A Clutter Of Dreams

Thursday, April 8, 2010

I am behind on my blogging as you, no doubt, have already discerned.  My only solace is that I have a good excuse: in June, the Navy is sending us to Sigonella, Sicily (and sending me back to flying aircraft instead of desks.  Woo Hoo!).

Thus, Furnace Girl and I are in the midst of sorting and organizing the contents of our household-- boxes everywhere!--in preparation for the move (Muffin, the two year-old, helps where she can).  Most rooms in the house are in a topsy-turvy state, and with boxes stacked to the ceiling, I've found it difficult to even find my laptop, let alone get up a post.

Today however, an idea struck me, one I felt I needed to share with you, dear reader.

You see Furnace Girl and I are members of a breed of the most terrible interminable kind of packrat (the sickness will be on the little one soon as well, I fear).  We keep everything.  Old pots.  Pictures.  Gardening equipment.  Motor oil.  Christmas decorations (OK, maybe this last one is allowable).

Every three years or so, each time we move, we pledge to winnow down our household menagerie, to commit to garage sale-ing the excess, to find a way to dig up willing foster parents for those items we can bear to part with.  Historically, we've had some success, but never as much success as we'd like.

In the field of Packrattery, I am undoubtedly the most skilled--uh, er, the worst offender, and I am positively incurable when it comes to keeping books.  Most of our furniture stands against walls in the form of bookshelves whose sole purpose it is to receive with open arms the many many dozens of texts purchased over the years.  How-To's.  Travel guides.  Reference books.  Poetry.  Fiction.  Non-fiction.  You name it and we probably have it.

But a decision has been made: No more!  Recently, Furnace Girl and I vowed to each other (and to whomever else will listen) to live more simply, to lighten our load, to decrease our footprint.  In plain language, that means owning less stuff.  For me--and here Furnace Girl gives me THE Skeptical Eye--less stuff equals fewer books.

That brings us to this morning.  As I dove into my assignment--beginning to sort through the various texts to choose the ones to give away--the literary equivalent of butterflies stewed in my stomach (OK.  Not really.  But I want to be a fiction writer, so bear with me).

Steadily, my discard pile grew--books like Vonnegut's "The Sirens of Titan" and "The Collected Poems of Wallace Stevens" and a biography of Tesla by Margaret Cheney and "The Story of Sushi" by Trevor Corson.  I felt good.  I sipped coffee between rounds of purging.  All was going well.  When I stopped to survey my progress, I realized that the books chosen to be put up for adoption fall neatly into two categories:
1) Books I read long ago but now realize I will never read again ("Sirens" is one example, a book I truly love);

2) Books I purchased hoping to read, but now realize I will never read (at least not in the next twenty-years);
Sitting here typing this, I am looking at the pile of books in this second category with some amazement.  You see, dear reader, there's been a change.  I've discussed TBR management before, but gazing upon these volumes, I somehow feel a sense of relief.  I think I know why.

Let me explain.  In years past, when I bought a book, I felt certain at the time that I would read it--and soon.  However, after some intervening period, the unread book went on my shelf and became part of the tableau, part of the stock scenery in the house along with other volumes--some read, some simply eye-candy.  Even then, my intent to eventually devour the book's contents still existed.  For awhile.

But sooner or later, the book inevitably stopped having a mental or physical presence in my life; rather it became an idea, an aspiration, a "maybe someday."  That's when I should have gotten rid of the offending text.  But I didn't.  I couldn't.  Somehow doing so would have felt like giving up.

Now, after having been away for a year, after having lived for weeks at a time with only two or three books by the bedside, finding myself surrounded by several hundred "maybe somedays" feels all wrong.  It doesn't fit.

It's like all these books are someone else's "maybe somedays."  Giving them away feels like the right thing to do now.  Let them go out into the world and brighten someone else's days.

Rest assured, there are still plenty of volumes I have dubbed keepers: Joyce; Hemingway; a hundred others; a few unread books to inhabit my bookshelves and bedside and TBR; it is not as if I am giving my soul away.  But I can tell already that once these books are gone, the lack of clutter will breed focus, and I suppose that's what we were after all along.

