Confession: I buy Real Simple Magazine on a regular basis.
It targets middle-aged women with children, and its tagline is “Life Made Easier.” An easy life can apparently be achieved by learning how to put together 5 outfits from 7 pieces of clothing, how to streamline your morning routine with 12 beauty tips, how to remove dead bugs from light fixtures, and how to prepare 3 weeks’ worth of delicious dinners for a family of 4.
The two reasons I read Real Simple are because it has gorgeous graphic design and because there’s something nice about having everything broken down into easy-to-understand steps, as arbitrary and subjective as they may be.
And they are very arbitrary.
Real Simple is designed for the type of readers who like to plan, and the type of readers who use nine strategically placed egg timers to get their two kids out the door in the mornings.
The tips you get in Real Simple are similar to the ones you find in magazines like Martha Stewart Living, Good Housekeeping, and Ladies’ Home Journal. But at least Martha doesn’t try to conceal the fact that following her advice can actually make your life more difficult.
Let’s take this instructional video as an example, in which Real Simple teaches you to set an “informal” table. Two types of forks, glasses, and plates? A flower arrangement? I’m lucky if I’m using cutlery that’s not plastic.
And what makes life simpler than endless shopping? Real Simple devotes a lot of time to “road testing” products and then encouraging readers to buy them. But they don’t just tell you the best one. If they’re reviewing foundation makeup, chances are they’ll recommend “The Best Overall,” “The Best for Oily Skin,” “The Best for a Night Out,” “The Best Budget Pick,” and maybe even “The Best for Between The Hours of Four and Five P.M. When Your Foundation From That Morning is About to Wear Off and You Have to Pick the Kids Up at Soccer and Look Presentable for the Other Moms, but You Don’t Have Time To Go Home First Because You Have to Pick Up a Pretty-Yet-Simple Flower Arrangement for Your Informal Evening Table Setting.”
Then there are the clothing recommendations. From the most recent issue, the 7 pieces of clothing that’ll get you 5 outfits total $892 before tax. Sure, the pieces are probably still cheaper than those found in most fashion magazines, but the outfits aren’t exactly hassle-free, either.
Also, who really needs a specially-shaped sponge for cleaning muffin trays? How about an electronic device you attach to your dog’s collar to “log the dog’s daily activity (meals, bathroom breaks)”? Real Simple calls these items “problem solvers”. I call them “toys for crazy people.”
But what’s really crazy is the whole implication that if you don’t keep up with all this stuff — the beauty routines, the recipes, the home decorating and cleaning — that you’re somehow a failure as a woman and a mother. I don’t even have a house, husband or kids, but I still find the articles a bit stressful. The fact that the textbook Real Simple lifestyle is probably unattainable by most women makes it even more ridiculous.
At this point, the best thing I could do to simplify my life would be to stop reading Real Simple.