how to pack up a hoarder-esque apartment in under a week, part 2: bookcases

(Part 1 is here)

So this begins the “packing part” technically, but I like to look at more as “get rid of everything you own, except the things you can make really, really, really strong arguments for keeping and are actively useful in your life, and also stop lying to yourself about eventually getting around to reading Infinite Jest.”    This part was rough and Cayce was a total champ. I did a decent percentage of actually putting things into boxes and made a lot of “suggestions” about what she should get rid of, but she actually followed through and got rid of SO. MUCH. CRAP. The hardest part was that a lot of it wasn’t even really crap, it was perfectly good stuff  that she just had no use for.

(Depression protip:  You know that part of depression that numbs all your feelings and makes you think that everything is dumb and pointless? Harness that. When you pick up a stack of cute stationery you bought four years and literally never looked at again and the shitty monster in your head starts up with “omg you’re so useless, why did you ever think you’d use this, it’s not like anyone in your life would even want to hear from you anyway,” just give that part of your brain what it wants and trash the stationery. That part of your brain is wrong and is being a huge asshole, obviously, but as long as you stay cognizant of that fact, it can also be pretty good at getting results.)

I might have already mentioned this, but I started the apartment search on March 24, she  signed her new lease on May 1, and we scheduled movers for May 16. It was kind of a crazy timeline, but they wouldn’t hold the apartment for more than two weeks and she was super freaking ready to get out of her hovel already. Sometimes super quick timelines can actually be really beneficial, because there’s not time to make any reasonable excuses for procrastinating or to get caught up in doubt and anxiety and talk yourself out of the whole thing. (I know I’ve definitely gotten myself worked up into a state where forfeiting a $1000 deposit seemed so totally reasonable if it meant I didn’t have to get out of bed.)

So again, this is going to seem really wasteful and drastic and lazy and that’s fine, because it is.  Whatever. You know that saying about how perfection is the enemy of good? Well, good is the enemy of done.

At this point you should have your stack of plastic moving boxes, a few small cardboard moving boxes for donations, a bunch of ThredUP bags, pretty storage boxes in assorted sizes, some giant yard waste garbage bags, masking tape, and a sharpie.

Step 1: Throw away all obvious garbage. We used the plastic moving boxes for this. Stick a box on the dolly that came at the bottom of the stack, and wheel it around the apartment while you fill it with trash. When it gets full, dump it into the dumpster and start again. (“But you’re not supposed to put loose garbage into dumpsters! Everything has to be in a trash bag!” Sure, but also, screw it. You get to be That Neighbor right now.) (Also, all those Amazon boxes and shoeboxes you’ve been hoarding “in case”? Those are definitely garbage now.)

It’s all garbage, guys.

Step 2: Bookcases. Here is a list of things you are not allowed to take with you:

