Musings + Essays

Weekend Vibes, Edition No. 261: Optimization Fatigue.

By: Jen Shoop

My Latest Snags: Madewell + J. Crew Scores for Spring.

I am mainly excited at the moment for a couple of pieces to arrive in the mail from Madewell (gifted) and J. Crew (purchased myself). From Madewell, I selected this floaty pintuck dress, these sneakers, these white jeans, these wavy hoops, and this coverall dress. Note that if you are a Madewell Insider (free to join), you can get 20% off all of these items (and site-wide)!

From J. Crew, I picked up this dress and this versatile white top.

You’re Soooo Popular: Spring Patterns.

The most popular items on Magpie this week:

popular spring fashion

















Weekend Musings: Optimization Fatigue.

I have been mulling over a strange reaction to James Clear’s Atomic Habits, which I am currently listening to as an audiobook. (I’m about 2/3 of the way done — it goes fast.) I went in with what I thought was an open mind and found myself immediately resisting the writing. It’s bizarre because I believe a lot of what he writes, and in fact practice many of his advised tactics with rigor. I am a rule-following, list-making, habit-worshipping lady. And so why do I find myself put-off by the book’s hygienic tack?

I think I have grown fatigued by the notion of optimization. Especially in my late 20s and early 30s, I consumed so much in the way of “hacks,” “tools,” “mnemonics,” and “models” for entrepreneurship, parenting, and wellness in general. Gratitude journals! Daily diaries! Drink a full glass of water right when you wake up! Set a timer and spend 20 minutes on the floor with your children without a phone! Write 90 day plans! One screen at a time rule! If you think you’re at your limit, your only 40% of the way there! Quick, iterative sprints in all matters! Etc!

And now I find myself wanting to respond to the book with things like: Aren’t there some pockets of life where you can just play things fast and loose? Where you can do what feels right, right now? Permit yourself a little slack? Dip your feet in the water, then change your mind and rest in the sunshine for a minute? Does everything need to be engineered?

I’m sure that exercising good habits can coexist with a laissez faire attitude elsewhere, and I also think Clear does a good job qualifying what he preaches in healthy ways (no beef with Clear, truly — I admire his ethic). He makes an interesting point that in fact having good habit hygiene frees you up in different ways by relieving some of the mental load we carry. In this way, rather than keeping us in lockstep formation, being tidy about certain habits means we have more bandwidth to hang out and have fun.

Still. Something about the crisp athleticism of Clear’s writing was difficult for me to swallow. I am sure this is in part contextual, coming off of a strange and tense few years of pandemic living with two young children and a lot of transition. During this time, I have had more than my fair share of “that’s good enough for now” type bargaining. Maybe it’s also intersecting with a phase of my adult life where I think: ‘I’m not sure that the path to self-improvement, for me, is here. I think it might be somewhere else, in the quiet and still of downtime and the rare moment where I let myself wander.’

Perhaps I will feel differently on this subject in another five or ten years. I know for certain I would have cottoned to this book with zeal in my 20s. But for now, I think, I’m OK with being under-optimized or — put differently — I’m accepting of the wobbly balance of disciplined and undisciplined I am right now.

P.S. I know many of you Magpies will be thrilled to hear that the next audiobook in my queue is Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic! Cannot wait to share thoughts with my Gilbert-loving ladies.

Shopping Break.

+I am seriously tempted by the 20% off sale (use code HOME) at Serena and Lily right now that I mentioned yesterday or the day before — I am contemplating snagging one of these table lamps for our guest room and I’ve been wanting a floor mirror in my office (which has much better light than my closet and would therefore make it much easier to dress in the morning). That particular mirror also comes in a more standard size for hanging on a wall and while we’re talking mirrors, ahem!

+Easy spring date night look: this top, these jeans, these earrings, these mules.

+This Tonies box has been SUCH a big hit with my daughter. We gave it to her for her fifth birthday (lots of other gift ideas for this age range here) and have been delighted by how much she enjoys it. I think there’s something about the independence of being able to select her own music/stories? If you’re unfamiliar, this is a digital storytelling cube and you can buy different “pieces” that your children can place on top (they attach magnetically) in order to have them start telling a story or singing songs. We have a bunch of the Disney ones and she adores them. She usually puts them on while she’s working on her Legos, Playmobils, stickers, etc, in her room. Can’t recommend enough! Great alternative to screentime.

