Confucius said, The gentleman has three things to be aware of. When he is young and his energies are not fully controlled, he bewares of sexual attraction. When he is mature and his energies are at their height, he bewares of aggressiveness. When he is old and his energies have waned, he bewares of avariciousness.The Analects of Confucius, 16:7, translation by Burton Watson
Although I don’t talk about the Analects of Confucius very often, this is a quote that I stumbled upon many years ago and often dwell on.
As I look back, I can definitely see the progression in my own life: I was a hopeless romantic in my teens and 20’s,1 bull-headed and arrogant in my 30’s while building up my career, and now as I approach my mid-40’s, I can see the greed and acquisitiveness cropping up now. My life is more stable than it was in my 20’s, and I have a bad habit of buying nostalgic things, or books I don’t need. In other words, a tendency or hoard now that I am able to do so.
After my grandfather passed away a few years ago, we had to sift through all his accumulated stuff, and it was a lot. He was not a hoarder by nature, and was comparatively organized, but it was still a lot of stuff. Similarly, my wife’s parents have accumulated some items as well.
My wife and I have both discussed that as we get older we do not want to be a burden on our kids, and that includes keeping things simple at home, so they don’t have a ton to throw out later. Easier said than done, but it’s an important thing to remember as you get older. People do naturally tend to hoard in their later years. Confucius knew it as far back as 5th century BCE, and the same pattern of human behavior is true even now in the 21st century.
The den in our home has piled up a lot of things, and this weekend I finally looked around and found tons and tons of books I didn’t need, including some D&D books I just never used (and now don’t want), really old reference books that I might have used only once yet are taking up a lot of space, and a huge collection of old Roger Zelazny novels that I had been collecting:
In many cases, I had redundant copies, with different cover art, or they were just books I didn’t want anymore, such as the latter books in the Amber series,2 or the collaboration novels that don’t interest me.3
In any case, I spent most of a day sorting books and managed to pare down my book collection by one-third, and now have 4 stacks of books sitting on the floor waiting to be sold to Half Price Books, or tossed out for good. In some cases, I can simply recycle old books where possible by removing the covers and recycling the pages. Further, I found a bunch of old journals I kept when learning Greek and Sanskrit, and while it’s fun to see the progress, they’re also taking up space.
Further, I have a bunch of DVDs, KPop CDs,4 and games I hardly ever use, probably further paring things down. I don’t need to throw them all out, but it’s not hard to separate what I actually use and want to keep (e.g. Lord of the Rings trilogy on DVD because streaming sucks) vs. things I never watch such as Star Wars sequel movies.
It really is amazing how much I have accumulated in the last 15 years.
To be honest, it’s been a great feeling to clean all this out. When I see my bookshelf looking trim and well-organized with room to spare, less schwag from random toys and figures I had accumulated, it makes me feel lighter. I may remove even more to make room, but we’ll see.
This is hardly the level of cleaning that someone like Marie Kondo might have suggested, but it is worthwhile to clean out the house from time to time, while also guarding against future impulsive purchases. Taking a half-second to think before you do something impulsive can probably save you future headaches. I have started to do this more and more in recent months, reminding myself that I am pretty happy overall with what I have, even I am still paying for years of impulsive clutter.
As I wrote in my book, much of what we carry around is as much as mental burden as it is a physical one, so sometimes it’s perfectly fine to just put it down and leave it.
For example, I even threw out some really, really old sentimental items because they were just not needed anymore. I realized that nostalgia is all well and good in small doses, but you can’t cling to everything in your past, and once you’re dead, it won’t mean anything to whomever has to clean up that stuff anyway.
Leonard Nimoy was right:
Of course, I have a hunch that I’ll be having this conversation again in 5 years, but we’ll see. 😉
1 My mother told me that I was a hopeless romantic since I was probably 5 years old, but I definitely remember being girl-crazy in high school and college. I am pretty happy that I was able to find that special lady in my life a while back, though. 🥰
2 The first five books of the Amber series are awesome and I re-read them from time to time, but the last five aren’t worth re-reading. The convoluted plot and new generation of characters really turned me off.
3 Roger Zelazny collaborated with another of authors at the time, and some of those books definitely reflect the other author more than Zelazny. Frankly, some of them just aren’t very good. I do like Coils though.
4 I was hugely into KPop about 10-15 years ago, during the days of SNSD, 2NE1 and so on, but frankly most of it isn’t really worth holding on anymore. Plus, there are the smaller groups that just never really made it, and whose CD’s it’s time to let go of.