I try to keep the book reviews here D&D-, or at least fantasy-, related, but in this case I make an exception. I just read a really good self-help book.
And I’m not really one for reading self-help books. I see lots of them in my job, but I can only think of two I ever read: The expectant father by Armin Brott (sort of a what-to-expect-when-she’s-expecting and general advice guide) and Lost in the cosmos by Walker Percy (a satire of self-help books that is also rather insightful). This week I just added a third: The hoarder in you by Robin Zasio. Dr. Zasio is associated with a TV show on “real” hoarders (like the Collyer Brothers), but the book is more aimed toward those of us who just have “hoarding tendencies” — those of us who just clutter their lives with stuff.
Do you have things that you mean to give away a gifts, but never quite get a chance to do so and they sit somewhere in your house? Do you keep things that are not immediately useful, but which might come in handy or be repairable? Do you have a lot of projects you have gathered supplies for, but never started or never finished? Do you keep things people gave to you as gifts, but you never really use or wear, because you don’t want to hurt the giver’s feelings? Do you have multiple mementos from the same people, places, or events? Do you have a collection with no clear scope or limits? Do you sometimes buy a second copy of something because you forgot you have another just like it? These are all hoarding tendencies. The book talks a lot about shopping and impulse purchases but in my case it’s more that I don’t get rid of stuff than that I keep adding new stuff. Some examples:
I buy a bag or two of books at each of my local library’s two yearly book sales, and at one point had four or five book cases, each with three or four shelves, completely filled. I kept books I’ve read and might want to read again, books I hadn’t yet read but might, books I wanted to pass along to someone in particular, books I wanted to pass on to someone but not anyone in particular. Books from college courses; some I’d never read or barely used and had no real interest in returning to. Books I bought on impulse long ago when I could really afford to be buying books, and kept because otherwise the money was wasted. So I was sort of hoarding books.
My garage has all kinds of loose screws and nuts, spare parts from furniture kits, pots from seedlings and small plants we put in the yard, wood and other materials, tools I never use or which need to be fixed, and of course lots of junk too good to throw out but which were passed over at our last garage sale.
While I would argue that all the miniatures I own will eventually find use in a wargame or D&D, and I have given away or traded most of the ones I don’t want or need, the truth is I also have tons of stuff that I thought I might use to build terrain or buildings, or incorporate into dioramas, or use to convert or assemble new miniatures, and much of it sits untouched. For years. Sure part of the problem is I just don’t always have the time for hobbies that I’d like, but when I’m honest with myself I know I don’t need to keep the hundreds of popsicle sticks, coffee stirrers, and bits of balsa wood because I’m not going to build a pair of scale pirate ships, and I should toss the 20 or 30 spare pill bottles that fill a drawer in my painting desk, and those old paints someone gave me could go in the trash, as could the old mouse pads and who knows what else I have.
So after reading this book, I at least recognize that some of the stuff I have accumulated has no good reason to be cluttering up my house. I’m not about to purge everything, but this book has some great advice for beginning the process and tackling it in manageable bits.
I think the most important insight the author has is that some things we keep because we are afraid of some bad consequence if we let it go, but in fact keeping them produce worse consequences. We think that if we get rid of something, we’ll miss it, or need it, hurt someone’s feelings, or are throwing away memories or lessons learned. But we are made anxious by clutter (I need to do something about/get organized/find a place to put this), we are reminded of bad memories (negative mementos or just reminders of what we never got around to doing with the stuff), and perhaps most of all we waste the space they take up, time spent looking for things or moving the clutter around, and money.
So I’m ready to let go of the articles and books I used to write my master’s thesis 18 years ago, and it’s OK if I don’t expand it into a book. Keeping that stuff was just a reminder of a failed ambition… is it even really a failure if I change my mind about wanting to do it?
I’m OK with letting go some of the swords that don’t have a place on the wall.
I can toss some of the extra hardware in the garage, because if I ever needed a screw just that size I could get one at a hardware store.
I can even give myself permission to get rid of books I might want to read some day because when that day comes, there will still be libraries (well, fingers crossed).
If you find yourself clearing off the dining room table to eat, or clearing off the kitchen counter to prepare food, or shaking and shaking the junk drawer to get it to close, maybe you should do yourself a favor and read this book.