The Year of Less

A Hygge-lism Book Review

**Caution** This review pays no mind to “spoilers”

“The Year of Less”, was written by Cait Flanders, is a story of self discovery brought on by a self-imposed challenge to simplify her life and live with less by going on a shopping ban for one year.

This is not a how-to or a log of how her year went, but more of a tale of experiences and discovery.  The actual challenge of not buying anything for a year takes a back seat to the story of how and what she learned about herself and how she lived her life during that year.

It was incredibly entertaining, well written and motivational.  The writing is relaxed, honest and almost conversational.  She shares both the highs and lows that she experienced during this challenge, just as amazed as the readers as to how the challenge forced her to look at herself in a different light and from a different angle.

Her experiences are relatable and it is easy to put yourself in her position while you read the book, even when she refers back to past challenges that she has overcome from relationships come and gone, to drug and physical abuse and sharing the experience of the impending divorce of her parents with her siblings.

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It is a great look into priorities, and a deeper look into the ways of life that have been adopted by most of society due to advertising, social media and trying to achieve the ideal unachievable lifestyle force fed to us on a daily basis.  It challenges the status quo and questions our feelings that we need “this” to get “that” and be a certain “type” of person. 

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I thoroughly recommend that anyone read this book and then take a look around their living space to contemplate what they own and why.  Did they buy certain items for themselves or for the themselves that want to portray.  How much of other people’s perceptions influenced your spending habits and feelings of need.

Borrow this book from your local library, read it and reevaluate yourself and your habits for the better.  

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The Imperfect Environmentalist

A Hygge-lism Book Review

**Caution** This review pays no mind to “spoilers”

“The Imperfect Environmentalist” written by Sara Gilbert is a coffee table book full of environmentally conscious alternatives to daily activities.

I am not one that would typically promote a book written by a celebrity, a non-author celebrity that is.  I find that celebrities typically view things from a privileged, oftentimes, unrelatable or un-achievable point of view.  That is not the case with Sara Gilbert and “The Imperfect Environmentalist” though.  This book was a quick read, entertaining collection of environmentally friendly tips and tricks that I found really interesting.

I do definitely consider it as a coffee table book in every sense of the word though.  To read this from cover to cover is repetitive and tedious.  Because each topic is meant to stand alone, each entry will often remind you of the same points.  GMO for instance is a Genetically Modified Organism and VOCs are Volatile Organic Compounds and I will never forget it since I read about those on every other page.

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Seriously though, Sara Gilbert has put together a very well written collection of thoroughly researched and relatable situations in which you can improve your environmentalism.  Divided into easy to reference sections such as food, cleaning, transportation and parenting, you will find yourself flipping through the pages again and again.  

Even adopting one or two small changes can make a big difference.  If each of us just changed one thing to improve our impact on the environment, we would live in a different world than we do today.

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I typically recommend that your first place to turn for a new book to read is your local library, but on this occasion I would recommend having a copy of this book on hand to be able to reference from time to time.  Just seeing it around the house could be enough to flip that switch in your brain reminding you to pay attention to your impact, or recenter your intentions. 

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24/6

A Hygge-lism Book Review

**Caution** This review pays no mind to “spoilers”.

“24/6: The Power of Unplugging One Day a Week” written by Tiffany Shlain, promotes a traditional weekly day away from screens.  In particular, cell phones, tablets, laptops and televisions.

It’s no secret that we are surrounded by technology and a lot of that technology has screens that beg for our attention.  They don’t even really have to beg though, we want to look at them and we do look at them…constantly.  “24/6” presents an avenue to escape this glowing , buzzing, chirping, dinging, ringing, attention hog for one, twenty-four hour period each week.  By unplugging for that one day you can reground, recoup and recover your creativity, productivity and drive.  At the same time you will strengthen your relationships, create memories and build traditions that will carry on for years.

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Tiffany Shlain approaches this day as if it is a day of rest similar to the ancient rituals of Judaism’s Shabbat or Christianity’s Sabbath.  She even refers to it as a “Technology Shabbat”, recalling all of the benefits that her family has encountered for the many years that she has practised it.

The numerous hazards associated with too much screen time are just now being realized as screens in general are a relatively new invention with respect to the evolution of the human eyes and brain.  One startling revelation that I learned is that the blue light associated with screen time is being proven to increase a chemical in the brain that is comparable to that of someone with Alzheimer’s.  Another referred to attention and how long it takes for your attention to fully return to your task at hand once it is interrupted by a notification ping, buzz, chirp or simply the screen lighting up.  In fact, your phone is likely causing attention disruptions to all those around you because merely the sight of a cell phone in a meeting or at a conference divides your attention.

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If the interesting facts and multiple benefits of reducing screen time is not enough to make you want to pick up this book, then I recommend it just for the great quotes that she references throughout the book.  Seriously, there are a lot of quotes and they are all really good ones.

