The Curation Imperative

I’ve got a lot of stuff. A few thousand comics. Hundreds of books. Dozens of board games. An equal number (if not more) of role-playing games. Three Macs (two of which only work haphazardly). And the accumulated technological detritus of 42 years of geeky living.

Yeah, I’ve got a lot of stuff. Most of what I’ve own relates to my core interests — yes, I have a lot of board games, but they’re largely games my friends and I actually play. To be sure, there’s plenty of crap as well — I’ve got a cardboard box next to my desk packed with junk in need of sorting and purging.

One of my goals this year — let’s do us all a favor and not call them resolutions — is to reduce the clutter. Now I’m not one of these “the things you own end up owning you” kind of guys, and I’m not against materialism. I have friends who are deeply into minimalism, and I don’t begrudge them their quest, but I’m not one of them.

I think there’s a value to the things we own that’s more than just strictly functional. I enjoy sitting in my game room/office, looking over at my game shelf, and reflecting on a lifetime worth of gaming. I haven’t played every game on that shelf, but I’ve played most of them.

The same goes for the books in the family library. Yes, I’m unlikely to read most of the books I own any time soon, but each book is more than just a collection of words. It’s a memory — a snapshot in time. Glancing over the spines of my paperbacks takes me back to family vacations on North Carolina beaches, an island in Vermont and a four-day backpacking trip to Alaska. More over, I love the idea that we even have a library in our house. It tells our kids that yes, books are important. So important in fact that we’ve given over a room to them.

Naturally you could argue this is all just sentimentality. We embue everything we touch with meaning. Going too far down the sentimental path leads to rooms stacked floor to ceiling with boxes full of books and cries of “intervention”. I think going to the opposite extreme — eliminating all but a few essential artifacts — would be just as bad for me.

All that having been said … I still have a lot of stuff. What I want to do now is be more purposeful about what I have. It’s about curation, not purging. I may never play GURPS, but the 4th edition books are something I want in my RPG collection because they’re such a big part of the RPG landscape. My first edition Blue Planet books, on the other hand, are just taking up space. I don’t particularly like the game and it adds nothing as reference material.

My immediate goal is to come up with some criteria for a purposeful culling of my various collections. Here’s a few ideas.

Does it work? I love my old computers. If I had a mansion, I’d have a microcomputer room with such venerable hardware as my old Commodore 64, iBook G3, and PowerMac dual-core G4. In reality, I don’t have space for all this old hardware.

If it doesn’t work — and even if it does — it’s a candidate for recycling. This includes my first MacBook Pro and the aforementioned PowerMac tower, both of which will be recycled. Nostalgia does win with my original iPod though; I spent too many hours listening to books on that thing to just throw it away.

Is it duplicative? Do I have more than one copy of a thing? If so, the copy is gone. Back in the 1990s I went through this phase where I bought duplicates of the X-titles I was reading. I now have a long box of such titles, which do nothing for me except take up space. As I switch over to Blu-Ray I’m also purging old DVDs. It’s hard to get rid of my original Firefly and Serenity DVDs, but I don’t need the old media.

Will we ever play it again? There is a subset of games that are hated by my gaming group and thus, will never be played again. RISK: Black Ops is one; Battlestar Galactic: The Board Game is another. If a game could cause our gaming group to go thermonuclear, then it’s probably best for everyone involved if I sell it on eBay.

Do I like it? Do I love it? I’m not going to limit my collections to just the things I love; the cutoff is more of a strong “like”. If I don’t actually enjoy it, then it’s a candidate for purging unless it has some other redeeming value (like fitting into a larger collection). This means that Blue Planet is going, as are a number of d20 source books that didn’t live up to their promise. My book collection is most in need of this sort of review — I’ve got a ton of Stephen King books, but there are some (Needful Things, Gerald’s Game) that I didn’t enjoy the first time around, and see no reason to keep.

Does it fit my collection? I’ve been collecting comic books since 1989, so it’s safe to say I have a lot of comics. I’m primarily an Uncanny X-Men guy, but I’ve spent stints collecting Fantastic Four, Avengers, and a bunch of DC Comics. I want to start consolidating my collection, focusing on X-Men and a few other favorite titles (Star Wars, Spawn, Star Trek).

I don’t have a specific goal in mind when it comes to reducing clutter, aside from being more purposeful about what I keep. I expect I’ll reduce my overall inventory by about 10%-20%; that’s not a lot, but I really don’t have a lot that needs purging. The stuff I’ve purchased has been more about what I enjoy, and less about keeping up with the Joneses.

In many ways my stuff is the easy part. The family basement? That’s another post entirely…