Monday, April 20, 2009

The Great Purge

I'm moving into a new apartment soon. People move into new apartments all the time, no biggie. But here's my story.

I lived in that apartment for all of my 35 years except for two stints in 1998-2003 and 2005-2006 (which were spent living in my family's house in Queens). My apartment had serious rent-control. It was drilled in my family's heads from an early age that rent control was too good a deal to pass up. We could save and save and save -- then buy a house in Florida. Easy-peasy!

But reliance on this cheap rent turned out to be a self-fulfilling prophecy of sorts. Because the bar was never lifted higher in terms of how much rent we had to pay, I never felt especially motivated to surpass it. And when I met, as a teenager, an adult man who really enjoyed paying $200 rent a month, I sort of got locked into things. He moved his 50+ crates of comic books and memorabilia into my house in 1991 and was determined to never leave. Two times, it was me who left.

Yes, I saved over $25,000 by my living arrangements -- money that I spent down to the last $300 after I got sick in 2004 and could no longer work.

Now I'm packing up my stuff, this time for good. As I pack, I feel the intense need to get rid of stuff. Intense need. Like that thing where you keep cleaning and cleaning and never feel quite clean. There is always more stuff to get rid of. Actually, I started this process several years ago, when I was sick. But I had such an unbelievably huge collection that it has literally taken me about five years to whittle it away to nothing. And good! I'm glad to see it go.

This is not a diss on huge collections. But my collections were goddamn huge, and everybody I associated with also had goddamn huge collections. They were hard to move, so many people that I knew never moved. The ones that did, like my sister and her then-husband, had sold off big portions of the collections beforehand (in their case, Star Wars and Barbies). The exception to his rule was my ex-roommate, who decided to keep everything. Comics. VHS tapes. Broken ice-skates. They might come in handy some day. When the moving truck arrived at his new destination, they found out that the narrow apartment couldn't even fit everything. So he had to pay for storage.

It is utterly joyous for me to get rid of everything. Publishing the memoirs was one of those actions; moving it from the "storage" to "active" portions of my computer and out the door into the bloodstream of the Internet. This act has finally put to bed many demons that a few years of blogging never could.

I have simply no feeling anymore about many of the topics covered in that book. Numb. It's not that those topics are not important to me anymore. I just don't "feel" anything anymore about many of them, like the stuff with DC Comics. I used to rail on for years about the injustice regarding DC and their treatment of women, but it's now like a valve is shut off. By putting out this book, it's like some sort of responsibility on my part is fulfilled and there is no more to say on that topic. That book goes off on its own and continues the dialogue. It's like progeny. It's like a deep-space probe on auto-pilot. It just keeps going. But I don't have to, I am able to move in another direction and just let "baby" do its work.

Many of the things I always assumed I had to keep are "going away." I realize that there is no need to bring them into my new apartment -- bring them and the contexts they contain. They can stay behind. They make great gifts and eBay items. They make great recycling. Among them:
  • A set of all the DC Comics and tpbs I ever edited. What's the point? What new things can I glean from my hardcover of "Identity Crisis?" I didn't even get my copy for free -- I had to buy it at a second-hand store. Do I really need to keep all the Aquaman comics I assisted on? Why keep them? To read the credits and remind myself that I used to work there? Couldn't I just Google my name?
  • Botched things that might be fixed one day or that I might have renewed use for. Fried iPod. Scanner with crappy software that nearly killed my last computer. Bamboo knitting needles. My Bible. Stuff like that.
  • Things that are no longer relevant to me but that I spent a lot of money on and that nobody will probably pay for or if they do it won't be for much. Gotta just suck that one up and move forward.
My goal when I move is to pare things down to their barest essentials. Oh, but what will I watch on DVD? Oh, what comic books will I read? Will I have enough to entertain me? Will I have enough spare T-shirts? And what about all the *memories*? Without these boxes and boxes of ephemera, will I be able to *remember*? And what about my self-identity? Once these material items I used to help define me for decades are gone, how will I know who I am?

Thus begins the adventure.


  1. The last time I moved was about a year ago. My wife and I had been in the same apartment for about 7 years, and had really become entrenched. During the months leading up to the move, we discovered just how much junk we'd collected. I was amazed at the amount of stuff we sent to Goodwill, gave to friends, sold off or just plain threw away.

    Still, posts like this put my 15 long boxes in perspective. Suddenly it doesn't seem quite so excessive.

