Is it time to downsize your collection of... whatever you collect?
Downsizing is apparently A Thing™ now, because that woman I’d never heard of before has told us we need to keep fewer than thirty books in our homes. I don’t listen to or watch her, I’ve never read her book, and I have one thing to say to that book-decluttering idea of hers: HAAAA HA HA HA HAAAAA! Whew. That was a good one.
Sorry, Marie Whoever-You-Are: that’s not happening. If you find her methods helpful in cleaning out clutter, that’s great and I applaud you. I’ll certainly not mock you for wanting to do that and for enlisting the help of someone who clearly knows what she’s talking about.
Part of her method, as I understand it, is to keep only items that “spark joy”. So I’ll keep my Dyson cordless vacuum as it does spark joy. It means I can vacuum my tiny house top to bottom in less than eight minutes. That’s my weird idea of joy. But if she put her hands on my vintage Yellow Submarine figurines, she’d be out on her ass, TV cameras and all.
I will admit, though, that there are times when things need to go. Lack of space is often a reason, though we’re not packrats and have plenty of empty storage cupboards and closets in our home. If we died in a tragic blimp accident tomorrow, and someone on the ground was yelling, “Oh, the humanity!” into an old-timey microphone, it wouldn’t take weeks and weeks for our loved ones to clean out our house. We’re not minimalists, but we’re certainly not hoarders.
I’ve been writing a book for a few years now (or trying to) partially about my collection of love comics—in particular a favourite character of mine who appeared in no fewer than three comic book series from the late sixties through the early seventies. His name is Jonnie Love and I’ve adored him since I was ten years old.
Look at him. Can you blame me? In the lingo of love comics (a language I speak fluently), Jonnie is a “dreamboat” to the girls he rescues, a “long-hair” to their dads, and a “drifter” in his own thought bubbles. A boy like Jonnie might kiss you and whisper sweet words, and fix your dad’s broken lawnmower or rescue your drowning sister from the swimming pool, but then he’s got to ride off. He can’t support you as a good husband should. According to the love comics, a banker is the best guy to marry. But these wild boys? Nope.
He was always heading “north” for home, but he never made it, as the comics discontinued him before he ever reached that mythical home. That disturbed me as a teenager. How could the love comic writers do that to us? But more importantly, to him. Like, give the guy a break. He only has one shirt. Yeesh. Where the hell does he wash it? Where the hell does he wash himself?
In my quest to find Jonnie in a comic I’d only recently realized he’d appeared in (a place that was not his usual home: All New Teen-Age Love), I was flipping randomly through the top layer of my banker’s box of comics. My collection is 300 strong, and combined with the collections of my sister and my cousin (collections we swap at regular intervals as we all still read them all the time), we estimate a total of 900 to 1000 comics dating from the 1940s to the late 1970s. I opened a comic I’d not opened for years, and saw this on the splash page:
I said out loud, “Lichtenstein.” I am a great fan of Roy Lichtenstein’s work and was lucky enough to see a retrospective at The Art Institute of Chicago some years back with my mom. I bought two journals with the image below on the cover. I also bought a huge book at that exhibit, in which most (but not all) of the love comic panel paintings are represented. Mom and I are both devoted fans of his love comic paintings, but it had never occurred to us that the panels were the inspiration (some say the lost and uncredited and unpaid-for property of the original artists) for some of Lichtenstein’s most famous works. We assumed his paintings were originals. Until I saw this.
I immediately dug out the entire banker’s box of dusty old comics to search for other “Lichtenstein panels” as I’d come to call them. This is the result:
My sister has found at least one in her collection and while my cousin hasn’t had a chance yet to go through her 300 comics to find these coveted panels, she’s sure to have some.
I immediately searched online. The “Lichtenstein panels” are valuable to both comic book and Lichtenstein collectors. Who knew??
What to do? I love these comics: every one of them. How do I cull this mass of mouse-nest bait that’s been sitting in every place I’ve lived for forty years. It seemed the best thing to do was find the Lichtenstein panels first. Those I can send to eBay. Next, find first editions and see if they’re worth something.
It turns out they are. But “worth money” and “worth something” are two different levels of worth. It took days of soul-searching and tears and reading and love before I could decide that some of these simply had to go.
This, for instance, is worth $800 in mint condition.
But have a look at the one we own:
Ohmygawd! Did she take a bullet to the arm?
The gloriously torn pages! The ink stain on every page! $800? I don’t think so. We might get $8. The decades of love that have been given to these fragile pages make them near worthless in a monetary sense.
At what point do you let something go because it might be more valuable to someone else than it is to you? Some of these decisions were dead easy. I found a lot of this in that box:
So many dead, worthless pages, half-written messages, incomplete sentences, mould, and potential mouse-nest bait. All of this I could let go without a thought.
But what of the rest? What of the comics I’d loved and cherished and read and spilled chocolate milk on with my sister and my cousin while we lounged in a canoe at Lac La Biche when we were kids, using the comics as fish-fly swatters? What to do with them?
The rest will likely go in lots on eBay or somewhere—I’m okay with letting them go forever—and I narrowed it down to the comics I cannot live without. I finished with this stack:
These are my Jonnies, the comics in which a “Kim” appears, and others that are classics in my family. They would flay me alive if I ever got rid of the comic that contains this panel:
To this day, forty years later, if anyone in my families says, “KNIFE!” it’s a laugh riot, as we all know what it refers to.
As you’ve likely guessed, my comics are a metaphor for your words. Are there words you simply cannot live without? Keep them, no matter what anyone says. Are there words that would serve another purpose more effectively? Do you need to give them away or save them to a different file? Are there words that need to go directly into the trash like the half-eaten covers of long-ago love comics that were there when you needed them but no longer serve you?
I invite you to take your time when you edit your work. Don’t be rushed into deciding what needs to go and what absolutely must stay. [Unless the galleys are due back to the publisher in forty-eight hours. Be rushed then.] There’s a difference between being “precious” and insisting that every word must stay, and standing your ground on words, phrases, lines, paragraphs, stanzas, or chapters that you know the work cannot lose. Not because you’re in love with them. But because losing them would be like reading your favourite Jonnie Love story to find the last page torn out.