Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Obsessions and Cataloging

One side project which has come out of my current organizing project was an unexpected one.

My husband and I are big readers and book collectors. We have many bookcases--many of them doubleshelved (with books behind the row of books you can see). We also have books in boxes in the garage and closet because we've run out of room.

My husband decided that cataloging our books would be useful. He is using LibraryThing and is adding our books to this online database system. So far he has about 1,500 books listed but is probably only 33% of the way through our books. He's been doing this for about 4 days now.

It's made me think about obsessions. We have an obsession for buying books. We'd talked about cutting back and avoiding going to the bookstore because I have three shelves of books in my "to read" section. I don't need new books if I have that many to read. Yet a couple of days ago my husband says, "Let's go to the bookstore" and even though we had just talked about how we wouldn't do that, we did it anyways. We bought 5 books while we were there.

My husband is getting pretty obsessive with the cataloging also. He's spending all day at it, pretty much stopping only for email and meals.

I think that collectors and people who are addicted to various substances are probably closely connected. There is probably something in the brain related to addiction which is also present in the brains of collectors. It is like an addiction, an obsession. It can also ruin some people's lives. Collecting and hoarding aren't that far apart, when you get right down to it. It's just that hoarding is often stuff which has little monetary value, isn't maintained or cleaned and is getting in the way of normal life. A collector will generally try to maintain the item and keep things clean, and a collection often will be seen to have value (although not everyone will agree on that part, as there are some weird collections out there), and it hopefully doesn't get in the way of life.

On the other hand, collecting, like we collect, does get in the way of life. We have a very different life because of our collections. We have less cash and less space. We also have less time because our collections take time and work. Books are just one of our collections, also, so we truly have an addictive personality. Our house is overrun with stuff. It's amazing to think of sometimes. People often sing the Addams Family theme song when they visit ("their house is a museum, when people come to see them...").

I don't want to go the opposite direction. I never understand the people who brag about minimalism and not owning things. I find many of the pictures of minimalist modern homes to be cold and impersonal. I may read Unclutterer but that doesn't mean that I'm interested in getting rid of our collections. People who talk about getting rid of books and only using the library do not understand our lives. Many of our books could not be found in our local library. Some of these editions are beautiful and scarce. They are a joy to look at, not just a reading copy paperback of the text.

When I look around, I see a crowded house, it is true. But I also see a house where everything has a story to tell. The items have history and meaning.

It's true that some parts of collecting worry me; addictions are not a good thing. Collecting is a borderline addiction so we have to be careful and not cross that line. However, we are also defined by our collections, and for the most part, I like it that way.

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