I’ve started and stopped writing several new posts in the past couple weeks, about style and color and my recent doubts about the decluttering quest – mainly doubts about whether it would ever get done and if I should have even started it to begin with. I suspect such doubts would appear in any undertaking that goes on for six months, especially when it requires sorting through your entire life in such a tangible way.
But I’m going to put those subjects on hold for today, because my newest obsession has been something else entirely: cataloging and organizing my books and movies.
A personal library
As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve been working in a public library setting for a few months now. This is part of what slowed my decluttering process down for a while – I was using up all my energy at work, and even on my days off I felt too unmotivated to do anything, too blah to even play video games. But then I finally started getting the medication I needed to treat a problem I’ve struggled with my whole life, which frankly deserves its own blog post.
Long story short, after that everything became doable again and my new work environment (plus a number of librarian friends) began to influence my resumed decluttering process. One friend in particular shared an interesting post about cataloging personal book collections, which intrigued me.
While many of my books had been loosely organized by subject (thanks to my mother’s help) before the purge, a not-insignificant portion had escaped organization. And, as the purge indicated, for the most part I’d lost track of what I had and ended up buying duplicates of a few titles. There had to be a better way, but until I read that post I had no idea where to even start taking stock of my books.
To the internet!
Enter LibraryThing, a website that lets you easily catalog your media – not only books, but also DVDs/Blu-rays and (I think) more. I have no connection to the site whatsoever, and I’m not shilling for it or anything, but I’ve found it to be a pretty nifty little website so far.
I decided to try it out by using the site to catalog my DVD/Blu-ray collection, which up until that point had been residing in multiple floor-stacks scattered around my home. As you can imagine, this made it nearly impossible to know what I had, and every annual Criterion Collection sale at Barnes & Noble put me at risk of buying a second copy of Modern Times. So I gathered up all my discs, pulled the website up and plugged in my CueCat (The Little Cat-Shaped Barcode Scanner That Couldn’t), which I had obtained through LibraryThing’s store, and scanned each item.
At this point I shouldn’t be surprised when the results of a decluttering mini-process are staggering (you could practically make a drinking game out of every time I’ve been shocked in this series), but I still was. Since my obsession with movies began nine years ago, I’d bought more than a hundred DVDs and Blu-rays of everything from pretentious films in the Criterion Collection to wonderfully trashy John Waters films (plus that one John Waters film that ended up in the Criterion Collection).
Does having this make me pretentious trash?
Afterwards I gave them all a new home on some shelves I’d recently cleared off, neatly arranging them first by media type, then alphabetically by title. It was good to know I could easily look up what I had, either in person or online. And seeing them all together in one place where I could easily find them helped motivate me to start something that I knew would be much harder: cataloging and reorganizing my books.
Too Many Books, Part 2
I’m not gonna lie to you: cataloging my books took a few days. It was more physically taxing than I’d anticipated, too – I had to lift and move massive stacks of books from the shelves to my bed (the main work-area for all the sorting I’ve done for the past several months), then to the floor of an adjacent room where I’d roughly divided them into fiction and nonfiction, then back to the shelves after they’d been reorganized.
Back during the book purge that kicked off this decluttering process, I estimated that I’d “probably eliminated at least a third of my books;” by the final count, it was much closer to a quarter. As of now I have over 600 books, including a dozen zines and chapbooks. I won’t bore you with all the little stats, but I will say that the entire top shelf of my largest bookcase is filled with manga, comics, and graphic novels, and the entire bottom shelf is just books on the American Revolution – which is what I’d initially gone to college to study, not literature. One and a half of the remaining bookshelves are filled with fiction, including a lot of Bradbury, Bulgakov, Kesey, and Snicket.
Clearly this means my next project should be a comic about the American Revolution that’s full of bizarre/fantastical occurrences, unreliable narration, and dark humor. (…Actually, let me jot that idea down.)
Catalog all the things
All that said, would I recommend this process? Yes – at least, to someone who hasn’t already organized their media (and kept it organized). Having a better idea of where a certain book or movie might be – outside of a vague notion of “it should be in this room somewhere” – is reassuring. It means you won’t waste time looking through your shelves for The Crying of Lot 49 only to discover that you don’t have it anymore, and you won’t waste money re-buying expensive Blu-rays of films you already have.
Also, I feel more content now, at least to some degree. I’m sure I’ll never stop buying books and movies completely, but knowing that I still have plenty to experience and re-experience makes me feel less like going out and getting a whole bunch more for no reason.
Moving is going to be hell, though.
More in the Decluttering Quest series:
Part 1: The Quest Begins
Part 2: Staying Motivated
Part 3: School Paper Trail
Part 4: Tackling Collections
Part 5: The First Roadblock
Part 6: Letting Go of Old Writing
Part 7: Sacred Spaces
Part 8: Breaking the Rules
Part 9: A Matter of Life, Not Death