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. 

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Random bullets of September, writing, and book news

It's been a month since I've posted here (really?), and a busy one.

  • My book is out, and I wish I could post a picture, because I really like the cover. I also really, really like having it finally be out. People even bought it and asked me to sign it at some recent appearances, which strikes me as amazing, and I will be on tv next month (already recorded). 
  • Question to all: if/when you published a book, did you send copies to people in the field, friends, etc.? The press already has a long list of places they sent it for review, so I'm worried that if I send it to some, (1) they might see it as a conflict of interest if they have already been asked to review it, which of course I can't know and (2) presumptuous. Your thoughts? 
  • Thanks again, all of you who read even during the slog of the Laocoon manuscript, slowcoach writing, and all the rest. To be fair, I didn't start serious work until well after the slowcoach writing thing--maybe 2010 or 2011?--but that's still a lot of time. I'll never be as fast a writer as Tanya Golash-Boza, but then again, I'm not a social scientist with data ready to be written up. 
  • Hi, Historiann, if you're reading! The other night at a dinner, I recommended The Many Captivities of Esther Wheelwright to a tableful of university professors who teach captivity narratives, so they might order it for their classes. 
  • In other news, some of the many low-level bureaucrats at Northern Clime are giving me a hard time about a scholarly project, absolutely non-controversial (think: describing the literary stylings of novels about squirrels), that will cost them nothing. They want me to come in and discuss "whether we can allow this project to be at Northern Clime." On a matter of academic freedom? Oh, no you didn't. While I was fuming, Spouse came in and said "kick it up to the Dean," which I'll be arranging to do next week.