Stop hoarding magazines

My 98-year-old paternal grandmother loves National Geographic magazine. When we helped move her into a one-bedroom apartment in a retirement community a few years ago, I was shocked to discover that she had been saving every issue of the magazine for more than 30 years. The collection (stored in dozens of cardboard boxes in her attic) contained somewhere between 400 and 500 monthly issues and special printings.

I try not to think about how quickly those boxes of magazines could have burned in a house fire and am glad that such an accident never happened.

Unfortunately, all of the time, effort, and space my grandmother sacrificed to keep her collection was superfluous because the last 112 years of National Geographic magazines are now available on 32 CDs. I would prefer that they appear on DVDs, but 32 CDs still take up less shelf space than thousands of the yellow border magazines.

This isn’t the only magazine to undertake such an endeavor. The New Yorker (8 DVDs) and Mad Magazine (1 DVD) are just two of many magazines to publish their decades of collections. And, the digital collections don’t stop with magazines. Marvel Comics has also released many of their publications in complete collections, like Spider-Man (1 DVD), X-Men (1 DVD), Incredible Hulk (1 DVD), Iron Man (1 DVD), Ghost Rider (1 DVD), Fantastic Four (1 DVD), and Captain America (1 DVD).

If your favorite magazine isn’t on CD or DVD yet, I still stand by my previous suggestion to scan your favorite articles and file them on your computer using DevonThink, Yojimbo, One Note or a personally created digital filing system.

35 Comments for “Stop hoarding magazines”

  1. posted by sam on

    I had no idea that publishing companies were publishing whole magazine runs on CD – what a great idea!

    However, I have to say that I believe that scanning articles and saving them on to your computer may contravene the copyright law of your country!

    A better idea might be to cut out those that you want and keep them in lever arch files – this does not contravene copyright law in the UK in the way that scanning and keeping might.

  2. posted by Raven on

    This article made me laugh.

    When I moved out of my mother’s house, an uncle helped and after lifting, oh, 6 crates or so of NGs, he told me I was on my own for the rest (at least 6 more crates!) and that he was willing to bet I’d never move them again.

    He was right.

    Scanning and saving to your hard drive is definitely the way to go. πŸ™‚

  3. posted by Erin Doland on

    @Sam — If I remember my media law correctly (and, I’ll admit, it’s been more than 10 years since I was in school), I think it’s fine to do whatever you want to with your magazines as long as you don’t distribute their content or try to profit from them. If you decide to cut up a magazine for a collage, line the bottom of a birdcage, or scan an article for later, personal reference, I don’t believe any of these situations violate copyright laws in the US. There is no difference between cutting an article out of a magazine and putting it in a file folder and scanning an article and putting it in a file folder on your computer.

  4. posted by Dave Ripley on

    Also available — National Lampoon and Rolling Stone:

    And I have to mention that it’s spelled Spider-Man, not Spiderman. πŸ™‚

  5. posted by Julie on

    Just one plea – when you do throw out your old NG’s, your public library does not want them. Trust me, the library already has the entire run both in print and online. Be kind to your library and don’t donate your garbage.

    I can’t believe how many filthy, smelly, moldy boxes of books people cheerily bring into our library as donations.

  6. posted by Matt on

    I love this idea.

    I also have another for a possible post. I tend to unclutter my magazines yearly with an exacto knife. A perfect example is Men’s Health.

    1) I cut off the cover
    2) Go through the magazine front to back cutting out any health, diet or exercise information I enjoyed
    3) Staple each article together
    4) Paper clip the month’s issue
    5) Put them in a thin plastic briefcase folder

    The best is, I have two or three years of magazines in a small folder. I often go through them to switch up a work out, or when I travel. Why only have 1 month of reading material, when you can have 12?

    You’ll get weird looks when you pull it out on a plane, but I tend not to care!

  7. posted by TallDave on

    Add Rolling Stone and Playboy to your list.

