this slightly organized method of reading has really amped my enjoyment to the next level. Bring on the mantras!

Read the best books first.
&
Life is too short to read books you’re not enjoying.

However you put together your TBR for the next month, the goal is to reduce the amount of obligation in reading and increase the fun.


Here’s a look at how the system works:

1. Identify the titles that take top priority in your TBR.
2. Combine them all in your own Tackling the TBR post.
3. Throughout the month pick from that pile as the mood strikes you. <-November 2017 I’m trying something new and reading them in a specific, carefully pre-determined order.

Here’s what mine looks like:

November 2017 TBR Tackler Shelf:

Last month I finished all but two titles on my list, one of which I’m halfway through… win. I’m organizing my TBR Tackler shelves with a bit more structure this month. You see, I was inspired by the Bookstooge’s TBR Organization post and decided to adapt it using my Incomplete Series High Priority shelf on Goodreads. When enabled, the GR shelves let you rank titles, which I’ve used to list them out by priority. My TBR Tackler shelf here reflects the top 15 books from that list in descending order. Cool, eh? What I was hoping to achieve was a stronger focus on these high-priority titles, and scheduling them out more evenly so that I’m not reading too many similar ones back to back.

I haven’t been able to stick to a set reading scheduling the past, but with my current focus on getting through series I’ve already started (meaning they are ALL high priorities), I think this structure is exactly what I need, if only for a little while. It will also help me plan ahead a little better in regard to library reserves. I have 5 series-enders on here I’m hoping to get through this month, so wish me luck! Realistically with my WoR reread and with Oathbringer, I’ll only get through about 7 of these books, but with this new system, the ones I don’t get to will just move up on the list for next month. Let’s see how it goes. :)


Niki’s Incomplete Series Challenge [Via Fantasy Buddy Reads]

October 2017 Titles Tackled:

Series Finished: 4
 Within the Sanctuary of Wings – Marie Brennan
Arcade Catastrophe – Brandon Mull
To Guard Against the Dark – Julie E. Czerneda
Into the Bright Unknown – Rae Carson

 Series Brought UTD: 2
An Echo Of Things To Come – James Islington
Strange Dogs – James S.A. Corey

Series Progressed: 3
Dragonsinger – Anne McCaffrey
Magic Breaks – Ilona Andrews
The Great Hunt – Robert Jordan

New Series Started: 1
Dragonmaster – Chris Bunch

Abandoned: 2
 Dragonmaster [DNF] – Chris Bunch
Guilty Pleasures [10/25] – Laurell K. Hamilton

YTD Totals:
Finished Series: 13
Up To Date Series: 21
Series Progressed: 44
New Series Started: 18
Abandoned: 8


What books are you Tackling this month? Even if you don’t specifically use my system, feel free to share your versions of how you manage your TBR pile (and the links to your posts if applicable) in the comments. :)

by Niki Hawkes

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The Obsessive Bookseller Simplifies Life [7]: Photos

simplifies-life-2017

In case you missed my Introductory Post, my world was in such an upheaval that I was forced to take drastic measures by simplifying and organizing all the things that caused me stress. Each month, in 2017, I’m tackling different aspects of my life that are clutter-stressors by organizing and altering them into things that bring me joy.


August 2017: Photos

So, you might be wondering why I skipped July’s Simplifying Life post. It’s not because I’ve been posting less. It’s not because I lost motivation. It’s not even because I got busy. It’s because IM STILL WORKING ON MY DANG PHOTO PROJECT. This topic quickly launched itself into the most frustrating project I’ve ever tackled, setting me way behind schedule for all of the others lined up for 2017. Let me explain.

Grab some popcorn, we’ll be here a while.

-> I usually try to make these posts insightful and relevant to others… This photos post is likely going to be neither. I decided to share it anyways because it’s still a part of my journey in 2017.

The Photo Project:

The story starts almost 2 years ago when my husband and I decided we’d like to start a family. One of the thousand worries that cross my mind was “I need to get my pictures organized so I’m ready for baby photos” (because my answer to every stressful thing in life is to organize). Thus began my 4 month embarkment on organizing the photos I had, procuring a reliable backup for them, and getting into a routine for ordering prints. This initial organizational process was brutal.

