A neighbor of mine, a funny guy who used to be in some punk band that people were all crazy about twenty years ago, but who is confounded by the aura of celebrity around mention of said band in his presence, is moving to LA this week or next. He has been offloading a lot of his belongings.
I spent the last month visiting my storage unit and downsizing it to save some money in the upcoming months, as the introductory rate was about to go up to the price of a week’s worth of groceries, give or take, so I went over to assess his earthly possessions out of a sense of perhaps misplaced camaraderie. I found similar piles to those that had been stacked in my own storage space way out near Point Pinole, where my friend’s husband says they keep the bodies, and realized I was not alone in my chagrin as of late regarding earthly possessions. Regardless, I left with a number of his CDs, including one of said punk band, because it was a good freaking band.
It seems the biggest problem I have is my collection of books, which has morphed or shrunken over the years, depending on space constraints. As I’ve stated in the past, I have an addiction. An addiction which I’ve curbed slightly due to recently watching my relatives cart a couple of trailer loads full of books from my grandfather’s house after he passed away.
Not only did they fill trailers, his closets were stuffed with books. There were books under his bed. There were books in the cupboards. He likely read most of the books he collected in his last years, and some of the collection were probably very valuable, but the sheer volume of books collected and retained in those spaces overwhelmed the handful of cousins, aunts and uncles responsible for sorting through them after the fact, and thus all were rendered fit for the El Cerrito Recycling Center, where they were offloaded and promptly scooped up by art dealers lurking in the shadows.
Because I grew up with little money and not many material belongings aside from the essentials (clothes, bedding, some CD’s and books within reason, usually purchased through sporadically earned allowance), once I got my first full-time job I got busy collecting everything I had been deprived of in my youth. I bought clothes, shoes, books galore, and CDs. I bought sheets and towels and random paraphernalia. I bought all the music my parents had forbade me from listening to growing up. I bought a buncha crap I sure didn’t need.
Then, after four years in one place, my husband and I started moving every year or two. Each time we moved, we left a ton of stuff behind, stuff that had seemed relevant but in retrospect merely collected dust. And we schlepped. A lot. Of Crap.
When I recently moved to my new room in an Oakland Victorian, I had a mattress someone had given me, my guitars, and the bare essential clothes I needed (three pairs of black pants, a handful of black tank tops, a black hoodie, some cardigans, socks and underwear). I didn’t have any books, just my journal. I had a little black table and the old black Mac laptop my friend gave me.
It was awesome, having so little. Nothing to worry about cleaning. Easy to find where stuff was. Less laundry to wash.
My things remained in storage for about a month and a half. After living amongst my grandparents old things back in 2008 for a few years, I was kind of over stuff. A lot of my things and almost everything they had left behind had been ruined by the black mold that had been growing in the walls of their house and when I’d left there, I’d dumped about half or more of what my husband and I had owned out of necessity.
Fast forward to recently, and the idea of owning less has been developing for years, yet here I was, still hoarding an entire storage unit worth of stuff. Having to save money by paring down made me really go through what I possessed with a fine toothed comb. As I started parsing through my belongings and bringing one car load at a time back to my new room, it started to get crowded. There were boxes of clothes I hadn’t even missed, and which now don’t even fit. But the thrifty tightwad in me kept saying, “What if you need them?”
I ended up donating a lot to Goodwill workers who had to pry what I was handing to them from my clutched fingers. “Thanks for thinking of us,” they said, as I ran away lest I yank those items back out of their truck. I donated an old stereo with the working CD but broken tape player, a fan, a $200 Guess fake fur white coat, a pleather Goth looking coat, a dish rack, bags of clothes. I recycled old papers.
I filled three bags and two boxes with books I knew I’d likely never read but had paid good money for and brought them to the library where I work, in order to donate them, holding back a bag of second thoughts I couldn’t quite let go of which are now sitting by my desk.
But tell me, do I really need “The Martha Rules”? (In my defense, my aunt gave it to me. Sentiment is a killer.)
Yet…staring at me in my new bedroom is a wall full of books.
They don’t all fit on the one small bookshelf I have. They’re stacked willy nilly, on top of the bookshelf, two deeps on the shelves, to the side of the bookshelf. But I don’t want to let any of them go. They are stressing me out. I’ve read two articles on how to reduce books: Letting Go of Paper and Books and Breaking the Sentimental Attachment to Books. (A third article talks about getting trade-in credit. I just don’t have the energy to go schlep my stuff so someone can pick over it and tell me they’re not worth a cent…although that $200 jacket gets me a bit teary eyed when I think about it.) I can’t seem to further par them down, though I bet you a million bucks I haven’t read three fourths of them, and likely won’t in this lifetime.
I work in a library for crying out loud. I can check out most books. But there’s this apocalyptic side of me that worries libraries won’t house books forever, that those of us that held on to books will someday again have valuable possessions. Pictures of book burnings come to mind. We trust the libraries to keep the books, but libraries are weeding and paring down every single day, I know this, because I do so myself. We are replacing more and more books with computers. The librarian at the high school down the street says her principal cut the budget down to one third what it used to be, because, “Soon we won’t even have books anyways. Everyone will use tablets.”
The idea of having all of my books on a computer or a nook makes me want to cry. I love books. I’ve schlepped these books around for years because books are a solid item worth keeping. Books are the most perfect item. Electronic “books” can be lost or damaged in a heartbeat. Books can withstand dust, soot, water damage, tears and food.
One of the articles mentioned recycling old journals. I have an entire bookshelf of journals from age 11 up. I’m 31 now. I am not recycling my old journals. That thought makes the writer in me want to scream. All those words, all those memories, recycled? My whole life, which only exists in words and memories outside of my quickly aging body which will inevitably be eaten by worms, recycled?
My neighbor, as he was boxing up his art books, said, “I’m afraid to let these go. I haven’t touched them in four years, but what if I am doing an art project and I need to reference Van Gogh or something?”
He paused. “But then I tell myself that the desire will pass and I’ll forget about wishing I had that book. I just want to throw this all out and start from scratch even though I know I’ll get to LA and go, ‘Crap, why didn’t I keep the colander?’”
I don’t want my friends and/or family to have to go through my stuff and get rid of it all when I croak, except maybe the journals, which I would want to have from my parents/relatives if they ever passed away. But the books, I’ve got to let them go. Maybe I can have a free book party and donate the books to my friends. Maybe I can just donate them all to the libraries nonprofit organization to sell.
I don’t know. I love books.
But, that being said, I don’t want to carry them around anymore, and I don’t want them packing all available spaces. Frankly, I don’t want to look at them. AND the dust in those fine pages is making my allergies flare up.
Will books be valuable in the future? Will they not? It’s anyone’s guess. I don’t know if I want to take the risk of no one being keeper of the books. The thought makes me sad and symbolizes the final brick and mortar in a society that is becoming entirely dependent on technology. Fickle, unpredictable technology. Finite resources. Alas, but books are made of paper, which is also a finite resource. We can’t win. Everything is screwed. Keep the books! Run!