SPARKING JOY: Books for Simple Living

Netflix’s Tidying Up With Marie Kondo, a reality series based on Kondo’s book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, is causing battle lines to be drawn on the hardwood floors. Some watchers have been inspired to delve into closets and kitchen drawers, keeping only items that “spark joy,” and others are annoyed with the entire “KonMari” method. The harshest words seem to be for the idea that no one should have more than 30 books with author Jamie Ford posting this photo saying, “Is this what Marie Kondo meant by only keeping books that “spark joy”?”


But did you know I was cool before living a simpler life became the latest trend? In 1994 I stumbled upon Elaine St. James’ Simplify Your Life and it struck a chord. Since then I  have strived to keep my clutter tamed and am always reading the latest book for new inspiration and ideas.  Following is a rundown of my favorite books that may help you spark the inclination to simplify and become more of a minimalist.

The Basics

ipiccy kondo

Some of the advice from Simplify Your Life may be a bit, well, simplistic and a little outdated (getting rid of your car phone) and a bit impractical (pay off your mortgage), but there are still plenty of ideas to inspire you to reduce stress and clutter. One idea I’ve flirted with but never had the nerve to try is to put a bunch of stuff in a box and label with a date, then after a year toss it without looking inside. A little extreme but will you miss what you don’t remember?

For more inspiration or to just smirk at Marie Kondo’s suggestion of thanking everything for its service (can you imagine unloading your handbag every night and thanking each item then reloading it all back the next morning?) read The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. It’s worth learning more about the “KonMari” method, but I haven’t yet had the stomach to clean out the closet and stack all of my clothes in one place. (For a short but hilarious review, check out Laurie Notaro’s comments here.)

For more of a memoir-type of book that may help you gain inspiration, try Cait Flanders’ The Year of Less and Judith Levine’s Not Buying It. Both chronicle the authors’ decisions to reduce their consumerism to varying degrees of success. Neither author gives much information in the way of practical advice but might be worth reading to see if this could be a goal.

Since we’ve retired, my husband I have discovered the joys of attending garage and estate sales, mainly for entertainment rather than acquiring more stuff, although we do occasionally find something worth adding to our household (hint: estate sales have great deals on cleaning products). The positive results of seeing how people live are observing how much stuff they accumulate over the years and how much they go through to get rid of it after a move to a retirement residence or a death in the family. This brings me to The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning which isn’t as gruesome as it sounds. The author nudges readers to get rid of stuff before you leave this realm so your heirs don’t have to take care of your household. I mean think about it–your kids and/or relatives have plenty to do without spending weeks trying to decide what to do with your wedding china and casino shot glass collection, and news flash, many don’t want them (article Top 10 Objects Your Kids Don’t Want).

ipiccy not buying it

Now What?

OK, so you are inspired to get busy and have carved out a few days to become clutter-free, but where do you start? Fortunately, there are many “how-to” books providing practical advice. Here are two of my favorites.

ipiccy practical

If you are going to purchase a book, make it Cluttered Mess to Organized Success by Cassandra Aarssen. It’s chock full of worksheets to assist in keeping track of various household information (medical, books, emergency contacts), practical advice, “recipes” for cleaning supplies, and even labels for your various baskets. Or you could get a fistful of dimes and plan on copying lots of pages. The “paper purging guide” was a big help in determining what I could discard.

That leads to New Order: A Decluttering Handbook for Creative Folks. This book fileis best if your “digital clutter” is getting out of hand, but what I found most valuable was the suggestion of keeping an open file box for household files (important folders are kept in the safe). I started with two boxes and have since reduced it to one. The open top makes it easy to tuck something into a file folder and also since it’s easily in view in the den closet, I am reminded to clean it when it gets too stuffed. It’s not pretty, but it works well for my purpose.

Moving Along

ART OF HAPPY MOVINGThe Art of Happy Moving by Ali Wenzke will be published in May and I realized that one way to think about decluttering is to look at everything you own and wonder “Hmmm, is this something I’d want to pack and schlep to another house?” There may be things you aren’t quite ready to discard, but you’re a step ahead if you keep a mental list of what items wouldn’t be worth carting along, such as the three crockpots sitting in my garage (I know I know, but all of them would be included in the moving sale).