  2. I went through something similar to this when I moved from Australia to Toronto. I had to get rid of everything. Furniture, no problem. I sold a mountain of CDs and DVDs. I have all my CDs in iTunes anyway. The rest of my DVDs I took out of their cases and put the discs into two boxes that I brought with me. I have those two tiny boxes here, next to the TV with hundreds and thousands of hours of entertainment. Who cares about the packaging? I got the movie. That's why I bought them.

    Same with CDs.

    And I'll wager it's the same thing you were experiencing with your book and people buying it digitally. Digital stuff is really starting to be seen as valuable, as we look to the content, rather than the context (packaging, point of sale, etc).

    People will no longer have 'stuff'. We'll all have downloaded and stored movies, music, books, tv shows, etc. The more the under 30s experience cheaper-than-ever international travel, the appeal of not having stuff must be broadening.

    I think this is great for the environment (apart from all that carbon-emitting said travel ;o), but sad for us. When I was throwing out a LOT of stuff (some kid who went in to the Dandenong Salvation Army and found all my Muppet Action figures must have had a FIELD day) each thing evoked a memory. Sure, it's stuff, but you can remember where you got it, why, how, the state of your life at the time, etc. How will people get that with digital sticks full of data? Maybe they will. Maybe they'll adapt as it happens. Who knows. Wow, this is long.

    Sorry. :o)

  3. Not leaving the neighborhood I hope!

  4. Oy

    I have that same feeling (we bought a house and are moving). I just don't know if I'm ready for it yet. Stupid collections, they shouldn't have that much of a hold on me.

    This is inspiring though, I've gotta get rid of some stuff.

  5. Good luck - nothing like a good cleanse!

  6. Valerie you are doing the right thing getting rid of old things. despite being a comic nerd I'm marginally interested in comic books compared to how much I am into getting rid of things.

    A friend of mine works in real estate and he tells me how insane it is that people will pay $150/month for five years to store $200 worth of stuff, stuff that can easily be replaced like an old mattress.

    I went to college in Oregon,in Oregon and in the past ten years have moved to different apartments in SF, then to NYC. I then moved into different apartments in Queens for a few years and then back to SF.

    I have lifted and carried everything I own several times and so I've come up with a good system called "judgment day". Each thing I own has to go on trial. It has to prove that it will be useful to me in the future or at the very least that it's irreplaceable. The burden of proof is on the object.

    Books that are still in print? Clothes not worn for 12 months? All gone.

    I became totally ruthless, I even got rid of old photographs that had no sentimental value and the ones that still did I got rid of the double prints they would give. If I had four pictures of a friend from the same day, I got rid of the three least interesting.

    After doing this every time I moved and after moving maybe 5 times, I can say that I regret absolutely nothing and I don't miss any of the stuff I got rid of.

    You live in NYC, you can't afford to be like the Collyer Brothers

    or my grandma. You are paying rent by the square foot, don't let any of your possessions get a free ride.

  7. "Still, posts like this put my 15 long boxes in perspective."

    Years ago, I had a *gigantic* plastic tote filled with nothing but JLA/JSA related books alone. The sheer bulk can be breathtaking, once you start going through it.

  8. "People will no longer have 'stuff'. We'll all have downloaded and stored movies, music, books, tv shows, etc. "


    That was one of the reasons I had to let go of the CDs and DVDs. The lots I'm selling on eBay are dirt cheap, but they're only really designed for people who want the experience of a certain movie or song -- not to collect them. I had thrown the cases out for these things long ago to save room.

    Years ago, I collected DVDs mostly for the experience of owning them. I had ones that were sealed up and unwatched for years. It's truly a sickness, to collect that way -- to collect "just to have," but not really to watch. Worst of all were those films I had watched long ago but had no intention of seeing again -- I would just own them as some form of "tribute" to the movie. It was like they gave me sense of security, having them all lined up on my shelf.

    We are really heading towards a future where you can store your entire movie collection on a series of small memory sticks hanging off your keychain. The paradigm shift is huge.

  9. "Not leaving the neighborhood I hope!"

    Nope, still in the neighborhood. Flat smack between Cortelyou and Prospect Park, which is where I wanna be. :-)

  10. Oddly enough, a post about the same thing here (it even is by a comic collector):

    I think having so much of a sentimental attachment to bits of plastic is irrational anyways. Be sentimental about loved ones or departed friends or a dog that died but don't be sentimental about bagged and boarded West Coast Avengers. They'll never pay your kid's college tuition and I'm not just saying that because I want everyone else to dump their collections so my full run will be worth more.

