SPEAKING FROM EXPERIENCE: IT IS easier to get rid of everything in one big purge than a few things in a bunch of smaller ones.

The time: June 1985. Hopped-up on Jack Kerouac’s On the Road and The Dharma Bums, I aimed to do a bit of my own road scratching of experience-itchy soles. So I bought some necessaries, stuffed them into a backpack, and invited my friends to a giveaway-the-rest party. The reserves (my great-grandfather’s holy books, my birth certificate, a deck of Tarot cards, a loaded pipe, and such) went into two small boxes destined for a trusted friend’s garage. When I returned a year later, they were waiting to greet me like cardboard puppies.

Shift to October 1987: Same two boxes, same trusted friend. Again I piled most of my worldly goods in the living room (this time, except for what I could fit into a sea bag). This episode was a bit more difficult, in that I had by that time acquired a sizable library of works both ancient and/or arcane. But the difficulty was ameliorated by the knowledge that my things were going to good homes, and would see good use.

Then there’s the present day: “Decluttering,” or figuring out what treasures should be abandoned in order to fit the rest into an available space. Short of war, insurrection or other disaster, which abruptly makes our what-to-keep decision for us, we grope for some way of moderating possessional excess. Judging from the number of books, magazine articles and YouTube videos on this topic, it’s a painful problem for many. (The Big Question, for me at least — how do I know that the thing of which I am ridding myself today won’t be needed by me tomorrow?)

When we each go off to that Great Recycling Center in the Sky, the burden falls on other people. Of course, we can always make provision before we leave (the stuffed armadillo goes to Uncle Cletus, the first-edition Lord of the Rings goes to the friend with whom I used to read it aloud) but in a way, that’s still a bit of an unkindness. We are engaged in a transgenerational relay-race: we hand off our stuff to those still here, who will pass it off to their successors, &c, on and on until the heat death of the Universe. It all came from the same place anyway — nebular stardust! — so let it all then be reclaimed by the same Agency which created it. It deserves nothing less.

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