Books, comics, movies, action figures—they all accumulate. And though we wanted them more than anything when we got them, getting rid of them is almost better than buying them in the first place. Here are the unexpected pleasures to be found while you thin out your collection.
There may be a few people who, when they are going about their business and find an object that they don’t need, dispose of it immediately and efficiently. I haven’t met any yet, but I suppose they could be out there. Most of us don’t even think of dredging the sludge out of our collection until it’s become a logistical problem. We have to pull one layer of books off a bookshelf because the one we want is somewhere in the second layer of books. We have to Jenga our way through a wobbling pile of DVDs, CDs, or LPs. Dusting our memorabilia, keeping our costumes clean and in good condition, or even finding space for our latest purchase is a weekly chore. Collecting doesn’t even have to involve physical objects. How much time have you spent on your phone going through the six nearly-identical pictures of you on your birthday to find that one that you actually like?
Taking a day to sit down and throw out the crap is extravagantly satisfying. First there’s the virtuous feeling you always get when you clean up a mess and get rid of something crappy. In this case, you have to ignore that you’re the one who acquired the crappy thing in the first place, but why dwell on something that makes you miserable when you can feel good about yourself? Getting rid of the extra stuff means getting rid of the petty annoyances that have taken up time and room for however long the extra crap built up. You never have to flip through five old comics to get to the one you want again.
In a way, throwing things away is acquiring something new—a larger and different space that you get to occupy every day. For at least the next few days, just moving around and doing stuff in your home feels luxurious. You’re a hermit crab who just moved to a bigger shell.
Let’s face it, collectors don’t need the things we collect. We don’t often use them. We just spent a brief, often ill-advised moment wanting them. Once we have them, we tend not to want them anymore. They go into the box or onto the shelf, and we don’t really look at them. Maybe from time to time we think about how we should really re-read, re-watch, or just pay a little more attention to something. It never works out, because there is never enough time.
Until you give yourself time by resolving to sit down and go through everything. Every single purge session gets derailed at least once as you find yourself poring over something you always meant to get back to, but never had time to do it. This is why spending an entire day purging is the best. It not only gives you the time you need to get rid of all the crap; it gives you time to focus and enjoy the stuff that you always meant to enjoy, but never got around to.
Sometimes the rediscovery is literal. Who here has spent a day going through a collection and found, filed carelessly out of order or stuffed under a pile of junk, something supposedly lost years ago? It’s like being given a reward for a job well done. “Great job! It wasn’t easy, but you finally wrangled that music collection into a sensible order. Now, please enjoy The Dark Side of the Moon. Go ahead, listen to it and watch The Wizard of Oz at the same time. You’ve earned it.”
We don’t always make good decisions when we build our collections, but that doesn’t mean that building a collection is bad. Only building a collection too big to enjoy is bad. And that’s the biggest problem with having a collection that’s over-stuffed with our bad ideas, our weird weaknesses, or our outdated tastes. Over time, we did so much of the thing we love that we can’t love it anymore.
So the best part of purging is the ability to start collecting again. Some of this is purely practical. How many times have you stood in a store, tempted by a book but not quite sure if you’ve already bought it? (This is especially true of series in which certain books get collected or re-named.) Not knowing what you have makes you put off getting what you want, or it distracts you by tempting you with something you’ve already got. Either way, once you’ve organized, the hesitation is a thing of the past.
The real value, though, of getting rid of crap are those times when it prevents you from getting more crap, and guides you towards getting something you really like. More than once, I’ve stopped buying a series of comics because I realized that what I most wanted to throw out was the original few issues of those exact comics. And by getting rid of the little stuff that sucks up time, money, and effort, you can steer yourself towards the big stuff that you’ve never had the time, money, or effort to get. If your heart is set on something, but you’ve been putting it off for a few years because there will be a better time? Just after you’ve thrown out the things you thought you wanted a few years ago is a good time to start saving. Sure, sometimes you’ll make mistakes.
But that should allow you the pleasure of purging again.