My first issue was operating solely on my 10-year-old Mac laptop that’s at max memory/capacity and takes %#@& forever to do anything (I have to be willing to wait 3 – 5 minutes every time I click the mouse). It goes without saying that I am NOT a patient person. It was an agonizing process of painstakingly arranging thousands of photos into their own “events,” meaning I didn’t put them into albums (this will be relevant later). This took about 4 months of working on it in baby steps – a little at a time throughout the days (while dealing with an eyestrain injury, might I add). It involved several reboots and freak outs and I seriously considered chucking my computer on several occasions. I think this Obsessive Bookseller finally found an organizational project that was not fun to work on.

Things went well for several months after that. Right about the time my son was born, I was On. My. Game! Uploading pics, ordering prints within a few weeks, and scrapbooking them immediately. This was level-up on-top-of-shit, even for me.

And then my computer reached max capacity, and it was all downhill from there.

Flash forward 4 months to last Christmas where my wonderful husband scrimped and saved (even going so far as to have his parents spend their Christmas money for him on me) to get me a brand new computer. I sobbed.

This next step should have been simple:

1. Obtain an external hard drive
2. Put files from my old Mac onto external hard drive
3. Put files onto new computer using external hard drive
4. Contiue on with life using my new computer.

If only. Here’s what happened instead:

1. – 2. Were actually successful… Then when I went to put the old files onto the new computer, it told me the Operating Systems weren’t compatible. This means I had to go back and upgrade my old Mac to the new operating system. The trouble is, with the new operating system came a new version of Photos where ALL OF MY EVENTS DISAPPEARED!!!

I went through the 5 stages of grief for the next two months.

When I finally accept the situation, I went back on the old computer and started the organizing process again from scratch. Only this time, I decided to sort all of the photos onto folders in my hard drive, rather than within the program itself. This took me several months to accomplish.

Niki’s thought process: “Okay, so the photos are organized, each computer has the correct operating system, and now I’m ready to repeat steps 1-4 and get my new computer up and running! In three… 2… 1…

The files didn’t transfer from the hard drive. WTF??!

Oh, okay, so only a small portion of the files transferred because apparently my new computer only has 4G of memory…shit.”

What to do? My first inclination was to delete unnecessary files, but no matter what I took off, the memory never seemed to drop much. I wanted as much room as possible for photos going forward, so I had a brilliant idea: “I’m going to figure out how to wipe the computer back to factory setting so I can go in and, instead of transferring files, add just to the programs I’m going to need most!”

As it turns out, there’s a huge problem with that idea: if you wipe a computer back to factory settings, it also erases the Operating System. If you never went in and claimed the computer with your Apple ID before wiping it, it won’t let you do anything with it because it thinks you’re a dirty thief.

So here I sit, with a useless new computer, no way to get photos off of my phone because my old computer is full, and 2 years of work that have amounted to absolutely nothing.

I’m going to need another few months to grieve.


The goal of getting photos organized was to simplify my life when it came to retrieving, preserving, and ordering them. As you can see by this sob story, I have been unable to simplify anything and in fact have managed to snowball any progress into glaring non-simplification. I’m still working daily on a solution, but am so sick of this project that I’m ready to wash my hands of it and move on to the next one.

Project Status: Photos Most Definitely NOT Simplified. Yet.

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo

Title: The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: the Japanese art of decluttering and organizing

Author: Marie Kondo

Series: N/A

Genre: Self-Help

Rating: 4/5 stars

The Overview: Japanese cleaning consultant Marie Kondo takes tidying to a whole new level, promising that if you properly simplify and organize your home once, you’ll never have to do it again. Most methods advocate a room-by-room or little-by-little approach, which doom you to pick away at your piles of stuff forever. The KonMari Method, with its revolutionary category-by-category system, leads to lasting results. In fact, none of Kondo’s clients have lapsed (and she still has a three-month waiting list).

With detailed guidance for determining which items in your house “spark joy” (and which don’t), this international best seller featuring Tokyo’s newest lifestyle phenomenon will help you clear your clutter and enjoy the unique magic of a tidy home – and the calm, motivated mindset it can inspire. -Goodreads

The Review:

I have been an organizer all of my adult life, even going so far as to lists “organizing” as my strongest asset on job applications (as it turns out, all the jobs I’ve ever had have been optimal organizing jobs). 2017 is my year of Simplifying Life, which involves, you guessed it, organizing every aspect. So, when my library flashed an available copy of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up in front of my face, I snagged it… Serendipity? I think so.

