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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I’m in tech for a show right now, so I haven’t had time to do any decluttering or simplifying projects this week.  But I am still very much thinking about my lagom, and the top lagom focus on my mind right now is around money.

As I’ve already mentioned, I’ve been feeling pretty stressed about money.  Previously in my career, I’ve worked in the corporate world (as a customer service rep, HR Manager, Executive Assistant, and as a writer of an online shopping blog) and in the nonprofit world (running an educational theatre program for a children’s theatre).  While working all of those jobs, I still worked regularly as an actor, cramming my artistic endeavors into whatever available time was left.  It often meant I would get up at 5:30 a.m., go to the gym, get ready for work, go to the office from either 8-5 (corporate) or 9-5 (non-profit), sometimes use my lunch hour to drive back downtown for an on-camera audition, drive in rush hour traffic to the theatre after work, rehearse till maybe 10 or 11 p.m., come home, eat dinner, halfheartedly do one household task like laundry or dishes, collapse into bed, and then wake up 4-5 hours later to start the whole cycle over again.

I was exhausted and miserable.

But I had steady money.  Yes, I was typically spending too much on things like clothes and shoes and eating out, but I always knew more was coming in.  The salary from my day job covered my bills, and whatever money I was making in my theatrical endeavors like plays or film or voice over was my “fun” money.  And to my credit, I’m great at saving up for a big ticket item.  At that point in my life, making financial “sacrifices” meant not wandering into Nordstrom and buying $300 worth of clothes and makeup on a given weekend, since I was saving up to buy a new car or computer.  I was not worrying about where the mortgage payment was going to come from, or grocery shopping with a calculator to stay on budget like I do now.

I’ve been wondering a lot lately if I should get a day job again, even if just for a short while, to help pay down our debt and rebuild my savings.  I’m wary of doing that, because even though I know I used to find a way to balance a day job with my life as an actor, it kind of blows my mind that I didn’t go crazy in the process.  And I’m pretty sure that I lost out on many artistic jobs because I showed up at the audition frazzled, stressed, and generally angry at everyone and everything.  I was pissed at having a day job that kept me from doing what I wanted to do artistically, and almost equally pissed at the artistic opportunity because even if I got it, I would have to use some of my vacation hours to get paid time off work to do the job.  I always felt like I needed to apologize to my day job for taking time away from the office to pursue acting, even though it was the only thing I wanted to be doing.

Recently though, I came across this picture:

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You’ll have to forgive the quality of it.  I don’t have a scanner so I had to take a photo of it to be able to post it, and it’s a hard copy that got a little wrinkled.  This was taken of me in my office one morning at my corporate job, probably about twelve or thirteen years ago.  Pretty much everything about this photo depresses me.  Why?  You’ll notice I’ve added some arrows and numbers – let me give you a deeper dive into what this photo brings up for me:

