You Might Be a Book Lover If...

Mar 31, 2020

Today's Top Ten Tuesday topic, hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl, is such a fun one: Top Ten Signs You're A Book Lover! As soon as I saw it on the schedule, I started brainstorming what would be on my list. I tried to think of some of my nerdiest habits – the ones that make it very evident that I'm so obsessed with books and that sometimes elicit teasing from the people who love me most. But the only thing required to be a book lover? A love of reading! All the stuff is just the icing on the cake... or the jacket on the book, as the case may be. 

1. You have books in every room of your house... and a home library, too.
My husband made me the most gorgeous built-ins from IKEA Billy bookcases. And now my finished library is my favorite room in our house! But the books don't stop there. You'll find some in every room of our house.

2. You own multiple editions of your favorite books.
You'd probably be shocked by how many books I own multiple copies of: because they have different covers, are from different countries, or because it's in a different format (like audio or e-book). The list is... extensive.

3. You own a book sleeve. Or two. Or more.
When I first heard about book sleeves, I thought they sounded dumb. Now I own and love a bunch! My favorites are from Story Time Sleeve, A Hum for HopeBook Besties UK, and a Book Beau my friend customized for me.

4. You've paid for some type of bookish subscription.
There are so many of these, and I've tried several. I loved Book of the Month for a while, though I've since canceled. My son gets a BookRoo picture book subscription. And I adore my Audible subscription. Just to name a few!

5. You discuss the texture of book covers with your bestie.
I was browsing the bookstore one day and sent Kelly a picture of a recent release. "It has a velvety texture!" I texted. "Like Jojo Moyes' books?" she asked. And then we laughed at how nerdy we sounded!

6. You design and complete a bookish March Madness bracket.
Kelly and I make a March Madness bet where the winner gets to make the loser read a book of their choice. Since this year's tournament was canceled, I made us a bookish version. A post about it is coming soon.

7. You have your library card number memorized.
I don't have my credit card number memorized, but you better believe I know my library card number by heart! I'll be in trouble if it ever changes. Bonus points if you pay to belong to another library system. Because I do that, too!

8. You buy books about books.
I don't know if you can tell from the photo in this post, but I have a stack of books about books on that side table in my library. The prettiest is Bibliophile by Jane Mount, and my favorite is I'd Rather Be Reading by Anne Bogel.

9. You have bookish journals and made custom inserts for them!
I have a reading log where I track what books I've read and what I thought about each of them. But my favorite is my bookish Happy Planner because I designed custom printables for it. I need to share the updated version of it.

10. You buy products inspired by your favorite books.
And finally, you know you're a book lover if you can't resist bookish merchandise. I have prints, t-shirts, candles, bookmarks, mugs, totes, and more that all pay homage to the books and characters I love most. Nerd alert!

Are any of these things true for you?

What would you add to my list?

8 Things I Learned from My No-Spend Challenge

Mar 30, 2020

If you've been reading my blog the last few months, you may know that one of my 2020 goals is to "grow in my knowledge and stewardship of our finances." As I was brainstorming ways to make that happen, I discovered The Contentment Challenge hosted by Nancy Ray. It's a three-month commitment where, in Nancy's words:
“I will give up shopping for clothes, accessories, household decor, and ‘stuff’ for three months, to focus my heart and mind on the root of true contentment. I will actively pursue fulfilling activities that will replace my addiction to material things.”
The Challenge officially took place from January - March 2020. This was my first time participating, though Nancy has hosted it for several years. I heard about it while listening to an episode about it on her podcast and felt like it complemented my financial goal for the year. I hoped it would give me an opportunity to slow down, save, and evaluate my spending. Nick and I have been tracking all of our expenses using the Goodbudget app since last November, and that's when I first noticed how much I spent on random things I didn't really need. 

In Nancy's introductory blog post, she outlines some guidelines to help steer the challenge. I kept them in mind but didn't strictly adhere to them. I specifically wanted to focus on the money I spent on myself. I don't personally spend a lot on clothes or household decor, but I have my own money pits – paper products, makeup, books, etc. For example, I still bought a few things for our new baby. BUT I GAVE UP BOOKS. A three-month book buying ban? It was a first! However, Kelly and I had previously decided we wanted to buy at least one book per month from somewhere other than Amazon (ideally from an indie bookstore). So, that was the only exception I allowed myself. 

I'm wrapping up this challenge tomorrow, so I thought I'd share eight things I've learned along the way:

1. Unsubscribe, unsubscribe, unsubscribe.
The first thing I did for this challenge? I opened my email and unsubscribed from every single marketing list that I was on. There were some I'd meant to unsubscribe from for months and others that I reluctantly removed. What if I missed an awesome sale on something I loved? Well, I probably did miss some great sales – but I also realized how often I was shopping solely because I saw something in an email. This was huge, and I'm not going back. 

