I've spent the last couple of days engaged in the not terribly uplifting process of shoving things into boxes and then shoving said boxes into a big storage container sitting in my driveway. The Great Weeding Out And Winnowing Down, as I keep calling it. Aside from playing the game of So That's Where That Went!, I've also been realizing, with no small amount of chagrin, how easy it is to turn your home into a landfill.
Parting with most of my book collection — what I thought would be the hard part — wasn't as difficult as I imagined. Most fiction is only meant to be read once, and a lot of nonfiction or reference work is either being eclipsed by on-line resources (albeit of widely varying quality) or other, more recent works derived from better research. Anything you don't come back to in a year, or which you don't see yourself coming back to and being able to get something new out of in the future, isn't worth keeping. It's not as hard to come to this understanding as you think.
The one thing that allowed this to click most for me was when I put it in the context of something else I'd heard: we tend to overstate our feelings about things that haven't happened yet. We worry more about, say, regretting having giving something away than we do actually giving the things away. I suspect a lot of this is bound up with us having a by-default sense that our emotions are real, tangible things — after all, we feel them, right? And a lot of the time, we don't have any choice but to feel them, right? (Note how elegantly this constitutes an argument for abandoning control over ourselves.)
A lot of the time when I hear people talk about emotional control, they like to cast it in terms of something they just can't help but do anything about. I feel bad for them when they put it this way, because it's profoundly untrue — it's a matter of practice, more than anything else. Not even motivation, just habituation. But at the same time, I know better than to give people a hard time for feeling helpless, because that doesn't change anything either.
Cases in point. When I mentioned my housecleaning efforts to one friend of mine (who's something of a packrat), the answer I got was "I need to do that one of these days." I mentioned it to another friend in something of the same state, and his answer was "I wish I could be that organized." I suspect neither of the people in question realized they were deflecting or abandoning one of the few forms of responsibility they have in their lives.
Not long ago I came to the conclusion that the vast, vast majority of the stuff I was hanging onto was being hung onto out of a deluded sense of how useful it was to me — that there was some future project, not even labeled or conceived of yet, which I would need something from that pile for. It's a b.s. feeling, and it's far easier to justify a b.s. feeling with a creative mind.
New York City
Other Lives Of The Mind