7 Books To Jumpstart Your New Year

We start our day the same way every day – with a cup of dark roast coffee and a book. Angie and Caesar curl up on the loveseat (sometimes with James Patterson; though of that fact, I am never jealous!) and I take the couch for a wake-up routine that has been our thing for nearly 8 years now. We find that reading is a great way to open our eyes and our minds first thing in the morning and to set the stage for a positive day to come. Especially when the book is interesting!

Between the two of us, we read 63 books in 2019. We read travelogues, biographies, mysteries, crime novels, memoirs, and more. Some were good, some were not, and a few were simply outstanding.  These are the ones that we still refer to, talk about, and steal ideas from most often and these are the ones we want to share with you today.

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Meet the Frugalwoods: Achieving Financial Independence Through Simple Living
I’ve been a follower/fan of the Frugalwoods for years now and really enjoyed the story of their simplicity journey. For three years, Elizabeth and Nate lived like no one else and today (yep, you guessed it), they live like no one else. I was most inspired by the fact that they lived on just 30% of their income and never lost focus of their dream of exiting the rat race to live a quiet life in Vermont.

Find the Good: Unexpected Life Lessons from a Small-Town Obituary Writer
Heather Lende is one of my favorite authors. She lives in the small town of Haines, AK, where she is an unconventional obituary writer. Instead of giving the details of a neighbor’s death, she tells the story of their life in each column. Through short anecdotes about real people, Heather shows readers how to find the good in the world again by seeing the positive in every situation.

The Year of Less: How I Stopped Shopping, Gave Away My Belongings, and Discovered Life is Worth More Than Anything You Can Buy in a Store
I love a good 365-project so this book about not shopping for a year was right up my alley. As with any book about minimalism, I always find myself decluttering as I read, and this was no exception. I think I got rid of 50 items that week! What I liked most about the book was Cate’s honesty. She talked openly about her addictions (to alcohol, shopping, and food), framing their role in her life in a way that I could identify with.

It’s Not About Money…except when it is
This was probably the best book about money that I read last year. Except…it’s not really about money. Amy Dingmann is a Minnesota farm girl who speaks my language when it comes to spending, saving, and just living every day in a monetary system that doesn’t always fit a minimalist’s mindset. This book won’t teach you anything about money but it will make you think about how you think about money.

A Thrifty Good Life: Reflections on My Unexpected Journey Toward Homegrown Simplicity and Healing
This book made me want to buy a house just so we could dig up the front yard! Sarah Sailer and her family live on 1/5 of an acre just blocks from downtown. They grow all of their own food, plus enough to supply a neighborhood CSA. As folks who aspire to grow our own food too, Angie and I were inspired beyond measure by this book. If Sarah can farm 1/5 of an acre, we can surely make better use of the space we have.

The Secrets of People Who Never Get Sick
I picked this book up mostly to prove a point – that getting sick is not “just a part of life”. I believe most illnesses can be avoided. This book tells the story of 25 people who each take a different approach to better health. Some believe the secret is a cold shower, others (like us) think it’s what you eat. Regardless of what you think already, you’ll likely find some things you’ve never even heard of in this book…and a few you’ll probably never want to try!

Real Food/Fake Food: Why You Don’t Know What You’re Eating
Did you know that Parmesan cheese (the kind in the shaker) can contain cardboard? Or that nearly 70% of all sushi sold in restaurants is made with a cheaper fish than what’s listed on the menu? Or how about the fact that a cow might just have nibbled a blade of grass once in it’s life to be considered grass fed? I did not know these things. (Okay, I knew about the cardboard, but not the rest.) This book really opened my eyes to the fakery in our food system.

Do you have a morning routine? Does it include reading? What was your favorite book of 2019?

Why Dating Didn’t Work (Reflections on 2019)

Last January, we created a project called 48 Great Dates, whereby we were going to alternate the planning (and execution) of a weekly date for 48 of the 52 weeks in 2019. From the get-go, our endeavor to do something “fun” was anything but. We found that either the planning part was a hassle or the “do something fun” part led us to do things that were somewhat fun but actually took us away from doing something we really wanted to do. Example: Going to play indoor mini-golf on a beautiful January day when we really just wanted to be outside.

After a few weeks of headaches with the dating game, we decided to change the rules. We opted instead to just try to do something together, without interruption, at least once a week. We could plan it in advance, or not. It could even be something we were going to do anyway – like go to a festival or pick peaches at the U-pick farm. This seemed to work out better (in the beginning) but even with the modified rules, we lost interest.

Now let me clarify. We lost interest in the dating game, not in doing things together or in each other. What we actually learned was that we didn’t really need to “date”. We weren’t disconnected or failing to find time for one another. We spend at least 150 of our 168 hours each week together. Even when one of us is writing (me) and the other is working out (Angie), we are in the same space together. I can see her jumping up and down in front of the TV and she can see me giving her annoyed looks from across the room as I try to concentrate.

All jokes aside, we love each other tremendously. We tease each other relentlessly – it’s just one of our things. And we do so many things together – from washing dishes to putting a jigsaw puzzle together – that dating seemed so contrived.

We managed to put together a montage of 38 outings or activities that you can loosely call dates in 2019 but quickly decided that this was a project we would not repeat or recommend (unless you are actually in the dating phase of your relationship or are indeed trying to rekindle a spark that has gotten buried in the busyness of life). You’re welcome to read about each date (the good, the bad, and the indifferent) on our 48 Great Dates page and see if there are any ideas you might like to use. We did do some fun things, a lot of which would be great to do as a family or “just because”. Many of them, we’ll probably do again ourselves (we just won’t be calling them dates).

For the other nerds out there who love numbers and statistics (like me), here’s the details of our project:

  • We spent a total of $492.55 on 38 dates.
  • 13 dates cost $0.
  • On average, we spent $13 per date ($19.70 per date if you factor out the free ones).
  • Our most expensive date was #24: Camping in Crossville ($65).
  • 19 dates took place outdoors and included U-pick farms, nature walks, and letterboxing.
  • 9 dates took us to places we might not have visited otherwise, including a book signing at Whole Foods, the Tennessee State Museum, and Abraham Lincoln’s Birthplace Museum.
  • While it seemed (to us) that many of our dates revolved around food, only 6 dates were all about dining out.
  • 5 dates took place at home and included movie night, making tamales, and a spa day.
  • My favorite date: #13: All Ablaze for Good Food
  • Angie’s favorite date: #27: Pickin’ Again – Peaches!

Though we might not repeat this dating project, we didn’t come away empty handed. We learned a few things along the way. First, we learned that creating a 365-project simply for the sake of having a 365-project doesn’t work for us. We have many, many goals and ideas for the direction of our life as a minimalist couple. Taking on a project that’s’ not necessarily aligned with those goals is somewhat counterproductive. Midway through our dating project, we found that we were just doing things because we said that we would, so we stopped. We still did the things we would normally do for fun but we rerouted the time and energy wasted in planning dates to other parts of our life. Second, we realized that we have fun together doing nothing. Angie and I could both be curled up the couch reading a book and we’re just as happy as we are when we’re out on the town.

Reading time!

And last but not least, we learned that what makes our relationship successful isn’t the amount of time we spend with one another or even how that time is spent together. It’s wanting the same things in life and having common goals.

As you know, we have decided not to do a 365-project in 2020. Instead, we’re focusing on a couple of goals – some fun, some serious, but all important. Be sure to check those out at in the post New Decade = A New Take on Old Ideas and leave a comment below with your thoughts on 2019. Was it a successful year for you? Did you complete a 365-project? We’d love to hear your story!