Few columns have brought a more empathetic response from readers than the one about our sinking under an avalanche of newspapers, magazines and mailings at our house.
Perhaps the best advice I received was from a woman I met at a dinner.
"Listen," she said. "Every week when the New Yorker comes, throw the last one out. Every week when Newsweek comes, throw the last one out. Believe me. It's the only way."
If only we could.
Many readers have written to say that they have the same problem, and some have accused me of adding to it.
"Believe this," writes Erika Spangler of Redondo Beach, "as I was reading your column, shaking my head with the resolve that this madness must stop, I was reaching for my scissors."
Mrs. Spangler says she is waiting for some "mortal sign" that forces her to do something so the proper persons will inherit her treasury of wisdom.
Gina Barker of El Cajon writes: "When you read a good Jack Smith, or Jim Sanderson, or Leo Buscaglia, or even Erma--you just can't read 'em and throw 'em away!"
"I'll save your column, of course," admits Pat Teal, Fullerton literary agent. "Please feel free to throw away my letter, immediately. But I'll bet you won't."
"You have been spying on us," says Douglas I. Pirus of Garden Grove. "How else can you explain your accurate description of our household?"
Several readers suggested that we take our newspapers to a recycling center, and we have made contact with an agency that will do that for us. But will we give them up?
The only difference between his problem and mine, says Pirus, is that he takes Aviation Week, Smithsonian, Connoisseur, Reader's Digest, Journal of Irreproducible Results, New Woman, and Verbatim, while we get Vanity Fair, the New Yorker, Newsweek, People, Sunset, Discover and the Skeptical Inquirer.
I should have said that we also get the Smithsonian, Connoisseur, Verbatim and the Washington Journalism Review.
The Journal of Irreproducible Results sounds interesting. Pirus inquired about the Skeptical Inquirer and I sent him a subscription form. I hope he sends me one for the JIR.
"You are singing our song," writes Barbara Rieber of Pacific Palisades. "For years I have been aware that Bill and I were slowly drowning in paper. . . ."
George E. Meyer advises that a plastic grocery bag, supermarket type, will hold just one week of the Los Angeles daily and Sunday Times. These can then be put out on trash day to be picked up by people who cruise the streets for discarded newspapers.
"Your column caused a burst of spontaneous laughter," says Laurence de Rycke, consulting economist, "the first relaxation I have had after several days of important, tension-producing work. You are singing our song. We thought it happened only to us. It is good to know we are not alone."
"I too," writes Jan Marshall of Studio City, "have this condition called congenital compulsive collectivitis. Translated from the medical it is the fear of throwing something out.
"Even after reading it," she explains, "I am reluctant to discard information. Truthfully, Mr. Smith, could you part with 'How a Fungus Saved My Marriage,' 'What We Can Learn From Pelicans,' 'Sex and Arthritis: Can We Have One Without the Other?' and my favorite, 'Guilt Without Sex,' which is a real timesaver?" She adds: "If you ever need assorted shower curtain rings or left side earrings, call!"
"I'm delighted," writes Ruth E. Smith of Porterville, "to learn that another soul is overwhelmed by the plethora of paper that inundates us daily. . . ."
Raymond C. Rothman of Woodland Hills says that his wife is worse than mine: "We have lived in the same house for over 30 years. The newspapers are stacked neatly about five feet high, covering the floor and furniture in our den and second bedroom. My wife has a collection of cookbooks, travel books and maps that fill the floor to ceiling bookshelves of the same two rooms. It got so bad that I had to buy a condo three minutes from the house to put my computer in, do my writing and watch UCLA football on TV."
It sounds to me as if Rothman's wife just wants to travel.
Marilyn A. Young says that, being a child of the Great Depression, she can't throw anything away. She darns socks, turns collars and replaces zippers. She used to wash and save every glass jar.
"The last time I was so engaged, it finally came over me how senseless this had all been. I had saved them because Mother always did."
"Take heart," writes C. Deuprey. "The excess things in your house can be eliminated. What you do is go through your house with two questions in mind. Am I using this? Will I ever use it? If the answer is no, THROW!"
"I wonder if everyone in our age group becomes a pack rat," says Jeannette McMillan. "We keep saving things for the future, forgetting we probably don't have that much future left, and all we're doing is leaving a mess for our progeny. . . ."
"For the sake of your children," advises Irene S. Moehlman of Regents Point, Irvine, "you and your wife should start now to get rid of all that excess clutter. Consider your family and think how they would feel confronted with stacks and stacks of paper to sort through. . . ."
I also have a post card from Jake Zeitlin about the hopeless clutter in his house, but I can't find it.