Simplification First Step: An Experiment

Ever lugged something about from one end of the country to the other because it had, in the past, been very important to you;  something that you don’t really use any more but hold on to because you have held on to it for so long?

Maybe you have not even stopped to look at it properly in over a year. Sure, you pass by it every day because it’s sitting on that shelf on the way to the kitchen, but you notice it like you notice the walls in a room, that is, with peripheral vision. Own anything like that?

I do.

Here’s just one example:

I brought my Kuby Immunology, 4th edition, textbook all the way to the US from India. That book helped me graduate summa cum laude. I liked the book so much I paid someone to design a custom plastic casing for it to protect it from scratches and – wait for it – fingerprints. In college, when I read it constantly, I treated the book like it was a fragile newborn. I lent it to nobody because I feared they would mistreat it. My Kuby Immunology textbook – my baby – has lived in two different houses in Bangalore and in my family home in Calcutta. It travelled with me on Air India via London to the US where it has lived briefly in Milwaukee, WI and then in four apartments in Kingston, RI and in Boston and Waltham, MA.

This book must mean so much to me, right?

Well, turns out I haven’t read it – no, make that opened it – in over 5 years. At some point it meant a lot to me. I learned a lot from it, but that time is gone. Now, the book is just a relic of my past that I’ve held on to.

And there are many others like this one. So, I decided to conduct an experiment.

I brought home a WB Mason box – one of those boxes that printer paper ships in. Into it went my Kuby Immunology and other books that I have not even skimmed in over two years. I didn’t rush; I held each book in my hands, made a mental note of the name and when and where I had acquired the book as I put it into the box. Thick or thin, fiction or textbook, they went in. I didn’t discriminate. My sole criterion was that I hadn’t so much as picked up the book in at least two years. In fifteen minutes, the box was full. I put the lid on, taped it shut and left the box in a corner of the bedroom for a week.

Precisely seven days later, pen and paper in hand, I tried to list all the books that I had put into the box. Of the twenty one books I had put away only a week ago, I could remember the names of just three. Three out of twenty one. I remember my Kuby Immunology, because that’s what got me started on this exercise in the first place. Then, there was the French cookbook that Nora Ephron used to cook from when she threw dinner parties. Third is Julia Child’s memoir, My Life in France.

So, I dragged the heavy box to the second hand bookstore a block away on Moody St. I wish I’d taken the car because it was rather heavy. But excitement had taken hold and I didn’t want to wait for Keith to come back from the office with the car. Turns out, there was a first edition James Beard cookbook in there too. The owner of the shop was extremely pleased with his loot. I felt just a twinge of regret at the parting but once it was done, and there was no undoing it, I felt liberated.

Maybe you can try it too.

Fill up a box with things you hold dear but don’t really use and tape it shut. Don’t open the box; don’t peek inside. Let them be for a week. See if you miss them. If you don’t, haul them to a thrift store or a second hand bookstore and be free of them. Make room in your life for new experiences. 

I’d love to hear how it made you feel.

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Simplification First Step: An Experiment

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