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.

all you need is less

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
Trade Paper
$12.10 on Amazon

Wordless Wednesday: I should be folding laundry…

…but I’d rather look at pictures from my trip to Connecticut and wallow in homesickness for a little while.


IMG_3547From the Great Dance-Off of 2014

We are in our last week visiting my parents in Connecticut. That means our long-awaited annual journey and stay here is more than half over. This year it was even more hotly anticipated because I had to work my ass off to afford the airfare, given the whole stay-at-home-mom-with-trickling-freelance-income thing, and I was so much more proud of myself this time when I clicked “purchase” on the airline’s website because of that. Every extra dollar I earned or found went into the “Connecticut” envelope in our cash box. I did sponsored posts, pimped out essays for page views, hosted a cocktail party, and sold my soul to a cereal company.

It was worth it.

IMG_3646Cutthroat game of Go Fish in the card room at my grandmother’s residence.

These three-week stretches of togetherness between my children and my extended family are precious because they get to create memories and know these important, special people better every year. The boys remember where the snacks are at Aunt Kathy’s house. They look forward to the slide party at Aunt Karen’s house. They know their way around Nana’s building now. And they miss their cousins after having such great times with them every summer.

IMG_3739Instead of saying “cheese,” arm farts.

IMG_3843Before” picture at the beginning of a group geocaching hike

This year I have noticed Kyle noticing that he’s no longer the precocious, adorable center of attention. After all, we finally have a little girl in the family.

IMG_3485Apparently this is the first time Lydia let Aunt Kathy hold her, while also smiling. Must have been the popsicle!

Kyle is so big now – he is on track to be 6’6″, the pediatrician said, and he is now the size of an average 11 and a half year old. But he still has the emotional mind of a 9-year-old – testing boundaries and wanting to act older, but still a little boy.

IMG_3831With Uncle Fireman Kevin. My how you’ve grown (this picture will slay you).

Kyle loves the adoration of his grandparents and aunts and uncles, the encouragement, the applause. I could see him elbowing for attention among the smaller, cuter members of the family.

I have to stay out of it, though, because it’s a transition that he has to make. I need to step back and let him make friends (or not), be social (or not), enjoy the moment (or not) on his own.

I kind of hate it. I think the transition is much harder for me.

Every year when we come here the passage of time is so evident. We see my friends’ children and they play for a bit and I pray that they grow to love each other like I love their parents. But they are growing up so quickly that my once-a-year mission might not be able to keep up. They were babies together. And now they are almost done being little kids. Ouch, my heart.


I think I spend a lot more time lately writing about Brady because he still has a baby-like cuteness about him, and his new gap-toothed smile is a sign that his little-boy days are numbered too. One minute he’s playing with bubbles and showing uncensored joy, and the next he is too cool for the universe on his new skateboard.



Meanwhile Kyle can now cut his own steak. And eat the entire thing. And somehow see it through his way-too-long bangs that I want to brush out of his eyes every second of our lives.


If only I could pause time.

Oh wait, I can. A little bit. Every summer.

IMG_3570Sunset over New Haven Harbor, July 2014

Wordless Wednesday: Blue

blue sky

The view from my lounge chair at The Grand Del Mar in California last month. I’m pretty sure this is one of my all-time favorite views.