August 5, 2002.”

That’s the date of the issue of The New York­er I just tossed onto the grow­ing stack on the floor. It is is one of the last rem­nants from the year I actu­al­ly sub­scribed to the icon­ic mag­a­zine. I had pre­served it this long because there was a pro­file of sculp­tor Richard Ser­ra that I want­ed to read. I still do, in fact, want to read it (even though I only know of him from his appear­ance in the cli­mac­tic sequence of Matthew Bar­ney’s film Cre­mas­ter 3), but I have elect­ed to take hold of the six sheets that com­prise the arti­cle in ques­tion, tear them neat­ly from the mag­a­zine, and place them, sta­pled, in a file fold­er to await the day when I either a) find time to actu­al­ly read the piece, or b) enter the next stage in my abil­i­ty to win­now my per­son­al effects, and sim­ply dis­card it unread with the knowl­edge that, if my life is still not quite what I would wish, it is prob­a­bly not due to my lack of knowl­edge on this par­tic­u­lar topic.

I am what might be called a keep­er. (You might also say “hoard­er” but I would pre­fer if you did not.) I keep things. It is what I do. But I am learn­ing to be more selec­tive about what things I keep, and more to the point, I am learn­ing to part with many of the things I have been keep­ing for far too long. The col­lec­tion of New York­ers has already gone from a tee­ter­ing waist-high tow­er in the cor­ner of the room to four of those book­shelf mag­a­zine files, and soon that will be reduced to a sin­gle file fold­er marked “To Be Read”, which will be filed away and for­got­ten about while I decide what to do with the rough­ly ten lin­ear inch­es of shelf space that are sud­den­ly unoc­cu­pied on top of the bookcase. 

It is inter­est­ing to me (and per­haps only to me) that I think of the verb culling to describe this process. Drawn from my agri­cul­tur­al child­hood, culling implies for me a harsh real­i­ty, a vio­lent process that, free of mal­ice, is dri­ven by prac­ti­cal­i­ty rather than cru­el­ty. Culling is when you walk into the chick­en coop and decide which birds are to be kept, and which ones are to be clean­ly decap­i­tat­ed and left to flop bleed­ing across the snow-cov­ered yard. That is how I am approach­ing this process. This quan­ti­ty of print­ed mate­r­i­al has to be culled; I have to swift­ly and effi­cient­ly decide what I am real­ly going to read either imme­di­ate­ly or at some unde­ter­mined future date — and then dis­card the rest and move toward a less-clut­tered life.


  1. I nev­er under­stand the keep­ing stuff like that. I’m more of a toss­er than a keeper

  2. That is, I think, the most bru­tal descrip­tion of de-clut­ter­ing I’ve ever read. I remem­ber that pro­file of Ser­ra, though. I’ve always been inter­est­ed in him. Char­lie Rose did an exten­sive inter­view with him among some of his work.


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