While I don’t share the same religious like approach to a screen free day, I do recommend that everyone should give this book a read and give reducing screen time a chance. 

Some additional notes on screen time, not necessarily expressed in this book.  As I mentioned before, screens are a relatively new invention, staring at a screen is equivalent to staring at a low wattage light bulb for hours at a time and that cannot be a good thing.  Cell phones are leading to health issues with the poor posture that they promote and the repetitive thumb/hand positioning that you are so accustomed to.  There are even links to testicular cancer in men, as they typically carry their phones in their front pocket, and breast cancer in women as lots of cell phones are tucked into the bra.

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Cell phones are an incredible invention, to have an entire world of information in the palm of your hand is a benefit that is incomparable to anything else.  The issue is what we use this power for, and how we have become slaves to this technology’s beck and call.  No longer are these devices assisting and complementing our lives, they have managed to gain the upper hand.  We jump when they call, we panic when they are out of reach, when they beep, chirp, vibrate, ring or light up we stop what we are doing, what we are thinking about and bow down to their needs.  The content that they can provide devours our attention and steals all of our free time.

Take back control of your devices and screens.  Turn off notifications, learn to be unavailable once in a while, allow yourself to sit quietly and wait.  Relearn patience, focus and concentration.  Enjoy a disruption free conversation.  Turn off the screens and enjoy your first night of truly good sleep in a long long time.

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The Stranger in the Woods

A Hygge-lism Book Review

**Caution** This review pays no mind to “spoilers”.

“The Stranger in the Woods; The Extraordinary Story of the Last True Hermit” written by Michael Finkel was released in 2017.  It tells the tale of Christopher Knight, also known as “The North Pond Hermit”. Chris Knight walked into the central Maine woods in 1986 at the age of 20 and stayed there for the next 27 years until his arrest in 2013.

During the time that Christopher Knight lived in the woods, he claimed to have only ever interacted with other people on two occasions.  Once while walking a trail he came upon someone walking the other direction and he merely said “Hello” to him. On one other occasion, three men were hunting and they saw him and he simply waved to them and displayed that he was unarmed.

In order to survive this time in the woods, Knight studies the community surrounding his camp site and learns the comings and goings of its residents.  He opportunistically breaks into the houses and campsites around him to attain the supplies that he needs to make it through the years. After repeatedly breaking into a summer camp for disabled children, law enforcement are able to catch up with him by installing sensors on the doors.  In 2013, they catch him red handed, and so begins the tale uncovering the extraordinary life of the “North Pond Hermit”.

The title of this book is a little misleading, typically hermits are described as someone living in solitude for religious reasons, or someone living a solitary life away from society.  While Chris Knight lived alone, he never left society. He holed up in the woods of a seasonal lake community and he depended completely on that community for his survival.

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Michael Finkel learns of and reaches out to the “North Pond Hermit”, after his arrest and is successful in befriending him during his stay in prison while the court system figures out what to do with him.  Finkel throughout the book, refers to Knight in somewhat of a reverential tone, he admires what he did and seems to look to him for some great insight into life that Knight is simply not able to provide. Rather than the spiritual guide that he is seeking, he is instead greeted with what turns out to be an extreme introvert, possibly on the Asperger spectrum with a social anxiety disorder.  Despite the authors many visits and conversations with Knight, he never seems to realize this. He touches on this possibility slightly at the end of the book, but only in reference to the courts and some of the community residences opinion of Knight.

I enjoyed reading this book, but did not feel the same reverence towards Knight as the author did.  Knight was able to survive for 27 years in the cold Maine woods, but purely off of stolen goods. He did not hunt, he did not fish, he could not start a fire on his own, he was never even out of earshot of regular society.  He simply wanted to be alone because he was uncomfortable with human interaction. He stole food, books, propane tanks, clothing, radio’s, batteries, a television, flashlights…you name it. He struck fear into the hearts of families of the community that suffered through multiple break-ins and thefts, not knowing who he was or when he would strike.

“The Stranger in the Woods” was an interesting read, but does not make my recommended reading list.

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Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail

A Hygge-lism Book Review

**Caution** This review pays no mind to “spoilers” and a book that was released 8 years ago should be exempt from spoilers by now anyway.

“Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail” by Cheryl Strayed, was released in 2012, and adapted into a movie starring Reese Witherspoon in 2014.

“Wild” is a memoir of Cheryl Strayed’s journey of self-discovery as she hiked 1,100 miles along the Pacific Crest Trail from Sierra City in California, to the “Bridge of the Gods”, which spans the Columbia River between Cascade Locks Oregon and Washington State, after the death of her mother.

Cheryl was only 22 when her mother died, her abusive father had long ago disappeared and her mother was the glue that held her siblings and step-father together.  When she died, Cheryl went into a marriage ending tailspin that involved numerous men and escalating drug use, which she referred to as “Planet Heroin”.  

