The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up book review


Now that I have read Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, I see why it became a best seller. She spells out very specifically just what to do to rid yourself of clutter. Forever. I really believe I desperately want that, but I also confess that there is no way I would be willing to follow her directions, excellent though they are. My guess is most of the 2 million people who bought the book won’t take her advice either. Her clients who have used her methods, however, have thrown or given away an average of 20 to 30 45-liter bags of “stuff.”

I used to pay attention to feng shui once upon a time, and some of what Kondo recommends hearkens back to those theories. It is not enough to look at items of clothing hanging in your closet or books on shelves. You have to spread them out and touch them to absorb whether or not they give you sufficient joy to make them worth keeping. And that means all of them. Yes, every single piece of clothing you own spread over the floor. Every book.

On the other hand, much of what she says is intensely practical. You really don’t need to keep all those operating manuals. Nobody ever reads them, and even if you did, you’d be better off talking to a person at the store where you bought the appliance when a problem arises.

One big takeaway is to keep storage as simple as possible. No putting off season items in a covered bin. That’s how we accumulate so much stuff. Complicated storage lets us forget what or how much we have. Store all similar items together, not spread all over the house, for the same reason. Her categories are clothes, books, documents, miscellaneous, and mementos. Or you can divide by similarities in materials: cloth-like, paper-like, or electrical. Store all items for one person together if possible. Everything should have an assigned spot.

One piece of advice I have already implemented is to store purses inside each other with the straps hanging out so you remember what is where. It does help them hold their shape. It remains to be seen if I will have trouble finding what I want when the time comes.

Kondo’s approach may seem woo-woo to some although I found it charming. For example, every day when she gets home from work she thanks her home for sheltering her. She treats the items she keeps with respect and thanks them for their service to her.

Kondo says human beings can only cherish a limited amount of things at a time. Through the process of paring down to only the items you love, you may remember things about yourself you had forgotten and have a better idea of who you truly are. You are content and your mind is free to pursue your purpose.



Designate a place for each thing
This is the routine I follow every day when I return from work. First, I unlock the door and announce to my house, “I’m home!” Picking up the pair of shoes I wore yesterday and left out in the entranceway, I say, “Thank you very much for your hard work,” and put them away in the shoe cupboard. Then I take off the shoes I wore today and place them neatly in the entranceway.Heading to the kitchen, I put the kettle on and go to my bedroom. There I lay my handbag gently on the softsheepskin rug and take off my outdoor clothes. I putmy jacket and dress on a hanger, say “Good job!” and hang them temporarily from the closet doorknob. I put my tights in a laundry basket that fits into the bottom right corner of my closet, open a drawer, select the clothes I feel like wearing inside, and get dressed. I greet the waist-high potted plant by the window and stroke its leaves.My next task is to empty the contents of my handbag on the rug and put each item away in its place. First I remove all the receipts. Then I put my purse in its designated box in a drawer under my bed with a word of gratitude. I place my train pass and my business card holder beside it. I put my wristwatch in a pink antique case in the same drawer and place my necklace and earrings on the accessory tray beside it. Before closing the drawer, I say, “Thanks for all you did for me today.”



Become You book review


If you read much self-help literature, Become You: A Transformational Blueprint for Your Mind, Body and Soul  by Toneka Etienne, Ph.D. doesn’t cover a lot of new ground. What the author does an excellent job of, however, is providing an honest look into her own life to illustrate her points in a clear, concise way.

Etienne moved to a new city, had two small children, worked full time, and was finishing her doctorate. As you can imagine, she faced a multitude of challenges. Over the course of the next six years, she managed to find ways to look at life differently. Then just when she thought she had the stressors licked, she was diagnosed with diabetes. That motivated her to share her ideas with readers.

Etienne’s first chapter is Believe, and it is obvious she has a deep faith in God. From belief comes a sense of worthiness. Envying what others have just means that you don’t feel worthy of having your dreams come true. Etienne discusses the work of psychologist Carol Dweck on fixed and growth mindsets. If your mindset is fixed, you perceive a challenge as a risk. You refuse to face obstacles and just give up. If you have a growth mindset, you look at challenges as opportunities to improve or develop.

Chapter Two is Evaluate. Etienne talks about how to do a life audit to determine what your strengths are. She also asks readers to rank satisfaction with their spirituality, career, relationships, wellness, personal development, and finances. Then pick the one area most out of balance between real and ideal. Etienne gives some good questions to ask to figure out how to get closer to the desired outcome.

The next chapter is Create. She says it is discipline and structure that give us the freedom to create. Develop systems and routines.

Obstacles come next. Fear can be the catalyst to move us forward. This might be fear of failure or fear of success, fear of rejection or fear of change.

The author then comes to Manifest. She talks about the Law of Attraction contrasted with the Law of Action, the Law of Expectation versus the Law of Resistance, and visualization.

The final chapter is Execute. Etienne warns that trying to improve your own life may not sit well with all of your family and friends. If that is the case, seek out supportive people and don’t be afraid to ask them for help.

