Saturday, March 14, 2015

Why I Donated 90% of My Books

The book pile on my bed
So I'm reading this new book. Maybe you've heard of it? The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo has been making news since it was released a few months ago. As I have always been a devotee of all things organizing and tidying up, I knew I had to read it.

I am so in love with this book. She completely rewrites the concept of home organization and I completely agree with her. The basic concept is that first you discard and then you organize, but it is much more than that. She wraps psychology and spirituality inside her advice that works, at least for me, on a level that I would have never considered. Unlike the way I typically reorganize by going room by room, she recommends by category. Not only that, but she insists that you take everything in that category and dump it in the middle of the room, and then pick up one piece one by one and ask yourself: Does this spark joy? The whole point is to surround yourself only with those things you love to bring peace and joy to your home. The amount of items each person keeps will vary--she actually describes a "click" moment when you realize you are at the level of possessions that works best for you.  

I'm not going to attempt to sum up the book anymore than that because it is something that should be read and not told. After I finished reading, I knew I had to try it out immediately. I started with my clothes, as she recommends, and dumped every item, from head scarves to socks, on the bed one afternoon. I went through each piece, one by one, and asked if it brought me joy. I did not consider where I got it or from who. I only questioned whether it made me happy, felt for the answer, then put the piece in the keep or the donate pile. 

I eliminated half my clothes in this manner and was so startled by the effect it had on me. I have drawers I can open, a closet I can see into, and each time I pick out an outfit, I am so happy to see clothing I enjoy wearing. I'm having fun creating new combinations. Since I have much less clothing, I'll have to keep up with laundry more often, but when I do laundry, I'll have much less to wash, dry, fold, and put away. Joy!

It was also a relief to let go of clothing that no longer fit, but I was keeping for some reason or another--either because of who gave it to me or some memory attached to the piece. Letting those go freed me to look consider what I wanted to wear now, not what I use to wear or what others thought I might want to wear. 

This was no true hardship though, because I've never been happy with my wardrobe. I was hoping that after I finished, I'd be more content, but I'm so much more than that: I'm thrilled! Uplifted! And this was just with my clothes, which I've never felt a true personal attachment with. So I knew I had to continue. I moved on to the next item on her list: books.

I am a bibliophile. I love books. I love collecting books. I love reading books. I love writing about books. I have several bookshelves filled with books, some of which I've had for almost forty years. 

What I don't have is space. Or the ability to find a book I want. Or the time to keep up with all these books. And after reading Ms. Kondo's book, I realized that just because I enjoyed a book, I don't have to keep it. It's such a simple concept, but one I've never allowed myself to consider. I love books, so I should be surrounded by books, right? Except that most of these books I'll never read again, I'll never even open again, and some of them I've never opened for a first time. I have books to have books, but out of those books, I couldn't say which I truly loved. There were just too many.

What I realized was that the books I've read and enjoyed are inside me already; they shaped me at that moment when they entered my life and I paused to read them. They did what they needed to do then, and now it would be best to let them go and open myself to the possibility of new reading experiences. Those books I choose to keep should be those that truly give me joy to look upon, not for any memory attached to the book, such as where I got it or from who, but joy from the book itself.

I was certain this would be a challenge and I decided to start easy. And I had way too many books to pile in any one place as she recommends. So first I sorted at each bookshelf. I pulled out everything that I felt nothing for, bagged them up, and took them to our local library donation site. When I was finished, I had cut my library in half.

Books I donated from the first pass through the bookshelves, which filled a box, a laundry basket, and seven paper grocery bags.
Now I was ready to pile all the books onto my bed. One by one, I held each book, not opening it, looking the cover and giving myself a moment, and only a moment, to feel whatever I would feel about it. For 90% of my books, I felt very little. Some I couldn't remember reading. Some I'd never read and knew I never would. I let those go. A couple I had to question and found that usually they were associated with a memory of a person or event, but the book itself wasn't inspiring the feeling. I let those go. And every now and then, I'd pick up a book and couldn't help but to grin and giggle over the sheer pleasure of holding that one book. Those few books stayed. 

These are being donated: 

Six more paper grocery bags full, plus a box. 
These are what remain:

Not even a full bookcase of books, but each one of them I love and adore and most of them I will reread again and again.