+Speaking of toys, just saw mini’s highly coveted Encanto lego set was restocked here! Run! It’s been very difficult to come by. (Anyone else ONLY listening to ‘We Don’t Talk About Bruno’ all day everyday?)

+Another great white top. Would go with everything. Comes in tons of other colors if you want something more interesting, and some of them are on sale!

+Such an elegant bag for under $125!

+These coupes are so fabulous (and well-priced!). I love sparkling wine and enjoy drinking out of a coupe! Sparks major joy for me.

+Some amazing scores at Outnet right now, including this Marni bag, this Ulla top, this peplum top, and this Zimmermann!

+I’ve written about Replay so many times I’ve lost count but I really like their mealtime gear for little ones, especially these divided plates. We recently retired sippy cups in our home and I just stocked up on their cups. We also have a bunch of the melamine children’s cups from Sophie Allport, which are pricey (and very small — note that they hold maybe a few ounces) but these have been fantastic for mini for years. They are beyond adorable. I’m tempted to go back to pick up some of their newer designs, especially these cars and this woodland theme.

+Also like these straw-top tumblers. Think I’ll buy a set for when my son (still learning to drink tidily from an open cup) is more in the mood to roam around.

+Can you EVEN with these Aquazzura platforms?! Like YES. These make me want to go out for cocktails with girlfriends.

+Just love everything about this cardigan. Tip: can be worn backwards as more of a classic crewneck style too!

+Ann Taylor score.

+FUN pattern on this dress.

+Bottega-inspired slides for $20.

+I adore this Peter Rabbit theme for Easter or a spring birthday. We did this theme a few years ago for mini’s birthday and it was so sweet.

+This inexpensive patio set comes in tons of great colors! Great for a small patio off an apartment or a tiny backyard area.

+Easy everyday black dress — would work with bump!

+A great spring half-zip in the perfect sage green color. More green finds here.+A random update: I mentioned we bought a Saatva king sized mattress for our primary bedroom a few months ago after doing a *ton* of research. (Some bedroom refresh ideas here, BTW.). It was a bit firmer than our previous mattress but I have since grown to absolutely love it. One of the main issues we’d been having was that Mr. Magpie and I would frequently wake up with “cricks” in our necks or a pinched back. Since having the Saatva, we’ve had none of those issues. I think it promotes better sleeping/alignment in some way. And Mr. Magpie LOVES how cool it runs — much, much cooler than our previous mattress. Very impressed!

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12 thoughts on “Weekend Vibes, Edition No. 261: Optimization Fatigue.

  1. Yay for Big Magic!!! Okay, thoughts on Atomic Habits by someone refusing to read it on principle 😉 First off, I think Reese Witherspoon posted about it which might explain its sudden popularity even though it was published in 2018. Second off, agree with allllllll your points (is life one giant “optimization” effort? Optimized for what?) and all of Deirdre’s thoughts (I don’t need to “perfect” everything!) and also, what irks me in the self-help space at large is the individualization of the pursuit. As if I— me, the individual — am both the problem and the solution and I exist independently from larger cultural forces. I don’t want to be told I need new habits — I want to live in a country with a competent single-payor healthcare system, subsidized childcare, great public schools that are fair and equal for all children, no wage gap between males and females, etc!! I believe the necessity for these (among other) societal-level changes can be obfuscated when we convince everyone they just need to drink more water and meditate daily. I love water! I love meditation! I don’t love the mix of self-blame and also self-indulgence that can stem out of the “self-help” space. Anyway! I know it’s not an either/or it’s a both/and. The self IS a part of the community. And yet, I’m not reading that book. I will stick to working through the works of James Baldwin. A white guy focused on continuous self improvement is simply not what I need right now.

    1. Hi Joyce – I agree with your assessment. I specifically reacted strongly to your comment: “I don’t love the mix of self-blame and also self-indulgence that can stem out of the ‘self-help’ space.” Agree with this observation manifold and will be reflecting on this for the rest of the day I am sure. xx

  2. You took the words right out of my mouth! I could talk for ages about this topic. I like to think of myself as a recovering perfectionist, and I too am fatigued by the idea that I need to optimize every aspect of my life. I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with setting goals, having a gratitude journal, creating a morning routine, etc., but I bristle at the idea that these are all things that I *must* do to have a healthy, fulfilling life. Like you said, does everything need to be engineered? Where’s the room for spontaneity? I know some people say that routines and habits free up mental energy, but I find that being kind to myself and showing myself grace frees up much more mental energy than routines ever do.