This book was fun for a couple of reasons. One of which was that it allowed me to compare my organizing skill set against a professional. I’m delighted to report that I actually came away from it with several new great ideas and a whole new perspective on how to get rid of stuff. The book is packed with many great tips along with an interesting look into how the author developed the KonMari method over the years. Also – it was amazing to finally find someone who can talk about organizing and getting rid of stuff without advocating minimalism! I love stuff. I love MY stuff. I just don’t want to be buried under it.

One of the best things Marie Kondo does is present her method with a clear order of operations for tidying (she uses the word “tidy” in the same way I would talk about organizing and getting rid of stuff). The idea is to ease you into the process by starting out with things that are easier to get rid of. #1 was clothing. This is already a revolution for me, because when I go through my stuff, I tend to always begin with keepsakes – the most difficult things to part with. Anyway, her method involves gathering every like-item of each category in one place. It’s important that you don’t worry about organizing until you’re done sorting items into either keep” or “discard”. One point of contention I’d like to briefly note here is that she advocates throwing things away, whereas I’m more inclined to donate. She does bring up donation as an option, but more often than not describes throwing away dozens and dozens of bags of items).

Her method hinges on 1. using your ability to identify which items bring you joy and 2. your willingness to get rid of everything that doesn’t. This is the part I found most helpful. You see, most other methods I’ve researched advocate identifying which items to discard. Whether it be “get rid of 1000 items over the next year” or “find one item a day to get rid of”. They put more emphasis on quantity over quality that IMO focuses on the negatives. Marie Kondo changed my perspective by conveying that what’s important is not what you discard, but what you choose to keep. With the other methods, it gets to a point where you’re hounding your house, looking for things to discard (I can attest that it can get really frustrating). Kondo has her clients physically touch every item and spend a moment considering whether or not it sparks joy. While her and I don’t agree on every point within her method, this one at least was a home run.

Speaking of not agreeing, the next category after clothing is books… Kondo is of the philosophy that if you buy a book and don’t read it right away, chances are you’ll never get around to reading it and it needs to go. The intention to read a book is not a good enough reason to keep it. BLASPHEMY! Now, I admit I get where she’s coming from, but I think this only applies to the average person and not us book-obsessed. Arguably, books are my life, and when you devour 60+ books a year, there’s a good chance you actually will get to a lot of the titles on your shelves (eventually).

But it got me thinking…

What if getting rid of the books you intend to read in favor of keeping just the books you are excited to read would actually make you feel lighter and more free? On one hand, being surrounded by books is one of my biggest joys in life, but (as any book lever can relate, that looming TBR can cause a ton of stress. I always enjoy what I’m reading, but much less when I’m focused on getting through my current reads because I’m impatient to get to my to-reads.

About five years ago, I had over 4000 books in my house. I don’t remember the exact numbers for the math I did, but at the current rate I was reading, it would’ve taken me over 40 years to get through all of them. Add to that all of the upcoming new releases and all of the hundreds of books on my Goodreads TBR that I have yet to purchase, and we have a problem. Let me repeat: 40 YEARS! How’s that for stressful? So I downsized, getting rid of everything I found only mildly interesting and only keeping the books I thought I’d pay attention to within the next 10 years. As I sit here thinking about all of my favorite books buried underneath mediocre TBR books, I can’t help but think that thinning it out yet once more might not be a bad idea. I definitely don’t condone throwing out most of your books if, like me, reading is your number one joy in life, but I can definitely see the benefit of making your collection something to be proud of. Her method definitely needs some tweaking for us bookish people, and I’ll probably develop some method of my own and talk more about it in my Simplifying Life: Books post coming this fall. Moving on…

Here are some other interesting ideas from this book:

Keepsakes: Kondo suggests going through keepsakes last. That way, you have a good handle and lots of practice using the KonMari method, and can more easily identify which things merit hanging onto. She claims that most keepsakes you don’t actually need to keep because the memories associated with them is already so strong, you won’t forget them after discarding the items. Thinking about my own keepsakes, I can definitely see how this is true – tossing that pile of rocks I have sitting on my shelf from my trip to Wyoming is probably not going to diminish my memory of the trip itself. This will be the hardest category for me because I’m incredibly sentimental about inanimate objects. I learned long ago that if I hold onto it for more than a month, that sucker ain’t ever leaving my house, no matter how trivial it is.

