From the Blog

You Can Buy Happiness (And It’s Cheap)

This is a review of our lovely friend Tammy’s book You Can By Happiness (And It’s Cheap). This book has been out for a few months and I’m sort of late writing this review. But trust me, I do think you should go out and get this book, especially in this season of culturally-enforced consumerist mania.

But first, let me talk about my last semester of college. I took a Photography 101 class. I figured it would be a fun way to finish out my last semester at school before I graduated. I used an old Pentax film camera and we shot in black and white. We developed our film and our prints in a darkroom. I spent the last few months of my undergraduate degree sweeping around Cambridge and Boston, looking for interesting things to take photos of.

But what I remember most about my photography class was what a loathsome bitchface the instructor was. During the first class, she announced that no one, NO ONE, was allowed to miss a single class, or she would fail them. One woman was getting married and would be going on her honeymoon, would it be okay to miss a class? No.

Okay, so some instructors are quite strict about that sort of thing. But another student said he was commuting up from New York City to take the class. He was allowed to attend every other session, because, I presumed, it flattered the professor’s ego.

She was likewise strict about homework and darkroom time. It didn’t matter that taking photos, then developing the film and prints took more time than all my other classes combined. Most of her instruction was not really creative guidance, but sort of inane chatter about how grass is green, but in black and white photography, it would be considered “medium gray.” Like her son’s hair, because his hair was green, so her son’s hair would be “medium gray.” Ah, ha, ha. So anyway, moving on.

At the end of the semester, I learned that she was a ridiculous flake and left for South America without submitting final grades. Which was fantastic, because it jeopardized students’ diplomas and their ability to partake in the graduation ceremony. In Harvard Yard. You know, something that wasn’t likely to happen again in my life. The University had to frantically track her down, where ever the hell she was, and get the grades from her.

So I have my photography final in a box. It has survived numerous rounds of downsizing. We have gotten rid of a lot of stuff in the past few years. Every once in a while, I look in that box. When I look at the photos and the film, I don’t really recall my last semester at school. Or the last few months I spent taking photos in Boston, before I left Massachusetts to move to the west coast. I don’t look at that stuff and get good feelings. I look at my photography final and I remember what a fricken bitchface my photography instructor was.

I have a couple other boxes like this. Boxes that I look into and think ulg, then I close the box back up for another year. I guess I have held onto my photography final because it was from a monumental period in my life. My last semester at school. The last few months of living in Boston. The last time I lived in Massachusetts, where I have not lived since. It has always felt like I should hold onto that connection to the past, even when it didn’t bring fond memories. It was sentimentality for the sake of sentimentality. Which to me, has become a thoughtless reason to hold onto something. I still have those memories. I don’t need a box full of ghosts to bring them back.

I have a lot fewer of these ghost boxes than I used to. I have a lot less of everything. Fewer books. Less furniture. Fewer kitchen gadgets. Fewer clothes. I got rid of these things intentionally. I realized I was keeping them just for the sake of keeping them. Which for me, was a completely thoughtless way to live. Plus, it was a pain in the ass to lug all that shit around with me as I moved around. We have slowly shed the items in our lives that made us feel bogged down. And without getting woo-woo or “spiritual,” I can say we felt lighter and less encumbered. It feels fantastic to get rid of stuff.

And we are, you know, just normal people. As much as I’d like to think we lead a “simple” lifestyle, we are pretty conventional. We have a car. Dave has a job. We rent an apartment. Even with all our downsizing and attempted frugality, you wouldn’t be able to look at us on the street and whisper, Ooh, look! Minimalists!

And that is where Tammy’s book comes in. As with Tammy’s other writing, she seems to harvest all the best ideas you may have ever had, and instead of losing them in the din of daily life, she writes them all out for you in a organized and readable way. Tammy’s voice is like a sensible and cheerful friend. She relays how her previous conventional lifestyle was leaving her unsatisfied, and ultimately, unhappy. She shares the revelations she and her husband Logan experienced as they trimmed their debt, their belongings and their space. They now live in an adorable tiny house in Northern California.

You Can Buy Happiness is filled with interviews of other people who have gotten rid of their stuff, downsized, simplified, and reoriented what is important in their lives. At the end of each chapter, Tammy offers many micro actions as gentle guidance to help you along. It’s not always easy to simplify your life, no matter how much you might want to. Tammy’s book helps clear the path.

You may not end up living in 128 square foot tiny house as Tammy and Logan have. But the beautiful thing about You Can Buy Happiness is that it is inspiring no matter what your aspirations may be. This is not an austere, inaccessible book written by a minimalist guru. It’s a wonderful reminder that there may be sweeter, simpler goals than accumulating stuff and attempting to win the rat race.

I plan on getting rid of my ghost box full of college photography. I feel better already.


  1. Heather – THANK YOU so much for taking the time to read and review my book. I really appreciate it! I know you are busy with those sweet boys.

    We miss you guys so much!!! You’ll have to come down to visit soon. And we’ll be visiting in PDX this winter. I’ll keep you posted on our plans.


  2. Hi Heather,

    What a fab review! I love your way with words! I am half way through Tammy’s book and loving it. I like the fact that I can relate to Tammy and her journey and that happiness and a more minimalist lifestyle are totally achievable no matter what your starting point is.

    The pics of your boys are just adorable btw…..

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