They Say, “It’s Just Like Riding a Bike,” But What Does That Mean, Really?

a bicycle

Lately, I’ve been speed packing, cleaning, and renovating my house because I’m trying to get it ready to sell on a short time frame.

I’ve spent eight years living here. Eight very happy years. Eight very stable years. Especially after a life that had me moving around quite often due to a troubled family life in adolescence and then financial instability as a young adult.

I know how to quickly pack and move somewhere else. As a teenager, I really only had what fit in a backpack (and once I got my license, what would fit in my car). So that was a quick job, picking up my things and bugging out when I wasn’t wanted anymore.

Later on, I would become an apartment dweller and find it became quite easy to amass enough possessions that packing was a large project.

But I got good at sorting through things and quickly taping together broken down boxes for a move. In earlier moves, I was terrible at getting rid of things. Looking back, I think it was a product of spending so much time barely scraping by. You didn’t know when you were going to unexpectedly need something. And extra money wasn’t just going to materialize to help you figure it out.

No, it was best to just keep everything. All the time.

I never got quite to hoarder level where I was afraid to throw away literal soiled trash.

But I did have some habits that seemed strange to other people, like the fact that I kept cardboard boxes in the closet full of empty paper towel/toilet paper rolls (they could be used for certain craft projects and hacked together repairs), washed out yogurt or sour cream containers (good for storing things), etc.

I kept things that could be recycled. Which was sensible on one hand but not in the quantities that I had them.

And of course, I kept a ton of books, clothing, and curios that I didn’t exactly need.

Anyway, somewhere along the line, my living situation became more stable and I started to realize how much emotional baggage I had surrounding things. For example, if someone gave me a gift, even if I hated it, I felt like I had to keep it. And to do otherwise (to regift, return, or donate it) would be ungrateful behavior that insulted the giver.

I began to challenge beliefs like that. And to read more about organizing and hoarding. To look to people and systems as a source of security rather than to the stuff just kicking around my house.

These days, it’s actually pretty easy for me to pare down my things. And there’s frankly a lot I’ve already had to sort through. Spending eight years in a house gives you plenty of opportunity to nest.

It’s been ages since I had to pack and move. I worried that I wouldn’t remember how.

But I was wrong.

I found I was whipping together broken down boxes with tape like it was second nature to me. Making decisions easily about what to donate, what to pack, what to recycle, what to throw away.

“It’s just like riding a bike,” I heard myself say.

Procedural Memory

Although we often talk about a person’s “memory” as if it is a single unitary concept, in fact there are many different kinds of memory.

When we say something is “just like riding a bike,” we’re talking about procedural memory (also known as implicit memory), a form of memory that remembers how we perform tasks. Procedural memory is notoriously stable. It’s typically easy for us to pick up where we left off doing things we learned how to do ages ago. Even if it’s been a very long time.

Conversely, something like declarative memory is much more susceptible to forgetting and decay. Declarative memory (sometimes also called explicit memory) is remembering facts, details. That unfortunately can be a great deal fuzzier and imperfect.

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This post is part of an ongoing Poly Land feature called Psyched for the Weekend, in which I geek out with brief takes about some of my favorite psychological studies and concepts. For the entire series, please see this link.

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