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.

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Remember when I cleaned out the guest room closet and moved all the clothes and purses I’d been storing in the guest room to my bedroom?  Well, it’s been over a month, and I haven’t been able to face trying to find room for those items, because I’ve known it would involve having to get rid of stuff and refigure the way I currently store things.  Which never sounds like a fun way to spend a lovely spring afternoon.

But yesterday, despite the sunshine, I was in a rotten mood.  And sometimes, being in a rotten mood is an excellent motivator for me to make changes.  So I decided to take advantage of  feeling ruthless and unreckoning and attack the items I was trying to incorporate into my bedroom storage- namely, my handbag collection.

Confession:  I am a bag lady.  I loooooove purses.  When I was making good money, I bought purses on a regular basis – in fact, I cringe a little to think about the amount of income I dropped on purses during that period of time.  I had so many that I appropriated a bookcase to store them all.  I always had the notion that I would be one of those women who switched bags on a regular basis, moving her small neat stash of essential items from one bag to the next.  But I am not that woman – in fact, I’m far from it.  I have a tendency to let paper and random items build up in my bag to the point where changing bags means having to clean my current bag, and because I’m lazy, I usually choose to just keep the junk pile growing rather than switch them.

About a year ago, I cut my collection in half, and attempted to resell some of my more expensive bags at resale stores, but no one was interested.  It’s always a bit crushing to realize that things you spent so much money on have no value whatsoever to the rest of the world–I ended up donating them all to the Goodwill.  It was pretty depressing, but I learned my lesson.  I have only bought one bag since then, and for me, that is a massive improvement.

Even though the purses I was attempting to find storage for in my bedroom were  considerably less than what I used to own, I knew I’d have to pare them down even further if I wanted to find room for them all.  I’ve been procrastinating on dealing with them, and during this time I’ve kept some in the bottom of my closet:

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Klassy.

And some in a big suitcase, which is totally in the way and cluttering up our room:

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So I took all the bags out and spread them on the floor to get a better idea of what I had:

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six everyday bags, two gym bags, four evening bags, one travel bag, one computer bag, one laptop case, and one beach carryall.

I can say I genuinely like all of these, but I only actually use a few of them.  Two of the bags I’ve been storing are gym bags, and I don’t even belong to a gym anymore.  Brilliant.

I edited them down –  if I hadn’t carried it in a year, it had to go. I didn’t actually get rid of all that much, but it made a difference.  Here are the items that didn’t make the cut:

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Three everyday bags, one evening bag, one gym bag

I was left with a definitely manageable collection, but I still wasn’t sure where to put them.  Then I noticed this:Image

We have several of these very cool cubbies built in to our bedroom walls.  The photo is of one of the cubbies emptied out.  This is not typically the case.  Since up to this point I’ve seemed destined to fill every empty space and surface with extraneous crap, the cubbies are usually full of random things – carrier bags from stores with items I might want to return (which I don’t currently have any of, yay for me), clothes that need mending, and piles of clothing I’ve tried on and decided not to wear but am too lazy to hang up.  I realized I could put my pared down bag collection in one of the cubbies – genius!  It would not only solve my storage issue, it would keep me from filling the space with piles of clothing and shopping spree guilt.  A win-win:

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What made the cut: three evening bags, three everyday bags, one computer bag (with a laptop case stored inside it), and a travel bag and beach carryall stashed inside one of the larger everyday bags.

I basically kept three evening bags, three everyday bags, and a computer bag/laptop case.  I did, however, also keep a great travel bag that converts to a little backpack and a beach carryall, which I stuffed inside one of my big empty everyday bags to help it hold it’s shape.  I’ve read you’re supposed to use tissue paper for that purpose, but I needed to store the extra two bags anyway, so I figured what the heck.

I also kept one gym bag (which I actually used while I was living in Florida last fall and joined a gym because it was too hot to exercise outside), and two tote bags (one stored inside the other) that I use all the time.  Those I put back in the bottom of the closet, which is now empty except for those items.

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Classy.

The other benefit to this organizing project?  Finding all the stuff stored in my old purses.  There was definitely a lot of garbage, ancient sticks of gum, the worst brush I’ve ever owned, business cards for people I don’t remember, and expired aspirin, but there was also money, unused gift cards, a new memory stick, a great pocket mirror, still-working pens and highlighters, enough lip balm to last me the next five years, and two sets of opera glasses I thought I’d lost:

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I threw away all the garbage and redistributed anything usable to my current handbag.

I’ve decided that if by December I haven’t switched out my current bag to one of the everyday bags I kept, I’m getting rid of them.  And until I’m out of debt, I won’t be buying any new ones, so I shouldn’t be outgrowing the cubby space anytime soon.



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