I am finally at a point where I’m forced to confront the fact that I am a hoarder. Not a hoarder to the point where you can’t move through my house without navigating piles of stuff. That maze is pretty much confined to one room.
My hoarding is only of printed material. I don’t hoard animals or small appliances. Nor is my hoarding dirty or smelly, other than accumulations of dust that I tend to keep under control. Well, I must say that spiders do love those high corners where I have books. The incense I often burn when I’m working can increase the dust factor. On the other hand, my respiratory allergies assure that the dust level never gets too bad. But we’re talking excessive clutter here, not filth and squalor as I’ve seen on some hoarding sites.
We live in a condo of only 850 square feet, which for someone who grew up in spacious old East Coast homes with expanses of lawns and farmland beyond, and who spent two decades living in high-ceilinged Victorian railroad flats in San Francisco, is a bit of a comedown. It’s a situation that forces consolidation of accumulated goods. When I first left San Francisco to move to a very tiny in-law cottage with my young daughter, I took a truckload of books to the then-Sausalito flea market. At that time I got rid of maybe two-thirds of my library, along with furniture and other goods.
Fast-forward to 2013, after thirty years in Marin County, and it’s clear that my love affair with books and other reading material continues unabated. I have accumulated more than we have shelf space for.
When I moved into this condo, delighted to be a homeowner, albeit of modest digs, rather than a renter, I put up bookshelves running along just below the ceiling on two out of the three walls of the living room (one wall is a sliding glass door to the deck). On one wall I put two rows of shelves. I needed to keep all of what little floor space we have for living, not for a library. I also put a shelf on one wall below the ceiling of my bedroom. This is not counting bookcases, including a floor-to-ceiling one at the top of the stairs.
Later when my daughter, and later my stepson, moved out and the second (fortunately a bit larger) bedroom became available for our overflow, we moved in desks and computers from the crowded living room. We also put in more shelving just below the ceiling on two walls, and hung more shelves beneath it in some places. Again, not counting bookcases. Also not counting the shelving in that bedroom closet, now filled with office and laundry supplies.
I realize that, in addition to being afflicted with acute bibliophilia, I also feel a compulsion to read everything that comes into/across my field of vision, including cereal boxes, catalogues and bulk mail ads. I’ve gotten a better handle on the weekly ads that come in the mail and now toss them directly into paper recycling. (I wish my neighbors in this complex were more conscientious about sorting their trash for recycling.)
For the past several weeks, in anticipation of accommodating houseguests in our studio/office/spare bedroom, I’ve been challenged to dig into the many boxes, cartons, file cabinets, folders, and piles of printed matter currently stacked up in that room. Gods forbid an earthquake should strike because if it does, we’ll all be crushed under the books that will tumble from the shelves running around nearly every wall in our house!
Well, the stuff I’ve been unearthing -- old photos, interviews, publications, class outlines, correspondence (meaning old-fashioned handwritten or typed letters on paper) -- has brought up memories.
Among the real treasures: a series of letters and postcards from her travels from my late friend Sequoia. I will be mailing them to her biographer Kiri. In the late ‘80s or early ‘90s, she traveled throughout Southeast Asia and India. She wrote extensive and very detailed travelogues, and I found all of them! As I said, a treasure.
My obsessive archiving does have a plus side in that a lot of my material is ritual scripts, class notes, old Reclaiming meeting notes, flyers, programs from Pagan events over the years, stuff no one else has kept, including one from a Summer Pagan gathering in the Oakland hills put on my the late Gwydion Penderwen and Stephan Abbot; a program from the memorial for Susan Alison Harlow; and a 1998 front page interview of myself, with photo, by the religion editor of the Calgary Herald – believe me, an interview with a Witch on the front page by the religion editor was nearly unheard of in 1998! This kind of ephemera, now that I’ve unearthed it, will be sent to the New Alexandrian Library in Delaware for the benefit of future scholars.
Another tremendous benefit in addition to providing a pleasant space for our guests is that I’ll have an organized, uncluttered space to work. The piles I’ve been going through have revealed plenty of useful material for current projects. Stuff I’d been holding onto mostly because I found it fascinating. I knew I’d never be able to find it in the future -- and of course I couldn’t find anything I might look for the way things were anyway – so I just stashed stuff willy-nilly. To you friends and readers who’ve been bugging me to relate my experiences of what I think was a heady time in the emergence of Pagan religions, this change in my environment bodes well.
This whole process of reviewing and culling, evaluating and discarding, remembering and pondering the meanings of this and that image, letter or flyer is just that: a process I’m deep in the midst of experiencing. Need one mention the obvious consideration of advancing age?
In spite of the mountains of paper that’s gone to recycling, into file cabinets, or boxed for shipping, and with my guests due to land at SFO in a few hours, I’m not quite done. But suffice it to say that I’m entering a new personal era “with visions of the past and memories of the future.”