Most importantly, remember to play. I can certainly relate to that. I’m a self-improvement junkie from way back, but I sometimes forget to just be.


Toneka R. Etienne will be awarding a signed copy of Become You to a randomly drawn winner via rafflecopter during the tour.


Toneka R. Etienne, Ph.D., is a Psychologist, wife, mother, Huffington Post contributor, and creator at Toneka is a self-love advocate encouraging women to balance their daily lives with the ambition to continually pursue their dreams. Her calling is to fully support women as they call soulful purpose and intention into their life and business connected to their deepest and most authentic selves. When she’s not holding sacred space for women’s transformation, Toneka can be found doing her favorite things: spending time with her husband and two daughters, traveling, reading, connecting with like-minded visionaries, and looking for divine inspiration.


Mind over matter


Caroline Greene started early in life to be an overachiever.  In eighth grade she won all the academic awards. Then she headed off to Philips Exeter academy, followed by Yale and law school.

Ten years later, she had a husband and kids. But the career she expected to have instead materialized for her husband, not her. She had become a stay-at-home-mom while her husband became a partner in his law firm. She felt like she no longer mattered.

In her book Matter: How to Find Meaningful Work That’s Right for You and Your Family (The Well-Educated Mom’s Guide Book 1) , Greene walks us through the process of how to find meaningful work while remaining present for one’s family.

First came a grieving process as she looked at where she was in all aspects of her life compared to where she thought she’d be. I can really relate to this. I’m going through a compare and contrast process for the second time in my life right now.

Greene next talks about the need to seek validation from others versus the ability to self-validate.  This one rings all too true with me too.  She started by nurturing herself in four areas: rest, nourishment, movement, and touch. She started paying attention and feeling her emotions. bad and good.

Greene’s chapter Get Connected was another that resonated with me. Going it alone means being isolated from others. Greene realized she needed three kinds of friends. What she calls mommy friends are those who are in the same stage of life as you are. Professional friends share your educational or career background. Soul friends are the people with whom you just “click.” I had never thought of friendship in these terms, but they make a lot of sense.  I might add one more category, those with whom you grew up, who share your history, or who knew you when.

Building relationships, she says, requires the ability to accept help.

Of course, obstacles arise. Two of these are guilt and shame. Greene defines guilt as feeling you did something bad while shame is feeling you are a bad person. But loving others doesn’t mean we have to put everyone’s needs ahead of our own. That’s not love; it’s martyrdom.

Only after all this introspection should you begin to list the characteristics of your ideal job. Focus on how you want to feel. Then start exploring possibilities. Be willing to make mistakes and to ask for help.

In the end, it is the work of being more of who we really are that matters.

The Upside of Stress book review


Another book that touches on post-traumatic growth is The Upside of Stress: Why Stress is Good for You, and How to Get Good at It by Kelly McGonigal, Ph. D.  We’ve all heard how much of a toll stress takes. We’re supposed to avoid it as much as possible. If we can’t, and who can, we need to have an arsenal of methods to cope with it. But there is more to the story.

While McGonigal doesn’t exactly expect us to seek out stress, she has the research to prove that good can and does come out of stressful events. She even teaches a course at Stanford University called The New Science of Stress. Her definition is “stress is what arises when something you care about is at stake.”

McGonigal offers some studies on how a simple change of mindset can influence the outcome of a stressful situation. The first step is to acknowledge the stress when you experience it. Allow yourself to notice how it affects you, particularly your body. The second step is to welcome stress because it is a response to something you care about. Think about what is at stake and why it matters to you? The third step is to make use of the energy that stress gives you instead of wasting that energy trying to manage your stress. What can you do that reflects your goals and values? People who learn to do this report less anxiety and depression and better physical health. They feel more focused, creative, and engaged.

McGonigal also describes two stress reactions beside the fight-or-flight we’re familiar with.  She calls one response tend-and-befriend. Earlier studies that focused on fight-or-flight were done mostly on men. Women, however, tend to have the tend-and-befriend response more often. This motivates you to protect the people and communities you care about. It seems not only adrenaline but also oxytocin is released during stress. This has been called the “cuddle hormone.” It helps build social connections and also builds courage.

A third reaction is growth. During the recovery period from stress, hormones also increase activity in the brain that supports learning and memory. In other words, past stress teaches the body how to handle future stress.

One major takeaway from McGonigal’s book is that the worst response to stress is to isolate yourself and think nobody else has experienced what you are facing. Helping others is a highly effective way to handle stress. Having a bigger-than-self goal is important. What do you want to contribute to your community?

Do you have a goal that is bigger than yourself?  Do you have a strong social support network?


Kelly McGonigal, PhD, is a health psychologist and lecturer at Stanford University, and a leading expert on the mind-body relationship. She teaches for the School of Medicine’s Health Improvement Program and is a senior teacher/consultant for the Stanford Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education. Her work demonstrates the applications of psychological science to personal health and happiness, as well as organizational success and social change.

