Thursday, October 29, 2015

Joy, and the sparking thereof

After waiting months and months on the wait list, I finally have gotten my hands on a copy of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. Is it good timing or bad that it became available just as the big house renovation is getting underway? I haven't decided.


I'm about two thirds of the way through it, so I can't really give a fair review before having read the entire thing. Still, it's making an impression on me.

The author talks about growing up being obsessed with tidying and decluttering from age five, and trying to organize her family's house and get rid of unnecessary objects on the sly as a teenager. She does acknowledge how unusual this is. Some parts are intentionally funny, like when she ponders the purpose of having 100 rolls of toilet paper on hand. Some parts are perhaps unintentionally funny, like when she describes thanking objects like her shoes and wallet for helping her with her day. She's also obsessed with vertical storage, even for t-shirts and her laptop (which she stores with her books). Obviously, the author is a bit quirky, and given her lifelong obsession with tidiness, it's a good thing she has been able to build a successful business doing it. 

When I started reading the book, my first reaction was to dismiss it as far-fetched and unrealistic for someone like me, i.e. a person with children and creative hobbies. Those both tend to lead to lots of mess and clutter. Another big issue is that she doesn't say much about responsible disposal of the things you get rid of. Maybe she considers it a win to take 30 big bags of trash out of a client's house, but that trash will then take up space in a landfill. We shouldn't be so glib about just throwing stuff away.

Still, I think she is actually spot on about a lot of things. Your stuff shouldn't be a burden to you. Things that were important at one time may not be so important now - they no longer "spark joy" in other words - and it's okay to let them go. That stirred up some feelings for me, and this evening I found myself doing a fairly thorough KonMari of my music scores. 

There's more you can't even see in the photo.

This is something I should have done years ago. I have a beautiful set of shelves that my dad and I built together when I started grad school. The shelves are made from 3/4" pine and are exactly the right width to hold stacks of large piano books, 2 piles side by side. It's no surprise that I own a LOT of music, most of which I accumulated as a graduate student. I studied a lot of repertoire for performance and even more in literature classes, and since I also have a degree in pedagogy, I collected a lot of random teaching materials and rep. 

And what happened during graduate school? I had two babies, one in the middle of my degree program and one literally at the finish line. The economy bottomed out, and academic jobs - which were already hard to come by and poorly paid in the boom years - got even scarcer. I had my hands full as it was and I didn't even entertain the thought of looking for a job. So I taught a few private students and did a bit of freelance and carried on.

I harbor so much ambivalence about my professional life. Still, I constantly question whether I was completely stupid and naive to pursue advanced degrees in a field where employment is scarce, the hours are horrible, the pay is lousy, and it feels your reputation is always hanging by a thread. I go round and round and round with this, but it's a topic for another day. In any case, my collection of music scores outgrew those shelves long ago, and was taking up valuable shelf space downstairs. And why? I'll never play those giant sonatas by Schubert, or any of Liszt's late works.  I'll never use those old, falling apart books of teaching repertoire; most of those are crummy editions anyway. 

Out they go! As I worked through, I made several stacks. I sort my music generally by solo vs. collaborative, and then by genre or general time period (standard vocal rep on one shelf, duo sonatas and chamber music on another; for the solo rep, romantic German in one pile, with Bach/Mozart/Beethoven beside). I am probably getting rid of almost half of what I had, both decent quality scores and collections I'll never use, and old or lesser quality scores someone will appreciate from the used book store. Quite a bit went straight into recycling.

I thought I would feel sad to let go of those books, but in fact, it's liberating. I'll never be a concert pianist. I've found my niche teaching classes and accompanying/coaching students of all levels (middle/high school through college and graduate level) and for now, that's ok. I'm good at it, and I actually really like the teaching component that comes with what I do at all levels. So I'm keeping the music that sparks joy and that I hope to play again. And I'm saying goodbye to the rest. 

What's on the shelf will stay. The piles in front will be donated. There's a big load of recycling you don't even see here!

To tell you the truth, some of those books of solo rep that I was never good enough or dedicated enough to play fill me with dread to look at them. Good riddance.

All in all, I'd say my evening of decluttering my music has been a success. What shall I do next, I wonder?

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