On having too much stuff; and history in the street

. . .actually, that’s history at the boat landing.

Yesterday afternoon, for reasons too convoluted to go into here in full, save they included an exploration of the town of Gardiner, and the local grocery facilities, as well as a lightning tour of downtown, where I am pleased to report the Blue Sky Bakery bakes on.  Years ago, I thought they’d last five minutes.  Shows what I know.

From Gardiner, it being a gorgeous day, we drove down to Bowdoin, and came to rest, as one does, at the public boat launch.  There we found large placards on easels, and large swaths of grass and parking lot marked out in orange paint.

We got out to inspect one of the placards and found it be a history of a large sailing vessel, the name of which escapes me now, which was built at Bowdoin in the 1800s, when Bowdoin had been a notable ship-building town.  About that time, a gentlemen came up to us and introduced himself as being from the Bowdoin History House, and explained that the display was to illustrate Bowdoin’s history in the shipbuilding industry; the orange lines were there to demonstrate the size of each of the ships described on the placards.  So, we spent a pleasant half-hour with the gentleman, learning about the ships, and how the need for ships knees had just about deforested Bowdoin and the surrounding countryside by the end of the 1800s. . .and how, yes, Maine has always survived by selling pieces of itself until there are no more pieces to sell — forests grow back eventually, and the ice industry was perfectly sustainable, but they ain’t growing any more granite on those islands we took down to the tideline. . .

Anyhow, a pleasant afternoon, and I’m glad we played hookey, even though that means doing some Serious Catch Up today.

On another topic:   It transpires that we have Too Much Stuff.  This isn’t actually a surprise; writers as a breed tend to accumulate books and papers at a rate that regular people find. . .rather horrifying.  But we also have things.  Things that people gave us; things we brought for ourselves because Reasons; stones and shells and pinecones, because I’m One of Those People who pick up rocks and pinecones and seashells and then become attached to them, and. . .long story short, we’re going to have to reduce the things.

Back in the Dark Ages, before I met Steve, I moved every year.  Every. Year.  And it transpires that may have been a Coping Mechanism, because you really don’t tend to accumulate much when you know you’re going to have to box it all up and shift it in 12 months.  Living 23 years in one place gives one the illusion of permanence and we take on more than we need.

So, how-to questions:

I know some of my friends have had to weed their books — and of you I ask:  How did you go about it?  Had you a system?  I also know that some of my friends have had to cull their Stuff, in some cases very quickly.  I’d be interested in hearing how you decided what to keep and what to let go.

And now, I’m off to play Catch-Up.

Catch y’all later.


12 thoughts on “On having too much stuff; and history in the street”

  1. Well, that book weeding question is sure familiar! I’m in the process of taking a first pass right now and doing a pretty poor job of it. Nevertheless, I start by asking these questions:

    Can I live without owning a physical copy of the book?

    Is the book valuable/collectible?

    Does the book have great emotional value? eg the copy of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Flappers and Philosophers my father gave me for my 13th birthday

    Can I easily download the book using OverDrive and my Nook?

    And then I put it back on one of the overfilled bookshelves.

    Good luck!

  2. Ouch. I’m also looking at either reducing or eliminating my books — we’re looking to downsize for travel purposes and 30 years of “stuff” ain’t gonna fit in no suitcase… Gayle is trying to come to grips with the idea of having only the absolute minimums but freaking out about how to manage our pets (can’t downsize them!).

  3. Book weeding for me starts with the question, “Am I ever going to read this book again?” If the answer is no, then it is time for it to go.

    I have shelves full (well, boxes right now–we moved) of books I *haven’t* read yet (yes, that is a bit embarrassing to admit). The question here is, does the book still sound interesting, how long have I had it, and *why* haven’t I read it yet?

    Then, if I LOVED a book, read it so many times that we are family, it stays.

    Classics I tend to not accumulate because I can find them at almost any library. My Nook now has a wonderful repository of Classics that don’t take up room.

    Non-fiction research books: will I ever need these again? Can I get access to the general information again? (that one kid’s book on the weather is teetering on this question). If I can re-access the information if I ever need it, the book goes. I did not get to the “self improvement”, business, old computer books, and history books before we just had to pack and be out of the old place. I suspect many of those books are heading off to the library for their fund-raiser sale.

    Did I meet the author? Is the book autographed/personalized? Most of these will stay.

    Is this a family book? Sentimental value or simply antique and valuable?

    Unpacking my books will be an adventure. I wish I had been able to sort them more ruthlessly before we moved. However, I *love* my books!!

