January 1, 2024

Reading as an Experience

Now is that time of year when everyone is sharing what they read in the last 12 months and what they want to read in the next twelve. For the second year in a row, I reached my personal goal to read 100 books and I thought I’d give you a glimpse into my thoughts about reading.

First off, in no way do I think there is a right way or wrong way to consume a book. Nor do I think reading as a form of entertainment is superior to watching TV. It’s all entertainment, in my opinion. I also want to note that there were many years when I didn’t read anything. When my kids were little, we moved a lot and I was not interested in reading many books. Some seasons of life have been book heavy and others not as much. What works for me now might not work for you now. And that’s ok.

Above photo taken in the little Icelandic town of Hellissandur, a place that’s known for their large graffiti art. I couldn’t pass up taking a photo of this book mural as we drove by.

My Optimal Reading Habit

Reading is about the whole experience. Having time to read means everything else is taken care of and I can fully focus on the storyline of a good book. Ideally, my preferred form of reading is a physical paper book, sitting in a comfy spot with a blanket and a dog. Reading is something I do to take care of myself, learn more, relax and try on new perspectives and ideas to stretch my own knowledge and beliefs. It’s not something to rush through, something to stress about or something I feel like I should be doing. Reading is so enjoyable for me and the ultimate form of luxury.

Reading is not just for vacations!

I have had so many people tell me that they read only on vacations because they “don’t have time for it” in their normal life. Why not incorporate things you do on vacation into your everyday life so life feels more like a vacation? Why only feel that good when you’re away? I think home should be a sanctuary where you rest and recover from the outside world, not a place that feels stressful. There are also a lot of articles out there stating that people sleep better in hotel rooms while they are on vacation because they lack clutter and stacks of books all over the place. This is why I try to create a life at home that has as many aspects of a vacation as possible, and that includes a clutter-free space with less to manage which also gives me more time for reading!

So why do I prefer to read physical books?

IT’S ABOUT SLOWING DOWN

While I set a target to read a certain number of books, I don’t feel like I’m just reading fast to check something off the list. Having a goal is more of a nudge to keep me focused on sitting quietly with a book instead of opting to do other things (like shopping online). To be honest, I didn’t think I would make it this year and I would have been ok with that. The goal is there just to move me in an intentional direction. Reading physical books is a special “me time.” It forces me to slow down. It makes me sit still. Lots of people tell me they like to listen to audiobooks while they run, shop or work. I have heard many people say they listen at 2x the speed to finish faster. That’s great for them, not for me. I’m purposefully trying not to hurry. I’m trying to not rush through books – that’s the opposite of what I hope to happen. I want and deserve to slow down and enjoy the entire reading experience.

IT CREATES COMMUNITY

There is something to be said about tangible books. I am a big believer in libraries (free and non-cluttering) and I also have pledged to buy at least one book a month from our local bookstore. This bookstore has been such a great addition to our town and the events they offer to hear authors speak has been an interesting way to connect with other people. When I was looking through my 2023 books, I noted that I was able to meet and talk to 15 of the book authors through local events at this bookstore and others. Buying books locally supports the community, supports the authors and gives me a deeper appreciation of the work that went into the writing process. I have learned so much from not just reading but by participating in book clubs and author talks. I also post about books a lot on my social media and get lots of recommendations from what other people share (thank you!!!). I love chatting with the women at our free book swap and hearing which books they say are worthwhile too.

There is also something really nice about passing on a real book to someone else. I am so happy to drop a book in someone’s mailbox and I have borrowed plenty of books from other people. It’s a reason to see someone, to connect in a real way and have something in common to talk about – what you did or did not like about a book. Sure, you can do that with e-books too, but it’s not quite the same as having to drop off or pick-up a physical item. I don’t have a set list of books to read so I can easily pick up a book recommendation at any time.

Reading real books gives me lots of ways to connect with people in real life. It’s a win-win for me.

REAL BOOKS = LESS WORRY & DISTRACTION

When I’m reading a real book, I don’t have to worry about a device malfunctioning. I don’t have to worry about running out of battery or needing to charge something. I don’t have to worry about having my log-in password or needing to return an e-book before it gets sucked away or a dreaded software update. Enjoying a real book means I don’t have the distraction of other apps, other books, messages or websites. And let’s talk about sand or liquids. With a real book, I don’t have to worry about it getting wet or sandy. Sure, it’s a bummer if it gets soaked through but replacing a real book is cheaper than replacing a whole piece of technology. And when I’m in a busy location, I don’t have to worry a real book being stolen. It’s just less to manage all around, less to go wrong, less to worry about. It’s simply me and a book. Nothing else.

IT’S A TACTILE EXPERIENCE

Flipping real pages in a book provides a physical experience I just don’t get by using a kindle or iPad. I’m sorry, but it doesn’t. I read this Wired article that said turning real pages actually gives your brain something concrete, which can lead to a deeper understanding of what you’re reading. I read various studies that all point to higher comprehension with paper vs digital (primarily when reading non-fiction). I have always been someone who copies notes to further reinforce things in my brain by using the physical act of writing with pen and paper. Something about using my hands really matters to me and keeps me thinking and focused on the information I’m consuming or constructing. I don’t think I’m alone in this.