While everything around her was falling apart, she happened upon a book the described hiking the California stretch of the Pacific Crest Trail, while standing in a check-out counter line.  She flipped through it and put it back, but could not shake it from her mind. Desperate to “find herself” and get her life back together she imagined hiking the PCT as a way to do just that and she returned to the store to buy the book.

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With no hiking experience and very little camping experience she set out using the guidebook to acquire everything that she could possibly need to undergo this journey.  Her lack of experience and underestimation of what was ahead proved to be no match for her sheer determination and guts.

This story reads like two stories in one, the tale of her trek along all those miles of the PCT and the tale of the events in her past life that lead to this moment.  Both of those stories are gripping by themselves and together they create an epic story that is thoroughly enjoyable.

Her transformation while she travels is incredible, from her shoulders and hips callusing over due to her abnormally heavy pack rubbing them raw, to her endless fight to keep more toenails intact than she lost.

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Battling injury, heat, cold, rain, wild animals, exhaustion, dehydration, starvation and questionable intentions, she is able to strip back all of her masks to reveal and discover who she truly is.  Driven forward sometimes solely by the prospect of her next $20 and the idea of a real meal. Along the way she comes into contact with a community of people that instantly become like family to her.

This is a tale of great accomplishment and the power of perseverance.  It is an incredible read and I highly recommend anyone and everyone to give it a read.  I also watched the film that was adapted from this novel, but it pales in comparison.

I could really go for a Snapple Lemonade right about now!

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Into The Wild

A Hygge-lism Book Review

**Caution** This review pays no mind to “spoilers” and a book that was released 24 years ago should be exempt from spoilers by now anyway,  I mean really.

“Into the Wild”, by Jon Krakauer was released in 1996.  I have read the book and I have also watched the movie of the same name, in that order, so forgive me if I get my facts mixed up between the two at some point.  There was also another film made about it called “The Call of the Wild”. I have not yet seen this one, but I will.

If you don’t know, “Into the Wild” is a semi-biographical story about Christopher McCandless, a.k.a Alexander Supertramp as he traveled across the United States and up into Alaska from 1990 to 1992.  “Tramp” being a reference to someone who is homeless, and travels from place to place typically on foot. 

After graduating college, McCandless followed an invisible pull, which is said to have been derived from his favorite authors, to travel the roads, towns and cities across the United States with nothing but a run-down car, which didn’t last very long, and a little bit of cash, which also didn’t last very long.  He was nothing if not determined, once the car and the money was gone he did not tuck his tail and run home. He traveled and worked his way all the way across the States where when he hit the west coast he took a sharp right and started circling around the north central, west and southwest United States, including a stint in a canoe that takes him into Mexico briefly.

During this time period, I found myself occasionally envious of his travels.  I would imagine myself having similar experiences, living with next to nothing and bouncing from city to city and experience to experience.

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Chris’s ultimate end goal was to travel up into Alaska and onto the “Stampede Trail” to try and live off of the land.  Just him, his pack and the wild. He begins this northern trek from South Dakota.

Reading up to this point, I was right there along with him.  The decision to head up into Canada towards Alaska is where he lost me.  Over and over he runs into obstacles that are nearly insurmountable and somehow fate intervenes and help arrives, typically in the form of helpful passers-by.  I feel he was blind to these “miracles” and allowed himself to become cocky after having survived for nearly two years, “on his own”. He was never truly on his own though, he repeatedly put himself in dire situations and had to be saved.

Nevertheless, off he went towards Alaska, ill-prepared and ill-equipped. After yet another helpful intervention by a stranger he headed off down the “Stampede Trail” with a new pair of boots, never to be seen alive again.  He lasted about 4 months alone in Alaska, we know this because of a journal that was found where he stayed along the trail. It is believed that he mistakenly ate a plant that he shouldn’t have and died as a result of it.

The location that he ended up living in was an abandoned van in the middle of the Alaskan forest, yet another curious, convenient man made happenstance, I would like to point out. 

So despite every opportunity, McCandless was blind to every subtle and not so subtle life preserver that life threw to him and he died because of it.  The lesson learned here – Learn to take a hint and try to look beyond your own ego but also, don’t be afraid to take a chance and follow the beat of your own drum.  Rather than be herded like sheep along the beaten path, feel free to buck the norm and blaze your own trail.

This book also served as a reminder to myself while I embrace a minimal, hygge lifestyle, that there is more than just applying these aspects to my external life.  If I don’t look inward I am not gaining the meaningful, purpose driven life that I am striving for. Living with less, and living for experience and quality can only be achieved if I’m willing to look inward first and foremost.

Despite my conflicted feelings about Chris McCandless and his ill-fated travels, I highly recommend both this book and the film of the same name.  I actually enjoyed the film more than the book, and that is not typically the case I assure you.

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