I’ve moved across the nation several times. I’ve gone from Arkansas to Oregon for a summer of wildland firefighting in college (wound up just doing prevention instead of fighting fires, though). I’ve gone from Arkansas to Wyoming for an intensive EMT course another summer. I’ve moved from Georgia all the way to San Francisco, passing north through Colorado on the way. I think the biggest one was moving from San Fransisco to Tampa — a 41-hour drive in a 14 ft. A U-haul towing my Toyota Corolla behind. My roommate and I managed a 29 hour stretch in the middle, one driving and one sleeping for as long as we could.

Now it’s from Tampa to upstate NY. Most of the times I’ve moved, I’ve done two things — picked what I would rather have at my destination, and sorted through the trash and what I could do without. I usually wound up with a whole lot of material things that, realistically, I didn’t need at all. A “sentimental” pile of posters that I haven’t hung up in years, a mini-fridge laden with stickers and other commercial memorabilia, or a few musical instruments I haven’t played in years.

So this time I decided to purge.

I ditched the usual kitchen things, donated clothes, shoes, and books — but I also got rid of the vast majority of my furniture, replaceable pots and pans, and emptied the endless piles of excess military clothing I had somehow accrued during my service. That used lamp that I’ve had for six years? Gone. The special backpack that my mom gave me ten years ago, and now is frayed at every end? Gone. And an easily printable picture in a cheap frame? Gone.

I decided to fit everything in a 5×8 box trailer, and if it wasn’t absolutely necessary, I wasn’t bringing it.

I wasn’t trashing anything that hadn’t been adequately used, and what could be donated was donated. I realize that a lot of people can’t afford to purge their things, not because they hold some strange sentimental attachment, but because replacing them can be pricey.

The American Road: Countries within countries

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However, those legitimate reasons aside, I realized as I often do when I purge my things — it’s quite liberating. It becomes quickly apparent how I assign obscure values to inanimate objects, simply because we have a “history” together. As if having a history with a desk from Ikea is a legitimate attachment. It sounds ridiculous (and it is), but we do it all the time.

Purging not only reminds me that assigning a value to most physical things is unhealthy, but it also reminds me why the few legitimate sentimental objects I have are so important. The vinyl records that belonged to my friend who was killed in action in 2013 — I would part with just about anything in my possession before I parted with those. The hard drive that serves as a backup for all the pictures on my laptop (many of which are also online) — I’d throw my large TV off a cliff before I trashed that little box of digital images.

And those very few, sentimental objects are not things that I value myself. I’m not generally the vinyl type, though I do love music. I have no inherent love for hard drives. I value the things they remind me of.

When I was just out of the Army, my military buddies and I bought a $100 wooden table from Wal-Mart. We sanded it down and painted a picture of Yoda listening to headphones on it. It was a moment we shared together, and it was nice to have a reminder of that in my home.

Making the table, circa 2014

I took a picture of it and got rid of it. The table holds no inherent value to me — in fact, convincing my brain that it’s the wood and the paint and the metal brackets that make it valuable is a lie. The table is old now, falling apart, and would need a tablecloth to be passable in any regular home. I have pictures of us making it together, and that’s enough.

I have begun to develop a habit of getting rid of something (so long as I can afford to lose it) once I feel like I’m unusually attached to those things. It can be strangely somber to part with those objects, like Bilbo parting with the one ring, and that’s a bit of a scary thought. But do I end up missing them when they’re gone? Not one bit.

Images provided by the author.