READING PAPER BOOKS AS A FORM OF GROUNDING

I was reading Please Unsubscribe by Julio Vincent Gambuto and came across a section (page 215) where he also talks about his love of physical books. The part I really enjoyed and had never really thought about before was the fact that reading real books (he mentions newspapers) reconnects us to paper, which comes from trees. Brilliant. I know there is a lot of talk around the concept of grounding, which is where people do activities to connect them to the earth, so this really stood out to me. Reading real books seems like a way for me to connect with nature. Maybe that’s a stretch but I believe it’s true. (Playing devil’s advocate….I also know there is a big push for everything to be paperless as a way to care more about nature and trees. That’s another topic for another day.)

IT’S MODELING DEVICE-FREE BEHAVIOR

People always ask me how to get their kids on board with decluttering or organizing and I always say the same thing. They are watching you. How are you taking care of your own belongings? Are you keeping the house clutter-free of your stuff? Are you making your bed every morning? The same can be said for wanting to encourage your kids to read. What reading behavior are you modeling? I want my kids to see me sitting down, slowing down and taking time to relax and read a book. I’m unable to count the number of times my kids have seen me sleeping with a book face down on my body. It’s very clear what I’m doing when I’m sitting with a book. It’s much easier for me to discuss screen time limitations with my kids when I am modeling reading real books, no device needed.

So how do I actually find time to read?

I assure you, I have the same 24 hours in my day that you have in yours. There is no large secret, just being more intentional about what I allow to take up my time and how we do things more efficiently and out of habit so it frees up space for reading.

  1. I’ve intentionally decided I do not want to be a “stuff manager.” One of the huge benefits of decluttering, creating solid routines and streamlining is that I have less stuff to manage and care for and more time for other things, like reading and traveling. Clearing space in my life has been the greatest gift to myself.
  2. I always have a book with me. You never know when you will find yourself with an extra chunk of time. One time, I got caught in a massive rainstorm in NYC so I ducked into an entryway and had a wonderful 20 minutes of reading as the storm passed. I have pulled out a book at the pharmacy when there is a long line or in the car while waiting to pickup a child. Sure, I could spend that time scrolling my phone, shopping for things we don’t need, but I choose to spend the time escaping in a good book. And it probably saves me money!
  3. I treat reading as a true luxury experience and add it with other things I enjoy to make it something I really look forward to doing. Have you ever tried habit stacking? James Clear talked about it in his book, Atomic Habits. Whether you want to read more or develop a different habit, it’s a proven way to make it stick. By stacking reading on top of other things I love, like puppy snuggles, blankets and cozy drinks, it is something I never like to miss. This means I always find time to make it happen.
  4. I read before bed. Instead of scrolling a device, I like to read in the minutes before bed. Sometimes that’s 2 minutes and sometimes it’s 30 minutes. Whenever I put down my book, I’m pretty certain to fall asleep fast. There is actually a lot of writing about the benefits of reading before bedtime and I love the way it is a trigger for my brain to quiet down and get sleepy. And since I have already made the decision about reading real books before bed, I don’t have to worry about all those studies telling me if screens or electronics before bed are good for me. I have already removed them from the possibility. I do use a nightlight to read if the lights are out. I personally don’t like the ones that clip to your book, they always seem to fall off or bother me when I’m turning a page. I got this one in September and I have been loving it.
  5. I break down my reading goals. Having the idea to read 100 books sounds overwhelming, but instead I like to try to read about 8 books a month. It means it’s easy for me to choose to take a deep dive into non-fiction or read lighter fiction books or mixing it up depending on what I have the bandwidth to take on. Some months I want to read deeper personal development books where I take a lot of notes, other months (like December) I have limited bandwidth so I want light and fluffy books to escape into another world. They each have their own place but I don’t try to read all 100 books at once. I focus on one month at a time, really one book at a time, with lots of flexibility to read what I feel like reading. This is supposed to be fun, right?

You don’t need to have a lot of books to read a lot of books.

I work with a lot of people who have lots of books but tell me they don’t have time to read. I also work with people who don’t have any books and find time to read a lot. How many books you own is not an indicator of whether or not you’re actually reading. How many cookbooks you own is also not an indicator or how much you cook. 

I looked through the list of 100 books I read over the past year and found I have 12 of them still in my possession. Mostly, they are books that speak to organizing or psychology and I find I want to revisit them for blog posts or work. Everything else is passed on so someone else can enjoy it as much as I did. When I travel, I usually take a few books with me I know I won’t want to revisit (fiction) and I leave them behind as we go. It frees up space in my bag for buying souvenirs and supporting the local economy, wherever we are.

So there you have it. Whether you are someone who likes to listen to audiobooks, use a device or Kindle or read traditional paper books, I’m sure you have your reasons. You create a reading experience that works for you and helps you get what you want out of a story. There is no right way or wrong way to enjoy books. Hope this gives you something to think about as you embark on another year of fun (and intentional) reading….whatever that means for you.

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