“Actually, this is just a place for my stuff, ya know? That’s all; a little place for my stuff. That’s all I want, that’s all you need in life, is a little place for your stuff, ya know? I can see it on your table, everybody’s got a little place for their stuff. This is my stuff, that’s your stuff, that’ll be his stuff over there.” – George Karlin, A Place for My Stuff Lyrics
Writers tend to save paper stuff – books, magazines, newspapers, clippings, letters, certificates, notes, business cards, programs, photographs, greeting cards, postcards, legal papers, vintage business forms, brochures and guidebooks, old highway maps, maps of the world the way it was when they were born, grade school drawings and fake Confederate money from old Cheerios boxes.
I even saved my deed for an inch of land in the Klondike from out of a Quaker Oats box long after the Big Inch Land Company went out of business. I had big plans for that square inch.
There’s an unwritten rule about paper stuff: once you throw it away, you’ll need it.
I’ve thrown away a lot of stuff and then regretted in some years later when I needed it for a book or article I was writing.
Brainwashing, Bad Genes, Or Bad Karma
I probably threw out somebody’s stuff in a previous life and now the karma train has dropped it off at my house in this life. Otherwise, all this stuff is my parents’ fault. Here’s why: brainwashing. Before I could walk or talk, I knew that stuff was the be-all and end-all of a writer’s life no matter how many rooms of the house it took up, and even if you didn’t know what it was and never looked at it.
When my wife, brothers and their wives and I cleaned out my parents’ house in the 1980s, the place was filled with paper stuff. If they had been famous people, this would have been the kind of stuff that ended up in the basement of a historical society where online references would refer to it as X number of linear feet of unsorted papers: please contact the archivist for an appointment. Hourly research fees to find what may or may not be in one of the boxes are $150.
I threw away a lot of the stuff. We got rid of a lot of the larger stuff in a garage sale and got roundly criticized by my parents’ friends got getting rid of the stuff. We explained that we lived in small apartments and houses and had no room for a giant household full of stuff that wouldn’t even fit in a moving van.
Time being short to get out of that house, we moved some of the stuff with us. My wife and I have moved several times since then, usually bringing along the boxes, still labelled as they were in the mid-1980s without looking in them.
Time to See What The Hell All this Stuff Is
Well, now I have to look into them. We no longer have room for it. So, I’ve been throwing away stuff for the past several months. I hated to see some of it go because, well, it must have been important stuff at one time or another, the kind of stuff I could sell for millions if I had the fame of Salinger or Rowling.
I have a tip for you: if you save paperwork from several generations back in time, eBay doesn’t want it. I’ve dumped (donated) 15 boxes of books to the local library for their yearly garage sale and I think I’ve just about worn out my welcome. The recycling center knows my name because they’ve seen me dump some 50-60 grocery bags of magazines and “office paper” into the recycling bins.
Throwing away stuff would be easy if I could tent a backhoe and a dumpster and clear the “treasures” out of the house during a long afternoon. Even though my parents never hid $100 bills in old books and papers, I keep thinking, “But the time I don’t check, that’s when it will be there.”
But then I would never know, so it would be the same as it not being there.
I should have listened more closely to George Karlin’s “A Place for My Stuff” the first time I heard it. I guess I thought it only applied to non-writers.
So far, nobody’s called and said, “Malcolm, you know that crap you threw out two months ago? I was going to give you $100000000000 for it, but you weren’t answering your phone that week.”
For years, I thought, I’ll wait one more week to see if I need this stuff or somebody calls and wants to buy it. You see how it goes and why there’s so much of it.
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Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of contemporary fantasy adventure novels including “The Sailor” and “The Sun Singer.”