Friday, September 30, 2016

Hoarding, Marie Kondo, and the Academic Office

Figure 1. Not my desk, but I can dream.
At The Atlantic, "Hoarding in the Time of Marie Kondo" talks about the dilemma of the hoarder, for whom everything "sparks joy."

The test case in the article, "Marnie," is in an income bracket that allows her to scoop up multiple pairs of shoes at Nordstrom's and to part with a $7,000 dress only reluctantly, so money isn't a problem, except maybe in the sense of having too much of it to spend. But she's not the category I'm thinking about.

According to Marie Kondo, as everyone knows by now, you need to get rid of things if they don't "spark joy.": "“You will never use spare buttons,” Kondo writes. “You are going to read very few of your books again.”

Two things:

  • Marie Kondo is not an academic, or she would never say that about books.
  • Marie Kondo is also not an academic if she has never rummaged through a sewing box for spare buttons at 11:30 p.m. to sew a missing button on a shirt or suit jacket before she has to get up at 3:30 a.m. to make a 5:00 a.m. flight to a conference. She couldn't do it beforehand because she had to finish the paper first and there are no button stores open at 11:30 p.m. so if she did not hoard the buttons she would be out.of.luck. Just saying.
This article made me wonder about hoarding in academia, though.
  • I don't know if I've met actual hoarders, but I've been to plenty of offices with papers and books heaped on every surface.  Haven't you? And many of these people were highly productive.
  • A lot of recent research has found a link between messiness and creativity, which confirms this idea.
  • According to Randy Frost, a hoarding expert quoted in the article, “People who hoard tend to live their lives visually and spatially, instead of categorically like the rest of us do.” This fits with the "piles o' stuff" system of organizing that I use, at least, when I'm deep in a project, which contributes to the messy desk. And isn't this how you visualize books on your bookshelves--by shelf position, approximately, and by spine color?
  • Discarding and buying and discarding and buying, for books especially, seems wasteful, not to mention expensive. You can't get back the notes you wrote in the book, and there's a time factor as well as a money factor involved in reordering and re-buying a book you need. 
  • On the other hand, thinking about getting rid of things as "wasteful" is the mark of a hoarder, according to the article.
  • It feels good to get rid of stuff in the house, though . There's a real feeling of accomplishment to putting those bags out for whichever charity is picking them up, and I always admire the cleared space for a while after that.  
  • There's clutter and then there's sentiment. I went through my email folders and deleted a bunch of old department emails recently, since surely someone has a record of them if I ever need them. But thinking about scanning pictures and throwing out the originals seems daft to me. I've lost a lot of pictures over the years going from computer to computer, but the actual printed versions from pre-computer days are still in albums and I look at them about 1000 times more than any computer pictures. 
Are we predisposed to certain kinds of hoarding if we're academics? I'm not talking about Discovery Channel-level habits, but maybe keeping more than we need. Your thoughts?

Edited to add: And you never know. Northern Clime University keeps only the last 3 years of student evaluations but demands the last 10 years' worth if you're going up for promotion. In other words, if you didn't keep, or hoard them, forever, you'd be out of luck. 


Dame Eleanor Hull said...

Well, we're on the same page:

Janice said...

I'm stuck on the whole "get rid of your books" part of Marie Kondo's guidance. Not gonna lie, I don't think I can do it!

sophylou said...

I actually just got rid of about five boxes of books because a Half Price Books opened up near me, making it easy to take them someplace to resell. Some nonacademic books definitely, but also some books from graduate school that I'm just never going to use again. I've gone through a couple of purges when I've moved, and every now and then -- but it's fairly rare -- I wish I had a particular book that I've sold.

I think if I were teaching regularly I might be more inclined to have kept those books. And I still can't bring myself to part with my dissertation books, though I will likely never publish anything from my dissertation. (Actually, that's not entirely true: in this last purge I let go of some books related to my dissertation that I was never able to get through. Letting go of those definitely felt like letting go of some guilt). I still have plenty of history books around, though. And at this point, I'm more focused on buying books towards my current project.

I have boxes of old papers that do need to get purged (I mean, I'm reeeeeally never going to use my doctoral exam notes). I just need to get to it and clean them out. Maybe if I do, it'd spur the job search gods to grace me with a new job? it's time for some new growth opportunities.

Bardiac said...

I think she's thinking of novels when she thinks of books, rather than of the sorts of books most of us read and use. If I want to reread a Hemingway novel, I can probably get it at the local library. If I want to look at the manuscript facsimile of Herbert's *The Temple*, then I need to either own it, or I'm SOL.

And yes, you're right about the notes thing. That would go for novels I teach, and for people who teach lots of novels, it's orders of magnitude more. And plays! What if you couldn't look at how different editions of a Shakespeare play handle a textual problem?

I think books for us are sort of like a mechanic's tools. You may not need that one hex wrench very often, but when you do, better to have it in the shop and not need to stop the job, go out and find it, and pay for it again. Does she think we should get rid of our screwdrivers and hammers if we don't use them every week? If you're a homeowner/renter, you know you're going to need them again at some point, right?

undine said...

Dame Eleanor--Ha! We're on the same page.

Janice--I get rid of as many as I can, but that's a sticking point for me as well.

sophylou--It must be doubly liberating to get rid of books that you couldn't get through! Having a Half-Price Books near me would help. The secondhand bookstore near me will take some of them, but it has a rigid schedule for getting them appraised, and it's not a convenient process. I have several shelves of notes and old papers that I need to get rid of, too.

B a r d i a c -- (stupid autocorrect will not stop trying to write 'cardiac') That's the thing--books are tools for us.

I do get ebooks out of the library, but after finding some unpleasant stuff (not the printed matter) in library books, I'm sort of squicked out by checking out actual books.

Anonymous said...

I had a student come into my office once, and say 'wow, I like your office, it's not as dirty as some of the other professors.' Since I clearly didn't know what to say in response, they continued: 'there aren't so many books.' I still don't know what to do with that.

sophylou said...

My colleagues were somewhat baffled by how extremely excited I was to have a Half Price Books open nearby. I used to live in Texas, and the memory of the day that I went to a HPB and discovered an entire shelf of the old green Virago Press books, for about $1.50 each, still makes me smile. Nothing like that at this new one, but as they start buying books here, I can dream, right?

Anonymous said...

I get rid of stuff regularly, although not as much as I should, and it hurts every time. But my stuff is useless if I have so much I can't see what I have, or if my space doesn't allow me to keep it in an order where I can actually refer to it.

Just now I was on a break from grading and decided to get rid of some books that mean things to me but that now are yellowed and not pleasant to read. I decided to get rid of some papers. In these papers I found half a conference paper that I had forgotten I had written and that I need for something I am writing now.