The Pack Rat and the Minimalist

Opposites attract. Or is it oil and water don’t mix? One of those cliches defines the relationship with my wife. (OK- realistically, probably both at different times…)

The aspect of our relationship that I’d like to explore today deals with stuff. Specifically, my stuff. More specifically, my stuff that I’ve been lugging around for years and years and years. That kind of stuff.

Every relationship has stuff that creates conflict. These items form the battlefront of the Stuff Wars. A No Man’s Land, if you will.

As the most iconic illustration of this point, I give you… the lamp! (“It’s a major award!”)

Prepare for battle…

This is such a cultural icon that I’m not going to rehash what it represents. If you don’t recognize this image, you have missed the greatest Christmas movie of all time. OK- maybe the second best. Scrooged gives A Christmas Story a run for its money. Always wanted to own this relic? Now you can! Check out the merchandise here. They even have the full size 50″ replica. This would make the ultimate Man-Cave accessory. (Just don’t tell your significant other I gave you the link…)

As the title of my post indicates, my wife and I are locked in this primal struggle. You see, I’m a pack rat although, technically, I prefer the term “collector”. Either way, my instinct is to hang onto stuff. I think that I apply that instinct with discernment- I don’t think I’m a hoarder.

In the mid ’80’s, Steven Spielberg had a series on TV called Amazing Stories. The series, itself an homage to a pulp magazine of science fiction from the ’40’s and ’50’s, featured a veritable who’s who of TV and movie stars and directors. Think Twilight Zone but less scary and more whimsy.

The first season aired an episode, “Gather Ye Acorns”, starring Mark Hamill as a man who disregarded his parents’ direction to abandon his childish things and “grow up”. (If you want the spoilers, read the synopsis here.) That episode validated (or inspired) my collector tendencies.

[Note: When I started writing this post, I added a link to Amazon where you could purchase Season 1 on DVD. Sadly, I could only find DVD Region 2 (Europe) collections containing Season 2. But- thank you Google!- I found a reference to both seasons being available on Netflix for streaming. I checked and as of June 9, 2012 both seasons are available to watch instantly via streaming! If you’ve never seen the series and are a Netflix customer, check it out! Especially “Gather Ye Acorns”- season 1, episode 16.]

However I got there, I love my stuff. A voracious reader, I also never wanted to get rid of a book after reading it. If I liked a book, I’d probably read it a second time. If I really liked it, I’d read it over and over again. Some of my favorites I’ve probably read dozens of times over the years. (Heinlein’s Time Enough For Love springs to mind, as does Zelazny’s Amber series. More recently, I see Gaiman’s American Gods becoming a “go to” book.) So my collecting really made sense- I wasn’t just hanging onto these books, I was using them over the years, reading and rereading them.

Along with piles and piles of books, I’ve also kept an enormous amount of role-playing games. Dungeons & Dragons (in three and a half iterations), Champions and the Hero System, even a mint copy of the boxed set Cyborg Commando, Gary Gygax’s amazingly crappy debut after leaving TSR- I have an incredible amount of this stuff.

It is a long running joke in my house that my wife has systematically gotten rid of all of my bachelor things. All of my mismatched hodge podge collection of mundane implements of single life are gone. I’m not complaining; my wife has far superior design tastes. Our home looks very nice because of her work. She is a minimalist at heart. She favors clean, spartan surroundings- the anti-kitschy look. To be fair, we both accommodate each other to an extent.

For the 9 years that we’ve been together, though, I’ve resisted her desire to minimize and clean out when it came to my books and games- my own nerd mother lode. I’ve had some of these things, literally, for more than 30 years. I’m not about to simply discard it now, right?

Well- it’s complicated.

Actually, I’ve already started divesting myself of some of my stuff. Earlier this year, I finally embraced the ebook as a viable alternative to my analog collection. I am the happy owner of a Nook Simple Touch Reader and a Nook Tablet and have effectively replaced all of my physical books with digital versions. I set out to find happy homes for my old friends. Like any good collector, I grouped all of the books by author or series. Here’s what it looked like before I was finished.