I knew I'd be happy to have the extra space in the house, but what I didn't expect was the weight that left me when I let go of the books that I'd been "meaning" to read. I had no idea how unconsciously anxious and guilty I was to own books I'd not yet read until those books were gone. I feel such peacefulness when looking at my books now, not overwhelmed by the number of volumes or the need to read those I'd not yet gotten to, or use those I'd been holding onto just in case I needed to research something. The few books that I choose to keep that I haven't yet read are only a handful of titles that I just received--literally, I just got them last week. I'm looking forward to enjoying them and just as much looking forward to letting them go afterwards, and, if for some reason I don't get around to reading them within the next month or two, I'll let them go, too.

I suspect that in time, some of the books I've kept I will choose to let go and new ones will take their place. But at the moment, I am certain that I will never have the sheer number of books that I had. And if I find that I miss one that I let go, there is always the internet to find a new copy.

Best of all, my daughter was so inspired by what I was doing, she decided to do the same. We piled all her books onto my bed--and she nearly filled my bed with her books--and she sorted them ruthlessly. She'd outgrown most of her books a few years ago, but we had both held onto them for one reason or another. Now her bookshelf truly reflects who she is today. And yes, she's gone to a single bookshelf instead of two packed shelves and the headboard of her bed packed full and a couple piles elsewhere in the house.

Books my daughter will donate to her school library and teachers
My son isn't quite old enough to do this level of sorting, but he definitely knows what his favorite books are, so I'll have him bring them to me and then I'll take care of going through the rest of his books--most of which were hand-me-downs from his sister. His tastes and interests are far different than hers and there are so many new books available for his age that holding on to hers no longer makes sense. I want him to choose what he wants to read, not be forced into reading books he has no interest in simply because we own them. When he gets to choose his books, he is so much more eager to sit and listen to them. When I choose the books to read to him, he won't sit still. And now, finally, I understand why. And I can let go.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

The Research Process

Looking through my photos to find one to post, I came across this one. It reminded me of researching for stories.

How is research like a rainbow?

Is there a pot of gold at the end? Leprechauns with all the answers to my research queries? A magical moment of clarity?

No, no, and no (well, sometimes).

Research is like a rainbow because I never seem able to reach the end of it.

I tend to write historical fiction, or, in the very least, fiction with an undercurrent of history. That sort of fiction demands a great deal of research. I have tried to do research while writing a draft and had it backfire on me horribly, derailing entire plots. I've also had research open a whole new world of possibilities for a story, expanding the tale into something greater, but necessitating the scrapping of an entire first-half of a novel.

It has taken a few novels, but I've learned that when I develop a story requiring research, I list out the details I need to research before writing the rough draft.  This serves two purposes: I am less likely to find the story derailed by hand-waving important facts until they are researched, and I'm more likely to start and finish the draft instead of becoming lost in the research.

Losing myself in research is a real danger. I love research! I love learning new details and diving into what it was like to live during past eras. I can lose myself for hours chasing down a stray fact. If I'm not careful, the research becomes more fun than writing the story, and the story gets left by the wayside as I wander through history. It's a delightful, and deadly, form of procrastination.

It's been good to set limitations for myself, and to that end, I've broken researching down into three types: initial, interior, and finishing.

The initial research helps set up the rough draft, building the plot with the facts I'll need to keep it accurate, weeding out story ideas that prove anachronistic or improbable, and stirring up some new ideas to enrich the tale. Character names, setting, time period, and major events all fall under this category.

Interior research occurs in the midst of writing. It consists main of a small facts, details that could change the course of a scene, such as what type of gun a police officer carries (therefore knowing how many shots he could fire or how soon he'd have to reload) or how long it would take to sail from Ireland to the New World in the 1700s.

Finishing research is necessary for breathing life into the story, but they don't usually affect the overall plot, such as meals colonists ate or the type of car a detective might drive. I mark these places in the manuscript with two questions marks. They aren't important enough for me to break the flow of the writing during the rough draft, but they are important for fleshing out the tale. It is easy to do a search for the ?? to find each place and make a list of research items, then spend a day filling in blanks and rounding out descriptions.

So far, this process has worked well for me. I don't get as lost in the research, I encounter less issues of research conflicting with major plot points, and I have less excuses for not writing the rough draft.

I'd love to know how other writers work with research. I find the writing process so fascinating, and I find that mine is constantly evolving as I learn more and grew as a writer.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Filling in the Gaps

After only four days, I can honestly say that my new weekly and daily goal sheets have saved me. I've written more in the past week than I have in the last two or three, plus worked on editing and research. I've kept up with my outside obligations and was able to add in a couple more. I pulled off one small birthday party, and I'm about to finish prepping for a larger one. And I've managed to blog twice in one week and had time to read to the kids last night (for the first night in awhile)!

