One Woman's Attempt At A Simpler Life

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My last excuse for such a long blog hiatus?  A show followed by a trip.

My excuse this time?  Another show, followed by another trip.

But in the midst of all that crazy, I actually have done some work on my stuff!  I just haven’t been able to find the time to sit down and write about it.  I’m currently embarking on rehearsals for another show starting next week, but as of now, I won’t be following that show up with a trip, so maybe I won’t completely fall off the blogging map again (probably wishful thinking, but I’m gonna try).  In the meantime, I’ll attempt to bring things up to date.

I mentioned back in January that I had read Marie Kondo’s book, The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up.  One of the things she talks about very specifically is the process of paring down your book collection – or, perhaps, more accurately, getting rid of all but your most beloved books.  Books are a tough one for me – I love to read, and in addition to devouring new titles, I often reread old favorites and get just as much pleasure from them the second, third, and twentieth time around.  I also am a former English major and live in Portland in close proximity to the reader’s mecca of Powell’s, so it’s probably not surprising that I own a lot of books.  We have four bookcases throughout our house, and also have built in cubbyholes in our bedroom that make perfect little book storage areas as well, and all of them are full.

Only one of our bookcases is actually nice (a lovely hardwood piece from Ethan Allen)- the others, not so much.  Two are cheap particleboard ones from Target (one of which was a hand me down from friends who were moving), and the remaining one I bought very inexpensively at a second hand store.  It’s actually hardwood, but it’s also old and kind of falling apart, and could probably use a new paint job.  It earns its keep, however, by being unusually narrow and able to fit perfectly into a little niche in our hallway.  The Ethan Allen bookcase and one of the particleboard ones lives in our office space in a his and hers sort of arrangement – and the other particleboard bookcase is in the corner of our guest room.

It occurred to me that if I were to whittle down my book collection to what I most loved, I could reduce the number of bookcases I owned as well.  This was a particularly attractive idea for our guest room, because having the bookcase in the corner didn’t leave guests any real room for important stuff like luggage.  And in the office, the space felt overly crammed with furniture as well – literally every wall in that room was lined with either a desk, a bookcase, or credenza, with almost zero whitespace.

Ms. Kondo’s advice for tidying involves gathering all items of a like type from all over your living space and putting them in a pile in one room, so you can clearly see just how much of that one type of item you own.  With books, this can seem a little silly since if your book are on shelves, you can clearly see the titles and sort through them that way.  But she was firm on this point – take them out and put them in pile, because part of her process also includes physically touching each item and intuitively responding to the question “Does this item bring me joy?” and if the answer is not a resounding yes, it has to go.  I decided to commit to Kondo’s method and pulled all my books from the shelves and spread them out on the living room floor.

I’m sorry to say I was so wrapped up in the process of all that gathering and questioning that I forgot to take any before pictures of the bookcases or the massive pile on my living room floor.  But when my sorting process was over, I did have a pretty big stack of books to take to resale – it took me one full rolling suitcase and two large shopping bags to haul it all in.  (Side note:  I made almost no money at resale.  With the internet, books have become much less of a rare commodity.  I ended up donating the majority of them).

But while I had technically disposed of enough books to empty two full bookcases, I had not anticipated that the individual sizes of the books remaining would pose a problem.  In addition to some beloved large format coffee table books, I have a lot of scripts that I keep in three ring binders which were too tall for most of the shelves of the bookcases, with the exception of the cheap particleboard one in the guest room I was hoping to get rid of (sigh).  I could keep all the bookcases I currently had, but it would mean they were all half empty.  Ugh.

So we bought a new bookcase.  It may seem counterproductive, but after multiple attempts of arranging and rearranging our remaining collection into various bookcase combinations, it became clear that we simply needed something that better suited our needs.  So we went on the hunt for one that would be large enough to hold my entire book collection (Ron’s much smaller collection could be easily housed in the nice Ethan Allen bookcase we wanted to keep), and had adjustable shelves to accommodate the scripts and large format books.  We found a lovely, locally made alder wood bookcase at a Portland store called Natural Furniture that fit the bill perfectly, and it was on a great sale as well.

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The new bookcase

 

That allowed us to happily give the two particleboard bookcases to our friend Kelley, who is a teacher and needed them for her classroom.  Creating more free space in our house, and helping a teacher in the process?  Yes please. Total win/win.

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The two we exchanged for one

We’re currently keeping the narrow bookcase in the hallway, though I’m not sure it’s here for the long run.  It holds my stash of empty journals and some of the decorative objects and picture frames that got displaced when we got rid of the other two bookcases, so it looks a bit junky, but I’m not ready to let it go just yet.

