Song-in-action Blog

Are you an Academic Hoarder?

Posted by Katina on October 5, 2010 at 12:59 am

Followers of my Twitter account (@krsprof) know that I watch A&E’s Hoarders and TLC’s  Hoarding: Buried Alive all the time. After every episode, I look at my bookshelves, desk, and file cabinets and start sorting my belongings into the three stacks: keep, donate, throw away. I think one of the things that fascinates me about the show is even though these people are way, way over the edge, it is easy to see how you could become overwhelmed by stuff – especially if you are an academic. This past week, Inside Education and the Chronicle of Higher Education both had posts on hoarding/collecting/archiving in academica. In Academic Hoarding, Meg Palladino talks about how she is accumulating books, office supplies, and university gear.

“I have a lot of pens and magic markers in various colors. I have a lot of paperclips; I especially prize the square or pointy paper clips that come from other countries, and I have a black and yellow striped paper clip that I like. I have a giant box full of outdated business cards that I can never possibly use before there is another change to my title, the name of my department, the name of the college or the logo of the University. I also have a lot of books. I have multiple copies of some books, in case students or faculty need to borrow them. Finally, I have a stash of university-branded swag – backpacks, mugs, magnets and key chains. Those are tools of my trade.”

I am very sympathetic to Meg’s plight.  I didn’t realize how much stuff I had in my office until I left my job as an assistant professor to work for the federal government.  At the time, I taught about the politics of popular music and popular culture. I was probably the only political science prof on campus whose office was covered with hip hop dolls, playing cards, games, posters, etc. When I left to move to MD, I packed everything hip-hop into boxes because I no longer had any place to display them. I also had to find a home for my collection of ten years of articles on Baltimore schools (from my dissertation) and my archive of tabloid coverage of American presidents, all of my books, journals, magazines, music, papers, files, etc.  Did I mention that I also had a home office full of even more things that had to be packed up?

When I arrived in MD, I had to make some hard choices about what to keep and what had to go. It almost broke my heart to whittle down two office’s worth of materials into two file cabinets and a couple of bookshelves. It was very, very hard at first. The first step was storage, then letting the storage go, and then being even more hard core about the sort.  Even though I gave tons of stuff away, Hoarders has inspired me to get back to the basics.  To do so, I merged their sorting method from one I saw on Wife Swap (the wife was professional organizer). For each item, she said to decide:

  • Do I need it? (If yes, keep it, if not donate or throw away)
  • Do I love it? (If yes, keep it, if not donate or throw away)
  • Does it make me money (If yes, keep it, if not donate or throw away)

As my priorities have shifted, I have been giving and throwing more and more things away. I gave most of my academic books to Books for International Goodwill and recycled my magazines/tabloids for my vision boards. I sold the collectibles on Ebay and at a yard sale and sold my fiction books on Amazon. I must say that it is great to have much less stuff in my apartment. Especially when what is left are things that I really love and/or hold an important place in my world.

Right now I have two sets of things that need to go, but I am holding on to them so that I can find them a proper home. What to do with archives is a serious question. When historian Roy Rosenzweig died, his wife had to figure out what to do with an entire basement’s worth of materials he had collected over the years.  She was blessed to find an organization that would take possession of his primary and secondary resources. I feel lucky to only have two relatively small archives to give away. One is a collection of National Enquirer and Globe coverage of American presidents from Ronald Reagan to G.W. Bush. The other is ten years worth of microfilms of the Baltimore Afro-American. Even though I haven’t worked on either of these projects in years, it doesn’t feel right to throw the material away. If you are interested in either of these items let me know. They would make great resources for a graduate student (hint, hint) instead of clutter in my apartment.

Are you an academic with too much stuff? How do you deal with it?

Filed under: Donate,Hip Hop

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