Papers: this is one of the categories I disagreed with Kondo about. She says, aside from a few documents you have to keep like birth certificates and car titles, everything else can be disposed of. I don’t know if it’s a cultural difference, but this woman has clearly never been through underwriting while buying a house in the US. Those people require EVERYTHING. Kondo’s claim is that whatever you discard, you can always get ahold of again if you need it. When disputing charges on my Century Link bill, however, and there bill access section is conveniently not working, that’s when I wish I had a printout of them stashed away. I will admit that the vast majority of papers we hang on to our unnecessary, but for me, the ones I choose to keep are there for convenience and to alleviate possible stress later. It seems like anymore these days the less documentation you have to back you up, the more people screw you over. Or maybe that’s just me. That said, I still only have a small 2-drawer filing cabinet (hot pink, of course) for everything.

Gifts: Kondo does a really great job trying to make you feel less guilty about getting rid of things you received as gifts. We all have them. And we hang on to a lot of them because we’re afraid it would hurt the person’s feelings if we got rid of them. I’m really horrible about this. My mom once gave me a bunch of socks she didn’t like, and I hung on to them for a couple of years before finally asking her if it was okay if I got rid of them. If it comes from my mommy or my husband, it’s really difficult for me to let go, even if I don’t like it. That said, when I do finally let some things go, I feel lighter somehow. Kondo’s argument is that the purpose of the gift was to make you feel appreciated by the gift giver. The item has already served its purpose, and what happens to it after that is the less important factor. I agree completely with that sentiment, and I certainly hope any gifts I’ve given weren’t held onto because of guilt. That said, just don’t let me know that you got rid of it – I gave my grandma a bird statue for her birthday one year and saw it sitting proudly on the table at her following garage sale a couple months later… Ouch.

Stocking up: People buy in bulk and stock up on all sorts of things, and Kondo thinks this is most often unnecessary. Her argument is, by the time you make it through your items, most of them have past their expiration date and have to be discarded, anyway. It’s a much more intelligent use of time money and space to only buy the items as you need them. As I sit here staring at the six boxes of expired peppermint tea that I’ve been buying over the last few years every time I got a coupon, I can totally see her point. I’m going to throw away a ton of tea that I bought on sale, which means I essentially wasted $20 rather than “benefiting” from a savings of $3. There are a few exceptions, but generally, I find her argument to be valid.

Humanizing Items: this is the final thing I didn’t quite see eye to eye with the author on. She says to treat each item like a person (that’s not exactly as she said it, but you get the gist). When you get home from the day and take off your shoes, you’re supposed to thank them for keeping your feet comfy throughout the day. When you get rid of a shirt, you’re supposed to send it off with the thank you for keeping you clothed all those years. I have a couple of issues with this (aside from the obvious). Primarily that doing something like this for every item in your house requires so much energy. I spend most of my day putting on a polite, friendly demeanor for coworkers and tenants, the last thing I want to do when I get to my home – a place where I can let that face down and just exist in peace – is have to treat inanimate objects like they’re people. The more minor issue is that, if I treat my things like people, I’ll never be able to get rid of them without feeling guilty, lol.

To round out the KonMari method, once you have gone through everything in your house and decided what to keep, only then do you start the organization process. The key is making sure everything has a “home.” Right now I have lots of stuff in my house that doesn’t really go anywhere, so it ends up on counters, in cars, and shoved into random drawers. If you give everything a place, then the maintenance of this stuff won’t make you want to peel your face off (that last sentiment is mine, not the author’s).

Overall, as this is one of my first forays into nonfiction (don’t worry, it will be one of my only), I found it highly interesting. The Obsessive Bookseller definitely wants to get her life organized this year, and every little tip helps! I am chomping at the bit to start applying some of the methods I’ve acquired from Kondo to see if they really work, which I’ll definitely highlight it in future Simplifying Life posts (once my house is finished being built and I can dig into all my stuff – currently in storage). In any case, thanks for coming along with me on this organization tangent – I hope you picked up some tips LOL.

by Niki Hawkes

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The Obsessive Bookseller Simplifies Life [5]: Health

simplifies-life-2017

In case you missed my Introductory Post, my world was in such an upheaval that I was forced to take drastic measures by simplifying and organizing all the things that caused me stress. Each month, in 2017, I’m tackling different aspects of my life that are clutter-stressors by organizing and altering them into things that bring me joy.


