The Canadian newspaper The Globe and Mail ran an article last week about artist and writer Douglas Coupland. Irrespective of if you are familiar with Coupland’s work, “A Generation X pack rat forfeits his treasures” is a thought-provoking article that explores the fanfare surrounding Coupland’s recent donation of his home’s vast collection of clutter to a university’s library.
On Thursday, the library at the University of British Columbia announced it had acquired Mr. Coupland’s papers, a voluminous and fascinating collection now available to researchers.
Among the treasures is the first draft of the novel Generation X, the title of which became a catchphrase for those who, like the 48-year-old author, were born in the shadow of self-obsessed baby boomers. The opening page of the draft, written in tidy cursive in blue ink, includes the author’s annotations and revisions.
The archive is stored in 122 boxes featuring 30 metres of text and graphic material. It includes 30 objects, 40 audio and videocassettes, and 1,425 photographs, among them a Polaroid snapshot of Terry Fox’s artificial leg. (The prolific author’s credits include a non-fiction book about Mr. Fox’s aborted cross-Canada run.)
Articles such as this always make me uncomfortable with their choice of words like “treasures” and “archives” when discussing someone’s clutter. And, I’m not the one calling the 122 boxes clutter, Coupland is:
“I was feeling like I was on that TV show Hoarders,” Mr. Coupland said Thursday. “The excuses people gave for keeping an old empty Styrofoam cup were the same reasons I was using for holding on to stuff. It was a wake-up moment.
“The moment it was out the door, I felt a thousand pounds lighter.”
Coupland admits that keeping all these things was unfulfilling and he was happy to see all of the clutter go — but the article treats his things like an archeological discovery “now available to researchers.” And, based on a paragraph in the middle of the article, it sounds like the library may have paid for the donation:
The library received the archive 18 months ago after several years of gentle entreaties and, finally, serious negotiations.
Reality is that the majority of us and our things will end up in landfills and recycling centers. We are not Douglas Couplands. No one is interested in our clutter. We do not need to be curators or purveyors of stuff for future generations. But articles like this one seem to promote collecting or hoarding random things on the chance that we might become famous and that someone might be interested in our stuff and they might pay us for it.
What do you think? What came to your mind while you were reading this article? Were you as conflicted about the message of the article as I was? I’m interested in reading your reactions to this thought-provoking piece, and I’m glad Coupland is now living clutter free.
(Thanks to all the readers who sent this news story our way.)