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The Simpler Life


I’m Nobody! Who are you?

Are you—Nobody—Too?

Then there’s a pair of us!

Don’t tell! they’d advertise—you know!

—Emily Dickinson

I have been successfully target-marketed.

Do you know that feeling? It’s a bad feeling. I like to think I live on the edge, below the radar, outside the box, off the grid. I like to think I’m unique, just as I’m sure you do, too.

There’s a pair of us—but don’t tell, they’d advertise!

But I’m in that demographic group—a woman in her 40s who has a few degrees and a good job—that is supposed to be the most lucrative to target. We are ripe for the picking because apparently we have more disposable income (we do?) and we are shoppers (we are? OK, some of us are) and we buy both online and in stores.

Yet even though I fit so snugly into my demographic niche, I like to think I can resist target marketing (as opposed to Target).

I avoid chick-lit. I won’t shop at Coldwater Canyon. I have never had a pedicure. I don’t do drumming, aroma or magnetic therapy. I don’t use the word ‘journal’ as a verb unless I’m referring to what other people do—the ones sitting in Starbucks with their leather-bound diaries and low-fat lattes. I don’t drink lattes.

Who am I kidding? The day I subscribed to Real Simple I realized I had been successfully target-marketed.

If you are a man, you may not know what Real Simple is—though if you’re a man you’ve probably stopped reading today’s column by now—so I will tell you.

Real Simple is a gazetteer for the new century woman.

It’s a life guide disguised as a shelter magazine.

It’s a how-to for the on-the-go.

Real Simple,” as my daughter, who is 18 and fits another demographic niche entirely, observed, “has all the answers.”

OK, we exaggerate. It’s really just a hybrid of The Sun and Woman’s Day, a magazine for women who know they can’t have it all, but they would at least like a little peace of mind—not much, but some.

It all starts with the spine of this thick, hefty monthly tome. Every issue has a different quotation running its length. Stack a year’s worth of Real Simples on top of each other and you have some serious food for thought.

“If you shout at a lion, be sure you can shut the door.” (Tongan proverb)

“Money’s a horrid thing to follow, but a charming thing to meet.” (Henry James)

“Sometimes one likes foolish people for their folly, better than wise people for their wisdom.” (Elizabeth Gaskell)

Big bold letters on the cover draw our attention to the feature story. It’s never about beauty, celebrity or politics. It’s about saving money, saving space, saving time. I can get into that.

“A cleaner house in less time—23 breakthrough tools and tips.”

“Your money manager: secrets to saving $3 to $3,000”

“Maximizing your space: solutions for every room.”

But Real Simple isn’t just about telling you how to live better. It’s an interactive magazine, an experience. Readers write in to share their tips and insights on a different topic each month. House cleaning, for example:

A reader from Apex, N.C., writes, “I stash microfiber cloths in drawers throughout my house so there’s always one nearby in case anything needs a quick wipe-down.” A reader from Milwaukee cleans her house in her underwear. A reader from Newton, Mass., (a true Real Simple town—I used to live there) says she and her husband use “the Zamboni technique,” sweeping their house for clutter the way a Zamboni sweeps the ice.

I don’t think my housecleaning skills have been improved by reading Real Simple. But I do have a better broom and some microfiber cloths now.

It’s the same way with all the money-saving tips. I’m still paying late fees on DVDs, buying too many take-out coffees and getting my Internet access and telephone service from different providers. But knowing that I could be saving money (if only I could first save some time in which to start saving all this money) is sweet.

Every month there are some thoughts, listed in a column called “Thoughts.” These are the kinds of quotations you can post on your refrigerator to think about as you cook, or copy into your leather-bound journal if you’re into inappropriate verb usage.

There is also usually a reflective piece—Rick Moody on contemplating fatherhood, Sue Miller on visiting aging parents, Jonathan Safran Foer on vegetarianism—and common sense advice like what to say to the bereaved or how to switch hair stylists and what to do with an annoying neighbor, co-worker or boss.

Real Simple doesn’t really make big claims. It doesn’t promise you’ll be in swimsuit shape by May or drive your man mad with never-before-discovered sex tricks. It’s modest and that’s its immodest appeal.

Because it just kind of makes a prettier life seem possible—for blue-state, middle-class, decently-educated 40-something women with spending money, shopping habits, families and careers.

I’m Nobody. Who are you?

—Jo Page

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