April 16, 2014
I’m definitely a pack rat, but I try to be careful, keeping things in boxes and on shelves, all clean and neat. What this means is I have a lot of boxes, and a lot of things packed away, and it’s hard finding time to go through them all to see if I really need that stuff. So the stuff accumulates, and it’s easy to ignore it because it’s in boxes. I make sure that things that really are trash go into the trash — I read accounts of real clinical hoarders with a vague anxiety that without vigilance, that could be me. This means I’m happy when trash day comes around, because I take out the trash and it’s a battle won in the war against entropy.
One of my projects for this year is going through a bunch of those boxes, many of which are full of manuscripts, schoolwork, magazines, and so on, from my college days on forward. I’m taking it in bits and pieces, and trying to be calm about it. There are people who say, “If you haven’t looked in that box in ten years, you obviously don’t need it and should just throw the whole thing out,” but I don’t hold with that at all. I should be allowed to keep some things. And really, you never know. (Pack rat’s mantra, right there.) With all the random costuming and crafting I do, I really have gone into my closet or various boxes and pulled out odds and ends that I haven’t used in ten years and found a use for them. So I’m going through these boxes and finding things like my acceptance letter to grad school, my acceptance letter to Odyssey, marked-up manuscripts of my trunk novels, and I’m really glad those didn’t get thrown out. Even though some militant organizers would say I probably should. I’m trying to land in happy medium territory, here.
All this is complicated by being a writer. I write things down, and I save them. I have folders full of magazine articles and pictures I saved because they might give me story ideas. All these notes and folders and manuscripts are evidence of my progress — they’re concrete representations of my work. This is all complicated further by a conversation I had a couple of years ago with a library archivist who said I, as a professional working writer, need to save everything and bequeath it to a collection because it might be important to researchers later. I remember looking at her with suppressed horror thinking, But I’m trying to get rid of things… Again, I’m compromising. I’ve invested in bankers boxes and my real, actual writing work goes in there, now, where it can by easily stored and accessed. I’m trying to split the difference, tossing things like schoolwork and twenty year old magazines, saving my idea notebooks and marked up manuscripts. I’m not torturing myself — if I’m not sure about something, I save it, at least for now.
What’s interesting to me is what the passage of time has done to my packrat tendencies. In my twenties, when I was an undergrad and all the way through grad school, I saved absolutely everything — ticket stubs from castle tours in England, programs from plays I went to in college, flyers for events I organized. It’s astonishing what I saved, because I thought it was important, because I thought I might need it. Twenty years on, it’s very clear I really didn’t need all that stuff, and I clearly didn’t use it in all that time. So now, I have a much better idea of what I really need to save, and what I really will use. I don’t save everything anymore, and that’s a bit encouraging.