I have heard about people who keep their possessions to the absolute minimum by annually carrying everything they own into their front yard and then bringing back inside only those items that are most important and were actually used last year. I’ve never had that discipline. Worse than that, the opposite tends to happen with me. In addition to the obvious things that many of us accumulate over time like books, records, clothes, electronics, etc, I will often latch onto something like the very heavy steel leaf springs that I once found in a salvage yard in Santa Fe, New Mexico. This was about the time that I was planning on learning how to make my own saddlery tools, and I was told by Mr. Ginder, my saddle making mentor, that leaf springs are perfect for knife making. I don’t recall if I needed to pay anything for my leaf springs, but if I did it was certainly less than a few dollars. These leaf springs were about 3-4 feet long and must have weighed between 20-30 pounds. We hauled them from our cabin that we built in Santa Fe to our ranch caretaker house in Apache Canyon to Salt Lake City to return to school, to Madison, Wisconsin for graduate school to Gainesville, Florida for my first “real” job at the University of Florida. Those leaf springs followed us around the country for over 20 years until I realized in our move across town in Gainesville about 10 years ago that I really wasn’t interested in making my own knives any longer. I don’t remember if we just “accidentally left” them at our old house or if we needed to make a special trip to the dump to pay to get rid of this old treasure…
Despite the fact that I always like new adventures and challenges, I was at my job as a professor at UF for 19 years and was very happy with it. However, over 19 years, things like leaf springs tend to accumulate. My workshop was wonderfully cluttered, as was my office at UF. I was cleaning out my office a few weeks ago and got to my old file cabinet that was filled to the brim with 5 drawers of papers. These included gems going all the way back to my undergraduate years and PhD from both classes and research. Like the leaf springs, I realized that I hadn’t looked at any of those papers in the past 10 years or more, because almost everything is electronic now. Anything that I’ve needed to read during the past 10 years is now on a pdf document in a reference manager that lives on all of my computers and even my iPad and iPhone. Many years ago, I used to pick a few papers to bring with me on plane trips, but now my entire library is with me all the time.
I dumped 4 out of the 5 drawers of old paper files (the other I’ll almost certainly dump next move, but I still might need those…).
This dumping of old files was refreshing, and I even felt a bit lighter! I then realized that the move and my old paper files was in many ways reflective of what was also happening in me. I have loved doing what I’ve been doing for 19 years, but over time things analogous to leaf springs and old files accumulate in my mind and in my habits. Things become set because that is the way they are and because someday I might want to look at a paper that is nearly 30 years old or to learn to make a knife. The fact is that the papers are all in libraries, and I can get leaf springs in any junk yard if I need to go back to these someday.
Our household and pets moved to Athens a few weeks ago, and my lab is on a truck moving right now to the University of Georgia. Boxes are everywhere and many things are hard to find. I am certain that I hauled many “leaf springs” to Georgia that I’ll never actually need, but it has been a nice chance to think about priorities. Even more important than the boxes and papers is the freeing up of spaces in my mind to consider new approaches and priorities in my job, my shop, my relationships, and my life.