2. Skip the sales.
The first thing I learned leads me into the second lesson. While I do love a good discount, I think it's better for me, personally, to buy something full price when I actually need it than to stock up during a sale. I'm more aware now of how often I've used a sale to justify purchases that I definitely didn't need and sometimes never used. But I have started a small list of specific things I "want/need" that aren't urgent and can wait for a sale. 

3. If I can't see it, I don't want it.
I unsubscribed from emails and stopped visiting my favorite online retailers' websites, I didn't see new things that I might like to own. When I stopped visiting my local used bookstore, I didn't know what they did or didn't have in stock. If I didn't wander Target, I wasn't adding things to my cart. It's common sense, but it still amazed me how easy it was to stop spending money once I stopped visiting the places I most likely to spend that money.

4. When I don't buy more, I use what I own.
Here's another thing I learned that will elicit a "no duh" response. When I wasn't buying new things, I started using what I already owned. No new notebooks = finally using some that I'd been hoarding (why?!) for ages. The biggest place I learned this lesson? BOOKS! While I still used the library, I was shocked at how quickly I decreased my To Be Read pile when I wasn't adding new books to it. In fact, I think I'm going to extend my book buying ban!

5. When in doubt, wait it out. 
I've shopped for all kinds of reasons: because I was bored, because I wanted to reward myself, because I was stressed out, etc. That itch didn't go away just because I decided to stop shopping! I started to find something else to do when that feeling hit, but I also let myself put things in my cart to save for later. As I waited before purchasing, I usually forgot about it. And if I still wanted it? Well, it would still be there when this was over.

6. Abstaining adds up.
My objective for participating in this challenge wasn't saving money. I knew that would (hopefully) be a result, but I really wanted to break the habit of impulse buying and mindless spending. But I won't lie: it's been rewarding to see the dollars add up in my bank account. It illustrated just how much I've spent on things I didn't need. YIKES. Talk about convicting and motivating for the future! I'll still shop but with more intention now.

7. Self control is a skill.
Before I started, I knew this would truly be a challenge. Why? Because I'd tried book buying bans in the past, and I always failed. I'd usually start strong, and then begin rationalizing purchases. Since I was fully committed to this project, I took it more seriously. And like a muscle that grows the more you work out, my self control grew every time I followed through on the challenge. The more I exercised restraint, the more I wanted to continue.

8. Need it? Not really.
This final lesson wasn't a surprise: I don't need most of the things I buy. Almost everything I was tempted to purchase was truly a want. There's no guilt or shame in that, but I need to keep it in perspective moving forward. The ability to spend money on things that I want, just because, is something I don't want to take for granted. I'm more content with what I have and more appreciative of the fact that I can buy more. 

Well, there you have it! This challenge ends April 1, but I'll continue to practice the things I've learned during it. Would I recommend it? Absolutely! And like Nancy, there's a good chance I'll be repeating this challenge every year. I have loved the experience and what it taught me. And I think a yearly refresh would be so worthwhile!

You may be wondering: did I buy anything during this no-spend challenge? I've mentioned my one book a month exception, but I did purchase a few more things, too. Later this week, I'll share what I bought the last three months and why. Additionally, I'm planning on purchasing a few things now that I'm done. Check back for that list, too!

Have you ever participated in a no-spend challenge?
How long did it last? Were you successful?

12 Things to Do at Home

Mar 26, 2020

I knew from experience with my firstborn that I probably wouldn't be out and about much after my second child was born. And since a February birthday = the middle of flu season, I figured that would keep us close to home, too. I certainly never anticipated a dangerous virus sweeping the globe and making it absolutely vital that everyone stay home to help slow its spread. I'm doing my best to stay informed while not spending too much time reading the news, but it's definitely hard. Life right now is far from normal! When anxiety over the unknown starts creeping in, I try to remind myself of what I love about being home. Here are my twelve favorite things to do:

1. Read a book.
Are you surprised this is the first thing on my list? It's my favorite hobby, and it's what I spend the majority of my free time doing. Books can take you on the best adventures! Here are eight favorites that just make me happy:

Happiness for Beginners by Katherine Center
The Royal We by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan
The Unhoneymooners by Christina Lauren
If I Never Met You by Mhairi McFarlane
One Plus One by Jojo Moyes
Act Like It by Lucy Parker
Maybe in Another Life by Taylor Jenkins Reid

2. Reorganize my bookshelves.
This is one of my favorite things to do when I'm itching for a project. I love taking all my books off my shelves and rearranging them. Separate your read and unread books? Want rainbow shelves? Now is the time to try it!

3. Shop online. Support small businesses!
While staying safe at home, I can still shop online. Whether ordering takeout from a local restaurant or treating myself to something fun, this is a great opportunity to support small businesses. A few of my favorites:

4. Take a nap.
I'm not typically very good at taking a nap, but sometimes it's what your body needs – especially when you're overwhelmed or anxious. It's hard to be productive when you're feeling that way, and a nap can be so restorative.

