Monday, April 28, 2014

Decluttering the Backlog of Books to Read

Print: So many books, so little time - Frank Zappa
Print by Lab No. 4

Are your bookshelves overflowing with unread books? Here are some reflections to inspire you to consider doing some weeding, and one technique for deciding what you might let go of.

Deirdre Saoirse Moen accumulates a lot of books from conferences she attends, which leads her to run out of shelf space. When she goes to cull, she has an interesting approach; she does a quick read of page 1 and page 119 to decide if a book is worth keeping.
For books with prologues, I use the first page of the first chapter as my page 1. If page 119 isn’t a full page, I use the closest full page.
Her blog post shows that when she did her May 2013 culling, 21 books got a yes to both pages; 8 were OK on page 1, but not page 119; and 18 got a no on page 1.

And here's Jen Doll:
Some people are plagued with guilt about the books they've left undone. They either unhappily force themselves to finish once they start, or they consciously decide to move on and feel like quitters for doing so.

I have heard tell of this type of reader. This reader is not me. I am an unabashedly proud leaver of half-finished books. ...

As for the book that simply didn't grab me by the first 100 pages — well, I consider that giving the book a chance. That's the first and maybe even the second date, the time in which I must be enticed in order to go forward. ...

Reading is not about the chore of finishing a book, it's about pleasure, regardless of the type of pleasure we expect from reading (some want a challenge, some want a good story, some want to look smart).
Then there's the counting of how many books we own vs. how many we can realistically read in our remaining lifetime. James Collins made that calculation:
I am not in any way a collector of books, but I am an accumulator of them. Counting shelves and estimating an average number per shelf, I figure that my bookcases hold about 4,250 books. In addition, I own over 100 books on my Kindle, and there are at least a couple of hundred in boxes in the basement. Let’s call it 5,000 books. ...

How many of my books have I already read? ... I am a little shocked to discover that on any given shelf, I seem to have read ... only about one-third of the books.

That leaves around 3,300 unread books. If I read one book a week ... but you and I know that I don’t read one book a week, I read a couple a month, grazing in a few others. If I read two books a month, it would take me 137 years to read those unread books. ... I am not going to live for 137 more years, and therefore I do not have enough time left to read the books I own.
Which brings to mind Italo Calvino's wondrous list of sections in the bookstore, which includes:
Books That If You Had More Than One Life You Would Certainly Also Read But Unfortunately Your Days Are Numbered
Related Posts:
Book Lovers: Stop Reading Books You Don't Like
It's OK to Give Up on a Book
Not Every Book is Worth Finishing
Don't Spend Time on Books You Don't Enjoy

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Storing Other People's Stuff: 3 Perspectives

man holding up an egg-shaped rug with a bunny on it
Mike Mozart's bunny rug from his childhood — not stored at his parent’s home! Photo from Flickr, licensed under Creative Commons.

Lots of people wind up storing things that aren’t their own. I know people holding onto things that are their children’s — which might make some sense if the children were in college or in their first small apartments, but these children are now 38 and 40.

In Love It or Lose It: Living Clutter-Free Forever, Barbara Hemphill and Maggie Bedrosian summarize the problem:
Some of your clutter accumulates because you are putting other people’s needs ahead of your own. You let your kids store stuff in your garage, because their apartment is so small. You keep the boxes of archives for the community history project. ...

When such choices are made freely and space is abundant, these may be wise and generous gestures. When they intrude on your own flexibility or peace-of-mind you have every right to say “No!” You do not owe square footage to anyone else. You do not need to agree to store anything for anyone.

Peter Walsh says something similar in It’s All Too Much:
Being prepared to look after things for someone else is a great and generous gesture, but … it’s a question of balance. If your home is bursting at the seams with things that belong to others, there are two obvious questions that you need to ask:

If this thing is so important to someone else, why is it sitting in my basement?

Whose life am I living here — my own, surrounded with the thing I love and cherish, or someone else’s, cluttered with the things they cannot or will not remove from my space?

So what do you do about it? Erica Sofrina asked Karen Kingston, author of Clear Your Clutter With Feng Shui, to address this problem. Here’s part of what Karen wrote:
We’ve all heard of empty nest syndrome that some parents experience when their children grow up and leave home. But in many cases, cluttered nest syndrome would be a more exact description, because the children leave home but often their stuff does not. ...

