Serendipity and Bibliotherapy

There are whole industries or market segments dedicated to getting organized.   Some months it seems that every magazine has an article about how to get your life in hand and keep your stuff from controlling you.  Each catalog that arrives seems to have a section devoted to “organizational tools”—whether that is a fancy electronic calendar or sets of file folders in colors, or wicker baskets with file inserts, or big plastic tubs.  We build bigger and better houses to put all our stuff in, and then we rent storage units for the overflow—units that we may never look in again once we rent them.

Earlier this summer I had the task of starting to close a family home.  In this particular instance, the residents had lived there since 1953.  One of the couple’s granddaughters said, “Grandma was a hoarder, but she was an organized hoarder.”  This was the truth—there were checks in that house from the sixties, but they were all in order by year.  Did they buy a radio in 1974?  I can tell you what it cost them because they still had the sales receipt in a file clearly marked with the date.

I had, of course, some idea of what I was facing, which might explain my fairly recent fascination with Antiques Roadshow on PBS. That show has been on for years—it’s in its fourteenth season—and I never once watched it; since January, however, I have hardly missed an episode.  I love to see people discover that ugly vase given to them by Aunt Maude is actually worth $15,000.  You can imagine the lovely narrative that’s been running in my head about all the stuff in this family home of ours.  The problem is that getting from the ugly vase to the $15,000 takes a bit of work and research, not to mention rubber gloves, Endust, and perspiration.

One day when I walked through the stacks at our Chatham library, I saw Sell, Keep, or Toss:  How to Downsize a Home, Settle an Estate, and Appraise Personal Property, by Harry L. Rinker.  I just happened to glance down and spot it.  We librarians call this “browsing serendipity.”  Just like some stray cat that I didn’t really want, but whose face I couldn’t forget, I finally went back, picked it up, and took it home.

I think I am a little in love with Harry Rinker.

You don’t want someone who is wishy-washy when they are telling you what to do with fifty years of accumulated detritus.  Rinker has a method that seems helpful, a plan to follow to get your house from an organizational nightmare to what he calls “broom clean” and ready for sale.    He makes you believe you can do it.  He even tells you how long it’s going to take.  No, really!

He also shows you that you need to be realistic about what your things are worth, but that very few things need to go to the junk pile.   That advice alone led me to look online for some things and discover that baby boomers reliving their youth think that it would be cool to have a 1950s era yo-yo.  That thing would have been in a trash can instead of on eBay, where it sold rather quickly, thank you.

So, my reading advice this week has nothing to do with great literature and everything to do with what some call bibliotherapy, using a book to help a person solve a problem.   Harry Rinker is helping me solve mine, and whatever problem you may have, I can pretty much guarantee you that there’s a book to help.  We’d be happy to help you find it here at the library.

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2 Responses to Serendipity and Bibliotherapy

  1. Jessica says:

    I’ve been doing some research about bibliotherapy around the Internet and I found your personal take on it to be really interesting. I think there is a big distinction between self-help books and books that can be used as bibliotherapy. But I also think bibliotherapy can be applied when reading fiction — if you can relate to the character’s struggle, you can see your problem in a new perspective. The decisions that character makes can either help you make yours, or make you realize what the wrong decision is. Either way, relating to someone else (even a fictional character) is always very theraputic.

    • Diane says:

      Thanks for your perceptive comments. I absolutely agree with your take on bibliotherapy, and I often recommend a particular work of fiction with the thought that it might provide new perspectives to a reader. Thanks for adding to the discussion.

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