The Grand Mess

I spent a great deal of time over the Christmas/New Year’s holidays cleaning up and cleaning out. This was deeper than de-cluttering—although the result was a significant decrease is the ‘noisy’ clutter around my desk. My concentration was on easing bags of books, old papers and miscellaneous stuff out of my apartment. Cleaning out the cabinet under the bathroom sink was akin to an archeological dig into my heath & beauty past with stuff I haven’t used for years.

Shedding stuff felt good.

Of course I found a few treasures: including the form letter I received as a child from Nixon’s office in response to my anti-war letter; some great photographs; a bag with guidebooks museum maps etc. from my last trip to Madrid (I’m going back this summer); and the pen with a light for writing in the dark—I thought I’d lost it years ago!

Our stuff, our excess stuff, our old stuff, our piles of stuff, our cabinets of stuff is part of US as characters. In mystery, suspense, romance and horror fiction obsessive characters have shrines with photos of the object of their obsessive affection; villains have lairs filled with the machinery of murder; lovers have mementoes—and so do killers; and some characters have body parts in their refrigerators.

The grand mess of the hoarder is particularly intriguing. It’s ugly and scary, but it’s hard to resist. A hoarder’s floor-to-ceiling towers of books, magazines and boxes of ‘special things’ are fascinating. Rotting food, bug-infested mattresses, mold and filth aren’t. Organized chaos reveals a great deal about the fictional character. So does the slime and grime, but I’m less interested in writing about that character.

When I was deciding which books to shed, I thought about what my selections said about me. More to the point, I thought about what the books I chose to keep said about me. Do I really need ALL those Ruth Rendell paperbacks? Will I ever refer back to that incredible book about European totalitarian regimes from the history course I took as a freshman at NYU? Was it finally time to shed the memoir written by Ulysses S. Grant? Answers in order: I don’t know. Not yet. Yes, let Grant go.

Thoughts on stuff, hoarders, and characters in fiction? Please share!

One of the bookshelves that did not get packed up and sent out the door.

Some of the books that did not get packed up and sent out the door.


  1. I’ve alway loved shedding stuff! In the past I have made the mistake though of getting rid of a few things I should have hung onto, but mostly I clean closets with glee. I’m pretty pared down when it comes to keeping stuff. Before coming back to ID from NC, I cut the number of bookshelves I have down from five to one. If I really have a favorite book I want to re-re-read, I’ll just put it on my Kindle. It’s freeing to get rid of clutter. In a way, I’m preparing for that day when I finally live in a tiny house or an RV.

    • Candy Korman

      I already live in a small NYC studio apartment. Parring down & shedding are part of the package BUT it is amazing how much I manage to jam into the bookcases, closets and cabinets in my 500 square foot home. A periodic grand shed is good therapy. It also brings treasures to the surface. I admire your downsizing plan and habits!

  2. The Offspring and I shed ten years worth of accumulated ‘stuff’, much of it still in very good condition, when we downsized from a huge 4 bedroom rental to our present, cottage sized build. And then Dad moved in as well and we had to pack up /his/ house, saving whatever was most precious. But the one thing we have never willingly thrown away are books. Five minute junk reads do get tossed out periodically, but the precious stuff? Can’t. Just can’t.

    I rarely re-read my dead tree books anymore, but simply having them there, visible, is like a visual history. Plus my bookcases remind me of authors I haven’t read for a while. Actual reading happens on my Kindle though.

    • Candy Korman

      The photo illustrating this post is one of my “wallpaper” bookcases. The skinny paperbacks are the wallpaper in my bedroom (aka loft). I’m surrounded by stories from my past. The classic mysteries, the science fiction & fantasy books from college, the true crime (adventures in research) and all those classics!!! As you say, ‘dead tree books” are not my current reality. I only buy art books now or books with illustrations for research purposes. But still it’s hard to part with some of the various & sundry. I’m glad my building has a “library” in the basement. We dump our old books onto the shelves and you can take whatever you want if it strikes your fancy. BOOKS only. That’s the rule. And there are tons of them. I’m not the only shed-er in the building.