Finding happiness in letting go | Feature | Chicago Reader

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Finding happiness in letting go

Empty bookshelves aren’t a bad thing.

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No one has ever used the words joy or spark to describe me and I haven't read Marie Kondo's book or seen her TV show. Yet, in the past year I've shed more than half my belongings and drastically changed my relationship to what remains. I moved last May and have been forced to stay inside with my possessions as sole company like most people, but there's more to it than that. Reconsidering and reorganizing the objects I'm surrounded by turned out to be a valuable exercise for both my physical and mental health.

My plan to move was in place in late 2019, so as 2020 began, the process of culling books, records, and clothes was already underway. My criteria for keeping or discarding wasn't as philosophical as Ms. Kondo's; I was more concerned with how much I wanted to schlep to the new pad. If the process brought happiness, so much the better. Then the lockdown came.

In mid-March 2020, my place was beginning to fill up with moving boxes, but now there was much more time to pack since leaving the house was all but forbidden. I didn't pick up every single object and peer into its soul and its relationship to me, but I did log considerable hours digging through the flotsam of my life. I make art and books so accumulating both is an occupational hazard. But, thankfully, I'm not a true collector. I don't covet the rare or valuable. The things I love have personal meaning but often little commercial worth. So, forced to dig through piles of what I've amassed, return on investment wasn't much of a consideration.

I carted many books to the Open Books warehouse in Pilsen. Their store was of course closed in late March and early April, but there was a drop-slot in the side of the building. A friend who works in another bookstore recently told me that many, many Chicagoans had the same idea. With most other charitable operations effectively shut down over the past year, Open Books was practically the only game in town. It's amazing how much lighter I felt after I deposited every successive rolling suitcase full of books.

Moving into my new place in May sparked another reassessment. As I unpacked each box I once again pondered whether I really needed to keep this record or that book. I made two new piles: one to sell, the other to give away. eBay, Etsy, Discogs, and a million and one other sites make it easy to sell just about anything. I got rid of headphones, LPs, CDs, and a digital camera. But the other pile was far more rewarding. Unable to see friends and family in person I mailed them books, records, and art that I thought they might appreciate. It was a simple way to let them know they were on my mind and eased the task of setting up my new living arrangements—a true win-win.

The new habits I've learned out of necessity have become part of my everyday routine. Now when I finish a book, instead of putting it on the shelf, I immediately send it to the person it made me think of. In this way, even though we are apart, in a small way I can feel present in their lives. And who doesn't like receiving a package out of the blue? I don't know if doing this "sparks joy," but it definitely makes me feel like a little more than just another consumer. Perhaps my place will be completely empty someday—that sounds like happiness to me.   v

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