Tuesday, March 7, 2017

2017 Resolution Check-In, Month Three : Bookish Retail Therapy, and Being Happy with What I've Got

So, it's March. The third month of the year. Like the truly dedicated - or truly crazy - I'm still hanging tough on my Reading Resolutions  for 2017. That means I've officially gone a little over two months out of the year, without buying any books.

To some, that might not seem so impressive... as you might remember, I've taken on this particular challenge before, as a Resolution for 2015, so it's something I know I can do. And being that it's focused around a negative act, instead of initiating a new habit, you'd probably think things might be a lot easier; for instance, it shouldn't be too difficult to stop going into bookstores, or browsing the paperback aisle at Fred Meyer, based on the sheer fact that you can easily avoid both of those environments.

However, it's 2017 now, not 2015, and

things are a little different.

As it turns out, there are elements of my lifestyle and environment that I didn't anticipate initiating such different feelings towards this particular enterprise. Even if I had, I don't know what I could have done differently to prepare for the change.

For instance, one of the reasons I gave up buying books back then, was because I was just busy. I was knee-deep in one of the most challenging academic years of my life, was tasked with both Panhellenic Executive Board and active sorority member duties year-round, and was also figuring out how to live in Seattle on my own for the first time that summer. Needless to say, I had a lot going on.

But like I said... my lifestyle has changed since then.

As an unemployed graduate who is still trying to figure things out in the adult world, I've got a lot more time on my hands. Having a less crowded schedule has forced me to confront some of my reading habits - especially in the face of things like recent crippling slumps - and attempts at generating more of my own personal writing. With all this freedom, it's gotten a lot harder to focus on things that aren't just reading and writing, and with that, I've had to confront a couple of truths about why it is that I bought so many books last year, and that I chose to take on this Resolution again in the first place.

cheaper than therapy... or is it?

Buying books is my favorite brand of retail therapy, because it's easy to do, and I know enough about how to keep it relatively cheap that it doesn't stress me out too much. In addition, it's the kind of thing my parents always encouraged me to do growing up, so I've never felt like there was a better reason to avoid buying a book, rather than buying it... until I started to give myself one.

And it's not just buying books, too, but also, borrowing them: after the success of my speed-dating round of books recently, I've already got my next couple of titles to-be-read set up, and I'm making my way through Lev Grossman's The Magicians as we speak. However, despite having not just the next five books in my schedule lined up, but still plenty of books on my shelves that I'm still incredibly interested in, I've had to convince myself three times this week, to avoid visiting the library and picking up a few more titles.

Why is that?

empty to-do lists and misplaced "productivity"

The compulsion to keep bringing more and more titles my way strikes me as a kind of misplaced sense of productivity: it's always good to bring more titles into my hands, because I'm going to read them all eventually, right? At least I'm doing something.

The problem is, planning on reading a book is not the same as actually reading that book, just like planning on losing a few pounds is not the same on actually dropping a dress size. It feels like success, because now you have more, and you're excited about having more, but what's actually happened is that you're giving yourself more reasons not to actually tackle the stack of books you're trying to take out in the first place.

The especially guilt-inducing thing about going to the library, is actually the complete lack of guilt. Because libraries are a free public good - thank God! - my going there doesn't actually cost me money, and if anything, the walk to it ensures I get a little time to breathe in some fresh air in my day. So while I can try to reduce my book-intake-therapy habits by attempting to shift that focus into a different sphere - getting new stickers from Amazon, or going thrift-shopping for new sweaters, for example - those definitely consume money, and if I took part in those hobbies as much as I'd like to, I'd be making a dent in my savings that I still feel like I really can't chance right now.

so... how do I fix this?

In my eyes, there's only one course of action for exercising these particular "productivity"-oriented demons of mine: actually reading the books I already have. Two months is definitely not enough time to decide to modify a Resolution, especially one I've made it through before, and I know that the problem lies not with the books I already own, but with me not giving them adequate attention. If I really am so desperate to be productive in these endeavors, then I can't misdirect my attention to easily-procured new reading material.

Maybe my attention should be more directed into revitalizing reading as a relaxing habit, rather than one done for Goodreads goals, or making it seem like I've done more with my day than I actually have. For instance, my mom was watching me clean my room the other day, and asked how many books I've actually made it through this year, and I turned red with embarrassment when I had to answer, "Only six." Clearly, the resolution to my problems is not to be found in making them more numerous, but instead, making progress in the traditional sense.

Adding more books to my TBR pile was never an effective long-term solution, it was just a short-term solution that made me feel like I was accomplishing more with my reading habits. I'm not going to remedy those problems by continuing them in a different form, and I'm no less a bookworm for not buying books or going to the library.

I didn't think minimalism was going to play such a starring role in my bookish habits this year, but if I really want to get serious about being happy with what I have right now - at least, for the rest of the year - I'm going to need to focus more on how to make the practice of reading more fulfilling and rejuvenating in itself, rather than the practice of purchasing books, instead.

the money matters

So, I'm a little bit of a hypocrite: in the time since I originally drafted this blog post, I definitely went to the library... and Ulta... and World Market, TJ Maxx, and Costco. And even Barnes and Noble!

However, the things I lent out or bought weren't just impulse buys to make me feel better or more productive; they were purchases I'd been considering for a while, and they have all already gotten use in the short time since I've procured them.

When I went to the library, I checked out four books, and instead of simply gathering up all the new titles that I'd been eyeing, I thought critically about why I was reaching for those books in particular. For instance, cook books and self-help books are not typically purchases I'm likely to make, because I read them too quickly, and they cost a lot of money for minimal use. I don't love having costs accrued for short-term reads, which is why I get them through the library instead, and keep the benefits of having a new cookbook full of ideas, without having to pay upwards of $25 for them.

The purchases from Barnes and Noble were a couple of my favorite magazines, selected after helping my younger brother weigh his own fantasy YA selections. The Ulta, TJ Maxx, Costco, and World Market shopping bags yielded a face mask and a new lip color, a new notebook and stationery set, on top of a pile of snack food. It reflects the developing format of my self-care retail therapy... and it seems to me to be a lot more cost-effective than an ever-growing pile of books! 

So, while I'm still spending money on things that make me feel better, their shape is changing. If I dedicate more of this particular branch of my financials into more meaningful, self-care-oriented spending - and if I let myself get to the library every once in a while, to choose a few short-read books that I wouldn't be spending money on anyways - then the mindfulness with which I approach my spending and reading habits has already shown the benefits of giving up buying books for the year!

How are your reading resolutions going so far this year? Got any advice for a bookworm trying to be content with the titles they've got (at least for the time being)? Let me know, in the comments below!

1 comment:

  1. Ooh, good luck with this! I honestly don't buy a lot of books but I do "accidentally" request a lot from places like Netgalley for review haha.😂 I mean, I don't feel bad because I DO read them, although I don't like to stress myself out so I try to be careful!! I also am addicted to my local library because free books, right?! And if I'm not risking money on them, I feel better about trying books I otherwise might not have! But it is important to read what we have too and also not get too overwhelmed. :P So you're doing a good thing! As for my yearly goals...hahaah....I haven't done much. 😂 I'm trying to see if they'll do themselves if I ignore them. So wise.😂