October 27, 2002


My former therapist once told me a story about one of her clients, a man couldn’t throw anything away. It was a story, she said, about the nature of change.

Her client’s apartment was packed floor to ceiling with junk, the only uncovered space being a narrow path that wove between the piles. One day she asked him to bring in some things he was sure he could get rid of, and the next session he showed up with a shoebox full of ridiculous objects: orphaned pens caps, defunct subway passes, ancient ticket stubs. She had him arrange the objects in three piles: definite discards, probable discards, and possible discards. They discussed why different things were in different piles, and in the process the man moved some objects from one pile to another. Once he felt sure that each thing was in the right pile, she had him toss the “definite” pile in the trash. It was a cathartic experience, and he wept.

This is progress, thought the therapist.

Then, as the man was leaving, he turned to her and said, flatly, “Do you mind if I take that stuff out of the trash now?”