It all started back when we were cleaning out my parents’ house. As load after load of “stuff” went to the dumpster, my wife noted that when we got home we should clean out all the stuff we had squirreled away so our children would not have to face the task we were facing.

I thought, but had the foresight not to say, that it was pleasant to imagine bothering my children even after I had shucked off my mortal coil.  Instead I kept my own counsel, in hopes that she would think of something else to do when we returned – like bake me a cake.

She didn’t. Not long after we arrived back home, the downsizing began.

It wasn’t “downsizing” really. It was more a matter of opening up space for the good “stuff” from my parents’ house that we could not throw away. This required rearranging and reordering which, in turn, required that what had collected over the years be evaluated and, if failing to pass the “necessary-test” (as in “is that really necessary?”) be cast away.

My books were the first to be so tested.

For an academic (which is what I was until a few months ago), books are life blood. We read them. Some of us write them. From them we get the ideas and information which we use to dazzle students and colleagues. They give us pleasure. Orderly in bookcases or stacked willy-nilly, they confirm the breadth and depth of our intellect – or at least we hope they do.

Then comes the time when we realize there will be no more lectures, no more colleagues or students to dazzle, no more a need to tout our learning to the world.

So the criteria are set – if a book has not been consulted in the last year and is not likely to be taken down from the shelf in the year to come, and if it does not hold some special memory (a note from the author perhaps), then out it goes.

Not to the trash, but to the JSU History Club for its annual book sale. There it will be bought by former colleagues and students to add to their collections which, in the fullness of time, will be downsized and recycled as I am doing.

Quickly our recycle bin filled, and we had to borrow our neighbor’s. What was not recyclable was black-bagged for the trash.

An old “computer center,” purchased on the cheap, as a kit, was taken apart and put out by the street. A car drove by, stopped, the driver got out, looked it over, got back in and drove off. Later a city truck arrived and took it away.

Would Faulkner’s desk be so unceremoniously consigned to the landfill?

Would Faulkner have written on a desk from Big Lots?

So went the next few, until at last it was done.  She who set the whole thing in motion cast her critical eye about and gave me an atta-boy.

Thus confirmed in my efforts, I fetched a cold beer and reflected on what was gone and what remained.  So much of it could have, maybe should have, been thrown out long ago, but throwing out is hard – until you get started.

Once begun, it gets harder and harder to stop.

I hope my children appreciate what we have done.

You think?


Jackson is Professor Emeritus of history at JSU.