    For me, this push to optimize life often comes across as perfectionism couched in more modest and attainable language. Instead of “look at my perfect morning”, it’s “here are all the steps in my morning routine that give me a peaceful and productive (read: perfect) morning.”

    A related question: are you familiar with the “That Girl” aesthetic/trend on Tik Tok? It reminds me of this push to optimize wellness routines, but repackaged for Gen Z.

    1. I completely agree with all of this, and you really made me think when you wrote: “…but I find that being kind to myself and showing myself grace frees up much more mental energy than routines ever do.” I so agree with this. I think I feel happier now in general after gradually working my way to a balance of organized and embracing the chaos. I used to go insane when I’d get interrupted while trying to complete a simple household task (read: every time my children were around, which was basically every day for two years during the pandemic), and I really had to work hard to let go of the reins a bit. It sounds crazy now but recognizing when and how much slack to afford myself was one of the best skills I’ve earned in recent years.

      So fascinating you mention the “that girl” trend. I’d heard about it via Tinx, who is more or less my cipher when thinking about younger generations, and she described it as toxic. I can completely see that, and I can see how there’s a bit of a lineage between the optimization language of the 2000s-2010s and the “that girl” language now.


  3. Spot-on assessment of Atomic Habits! Thank you for sharing. Fast & loose feels like a much better option when life is so unpredictable- why don’t we optimize our intuition, rather than life hacks?! With that being said , I do love JC’s weekly newsletter! Xo

    1. Hi Amelia — So interesting to see other Magpies feeling the same way about this!! Thanks for chiming in. It’s so funny you mention JC’s newsletter because by total happenstance someone quoted from it on Instagram this past week, and the message that was shared was more about enjoying the present moment than anything else, and I thought — “What?! What! That feels off-brand?!” So maybe he’s evolved in his thinking, too, or maybe the book was really narrowly targeted and the newsletter is more holistic. Thanks for sharing! A reminder that people (including authors) contain multitudes…


  4. It’s so interesting because I actually had the opposite reaction to Atomic Habits. Because the approach was to just make small changes it seemed less daunting to me. Tying things to whatever I was already doing (habit stacking I think he calls it?) seemed to help me remember to do it. Doing a couple sit-ups or push-ups or whatever before bed seemed less overwhelming than trying to get in a whole workout. I find myself struggling in a post-pandemic world with getting back on the horse at all whereas you already have good habits-regular running, a good routine, etc and so maybe it resonates more with people like me? I’m not at the optimization phase of anything yet 😉

    1. Hi Melissa! I totally get this. I like the way he reminds us that big changes begin with really small, attainable, quick wins. “Even baby steps move us forward,” etc. We are not so different, I assure you! I am also not at optimization phase – haha. I’m glad it resonated for you. I truly think that this is more a lifestage-induced reaction for me. I wish I’d discovered him like ten years ago — I would have benefited from his approachable language and practical orientation.


  5. I texted my niece about the Encanto Lego set weeks back. She responded..we don’t talk about Bruno, ha!

    Love the woven bag, so elegant. I’ve been contemplating and lusting over an MME.Mink bag for weeks. If I could only decide between the woven or court bag, but this is a nice option for Spring!

    1. HAHA – we don’t talk about Bruno!

      I also love those MME MINK bags! Been eyeing those forever. I’d like to buy a fun bag for summer but am torn between one of those woven Marni totes, a MME mink, a Dans La Main, or an FRP collection. So many chic options!


  6. I had a very similar reaction to Atomic Habits. It is filled with good advice but, but…..
    I’m not sure if it’s where I am in my life, or if it’s a post-pandemic (are we post pandemic?) phase, but I am tired of books and blogs and shows etc. telling me how to optimize every moment, to do more, have more, be more. As I get older I find myself relying on my own judgement more and knowing what is right for me and the constant pressure to be more just feels wrong. I feel that I have a life that is full and beautiful, sometimes messy but mine and I suppose I am tired of the constant advice on how to ‘perfect’ it all as though that is possible. His words are definitely true, and perhaps in a different season of life it will feel right for me but for now, I’m just embracing where I am without the need to ‘optimize’ my life.

    1. Hi Deirdre – I completely relate to this. I agree that it might be lifestage-contextual. It just did not resonate for me as I know it would have in years past. I so love this for you:

      “As I get older I find myself relying on my own judgement more and knowing what is right for me.”

      Amen! What a gift! To thine own self be true…


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