In addition to divulging insights about your belongings, the author also has helpful information on the practical and emotional aspects of a big move, including tips on selling and buying a house, evaluating a new location, and how to adapt once you have relocated. I thought her ploy to help children weed out their toys was brilliant.

For an interesting take on downsizing, Live Laugh RV’s blog post on downsizing from a 4000 SF house to a 300 SF RV is enlightening and encouraging.

Easy MoneyiPiccy money

A few years before I retired, one of my universal concerns was if we would be okay financially. Fortunately, I ran across Jeff Yeager’s How to Retire the Cheapskate Way, and it reassured me that as long as we didn’t want to live like the Kardashians or even Caitlyn Jenner, we would most likely be fine. One of my favorite quotes is Yeager’s Cheapskate Retirement Principle #10: “Simple-sizing is like downsizing, but it’s based on recognizing that whenever you simplify your life, it usually saves you money, and also reduces your stress and makes you happier. Particularly before you retire, the rule is “Lose it if you don’t use it.”

Happy Money isn’t available until June, but it might be worth getting from the library to see what Ken Honda, Japan’s “Zen Millionaire,” has to say about our relationships with money. This quote is from the publisher’s book description: “What Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up did for your living space, Honda’s Happy Money will do for your feelings about your wallet.”

Minimalism 201

For those who are serious about becoming a total minimalist (and perhaps moving to a tiny home?), a couple of books go beyond getting rid of a few knick-knacks and out-of-date mom (or dad) jeans. ipiccy less

Less by Rachel Aust has a nicely laid out format along with concise lists of life’s necessities, plus the author also includes suggestions for decluttering your mind, easier cooking, keeping the budget simple, and recipes for ecologically friendly cleaning solutions. The photos aren’t very appealing, but the recommendations on how to simplify are well done.

For the truly hardcore who think that perhaps reducing your furnishings and belongings to a simple pad that works as both a bed and couch and an iPad for all of your entertainment needs, try Goodbye, Things by Fumio Sasaki. The author writes of his experiences of becoming a radical minimalist with thoughts on how it improved his mental health. You might not be tempted to jettison everything in your house but it may help you think a little deeper about what’s important in life.

Wrapping It Up

If you want to read even more about simple living, check out this GoodReads list of books on Simple Living and Minimalism.

shelfI realize this has been one of my longer (and not very simple!) posts and I thank you if you’ve made it this far. This topic is near and dear to my heart, and I’ve wanted to write about it for a long time. We are far from being true minimalists but we have been able to stay in our 940 SF house for 42 years, and even though it’s a continual struggle, I consider that a success. I’m sure everyone will empathize with the bookshelf issue, but fortunately, e-readers have come to my rescue. I still haven’t wholly reduced my clothes closet contents (and under the bed and shed storage), but I’m working on it. And if you need advice, I’m here for you.

14 thoughts on “SPARKING JOY: Books for Simple Living

    • This is a great idea. We often wonder what we’d do with most of our household belongings since if we move it would be far away and there’s so much stuff we wouldn’t bother taking as it just wouldn’t be worth it. Knowing your former things have good homes can be a comfort.


  1. I will be moving from a home I’ve lived in 30 years sometime in the next year. After my husband’s death there is no way I can continue living here . It is a very rural area the nearest grocery thirty miles away. Besides the house there is a large barn workshop plus ten acres to care for. I literally do not know where to begin. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on the subject of downsizing etc. I’m tempted to just walk away from it all 😊

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Jean, I am so sorry about your husband and can understand your dilemma. In your case especially, it can be so overwhelming to think about going through stuff. One idea I heard was sort through something for 10-15 minutes a day but I’m not sure that’s practical for your purpose. I’m not sure where you live, but are there any estate sale type companies that you can hire? Also, check to see if any churches do that kind of thing for a percentage of the profits. Where we lived in Arizona, a big church held weekly sales and they were always well organized. Here in Salem, we have multiple companies that hold estate sales and some are better than others. Take care, Robin


  2. What an amazing post and suggestions! Thanks for such a thorough and thoughtful look at these. I’m not a minimalist, but having moved many times, including countries, with more lurking in my future I’ve been trying to be more aware and responsible with the things I acquire. Turning to an e-reader was a big help with that, as it sounds like it was for you too! Wonderful to have so many helpful ideas here.

    Liked by 1 person

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