Once a year, in a mad effort to rid ourselves of some of the junk we've collected during the year, we have a yard sale. Our neighborhood association sponsors a subdivision-wide sale each year. As the deadline looms and the garage seems to swell and burst from the jam of boxes overflowing with effluvia, we begin the onerous task of deciding what has transformed from treasure into trash.
Being addicted to junk wouldn't be so bad if only one could do it alone. However, it's rare that a junk collector does not marry another junk collector. I went into a non-collector's garage once. The shelves were neatly organized. The walls had hooks for each and every tool and the spaces were even outlined with the shape of the tool that belonged there. Even the lowliest can of cleaner had its own special spot. The sight was awe-inspiring. I was envious, and slightly afraid. But someone who pays such careful attention to detail and organization could never be married to someone like me. I operate under the "pile system" of organization.
Because junk collection is genetic and collectors marry each other, the result is, obviously, little junk collectors. My husband and I both inherited the junk-collecting gene from both sides of our families. I also remember the garages and basements of my grandparents, full of hidden treasure handed down through the ages. As I age, I find that not only do I have my own thirty-year-old junk, I have inherited my mother's fifty-year-old junk, and my grandmother's seventy-year-old junk, and so on. The older you get, the harder it is to throw out the trashy treasures of past generations, even though the collection gets larger by the year.
On the other end of the gene pool are your children. As one of my neighbors observed recently, they do grow up and move away, but they don't take their junk with them. What's more, they tend to move back a time or two while settling down and bring even more junk. When they go again, the junk stays. So, not only are you the guardian of the junk of generations past, you are the keeper of the junk of future generations. This year, not only did I welcome an offspring (and her junk) back into the fold, but her significant other came with her, and my mother sold her house and made me take away all my old junk.
As we embark on our annual junk-sorting sortie, I notice trends. My collection habit seems to lean towards books, craft supplies, office supplies, worn out kitchen equipment and old shoes. My husband's collection tendencies lean toward electrical and electronic gadgets and parts, car parts, tools, computers and outdated software. When I first moved in with him, he was the proud owner of thirteen computer monitors, three of which worked. Now we skeptically view each other's "keep pile" as we sort, secretly believing that the other's saved treasure is really just trash.
Realistically, I understand that the chances of my using up all the ink inside five hundred old pens during the course of my lifetime is doubtful. But it's hard to throw away a pen that still writes. Even with that many pens in your possession it seems like you can never find a functional one when you need it most. The same is true of duplicate photos and photo negatives of people you met once on a trip somewhere and will likely never see again. Just when you throw away the extras, that couple you ate dinner with in San Diego in 1983 is going to show up on your doorstep and ask for copies.
That is, in a nutshell, the essential difficulty in sorting trash from treasure. The process requires that you be able to see into the future and anticipate your needs. The decision-making process is further hindered by the discovery of items you have stashed and since bought again new many times over. You discover three unopened rolls of electrical tape, six bottles of correction fluid, a box of staples and assorted gifts that were appreciated, but never used. They are all items you use on a regular basis, but, instead of hunting for what you have, it's much easier to run to the store and pick it up.
The most annoying aspect of junk consolidation is finding things you hate and have always hated. You can't get rid of these items because they were either gifts from someone still living who may notice their absence, or the possessions of someone who has passed and, therefore, heirlooms. So back into the garage they go to either collect dust for another year or to be hastily reinstalled in the house should their donors stop for a visit.
If you tally all these factors into a sincere effort at junk reduction, you never seem to get rid of as much junk as you had hoped at the outset of the project. Your yard sale is looking a little pathetic, your customers only buy three of the fifty things you put out for sale, and your garage is still full of things you will probably never use.
In our case, the problem is compounded further by the fact that our consolidation efforts coincide with a neighborhood-wide yard sale. So, in addition to the futility of trying to offload our own junk, we are busy running around the neighborhood buying the stuff our neighbors are trying to get rid of. After encouraging my husband to get rid of his old monitors, I just asked him to buy another one, and we now have two discarded monitors to dispose of. It isn't unusual to see certain yard sale items appear year after year in yard sales all around town, hopping from one reluctant owner to the next, never finding someone who will actually use those items for their intended purpose.
Someday, I'm going to tire of owning a garage full of things that rarely are used. When that day comes, I am going to pull myself up by my bootstraps, gird my loins, march determinedly out the door, and build a storage building. After all, someday I'll be dead and my junk will be my heirs' problem.
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