Thursday, September 20, 2012
I have a problem with clutter. I’m not at the Hoarders stage yet, and I’d rather not end up there. But I can be a bit of a pack rat, especially where reading material is concerned. I imagine most if not all writers have the same problem. There’s nothing worse than knowing you read something somewhere in some magazine and trying to find it again. Between that and what I suspect is an inborn reverence for the written and the printed word, I rarely throw anything out if it’s bound between covers or on a glossy page. God help me if a fire ever breaks out in the house.
Part of the problem stems from a move I made about five years ago. I went from renting a semi-detached house with two floors and an attic to owning a mobile home. The house and all its extra room let my packrattitude run wild. I could go on book binges and then stash them in the attic and tell myself I didn’t have a problem because they weren’t visible.
That’s fine for a house. Trailers come with a whole other set of criteria. Space, for one. For a time I considered buying a double wide just so I’d have an extra room for the books. I kid you not.
Fortunately the trailer’s owner liked to do crafts. Since it was just her and her husband, they converted the second bedroom into a work room and the second bathroom into storage space. When I looked in the storage room, it was floor to ceiling shelves. It was like she knew she’d be selling her home to a book hoarder some day. That front bedroom would make the perfect writing room, too, with all my reference material only steps away. I agreed to buy it on the spot.
Long story short, I got my collection crammed in there. I have no idea how. Imagine thirty years of accumulated paperbacks, hardbacks, magazines and sketch pads crammed into a space the size of the average bathroom. That’s an apartment-sized bathroom, by the way. Those shelves, which the owner worried how she was going to get rid of, served me perfectly. There are books stacked on shelving from floor to ceiling and boxes piled up on the floor. I have a narrow little walkway so I can get in. It really does look like a scene from Hoarders in there. If the whole house looked like that, I could probably call the producers and get myself on TV.
The other day I bit the bullet and went rooting through the boxes, some of which I haven’t touched since I moved in five years ago. There are tons of writing magazines, SF mags from back in the ‘80s, and fanzines from my con-going days. Most of it I’ll probably never look at again. Why the hell am I keeping this stuff?
One thing’s for sure: if I ever find myself housebound, I’ll never run out of reading material.
Scarily, that’s not all of it. Remember, I’m a writer.
In my bedroom closet are piles of spiral notebooks, tablets and file folders with every manuscript I’ve sold, drafted or abandoned over at least the past twenty years. I know I have stuff from the ‘80s in there because the files are marked. This is in addition to the stuff in the filing cabinet, piled on the desk in the writing room, and sitting on the hard drives of my desktop computer (the indestructible Troglodyte-1000 from 1990) and my more current laptop. Oh, and then there’s the pile of notebooks on the end table next to the bed. Those are the works in progress. That file changes every seven-eight months as old stories peter out and new ideas emerge. There are never fewer than four spiral notebooks stacked on that table at any one time.
In addition, there are the books and magazines on the coffee table in the living room (so I can read during commercial breaks), the miscellaneous papers on the dining room table (I don’t eat there; I each on the couch), and the stack of bills on the nightstand. Oh, and the wire book rack in the bedroom where I keep the books I intend to read next. In my house, a flat surface without some form of printed material on it is rare indeed. I shudder to think how many forests have had to die so I can clutter up my house with their corpses. Acreage the size of the state of Oregon comes to mind, with maybe parts of Washington thrown in.
Life would be so much easier, and the house less crammed, if I’d just throw in the towel and buy a Kindle. All those books in the book room could be replaced by an object the size of one paperback. A whole library reduced to portability, and a lot easier to dust. But where’s the fun in that?
Someday I’ll screw up my courage and actually go through those boxes and those closets and winnow out some of the crap. I’m not looking forward to that. Maybe I’ll wait until it reaches the point where I need a storage locker. Until then, I’ll just shut the door.