May 2017: Health

2017 seems to be the year of personal revelations. Each month, I’ve been tackling things that caused me stress and turning them into things that bring me joy. Health has always been important to me, and this Simplifying Life project has really helped me set (and achieve) attainable goals. A lot of work went into it though, so it’s important for me to clarify that the simplification comes in the form of having set goals so I don’t have to stress about what I should be doing.

Disclaimer: I’m going to be bringing up a lot of health “facts” that I’ve read while doing research and am using as a basis for all of my personal health goals. I’m mentioning them merely to explain why I started doing the things I am to get healthier, not as a means to inform or educate. Heck, I’m not even standing by them as accurate, so please take everything I say with a grain of salt and do your own research before following suit.

The Trackers:

There’s something irreplaceably helpful about being able to see progress in the form of checkmarks all over my health tracker. I began this journey by identifying the physical and emotional components that go into making me healthier, happier person. I created an Excel template with all of these items and set a daily checkmark goal.

I felt my health tracker should include more than just eating and exercising, but also things that bring me emotional joy and, oddly enough, personal hygiene. I noticed that when I took the time to curl and style my hair in the mornings, I had a much more productive day. Maybe it’s because I felt like I had my “armor” on and was ready to face the world, more so than when I just tromped to work with my hair up in a messy bun. Whatever the reason, all of these things helped me feel healthier. I found this tracker incredibly motivational. Every time I felt the need to do something, I’d pick an item and see it through (most of which took under 5 minutes). I used this tracker for several months before getting into enough of a habit that I didn’t need it anymore.

The Food:

I consider it almost impossible to change your diet overnight. I talked about this a little bit in my Simplifying Life: Food post, but I really think if I had started trying to eat healthier all at once, it would’ve been doomed for failure. Instead, what I did was look up foods good for your brain and slowly start incorporating them into my diet. Over the course of a couple of years, I have slowly change my habits so that I’m buying less processed foods and more fresh foods. They say when you go to the grocery store, try to shop more on the perimeter rather than in the aisles to avoid processed foods. So far in 2017, I stuck to the edges, only venturing in occasionally for cereal (my true <3) and peanut butter.

Another thing I wanted to track was my Saturated Fat intake. I remember reading somewhere that 30% of your daily intake should include fats, but only a small fraction of that should be Saturated Fats (for me, it was about 13g to 15g per day) and 0% Trans Fats. The trouble is, I had no idea what I was actually consuming. Part of my motivation was a couple of documentaries I’d watched on Alzheimer’s disease. In one Ted Talk, a doctor claimed his research showed people had a much higher likelihood of experiencing Dementia and Alzheimer’s if you ate more than 20+ grams of Saturated Fats per day. The research he presented showed a strong correlation between the two, however, I am always skeptical when data is thrown in front of my face. I haven’t done any research to see how thorough their experiment was, nor have I done any to see if anyone else has substantiated this claim. That said, it got me thinking that, regardless of Saturated Fat’s effect on Alzheimer’s, it’s probably not a bad idea to start paying attention to how much I’m getting.

Now, I considered myself a fairly healthy eater. I don’t indulge in candy bars, ice cream, or most other processed foods very often. But, as soon as I started reading labels and tracking consumption, I discovered I was still well above my daily Saturated Fat intake goals. For example, my coworkers always bring in these frosted shortbread cookies, and I’d always just figured they had a lot of sugar, but not much else. I’d eat two, sometimes three every time. Come to find out that each cookie also had 8g of Saturated Fat! O_o! After two cookies, I had totally blown my Saturated Fat intake for the day. And I really don’t even like them that much – I just ate them because they were available. It’s all about choices. And becoming aware of what you’re putting into your body. I decided I would much rather indulge in a giant bowl of natural chocolate ice cream at the end of the day than waste it all on a tiny cookie at lunch. I digress…

There are a ton of cute meal trackers on the internet for this (google it). Mine are “fugly but functional.”

