It's astonishing how much an off-hand comment from the unlikeliest of places can have an unexpected impact.
At work, we were discussing my new colleague's unpacking process over lunch, and several people commented on still having sealed boxes from moves years or even decades earlier. I felt mostly smug - but there was a guilty twinge. I have one last box in the basement. (The previous box - containing every pair of jeans I have ever worn, or so it seems - was finally dealt with earlier this year.)
The box contains all my old notes and files from university. I have left it because I couldn't decide what to do with it. I know I would like to keep my old essays - I have a small box of precious things I keep for sentimental reasons, like old diaries, photo albums, the first thing I ever knitted, letters from friends. The essays could go in there. And the scrap paper or rough notes - chuck.
But the research? The hours of my life spent standing in front of a photocopier in the library coping chapters and academic articles. The realisation that I could not access these again without paying for them. The guilty knowledge that some never got read. The secret hope of one day dusting them off, to research and write a historic novel. This expands beyond the notes in the basement - I have another two or more shelves of books, articles and so on from my final year dissertation in the spare room.
And then my new colleague commented that research moved so fast that it is quickly out of date.
Duh. Why didn't I think of that?
If ever I do get around to writing a historic novel, the evidence for and understanding of that time period will have moved on since my first year of university. And I know I would enjoy doing that research. Not having a box of dusty old articles in the basement would not really be much of a barrier.
So finally - thanks to an off-hand comment at work - I am ready to let go of the last box.
(That just leaves the unknown number of boxes in my mother's attic. But let's forget that for now!)