  1. That is a blank white wall.  That was the view I had to look at for the most part, outside of my computer screen, or my phone.  There was an interior window to my office so I could see people walking by in the hall, but for most part I just looked out at the view of a moss green cubicle wall.
  2. I’m eating a banana at my desk, because I didn’t get up in time to have breakfast.  I was in a TERRIBLE oversleeping habit at that point, mostly because I hated going to work.  Literally every Monday-Friday of my life at that point started with me opening my eyes, jolting in shock that I was supposed to be at work in a half hour (and it took at least that long to drive to my office from where I lived).  I cannot tell you how many times I showed up at work breathless and with sheet marks still creased into my face.
  3. Nice hair, eh?  Clearly I did not have time in my schedule to visit the hairdresser and get my roots done, despite the fact I could afford it.  Also, it looks like I barely brushed it.  And I probably didn’t.  Because I was late for work,  Again.
  4. I remember being one of the  “lucky ones” because I had an office with a window.  It looked out on the parking lots and other identical brick office buildings in the business park.  Whee.
  5. Note the beige jacket and matching skirt.  I match my office wall.  I know for a fact I was wearing this with a black turtleneck, white hose, and black pumps.  Because that is what I always wore with that suit.  When you are habitually late, you don’t have time to put an outfit together.  Kind of sad, since I was spending a small fortune on clothes at that point.
  6. There are two purses on the floor in the corner of my office.  One is my actual purse with wallet, keys, etc., that was appropriate to carry if I went anywhere work related.  The other is a satchel crammed with scripts, rehearsal clothes, snacks to scarf down in the car on the way to rehearsal, my overflowing day planner, mail I needed to deal with, and other things related to my non-work life.  I would stagger out to my car every morning loaded down with both these bags and a gym bag full of workout stuff.  And even with carrying three bags full of crap, I forgot something nearly every day.
  7. That pile of files is from an overflowing inbox I could never seem to empty.  Mostly because I didn’t like doing any of the tasks that would have effectively emptied it.  I would sit down every day and feel defeated by the sight of it.
  8. That ugly heart mug was typically refilled with coffee up to five times before noon.  I would stare at the pile of things I didn’t want to do, and decide I needed a cup of coffee first.  I had a permanent eye twitch from the massive amounts of caffeine I consumed, and constant digestive issues.  Sexy.
  9. The yellow pad is my to-do list.  Full of things I didn’t want to do.  Staring at me all day and making me feel bad.  It seemed like I was constantly transferring unfinished items from the previous day to the current day, and feeling awful for not getting them done, but not being able to find the energy and focus to do them.
  10. That tangle of paperwork all over the surface of my desk was a constant in my office.  Like my inbox, it overwhelmed me just to look at it.  I was afraid to throw any of it out, in case someone asked for it later – especially since most of it belonged to my boss, who was the CEO.  It wasn’t even MY clutter I was hoarding, it was someone else’s clutter.  Sometimes I would create a massive pile of files and attempt to shove them into my already crammed file drawers, where they were never seen again.  I constantly had paper cuts on my cuticles from trying to shove files into my file drawers.
  11. Look, some nice person gave me some roses.  I don’t remember who.  But it is the one thing in the photo that does not depress me.  I may have hated my job, but I was blessed with good friends – who spent hours listening to me bitch about how unhappy I was in my job, and then had to watch me do nothing about it.  God love them for being so forgiving.

Strangely though, I also find this photo inspirational.  Why?  Because it reminds me of the distance between where I was and where I am.  Yes, I am struggling for money.  Yes, my career feeds me a steady diet of rejection.  Yes my savings account and retirement fund are not what they were when I wasn’t self employed.  And yes, acting is in many ways one of the hardest jobs I’ve ever had since it changes so much and so arbitrarily.  But even my worst day as an actor has been better than my best day sitting behind a desk for eight hours.  Some people thrive happily in that environment, but I have come to understand I am not one of them.  God knows I tried to be one – it is so much easier than trying to self design my own career.  But if you hate doing something that much, nothing about it is easy, or worth it.

Today I worked – I arrived at the theatre at noon and we began tech for the show (for those non-theatre readers, tech is when the lighting/sound/costume/set designers come together to make the show amazing.  It is typically a long and slow process, with a lot of sitting and waiting on the part of the actors while light/sound cues are set and the stage manager and backstage crew figure out the logistics of how to make the show run smoothly).  The show I’m in takes place in a hotel room, so there is a bed on the set.  When we weren’t working, my co-star and I kicked back on the bed, checked email on our phones, and chatted.  I got paid for that.  Not a lot, mind you, but still – I got paid.  The day flew by, I laughed a lot.  I’m proud of the work we’re doing in this show, and excited to perform it.  The room was full of people I adore personally and respect professionally.  I was happy, and it was a good day.

I think I’m going to put that picture of me in my corporate office up over my desk, to remind me that even when things get hard, I’m on the right track.  I may not have the money piece figured out yet, but in terms of career happiness, I have found my lagom.

The photos below were taken of me at my job now – and they do not depress me.



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