I’m always reading about some way of doing things better, faster, more efficiently, much as my millennial students are doing, apparently. There’s a whole sub-genre of the internet dedicated to productivity and How To Tie Your Shoes Like the Pros!! kind of articles. Much of it is silly and wasteful or pedantic and unrealistic, but every once in a while, I’ll stumble across something, either from a friend, or on the web, or in an old book, and it will make a tangible difference in my workflow or in my life. Here are some of the changes I’ve made in the last decade or so that have helped more than I would’ve expected.
Wool socks are the best. It’s the material that socks are supposed to be made from and I had been living a kind of half-life ensconced in cotton until I discovered the true way. They last forever (literally: many companies that produce them offer lifetime guarantees) and they’re dry, don’t loose their shape, don’t stain, and feel not just neutral but actively comfortable all day long. I got one pair for Christmas and found that I was looking forward to their being clean so I could wear them again. Slowly, I replaced nearly all my daily and dress socks with wool versions. It’s weird to get so much joy from something so mundane, but there it is. I’m three years or so into my conversion and still on fire.
This is the silly name for the way that Marie Kondo folds clothes. I read her book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up and it was fun but it didn’t change my life. Now, there’s a TV show about her helping other people clean up. But what did stick with me is the way she has of folding clothes so that they stand up on edge in one’s drawers. I do it with everything now and my dresser has never been so organized. I smile a little whenever I open it in the morning, sometimes running my hands over the perfect stacks admiring their uniformity and beauty. You can learn how to do it through a bunch of YouTube videos, but the book taught me just fine.
I suffered under the Gillette empire for nearly 20 years before the revolution. They gave me, like they do all American males, a free MACH 3 for my 18th birthday and I used that thing, replacing the blades at $18 per pack every month for the next couple of decades. It’s actually a good product—I was a whiz with mine, smoothing the necessary surfaces with a few quick flicks that often inspired awe in onlookers—but they’re largely plastic (bad) and indecently expensive. I switched when a friend sent me a proper safety razor by Merkur. Now, blades cost around $1 for 5 of them, the handle has a heft that suggests a dignity of enterprise, and the thing rinse cleanly immediately and every time. It’s not only cheaper, but is a superior, if earlier, technology, which is not dominating the market only through suppression by better funded competitors.
When I shower, I turn the water to cold—sometimes cold enough to shorten my breath—before getting out. It’s only for the last minute or two, but it makes a tremendous difference. I feel like I’ve just had a coffee, for one. For another, my clothes feel better against my body all day, for hours afterward. It takes a little getting used to, and it’s not intuitive, given how comforting warm showers can be, but the tightening, quickening, energizing effects are worth it.
Huel is like a protein powder, except it’s actually a complete food. It contains the requisite amount of fat, fiber, carbs, and protein person needs in a meal and is cheap (around $1.50 per serving) and vegetarian. The company is so environmentally conscious they don’t even include a plastic scoop in each new bag, trusting that you’ll have saved your scoop from the last one, like a responsible human being would. I love everything about it: the t-shirt they send, the typography on the package, even the free shaker that comes with the first order. People use it in all kinds of different ways—mixing in shakes, replacing breakfast—but for me, it’s just a terrific supplement.
So sometimes I’ll have toast and jam for breakfast. Of course, I know that 15g of carbs and 2g of fructose are not sufficient to power an adult male body, much less a mind, through the hours of morning, but I still do it because I haven’t purchased the appropriate meats and veggies, or because I don’t want to make and then clean up a mess. But now, I’ll make the toast and a shaker of Huel, with the confidence that my muscles, brain, tissues, etc are all humming along happily and the whole thing takes under 5 mins, from prep through cleanup. Physical and financial benefits are swell, but for me the peace of mind is best. I never wonder anymore whether my day is nutritionally complete. It is. If all I eat one day is a slice of pizza and an apple, that’s fine; I’ll just drink a steak and salad’s worth of Huel, rounding out the picture. If you want to try it, use this link and they’ll give you $10 off. (I’m not an affiliate or whatever, just a fan).
