Monday, March 7, 2016

It happened… I rebought stuff I decluttered


In my various decluttering/KonMari phases, I've erred on the side of ruthlessness. After all, being too cautious or sentimental about what I keep was the old way, and I know where that leads: too much stuff! I have big, minimalist dreams, and I have to edit, edit, edit if I'm going to live out of a backpack someday (spoiler alert: this will never happen).


I rarely regret getting rid of things. Usually, I forget them. It is shocking how quickly you forget stealing a man's identity ever even owning a Green Goblin nightshirt, a plastic Jane Eyre action figure, or season one of M*A*S*H (which you watched half of).


My (admittedly privileged) security blanket mantra is "I can always get it again if I need it." For the most part, I don't. It just doesn't occur to me. Post-decluttering, you kind of realize how many things you had just because you had them. They're not things you'd buy again.


Recently, though, it happened. I rebought some things I'd previously decluttered. And I'm planning to do it again.


Stuff Cluster #1: Bass Guitar & Peripherals

I'd actually never owned a bass guitar before; I had one on super extended loan (like, years) from my brother. I had bought my own amp and cord so that I could actually play. But by the time my brother wanted his bass back, I hadn't played in over a year, so I figured I was done with that particular hobby. It had been something I enjoyed when I lived near my brother and could play with him frequently, but now that we lived in different cities, I guessed maybe it wasn't something that fit too well into my life. I gave away the amp to a school program.


Just a few months later, I felt the itch to play again. I'd never gotten particularly good--I only knew a few easy songs. I'm remarkably unmusical, almost tone-deaf, and I have absolutely no natural sense of rhythm, which is kind of important for a bass player. But it's fun anyway.


If I'd felt regret for giving away my DVD player, game system, or anything that enabled a vegetative pastime, I'd tell myself, "Get over it and live a simpler life." But playing music, even on an electronic instrument, fits into my idea of a simple life. It's the only hobby I have that allows me to connect with music. And it feels more legit than playing Rock Band. Learning to play uses parts of my brain I don't use otherwise, and makes me feel super cool.


So, I went for it and bought my first bass. It's super low end, because I can't hear the difference. Because I'm so oblivious to audio quality, and in the interest of compactness, I got a tiny amp barely bigger than the AA battery that powers it, which exclusively works with headphones. I also sprang for a super compact mixer and some cords which allow me to listen to my computer or phone's audio in the same headphones, so I can play along with music--almost silently! My wife can be in the same room and not be bothered by me playing the same riff, and the same ten seconds of a music video, over and over. It's a set-up that would drive a real musician crazy, I'm sure, but it works really well for me as a self-conscious learner in a small, shared space.


I'd have had to buy a bass either way, of course, but if I'd kept my old amp, I'd be using that. It would work well for most purposes (though I might end up jury-rigging my "two audio feeds" setup by wearing earbuds and headphones at the same time, which I've done before!). But it would be more versatile, and I'd have saved a bit of money.


Still, decluttering and restarting allowed me to do two things: it allowed me to redesign my setup from the ground up with a focus on the things I really care about (compactness and privacy) instead of the things I'm "supposed to" care about (audio quality and performance). And it allowed me to confirm that, yes, I really do enjoy and care about this hobby over the long haul. I will not be quick to declutter it again!


Stuff Cluster #2: Pen and Ink Supplies

Unlike bass playing, drawing has been such a lifelong hobby for me that I knew I would always come back to it in some form. So there no question that I'd keep some art supplies. Colored pencils are my favorite medium, ever since I got my first set of Prismacolors at age eight, so I absolutely kept my pencil collection in the same joy-sparking Hello Kitty lunchbox covered in stickers that I've had since the mid-nineties.


India ink, though, was a relatively new interest. I'd started using inks when I took an art class five years ago (right around the time I started playing bass, incidentally--that was a creative summer!) It had been fun, but ink is fussy, compared to pencils: more to set up, more to clean. I'd amassed a collection of about twenty colors of ink, which were just sort of getting crusty and old in their bottles. I decided to give them away while they still had life in them. I also gave away all the items I'd collected around that particular medium: special ink brushes, ink pens, palette cups, white gouache, separate brushes for the gouache, a comic lettering guide, and several other items (some of which had been on the "must have" list for my class, but which I'd never actually used!)


Well, you guessed it: recently, I was looking over the drawings from that period, and I realized I want to draw with ink again. It's a slightly different skill from colored pencil drawings, and it's a different look suitable for different projects. Though it's a hobby cluster that requires me to own more stuff, there's a gorgeous spareness to ink art that appeals to my minimalist soul.