The Goon and the Noodle added for scale.
Mind the axe…

I invited all of my friends- nerd and civilian alike- to come help themselves to my books. A few took me up on the offer and I had a wonderful time recommending and discussing the different titles. (Is there any more altruistic joy than giving a book you love to someone else?) The rest were donated to our local Rescue Mission store. In my mind, those books were then discovered by young proto-nerds and became the centerpieces of their love for reading.

Shockingly, after the books were gone, I actually felt… good! I had digital copies that I could read on a variety of devices and took up no space (megabytes, perhaps, but I can’t see or touch a megabyte…). Removing the mismatched bookshelf from our bedroom resulted in a cleaner looking space. I’ve already reread on my ereaders a number of books I’d given away. For all of my years of thinking, “I can never get rid of these!”, I did- and I was OK.

So it was with a fairly open mind that I turned my attention to the games. To be objective, many of them I had not touched in 25 years. (That Cyborg Commando? Mint. Same goes for a copy of the boxed Judge Dredd The Role Playing Game, a 1985 import from Games Workshop in the U.K. Interested in any of them? Drop me a line with the “Contact Me” tab.)

The depths of my nerdness know no bounds.

A couple of months ago, my wife and  I had our two little guys- the Noodle and the Goon, at the local farmer’s market. On Sundays, it’s more of a flea market and there are plenty of vendors selling a variety of things. Walking past one table, my wife pointed out, “Hey- look! It’s like your D&D stuff!” I stopped and looked.

Sure enough, one of the vendors had some old modules that were, frankly, in worse shape than most of my stuff. He must have heard my wife’s comment because he asked if I was a collector. I told him that I still had plenty of stuff but didn’t play it any more. When he asked if I was interested in selling any of it, I surprised myself by saying sure.

He gave me a business card showing his location in one of the city’s northern suburbs. The card indicated that he specializes in “Vintage Americana & Pop-Culture Collectibles” and specifically referenced toys and comics. I put the card in my pocket and we continued walking around.

A week later, I put together a sampler bin of my stuff and drove over to his shop. He was interested in taking a look but was honest about his only cursory familiarity with the items. I gave him a sprinkling of stuff: the old red, blue, aqua, black and gold D&D box sets, a 12 inch stack of Champions book, and a handful of the Palladium RPG books. He asked if I’d be willing to let him hang onto the stuff so that he could research it and make me an offer. I agreed and left.

After some back and forth over a few weeks, we made a deal for the bin of stuff I’d brought. At the same time, I had 2 or 3 more bins worth of stuff that he wanted to see and make an offer on. He’s researching that 2nd bin now, I’ve got some cash, and I’m not at all upset.

I realized a couple of years ago that, no matter how much I wished it to be different, my sons weren’t going to be interested in my old RPGs. Honestly, the ’80’s saw a glut of role playing games and most of them were not very good. I had the stuff but had made no attempt to play it for years because, frankly, they weren’t worth the time. The items had nostalgic value to me because of the memories they represented. They have no intrinsic value other than as collectibles.

(It would be a O. Henry level of irony if one day in the future one of my sons writes about the tragedy of the books and games that his father got rid of… Let’s not dwell on that!)

I’m comfortable about getting rid of the stuff. In addition to all of my ebooks I’ve also picked up digital copies of many of my favorite old games and even long lost comic books. These digital files are robust and enduring, easily able to be backed up, and, should the day come, something that I can share with my boys. They take up space only on my hard drive. My home has a relatively peaceful balance between my wife’s minimalist leanings and my collector tendencies.

As long as she stays away from my hard drive!



Filed under Essays

6 responses to “The Pack Rat and the Minimalist

  1. Have the same issue when it comes to books, you cant see the walls in my Computer room behind all the books! I do have a Kindle so could/should get them on that, but I have this dream of one day owning a big old libary, with a sliding ladder and a big red leather chair in the midle of it!

    • Yeah- that was exactly my dream as well (OK- I wasn’t definite on the sliding ladder…)! A friend of mine told me about businesses here that sell books by the foot- as in for decorations. They buy old hardcover books and sell them based on the volume. Need 12 linear feet of books for you shelves? Here you go!

      That is truly a niche market…

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