Throughout packing to move to a new house on Friday, my recurring thought was: when and why did I acquire so much stuff? I’m not alluding to the two thousand books that were carefully, lovingly boxed up for the relocation. I can rationalise the books, satisfactorily at least to my wife and daughter, who more than share my passion for reading. It was the other stuff that made me feel bilious: casual (mostly minor) purchases, gifts, evidence of complacent consumption. In theory, I am revolted by the seduction of consumerism, shopping turned into a pastime rather than the acquisition of needed goods. In practise, I have been seduced into a near-bovine acquisition of needless baubles.
Resolved, I partly alleviated my biliousness by making several expeditions to charity shops and the local dump. Unpacking items, in the same disposition, has lead to further similar journeys, and a sincere intention to continue to unencumber myself of under-used possessions. I am resolved to build a stronger resistance to the allure of the market-place
Last night I began to unbox my books, and shelve them in what I have pompously termed ‘the library’. Is it conceivable to unpack a library without recalling Walter Benjamin’s admirable essay? Although the boxes of books are meticulously labelled, alphabetically by writer’s surname, I am shelving them unsystematically, with no attempt of sorting the books by name, genre, colour or any other classification; they are being shelved as randomly as is humanly possible. Am I nuts? How will I ever find the book I am seeking?
I want fortuitous discovery; to enter the library seeking a particular book and be waylaid, hijacked by an author I haven’t read for ages or perhaps at all (such examples are all too abundant in my collection of books). The randomness may drive me nuts and find me within a month staying up into the small hours to impose order. Already I am enjoying the juxtapositions thrown up by a lack of order: would Edward Said enjoy being nestled up to Hannah Arendt? Perhaps not, but it brings a smile to my lips.
I guess Im too late but I was going to recommend unpacking as you need the items. In a couple of months there will be a stack of unopened boxes and those are the ones you probably can dispose of. I have a closet full of unopened boxes. They will be evicted soon.
It is a good idea, and one I may follow if ever I move again, though I’m heartily sick of seeing the boxes. My tactic had similar roots: to get rid of anything that had not been used in the last 12-18 months.
congratulations on successful moving and therefore surviving the english housemoving system. i admire you for your bravery of moving house.
arranging the library to surprise you is always a good thing. not too unrecently been in a similar situation i also thought of benjamin while i unpacked my library, it really is the best essay for this undertaking. but aby warburg has some fine reflections on this theme too… this is my system of order, “the principle of inner neighbourhood” (proust next to vermeer and so on):
The study of philosophy was for Warburg inseparable from that of the so-called primitive mind: neither could be isolated from the study of imagery in religion, literature, and art. These ideas had found expression in the unorthodox arrangement of the books on the shelves. Cassirer understood at once. Yet, when he was ready to leave, he said, in the kind and clear manner so typical of him: ”This library is dangerous. I shall either have to avoid it altogether or imprison myself here for years.”
Thanks. I like the idea of your system; perhaps mine will evolve its own logical – to me – arrangement. Someone should write a book detailing the different unorthodox arrangements of private libraries of the learned; I should find it very compelling.
There is something comforting about books randomly arranged (or not arranged really). That expectation of fortuitous discovery that you mention. I’ve always left my books where they fall at home, pushed into shelves to clear floors and tables without any mind to organization. Suits me. Think it might suit you too. And somehow, I do always manage to find the book I am looking for when I really need it. Or I set my children to the hunt, a game they love.
That is such a good idea, my daughter would enjoy the challenge of searching the stacks for a book. It’s quite a change for me; I’ve always enjoyed rigid classification systems.
Moving house does force a person to realize how much stuff has accumulated. Home remodeling is good for that too in smaller doses. Have fun in your new library!
Thanks, Stefanie, I can foresee plenty of remodelling now I’ve moved, so hopefully will have multiple chances to de-accumulate.