The Shoestring Girl Book Book Review

Earlier this year Annie Jean Brewer released an updated and greatly expanded edition of The Shoestring Girl: How I Live on Practically Nothing and You Can Too. The basic theme of the book in her own words is “You can do almost anything when you need practically nothing.” While Annie warns that she may come off as preachy at times, in my opinion the book comes off as very gentle and informative. The only parts of the book that I could remotely see as being preachy, are the sections where she talks about ways to help protect yourself against setbacks and less than honest businesses. Her emphasis is to focus upon the suggestions that sound helpful and disregard the ones that you do not like. Annie does a wonderful job balancing a positive outlook with the harsh economic reality for way too many people. She starts out with a remainder that you are richer than you realize, and stresses the importance of focusing upon what we have and not what we do not have. The final chapter is “The In End” which concludes with the importance of focusing upon the things that are the most important. In the middle is over 300 pages of resource on almost any topic you can think of ranging from housing, transportation, cheap and simple recipes, household cleaning, personal care products, clothing, computers, entertainment and even “bad habits”. Annie writes in a very straightforward and at times entertaining manner. Her stories are wonderful and make you feel like the book is more about her sharing what she does and not telling you what to do.
Finally another off-label use of the book that I would like to suggest is a way to help understand the reality for a lot of people in the country. I was fortunate enough to grow up in a well off family in the suburbs and Annie’s writing has been a major eye opener to me. The chapter on “How to live in the hood” was especially an eye opener to me. So if you do not think you need her advice on how to live on less, then there is a good chance that you may need a window into the reality of her world. Jesus commands us to look after the poor among us with love and compassion. Yet all too we fail to understand and wrongly assume that the poor are poor because they are lazy. Thus it is important for us to understand the reality of those less fortunate as understanding is the first step towards compassion. The one caveat that I have about the book is that you may want to consider skipping the chapter on raising animals for food. While the chapter is very informative it may contain a bit too much information for those of us that will never put it to use. Unless of course you are looking for inspiration to consider going vegan.
For full disclosure I can rightly be accused of bias in this review. Annie is a friend of mine and without her encouragement this site would not exist. This is also a book that I helped write. I was blessed with the opportunity to assist by helping to review the working draft in real-time. While I was given a free PDF copy of the final book from Annie, I choose to also buy a copy of the ebook. So yes the book is really that good. This post contains affiliate links to help cover the cost of running the site.

What Is In Your Stack?

A stack is a term commonly used among computer scientists to describe the collection of tools and technologies that one uses. Stacks, by their very nature stacks are a mix of personal preferences and the core essentials. A famous example of an unusual stack is George R. R. Martin’s writing computer for the Game of Thrones novels. His writing computer is an ancient DOS computer from the 1980s that runs Word Star. While most people may look at this as outdated, he is more comfortable using Word Star for its simplicity. While it is not his primary intention, George R. R. Martin works on an air gaped computer system. His writing stack is not Internet comparable which means he is immune to modern computer viruses and hackers. The DOS machine also protects his attention as he is able to write on a computer without the distractions that come with an Internet connection.

Computer programmers and writers have custom designed stacks for their needs. So what is preventing us from having a custom designed spiritual stack? After all it is impossible for technology not to interact with our spirituality. Sure some people may use old technology but they still use technology. If we own or even use a Bible, we are making use of some type of technology. This holds not only for electronic Bibles and audio Bibles but also paper Bibles. Even a series of clay tablets written with a stick would be making use of the technology of writing.

So I ask you: what is in your spiritual stack? What technologies do you use in  your spiritual life? I assume you are using a Bible of some shape or form. This may be supplemented by another book be it a daily devotional booklet, hymnal or formal prayer-book. You may use a calendar, planner or to-do list to help keep yourself focused. There are also various newsletters you can sign up and either get them in your postal mailbox or your email inbox. You may also make use of some type of inspirational artwork or other materials. This may take the form of religious Icons, posters, or desktop wallpaper. You may have meaningful Bible verses cross-stitched on a pillow, a wooden plaque or post-it notes. Who knows you may have taken Deuteronomy literally and written Bible verses on your door frames and fence posts. We are surrounded with ways that we can make use of technology to benefit ourselves spiritually. Yet all too often we get hung up on the negative that we lose sight of the positive. So please take the time to reflect upon the ways that technology can and has already blessed your spiritual life.

A Mixed Blessing

“The Internet is like alcohol. It accentuates what you would do anyway. If you want to be a loner, you can be more alone. If you want to connect, it makes it easier to connect.” ~ Esther Dyson

When it comes to the role that material objects in our lives, computers are one of the most complicated. While a computer is a physical object, it is primarily a gateway into the more abstract digital world. So when it comes to a more focused and simple life, computers can be either a blessing and or a curse. It all comes down to how one interacts with computers. More likely than not computers are a mixed blessing in your life that at times both helps and hinders you.

At their best computers are powerful tools that make our lives easier. When used mindfully computers can greatly improve our lives for the better. The modern minimalist movement was only made possible by laptop computers and smartphones. Think about all the devices that a laptop computer and smartphone can replace … alarm clock, bookcase, camera, CD player, DVD player, filing cabinet (via computer scanner) GPS, library card, television and video camera. This alone allows one to not only save space but also money thanks to the virtue of the multipurpose nature of computers. Computers also allow us to streamline our workflow to get more done in record time. Not to mention how much information computers can store which rivals even the most advanced paper filing system. Digital file storage is also easy to backup which greatly lower the risk of losing things. Of course, this is not to say that computers are not double edged. If one is not organized in their file storage structure computers can enable a new level of disorder. Information is only useful if it can be found in a timely manner when needed. Digital clutter and disorder can multiply much faster than physical clutter in our lives. Not to mention computers can also make it possible to lose things faster than ever before if one neglects to keep proper backups. Finally, computers can only help one be more productive when they are used mindfully. Digital distractions unfortunate allow us to take procrastination to a new level.

As a society, we have reached the point that it is unrealistic to avoid computers due to their potential pitfalls. Thus as Christians, our spiritual lives need to be inclusive of computers. Anything that plays a large role in our lives has the potential to help or hinder us spiritually. Ideally, our spiritual approach to computers should be positive and focus on the strengths. So what are some ways that computers can support your spiritual life?