No, this isn't World's Worst Hoarders territory, but it did make me reflect on such things.
Before I relocated (NY → FL, cost of living issues), I had a book collection that obstinately refused to be pruned down. Six full-sized shelves in my office alone. Navigating the place was like a potential re-enactment of the collapsing-library scene at the beginning of The Mummy. (And I don't have the excuse of being as cute as Rachel Weisz to make up for it, either.)
The hardest part of having such a pile was not tiptoeing between the stacks, but dealing with the minefield of one's own justifications for not letting go of any of it. Time and again I'd pull books off the stack to donate them or sell them off, and the same damn justifications for doing nothing would rear their heads: I Haven't Even Read This Yet, I Ought To Re-Read This Eventually — and worst of all, I Might End Up Needing This Someday. That last one was a killer-diller, because I'd gotten into the habit of thinking of any book purchase as potential "research material".
By the time my house had gone on the market and I realized I had to compress everything to fit in a single storage container, such illusions died faster than I would have believed possible. We didn't keep any of our furniture, but I knew if I didn't slim down apart from that, I was gonna regret it bigtime. And so the Great Purge began.
And — oh, irony! — once it began, it was hard to stop.
Remove that one core reason — "Oh, I might need this someday" — and it's like yanking out the keystone to an Arc de Triomphe -sized monolith of justification. The whole damn thing caves in, and you find yourself a-slashin' and a-burnin'.
Some of that, I admit, was making up for having not done it for so long before. It wasn't just the books that went, but the movies as well. There, I had also hoarded freely, at one point accumulating a stack of unopened DVDs as tall as I was. And in the same way, many of those were movies I told myself I needed to have — even if I never did get around to so much as breaking the shrink wrap on them, let alone watching them, let alone making something out of the experience of having watched them.
Such is the nature of hoarding, I guess: you look for a reason to hang onto something, anything, and build all these psychological methodologies to never challenge those reasons. And then one day you wake up, and your house is a landfill, and every room is Fibber's Closet.
Keep in mind, I hadn't reached the point where I was saving pencil shavings in sandwich bags (or things worse than pencil shavings, if you get my drift). But it was bad all the same, and it was only after I left all that stuff behind did I realize it wasn't the stuff I felt most liberated from having parted with. It was the sneaky excuses.
What parting with all that also helped me do is sharpen all the more completely my sense of what is important. Artbooks that I knew I was never likely to see again stayed. Novels I read once and hung onto more out of a sense of obligation than anything else (e.g., a person like me requires having this on the shelf) — those went. Doubly so if they existed in a Kindle edition, which I could always pick up again sometime in the future if the urge to re-read ever did bite.
The house we're in now is smaller, and the office I'm typing this in is more sparsely furnished. Three bookshelves cover one wall, all of which are comfortably full. I'm not adding another one if I can help it.
New York City
Other Lives Of The Mind