One of the many fascinating aspects of my Erasmus study abroad year in Bonn was that the town was then undergoing a major change: following reunification, the capital was being moved to Berlin, necessitating a multi-million DM programme of construction, re-construction and general upheaval.
Right now, I feel a bit like I’m facing my own Umzug, not least because while the Germans were moving only the once, I’ve got two moves ahead of me in the next 9 months or so.
The reason is the usual one for a university: the juggling of spaces against changing needs is a constant for most colleagues and the biggest wonder of it all is that our Department’s not moved in its 15 year history.
That’s great, but it means that now we are moving, there’s a problem: what to take?
Usually, this isn’t the kind of thing I’d bother you with, but because we’re doing it twice, there’s an additional constraint: I can take only three packing crates to the interim location, with the rest going into proper storage.
Three crates? Not so bad, maybe.
Welcome to my office.
I did actually get moved some years back when I was doing my Associate Dean role, and I used about 30 crates, and even then got told off for over-packing them.
So you see my dilemma: three crates to take the stuff I’ll actually use between May and January.
Of course, a lot of stuff doesn’t get used very much: I’ll admit that I cleared out a couple of shelves directly upon hearing the news, as our local book harvest is coming by next week: old textbooks might have some historiographical value, but realistically they’re not a burning priority.
Which leaves me with still 30-odd crates-worth of choices.
The priority seems to me to be around teaching: my research is mostly based around materials I can transport virtually, plus we’re next door to the library (or rather, we are now: not when we move). But teaching needs me to have access immediately to some texts and to teaching aids.
That means trying to map out what my classes might look like in the first semester of the next academic year, plus the second semester just in case we get delayed (my Brexit research on contingency planning coming in there).
Put like that, the problem suddenly becomes much more manageable: it’s now a matter of boxes of Lego, blindfolds, whiteboard markers and post-it notes rather than my extensive collection of notes on Danish euroscepticism in the late 1990s (two crates-worth, last time I looked).
An as exercise, I’m actually finding it rather cathartic: it feels like an extension of much of the rest of my work experience (I’m writing this on a crowded train heading into London, laptop balanced on my knees, for example). And if I really need something I’ve packed away, they say it can be retrieved, so the peril is relatively low.
Of course, I’m not going to suggest that you move just for the sake of it, but it is good to occasionally ask yourself whether you need all that stuff you’ve piled up. Asking yourself what you really need is a good question at any time, not least because it invites you to focus on the core of what you do.
So it’s actually all good.
Except for the plants, which are going to be a very different matter…