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The Purge Begins

My mother tells me I come by my hoarding and materialistic tendencies honestly; growing up, my house was filled (not to any unhealthy extent, but “filled” is not an exaggeration) with collectibles, books, records, and knick-knacks.

My desire to own things, though, is based on a very easily identifiable (and very illogical) desire:  I want to possess a library of media.  Traditionally, whenever I’ve been at a used book shop or thrift store and seen a book for which I’ve heard favorable reviews, or a movie or CD that a friend has mentioned I might like, I’ve bought it.  I may take it home, file it on my shelf (always in alphabetical order!), and never look at it again…but the fact that it’s there – for my theoretical future reference, for my theoretical eventual enjoyment, for the theoretical convenience of not having to seek it out if at some point I decide I want to read/see/hear it – gives me a weird sense of comfort.

Of course, this tends to backfire when, on my next shopping trip, I see the same book or movie or CD and, due to the massive size of the “library” I’ve so successfully built in my living room, I forget that I’ve already bought a copy.  This has happened countless times:  I’ve spent six bucks on a CD because I was lucky enough to find it in the used rack, then taken it home to find out I’d been just that lucky a month or two before.

My grandfather – in whose memory most of my interest in frugality and finance was piqued – used to make fun of me for how much money I “wasted” on music.  I hated when he said that, because I loved listening to music so much that I felt like he was directly attacking my character.  But, in retrospect, maybe even “waste” wasn’t a strong enough word…I’m happy he didn’t know just how much money I did ultimately waste on it.  And on movies and on books and on any number of random passing interests, each of which is always accompanied by at least a few not-too-thrifty purchases (the most notable of which was the $800 camcorder I bought when I wanted to start making films as a 17-year-old…and guess how many films I made).

So, all that having been said, I was pretty excited to start my modified “365 Less [sic] Things” challenge.  But, even taking that excitement into account, I surprised myself by how incredibly easy it was going to be to purge a chunk of the library.  As my first project, I focused exclusively on books, and a quick pass through my shelves yielded a fairly impressive 47 titles that I’m willing – no, happy – to sell to a used book store (or to a reader, should you happen to catch me before I make the trip to 1/2 Price).

What’s more, I stopped at those 47 based on some lingering hesitations that I’m sure I can shake by the time we’re packing up to move.  For the time being, though, here were my parameters that I couldn’t quite overcome:

  • I didn’t get rid of any unread books that were given to me as gifts, because I can’t bring myself to even secretly be that disrespectful.  (exceptions:  gag gifts, and exceedingly uninteresting books from people who had no idea what to get me).
  • I didn’t get rid of any books that had especially huge levels of sentimental value to me (exceptions:  books used as study material in college…is it weird that I’m so attached to a bunch of random short fiction anthologies?).
  • I didn’t get rid of any books I’ve read and loved so ferociously that I insist on proudly displaying them to visitors (exceptions:  books of which Girlfriend and I had multiple copies between the two of us).
  • I didn’t get rid of any as yet unread books by authors I love, as they seem the most likely of the hundred upon hundreds of those on the shelves to be read in the near-ish future (exception:  one Steinbeck – too bulky, would prefer a paperback copy – and several by a college professor of mine–but those fall under the “multiple copies” rule)

The one book in the “sell pile” that speaks most to my excitement for purging is James Joyce’s Ulysses.  You see, I don’t own a pair of skinny jeans that I hope to some day fit back into; instead I own Ulysses:  I’ve never made even a passing attempt at reading more than the first few pages, but I’ve always hoped that some day I’d just sit down and plow through it…somehow, I imagined this as being some sort of life-changing experience, like I’d immediately be inducted into the secret club to which all those who are smarter than me belong.  But, there are a few problems with that:  1) I didn’t really understand what was going on in the few pages I did read that one time several years ago (i.e., I’m not too smart…or at the very least not a very attentive reader); 2) while I would never argue that “reading doesn’t make you smarter,” I’d strongly doubt that reading any single book would make you more than infinitesimally smarter than you were before you opened said book; and 3) I’ve known a couple of people who have read Ulysses just for the sake of saying they’d read Ulysses, and they’re typically not the sort of people I like very much, nor the sort of people I strive to impress.

All the same, it feels good to get rid of it, like I’m finally being honest with myself.  (Of course, I did keep my massive, hardback copy of Underworld by DeLillo, which, if I’m going to be totally honest, is sort of staying on the shelf for essentially the same reason.  But at least it’s about baseball – something that marginally interests me – and not about…wait, what’s Ulysses about?  I don’t think I even know.)

Anyway, it feels good to have lightened the burden of my bookshelves (and of my knees and back, come moving day).  I look forward to finding the courage to trash some more of the extraneous crap floating around my massive library…watch out, DVDs, you’re next!  (Should be noted in advance:  there are several DVDs that I’ve owned for more than a couple years that still have their manufacturers’ shrink-wrap intact.  Ugh.  Absurd.)

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