I listen to CD’s, having given up on vinyl a few years ago. It’s the best. I love finding great records (by which I mean “discs”) for $2 at the Goodwill, or flipping through the stacks at music shops. For better or for worse, most of the music I love was made in the 1990’s or early 00’s; most of it never pressed to vinyl. I love being reminded of what I’ve invested in and the convenience of playing music in my car without fiddling with my phone. I love the sound and shape and not having to wipe them down before every listen. I love not being beholden to a streaming service that can, at any time, decide to offer only re-mastered versions, or drop a label, or raise prices. Dancing around the house without worrying about skipping, or scratching, is just icing.
There are so many sites extolling the virtues of Bullet Journalling that I don’t feel like I need to outline the method here. Suffice it to say that it’s how I keep track of my appointments, projects, and days and it’s the only such system I’ve stuck with for any length of time. The best part is that it’s a system and not a product, so you don’t have to buy a new thing each year and aren’t beholden to a brand. That said, everyone knows that Shinola makes the most beautiful journals around but for some ridiculous reason, they don’t make a dot-grid format, which is essential for the method. That’s depressing, because it means thier ceding market share to lesser companies like Barton Fig, and a host of rip-offs. For now, the best one can do is to use Lechturm 1917, which are very decent; I’d even think them the gold-standard, had I never seen a Shinola, which skewed my expectations of what a journal could be.
I wondered whether to put this on here as a life-hack, since most will think of Anglicanism as a kind of religion, but I was already a Christian and always have been, and Anglicanism, in fact, has no distinct set of beliefs, but is rather a system, an organizing principle meant to give shape and structure to one’s spiritual life, so in a sense, it’s the only thing here that really is a life-hack. I have much more to say about these practices and probably will say them elsewhere, if not in other posts here, but for now I just want to note the comfort and efficacy of the system.
Basically, Anglicanism provides a few structures without which I’d been sprawling for most of my life. For example, in it, we do Morning and Evening Prayer. I used to think: am I going to pray this morning? I just did last night. Maybe kind-of on my way to work. And when I made time for it, I had to cast about wondering what to pray for. Myself? The trees? My family? Anglican practice settled all that with it’s scheduling and scripted prayers. I pray for much more that I used to, guided by the wisdom of centuries, and much more frequently than ever, since I’m not intimidated by the idea that I’ll have to come up with something to say.
The benefits extend to Bible reading also. Using the lectionary, I don’t have to come up with little studies like: maybe I’ll read around in the Psalms, then a study of Sovereignty as a concept. No, I now read the apportioned bit that takes me through most of the scriptures on a predictable cycle. I love it. I love the certainty of beliefs—that creedal Christianity guides the whole denomination and that it’s well and truly worldwide: I can find an Anglican church in any state or country I’ll ever find myself in and the values won’t really have changed place to place. I went to a low-church for years before discovering they baptized people multiple times (that’s a heresy). I went to another one where they didn’t believe in baptism at all! (that’s another one). It’s not so much the theological wrong-headedness of those positions but the fact that I didn’t know them going in; I couldn’t have known them, since they were just the whims of whoever was running the show.
There’s a reason why most denominations in America are shrinking down to 6-10 septuagenarians in a huge, beautiful building while the ACNA (which started 10 years ago) now has over a thousand churches in N. America alone. Part of it is the refusal to trade the Great Tradition for a post-1970’s revisionism and the provision of deep historical rooted-ness and truly global connection that refusal provides in these rootless and hyper-local times. Part is probably a barely-explicable move of the Spirit. But part is also just the plain good sense of it, that people like me have stumbled upon a bio-hack that lasts one’s entire life. It’s a terrific comfort, somehow, to know (I have a copy of it in my prayer-book) exactly what words will be spoken over my corpse when I become one, to know where to place my concentration during Advent, during Lent. For me, practicing Anglicanism, like the razors, like the socks, has been about recovering older wisdom and applying it to new idioms and finding life simpler, neater, and more fulfilling for the instruction.