We’re getting ready for the big move to our island home. The new (110 years old) home is only about a quarter the size of our current home, and moving stuff over 2,500 miles of ocean is expensive, so we’re in the process of downsizing. For me, that mostly means giving away the thousands of books I’ve collected over the years. There are other things, too: knick knacks and kitchen tools and jewelry and artwork and cards and clothes. So much stuff.

I’m not a big collector of things (other than the aforementioned books). Much of what really matters to me can be reduced to digital form and transported with little regard for weight, space, or distance. What I have saved, consistently, are gifts. I am always deeply touched when someone goes to the trouble to find what they feel is an appropriate gift for me — I suspect that I’m “difficult to buy for” at the best of times. So a disproportionate fraction of the books and clothes and tchotchkes and such that I need to winnow down are gifts.

It’s hard.

I feel disloyal when I dispose of something that was a gift. It matters not whether the disposal is done by re-gifting or donating or selling. It also hurts a little to part with something whose meaning is not in utility but history and relationship. I’ve come to realize, while doing this winnowing, that receiving a gift can also mean taking on a certain obligation as well.


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