Wednesday, July 03, 2013

Book Review: Simpler

I'm always on the lookout for special offers and free giveaways for my Kindle, and a few weeks back Mike Burns was giving away his ebook Simpler: Declutter Your Life and Focus on What's Most Important. I downloaded it and gave it a read. You might know that I could benefit from something like this - for most of the time, my desk exists somewhere under the mountain of books, papers, pens and other stuff. I know where everything is, but perhaps I could benefit from decluttering?

The book is written in a motivational speaker style, with lots of 'you can do it' encouragement and generalisations about whatever it is you need to get sorted. 'Every person who reads this book, including you, can take steps today to declutter their life and begin to focus on what's most important to them.' (Loc 53) Similarly, 'My life isn't always simple. But it is simpler than it used to be.' (Loc 68)

The book is divided into two sections. The first looks at 'A Case for a Simpler Life', where mindset and approach are considered, eventually leading to action. On the subject of busyness, Burns argues that 'if we want to live well, we can't just COUNT activities, we have to WEIGH them.' (Loc 113) He introduces the concept of minimalism, in terms of priorities.

However, the whole section is summarised by deciding on our own values and being honest about what is most important to yourself. This is in the context of the fact that 'Life is short. Our days are limited.' (Loc 174) There's a valuable insight here, although he really misses the whole point, by only being focused on this life, and on extracting as much good out of this life as possible. While his philosophy is minimalism, his approach continues to proclaim materialsm loud and clear. You see, if this world is all there is, then it's all about the material world, he's seeking to have heaven on earth. On that, I'm reminded of the CS Lewis quote where if someone aims for heaven, they get this world thrown in as well, whereas if they focus on this world, they miss out on both heaven and earth.

The second section then gives 'Practical Tips for Decluttering', looking at a range of areas of life, including your mind, your inbox, your bookshelf and your relationships.

There is a helpful bit on the need to prioritise. 'In case you've can't do everything. When we find ourselves overcommitted, we have to be reminded that we must not only say "no" to bad things, but also GOOD things. Saying "no" to mindless things is A LOT easier than saying "no" to good things.' (Loc 365-368) [Incidentally, I wish he had said no to the excessive use of ..... and BLOCK CAPITALS for emphasis!]

I was interested to read how he had whittled down his book collection to just 18 books. The way he did it was to remind himself of the following: 1. You are probably not going to read all of those books. 2. If you do read them all, you may be reading too much. Most of those books will be outdated when it comes time for your children to read them. It's not likely that the internet will go away. It was interesting, but not an approach I'm going to follow - 18 books just wouldn't work for a pastor and voracious reader living in a community with no permanent library!

At the heart of Burns' philosophy is the idea of minimalism. In his words, 'minimalism is about eliminating the unnecessary so you can focus on what's most important.' (Loc 141) He is certainly consistent, writing in a minimalistic style. The book didn't take very long to read through, and didn't say very much. I don't think it's a book you would want to declutter your wallet or purse to buy, though. Simpleris available for the Kindle. You'll probably find much of the content on his blog.

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