How I (Finally!) Tackled Five Years of Magazine Hoarding in a Few Hours
And how I’m preventing myself from having to do it ever again
Hello. My name is Yi Shun, and I am a former hoarder of magazines. There was an ugly pile of them in my reading corner, collecting cobwebs and dust (I would vacuum around them and sometimes actually pick up the dustiest of them and actually vacuum those), and I just kept adding to it. But once our semester ended in December, and I had turned in my grades, I sat myself down and plowed through them.
People. There were magazines in that pile from 2017. TWENTY SEVENTEEN! That’s in the Before Times. That’s before TikTok was made widely available! The year that “alternative facts” became a thing!
This pile of magazines was so ugly, so terrifying, that I was tempted to take a photo of it for you and then didn’t, because I was afraid it would melt your eyeballs. (I will be populating this post with pictures of attractive, organized piles of things.)
Here are the magazines that were in my pile:
These are magazines that I wanted to read, or, in the case of The Writer, magazines I had written articles for: I needed to dedicate some time to clipping and scanning these into a file. (I write a monthly column for this magazine, and it’s important for me to have some way of remembering what I’ve already written about: I also keep a spreadsheet of these columns’ topics for quick reference.)
Or, they are magazines in which I always find something of interest, and so I feel bad not reading them. Or, they are special issues of magazines I told myself I needed to dedicate true lifespace to, like in the case of the New York Times magazine’s “1619” issue. Or, they are magazines whose contributions are so weighty that I cannot idly flip through them until I find something that is pretty. These publications are wall-to-wall words with some good graphic design.
Anyway, here’s how I dug myself out of my hole — and how I’m planning on preventing myself from going down it ever again. Maybe this technique will work for you, too!
I decided to tackle my project first thing in the morning. I made myself a cup of hot coffee and put myself in my reading corner. I turned on the lights above my head, settled into my chair, and grabbed a stack of magazines. This first stack comprised nearly entirely issues of The Writer.
My primary problem with this publication is that I grab the mail mid-morning, when I am in need of a break to go outside. But I am still mid-workflow at that time of the day, so I’ll just page through to my column, see that it was printed okay and that I didn’t say anything stupid (no, my editor would never allow this, but it is still very much a fear; isn’t that weird?), and then throw it on the magazine pile “for later.” I don’t even read the rest of the magazine at that time, which is really, really dumb. There are articles and features I learn from and can use in every single issue.
So I made two piles. One is the pile of my columns/things I wrote. The other pile is a pile of articles I wanted to sit down with “later.” (I told myself I wouldn’t let “later” get out of hand.) I made the second pile by scanning the headline of the article and the body of it, to see if it jogged anything in me.
My two piles eventually became three, because there were whole magazines, like the 1619 issue and all of my issues of Smithsonian, that I really do want to read in total.
This process — I believe I went through 50, 60 magazines in total — took me about three hours overall. I did it over two mornings, and largely enjoyed the time I spent on it.
Feelings, let’s talk about my feelings
A number of unexpected emotions popped up while I was undertaking this task.
- Regret: Why did I let so long go by before I read these wonderful articles? I have missed so much! And now I am untimely.
- Appreciation: Boy, this graphic design sure is good. These photos are gorgeous! And look, here’s an article in which I quoted a good friend and that I meant to send to that good friend. Holy birds, here’s one in which a good friend is featured! Gah!
- Urgency: Some of these are articles I can put to work for me, or my students, right away.
What I did with those feelings also led to some unexpectedly joyful actions:
- I put the articles I meant to send to friends in the post right away. I love mailing things. I love writing short notes and sticking stamps on things and putting it all in my mailbox, raising the little flag. Sometimes I stuff the envelope with other goodies, just for shits and grins. Everything about this act fills me with joy.
- I’m resubscribing to a publication I had let lapse. I had previously subscribed to it out of a sense of duty, but I realized that I was tearing out so many good essays, things I could put to work right away, that it was stupid to put myself at risk for missing out in the future. I never read it because I could get some of the content online. Because it was intimidating. (This is one of those “wall of words” publications.) I thought I was doing enough just by subscribing, but misguided philanthropy turns out to be a crappy reason to collect magazines.
- As I was reading through some student work, I used some of the articles to bolster the commentary I was making on their essays. I scanned those in and saved them to my class files. I’ll probably use them again.
- I didn’t let even twelve hours go by before I got to work scanning the columns I’ve had published. I put them all in a Google Drive file, where they can be easily accessed if I need them. (Now that I’m typing this, I’m remembering that I haven’t filled out the spreadsheet of column topics, so I’ll make a note to do that later today.)
The road forward
So now that my pile is mostly cleared, what I’m left with is a reasonable stack of 10 magazines and a pile of 63 articles I want to read. This is so far down from 72 articles, which I’ve already read through and trashed; or scanned in for later use; or read and internalized in my general store of knowledge/taken notes on.
Here’s what I’ll be doing in the weeks ahead:
- I’ve made a “magazines” habit tracker in my diary, just to make sure I spend some time each day with this pile of articles/my magazines. (This just means that every day I manage to read an issue off my pile or an article or two off my other pile, I get to check that day off on my calendar.)
- In the future, when a magazine arrives in my mailbox, I’ll be blocking off some time to spend with it.
Perhaps most importantly, I’m going to try to stop seeing my magazines as a task. Magazines are meant to be a pleasure. I worked in the industry for years, both in publishing and editorial, and it was my privilege and pleasure to be a part of an engine that was purely bent around entertainment. I don’t have to read a magazine all the way through in one fell swoop, like it’s homework. I can pick and choose the stuff that interests me.
I’m not sure how I lost track of that. But it’s never too late to gain a new perspective.
P.S., just so we’re clear, I’ll never feel ready to tackle a subscription to The New Yorker.
Yi Shun Lai (say “yeeshun” for her first name; “lie” for her last) is the author of Not a Self-Help Book: The Misadventures of Marty Wu, a novel, and Pin Ups, a memoir. Her column on appreciating diverse literature, “Broadening the Bookshelves,” runs every month in The Writer magazine. She teaches inclusion workshops for creatives at CanIPlayThat.com