Recently we had a yard sale because we live in a small one-bedroom apartment, so there’s a constant need to maximize our space/minimize our belongings. I’ve gone through so many purging cycles but this one in particular was different. In addition to unloading vintage jewelry and clothes (and a spiralizer I never used), I gave away all of my DVD’s and a majority of my non-art books, items that I’ve hung onto for years. A lot of why I kept things was for the same reason everyone else does – preserving a memory. If I didn’t keep an item that reminded me of a particular person or moment in my life, does that mean that the memory would disappear? My Bell Hooks books were acquired during my first job working at a non-profit organization in New York 16 years ago. My music & sociology books represented my time in grad school, when in the first week of pursuing my Master’s degree, 9/11 happened. I watched the film “The Diving Bell & The Butterfly” with a friend whom I’m no longer in contact with. The entire Murakami catalog is one I’ve touched upon in times of reflection, in need of guidance, and in shared emotional experiences with other friends who read the same collection. But if I’m really honest, I’ve kept a lot of these books because they were so tied to my identity. I’m short, I have a high voice, a light personality, and when I was younger in my career, it was challenging for some people to take me seriously on an intellectual level. My remedy to this? Having books that shaped my social analysis and understanding of the world on display for all to see, so that I wouldn’t be written off as a flake. I felt this need to demonstrate to others that my interests and priorities went beyond fashion and Twin Peaks. It was an insecure act, based on this need professionally and sometimes socially to prove that I was a person of substance. It was high school-level self-consciousness playing out in my adulthood.
So what happened that I became finally ready to let go of these precious books? First, it’s been my desire in the past couple years to be lighter, more mobile and free to move around – in a literal and spiritual sense. I’m maturing more, realizing that liberating experience of caring less of people’s perceptions of me, not having to have every physical signifier in my life be carefully curated and presented perfectly. Finally, it’s something that I should have known all along because it’s what I’ve been trying to do – living a life where actions, especially the ones done unrecognized, are really what shape you as a person. After last weekend’s purging of stuff, now my young adult nephew can read about heavy metal music in youth Islamic communities as a mode of resistance, and my Jose Saramago collection has a new home among various pals. Here’s to living a lighter and more thoughtful existence.