Everyone knows that you should try to strip everything down to its bare elements. Life’s easier that way. Go through the closets, try on each item in there, and summarily discard anything that does not fit or anything you have not worn in, say, six months. Bag it all up and take it to Goodwill or somewhere.

Look at Gavin, for example. He’s done that for his clothing months ago, and has now extended his minimalistic zeal to all of his possessions. He went through 1,589 books on his shelves, mostly 20th-century novels and biographies of British monarchs, and winnowed them all down to 65. He went through them again, and got rid of 7 more (5 of Graham Greene’s novels, and 2 biographies whose scholarly methods he disdained). So: 58 books — 58 books which are as valuable to him as the Bible to the practicing Christian. Books he has to have. Books he would be continually borrowing from the public library anyway if he did not have his own copies. He reads the same ones over and over again. Pale Fire at least twenty times. The Mezzanine every quarter. Zero every three or four years.

His wife was livid when she found out.

“We could have at least sold some of them and gotten enough for the DVD player,” she said.

“Don’t be mad.”

“Are you kidding? How can I not be?”

“Well, you know what they say: we shouldn’t go to bed angry. It’s bad for our relationship.”

And so she stayed up the entire night, watching TV on the couch in the living room, watching videos, even watching the infomercials (“yours for three easy payments of $49.95”).

He couldn’t sleep himself, what with all the noise, so he ended up in the bathroom re-caulking the tub. “When filling a void, more than one application may be necessary,” the instructions read.

Gavin got rid of a fine world atlas, too, so that all he is left with for all his cartographic needs now is a child’s block puzzle of the United States.

“Ages 4 and up: that includes me,” he tells his wife, trying to break the ice, but she is sulky and sullen for a good solid week.

He’s memorized the basic location of all the states by the end of the month, and all the capitals, even the obscure ones, like Frankfort, Kentucky. She is defiantly unimpressed.

“What’s the price of a one-way ticket to Helena?” she asks.