  11. Great article you linked to, Philip!

    People who buy comic books for any other reason besides sheer enjoyment and love for the stories have to understand something: these books -- unless they are strategically purchased golden, silver, or (sometimes) bronze issues -- will NOT make you rich in terms of investment. They won't even help you break even on resale. Trust me. I've been there. To boot, they become sometimes almost impossible to give away. I have *oodles* of single issues in my hallway to give away.

    Now, an actual retailer or professional comic book reseller might have more luck in this department, especially if they have a big stock and/or full runs of titles. But if you have three or four long boxes of mix-or-match comics from the last 20 years...

    Plus, in my case, we are moving into a 2nd story walk-up. That means that every box of comics I fail to get rid of has to be schlepped up the stairs. This is a great motivator to pare down.

  12. I just sold the Spitting Image puppet of Jo Brand and a pamphlet of Alan Moore and Steve Moore poetry for $400 each.

    I wonder what else I've got?

  13. "People will no longer have 'stuff'."

    Well that certainly seems to be a view that designers and builders of increasingly tiny, crappy "high-end" urban condos would love everyone to buy into.

  14. Anonymous4:33 AM

    The last time I moved, I moved into my mom's house.

  15. Anonymous10:03 AM

    Four years ago I moved from Holland to Northern Ireland... I arrived with about 12 'banana boxes' (book lovers might know this unit of measurement) of stuff, 8 of which held books & comic books.

    Even so, I got rid of about 20 feet of comic books (the European variety, not the US), gathered from my childhood onwards. I didn't have time to properly flog them, so I sold the whole lot to a salesman for a measly 100$. My brother shortly thereafter bumped into him, and was asked: "I already sold most of your kid brother's stock. Does he have more?".

    There are quite a number of comics I miss, which I wouldn't mind rereading, or would like to show to my girlfriend. Four years later I'm still sad about the books I had to let go, even though the shelves I bought here are groaning again.

  16. Ah... I've been collecting comics for almost 25 years (Memorial Day). About five years in, I decided to start a special collection with the goal of donating it to a library somewhere.

    Every book I buy I buy for my collection. DVDs I buy to watch, and I initially view them twice, once without and once with commentary. CDs I store, but that collection takes up one shelf of a kitchen cabinet.

    I'll gladly take any comics or graphic novels which need a good home. I would suggest donating the GNs to the Brooklyn or New York Public Libraries. At the least, they'll be sold, at best, they'll circulate and seduce innocents.

    Glad to hear about your reboot. You guys gonna have a housewarming party? Maybe one in reverse, where people have to leave with something? If you need help schlepping, let me know. Will work for comics.

  17. Since the age of 18 I have not lived in the same place for longer than 3.5 years and I am currently in that apartment until June when I move to London. There was even a home I still own in Rochester, NY in there at one point. I used to use my parent's house for storage of my comic books, but had those moved up to my place when I bought my home (which is rented out, because I was so smart and thought I could sell my house for more than my company could when I moved - I'm pretty stupid sometimes).

    The thing is I hate moving and I am bit of a hoarder. I never really got into collectibles, but books, DVDs, CDs, and comic books, I have tons of.

    I want my DVDs and most of my CDs, and all of my irreplaceable vinyl, I can sell or give away a loarge potion of my books, but what I really want to ditch is my comics. If I could find some 12 year old nephew or niece that would want them, I would just hand them over. I don't even have the ability to transport all 40 long boxes or so to a comic book store that might take them.

    They may just end up going into storage for now (my company will pay for it, so I have that going for me).

  18. BTW,

    I have always bought to read, and not to collect (except for maybe a two-year period in HS, before I wised up.) Just 33 years of buying comics and a couple collections along the way. (I still remember that Giant-size Power-man number I got when I was 5.) Most of my comics are unbagged and unsorted, which also adds to the nightmarish effort of trying to get rid of them some way other than recycling them.

  19. I've moved three times in the last six years, and had to seriously cull the stuff each time. I still have too much. The last move (from NJ to Maine) cost nearly $10k. This is a nice reminder to start culling again *before* the next move -- rather than wait until it's too late!