I Read It So You Don’t Have To: The Simplicity Primer: 365 Ideas for Making Life More Livable by Patrice Lewis

simplicity1-194x300Always on the hunt for books on simplifying one’s life, especially in a chaotic and stressful world, I was initially excited to come across Patrice Lewis’ book The Simplicity Primer: 365 Ideas for Making Life More Livable. Sadly, this book was a huge disappointment.

On a positive note, Ms. Lewis is a decent writer. And I like how her primer is divided into several sections on topics like marriage, raising children, running a household, the workplace, and saving money. These passages are brief and easily-digestible. The reader can freely read this book piecemeal instead of reading from beginning to end.

However, I soon found Lewis’ advice repetitive and her tone to be snotty and self-satisfied. First, Lewis hardly breaks new ground with “The Simplicity Primer.” Instead of providing concrete, step-by-step advice on how to simplify, be frugal, etc., Lewis offers common sense that most of us already know—don’t break the law, discipline your kids, wear your seat belt, and live within your means. Now even if we don’t always use common sense, most of us learned these things children.

Secondly, Lewis is quite smug. There is nothing wrong with enjoying one’s life and being proud of one’s choices, but in “The Simplicity Primer” Lewis exhibits a moral superiority that is off-putting. Lewis lives on a twenty acre homestead in Idaho where she and her husband own a woodworking business. Her family raises all their own food, and Lewis home-schools her two daughters. Sure, that’s wonderful…for her. But I could have lived without Lewis’ dismissive attitude towards those of us who don’t live like her. Not everyone is suited for the country life. I find I’m more suited to living in a city where I can walk just a few short blocks to the grocery store, my favorite coffee shop, and the local library. Lewis seems convinced city dwellers don’t have any connection to nature, but I live only a few blocks from Lake Michigan—talk about being able to connect with nature.

Thirdly, Lewis admonishes us not to gossip but I found this book quite “gossipy.”  Lewis often mentions friends and acquaintances and the bad choices they made, the kind of choices she would never make because she is just so perfect. But what really got under my skin was how she described a former employee of hers as “slow…not a mental giant.” Though she did praise his amazing work ethic, I couldn’t help but wonder why she had to mention that he was less than bright. I thought it was rather unnecessary and quite cruel.

Lewis also has a blog called “Rural Revolution: In-Your-Face Stuff from an Opinionated Rural North Idaho Housewife.” I read a few of her posts, and she is quite sanctimonious and imperious in her blog and she definitely has her devoted followers. However, “The Simplicity Primer” might have been a more satisfying read if Lewis softened her tone and wrote with more humility. After all, this is a book that can be found at libraries and bookstores by people who have never read her blog. And I’d hardly be surprised if they, too, would find Lewis’ superior tone a complete turn-off.

While reading The Simplicity Primer I couldn’t help but think of Deborah Niemann’s vastly superior book Eco-Thrifty: Cheaper, Greener Choices for a Happier, Healthier Life. Like Lewis, Niemann lives on a huge homestead (only in Illinois, not Idaho) and grows her own food, raises livestock and homeschooled her children. However, Niemann actually gives out sound advice that is easily doable, not a bunch of common sense admonishments we already know. Also, unlike Lewis, Niemann writes in an inviting tone that is friendly, down-to-earth and open-minded.

The Simplicity Primer, simply not worth your time or your book-buying dollars.

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Brag Book

turns-out-i-rock-the-houseGreat news! I sent an email to author Deborah Niemann with a link of my review to her book Eco-Thrifty, and she emailed me back. She loved the review; she thought it was great. She even posted a link to the review on her Facebook page.

Thanks so much Deborah, and keep up the great writing I look forward to reading your future books!

Eco-Thrifty: Cheaper, Greener Choices for a Happier, Healthier Life by Deborah Niemann

51iL1kO2zNL._SY344_PJlook-inside-v2,TopRight,1,0_SH20_BO1,204,203,200_Tuesday, April 22nd is Earth Day. In honor of this day I’m posting this book review on how to save both the planet and some money.

With a financial situation that can only be described as “meh” and a desire to be a green as possible, I’m always looking for tips and ideas on how to save some money while also being earth-friendly. Some of the money saving tips I find are way too stringent, the kind you might find on the TLC show “Extreme Cheapskates.” No thanks. I refuse to dumpster dive for medication. And as for being green, there are times when I think the green movement has become too elitist or “yuppie,” like high-end green fashion brands and home accessories. I just can’t fathom buying a tank top that costs almost a third of my monthly rent.

Well, thanks to Deborah Niemann’s latest book Eco-Thrifty: Cheaper, Greener Choices for a Happier, Healthier Life, I can I can pay my rent and maintain my desire to be as green as humanly possible.

I first became aware of Ms. Niemann when I profiled her book Homegrown and Homemade: A Practical Guide to More Self-Reliant Living and her visit to Milwaukee’s very own Boswell Book Company nearly three years ago. Ms. Niemann lives on a huge homestead and farm in rural Illinois where she and her family live a hugely self-sustaining life raising chickens, goats, llamas, and cows. They also have a large garden and orchard. It is from this homestead Ms. Niemann is able to support and take care of her family while being frugal and maintaining an environmentally-sound lifestyle. So needless to say, she is the perfect person to write a book on the topics of saving money and caring for the planet.

Eco-Thrifty is divided into 10 easy to follow chapters covering everything from making your own personal care products to how to make products to keep your home spic and span. Niemann also covers cheap ways to be green when it comes to clothing, raising children, feeding your family, maintaining your health, and gardening. Eco-Thrifty also tells us how entertaining and transportation can also be green and cheap. And the final chapter informs us to get things for free or almost free. Bonus!

I have to admit I looked forward to reading Eco-Thrifty’s chapter on personal care products. I’ve been making own soap for six years now. Not only am I saving money and not using products with a bunch of scary chemicals I can’t pronounce, I’m also having a lot of fun. Making my own soap is another creative outlet. So I was thrilled to read up on recipes on how to make other products like body butter and exfoliating scrubs.

In the chapter on home care, Deborah lets us know how much you can clean with simple vinegar and baking soda (and a little extra elbow grease). You don’t have to buy a mess of products from Wal-Mart. She also has a recipe on how to make your own laundry detergent with items you can easily find at you local grocery or drug store.

When it comes to food, Niemann inspires us to trust ourselves in the kitchen. We can save money, be green and get in touch with our inner Julia Child. She extolls the virtues of making things from scratch, including wine. She also encourages us to grow our own food, letting us know that even an urban dweller like myself can grow an herb garden on my window sill (and I’m planning on doing this shortly).

Other green and thrifty ideas include buying things used, holding clothing swap parties, investing in a good pair of gym shoes to go walking around your neighborhood instead of joining a pricey gym and re-purposing and re-using things you might throw out. Many of her ideas you might be using already!

Most of Ms. Niemann’s ideas and tips are easy to do and practical. Niemann’s writing style is down-to-earth and encouraging. And she knows that not all of her ideas will work for everyone and some may have to be amended to one’s particular lifestyle. Sure, she got a bit preachy about not having a television, but perhaps I was feeling some residual Catholic guilt over watching reruns of “Bridezillas” instead of doing something a bit more worthy of my time.

Ultimately, Eco-Thrifty is a must-read primer for anyone who wants to be green and save some green.