    Now, the pinecones, shells, feathers, and *stuff* I don’t know how to deal with that. I can’t help picking them up!!

  4. I have a friend who has a system she has threatened/offered to help me with. While you are packing stuff you have a friend going thru stuff. Any time they have a question on if you want to keep something they hold it up and ask. If you hesitate in any way it goes into the discard pile. The theory being if you have to think at all it’s not important enough to you to save. I have not yet been brave enough to take her up on the plan so don’t know how well it would work. My fear would be I’d automatically say yes to everything.

  5. I live in 625 square feet. I have a 10 x 10′ off site storage room for books (signed paperbacks are out there)and other stuff. If it won’t fit, something has to go.

  6. For books – my problem is that if I haven’t read it, or can’t remember how it was too read, I can’t let go of it. Unless I can dismiss it by author – sometimes I’ve collected multiple books by an author because s/he writes about interesting things. If I read one and it’s awful, I can often let go of others – this applies to both fiction and non-fiction. If I have read a book, yes, the question is “will I want to re-read this” and/or “does this have info I want”. Next question – can I get it elsewhere? Will this book be in the library,do/can I have it electronically?
    Stuff is actually easier for me, at least at the beginning. “Is this valuable, does it have a specific memory (that I want) attached, will I use it (for craft tools and materials, mostly), and is it irreplaceable?” If I don’t get at least a couple yeses on those, out it goes. But then I get tired and start thinking I could use it, somehow…

  7. It can be liberating to let go of books…

    My system was; looking at a book,

    1 Do I remember what this book is about? (If I don’t, it wasn’t that good…)
    2. Do I remember it fondly?
    3 Do I NEED it for anything? (rereading! is an acceptable answer)

    If NO to all of the above: TOSS IT! (Into a library/recycle/Good Will/even HalfPrice books — if you’ve got Used Book resellers in your area.)

    If YES to 1, CONTINUE TO 2. If No to 2, TOSS IT.
    Rinse and Repeat.

    Adding step 4: Do I need it physically? NO = Toss? Electronic? And you get to decide which.
    Also adding: Has it been on my TO BE READ PILE longer than 5 years? = YES = TOSS.

    ps: I have gotten ALL of your books in Electronic Format this year, because it makes it SO MUCH EASIER to reread them. One doesn’t even have to get up from the chair and go to the bookshelf for the next one. Just… hit the icon and READ! And enjoy. Thank you for all the years and light years of enjoyment.

  8. Books I give to Friends of the Library unless they are a classic and then I keep it. Don’t even talk about stuff I live in the same house that was built for my Great Grandmother and there is still a bunch of her stuff here + my parents and then there is my stuff and I love stuff. One day I will get rid of it but it will be hard!!!!

  9. I try to use this William Morris quote to guide me, though it works better for testing new things than weeding old things:

    If you want a golden rule that will fit everybody, this is it: Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.

  10. Wowzers. We have a similar problem, and periodically go through and reduce stuff. Often, it involves giving things to charity, giving things to friends, and unfortunately throwing things away when we have to. It depends on the value of the stuff, some collectors’ stuff is something that can just be put up on craigslist. There’s always the garage sale possibility too? We did pretty decently on ours before we moved — it gets rid of bulk stuff, but doesn’t give you the value for it as well.

    As far as clearing through books, I pretty much kept everything from my 4 favorite authors (liaden included :D) and then looked at the rest and tried to determine how likely it really was I was going to read it again and erred on getting rid of it. I mean if I need the book again, can probably find it at a used bookstore or whatnot for a couple bucks, so no reason to keep the clutter. Have fun!

  11. Repeating most of the sentiments above, I feel your pain. I have been reducing the level of STUFF in my own house. I would add the criteria of “Has anyone else expressed a desire to have this?” and then it may become a GIFT!
    My belongings include books that belonged to my parents and are out of print but otherwise useless; Baby and toddler clothes that want to someday be part of a quilt; gently used toys; furniture refinishing projects; and photo albums OMG.
    My clothing is probably the easiest to cull. If I have not used it or worn it in the last two years it is gone.

    It is a challenge to be dispassionate. I wish you both luck and fortitude.

  12. We’ve been working on decluttering for a year or two now, and doing pretty well; many boxes have departed to the thrift store, and I try to keep one collecting items at all times.
    But I do have a small book hoarding problem, and tend to fling myself protectively in front of them, shrieking, YES I NEED THEM! ALL. No, wait. I can give up this one. Here, take it. There. I downsized the books. Don’t we all feel better?

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