The trick for me has been the list. I always work better with a list, and I know this. From daily chores to grocery shopping to packing for a trip--lists save me. I operate well with them. I can add to them as I remember items. I can check completed items off the list. I can adapt them to just about every need.

And the trick with using the list has been finding ways to fill in gaps that I was wasting. Instead of checking email for the umpteenth time, I did the dishes. Instead of languishing on Facebook, I wrote my daily words. Yesterday, I had 50 minutes after completing volunteer work at school before I needed to pick up my son from preschool, and rather than going home where I might be tempted to waste the time on something unnecessary, I went to the library. I took my laptop, wrote the words I needed to do for the day, requested a book for research through I.L.L. and checked out a book that I had on hold. Three tasks, done done done, and all with just a little planning to make sure I'd packed up my laptop before I'd left early in the day. I even scheduled in lunch by having it with my daughter at school (okay, it wasn't the greatest lunch ever, but it was cheap, fast, and I got to spend time with my daughter, which made us both happy).

Other ways I've been able to fill in gaps:

I set the alarm for a bit earlier. That is how I'm writing this now, before the kids wake. As soon as I finish this, I'll write my daily words, then get them up and start our morning routines.

But not too early. If I'm too tired, everything is a chore and by evening, I'm a monster. I've learned this. So I have a set bedtime, too, that I try to make.

I keep in mind things I can do in twenty minutes or less. I can wash a load of dishes in 20 minutes, and it takes about that long for my son's favorite breakfast to cook. He gets a decent meal before school, I get an empty sink. Done and done.

I schedule both the BIG tasks and the small tasks on my daily list and try to double them up as I can. It only took me five minutes to run in to pick up the ink cartridges I'd left to be refilled, but it took putting it on my list in connection with another errand (swim lessons--during the trip home) to get it done after they'd sat for almost two weeks.

I'm eager to see if I can keep this going. It's been a heady week--and a busy week, but the busy isn't going to slow down anytime soon. What I'm hoping is that by using this system, by adding in both the things I HAVE to do along with the things I WANT to do, I won't get as frustrated watching my time dissolve and having little left to show for it but chores and running kids back and forth and wishing I'd done more. It is awesome to see my daily word counts adding up again. It is equally awesome to sit and watch a show while I crochet, because I have to sit down and crochet because "it's on the list."

Monday, February 23, 2015

It's a Brand New Day

Sunrise in SW Washington
"It's a brand new day
and the sun is high,
all the birds are singing
that you're gonna die.

How I hesitated
now I wonder why,
It's a brand new day--"

Dr. Horrible's Sing Along Blog has to be one of my favorite musicals. The chorus to "Brand New Day" has been especially apt for me lately.

I put off writing a challenging scene in my current work in progress for almost two months. Why? Because I had to kill of a character. Not just any character, but one of my main characters, who I've become rather fond of.

I've lost characters in stories before, and while death scenes are never easy for me to write, I've never killed a main character before. It was harder to do than I expect, because it needed to be both meaningful, shocking, and awful.

When I finally forced myself to write it out, I think I got close. Later drafts will hopefully fill in any missing pieces, but for now, I am content. It was, however, a rough day's work.

Finishing the scene also means that there is nothing stopping me from completing the novel. Except for, well, an actual ending. I don't have one completely imagined through. So this week will be 'outline the final half of the novel' week.

Which brings me to another way that "Brand New Day" is apt for me: I'm actually making daily plans. I've been working with a weekly list the past several months, but I'm finding that I have too much to do to leave it to such a loose structure. I actually need more definition to my days so the time doesn't waste away.

I'm continuing my weekly structure, first using the Goal Setting Worksheets from to make my weekly goals, but today I added a new daily sheet to keep me focused. I decided to go with the pocket version of the Daily Dockets from to plan out each day.

What I end up with is a sheet of weekly goals, the big goals that I want to accomplish and that will take more than one day to do so, and another sheet of two days worth of daily goals where I can then add things like chores and phone calls and things that I need to do on that day. I like that the pocket docket has a space for what's for dinner, because then I can think ahead to prepping for that, too, something that's been getting left out lately. I also like the pocket docket because I can fit two days on one side, fold it in half, and stick the weekly sheet in the middle to refer to as needed. I keep the sheets on top of my laptop so that I can refer to them often.