5. Tackle a project.
I've been writing a lot about routines lately, and I know it's hard to implement something when your schedule is so far from normal. But this could be an opportunity to tackle a project that you've been avoiding. For example:

• Clean out your closet
• Organize your kitchen drawers / pantry / fridge
• Rearrange your furniture
• Hang some photos or art

6. Paint my nails.
I've always preferred painting my nails at home, but it took time, practice and patience before I got the hang of it. If you typically get salon manicures, here's your chance to do a little self care at home.

7. Play with my boy.
Since I'm a stay-at-home mom and my kids aren't in school yet, we haven't had as much of an adjustment. I know this season would be much harder if I was trying to work or teach school from home. A few of our favorite things:

Busy Toddler on Instagram
• Cincinnati Zoo's daily Home Safari videos
• A giant sticker book (my son's favorite)
PBS Games app on the iPad
• Plastic animals, from companies like Schleich or Safari Ltd. 
Books, books, and more books!

8. FaceTime a friend.
People may complain about how technology has changed modern relationships, but these are the moments where it's truly a blessing. Feeling lonely? Phone a friend or your family! I adore my daily I FaceTime chats with my bestie.

9. Get creative.
Blogging is my main source of creativity, and it's definitely a labor of love. I don't know any skills like knitting, but I do love playing around with paper products. Here are the some ways I try to exercise my creativity:

• Cook something new.
• Create a reading log.
• Make graphics for the blog.
• Bullet journaling(ish) – here's my own version of it!
• Take photos of my life and my books.
• Write, especially three good things about each day.
• Design my own Happy Planner inserts.  

10. Go outside.
We've had nice weather in Georgia the past week, and I've been so thankful that we fenced in our backyard last fall. The baby and I have enjoyed rocking on the porch while big brother plays hard and soaks up the sun.

11. Watch something.
As much as I love reading, sometimes I just need to watch something instead. That's my go to when I can't concentrate on a book but still need something to distract me from my own thoughts. Here are some favorites:

• If I want happy, small-town vibes: Gilmore Girls or Hart of Dixie.
• If I need some non-coronavirus medical drama: Grey's Anatomy.
• If I want to keep calm and carry on: The Great British Baking Show or The Young Victoria.
• If I need teen angst: Gossip Girl or 13 Going on 30.
• If I want murder and mayhem: The Vampire Diaries.
• If I need to laugh: Friends or The Proposal.
• If I want all the comforting, childhood feels: Anne of Green Gables
• If I need to go back in time: Downton Abbey or Pride and Prejudice.

12. Take a bath.
I adore taking a bath, and it's my favorite way to wind down in the evening. Light a candle, use bubbles or bath salts, turn on some quiet instrumental music, and grab a book for some much-needed relaxation time. 

Welcome to Crescent City

Mar 19, 2020

For the past two years, Kelly and I have celebrated our birthdays by going to England together. We’ve made the best memories, which you can see in my 2018 and 2019 trip recaps. If you can spend a week traveling with someone and still be sad to leave them at the end of the trip, you know that’s your person. I couldn't go with her on this year's trip, but I was able to console myself with some hot cocoa in my London mug while reading Sarah J. Maas' House of Earth and Blood and cuddling my baby. A new series from one of my favorite authors? Yes, please!

Kelly was reading it at the same time, so she would call me every night when she got back to her room to tell me all about her day and discuss the book together. The best part? We were at very different points in the book throughout the week, but we still managed to finish on the same day! I was originally going to review this in my March Quick Lit post, but then I realized I had too much to say about it. Buckle up – we're going on a journey.

I was apprehensive before I started reading House of Earth and Blood, especially because I have such high expectations when picking up something from Maas. Plus, it was a brand-new series – a total unknown! And y'all, this book was an experience. I went through almost every stage of my rating process while reading, so I've decided to structure my review that way. I'm going to start with my least favorite aspects and then work my way towards everything I adored, which mimics the way my final rating shifted from start to finish. Let's dive in – and there's no spoilers here:


+ The language. I don't mind cursing, but it got excessive here. It felt like a teenager trying to prove how grown-up they are and was distracting for me. Once I started to notice the frequency, I kept wondering how it served the story. And honestly, I'd love it if I never had to read the word "alphahole" again in my life! 

+ The drug / sexual content. This is definitely a matter of personal taste. The sexual content is not a new complaint for me, since that was my biggest dislike in the ACOTAR series, too. As for the drugs, they gave me such a bad impression of the characters at first. However, I can see why it was included in this particular story.


+ The info dumps. The beginning of the book was packed with information about the characters and the world, and it wasn't always done in the most seamless way. I wanted to learn more but found myself bogged down by details and losing interest early on in the story. It would have benefited from heavier editing and losing about 200 pages.

