Geoff Tennant - Promoting access to mathematics for all
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5/6/16: managing possessions - or do possessions manage me?

When I was preparing to come out to Tanzania back in August 2012, I sorted my possessions into 4 piles: those which I got rid of, those which I put into storage, those which came with me on the plane, those which I sent out here separately (I wrote a highly edited version of recovering that stuff in this blog post).

So here I am now, nearly 4 years later, very likely to be staying on for at least another year (will write more about that when things are finalised).  And when I do the calculation as to how much I've paid in rent for the storage unit over that time, it is a good bit more than the value of the goods which I have in there.  And while a dining table, kitchen equipment etc will be useful to me on my eventual return, do I really want (need?) to put books back on shelves when I've done without them all this time?

So, with the benefit of hindsight, the sensible thing would have been to get rid of the whole lot before going.  But, of course, coming out here was a bit of a step into the unknown, I was by no means sure that I would stay as long as I have, and that would have been a step too far at that stage.  Hindsight is a very wonderful thing.  Trying to think of a joke along the lines of, "Nostalgia isn't what it used to be," but nothing coming, I'm afraid.

Meanwhile, refurbishment of the building I work in is now pretty well complete.  So, for the better part of a year I was in a large shared office with many of my books and files in large cardboard boxes which I could only access with some difficulty.  Now have a nice new office, labelled 'Provost's Office' which means that I have a larger office than I'm really entitled to on the understanding that I  vacate it should a member of the Provost's team be in town, which is pretty rare so it's a pretty good deal, really.  Cardboard boxes returned to me, so I was unpacking last week.

So, what do I do with a whole lot of stuff that I've done without for the last year?  I've long been of the opinion that academics have books on their shelves largely as a form of wall paper or status symbol, only very exceptionally do I read a book on my shelves, mostly what I read comes from the Internet, occasionally from the library.  Whole load of printouts of journal articles I've read over the years, paperwork for meetings I've attended (which I can recover if I have to from archived emails).

So I bit the bullet and threw out a whole load of stuff which I've stored for the last year.  Which rather begs the question as to why I stored them in the first place.

And one final thing on this matter: my optician tells me that for the next 10 years or so I'll be needing a new pair of glasses at the rate of about one a year.  So, with three active pairs - varifocals for out and about, and a pair of reading glasses each for home and work - this is the graveyard of redundant pairs:
























If there was a way of recycling them, fine, but to my knowledge there isn't.  So why, I ask myself, is it so difficult to throw them away?  I'm wondering if there may be a connection with last week's blog post, that my inner caveman cannot quite believe that these pairs which used to be so necessary are now obsolete and that no purpose is served by keeping them.

I'm aware that for some people the hoarding of possessions can become a major problem, up to and including being a huge health hazard.  In much the same way as I've attended courses over the years on dyslexia, autism, dyspraxia and many others I see a little bit of myself reflected in the list of symptoms, so a small part of me understands how an inability to throw things away can become a real problem.

So I try to make sure that I have possessions for a reason, that I manage them and do not allow them to manage me.  I tried - not very successfully - when back in the UK to keep to a 'one year rule' - if I hadn't used something in the last year then there really wasn't any point in still having it.

And finally, one possession I have enjoyed a lot since I was given it for my birthday last year by my friends Roger and Liz (Stephen's parents, see eg. this blog post) is a set of Scrabble fridge magnets:



























So messages over the year have included, "Hello, Hellen, how are you?" (from me to my housekeeper Hellen), 'Merry Christmas and a happy new year" (Hellen to me, Peace and Tommy when they were staying here), "Soup on stove" (Peace to me) - you get the idea.  Whilst putting 'Jesus said, I am the way the truth and the life' seemed a good idea at the time, the problem was that nobody then felt it appropriate to change it thereafter.  So currently I have up my favourite verse, Psalm 119:105, I would love to take a photograph that reflected that important truth but haven't done so yet, and the ones I have found using Google images just look too contrived.  If you have such a picture, do please share it.

Need to go now, just off to a brief visit to Nairobi, taking a small number of vital possessions with me.  But if those possessions are enough for two days, is there not an argument for saying that that's all that's needed full stop?  Any thoughts on this point gratefully received, thank you for reading!

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