|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?