What about you?  What steps do you take or have you taken to clear away the clutter and sharpen your focus, both in your writing life and in other areas?

12 bolts from the blue:

Liza said...

Well, there is a pile marked yard sale behind the false walls in our basement. Hmmm, I think it has been there for about five years now.

Portia said...

Oh gosh, I have a huge problem with books too. But even if it's one I may never read, I have a hard time letting it go! (And I've bought the same book twice a number of times.) Books are my biggest weakness, but I am finally considering buying an iPad to use as an e-reader. At least those "maybe somedays" can sit on my virtual nightstand.

Emily Cross said...

OMG!! Noooo!!! Don't throw them awaaaay!!

LOL, see how bad i am? I am the queen of hoarding stuff, we have a shed with over 200+ books (from me, my brother and mam) - none of us could actually declutter our books!

I get what you mean about the second pile of books, you should drop by the fillinthegaps blog - it's a blog which brainchild of andromeda and moonrat where we have a list 100books that we always meant to read but never seem to get round to!

P.S. oh wow italy = lovely weather + food

So jealous!

Travener said...

On the cusp of a move four years ago I got rid of 90 percent of my books -- as you say, the ones I'd read but KNEW I wouldn't read again and that I WASN'T saving for the child-units to read (my parents had a great library I used as a kid growing up) and ones I'd bought but had accepted I was not going to actually ever read. (One exception: War and Peace. Still have it. Still unread.)

Anyway, buona fortuna in Italia! Sei fortunato, viaggando li.

Christi Goddard said...

I got a divorce. I feel profoundly uncluttered these days. :-)

Claire Dawn said...

I beg to differ, my Dad and I are packrat kings of th eworld. I'm the same way. Can't throw a book out- even a bad one.

Donna Hole said...

I'm hoping someone will gift me an e-reader. I tell everyone I'll give up my bookshelves.

I haven't convinced anybody yet.

I have a delete folder for cutting word count. After a while, those darlings stop screaming at me and I see how monsterous they really were.

But I tell ya; it's hard to throw away a word in any format.


Lola Sharp said...

Oh, oh, I know this disease well! But, you are stressing me out, just reading about you getting rid of those books. *shudder*
Plus, books are pretty.

Good luck with the move. Nice place to get sent to!

Fellow Packrat

Saulgoode said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Saulgoode said...

You people READ? Like, books and stuff?


Haven't you heard of cable? Internet?

I feel like I just turned over a log and found a whole nuther civilization that I thought had long-ago ceased to exist!

Sweet. Caught glimpse of a buncha leprechauns, I guess.


- Eric
My blog

Meghan Ward said...

Whenever I see books on decluttering my house, I have to stop and read them. I'm not a packrat, but my husband is and together we manage to have a basement full of crap that never goes away. I get rid of stuff every six months but we seem to replace it faster than we can clean it out. I sold a ton of my books on Amazon Marketplace and once I get an iPad, will probably sell more.

I'm so glad, by the way, that you aren't flying desks anymore. :)

Jon Paul said...

Liza--Yeah, that sounds very familiar, only they get moved around in boxes from time to time.

Portia--Funny, we got a Kindle for Furnace Girl last year. I expected it might change things but it's had no impact at all. I suppose I just like real books better.

Emily--LOL! It is pretty funny how passionate we get about books, looked at objectively. But where's the fun in looking at things objectively? Yeah, Italy should be fun.

Travener--War and Peace is one of my favorite paperweights also. I think I've had my copy since college in fact.

Christi--Not sure what the wife will think of that idea but I'll put it to her.

Claire--We were like that for a long time, but with all the travel it takes a lot of energy. I suppose our attitude might change once we retire and stay in one place for awhile.

Donna--True dat.

Lola--Sorry don't mean to stress you. Look at it this way: I'll be less stressed, so there'll be less stress in the world, so each person's individual share will be smaller, so your stress will in fact be less at the end of this evolution. Convinced?

Eric--Welcome! And thanks for the follow. Internet? What's that?

Meghan--Me too! I'm happy to put my desk flying days behind me, at least for a couple years.

Thanks everyone for commenting and for stopping by!

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