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commonplace books and letting the laundry go for a day

"As one New York Times story about millennials in the workplace put it, managers struggle with their young employees' 'sense of entitlement, a tendency to overshare on social media, and frankness verging on insubordination.'"

I wrote this quote from Ben Sasse's The Vanishing American Adult in my commonplace book about a month ago. Looking at it again today, I had a great big "yep" followed by a mental "Note to self: You may be a millennial, but NEVER BE ANY OF THOSE THINGS."


Just reading it again makes me want to delete Instagram and call my parents to thank them for raising my sisters and me with plenty of resilience.

That's part of the benefit of keeping a commonplace book: It allows you to go back over what you've read, what you've thought on or discussed, what stuck out to you as you thought through ideas or worked through concepts, and revisit them as often as you'd like.

Especially if you're like me and have about four books going at the same time.

Not to mention the audio book on Geronimo I started today.

Did you know his wife, mom and children all got killed by Mexican soldiers?

Me neither. This is why we read.

Also, why are there not more hours in the day? Asking for a friend.

There's two things I should mention here because now I'm thinking about reading, which always gets me off track, because -- well -- I want to go read.

(1) If you're a stay-at-home mom like me, I highly recommend setting aside 15 minutes or 30 minutes or whatever you can spare to read each day. This was a struggle for me, even though I love to read, because there is always laundry to do or dishes to put away or basement steps to sweep, but my sister reminded me that that was just the point: They will ALWAYS be there, and if I was always doing them, I'd never make time for the things that stretch my brain, like reading. So, when both the kiddos lay down at 1:00 p.m. for nice, long naps, this mama finishes the lunch dishes and then takes 20 minutes to read.

And tries not to feel guilty about it.

(2) I keep my commonplace book handy while reading. That, too, was my sister's brainchild. If you don't use one already, you can find plenty of websites that fill you in on how to start and maintain one, but the gist is this:

  • Buy a blank journal or index cards or a notebook, and start reading. 
  • As you find quotes or thoughts or ideas that stand out to you, write them down. 
  • Find a way to organize them, perhaps by category or by the author or whatever works for you. But develop a system so that you can find those ideas back when you want them for your own writing or edification. 
  • Now, millennials, don't panic but . . . don't use your cell phone for this. Yes. That is correct. I'm asking you to kick it 1880s style (or 2000s style) and actually use this thing call a PEN. You'll be amazed at how you'll retain the concept you're writing. 
It's really that easy. Read widely. Mark things of interest to you. Write them down. Develop a book -- or a resource center really -- of other people's thoughts and writings that have impacted how you think.

People have been doing this for centuries. Napoleon, Thomas Jefferson, Ronald Reagan -- all commonplace book keepers. Why not you too?

I finished reading Sasse's book a month ago, but I'm still thinking on lines and thoughts that reinforced what I already believed or that opened up an idea to me I hadn't considered before. And that, I suppose, is the end goal of the commonplace book: To keep your brain in a perpetual desire for growth, truth-seeking, and knowledge.

Are you a millennial? Well, then, if you feel the need to overshare IG stories or snark at your boss, let it at least be something worthwhile, something thought by someone long before you, something time-tested, something -- I hope -- you've written in your commonplace book.


  1. MY sister and I were just talking about commonplace books earlier this week and she was encouraging me to start one!

    1. Yes! Please do. I have been surprised at how much more I retain when I make notes on what I've read. If you come with a methodology for organizing what you write, please let me know. I'm still working on that part. :)


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