+ The lack of glossary. This goes hand in hand with the previous issue. I would have loved if the book had a glossary, especially since so much new terminology was introduced right away. I kept getting hung on trying to decode acronyms and remember what certain words/places/roles meant. I did get past it eventually though!


+ The pacing. The first half of the book was hard for me to get into – for all the reasons I've discussed above. And then... the second half! By the 50% mark, I needed to know what happened next. And by 75%? I couldn't put it down! I wish the pace had been more even throughout but am so glad it ended on a high note.

+ The plot. In a lot of ways, the story at the heart of House of Earth and Blood is a mystery. What happened to Bryce's friends on that fateful night two years ago? I liked the investigation + search for the missing historical artifact, but I'm really looking forward to the next book because I think the conflict will be even richer.  


+ The world. Since I mentioned finding the world confusing at first, you might be surprised to find that I truly did enjoy it in the end. The more I was able to understand it, the more I wanted to know about its history. I can tell Maas put a lot of thought into it, and it was fun to see her try something new with an urban fantasy setting.

+ The romance. Initially, I wasn't completely sold on the romance. I needed to warm up to Bryce and Hunt! They've both survived painful things and have walls built up around their hearts. Slowly but surely, we began to see their vulnerabilities. Their banter, strength, and softness became an incredibly compelling dynamic.


+ The characters. Mass is always able to make me care deeply for so many characters – not just the protagonist. Crescent City was no exception! From the adorable sprite at Bryce's office to the hilarious creature she keeps as a pet, there's no shortage of people to love. And there's plenty that will keep you guessing on their motivations, too.

+ The emotions. When I reminded myself that Maas has always excelled at her characters, their relationships and the emotions they evoke, I was better able to focus on the heart of this story. And y'all, Maas definitely hit all the right emotional notes! You've got love, joy, sadness, anger, fear, contempt, and even some surprise. 


+ The friendship. Maas made me so deeply invested in Bryce and Danika's friendship, in such a short amount of time, that the events from the summary were still a gut punch. I adored watching Bryce grapple with loss and remain loyal to her friends' memory. The love she and Danika had for each other was my favorite thing in the book!

+ The ending. I already said it, but it bears repeating: the last quarter of this book was incredible! Maas' ability to develop moving relationships, exciting twists and turns, and emotional climactic moments came to fruition here. And I loved that the ending didn't leave readers hanging. There's conflict to come, but this was nicely wrapped up.

Whew! Can you see how complicated my feelings were for this new release?! With that huge range of reactions, you might be wondering how I settled on my final rating for House of Earth and Blood. I was leaning towards So Enjoyed It (4 stars) for most of the book, but the way it all came together in the end left me on such a high. And I would always rather have a book start slowly but finish strong than the reverse! I found the last quarter so emotional and satisfying that it only felt right to go with 4.5 stars overall because I So Loved It by the end. 

It's definitely not my favorite book from Maas, but I have historically liked the first books in her series the least. So, I would not be surprised if my love for this series grows with each new release – and with each re-read. I'd be willing to bet that some of the things that felt slow or confusing on my first read won't even phase me the next time around! All that being said, I'm so excited to see where Maas takes these characters next. 

20 Books on My Spring TBR

Mar 17, 2020

It's been a while since I've made a seasonal To Be Read (TBR) list, but I couldn't resist when I saw that it was today's Top Ten Tuesday topic. I've written before about three strategies I used to tackle my TBR – 1) a book buying ban, 2) culling my shelves, and 3) seasonal reading lists. Since I've been participating in a no shopping challenge for the past three months, this felt like the perfect time to combine it with that third approach. I looked my shelves, library holds, and pre-orders to come up with 20 books on my spring TBR:


1. Beach Reads by Emily Henry (May 19) – I requested this for review after I saw it recommended by the Fug Girls. I can't wait to read it and think it will be the perfect book to transition into summer reading.

2. To Have and to Hoax by Martha Waters (April 7) – A publicist pitched me this book, and I couldn't resist the idea of a historical rom com. I'm so used to read more serious historical fiction that this will be a fun change of pace!


3. Risen Motherhood by Emily Jensen and Laura Wifler – I've enjoyed this podcast in the past, so I was excited to buy their book when it came out. Since I'm thinking a lot about motherhood in this season, this felt like a great pick.

4. For the Love of Discipline by Sara Wallace – I bought this when our local Christian bookstore was going out of business, and I'm curious to see what it says. I'm not a fan of parenting books in general, so we'll see...

5. Memory-Making Mom by Jessica Smartt – Another purchase from that same sale!  With a goal of nurturing my relationship with my sons, I'm really looking forward to reading this book about building family traditions.


6. The Bookish Life of Nina Hill by Abbi Waxman – Did I want to read this after seeing the title and cover? Of course! And when Kelly loved it, that sealed the deal. This seems like a fun, lighthearted addition to my list.

