Book Review: All You Need Is Less by Madeleine Somerville
Last week I spent at least an hour and a half scrubbing my stainless steel teakettle. And I blame this book.
We’ve had this teakettle for 12 years. It was a wedding gift – that’s how I know how old it is. It lives on the stovetop, where I saute and fry and brown and boil, so it gets splattered with grease and then the grease gets baked on forever and every few months or so I have feebly wiped at the thing and then given up on it altogether. Because gah, who wants to spend all that time scrubbing a pot?
I had finally decided to demote it to Camping Kit status and replace it with a shiny new teakettle, maybe something like the ones on my new Pinterest board that I made instead of scrubbing.
But I was also making my way through this book, which, aside from its chirpy tone, is filled with smart ideas. Overall, author Madeleine Somerville stresses that you don’t have to keep buying stuff to be happy. It’s not necessarily an idea that could fill a whole book, so she adds information about making your own stuff like cleaning supplies, shampoo, reusable dust mop covers, etc. All of this can be found on the internets, but since I don’t surf around looking for home remedies and cost saving measures, I found it interesting to read about apple cider vinegar as the cure for all ills, or the retro-cool concept of hanging your clothes out to dry.
God bless her, Somerville even takes a dainty stab at minimalism for parents, because at the time of publication she had a brand new baby girl, you guys, and she also has a smelly dog so she kind of already knew what it was like to be parent. I must say I expected more from the baby care section, more cloth diapering advice or how to make your own toys out of cardboard and dreams, but the book simply dances over this gold mine of content. Maybe that’s the stuff readers of her site can follow as she navigates the tricky world of morphing from eco-blogger to mom-blogger.
Somerville rounds out the “make your own” suggestions with self-deprecating stories about her OMG-so-weird obsessions or straight-up insults toward her gas-guzzling, environmentally irresponsible slob of a husband. But she’s only 30, you guys, and the kids love her blog, so I’m obviously a jaded old hag (just ask the Kirby vacuum cleaner fans who hate my dissing of the appliance). Anyway I think it’s just the tone of the book that irks me, not necessarily the content. Because I actually read the whole thing and it clearly made an impression on me.
Exhibit A is the teakettle which I finally faced and attacked with baking soda and steel wool. I was pretty proud of myself when I could once again see my own reflection in its rounded sides. And then our coffeemaker threatened mutiny, so while my husband contemplated its repair, I investigated obtaining a replacement via Craigslist or Freecycle or simply switching to the French press we already own. (Luckily the coffeemaker recovered after an hour of being unplugged, so crisis averted.) And I’m actually considering washing my hair with baking soda and apple cider vinegar because the promise of a healthy scalp without manufactured chemicals in it sounds great to me.
My point is, her message articulated what I have already been carrying around somewhere in my brain, which is not to just consume, use, and toss aside so many things. My friend Andrea lives in Costa Rica and just told me that her family’s sum total of possessions fits into 9 suitcases. That is the exact number of large U-Haul boxes that once fit the total of my own possessions, way back in 1995 when I moved from Connecticut to California. Now I have a family and our stuff takes up an entire 4 bedroom 3 bathroom house in the suburbs. While I sit on my mountain of things pinning images of a simpler lifestyle, I at least try not to waste what we have, one frayed-T-shirt-turned-dust-rag at a time.
All You Need Is Less – The Eco-friendly Guide to Guilt-Free Green Living and Stress-Free Simplicity
$12.10 on Amazon