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Real simple, real lucrative

I keep getting cards in the mail enticing me to subscribe to a magazine called Real Simple, which, for just $23.95 per year, says it's going to help me simplify my life.

I'm all for simplification, so I browsed the magazine online. Here's a simple time-saving tip for busy moms: Make an Excel spread sheet with the columns representing aisles in your grocery store. As you run out of food items, mark them on the appropriate "aisle."

Here's a simple life-enhancer for women with several small children: At 6:30, drink wine from a real, grown-up wine glass because you're tired of being around sippy cups all day.

Here's how to make gift giving easier: Buy a gift everytime you go into a store so you have them on hand.

Here's a way to use old stuff: Turn your plastic napkin holder into a bill organizer. I don't know about you, but my house is not exactly full to the brim with plastic napkin holders. I want ideas for those plastic milk jugs we use at the rate of two per week. (Here's my free tip: Cut the tops off, but leave the handle on the side, so you have a kind of bucket. These are handy, portable storage containers for small tools, Legos, yarn or sewing projects, Legos, impromptu watering cans, Legos. And they make great disposable barf buckets for a sick room.)

Well, you get the picture: All the stuff you now have is complicating your life, so you need to organize it or get rid of it and buy new stuff that is simpler (and much nicer and more expensive) than what you already have.

Real Simple is only one of many attempts to cash in on the "simplify your life" movement. A Google search for "simplify your life" yielded more than a million returns, many of them sites hawking books, publications, seminars, charts and other "tools" to help me simplify my life by spending even more time and money on stuff. What purports to be a movement to help people cut loose from mindless consumerism has become a lucrative industry all on its own.

For all that Americans protest their religiosity, belief in God and family values, we are first and foremost a nation of consumers in which we often define our communities by our belongings? How many of us feel more affinity with, say, our fellow Starbucks customers, hybrid vehicle owners, Fiestaware collectors (mea culpa) than with our neighbors, parishioners or family members?

To truly simplify our lives, there has to be an overarching belief that we are saving our time, money and energy for something that transcends the next gimmick, for something that will fulfill our hunger and thirst, not just make us hungrier and thirstier for the Next Big Thing.

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Welcome, Jean!My sister gave me Real Simple and Elle Decor for Christmas. I have no shot of living in either magazine's world. But if I'm going to fantasize, it's going to be about living in Elle Decor!

No subscription, but do buy a copy every once in a while. It has very decent recipes that are simple and utilize easily obtained ingredients. And occasionally there's an article providing an organized framework for dealing with some small but bedeviling issue (like arranging furniture in a small room). But the overall tenor definitely panders to people seeking to buy their way out of life's messes, large and small.

My mother's recipe for simplifying life....."If you can't eat it, use it, or wear it in the next 2 weeks, you don't need it. Throw it out.""If you can't eat it, use it, or wear it in the next 2 weeks, you don't need it. Save your money and don't buy it."It's that simple. For her there is absolutely no difference between collectibles and dust collecters. Memories are what you need to keep in your heart and mind, not in the garage or in the closet."If you are currently a size 16, you will not be a size 12 in two weeks. By the time you ARE a size 12 again, those clothes will be out of style. Get rid of them."She could write a book and put this magazine out of business. It's only cluttering up the coffee table anyway. "How many times can you read the same magazine?!? Get rid of it!!"

Donna, please encourage your mother to write the book and send me a copy. Here's another tip she could include:Force people who save junk to buy a cemetery plot big enough to take whatever they leave behind with them.I can only imagine the acreage the two packrats I live with would have to buy to accommodate the stuff they say they can't live without. Having to actually purchase enough land to bury it all in might be some incentive to curb this problem.Or get them to recycle, resale, e-bay or get it in the hands of people who DO need it.

HAH! That is an AWESOME idea!I've been encouraging my mother to write a book. It would be great.

The cry to "just throw it away" is to clutter what "just eat less" is to weight gain. Appealing but wrong and seriously out of step with evolutionary biology. I decided this after I learned that my mother in law saved little datebooks so that she could re-use them the next time the same day/month pattern recurred (like every 12 years or something like that). That's frugality raised to pathology and then some. Seriously, to hoard makes sense when the expectation of privation is well-founded. Only in our culture of excess do we manage to accumulate things that we will never need more than once or twice.

I am already prejudiced against the use of "real" for "very" and so would immediately discard an sollicitation from Real Simple".

Jean, You ask:For all that Americans protest their religiosity, belief in God and family values, we are first and foremost a nation of consumers in which we often define our communities by our belongings? That is a good question. Apart from my family, I have most sense of community, not with people who own things like those I own, but with people with whom I share at least some part of a set if interests and values, religious, intellectual, philosophical, historical. etc."How many of us feel more affinity with, say, our fellow Starbucks customers, hybrid vehicle owners, Fiestaware collectors (mea culpa) than with our neighbors, parishioners or family members?"Since I have only once or twice been in a Starbuck's, am not ready to invest in a hybrid vehicle, and would not know a piece of Fiestaware if I saw one, I have difficulty answering this. I do buy books, but they chiefly support my pursuit of the interests I mentioned above. When I see books in someone's house--as I rarely do--I glance over the titles. I would assume that similar books to mine might suggest parallel interests. I would like to think that it is in the books rather than the books themselves that I value. (A couple of years ago we were looking at condos and in one I noticed a copy of a book by Judith Polgar, a highly ranked woman chess player--that must have meant something, but I never decided what.) There is probably a fine line here. I do think that no one can know too much, and a corollary of this is that you never know when you will need to find out something from a book, so they are good to have around.

Joseph, I'll grant you that finding a sense of community with people who share the same ideas about (or inside) a book is a less shallow way to build a sense of community.Maybe that's because a book isn't a possession you select fo it's leather cover and high-quality paper (though I know people who buy Bibles that way), but because it's a person--or at least part of the mind of a person.But when we lived near campus, I got sick of "literature" people coming over and reading the titles on my shelf and tossing off comments about them and me."Heaven's, you'll read anything," sneered one visitor. Book snobs can be the worst.

A few months ago, Real Simple suggested in its magazine that one way for mothers to "simplify" their lives was to forego breastfeeding (always the right temperature, perfect nutrition, attractive packaging) in favor of formula (expensive, inferior product, lots of bottles and garbage to mess with).Incredulously, they even went so far as to quote one of those mail-order-diploma- from-the-carribean physicians saying there was "essentially no difference" between the two, despite the American Academy of Pediatrics' clear statements on the subject.Real Simple has nothing to do with simplifying one's life - it is a magazine about consuming the "right" stuff.

I couldn't find the article in question at the Real Simple site. But there are numerous references to it in a Google search ("real simple breastfeeding"). The article seems to have created a lot of negative feedback (no pun intended) when it was published in 2003.

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