7. Shadow of Night by Deborah Harkness – This is on my 10 in 20 list, and I was able to borrow the audiobook from the library. I'm a little intimidated by it but hoping this one works better for me than the first.

8. The Admissions by Meg Mitchell Moore – This was a random Goodwill find, and it's time for me to finally read it (or DNF it, as the case may be). As we approach college decision time for seniors, it felt like a timely choice.

9. The Kingdom of Copper by S.A. Chakraborty – I listened to The City of Brass last year and then didn't get around to reading this book. The final book comes out June 30, so I'm hoping to go from this one right into that one.

10. An Enchantment of Ravens by Margaret Rogerson – I really enjoyed Rogerson's most recent release, so I'm excited to go back and finally pick up her debut. I've read mixed reviews, but I'm excited it's a standalone.

11. The Mitford Murders by Jessica Fellowes – Do I want to start another series right now? Not really, but I can't resist a good historical mystery either. My library has this on audio, too, which will help motivate me to read it.

12. The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton – Another book on my 10 in 20 list! Morton has been hit or miss for me in the past, but I'm looking forward to this one since I recently read and loved The Clockmaker's Daughter


13. The Royal We by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan – The sequel, The Heir Affair, comes out early in July, and I cannot wait! I have to prepare by re-reading this favorite, which I'll end up listening to on audio. 

14. Courting Darkness by Robin LaFevers – I adored this extension of LaFever's His Fair Assassin series and am excited for the duology's conclusion, out in June. I'm going to re-read this first, of course.

15. No Limits by Ellie Marney – When I was looking at my my tentative TBR, I realized that I wanted at least one contemporary mystery/thriller. I loved this 2017 release and have never re-read it, so now is the time!


16. Igniting Darkness by Robin LaFevers (June 2) – As I mentioned, I'm excited to see how this duology concludes! I adore Sybella from the original trilogy, and Genevieve is proving to be a compelling heroine in her own right.

17. The Honey-Don't List by Christina Lauren (March 24) – I like this duo's rom coms more than their dramas, so I'm hoping this is the former. It sounds like it is, but I requested it from the library just in case. 

18. Imagine Me by Tahereh Mafi (March 31) – I loved the original trilogy but have been less impressed by this continuation. Thankfully I can see it through to the end with the library. Maybe it will win me back?

19. The Switch by Beth O'Leary (April 30 UK / June 9 US) – O'Leary's debut, The Flatshare, was one of my favorite reads of 2019. I just re-read it on audio, and it made me even more excited for this upcoming release from her!

20. The Two Lives of Lydia Bird by Josie Silver – I wasn't a huge fan of Silver's One Day in December, but the concept of this book appeals to me way more. I hope the second time is the charm!

What are you hoping to read this spring?

Creating New Routines (Part 3)

Mar 13, 2020

Recently, I've been thinking a lot about routines. I blogged about some of the ones I've implemented this year – like my cleaning routine and some of the systems I've put into place to stay caught up on my reading log, bullet journal, planner, and digital life. One of the biggest digital things I've been focusing on is digital photo organization. It was such a source of frustration for me that I decided to write a post with more of a deep dive into how I've finally found a system that works for me in the hopes it might help someone else! 

Organizing my digital photos has been a goal of mine for years. But the longer I procrastinated, the more overwhelmed I felt and less I wanted to do it. I told someone last year that it was something I needed to do but never seemed to make progress on. "Why do they need to be organized? Why do you care?" they asked. At the time, I didn't really know what to say. Was it just something that I felt like I should do but didn't really need to? Then, as I was working through my PowerSheets prep work, I finally answered the Why? and moved it from a digital to-do to something that mattered. For me, it's the idea of recording and preserving our family memories

Growing up, my parents always had albums full of photos that we've loved to look through – from their lives before us and on through our own childhoods. If all the photos I have of my boys live on my phone, they'll be looking at a screen instead of poring over the pages of a printed book. If the photos live on my phone, I have to trust that it won't get broken or lost. And once I get the photos off my phone, if there isn't some sort of organization then I won't know where to find that photo from my son's birthday or that video of his first steps and so on. The point isn't getting organized because I feel like I should – for me, it's taking care of something that I treasure.

Before I share the steps I've been following, here's what I needed to get started:

1. An external hard drive.
I've read that you should look for one with at least 1TB of space. I've owned mine for a while, so the first thing I did was clean off any files/data that I didn't need anymore. Then, it was ready to go! Because I'm organizing and storing photos/videos from the past 13 years + any in the future, I didn't want them saved on my laptop because they take up a ton of space. I don't need immediate access to any, so it's easy to just grab my hard drive when required.

