This is the time of the year when Mrs. G. and I move inside as the nice weather of summer and early fall turns darker, wetter and colder. As we looked around the house, we took some time to appreciate what we have, and after a few moments of that, we said to each other, “We really need to get rid of at least half of this stuff.”
“Stuff” is the polite word. We didn’t actually say “stuff,” but the point is that for three-plus decades, we have accumulated what most normal families accumulate, but as fashion, needs and technology changed, we hung on to the old stuff. I believe that’s why basements were invented, not as a place to hold furnaces and water heaters and ductwork and all the other mundane pieces of household mechanics, no, not at all. Basements are for storing the daily flotsam that clogs our lives; items that are too good to throw out but not good enough to make the cut to the next level. A basement is the international league of household goods.
A big dent was made a few weeks ago when my daughter and her husband bought a house, so all of their boxes and pieces are now twenty minutes away. Seeing years of her accumulated items leave was sort of the same as that first day of school when the big yellow bus hauls your kid off into the abyss, but on the other hand, all of her stuff was now someplace else. We can go visit it.
That move left a big gaping crater in the middle of the basement floor, which motivated us into scorched earth organizing mode. Some items simply needed to be identified and moved somewhere else while some could be repurposed—but a large amount of these objects needed to be tossed out. I wanted to get a dumpster while Mrs. G. wanted to fill our single garbage can to the brim each week, which is not something two older people generally do. She was worried that the garbage men would be mad if they had to pick up more than our usual single bag of trash, but we went her route in spite of my urgings that a dumpster would be awesome. My opinion is and always will be that there is nothing in this world more cathartic that a dumpster in the driveway. When it’s filled and hauled away, it’s the same as being reborn.
Our cleaning frenzy ground to a screeching halt when we sold our barn and the adjacent farmhouse that used to be our construction office. Suddenly—well, not so suddenly since we knew the day was coming—we had another thirty years of even more “stuff,” and most of that had to go, and fast.
My daughter and son-in-law took what they needed; my wife and I took what we needed and the rest? Well, our grand idea was to put the larger items on Craigslist and hold a barn sale for the weird, smaller items.
Here’s what I’ve learned.
The overwhelming majority of Craigslist people were nice folks looking for a bargain on something we no longer needed which was something they did need. This is commerce in its most perfect form.
It wasn’t always perfect, though. A small minority of the Listers were—how can I say this politely—nutballs. My favorite was the person who texted at 11:30 pm to ask how many legs were on the table in the Craigslist ad:
Lister: OK, can I come get it tomorrow around 11:30?
Lister: Can you text me a reminder?😜
Me: Yeah, that’s not happening. Make a note or something. See you tomorrow.
When she showed up to buy the table and chairs, she did so in a Kia Forte with an apparently dead and immobile person in the passenger seat and—I’m not making this up—shoved the chairs in a trunk that was already packed full of junk she has been lugging from car to car since high school. She then proceeded to secure the teetering knot of chairs by taking a jumper cable and looping the cable around the chair legs and trunk lid hinges and clamping the jaws back onto the cable. The legs on the table were removed and the top was slid into the backseat, behind the apparently dead and immobile person, and that was that. When they left in a cloud of empty Halloween candy wrappers, it looked as if the car had been packed by an angry poltergeist.
I quickly learned that retail prices have no bearing on Craigslist or barn sale prices. Normally sane people who go into Kohls do not offer them a dollar for a five hundred dollar vacuum cleaner, but that is the mindset for barn sale or Craigslist shoppers. If the item isn’t discounted at least ninety-nine percent off the new price, it’ll sit there and rot.
This explains why we now have two, four-drawer filing cabinets and two smaller filing cabinets in our garage along with several (and by several I mean a crapton, which is an actual form of measurement) boxes of office supplies. Anyone need pushpins? We have them. Hanging file folders? We have hundreds, but I suppose we need something to put into twenty-four linear feet of filing cabinet drawers.
We now have enough three-hole punch devices to punch twelve holes at the same time, several multi-line telephones (with cords!), an industrial stapler than can bury a staple through a quarter of an inch of papers, and one or maybe even two swivel office chairs. All of this is on top of the metric crapton of regular stuff we already had and were trying to organize, and by organizing, I mean filling a dumpster.
I woke up this morning, made some coffee, and quietly wished I lived in a camper.
So here’s where we are now. Habitat for Humanity will back a sixteen-foot box truck up to our barn and haul away whatever construction-related items we have left, which is a lot. Mrs. G. and I both feel good about that for several reasons, chief among them is that we really don’t need sheaves of plywood or bundles of sewer pipe and the related fittings in our backyard. I don’t need hundreds of pounds of nails or ply-clips or joist hangers or door slabs or windows or any of the other dead weight of the construction business in our garage. I’m glad somebody else can use these items.
As with all of the things we no longer need, once we get past what they initially cost to what they are worth to us now, it’ll be easy to let go. It’s the same as those steel pennies the U.S. used during World War II. One of these pennies might be worth twelve bucks to a coin collector, but it’s worth exactly a penny to everybody else.
In other words, why am I hanging on to my old Rollerblades?
During our initial sweep through the basement, Mrs. G. found a box of VHS tapes. We plugged a tape into our old TV/VCR combo unit and went back twenty-eight years to when our daughter was three years old. We sat in the kitchen with the TV on a chair, watching one tape after the other.
She was so young.
Ever notice how little kids have dimples on their fingers instead of knuckles? How their voices sound? I watched our young daughter and I could actually see her thinking as she absorbed something new and everything was new to her. I watched as she clung to her mother in the pool, eventually taking her first cautious solo swim only to turn back quickly to the safety of Mom. She was a happy, inquisitive and utterly charming little girl and while it certainly wasn’t yesterday, it suddenly felt as if it was.
It all made my heart hurt.
This is what we’ll keep forever as the old memories make room for the new. The rest of it is simply baggage.