Thursday, February 12, 2015

Magazines - Aspirational Clutter?

It's no surprise that my blog post "Hoarding, Collecting or Savvy Buying" is one of the most popular on this blog. Most model railroaders I know (including me!) are buried in inventory. This time around, the "inventory" I'm talking about is not those yet-to-built kits, detail parts and endless stacks of "someday" projects.
Instead, I'm talking about what to do about the one common element that unites virtually every model railroader - the seemingly endless stacks (or boxes, or shelves...) of old model railroad magazines.
To understand my point you need to realize the publishing industry sees a magazine as nothing more than an advertising delivery system. - The goal is to tempt consumers with editorial content to read and enjoy and for them to (hopefully) buy stuff from the advertisers, and then dispose of the magazine just in time for the next issue to arrive and tempt them with more wonderful products and services.
Model railroaders seem to have missed the "dispose" part of the equation - it's truly remarkable how many old magazines are sitting under model railroads. I remember when I worked at Kalmbach the non-hobbyist employees were always surprised when a reader would come by the office for a tour and more often than not quip "I've been getting MR and Trains since I was a kid, and I still have every issue!" (I should add they often had similar collections of RMC, Mainline Modeler, Narrow Gauge Gazette, et al....)
Two events coincided to bring this up as a blog post. I don't as a rule spend a lot of time reading non-railroad blogs (though there are a few finance/investing bloggers I follow) but recently came across this blog while searching about the internet for storage ideas for my wife's art room. 
You can read the full post here ( 
It's an interesting post but these two paragraphs really resonated with me. Read them and see if this doesn't remind you of a model railroader (or three) you might know:

"Then there is the futile exercise of saving magazines for those few articles that you might want to refer back to later on. Or cutting them out and filing then in plastic sleeves in a folder somewhere. My experience of this is, without proper, time consuming indexing, it is difficult to find those articles again when, or if, you ever do want to reference them. This is another form or aspirational clutter. And once again it is so much easier to find this information on the internet, with a few key words typed into your computers search bar."
"I am speaking from experience here. I once used to save every issue of several paper crafting magazines and save clippings from catalogues etc. Now I find all the inspiration or information I need with the tap of a few keys. No, heavy lifting, no allergy issues from the dust when dragged out after long periods, no having to dust them in between times, no big bulky bookcase to store them in, no wasted money, no wasted trees, no frustrating advertising, no agonising over if and when to declutter them, and no constant aspiration of actually doing something with the information in those articles I once thought I couldn’t live without."

Reading this post coincided with an online discussion several model railroaders were having of the best way to store old magazines. I, like many of you, have tried the "cut out the articles of particular interest" approach, placing all those articles neatly in file folders that I never look at.
The consensus from the online discussion was to keep the magazines intact - after all your interests may change in 10 years and you don't want to be stuck without a one-page article from the April 1948 MR  or whatever. 
The "ideal" solution was to keep the magazines intact and invest in a series of large, heavy open side file cabinets kept under the layout and mounted on wheels. 
I've taken the opposite approach - and have decided that our home, and to a greater extent the layout room, is no longer going to look like a public library and storehouse for stacks of paper that I rarely, if ever, use. To that end, many of the magazines have gone - and likely more will follow.
I found the premise that magazines represent aspirational clutter to be interesting. The word "aspiration" is an interesting one - it always seemed far more pessimistic to me than the similar-sounding "inspiration."
Aspiration, to me, smacks of dreams that are reached for, but never quite achieved. 
Inspiration expresses a more positive outlook on things.
I  think it's interesting that the blogger quoted chose the word she did.
Instead of providing inspiration the magazines represent clutter - something that can easily impact the creative process.
I can say that having disposed of a lot of magazines over the last couple of years I truly don't miss them. I still find inspiration in what other modelers are doing, but more frequently that inspiration is neatly stored in a box on my desk  connected to the internet and not in magazine files underfoot.


Tom Patterson said...

A very thoughtful post, Marty. The world is changing and the ways in which we interact with one another and the various aspects of our hobby are changing, too. I recently got rid of almost all of the old magazines that I had kept under the layout. I did this in order to be able to install the new signal system more easily but also because circumstances have changed. My inspirations today come primarily from a little box just like yours. I did take time to cut out the articles that I wanted to keep and placed them in folders in a file cabinet next to the little box. We'll see over time if that effort was worthwhile.

And I enjoyed your thoughts about inspiration versus aspiration- very insightful.

Tom Patterson

Brian K.Woolven said...

Well said Marty. I used to collect cuttings and store them but then, guess what? I changed scales and interests, so all that I had collected were of no use! I do, however, keep magazines for about a year, and re-read them again, before throwing them out.


N. E. Pete said...

I think there are exceptions to your assertion that anything you need can be found on the internet. Plans, the detailed prototype info in articles on freight cars by Thompson, Swain, Culotta are examples of stuff that is not AFAIK certain to be found on the internet if you toss all your old magazines. That 1950 scenery article that says "we all know the best material for scenery is asbestos furnace cement" on the other hand...

CVSNE said...

Thanks for the comment.
It's not my assertion, but the blogger I was quoting.
As far as freight car articles and like I've amassed a decent reference library of books (such as Railway Prototype Cyc), some of Tony's books, etc….
As far as Ted's articles go, I believe he always planned to offer the Essential Freight Car series as a book of some sort. In the meantime, remember those magazine cuttings I mentioned? Most of them are Ted's series.
As I finish a model covered by an article in the series that article goes in the recycle bin and the model goes on the layout.

Mike McNamara said...

I have started simply scanning the pages I want to keep into a PDF file, 1 file for all the pages of the article. It is quick and simple, and solves that indexing problem as I can simply just browse the folder I put them into on the hard drive. I can create subfolders if I want for further classify them. Right now though I only have a few things that really made the cut to actually scan and store, so it is all in one folder. Interesting how many things really do not have much interest after reading once. Now, that being said I still need to go back and start removing magazines. I figure I'll give them a once over to see if anything is of interest and then toss them. But I will be sure to scan all those McGuirk articles....