Monday, March 7, 2016

Raiding a Writer's House

Flickr Credit: Ant Smith

As I mentioned last week, my grandfather, Papa, died last Saturday. Papa was many things, but in this post, we’ll narrow the list down to three characteristics. First, he was a writer. Second, he was a traveler. Third, he was a hoarder.

And I went through his house on Saturday.

Papa crammed his house with books, travel memorabilia, and a bunch of other stuff that takes up every flat surface in that house. There’s paper, there’s Shakespeare candy, there were CDs and more VHS tapes than I thought godly, clothes, magazines, a dying piano, a china hutch, mail from the last few years… He had a bookshelf filled with notebooks, some of which he had used, some of which he had not. They weren’t sorted to let you know which were which. He kept his translations of The Qu’ran, The Book of Mormon, and the Bhagavad-Gita on the same shelf as Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling and The Bad Beginning by Lemony Snicket. In his basement he had a castle and a chain saw and enough National Geographic magazines to keep an inmate busy through his life sentence.

He had so many books stacked everywhere that my family and I kept crashing into one another. He designed the path through his belongings to fit but one person.

It was messy, it was stuffy, it was cramped, and it was stale. I thought I was going to get a lung disease in that house. I tell you all this not to make you think badly of my grandfather (though you are welcome to think badly of the house), but to give you an image of what I was wading through. Because even if it was too much stuff and, oftentimes, junk, going to my grandpa’s house was like walking into the mind of a writer.

It wasn’t my favorite experience, but the concept is kind of cool. How many of us get to walk into a writer’s house, the physical representation of his mind and heart, and then take whatever we want from it?

At least from my observation, there were a few things worth noting, and that you might find interesting too.

His house demonstrated what he cared about. He cared about writing, and he had books and scraps of writing and notebooks and papers and pens and pencils to show for it. He cared about traveling, and he had memorabilia from Tanzania, China, Slovakia, and many other places all around his house. And he cared about stuff—he genuinely cared about having material objects to prove what he did and how great it was.

He didn’t prioritize. Papa wrote this poem called “David’s Method,” which is more or less about how he organizes things/how he never did. To paraphrase two sentiments in that poem: “everything is important” and “save everything.” It sounds nice when you say it like that, but actually means “the man had no priorities.” Everything was important, nothing was a priority. He ignored everything in favor of being creative. It’s one of the reasons that house is so filthy.

My little PSA after being in that house is this: Even if everything is significant, it is your responsibility to find what is important—what is a priority—to you, and organize your home and your belongings around that specifically. Let the other things go. Someday your kids are going to throw all that shit away because you’re dead. The least you can do is have treasured that stuff they’re trashing.

Finally, it was interesting to see where our interests overlapped. There were cool things in his house that were fun to look at but I wasn’t about to keep, like his three hundred VHS tapes. Instead, I took things from our trip to England last summer, a CD of Afghani music and a model of a Lewis Chessman; a few writing tools, including a few books and a novel-writing kit; and a few unused notebooks and supplies he had lying around.

Like my grandfather, I think I have an attraction to writing and traveling as well. Still, I also don’t like having loads of stuff, so it’s probably a good thing all these things had to fit in my carryon for the flight home—I got to bring home stuff I valued, and won’t bring too much clutter in my home.

Because I’m building a writer’s house, too, you know. Wouldn’t you like to know what’s inside?

Have you ever been in another writer’s house? What struck you about it? 


  1. I'm sorry to hear about your grandfather. That does sound like an interesting experience to be able to go through his house! I like how you said it's important to prioritize what is most important and then let the other things go. I always try not to get too sentimental whenever I clean out my room because let's be honest, most of it is junk anyways. :P I also like your idea of a "writer's house." Most of the writer's houses I've been to have been as diverse as the people who live in them. I've always imagined my house when I grow up to be a cozy little cabin with lots of bookshelves and a loft where I can build forts and read/write for hours on end *happy sigh* :P

    1. Thanks. I know, getting sentimental to junk is like, the worst thing to do because it is literally not improving your life at all. That's a really fun idea! We have occasionally visited cabins up in the mountains, and I agree—they would make a perfect retreat for a writer. :)

  2. I'm sorry about your grandfather. :( I'm unsure how I missed that earlier, but I'm sorry. The house itself sounds like a trial to have to go through and I'm sorry about that too, but I like that idea about how going inside someone's house is kind of like a little snapshot of their mind. My grandfather was a hoarder, too, and I was fortunately able escape the cleaning (which was really more "dump everything you see in the trash"), but after seeing the pictures of the interior of the house, I appreciate your thoughts about prioritizing stuff.

    1. It's fine, and thanks! Yeah, it's definitely hard, but it is also interesting, at least for a good half hour. Lucky you! And yeah. Priorities, people. Priorities. XD

  3. I have not ever been into a writers house....or a hoarder's house, tbh. Although apparently my grandparents had like 60 years worth of stuff in their house when my parents went through it after they died. The thought of going through something like that would totally overwhelm me. Agh. But I actually find really crowded-messy houses kind of inspiring?! I write about them a lot in my own books. XD Aaanyway, I totally agree that that's a good representation of a writer's mind! If my mind was a house, it would be 100% like that. Plus EVERYTHING would be the "priority" because I feel that way about my stories. ;D
    (I am sorry about your grandpa though. I hope you're doing okay?)

    1. Except for your house, I assume, since it would be sad if your family made you live outside in a tent your whole life. XD Well, to each their own, I guess, as long as those crowded-messy houses don't have to be cleaned up by the next generation!

      (Thanks. And yes, I'm doing all right. Thanks for asking. :) )

  4. Wow, I'm so sorry about your grandfather!

    That sounds like an interesting experience, though, getting to sort of glimpse inside the mind of a fellow writer. I'm a total hoarder too, though. It's not that I don't have priorities; it's that EVERYTHING IS NECESSARY (except that it is not, and I really need to get better at deciding what is at least less necessary). Travel and writing are awesome interests too; I'm glad you got a chance to share them with him. :)


    1. Thanks.

      Yeahhhh... XD I think finding out the less-necesaryness is a good way to rewire priorities and stuff. I just don't see other ways about that, haha. But yeah, it was cool. Thanks for reading, Alexa!


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