Thursday, July 7, 2011

Book Review: Throw Out Fifty Things

I just wrapped up the book Throw Out Fifty Things by Gail Blanke.  I've been on a bit of a simplification/organization crusade this year, and my reading choices have reflected that.  I was expecting another typical how to get organized book, but I found something quite different in this book.

In the first section of the book, the author encourages you to throw out fifty things from different areas of your house.  When she says "throw out" she means either trash or donate, but keep in mind that you can't just throw out fifty magazines and be done.  Fifty magazines would only count as one thing.  Each of the 50 things must be different from one another so whether you throw out 2 shirts or 200 shirts it still only counts as one shirt for the point of this exercise.  I liked the author's narrative style.  It was written like she was doing it along with you so when it got to the end of the bedroom chapter, I had gotten together a bag of clothes to donate and she had thrown out 5 decorative pillows that didn't suit her bedroom's style anymore.  You get the idea.

The real meat of the book came later though when she got to the section entitled "Attacking the Mental Mess.".  This isn't just about cleaning your house.  This is where the book went from being just another organization book to a book that challenges you to throw out your emotional baggage too.  As you read the chapters titled things like "Letting Go of Feeling Inadequate, Irrelevant, and Just Plain Not Good Enough" or "Letting Go of the Need to Have Everyone Like You," you get to hear the personal stories of others who let go of these things and what they did.  I came face to face with myself  in the chapter "Letting Go of the Regrets and Mistakes of the Past" when the author told the story of a woman named Heide.  Here's an excerpt:

I recently met a woman named Heide who told me she'd always been so afraid of failing that she only attempted those things in her life and career that she knew for sure she'd succeed at.  "So you can imagine how limited my experiences have been so far," she said with a dry laugh...she has no major failures to regret.  On the other hand, she has no stunning successes, either.  Actually, she does have one regret: that she didn't push herself further...  The point is: You can't succeed big-time if you're not willing to fail---big time. (Throw Out Fifty Things, p. 138)

Most of my life I have spent avoiding failure.  I'm lucky that I've been blessed with a lot of talents, but I never pushed myself in areas where I thought I might fail.  My freshman year of high school I was trying to decide what sport to try out for.  I enjoyed basketball and was marginally good at it (being 5 feet 11 inches tall helps in that department), but I didn't think I was good enough to make the varsity team.  Maybe JV, but definitely not varsity.  On the other hand, I was also a better than average distance runner, but didn't like it as much as basketball.  The cross country team was no cut (i.e. if you came to practice, you were on the team) and if you ran in one of the seven varsity positions once during the season you got a varsity letter.  I chose cross country and got my varsity letter as a freshman.  My picture is still in the trophy case at my high school from my sophomore year when the cross country team took 2nd place in the state championship.  Even with that victory, I've always wondered what would have happened had I chosen basketball.  I didn't though because I was afraid to fail.  

I also enjoy theatre.  I did a lot of acting in high school, but never tried out for the lead (again, fear of failure) and didn't even bother to audition at all in college.  Instead I chose to do costuming and costume design because I knew I couldn't fail at that.  I ended up the supervisor of the costume crew my junior and senior years of college.  Is this avoiding failure or picking what you're best at?  I don't know, but I'm done with not trying things because I might fail.  There is so much I want to do still in my life.  Why bother being paralyzed with fear of failure.

Bottom line---I can highly recommend this book because you'll not only get a less cluttered house, but also so much more from reading it.  Enjoy!

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