I'm hoping this system will help me keep up with everything I want to work on, plus the daily running of the household, and still leave me free for some play time. I'm actually scheduling play time, in the form of reading and crocheting, so that they aren't left out. I need my play time!

This week's goals are a bit heady, but I'm hopeful. I plan to edit five poems to submit (goal 1), outline the last half of my current WiP (goal 2), collate the research for my next story and begin the initial plot outline (goal 3), prep for my son's birthday party on Saturday (goal 4), finish two crochet projects (goal 5), and write one poem and two blog posts this week and 500 words each day (goal 6).

Most of those goals are going to be broken up into easier chunks each day. Today's list looks like this:
*write 500 words (done)
write 1 blog post (you're reading it)
*edit 2 poems
*address and mail invitations (I'm way behind on this, but just about everyone has been notified via Facebook--invites are addressed and will be mailed later today)
Complete 7 rows on crochet baby blanket
dishes (done)

The daily docket recommends starring no more than five priority items (Most Important Things) to mark those items that must be done that day. I like this idea. It makes the list more approachable and gives me another layer of focus.

And now I'm off to check another couple of items off the list before preschool lets out. I have two poems to edit and some crocheting to do.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Frugal Friday: Halloween Edition!

Happy Halloween!

For Halloween this year, we kept it simple. Decorations around the house are from our Halloween box containing items I've collected over the years. The oldest item is a small pumpkin snow globe that my mom gave me in 1993. She got it at the gift shop at the hospital where she worked. I adore it.

The newest is the BOO bunting I crocheted a few years ago. I also added my two Partylite candle holders, the pumpkin house (above) and the witch's shoe. I use battery-operated votive candles in them since I cannot yet be trusted with real candles (I get busy and forget they are burning).

For costumes, Buggie decided to go as Maleficent It so happens that back in high school, I made a Maleficent costume. It's a little long on her, but otherwise works great. And I love that she's wearing something I made over 20 years ago and managed to hang on to for this long. The hat was missing, however, so I ordered one through Amazon and signed up for the free 30-day Prime membership to try it out and get free shipping.

The Boy opted to go as the Hulk, and thankfully he is still small enough to fit the rather inexpensive Hulk costume I picked up at Costco. It won't fit him long, but he loves it and will get his use out of it before he outgrows it.

For treats, we picked up fun Munchkin Halloween booster cards to hand out. We also picked up some mandarin oranges to decorate as pumpkins to hand out as well. I picked up a package of candy, but I'm not going to open it if I don't have to. I'd rather hand out cute cards and oranges--both of which were less expensive then the package of candy I got (and that'll I'll return if we don't use it).

For supper, we're going to pick up another Jack O'Lantern pizza to bake when we're finished walking around the neighborhood. I also have spiced cider to heat up to warm us.

Have a safe and happy Halloween!

Friday, May 2, 2014

Frugal Friday

The secret garden behind an abandoned house.

This week's frugal accomplishments:

Starting seeds for the gardens using soil left over from last year.

Storing the leftover ground coffee in jam jars rather than throwing out the last of it.

Kept the composting going throughout the week.

Several trips to the park with the kids to play.

Put together a couple of 'cookless' meals for the family since the oven is still not fix.

Borrowed my mom's oven for a couple of other meals.

Came home for meals during lunchbreak at work instead of eating out.

Carried my refillable water bottle around rather than buying drinks while out and about.

And I've forgot to add that over the last month, Buggie has taken her lunch to school each day.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Frugal Friday

Frugal accomplishments for this week:

Downloaded a free album through Amazon. It's a Gaelic music sampler, quite decent. I've enjoyed listening to it.

I had to drive unexpectedly into town, so I grabbed a couple of shopping lists I had ready to go and got a few errands done at the same time. I try not to go into town for just one reason if I can help it.

Took the boy on a long walk to his favorite green space to run around.

Took the kids to see a movie at the theater where I work, as we get free admission. We'd seen it before, but it was fun to watch again on the big screen.

The big one, however, has been starting my composting again. I've already made a couple trips to it this week and everything that goes in it is less waste in the garbage can. I'm already noticing the difference, especially when I sliced up a watermelon early in the week.

Came home on my lunch break during work. I'm continuing to cut back on our eating out, including when I'm at work and have a lunch break. I'm packing snacks to work, too, so I'm not tempted to buy anything there (especially as it is all candy).

Not a massively huge list, but I'm pleased with my continued awareness. It's held me back from making purchases I'd have made otherwise and from eating out when it really was unnecessary to do so. And that, I think, is a victory!