The magazine article recommends breaking a job into small pieces so as to avoid being overwhelmed. I thought that was a good idea and worked on the bottom two shelves. It was nearly all books and notes from college and grad school.
One shelf was almost entirely notes from classes and papers I'd written. I recycled everything. I have copies of my master's thesis somewhere else, and vanity will probably always require me to keep that. Everything else went into the recycling bin.
As I pulled the books off the shelf, I was prepared to feel nostalgia. Instead, I felt disdain. Why in the name of all things holy was I keeping Kant and Kierkegaard? I didn't like reading them the first time. Was I keeping them as some badge of honor? I read this, and it is a testament to my nerdiness? I kept a few of the books, but most of them went into three boxes. Yesterday I took the books to the bookstore. As is my way, I kept reminding myself to view this as a donation rather than a sale. They would offer me fifty cents, and I would happily take it because it meant those books were out of my life. Instead, they offered me $11, which I immediately gave back to them to purchase two gifts for a friend. I left feeling like a goddess who had just transformed something worthless to me into something that will be valued by someone else.
When I finished with the recycling and boxing, I moved binders containing programs from shows we've seen--and we do love live theater quite a bit and have a ton of them--to one of the empty shelves. The rest of the books seemed to exhale, and there was once more no real empty space.
The Real Simple article suggests that as you weed out books that aren't important to you, you'll get a little thrill to look at the books you kept and how they say things about who you are as a person. My shelves say I love theater, gardening, children's books, fantasty/sci-fi, Buddhism, and knitting. Those shelves speak the truth.
That night, as I was lying in bed, I tried to quiet my mind and see what I was feeling. Did I feel lighter somehow? Did I feel sad?
I felt nothing. No relief, no sadness, nothing. I think those things had been irrelevant to my life and happiness for so long that their presence or absence made no difference. A song from Chorus Line ran through my head.
They all felt something, but I felt nothing except the feeling that this bullshit was absurd.
-Marvin Hamlisch and Edward Kleban