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The Great Purge

Well I finally got my momentum going around packing and purging.  Reading the book Clutter Busting, and then helping a friend do a bit of purging at her place yesterday (she’s moving too), got me revved up at last.  I came home from my friend’s house and immediately started purging my office.  In about two hours I had 8 boxes of books waiting at the front door to go to the used book store or charity.  This morning I added two boxes of kitchen stuff and knick knacks.  And I’m just getting going.

It’s funny how once you start letting go of stuff, it gets easier and easier.  The first few things were tough, but then once they were gone I felt so much lighter.  The feeling is so good it makes you want to get rid of more stuff.  It’s the opposite of consumerism, where buying stuff makes you feel momentarily good, and then leaves you feeling heavy, anxious and cluttered.

I had a tough time with the books, which is perhaps why I tackled them first.  I have a decent size library of perhaps 3-400 books.  I have read many of them, many more sit waiting.  Some I’ll never read.  Some I have just because I feel they are good ‘foundation’ books, like Winston Churchill’s memoirs.  But do I really need to own these?  Should I ever decide to read Churchill’s memoirs, can I not simply get them from the library?  

I had books like Benjamin Barber’s Jihad vs. McWorld.  A controversial text that many read to be ‘informed’ about the current global situation.  Or Thomas Friedman’s The Lexux & the Olive Tree.  I have read these books and taken what I need from them (which is not much).  They are not books I’d ever re-read, nor would I recommend them to friends.  So why keep them?  Just for the irritation factor of having them in my library (both books make me cringe)?  Just to make my library ‘look well-rounded’?  

What silly reasons to keep crap around.  I decided to get rid of all books that I can’t see myself ever reading again or lending out.  Or reading for the first time.  

I also had a bunch of books saved for reference purposes in case I should ever teach a class on International Relations.  After all, that’s what I am most qualified to do (although I think I am now stronger in Political Theory than IR).  But upon reviewing most of the books I had on my shelf I realized that they sit so far from what I consider important or appropriate to teach that I will never use them.  Sure, they are in the mainstream cannon and if I teach an intro course I will need to make sure my students are familiar with them.  But I can get them out of the library should I need to review them.  No need to have them on my office shelf, perpetually glaring down at me, provoking me with their small-mindedness.  I don’t need that kind of bad kharma in my creative environment.

Believe it or not, I still had one shelf of undergraduate textbooks on math and physics and biochemistry, anatomy and neurology.  I still have a strong interest in these subjects, but now I just get on-line when I want to look something up.  It’s much easier than trying to wade through textbooks I haven’t used in two decades to try and find something.  Plus, as was just pointed out to me by a friend teaching these subjects, the books will be incredibly outdated.  Time to let them go.

This, surprisingly, was the hardest bunch to set free.  These texts represent a big part of my identity – the last vestiges of my former life as an engineer and physicist, of the formative years of my adulthood.  Of a person who no longer exists.  

I think I was holding on to them like old trophies.  They shouted to the world (so I deluded myself into thinking): “Look what I accomplished!  Look how smart I am!”  They are still covered in the blood, sweat and tears of having dragged myself through a degree in Engineering Physics.  A tremendous accomplishment and one I am still very proud of.  Sort of.  These books also make me feel like a fraud, because I know that you don’t have to be that smart to get such a degree.  Your brain just has to work in a certain way, and you have to be very stubborn.  My feelings for them are actually quite ambivalent.  They were like a chip on my shoulder, or a certificate on the wall.  

I was pretty dumb when I was 20, even though I made it through that degree.  That’s what these books really remind me of, when I stop long enough to be really honest with myself. 

They, too, are going.

I now have a much smaller library, one that comprises books that are interesting and provocative, books I will re-read or use for reference regularly, books I recommend to friends and lend out.  And the rest will find new homes.  

Now that I’m through purging my library, the rest is coming much more easily. I am now easily tossing (i.e. recycling or donating) anything cracked, chipped or shabby, anything that is annoying, that feels like clutter.  Anything plastic.  Anything not useful, or beautiful.  Anything that makes me wince, cringe or feel tired or sad. Anything that does not make my life easier, or more joyful.

I’m curious to see what I’m going to have left!


2 Responses

  1. Thank you!

    I just purged a whole pile of books. And way more to go. Wow that feels good!

    I’m over 60 and I still have those university text books from forty years ago. The technology books are really out of date! Gotta clean out the cobwebs!

    It gets no easier the older you get and it so very easy to roll along in the well worn paths. Please keep writing. We all need to remake our lives every few years. It’s been so long for me that I almost forgot how to do it.

  2. Very inspiring..makes me want to sort through my own books!

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