2. Additional storage space in the cloud. 
I don't want all my digital content tied to one physical device, just in case it's accidentally lost or damaged. But I don't want them solely stored in the cloud either! So, for me, the combo works best. It gives me more peace of mind to know they're in both places. Here's a Consumer Reports article about cloud storage options. I use a paid version of Microsoft OneDrive. Just look into whether the service you choose restricts image quality!

3. A system for my file folders.
And finally, I wanted to decide on a system before I got started. Here's where I ended up:

If you open the Photos folder on my hard drive, my folders are organized by Year > Photos or Videos > Month and then files are named for the date taken. I have created an additional folder, within each year, for my favorite Photo Book selections but I haven't actually tackled that project yet. Getting all my photos sorted is the first step!

Now that I've shared what I did to get started on the project, let me talk about my routine.

1. Cull photos/videos on my phone weekly. 
Before I had kids, I didn't take an overwhelming amount of photos. After? Yeah.... about that. And instead of taking one quick photo, it's usually a bunch of them in a row before I get the one that I want to keep. I haven't always been great about deleting all the outtakes and can easily add hundreds of photos to my camera roll in one week. Factor in taking bookish photos for Instagram or the blog, and the number only grows! 

One of the reasons organizing my digital photos always overwhelmed me is that I didn't regularly delete any. When it would cross my mind to backup my photos, I'd just download everything from iCloud, drag them to a folder, and never look back. I'd end up with a folder full of outtakes and random screenshots that I had no desire to keep. So, the first step in my new system is to cull the photos on my phone at the end of every week.

Every Sunday, I'll take a few minutes to delete anything I don't need to keep from the past week. At the same time, I'll add photos to some specific albums on my phone: Bookstagram, Monthly Recap, Quick Lit, 2020 Calendar, and To Print. If I took a photo of a book while out shopping, I'll add it on Goodreads and delete the picture. And so on with screenshots, too! This single habit has made the biggest difference in how manageable this project now feels.

But what about the photos I already had on my hard drive from years past? Culling them was still my first step! I went through and deleted everything I didn't need to keep so that I only spent time naming and organizing the photos that I truly wanted to save. Over the course of a few weeks, I culled photos from 2007-2015 and then 2018-2019. Why did I skip 2016 and 2017? They have the most photos, by far, and I just haven't gotten to them yet! 

2. Download the photos/videos from iCloud at the end of every month.
Now that I cull the photos on my phone weekly, it's so much easier to log in to iCloud on my laptop at the end of the month and download that month's photos. It takes less time for them to download, and now it's less overwhelming to sort and rename everything I've downloaded. One month at a time made the most for my routine since that's how my folders are organized, but you could do this more or less frequently depending on your needs. 

3. Rename the photos and videos by date taken.
This is the most time consuming part of my process, but it's a step that I'm committed to. When I download photos from iCloud, the file name is something like IMG_4158. And I honestly hated it so much! If I used a Mac shortcut to sort my photos by name, they weren't always in chronological order. I often have photos in my camera roll that my family has sent me, so those image numbers can be vastly different from the photos I've taken myself. 

Another issue? My laptop would show that the Created and Modified date for any given photo was the day I'd downloaded the photo – not necessarily when it was taken. If I was adding stuff to  the Photos app on my laptop, they would be organized correctly because the correct date was in the photo's metadata. But when I'd add them to my hard drive or a cloud storage system, it thought they were all taken on the same day. So frustrating!

There might be a way to change both of these settings on my phone or laptop, but I was never able to find one. I'm not the most tech savvy person! If I can't find it with a quick Google search, I've reached a dead end. So, I decided to address this issue by using a consistent naming convention for all my files: Year-Month-Day_Image Number. So, two photos taken on February 1, 2020 would be named: 2020-02-01_01 and 2020-02-01_02. 

Here's my view when I'm organizing my photos at the end of the month. I've added a yellow circle around the date I downloaded the photos and a red circle around the date the photo was actually taken. The latter is the date I reference in the file name. However, I can only see the download date with videos. So, I typically just refer to my phone for the actual date it was taken. If you know what I'm doing wrong there, please comment. Haha! 

4. Sort photos and videos into folders on my hard drive.
The hard part is finally over and it's all downhill from here! Now that my photos and videos are renamed on my desktop, it's time to sort them into the folders I've already set up. I'll plug in my external hard drive and drag all the videos into the corresponding month's Video folder + all the photos into that month's Photo folder. But I do save blog/book photos in different folders because I prefer having them separated from my life and family stuff.

5. Back them up in the cloud.
Once they've been added to my hard drive, I'll upload them to Microsoft OneDrive. I use the exact same file folder system there, so I don't have to do anything new. They do have an app where I could automatically backup my camera roll to the cloud, but I prefer doing it manually at the very end of my organization routine. This step doesn't really require any work since I just select my files and wait for them to be uploaded. Whew!