Bouncing Forward book review


Michaela Haas introduced me to the science of posttraumatic growth in her book Bouncing Forward: Transforming Bad Breaks into Breakthroughs. In it, she interviews twelve people who have experienced this including Maya Angelou and Temple Grandin.

Haas has been a practicing Buddhist for twenty years, and those teachings are apparent. But she also turns to medical and psychological experts for scientific validation.

Contrary to popular thought, having a positive result come out of trauma is not a rarity. A leading researcher,  psychologist Richard Tedeschi,  says as many as ninety percent of survivors report at least one aspect of posttraumatic growth, such as a renewed appreciation for life or the discovery of their heart’s purpose. They gain personal strength and deeper relationships with others.

As has been written before, most notably by Viktor Frankl, it is not what happens to you that is important. It is how you choose to view it.

Haas concludes her book with five proven strategies to overcome adversity. In case they sound too commonplace or simple, she again gives the research that backs them up.

The first is meditation. Studies show that at least 12 minutes a day is necessary in order to be effective. And it should be a daily practice, not sporadic or occasional.

The next strategy is appreciation. Haas advice is to write down three things you are grateful for every day. These can be as small as a beam of sunshine. Writing them down is important. Better yet is to express gratitude to someone in person.

Connecting with our capacity to love is vital.  First we must love ourselves by giving ourselves the care we need: sleep, healthy food, and physical exercise.  The mantra Haas suggests is powerful:

“May I enjoy happiness and the causes of happiness.

May I be free from suffering and the causes of suffering.”

After we can love ourselves, we can send love out into the world to others, eventually even to those who have harmed us.

Finally, integral to the healing process is connection. Listen to others. Everyone wants to be heard.

I’ve been lucky enough not to have experienced a major trauma, but I’ve weathered plenty of minor ones. I do try to cultivate gratitude when I am upset.

Which of Haas’ strategies most resonates with you?

The Natty Professor book review


I wouldn’t dream of missing an episode of Project Runway, and I am full of admiration for Tim Gunn. He has such innate dignity and kindness. Now that I have read about the darkness of his own youth and how he was able to overcome his demons, I have even more respect for him.

In Gunn’s latest book  he talks about his teaching philosophy. On, there is a bit of celebrity gossip thrown in, but he mainly describes what makes a good teacher or mentor. This is valuable information for those in education and in business too.

Gunn is a self-proclaimed lover of acronyms and presents his basics as T.E.A.C.H.

The T stands for truth telling. Viewers of Project Runway know that Gunn will tell designers if he doesn’t understand or doesn’t like what they are doing. He’ll say it gently, but he will say it.

E is for empathy. It is impossible to teach someone if you don’t know where they are from and can’t recognize their strengths.

A is for asking. Gunn is a firm believer in the power of questions. He does this not only with his students and mentees but also in everyday life. Seeking more information is second nature to him.

The C stands for cheerleading. Great teachers help the students grow by encouraging them and building their confidence.

Finally, the H is hoping for the best. Sometimes a teacher just has to let go and let the students sink or swim on their own.

Interspersed with Gunn’s thoughts are many paragraphs by others telling about the best teacher they ever had and why that teacher was so special.

When American students continue to lag behind those in many other countries, the need for better teachers is apparent. When the majority of employees are disengaged from their jobs, the need for better mentors is also apparent. Gunn’s insights could go a long way in improving these statistics.

Who was the best teacher you ever had?


Running and juicing and cursing. Oh my.



It is so difficult to know what to believe, isn’t it? Will that wrinkle cream really make my neck look better? Is this piece of exercise equipment being touted on QVC effective? Should I go low carb or low fat?

I try to find reviews written by real people before I invest in a product or try the latest diet. A book compiling all kinds of advice should be just the ticket.

I am really glad, however, that I am not married to A. J. Jacobs, the author of Drop Dead Healthy. Just reading everything he did was exhausting. Seeing it in person (and participating every now and then like his wife did) would have pushed me over the edge.

After an unexpected bout with pneumonia, Jacobs sets off on a two-year quest to become healthier. And when he says healthier, he doesn’t mean improving just the usual suspects, diet and exercise. He means head to toe.

Jacobs studies research and visits expert after expert on body part after body part. His book has 27 chapters ranging from the health of the heart, lungs, and brain to the hands, feet, and endocrine system.

The theories and practices he discovers are fascinating and funny. And the techniques he adopts are effective. He loses weight, gains muscle, and improves his cholesterol along the way.

After a favorite aunt who has followed all the “rules” succumbs to cancer, Jacobs has a moment of questioning if any of what he has learned and put into practice is worth it after all.

He concludes it is. In seven appendices, he synthesizes the best of the advice. Most of the tips are ones we’ve all heard many times: eat vegetables, park farther from the store, meditate.

The most unusual tip is to use a treadmill desk. Jacobs says not to buy an expensive model but instead rig one up yourself using a board and some books.  That’s a tip worth considering.

What products or techniques have you tried that actually worked?