I was on “the internet” today and I learned about something today that I always innately understood but didn’t know that someone had put a name to it:Parkinson’s Law. To quote the anonymous scholars of Wikipedia “Parkinson’s Law is the adage first articulated by Cyril Northcote Parkinson as the first sentence of a humorous essay published in The Economist in 1955” It states “Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.” The article goes on to provide a variety of corollaries and further adages based on this Law,relating to everything from laws of supply and demand to computer science. One of these encapsulates the concept that had brought me to this page in the first pace:“Data expands to fill the space available for storage.” This is the concept,especially how it can relate to collecting and collectors,that I was trying to put into words. Day’s corollary to Parkinson’s Law:Collections expand to fill the space available to store them in.
When I first started collecting comics properly (as opposed to just reading Harvey digests on family trips to Minnesota) I kept them in a rather smart little suitcase that I stored under my bed. It nicely held the X-Men and Power Pack comics that made up my collection to that point. But that collection grew,and soon I moved on to my first cardboard longbox,and that made me feel quite the proper grown-up collector. Then that one longbox became two longboxes became three and so on. But I was still young and I had all the room I wanted in my parent’s home.
When I went off to college the buying went down a bit,mostly because there weren’t that many options to buy comics in a tiny town in Indiana. Since I was getting most of my books mail-order at that point,that small pile just lived in a cardboard box in a closet (or memorably in a pile next to my sleeping bag during a two month period when I slept on the floor of some friend’s dorm room). You find the space if you need it,but a student’s life is one of economy so the living area is tight and your possessions are mean. All the time,though,in the back of your mind you start planning for when you have the space to spread out and the income to fill that space.
After graduation I moved to Chicago and bounced around a variety of one and two-bedroom apartments. Now,storage was always a matter of negotiation between the available space in the apartment and the needs of any roommates you might be sharing that space with. Despite these limitations,it always seemed that the size and scope of any comics or books in my collections always seemed to fit the current circumstances nicely. At first it was just a shelf in a closet,one bookcase,and a longbox under my work clothes. Then I got my own place and had room for another bookcase (and then another) and another longbox (and then another). A new roommate with a larger living room (and vast amounts of patience) meant I could addeven more bookcases. The next apartment was solo again,and smaller,but now gave me a bedroom with enough room that I lined it with bookcases (a sight which never failed to impress any,ahem,guests;especially the row of action figures on top of each shelf). In each of these moves I had more space available to me and I always (at least after a brief honeymoon period of looking at a few empty or well spaced partially-filled shelves) managed to fill it.
The last apartment I had in Chicago was the first where I was able to have a home office,which was my first opportunity to create something like a “library.” By this point I had grown tired of the size of long boxes and I switched to my now standard “short box.” I even found some cheap wooden shelving that fit tightly into a large closet in the office so that I could keep the cardboard boxes up and available and away from any leaks and seepage (as this was a garden apartment). My office was a long,thin room,and just barely fit my desk,my chair,and opposite,a bookcase. This gave me about two inches to back up from my desk before I hit a bookcase. Again,I found every available bit of wall space and filled it with bookcases,and managed to fill it all. Like the Blob in the diner,you might just be big enough to swallow Steve McQueen when you go in,but by the time you leave you are oozing out of ever vent and door jam.
There always seems to be more space to be found,or ways to optimize the space available to you. I realize I have been “lucky” to not have had to share my space with someone else beyond “roomate” to this point,and thus haven’t had to make any of the compromises yet which are necessary in negotiating a combined space. It has always been all my space and so I have filled it according to my needs. If I find new space,I can stick a bookcase in it and then fill that bookcase. I think when European immigrants did that to a newly “discovered” land they called America a couple of hundred years ago they ended up expanding and expanding until they hit the Pacific Ocean and even then managed to fill the space they had just come to even more. However,they managed to almost completely displace the indigenous population and destroy a good portion of the existing ecosystem along the way. So maybe your comic buying habit is equivalent to our country’s treatment of the Native American population;did you think about that?
My friend “John,” a fellow collector or reader here in Chicago,lives in a shared space and finds it helps him control impulses that might otherwise go unchecked. Living in a two-bedroom condominum with his wife and child means that all space is shared space. In their living room they have an absolutely gorgeous bookshelf which houses fiction,non-fiction,and plays which he and his wife read and have read (along with one or two books on comics approved for public consumption). Then in the bedroom is a small shelf for a collection of graphic novels and,apparently,a box under the bed with his comics. He writes to me (while discussing a preference for collected editions over single issue collecting):
…but since the object will go on a shelf instead of in a box under my bed,I’m forced to be more circumspect. Shelf space proves a natural deterrent,even against series that are designed to make you crave that full set of spines (like Sin City). Buying more shelves means figuring out where to put them,assembly,and of course negotiating with [my wife] …all of that puts the brakes on.
As I think about it,I’ve really maxed out the space for comics under our bed as well …perhaps this was as much the thing that broke my habit of buying monthlies.
So just like having a budget is supposed to force you to make harder decisions when it comes to making purchases or spending money,having limited physical space for the things you might want to buy forces you to make harder decisions on whether or not,or even how,you buy them. (He is right,you know,you want that full set of Sin City collections because the spines create a picture when they are all lined up in order and…stop,control yourself Day!)
I think I want to be in a similar situation moving forward. After I finish the great cull I want to be at a point where I no longer buy more shelves to fill with more things. You want to either reach equilibrium,or continue to shrink. You don’t arrange for more space so you can buy more things;you examine what you own and if you want to keep it,and then if you are able to you acquire a new book or two. Use the space you have,rather than fill the space you can get.
[And this doesn’t even take into account how the lack of a need for physical space can throw things out of proportion. Music is insane now. First I get rid of the jewel cases so that I can compress the existing music collection down to a series of binders and that makes it easier to buy more CDs without needing to find the space. But now that music is just a file on a computer,and you can buy giant hard drives for nothing,not only do I not listen to older music I may own,I don’t even listen to new music I acquire. I don’t even know what the answer is there.
[But that is a worry for another day.]