One reason we bought the home we now own is because it has a 7-room, 1400-square-foot basement. That’s where I keep my dozens of filing cabinets and thousands of books. That way other members of my family don’t have to be subjected to all this “clutter.” (For an article I wrote about “savers” like me married to “disposers” like my wife Muriel, click here.) Our basement also has plenty of room to house my vintage toasters, waffle irons, blenders, hair dryers, cocktail shakers, radios, and streamlined vacuum cleaners. To see the cream of this crop, click here.
My basement archives represent 40+ years’ worth of information collection. Most of this collected information consists of clipping files with ideas for articles, essays, and books. Research files for my sixteen books can also be found in these cabinets, along with family documents (including many bequeathed to me by my packrat ancestors), speaking notes, and old appliance manuals.
Whether I’d have collected all this material if Google had been available four decades ago is an interesting question. But it wasn’t, I didn’t, and now I’m stuck with thousands of plump folders in all of these filing cabinets. “Stuck,” is probably the wrong word, though. Filing news clips, magazine articles, religious tracts and night club flyers handed me on the street along with notes I’ve scribbled on scraps of paper is an invaluable way not just to organize information but to look for patterns and trends. Bringing disparate threads of information together in manila folders helps me think in new categories, and come up with fresh ideas. Many of my books began this way. Is There Life After High School?, for example, grew in part from a single folder labeled “High School Memories,” in which I’d filed several articles about accomplished individuals who mentioned how unpopular they’d felt in high school. By the time that book was completed, my files on this subject – ranging from “Ex-Cheerleaders” to “Adolescent Sex Memories” – filled an entire four-drawer cabinet.
Or let me give you a more recent example. The other day I read an article in our local newspaper about a businessman who’d been assaulted by a loan shark. The loan shark was about to plead guilty to this assault. Why? Because, as was noted toward the end of this brief article, his victim had taken a picture of him wielding an axe – with his cell phone camera! This little item, combined with others I’ve been reading about unique applications of cell phone cameras, is now housed in a folder labeled “Cell Phones / Camera.” That folder could produce an article, essay, or section of a book.
Another folder that might morph into a book some day is one labeled “The Happy Compulsive.”