I’ve spent much of the first two months of my five-month sabbatical moving from our old apartment to a new rental. Surprisingly, this has proved to be one of the best things I could have done with my sabbatical. Before we moved to Silicon Valley, we had moved five times in ten years, and each time we moved I was starting a new job or a new graduate program, and I didn’t really have time to unpack. But for this move, I actually had time to do things like go through old files and get rid of papers I no longer needed — in the past two weeks I’ve recycled (or shredded and composted) enough old, useless paperwork to fill a four-drawer file cabinet. I got rid of hundreds of books that I no longer need or want. And I’m getting rid of other belongings, too.
In our consumer society, it’s too easy to accumulate more belongings. You don’t need to spend lots of money purchasing new things at the store or online — we have accumulated many of our belongings at the thrift store or yard sales or through Craigslist, or even by trash-picking. (And with paper being so inexpensive, it is far too easy to accumulate files and paperwork.) All these things become a sort of spiritual dead weight; they can weigh you down slowly and stealthily so that you don’t even realize that you’re no longer able to move freely.
With all I’ve gotten rid of, I still have too many things. I’m working on getting rid of more stuff; it’s a kind of spiritual exercise at this point. I do have a couple of research projects that I’m working on during my sabbatical, that I’m not talking about right now, in case they don’t pan out; but even if those research projects don’t pan out, getting out from under the weight of too much stuff would constitute a successful sabbatical.