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Part Company

I'm moving, and moving is one of the best excuses for ridding oneself of excess. I'll be the first to admit that I'm not a sentimental person: I've surprised friends with such seemingly callous acts as taking boxes of high-school papers and letters to a recycling center, throwing out years of birthday cards, and giving away supposedly significant and meaningful items of clothing. If I could go from my current house to my new house with only a suitcase and my pets, I would. For the past week, I've been selling my furniture on Craigslist and going through my closets, bookshelves and record shelves, donating everything that feels superfluous.

Getting rid of clothing is the easiest. Olive-green high heels I bought in San Francisco that I've never worn? Gone. Black sweater that shrunk in the wash but that I still kept wearing despite the fact that it exposed my belly button? Good riddance. With clothing, figuring out what's worth keeping and what should have been tossed years ago is easy. You try it on, and if it makes you feel bad about your pea-sized head or scrawny legs, it's going to Goodwill.

Letting go of books is more difficult. What if I want to read that one Roethke poem again? What if someone mentions him at a party or on the radio, and I'm reminded just how wondrous he is? So the Roethke verse stays. But college textbooks go, and so do the novels I tried to love but couldn't. I can bid farewell to certain non-fiction books whose alarmist titles scream at me, making me feel guilty that I've yet to read them.

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And then there's music, which seems like one of the most important parts of my life. Yet I've discovered in this packing process that my connection to music has little to do with the physical possession of it. As I packed up box after box of CDs with the intent of letting them go, I realized that there isn't much music that I need to actually own. Having music with me is different from having music on me. Even if I sell a CD or LP, that doesn't mean I'm losing that band or artist or song that I love; I'm merely losing the physical evidence. Sure, I can do that by converting everything to MP3 and putting it on my hard drive, but I'm not going to bother. One of the best aspects of music is that it can be accessed internally. I can conjure a tune in my own head, or it can come crashing back into my life via some other method — a DJ, a movie, a passing car. And then my relationship with the song can start anew.

Once a song exists, it never ceases to exist, whether I have constant access to it or not. And much of my music collection is under-appreciated and under-listened to anyway. It takes up as much of a psychological space as it does a physical one. I guess, in the process of downsizing, I've come to the conclusion that memory is as good of a storage space as anything. Sure, maybe in a few years I'll seek out some of these albums again — but I might not even miss them. It might not even feel like they're gone.

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