I haven't rebought anything for this hobby yet, but I'm making my supplies wish list. This time around, I'm going to make at least one big change: I'm going to focus on black ink only. If I want color, I'd almost always rather be using colored pencils, which I'm more adept with. Besides, color adds more complication than fun. More palette cups going at once means more space needed to work and more cleanup afterward. And I'd need to own and store a lot more materials--specifically, a huge number of colored inks, and the constant desire to always be getting more slightly different shades. (Sure, you can mix them, but it's easier if you start closer to the color you want.) But if I only work in black, I only need one single bottle of ink, and I can focus on the aspect of ink work that I enjoy the most: making beautiful shapes.


One more thing consider is whether I want to bother getting both pens and brushes. Brushes are more versatile since you can do thin lines or large areas, stark black or wash in shades of gray. If you have a small enough brush and a steady enough hand, you can even make narrow comic book style outlines. Pen has a more uniform, precise look, which I don't think is quite as beautiful. But I also enjoy working with pen. It's tricky, but it's easier than a brush, and it still has the finished, delicate look of a real ink drawing (so much nicer than even the finest Micron felt-tip pen). So I'm leaning toward getting at least a basic wooden holder and a set of manga nibs. I don't need to go crazy and own five holders and one of every conceivable type of nib, as I used to.


Something I'm not getting: a lettering guide. I may not write my comic dialogue in "straight lines" or "a consistent size," but I hate trying to use that finicky plastic thing. I tried to learn to love it, but in the end I always just wanted to write freehand.

Something else I never had, but am not getting: a tablet and stylus for making digital art. What I most enjoy about art is working with real, tangible media and not looking at a screen for awhile. I don't even have a plan, right now, for digitizing my finished artwork--I don't have a large format scanner anymore, and I don't really want one--but that's not as important to me as just the fun of getting my hands dirty.


As with bass, rebuilding from scratch gives me an opportunity to focus on things I know I actually need, not just things that somebody else says I'll need. Or things I tried once, and didn't actually like, but it's not worth it to get rid of them. I have enough experience to know what I'll really use, what increases my enjoyment of the hobby, and what brings value to my life.


Lessons

Both of these "stuff clusters" are sets of hobby supplies, which is telling.


I often read decluttering advice such as, "Keep what you need for the life you have, not the life you once had or the life you want to have." And, "If you haven't used it in a year, you won't." And even more specifically, "Get rid of the equipment for hobbies you don't actually do." I've heeded that advice and tried to use my past behavior to guide my probable future. The truth is that I hadn't played bass or drawn with ink in over a year, so it seemed like, maybe, those specific hobbies' times had passed.


So, if I like them so much, why did I stop doing them for over a year? This was the question that gave me the most pause before I rebought anything. I didn't want to buy a bass and amp only to have it linger and gather dust in a corner. I didn't want to dedicate a corner to be the "music corner" only to have it turn into the "corner we never look at or go in," which is basically what happened last year. And I don't want my new ink wash supplied to get crusty from disuse, either.


The thing is, though, that last year, I was writing a book. I neglected a number of my hobbies because I simply had no time to enjoy them. Weekends and evenings were taken up with either writing and editing, or catching up with friends I'd neglected during crazy writing-and-editing sessions (including my friend Sleep). I only really had time for one hobby aside from my writing, and the hobby I chose was birdwatching because it got me outdoors and it was something I could share with others. I didn't need another indoor, solitary hobby, like learning an instrument and drawing.


Now things are different. I write for this blog, but I'm not as bound to deadlines, or to producing a certain number of words per week. I could slack off if I wanted to. It's low stress. I'm not in a hurry to take up another project that's basically a second job. I'm purposely keeping myself un-busy. This year, I've had enough health issues (some stress-related) that I don't want anything, aside from my main job, that I can't drop when I'm not feeling well. What this means, though, is that when I am feeling good, I have time to do things I actually enjoy, not just things I have to do. This feels great, let me tell you, and it opens me up to be able to enjoy new and old hobbies.

Of all the things I could be caving and rebuying, I feel really good about hobby supplies. I'm pleased that what I missed most was being creative, something that totally aligns with my values. I'm also hopeful that, as I ease back into my favorite hobbies, I'll actually spend less money, because I'll have less time for recreational shopping, and I'll feel more fulfilled by the way I spend my time--and because, this time, I know exactly what I want and what I don't want.

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