  • Basically all books printed in black and white that you haven’t touched in over a year. Listen, I get it. Books are amazing. Looking at a bookcase full of the books you’ve read over the years brings back so many memories and feelings, and there’s just something wonderful and cozy about having a whole bunch of old books in your home. And if your book collection is under control, awesome, you can skip this entire post because you clearly have your shit together, etc. If your book collection is not under control, however, it it means that your filtering mechanism is broken. You cannot trust your own brain to decide which books are truly important to you and which books have just been around long enough that they seem important. So do some jumping jacks, drink a cup of coffee, and be really, super honest with yourself. What are the books that you literally cannot imagine living without? Keep those. Load them into one of the plastic moving boxes and label it. Put everything else in cardboard box and put a huge DONATION sticker on it. I’ll address some common concerns below:
    • “but looking at someone’s bookcase is such a great way to get to know them!” So is talking to them. Your home doesn’t need to be a shrine to the type of media you prefer to consume.
    • “but John Waters said to never fuck people if they don’t have a ton of books!” Well, first of all, stop listening to John Waters for decluttering advice. Second, books shouldn’t exist merely as a virtue signaling device. (And, btw, all an insane bookcase signals is “my life is out of control.”) Third, you know what’s even cooler than owning books? Supporting your local library. You can even check out ebooks.
    • “but I love the smell of old books! an e-reader just isn’t the same thing!” Yeah, of course it’s not. But we are Making Sacrifices here. Adjusting to a Kindle is worth living in a sane, adult home. (P.S. a previous-generation Kindle Paperwhite costs $70 and is legit incredible. I honestly kind of hate reading physical books now.)
    • “but I like to underline stuff and make notes in the margins!” First, you can do that on a kindle. Second, when is the last time you were re-reading a book and saw one of your old notes and though “oh boy, I sure am glad I wrote that down for later!”? Third, do you actually make notes in the margins when you write books, or do you just like the idea of being able to?
    • “but I didn’t have a ton of friends in elementary school so reading books became my ‘thing,’ and now as an adult I still carry around some of those childhood insecurities and I’ve internalized a subtle sense of intellectual classism that pits readers against non-readers as a defense mechanism!” Yeah man, me too. It’s hard. I still feel like that weird kid a lot, but it turns out that getting rid of almost all of my books actually made me SO much more chill about the whole thing. Like, I’m still a cool, smart person even without any of my cool, smart accoutrements? Or something? It was very very freeing. Aaaaand at this point I feel like I’m getting a little shrill and insufferable so I’m going to move on.
  • Art/photography books that you haven’t looked at in forever. By all means keep the ones you love (since a Kindle doesn’t quite cut it as a replacement), but don’t hang onto that book your aunt got you from some museum gift shop just because you’d feel guilty giving it away. Donate it, because those books are expensive and there’s someone out there who would genuinely love to have yours.
  • DVDs. Do you have a DVD player currently hooked up to your television? No? Then get rid of every single DVD you own. Put them all in a cardboard donation box.  Even if they’re in cool collector’s packaging, or it has super cool extra features, or whatever other excuse you can think of. Literally every movie ever is available on the internet. If you can’t find it on Amazon or iTunes or whatever, I bet one of your more tech-savvy friends can show you how to acquire it through, erm, less savory means. DVDs are a dead medium to you. If you actually have a DVD player that you use a lot, then I guess… keep your DVDs? I am so unfamiliar with this concept that I don’t have any good advice other than to at least put all of them into a giant CD binder and throw out the cases.
  • CDs: omg are you kidding? DONATE. This should go without saying. Saving any to rip to your hard drive before you donate them is strictly forbidden. If you actually cared enough to do that, you would have already. You have too much shit going on right now to worry about something like that. The only exception to this rule is mix CDs made by a friend who is now deceased. That is a legitimate sentimental item. (CD mixes made by non-deceased people, however, need to go. You haven’t cared enough to rip them by now, so fuck it.)
  • Weird decorative items, especially if they don’t all coordinate with each other. Weird decorative items are like the definition of clutter. I honestly can’t even get too deeply into this because shit like souvenir seashells and cheap picture frames that nobody ever got around to actually putting a picture in all activate my brain’s rage centers pretty much immediately. Just be honest with yourself and only pack the stuff that is REALLY cute or REALLY sentimental. That action figure that you keep on a shelf because it represents your quirky, fun-loving side? That is neither super cute nor super sentimental and it should go in the garbage. Don’t even bother donating this stuff. I know, I know, “but it’s a really high quality decorative mason jar! Someone could get a lot of use out of it!” Nope, sorry. Thrift stores are full to the brim with that kind of garbage, and the only people who buy it are hoarders. You don’t need to pass on your  crap so it can become someone else’s crap. Donating books is one thing, but nobody’s life ever got better because they found a kinda cute Target candle holder at a thrift store.

Oh, and a note about donating vs. dumpstering: don’t sabotage yourself by trying to be perfect. It’s okay to throw stuff out. Yeah, the environment blah blah blah, but also YOU. YOU ARE IMPORTANT TOO. Your health and happiness and ability to function matter. If you need to just trash a dumpster load’s worth of stuff because donating it is too overwhelming, you go ahead and do it. Factory farms and strip mining and palm oil are the things we all need to be worrying about, not whether  throwing out broken coffee makers and 10 year old textbooks is okay. We threw out of LOT of Cayce’s stuff, and I feel totally fine about it. (I staged a little “merchandise” area in her alley next to the dumpster for the nicer stuff [DVD box sets etc] and everything routinely disappeared within a few hours, so that’s an option too.)

If you’re following me on Instagram, you probably noticed that I’ve been picking up a LOT of furniture for Cayce. That’s because the furniture in her old apartment consisted of a bed, a dresser, a tiny desk, a folding card table, and EIGHT BOOKCASES. Two of the bookcases were 4×4 Expedit units–as a reminder, this is what one of them looked like:

The other one was honestly worse. (Can you spot the third Expedit sitting on top of the first one? Yeah that one was bad too. Also theres a whole other Expedit just out of the frame to the left. Now that I’m thinking about it she actually had 10 bookcases. That’s a whole lot of bookcases in one tiny studio apartment, guys.) Day 1 was devoted to just throwing away trash, and when I came back on day 2 she had sorted through and boxed up all of her books. I was a little nervous about exactly how thorough her editing process had been, but when I was unpacking her boxes the next week I discovered that she had absolutely fucking killed it. She went from two completely packed 4×4 Expedits to this:

I have honestly never been more proud.


to be continued…






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