The 10,000 Steps:

I noticed when I was doing my general health tracker that it was always a lot more fun to rack up steps than it was to do strength training. It also was a lot easier to find data on calories burned based on steps taken rather than individual strength training (I’m antsy in general). According to the research I found (don’t quote me), walking 10,000 steps per day (provided at least a half-hour of those steps is a more rigorous workout) burns about 500 calories. After 7 days of this, you’re conceivably losing 3500 calories, or 1 pound. Now, all of this depends on how many calories your body needs to maintain its current weight, so you can’t just eat what you want, burn 3500 cal, and expect to lose weight. It’s a math game, and every person is different. Anyway, this seemed like a goal I could really get behind because I’ve been enjoying running lately, it’s beautiful weather outside, and it keeps me from feeling so sedentary. I have a nifty little app that helps me track my steps, but I’m looking into getting a fitbit so I don’t always have to have my phone on me.

I also remember reading somewhere that sitting for more than 2 hours a day straight negates any health benefits gained from eating well and exercising. The 10,000 steps keeps me up and moving, and as an added benefit keeps me from wearing out my eyes staring at a computer screen for too long. I just need to apologize to the people in the office directly below mine because I’m now clomping around so much…

The Preparedness:

All of these health goals involving food are absolutely redundant if you don’t make sure they are available. If you’re at home and all there is to eat is junk food, then you have only two choices: break your health goal and feel guilty about it, or starve. I can eat good foods all day every day if they are available, but the moment I get lazy (by not going to the store or prepping produce), that’s when I revert back towards eating poorly.


Now, this is usually the point where I list all the goals I achieved, but in the case of health, the endgame is longevity. I’m hoping the good habits I’m getting into now and the lifestyle changes I’ve been slowly making over the last three or four years will pay dividends as I get older. I can tell you one thing, because I’ve started tracking numbers and setting daily goals, I feel amazing and have stopped worrying so much about what the future holds. So, in that sense, I have successfully reduced my stress in both my current and future health situations, and that, in itself is a win!

Project Status: Health Simplified!

by Niki Hawkes

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The Obsessive Bookseller Simplifies Life [4]: Food

simplifies-life-2017

In case you missed my Introductory Post, my world was in such an upheaval that I was forced to take drastic measures by simplifying and organizing all the things that caused me stress. Each month, in 2017, I’m tackling different aspects of my life that are clutter-stressors by organizing and altering them into things that bring me joy.


April 2017: Food

First off, it feels weird doing a non-book topic… Anyway, I’ll be the first to admit that parts of this post involved excessive organization, even for me. Don’t let me kid you though, I freaking loved every moment of it. The thing is, I had so many food-related goals to tackle, but just wasn’t getting anywhere with them. I was in desperate need of a change (also if one more thing fell out of my freezer onto my foot, I was gonna lose it). As the whole point of Simplifying Life in 2017 is to reduce stress and make life easier, “food” had to be a topic. While working on this project, I realized I had way too much for one post, so decided to split it up and focus on food this month and save health goals for May.

Here’s what I’d hoped to accomplish by the end of April:

  • clean out and organize my kitchen.
  • utilize foods from my freezer/cupboard.
  • stop wasting so much food.
  • Stay within a budget.
  • eat better.

The Fridge/Freezer:

The starting point for this project was learning what I had to work with. I pulled everything out of my fridge and freezer and went through expiration dates. I threw so much stuff out – it hurts my heart. Inevitably, the root of my wasteful problems was not knowing what I had. Everything was hidden behind a thousand condiment bottles.

My husband has issues. Only two of these are mine.

Anyway, the initial organization of the fridge was a huge wake-up call for me. I let a lot of stuff get nasty in there, and that is definitely not helping my OCD/germaphobicness at all. I now have “clean out the fridge” on my weekly cleaning list to help maintain what I’ve accomplished so far.

The freezer was next. I learned a few things about what a freezer hoarder I am (is that a thing?). I’d somehow inherited boxes and boxes of freezer foods from my mom and grandma that I knew I wasn’t going to eat, but felt guilty letting them throw out. But maybe, just maybe I’d eat it (nope). After 2+ years of hanging on to it for no good reason – out it went.

Everything came out for evaluation. Almost everything I’d “inherited” was expired, and covered in enough freezer-burn to be almost unrecognizable – gone! I threw away almost an entire garbage bag worth of expired food. I vow here and now that this will never happen again!

Additionally, because we are crashing at my in-laws’ vacation home, we found this nugget hidden at the back of the freezer:

It was a solid block of ice.

