Another insight today from my latest podcast fave, “Need to Know.” More of a throwaway line as the podcast winds down than anything to do with the main subject of this episode. (The relevant section starts at 1:02:30.) Anyway, Mona Charen and Jay Nordlinger are talking about whether or not Mona will be hosting the podcast the next week as she’s in the midst of a move. Jay makes the point that in every society that’s been studied, one of several constants is that people hate to move.
Boy, does that statement resonate with me! We’re still dealing with the fallout of ours, now over three months ago. (Is that even possible? Three months? That’s what the calendar says!)
But then comes the really shocking statement. Mona mentions that she’s been “going through” boxes of files down in her basement in preparation for her upcoming move. (I get the impression that she’s moving out of a house where she’s lived for decades.) She was a speechwriter in the Reagan White House, and she has some letters and other items from that time as well as letters from William F. Buckley. And then Jay says that he doesn’t do any of that stuff. He doesn’t go through things. Papers, photos, clothes, whatever—none of it. “Purge, baby, purge. . . . Years ago I cut the Gordian knot.” Even I, dedicated thrower-outer that I am, was a little shocked. He doesn’t keep photos? I couldn’t go that far. But he says, “You know, I don’t miss anything. . . . I don’t want the emotional turmoil.”
I thought the “emotional turmoil” part was especially telling. Part of the agitation that we experience about our possessions comes from this weird feeling of obligation we have towards them, as if we owe them something. Jay says that he no longer goes through what he calls “arbitration.” Believe me, we’ve gone through tons of that in the past year. When you move from a 3,700-square-foot house to a 900-square-foot lower level of someone else’s house, you have to do a lot of it. We still have probably a dozen boxes in the garage that we have to get out of there so the in-laws can park the car inside. I’m so relieved that we’ve been forced to do this. I just noticed a couple days ago that there’s a whole box of children’s books and toys that we just can’t keep. It’s not anything that Gideon said he wanted, and it’s not doing anybody any good by sitting in a box. Out it goes, to Goodwill or perhaps our friend who helps out with a ministry to the needy. And that’s just part of the trove out there. Winter is coming, so we have a deadline, a much-needed shove for Jim and me, fellow Obligers.
Isn’t life complicated enough in the present without hanging onto the past? It’s a balancing act, as most things are. You can’t and shouldn’t just throw out everything, any more than you can or should just forget everything. But I’m going to keep that “Gordian knot” analogy tucked away in the back of my mind. Keep only what’s useful for now or has a definite use for the future. Ask yourself how your life would change if all of that stuff down in the basement disappeared tomorrow. And if you say, “Well, nothing much,” there’s your answer.