Book Review– Organized Simplicity

Simple living. For the typical American in this economic climate, that sounds like a swell idea. For the Christian looking to free up more resources for the Kingdom, that also appeals. But what, exactly, does this entail? Living like an ascetic? Throwing away the stuff in the garage? Somewhere in between? Tsh Oxenreider, creator of the blog SimpleMom.net, has come up with a step-by-step, room-by-room answer in Organized Simplicity: The Clutter-Free Approach to Intentional Living.

A former missionary, Oxenreider started a blog about simple family living while overseas (her family is now based in Austin, Texas.) The book is a compilation of the ideas and tips featured on her web site. Since she started her blog in 2008, and since then, it’s expanded into a mini-empire with over 27,000 subscribers, 500,000 monthly page views, advertisers and sponsors, five offshoot websites (simpleorganic.net, simplehomeschool.net, etc.) and multiple contributors.

I stumbled upon this blog through the blog grapevine (blogvine?), and was intrigued with the mainstream success of a devout Christian. How would she incorporate her faith objectives (as I had assumed her reason for downsizing home life), with her practical solutions for living? Oxenreider describes simple living as: living holistically with your life’s purpose. Problem is, she doesn’t really get into what that really means. Her Christianity is mentioned only in passing, without explanation. It has an elephant-in-the-room quality about it.

While this choice to omit deeper motivations may make the book more accessible, it makes it difficult to glean why Oxenreider is so intent on living simply. She only refers to wanting intentionality for her life goal—filling a house with kids, a husband, and love (in her words, “nesting”). Oxenreider predicates the purpose of her blog on the principle that, “When we find solutions for cutting everyday life clutter, we’re taking care of our family, our home, and ourselves.” The point of living simply, it seems, is to live simply.

Oxenreider introduces these foundations for her way of living, and the majority of the book is focused on how to de-clutter. This is exemplified in the 2nd part of the book, “Ten Days to a Simpler, More Organized Home.” Each day centers on a room, and is filled with solutions about how to prioritize things and checklists for cleaning. For example, in the master bedroom, Oxenreider instructs the reader to “stick to the classics,” to keep the basic black dress, skirt, etc. She also writes that under-the-bed storage boxes are a good idea. Finally, there are reflections at the end of each chapter, mostly encouraging the reader to reflect on the purpose of the room and to de-clutter accordingly.

In all, the book is a handy guide but most likely replicates the tips on her blog (but minus all the ads, ironically). Like many things, the value of the book depends on your expectations. Fairly or not, I was expecting a more personal story about why Oxenreider and her family want to live simply. To be fair, there are references and stats about wealth levels and standards of living, but I had been looking forward to reading about how her and her family not only simplified their home and lives but also about what motivated them to continue to do so.

I was slightly let down when the book seemed little different from a family-focused issue of Real Simple. As such, the usefulness of the book then depends on the type of audience. If you’re a single person looking for philosophical or theological rationale breathing purpose into directives for living simply, then you will be dissatisfied (but take heart, this blog you are currently reading is a good place for this!) If you’re a busy stay-at-home mom (“home manager”) looking for tips to nurture simple domestic living, read her blog. If you’re a busy stay-at-home mom looking for home recipes for detergent and lists to de-clutter and prefer to have it in a bound guide, then this book is for you.

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