Give it up! Residents learn about healthier living from Hoboken author at Secaucus Kiwanis meeting

It’s a Catholic tradition to give up something pleasurable for Lent, but Hoboken author Mary Carlomagno turned this idea into a year-long practice and then a book called “Give it Up!: My Year of Learning to Live Better with Less” (William Morrow, 2005).

Carlomagno, 38, was at the Secaucus Public Library to speak at the Kiwanis Club International on Wednesday night.

She said she had a desire to change her habits, which included overspending on expensive daily trivialities such as eating out, high end coffee, chocolate and cell phone calls – and lots of shopping.

Giving it up

“I had come to a point in my life when I needed a big change,” Carlomagno said at the event. “I found I was distracted by all sorts of things that made me feel like something was missing. Being from an Italian Catholic family, the thought of the Lent tradition came to mind. I decided to give up one thing a month for a year.” On Jan. 1, 2003, the author began her experiment. She designated 12 different much-loved items to be removed from her life for the month’s duration.

For January, she stopped drinking alcohol; in February she gave up shopping; March, elevators (climb those stairs); April, newspapers; May, cell phone use; June, eating out; July, television; August, taxis; September, coffee; October, cursing; November, chocolate; and December, multi-tasking.

“All this really made me see how privileged a life I was leading,’ said the author. “But then some things, like alcohol and coffee, provided some awkward moments. I did not realize that at 30 years old there would still be peer pressure.”

The pluses far outweighed the minuses for Carlomagno, though. As a result of becoming more “present” in her life, she quit her job in book publishing to write “Give it Up,” and started a new business.

She had been in marketing for 14 years, but when a friend suggested she write he own book, the challenge was on.

“I enjoyed the living in moderation that the year gave me and the perspective of the things I was missing. I found a life of happy balance – by walking more, paying attention to myself and others,” she said.

After five months of “solid writing” she completed the book. It was published in December by William Morrow. She now has a new husband and an apartment that they brought in Hoboken, both of which she “likes very much.” Carlomagno also started a company that “helps people get organized.” The company, called Order, specializes in clutter control, urban apartment solutions, office spaces and life transitions.

“When I started this my life was out of control,” said Carlomagno. “Now I teach other people what I have learned by giving up the excesses.”

Audience reaction

Carlomagno did a bit of book signing and selling at the library. Judging from the enthusiastic questions asked by the small group of Kiwanis members, she was a hit.

“I thought this was a really great idea. I bought the book to get me to do something with some of my habits,” said Lisa Reynolds. “I feel I should do something like that – but not the shopping part.”

Gerard Marra, veteran Kiwanis member with 47 years in the club and owner of Marra’s drug Store on Paterson Plank Road in Secaucus, also purchased the book.

“She impressed me with her courage to meet the challenge she set for herself,” said Marra. “She is very poetic about it all.”


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