6. Keep only favorites + necessary on my phone.
At the very beginning of my process, I culled all the outtakes on my phone. But what happens at the end? It's time for one last cull. Now that I know everything is backed up to my hard drive and the cloud, I delete most of the photos off my phone. One reason I got so behind on this project in the first place is because I'd look at my camera roll, see that it had something like 11,000 photos/videos on it, and would immediately feel overwhelmed.

Let's be honest: I don't need immediate access to most of the photos I've taken. Do I want some favorites so I can look at them whenever I want? Of course! My oldest son, for example, loves watching the videos of himself that I've kept on my phone. In addition to favorites, I'll keep what's necessary – like the photos I've yet to post on Instagram or still need to edit (in the Color Story app) for a monthly recap or Quick Lit post, for example.

That's where the Flic app comes in! I could use this in my weekly photo cull, but I prefer going a little slower during that step so that I can review the photos in more detail. But when I'm ready to delete stuff quickly, Flic is a lifesaver! You swipe left to trash a photo and swipe right to keep a photo. I can quickly and easily cull photos – the swiping process makes it a breeze! And I love seeing how much storage I'm freeing up along the way.

The basic app is free, and you can access all your camera roll photos right from the app. You'll get reminders each month to clean out old photos, too! Worth noting: I did pay to upgrade to Premium. It was only $1.99 and allows me to Flic an unlimited number of photos, see photos sorted by month, and see completed months checked off. It was absolutely worth the price! If you only get one tip from this post, I hope it's to download this app!

And finally, here's the step I'm planning to add to my routine:

7. Design a calendar and/or album throughout the year.
Although I haven't implemented this step yet, I have to thank Angela from Musings of a Literary Wanderer for the suggestion. On my January goals post, I asked about routines that make your life easier. Angela commented:
I'm a huge believer in taking pictures, creating a tangible memory, and especially printing them! I make an album for my husband and me each year. I start it in January and add to it all year long, so by the time December 31 comes, it's all ready to be ordered!
How brilliant is that idea?! Once I'm finally get caught up on organizing photos (only two years left!), then it will be time to make photo albums for those years. While I can't do much to make that process less daunting, I can ensure it never happens again using this strategy. I'm already doing it for the photo calendar I make every year, now I just need to figure out where I want to design and print the albums. Any recommendations?

As you can see, my process is a little bit extra. I certainly don't have to rename all the photos. But honestly, I'm glad that I do. I love how neat and tidy the folders and their contents look! While I'll never truly be "done" since I have to repeat the process monthly, I never imagined I'd see the end in sight with all my photos I've taken in the past thirteen years. It's a relief to know it's almost done – and to finally find a process and solution that works for me!

How do you organize your digital photos?
What makes the process easier for you? 

Quick Lit: February 2020

Mar 10, 2020

I wasn't sure how much reading I would get done in February since I had my baby on the 7th, but I was pleasantly surprised by the fact that I finished 11 books. I'm reviewing nine of them in today's post, and I briefly mentioned the other two (both re-reads) at the bottom. And honestly, I'm patting myself on the back for writing all of them in a timely manner. If you enjoy this feature, check out other readers' reviews at Modern Mrs. Darcy.

YOU WERE THERE TOO BY COLLEEN OAKLEY – I loved Oakley's Before I Go and Close Enough to Touch, so I couldn't wait to read her newest release. It didn't take me long before I was hooked on this story about a woman who meets a man she's been dreaming about for years... and learns he's been dreaming about her, too. It throws everything in her life, including her marriage, into question. As I expected, Oakley's writing is fantastic. She excels are creating well-rounded characters in complicated, emotional situations. The premise itself was fascinating, but it didn't totally work for me because I wanted more answers. I loved the theme and the emotion it evoked, but my biggest hangup was the ending. It got a little too dramatic for me. Overall, I So Enjoyed It – and the audio was great!

IF I NEVER MET YOU BY MHAIRI MCFARLANE* – I’ve been obsessed with McFarlane since 2014, and with each new release it becomes harder to name my favorite from her. They are all perfect in their own way! I love how McFarlane centers her stories on the heroine’s personal journey and growth. The romance had me swooning — but my emotional investment in the heroine, Laurie, went so much deeper. I cried for her, laughed with her, and rooted for her with every turn of the page. The use of the fake dating trope had me hooked and reminded me of a grown-up To All the Boys I've Loved Before (but with even more depth). They even agree on a contract beforehand, and we allllll know that’s just tempting fate. Heartwarming, emotional perfection! I'm So Obsessed With It.

TWEET CUTE BY EMMA LORD – I don't read a lot of young adult contemporary anymore, but this reminded me of what I love about the genre when it works. The concept of dueling brands on Twitter was clever, and I could totally imagine it playing out in real life. The various family dynamics added depth, and I always appreciate getting to see a teen's parents/siblings in a book. Pepper and Jack both have their own point of view, and it made me so invested in them both. And I'm always a sucker with hate-to-love when it includes witty banter! With hints of You've Got Mail, I enjoyed its predictability. It was genuinely cute, didn't take itself too seriously, and was packed with baked goods that sounded so delicious. I So Loved It and can't wait to see what Lord writes next.