  8. posted by Marjorie on

    One of the millions of clutter books I’ve read called National Geographic “the wall of gold”.

  9. posted by fojxl on

    I binned all my magazines a few years ago. Now I only keep the current and previous issue. As soon as the new issue hits the mat, I throw the oldest one.

    Instead of taking up feet of space on a shelf, you can get a couple of issues of a dozen periodicals in one magazine file.

  10. posted by Leslie on

    As much as it’s important to unclutter; keep in mind that there may also be a market for those items that we may want to throw away. A friend grew up in a house where her dad saved every magazine he ever subscribed to. Now, I was put off by the amount of STUFF piling up too, but when they had a major roof leak and no money, they were able to sell off complete decades of issues of Life and Time – enough to pay for the roof.

    Recently, I had to clear out my aunt’s belongings. She had every mortgage, insurance and tax paper associated with every house she owned since coming to the US in the 40s. My mom tossed all of the papers, but my sister pulled them out, made a few phone calls and found buyers for all the advertising emphemera on the receipts and paperwork. Apparently it was a goldmine to someone else and mom got a nice price for the whole lot.

    I’m working on keeping the paper mess to a minimum at home and we much prefer online subscriptions to paper, but before we scoff at someone else’s clutter and offer to toss it – it might just pay for a nice dinner out.


  11. posted by Hayden Tompkins on


    Whew. I know my reaction seems a tad extreme but as a child of a hoarder whose father insisted NG’s were reference materials and then NEVER REFERENCED THEM – I just had to get that off my chest.

  12. posted by AA on

    Before chucking these in the garbage, check your local and see if any charities or schools may have a use for them. It’s better for them to be used again than tossed in a landfill πŸ™‚

  13. posted by cevec on

    I’ve been wanting to scan in my mags for a while now, but have found that my flatbed scanner doesn’t work very well for this task: the area is smaller than the magazine page, which means I have to scan two pieces in and “fit” them together in Photoshop; also, I always get glare toward the fold. Is there a handheld scanner that might work better? Short of ripping the pages out of the magazines, how can I avoid the second problem?

  14. posted by Cyrano on

    THIS IS EXCELLENT. My wife’s birthday is coming up and she is a huge NG reader, but hates that it takes up space in our apartment. This might be a perfect gift!

  15. posted by Erin Doland on

    @cevec — Without any hesitations, I recommend the Fujitsu Scan Snap. We did a review of it here:

  16. posted by Jon King on

    I’m in the minority here but viewing things on CD is just not the same as having a book in your hand. Scanning is a major time consuming process. I like the keep the ones that your really speak to you and recycle the rest.

    Here is an interesting site:

  17. posted by delphine on

    Oh man this hits so close to home. My dad loves National Geographic and has every issue dating back to the seventies or something. And, sometime ago he was “lucky” enough to find bound editions of early national geographics at a yard sale so now we have them all going back to like the 1930s. My parents are always fighting over the national geographics lol.

  18. posted by annab on

    I second the freecycle idea: there’s someone out there that would love to use those magazines for collages, decoupage, etc.

  19. posted by Via Farkas on

    I think NG maps would be excellent wrappers. Is this NG hoarding among dads contagious or what? Mine also managed to buy bound early issues. And we’re in Middle-Europe, so the fact that it reached this far means this disease must be more serious than bird flu! πŸ˜€

  20. posted by lana on

    I agree with Jon King. I’m the same way about my lp records – part of the enjoyment for me is holding the actual book, magazine, or lp in my hands and reveling in the gorgeous photography or artwork. Sitting in front of a computer monitor can never compare.

    Also that particular National Geographic set had terrible reviews from real fans of the magazine (from what I recall). I think most of the complaints were about the poor quality of the scans – they were scanned as image files (even the text of entire articles) rather than .pdfs, which meant awful legibility and no ability to search the collection or print favorite photos or articles.

