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If you open my nightstand drawer, you’ll find an experiment.

In the drawer are cardboard dividers from IKEA and a catch-all that spans the nightstand’s width. I took everything out of the drawer, and I’m only putting back the things I use daily and weekly.

I don’t know how long this experiment will last, but I like it. So far, it has taught me that there are things I need and things I want to need.

The experiment reminds me of when I learned to prepare bentos 🍱, the little Japanese lunch boxes where food is neatly partitioned.

The challenge of a bento box is the same challenge I have in my nightstand and, in many ways, my life. Organizing a bento requires distinction and preparation; organizing myself requires definitions and purposes, which require a lot of discipline, reflection, and strategy.

By habit, I am the opposite of a bento. The proteins in my life are mixed up with vegetables and fruits—like how my work, service, and home life are stir-fried in the same wok. Some of my favorite meals are soups made of leftovers and pantry items, especially comfort foods like Frito pie. I’ve become comfortable with convolution, which demands a high tolerance for ambiguity.

By process and foresight, I am like a bento. I tend to reserve the stuff at the bottom of a sauté and brazing pans for sauces. Also, I soak my beans, cook them, and reserve the cooking liquid. The delineation is there, but the total discipline—or need—to categorize everything in my life just isn’t.

Where I lack in definition, I make up for with flexibility. The walls of the bento are restrictive. They force me to separate night and day. And look at me; I’m a dawn and dusk man who mixes his rice and beans on a plate.

Take a Frito pie with toppings compuestas and pour it into a bento box. Take a blur of responsibilities with indulgences and divide it by time. In either case, you’ll get a filling, delicious mess.

I wonder, is the whole of my soup greater than the sum of my bento?

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