Buying less, renting smarter, Part 1

a flea market

My first shrink-slash-astrologer warned me early on that I'm a floaty type.

Which is to say, I enjoy wandering from thing to thing, but this can leave me very, very ungrounded. I think she even suggested carrying around a piece of hematite as a possible solution, and I dimly recall trying it for a bit: I found an old hunk lying around in one phase of The Great Purge of '09, and dispatched it to Goodwill forthwith.

Anyway, I know that looking at things soothes me and I suspect that having one reason I tend to collect them is that having them around grounds me.

Looking through new-to-me stuff, almost any stuff, from garage sales to flea markets to high-end department stores, is weirdly relaxing and comforting. When I'm browsing the stacks or the back 40 at the Kane County Flea Market or the racks at Bloomie's, a part of my brain that usually won't shut up is finally able to, but I also feel deeply cared for. Whereas other wonderful-to-me activities that also shut off that part of my brain, walking on the beach or doing Nei Kung or hooping, for example, are more stimulating than soothing, and still other experiences, like looking at art, are generally stimulating without being soothing.

Since I like these things or like the way they make me feel, it's really hard not to want to take some home with me. If I feel good in some object's habitat, it follows that I will also feel good around it when it's been removed to mine. And sometimes, I do. But often, I do not. This is where the clutter problem lives for many of us, I'm guessing, trying to replicate feelings. (The other part lies in wanting to hang onto them.)

When I am full-on monk, this problem will either go away or I'll have mad ninja skillz for dealing with it. For now, though, I need to be around stuff sometimes, and I need to have some stuff all the time, in order for my life to work the way I want it to.

The trick, then, for me, is coming up with ways to comfort myself that do not involve the acquisition of stuff I don't need, even cheap stuff. Because in addition to the cost of acquisition, there's a cost to maintain the stuff and to get rid of it, even with second-hand stuff, if you're going to do it responsibly.

The library is a terrific substitution for any browsing because the stuff you get there is the least "sticky", there are penalties for not getting rid of it! But even renting "for free" from the library comes at a cost: how much time am I spending returning stuff, checking due dates on returning stuff, rounding up stuff to return, etc.? So these are the ways I've come up with to minimize library "waste":

Book in advance. (No pun intended!) The Los Angeles Public Library has a searchable online database you can use to find an reserve books, which are then delivered at no cost to the branch of your choice. When I find a book I know I want to read that looks like it's been out for a while, I jump on the site, plug in my member number (which I have saved as a keystroke shortcut in TextExpander), and have it sent to me.

Walk to the library. When you live in L.A., you spend most of your mobile time in a giant backpack called "a car." The combination of picking up reserved books and walking to and from the library to do it has dramatically reduced the amount of books I haul, and is good exercise, head-clearing and better for the environment, as well. I'm really nervous because budget cutbacks have already reduced hours (and salaries, sadly) at my branch, which is older and smaller and likely to be an early candidate for closures. But I'll cross that bridge when they blow it up. Or something.

Limit browsing time. I used to go earlier in the day (a luxury of the self- or unemployed!). Now I go towards the end of the day, an hour or less before closing time. Which is earlier and earlier with every budget cut.

Keep a dedicated holding area. I wish I could remember where I got this tip, because implementing it has dramatically reduced my late fees. I have one small shelf devoted to library books on loan; the only other place in my apartment they're allowed to be is on my nightstand.

Manage due dates with a system. Before they moved to a fee model, I used LibraryElf to make sure I didn't rack up ridiculous overdue rates. Now that I'm bringing in less and reading more, I burn through books quickly enough that it's not an issue, but if you have problems getting stuff back on time, either a calendar reminder input into your own calendar as soon as you get home, or a LibraryElf subscription, might not be a bad idea.

That's probably already about as anal as it gets when it comes to a library strategy (although I didn't get into my Windex-ing the covers upon arrival at home, never know where that stuff has been). But if there are other things I'm missing or could benefit from, I'd love to hear them...


Image by IseFire via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.