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The office still holds two bookcases as before, and admittedly, still feels pretty over full with furniture.   But there is now a lovely empty corner in the guest room where at some point we may put a luggage rack or perhaps just a small set of hooks on the wall, but for now we’re leaving it free.  It looks so much more roomy and welcoming, and is much easier to clean – I love it.

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I guess the lesson I learned in this process is that sometimes it makes sense to upgrade to one new lagom item that fits all your needs, instead of keeping a larger collection of imperfect items that have to all work together to get the same job done.  It may have cost us a little extra to make it happen, but it was worth it.


For someone with a degree in English who has always loved to read, I am surprised at how infrequently I pick up a book these days.  Part of the problem is that the stuff I’m required to read for my work (plays, or books for  audiobooks I’m recording), takes up a fair amount of the time and energy I have for pleasure reading.

But lately, I have been craving a good book, and have even had my eye on some specific ones:  Tina Fey‘s Bossypants, Jenny Lawson‘s Let’s Pretend This Never Happened, and Jillian Lauren‘s Some Girls, My Life In A Harem (I got to hear tell the story about how she became involved in the harem at The Moth last month, and have been dying to read her book ever since).

In the past, if I wanted a book, I would just go to Powell’s and buy one.  If you have never been to Portland, Powell’s is an incredible new and used book store – super huge, it takes up a whole city block and has several floors – you need a compass and a sack lunch to work your way through it.  In December, Ron wanted a bunch of books as Christmas gifts, and because I was broke, I took all the books I felt I could part with and resold them at Powell’s, and then used that money to buy as many books for him as I could afford.  Not a bad system, really, because with resale, you almost always get a higher percentage in trade than you would in cash.

I was starting to poke through my bookshelves again for what I might sell to afford the new books I wanted, but since my collection had already been pared down considerably in December, I was feeling a little sad about it.  I love my books – books were a big deal in my family.  I have great memories of my parents reading to me, and my Mom took us to the library in Salem every week in the summer, where we participated in the summer reading program.  My sister is a voracious reader, to put it mildly, and interested in the most far flung genres and topics you could imagine – I’ve read some of the coolest and weirdest stuff just by living in the same house with her and idly picking up whatever she left on the coffee table.  On her birthday, Lisa would ask to take a family day trip up to Powell’s so she could spend her birthday money on books.  I majored in English in college, and to this day, there is something about walking into a library that floods an instant sense of calm and happiness through my entire body.  And I’ve never been more tongue-tied and starstruck than I was while meeting Margaret Atwood at a reading – my signed copy of her novel Lady Oracle is still one of my most treasured possessions.

But suddenly, my pity-fest was interrupted by a glaringly obvious realization:  I didn’t have to BUY a new book, for the love of God – I could just BORROW one from the library.

Why was this not my first thought?   I love libraries.  How did I get so far off track?  At some point, I started buying books instead of borrowing them, and over time, it just became a habit.  But with my current finances, it’s a silly and wasteful habit when I can read the books I want for free – in fact, I pay taxes for the privilege of doing just that.

Sometimes I am astonished by my own stupidity.

Don’t get me wrong, I still am an advocate for buying books – I love owning my favorites, and reread them all the time.  I like the idea of supporting authors who are trying to make a living – I want them to have thriving careers so they can write more books, and my dollars help them do that.  But right now, I need to do things differently.

So I went online, and looked up the books I wanted.  And guess what?  All three were available at a library in my neighborhood.  Upon arriving, I was shocked at how much the library has changed since I last visited – when I went to check out, it was a self-checkout system, and I just placed my stack of books on a glass screen, where the computer instantly recognized the bar codes and offered me several options for a receipt with due dates.  Old school book borrowing meets new school tech – super cool.

And what hadn’t changed was how incredibly kind and helpful librarians are.  I was having trouble finding one of the books, and the librarian not only walked me over to the shelf and located it for me, but when he saw me hesitate uncertainly in front of the self checkout, he talked me through it without making me feel like an idiot.  In college I had to take a “Library Studies For English Majors” class to graduate, and it was one of the hardest courses I took for my major – no joke.  Librarians have to know a crazy amount of stuff, and because libraries are free and open to the public, they also have to deal with a ton of weirdos.  There is no way they are being paid enough to deal with they encounter every day.  Be nice to librarians, people.

I can’t wait to delve into my books – and unlike purchased books that don’t have due dates, these will give me an incentive to do just that.

books



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