    That being said, I’ve gotten rid of all but my most precious/rare magazines and books. Anything I can get from the library, I don’t want in my house. Anything we’re not actively reading is organized and stored in waterproof bins in the garage (I’m down to 7 from a lifetime high of 22!). I also stopped subscribing to the “throwaway” types mags and use zinio instead:

    We still get a ton of enjoyment out of our lps though, so they’re not going anywhere. Luckily we found a nice rack to hold them, otherwise I wouldn’t be so sanguine about it.

  21. posted by Gwen B. on

    30 years . . . she is a newbee. My mother-in-law’s father had begun collecting NGs when he was a young boy. My mother-in-law continued the tradition through the mid-80’s. When she finally stopped collecting them, she had every issue from 1911 . . .

    Although your local library may not be interested in your old books or magazines, a “friends of the library” group may have a different view. . .

  22. posted by Amanda on

    This may sound silly, but I just had to go and check that the NG CD’s include the advertisements that were originally in the magazines (they do). My friend has a collection dating back to the 1920’s, and my favorite things to look at are the $400 cars for sale, and slightly sketchy medical cure-alls.

  23. posted by John of Indiana on

    The Radio Ham’s magazine, “QST” is also available on CD. I used to keep huge moldy piles of the things hanging about, then I’d cut out the articles I was interested in, now I have all of them from 1914 to 1998 on disc. Takes up a hell of a lot less room.
    As a “Friend of the Library” in my town, we’ll take anything for our annual book sale, but I notice that in Indianapolis, they have boxes of Geographics in the “Free to a Good Home” corner. We charge a dime.
    And don’t land fill ’em, recycle!

  24. posted by periodical hoarding is a real problem on

    Excellent post.

    One thought though: Although the scanning idea works for your average people, who might save a couple magazines for an article here or there, or people trying to toss old instruction manuals and paper, it’s not feasible for your classic “periodical hoarder”

    I think hoarding of periodical publications is a HUGE problem among hoarders, and the scanning idea is of course not really for them.

    The guy with 50 six foot long boxes of comics that are “worth something.” the dad with the garage full of TV Guides, or National Geographic, or Life magazine. I even knew of a friend’s parent who hoarded the NEWSPAPER in giant piles.

    There is something about magazines and comics that triggers something for a hoarder. It’s the idea of having “a complete collection” or something. It’s got very little to do with the content.

    My brother hoards comics. He buys them, reads them, and stuffs them into those six foot long white boxes that are filling up my parents’ house.

    My sense is that they are worthless, and I also suspect the comic industry fosters this myth of “comics have resale value” to pump up sales.

    Sure, a superman comic from 1935 is worth something because they were tossed out like junk and are now extremely rare! But if hundreds of people hoard a Spiderman comic from 1990, it’s not worth anything except as a fire hazard.

    Anyone have any tips on helping a loved one who hoards periodical publications?

  25. posted by periodical hoarding is a real problem on

    One other problem with the comics — it would be easier if I could convince my brother they aren’t worth any more than an old TV Guide from 1989.

    He doesn’t even have them sorted in any sane manner — they are just stored in the boxes.

    He buys this ridiculous magazine called Wizard which contains a “price guide” to comics, as if they are rare gems. Again, maybe there are a few comics out there worth something, but since the rise of Ebay I really think that’s few and far between.

    He hoards the Wizards as well.

  26. posted by periodical hoarding is a real problem on

    Sorry for all the posts, but I did want to share — my brother also obsessively purchases tons of sci-fi books, books on tape, DVDs, videocassettes, CDs (many of which that went unopened), sci-fi toy figurines, trading cards, and other such materials.

    It had become this giant “stew” of pop culture / sci-fi clutter — as if Comic Con had exploded inside my parents’ house. He went into $16,000 of credit card debt acquiring this material over the course of about ten years.

    One thing we had some luck with (my parents and other adult siblings) was with Goodwill. We went through his stuff with him and let him pick out things to put in boxes and give to Goodwill.

    Goodwill took it all with no questions — they just gave us a receipt. They weren’t picky whether it was books, CDs, magazines, etc. I imagine they resell it to help the charity out.

