One of the most humorous things I notice in my work as a Professional Organizer is how many people collect National Geographic magazines. I think of them as the "Golden Shelves of Glory" when I walk into a room and see them. Here's a photo of some in a basement, but often they are very prominently displayed in living rooms or in office shelving units.
Funny thing– I have never met anyone who actually references them or does anything useful with them beyond occasionally letting their kids cut them up for social studies projects. (Clearly now that I have said this, I will hear from someone in the comments how saving these won them a science project award, made them some money, saved someone's life, stopped a bullet, etc.)
In my opinion, saving National Geographic, along with its close cousins The New Yorker and Architectural Digest, provides us examples of these three phenomena:
- "Perfectly Good" Syndrome. "These are too nice to throw away… surely these have some kind of value! I don't want to waste them!" Read here on National Geographic's own website where it says that issues from the 1920s to the present are fairly easy to find. Are some of yours older than 1920? If so, they may be worth something to a serious collector (here is a list of dealers that NG maintains). But if you have the typical last few decades' worth, they are a dime a dozen.
- "Manifest Destiny/Collect Them All" Syndrome. "I've collected these since I was a kid." So you keep on doing it, just because… but why? Really, why? This may have become an unconscious action and you have a choice to stop doing it at any moment. Having a "complete" collection of these magazines doesn't provide any more value to your life than not having it. You can just stop.
- "I'm a Sophisticated Person" Syndrome. You're not even reading them when they arrive, but you're saving them because somewhere in your mind it makes you feel like you're the kind of person who does read them. Subscribing and saving them makes you absorb their knowledge by osmosis alone. And when people come over and look at your bookshelves, they know you're a literary, worldly kind of guy. Sometimes owning certain objects allows us to believe things about our own identity– things that might not reflect reality but instead reflect our aspirations and visions of our ideal selves.
Here are some questions to consider about your magazine collection:
- Do you ever refer to them?
- Are they useful in any way?
- Are they beautiful? Yes, they are Golden Shelves of Glory, but what else could be in their place that you might enjoy more, like favorite books or photos or artwork?
- Have they added any value to your life, enough to merit the space they occupy?
- Have you indexed your collection? In other words, if you needed information on Burkina Faso, would you know which issue to grab?
- Could you find that same information online or in your public library, without having to be "the keeper of the archives" yourself?
- What would happen if you moved? Do you realize how much your collection weighs and how much it would cost you to move it?
- Do you realize that your kids do not want to have this collection? (I am a betting kind of gal and I would take that bet.)
- What is the cost of keeping it? Storage costs money, particularly if you have offsite storage units. Golden Shelves of Glory represent many linear feet of shelf space that could be used for other more useful and relevant things.
National Geographic suggests on their FAQ page that you donate your collections to schools or hospitals, and they give some addresses where you can mail your collections (but you'll have to pay shipping costs– look out!). Here in Austin, Half Price Books stores do take them and sell them, and your local used book dealer may also do so. You can also try selling or giving them away at a garage sale. And, you can recycle them. You really can–they are just paper and millions of copies of them exist elsewhere. If you must, keep some issues that are relevant to your own life, like the issue from your month and year of birth or those of your children or grandchildren.
Do you have Golden Shelves of Glory? Tell us why in the comments! And no comments about native booby pictures, be nice. 🙂
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