The Lists:

Since I’m clearly not in the habit of exploring my freezer for things to eat, I decided I needed a better way to keep track of what’s in there. I grabbed a notebook, labeled it my “food log,” and proceeded to write every item in my freezer onto this nifty little list:

When I plan out meals for the week, I choose from these available items first. Not only does it help me use up my stock of food before it goes bad, but it saves me money. I have a lot of unutilized proteins that go a long way towards feeding my husband and I (when I actually take the time to plan ahead and thaw stuff).

When trying to eat healthy, planning is key. It’s impossible to not feel like you’re starving to death when your only options are unhealthy snacks or nothing at all. Over the last several years, I’ve been slowly introducing foods from this “brain foods” list into my diet and now have a pretty good selection of healthy options to choose from. Every week I create a shopping list in my food tracker which includes all the healthy foods I’ll need to take with me to work along with supplemental ingredients I’ll need to cook whatever items I’m utilizing from my freezer. Paperclipped to the back of that notebook are all of my coupons.

The Thrifter:

Let’s talk about coupons for a minute (because apparently when you turn thirty, saving fifty cents on cream corn is the highlight of your day). I have a strong love/hate relationship with coupons. It seems like in the past whenever I tried to utilize them, I always ended up spending more at the grocery store than originally planned. They make you feel like you’re getting a deal on something that you don’t normally buy or eat. I found myself buying $10 to $20 more in groceries just to save $3 and coupons. This is not good coupon shopping. The key is to only bring coupons for things you buy anyway.

Now, after all of that effort, it means absolutely nothing if you FREAKING FORGET to hand the cashier your coupons. I’d go through the trouble of cutting them out, bringing them to the store, making sure what I’m buying matches their specifications (which required me digging in my purse and pulling out the little wads until I found the right one… Assuming I remembered having them in the first place), and dragging them all the way to the register only to forget to use them. Then there’s the whole debate on whether it’s worth my time to stand in the return in line at customer service to have them make all the adjustments or just go home. For the record, I always just go home.

My new system solved all of those problems.

Right before heading to the store I’d go through and identify which coupons I’d like to use and add the items to my shopping list, writing the word “coupon” next to the applicable item so I’d remember to reference it in the store. Then I’d paperclip only the relevant coupons to the same page as my shopping list and – voilà everything I need is in front of my face. I take this list of the store and buy only what was on it, marking things off as I go along. If I were super savvy, I’d write the prices of everything I picked up next to the items as I cross them off (for future reference), but I’m not quite that far gone yet. Carrying around the notebook is a bit cumbersome, but if I set it down, I’d forget something on it or forget to hand the coupons to the cashier. It stays glued to my hand until I’m in the checkout line, and then it goes on that little counter right next to the credit card pad. I have not forgotten to hand the cashier coupons since, and it actually saves me ten minutes of digging in my purse each time I visit the store.

This method helps me in two ways – 1. I’m saving money on things I buy anyway and 2. I have a clear cut list of things I need to get. Having the list right in front of me means I usually stay within budget.

The final awesome thing that I’ve just discovered is the Walmart “savings catcher” feature on their app. If you scan your receipt after each trip and submit it to their “savings catcher”, Walmart will compare the prices of everything you purchased with competitors in the area and GIVE YOU the difference! Holy freaking crap – why haven’t I been using this feature all along? I’ve been submitting receipts since since the first of February and have already gotten back over $30 in price adjustments. O_o

The final thing I’ve started doing to help me not waste food is as follows:

The Prepwork:

As soon as I get home from the store, I take a minute to prepare fresh fruits and vegetables and put them into containers so they’re ready to eat. I discovered during my evaluation of what causes so much food waste was that most of the fresh produce I throw away was caused by laziness. How stupid is that?

Anyway, my food log now has a section on it for “perishables” in which I list all of the foods I want to make sure to eat before they go bad. When I need a snack, I’ll take a look at that list first. It’s working.

Also, with more room in the fridge, I can cook extra portions (or estimate what we would’ve wasted) and freeze it for later. Bonus meals in a month or two with no real extra effort or cleanup – win/win.


Overall, the goal of this month’s simplification goal was to organize the food I have and make it easier to stay organize going forward. Saving money and eating healthier are fringe benefits that frankly outweigh the initial goals themselves. I’ve been utilizing these new systems for a couple of months now and am loving them! There’s room in my fridge, money in my pocket, and a whole host of healthy snacks to eat every week.

Project Status: Foods Simplified!

by Niki Hawkes