    So if anyone reading this is desperate to help a hoarding loved one, getting them to pick out stuff for charity and tossing it in boxes and giving it to Goodwill might be an answer. My brother seemed relieved it was “going to good use” at Goodwill.

  27. posted by verily on

    My father keeps every copy of Consumer Reports that he’s received. He even went so far as to punch holes in them and stick them in very large 3 ring binders. One for each year.

    I trumped his little organization system in 30 seconds by signing up for Consumer Reports online, which gives me full access to their database and every report published in the past several years. No clutter, no dusty fire hazards…

    As an old Marvel fan, I really need to get my hands on the DVD set. Definitely better than buying the hefty graphic novels or keeping long boxes of comics.

  28. posted by STL Mom on

    I hated to throw out my old interior decorating magazines, so I put an ad on Craigslist. Within a day I had over 10 responses from people who wanted my dusty pile of Metropolitan Homes. They ranged from a woman who had just bought her first house to a professional designer. I was thrilled that they could be re-used.
    I try to bring my recent magazines to the YMCA as soon as I finish them, for people to read while on the exercise bikes.
    However, the main way to reduce magazine clutter is to NOT SUBSCRIBE. I’ve gotten my husband and I down to three magazines, and it is a lot easier to keep up. I have even refused offers of free subscriptions, because I know how quickly they build up.

  29. posted by Matt on

    For years I saved magazines, clipped out newspaper articles that interested me, kept stacks of credit card and bank statements etc… Then one day I got a scanner so I could digitize the family photo albums. I ended up scanning almost everything I had collected over the years and tossing the originals away.

    Since I scanned all that stuff I have never once looked at any of it but that is beside the point. Its as if scanning it gave me ‘permission’ to throw it away because I knew if I ever really needed it(which of course I never will) it would be available. This I think is the fundamental hoarder’s mindset, someday-I-might-need-it syndrome. Thats why I sometimes confuse trash for treasure.

    In one way I traded one collecting obsession for another because I still scan things in frequently but the repercussions for digital hoarding aren’t nearly as severe as the alternative. I’d rather fill up my hard drive with crap than my house.

  30. posted by jfg69 on

    Anyone have a recommendation on a scanning/personal filing application for Linux OS?

  31. posted by Paul Begley on

    Just a side note, National Geographic ceased to publish the issues on CD for a variety of technical reasons. If you google about, you will find that some of the photos, arguably the best part of NG, are not high resolution scans.

    Also, from what I have read, they won’t be updated further and they won’t be available on DVD. One of the reviewers (posted in 2002) made the comment:

    “…case of copyright infringement that National Geographic lost and then was required to pay a freelance photographer for re-use of his pictures in this CD-ROM product. The economics of intellectual property involved in creating such a product may be cost-prohibitive for National Geographic in the future.”

  32. posted by Daniel on

    MAD Magazine is available on DVD? Great!

    Well, this comment doesn’t seem to have much sense. I just wanted to say thank you for this tip. One new thing learned by reading a blog. πŸ˜‰

  33. posted by tony on

    I stopped buying magazines. Instead, I visit my favorite Border book store about twice a week. I would purchase a large Latte and grab a few magazines and read through them and put them back. I Feel like I’m not being a consumer, except for my Latte, and the magazines will not be cluttering my home.

  34. posted by Marie on

    The best present I ever bought my parents was National Geographic on CDs.

    My father had collected them since the 60s and I remember as a child walking into the unfinished master bathroom that was filled with stacks of yellow magazines taller than I was. When they moved, my mother persuaded him to finish up the bathroom to bump up the house value and donate all of the NG magazines to the library.

    I think he still misses having the paper versions, but the CDs are amazing.

  35. posted by Cathrn on

    I’m biting my nails just reading this article. I have three piles of magazines sitting in my office alongside my books and CDs. I know they have to go, but I just CAN’T bring myself to do it!

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