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.


5 Responses to “packrat”

  1. This post = me. Worst/best weekend of my life was going through my garage – really going through boxes instead of glancing in them and thinking “oh heck, I’ll just save it all” – over two eight-hour days and throwing away half a closet’s worth of stuff. I still breathe a little funny thinking about it. And another big cleanse is on tap this year…[gets a paper bag]

  2. Jazzlet Says:

    I do it bit by bit because I have seem to have a decision limit, so many decisions, especially to throw out and I have to take a break as I can’t make any more. Realising that and rolling with it has meant I end up getting more done as I know sorting sessions won’t be hours long so I can happily do a bit here and there. Before I realised about my decision limit I wouldn’t start unless I’d got hours free so I could finish, then I still wouldn’t finish as I’d run out of decision making mojo.

    But I still have a concert ticket from 1973 – The Who at Charlton.

  3. ArcLight Says:

    I’ve read suggestions that keeping a digital copy is a nice compromise. If you kept a magazine because of an article you liked, scan the article. Scan your old stories. Take pictures of the faded old concert tee you’re never going to fit into again.

    I’m a packrat, too, so those suggestions haven’t really taken hold but I figured I’d pass them on just in case.

  4. Thomas Stacey Says:

    @Arclight, I like that suggestion and could probably even get behind it because for years I worked in a document management industry where we were doing just that and taking boxes and boxes of documents from lawyers and government and turning them into digital archives or usable electronic documents for lawsuits.

    For myself I found that I am mostly pack ratish with my books and book collection. I have books from when I was still a teenager or younger that I haven’t read in a couple of years, or five years for some. Especially since I’m just getting all my books out of boxes where they were for 3 years cause I didn’t have space to have much, if any of them, out. Still I am finding I don’t have shelf space for it all even with more room, and I’m going through and deciding what would be better off donating or selling to a used bookstore, and what is important enough for me to box back up if I don’t have shelf space for it. This is part of the reason for every new author I start reading, I’m trying to convert to the Kindle or iBook version instead of the paper version that I still won’t have space to display or put anywhere really.

  5. Carol Says:

    I’m dragon-ish, myself. Far more fabric/trim/etc. comes into the house than ever goes out as clothing or otherwise. Boxes and boxes of fabric… But my car still fits in the garage, and there’s room to walk through the house. Mostly.

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