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!