In just about all cases, if and when the children ever do come to reclaim their stuff, their lives have usually changed so much since leaving home that a good percentage of it turns out to be of no use or interest to them any more. 
If you are a parent in this situation, and much time has elapsed with no prospect of any change on the horizon, here’s something you can try:

Each week, photograph a few items your child has left in your care in their eternally rent-free family storage facility, and send the images to them by email. Include a message explaining that you need the space, and you will be disposing of these items by the end of the week unless they can give you a date in the not-too-distant future when they will come home and collect them. 
If you do not hear back from them by the end of the week, jettison them in any way you see fit. … Then go ahead and send another batch of photos, and keep going, week after week, so they get the message that you really are serious about this.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Collections Done Well Are Not Clutter

Dr. Abraham Chachoua with his elephant collection; photo by Kate Bornstein
Abraham Chachoua, oncologist, NYU Langone Medical Center. Photo by Kate Bornstein, used with her permission. Kate says: Real good guy, beloved by patients, nurses, docs.

I don't have the collecting instinct myself, but a lot of people do. In her book Why People Buy Things They Don’t Need, written in 2004, Pamela Danziger says that “collecting is a passion for over 40 percent of U.S. households” — and that “the typical collecting household maintains more than three separate collections.”

She says the most popular collections include:
  • Coins, collected by an estimated 27 million Americans
  • Figurines and sculpture, 20 million
  • Trading cards, 18 million
  • Dolls, 16 million
  • Christmas items, 15 million
  • Plush/bean bag toys, 14 million
  • Crystal figurines, 12 million
  • Die-cast cars and models, 12 million
  • Art prints and lithographs, 10 million
  • Miniatures, 10 million
The joys of collecting

Allan Gurganus tells of meeting a woman who collected ancient shoe buckles. He was 16; she was much older.
She whispered, “Care to know the secret of happiness, young man?”

Born acquisitive, I nodded.

“Collect something,” she said.
Some people obviously get a lot of pleasure from their collections. For example, there’s a story in The New York Times about Bonnie Mackay and her collection of 3,000 or so Christmas ornaments. And each ornament has a story.
That Raggedy Andy on the tree is the first ornament a friend gave her; she had lost tracks of the friend, but the ornament kept his memory alive, and a few years ago, using the Internet, she was able to find him in Hawaii. 
It’s interesting, she says: no friend has ever given her an ornament she has not loved. She has a great feeling of peace looking at her tree.
And when asked about the coolest things in their homes, people will mention their collections. One person noted the wall of mugs collected from her family’s travels. Mike in Brooklyn has a very personal collection:
Figurines of characters I have performed on stage. They run a gambit from Charlie Brown to Papageno to Old Deuteronomy … just to name a few.

The cautions about collecting

If you enjoy collecting, take a look at Jacki Hollywood Brown’s post on Unclutterer about what makes for a good collection. For example:
Your collection does not take up so much space that it impairs the normal functioning of your home. Because your collection reflects your life, you’ve taken the time to arrange the pieces to complement the beauty of your home.

You might be able to sell a few pieces for a profit but you’re not counting on it for your retirement savings plan.

The story behind the elephant collection

Curious about Dr. Chachoua’s elephants? I certainly was, and I found the answer in the The Forest and the Trees: The Cancer Institute at NYU Langone, 2012/2103 Report (PDF):

Dr. Chachoua’s office was once sparse, he explains, until years ago when a patient placed a small elephant statuette on his desk, assuring him it would bring good luck. Another patient showed up later with an elephant to put next to the first. A third patient who noticed the first two brought one back from a trip. Patients kept bringing more elephants, crowding Dr. Chachoua’s desk and shelves so that he had to build a new set of shelves to contain the spillover, followed by yet another set.  
Today, Dr. Chachoua explains, the elephants are an element of the care his patients receive, however small. “It gives them a chance to talk about something other than cancer for a few minutes,” he says.
Now there’s a benefit from collecting that’s unlike any other.

Related Posts:
Reader Question: Controlling and Displaying the Collection
Collections on Display: Shells and More
Organizing and Displaying the Collection: Thimbles