OPEN BOOK BY JESSICA SIMPSON – I generally have no interest in celebrity memoirs and didn't have a strong desire to learn more about Simpson's life. But then her promotional tour for the book started! The more I heard about the book, the more I wanted to read it. I ended up reading all 400 pages that day because I couldn't put it down! I wanted to read it for the gossip, but I ended up being impressed at Simpson's blend of vulnerability, honesty, and self-deprecating humor. Reading it was like chatting with a friend who has all the best stories but never veers into nastiness. The book gave me more respect for Jessica, less for her parents, and confirmed that John Mayer is just as awful as I've always believed. I So Enjoyed It and am so glad I took a chance on it!

LIES JANE AUSTEN TOLD ME BY JULIE WRIGHT – Once again, I was reminded of how often I'm burned by books that I pick up because they reference Jane Austen in the title or summary. I could swear not to fall victim to this marketing ploy in the future, but there's always that one book that makes all the bad ones worth it. Unfortunately, this was a disappointment. I didn't read the summary closely and wish I'd realized it had a love triangle involving brothers (kind of). Ugh. The heroine jumps to some pretty big conclusions, and I still don't know why the one brother attempted to get back together with her (or why the other brother was encouraging it). I didn't connect with any of the characters or understand their motivations, which was my biggest issue with the book. I'm So Over It.

PRACTICAL MAGIC BY ALICE HOFFMAN – I've never seen the movie adaptation of this novel, haven't read anything by Hoffman, and generally don't read books about witches. So why did I pick this one up? I honestly have no idea! This was one of those circumstances where I really enjoyed the author's writing but didn't care about the story at all. I ended up borrowing the audio from the library, even though I owned the paperback, and was about halfway through before I realized I didn't care about the characters. But by that point, I figured I'd just see it through to the end. While it never grew on me, I don't have any major complaints either. The writing and autumnal vibe were nice, but the story itself was mediocre. Though I wouldn't personally recommend it, I'd say I'm So Okay With It overall.

WHAT HAPPENS IN PARADISE BY ELIN HILDERBRAND – After enjoying the first book in this series, Winter in Paradise, I couldn't resist buying the second one after it came out last year. Unfortunately, this one suffered from Middle Book Syndrome. It recapped a lot of the first book and contained mostly filler content with very little resolution. For a book with "what happens..." in the title, very little actually happened here. I'm not sure the conclusion to the mystery is going to deliver any real surprises, but we shall see. I'm still planning on reading it, and I'm more interested in what happened to the dead husband (and his shady business) than in anyone else's future plans or happiness. I'm So Okay With It, and the last book will determine whether or not I'd recommend this series.

THE HARP OF KINGS BY JULIET MARILLIER* –  When I saw this new release on NetGalley last year, I couldn't resist it since I've been of fan of some of Marillier's earlier books. The first 20% got off to a strong start, and I was immediately invested in the three main characters (each get their own point of view). Once they went on their mission, I expected to become even more invested. Sadly, I thought the writing was overly detailed, and the pace slowed down considerably. Plus, I was frustrated by how often the characters did the opposite of what they were told to do. How can you join an elite band of warriors if you can't even follow orders?! And though it's one of Marillier's trademarks, the Fair Folk aspect did not work for me. I So Liked It overall but won't continue the series. 

CHASING CASSANDRA BY LISA KLEYPAS – Cassandra was the Ravenel sibling that I knew the least about, so I was curious to get to know her better. While she still wasn't the most memorable heroine for me, I enjoyed her love for fiction and her desire to help others. However, I hated how often the book referenced her weight. Why was that needed? The hero, Tom, is an intelligent, wealthy businessman with a touch of social awkwardness. While I didn't like how much of his initial interest in Cassandra was based solely on her looks, he won me over in the end because he listened to and valued her opinions. Their dynamic was pretty enjoyable, but the plot itself was thin because there was no real conflict. I So Liked It, but I did feel like it was one of Kleypas' weaker stories.

In February, I also re-read two books on audio. The first was The Simple Wild by K.A. Tucker, and I'm still So Obsessed With It. The narrator was great, too! I'd planned to re-read and then immediately pick up the new sequel, Wild at Heart, but I realized that I really liked where it ended and wasn't sure I wanted more. For now, I'm happy to envision my own future for Calla and Jonah. The second book I re-read was Act Like It by Lucy Parker. It's my third time reading it in as many years, and it's becoming a go-to comfort read for me. When I want to laugh and swoon, I turn on the audio for this delightful book. I'm obviously So Obsessed With It, too.

*I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review consideration. This did not affect my opinion of the book or my review.

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