Hey you might need a raincoat

10 11 2010

I have too much stuff.

This is something I recognize every single time I move, but in my half-employment, I’ve been trying to spiff up my apartment (painting not just desks but also bookcases! and other things!), a spiffing which requires that I get rid of stuff.

But the problem(s), see, is that 1) some stuff is useful; and 2) I hate waste.

On the useful stuff: I’ve lived with roommates who’ve laughed at all the stuff I have but who also have had no problem making use of said stuff. Television (now gone, of course). Pots. Pans. Knives. Dishes and kitchenware, generally. They’d put garbage in the garbage cans I brought with me, swept their rooms with my broom, and as far as I know were quite happy that there were lights in the living room.

No, no resentment. None. at. all.

So when I would pack up all of my stuff I’d think Oy, too much stuff, but then I’d think, What are you going to do? If I wanted to be able to cook and eat and clean and be able to read then I’d need pots and pans and dishes and brooms and lights and really, since I already owned all of this stuff, didn’t it make more sense for me just to bring it with me than to toss it out and buy new stuff?

Which brings me to the second point, hating waste. If I think something could be useful, I tend to keep it around. I grew up in a house in which half of the basement was given over to storage, as were both attics. My parents were in no ways pack rats; they used the stuff they kept in the basement and attics—that’s why they kept it—and I’ve picked up that habit of, say, saving old jeans in case I need the fabric, or of clipping off buttons and zippers of clothes too far gone to be worn, or jars for storage, or keeping scraps of wood for. . . who knows?

The attic off my sister’s and my bedroom held my dad’s old Air Force duffel bag and the Christmas ornaments, but the attic in my brother’s room held, well, boxes. My mom kept boxes of boxes because that shirt you purchased from Prange’s or JC Penney’s might not have come with a box, and if you want to give it as a gift wouldn’t it look so much nicer wrapped in a box?

So at Christmas time or at any birthday, boxes would be collected and saved for reuse, as were, for a number of years, bows. (We once saved all the Christmas wrapping because my mom heard that it that it made for multicolored flames in a fire. It did not, and thus every year thereafter someone would say ‘We should keep this wrapping for camping. . . .’ My mother did not always find this amusing.)

And, of course, plastic containers were saved, if not for food, then to keep in order the misc bits floating around my dad’s tool bench or if one needed a container for paint or stain or, again, whatever.

My folks weren’t maniacs. Once things were well-used or worn out, they got tossed. In fact, this could be one of the benefits of re-use: Why bother scrubbing the stain out of that old plastic container: just toss it. Or these things could be brought to a picnic or camping or on vacation, with the idea that if the thing were lost or damaged, oh well.

It’s not like losing the good Tupperware.

I don’t have a house or basement or even one, much less two, attics. But I do have a bin of fabric, and I’ve constructed more than one bookshelf or container out of found wood. I have a box of buttons and a few slashed-out zippers and right now there’s a pair of old jeans sitting on top of my bicycle that are too beat to donate and I already have enough jean fabric so I should really just toss them but then again. . . .

Oh, and have I mentioned that I own two bicycles? One is a road bike, circa 1991, and the other a mountain bike from 1994. I don’t really need two bikes—I could get by with the mountain bike—but I doubt I’d get much money for the road bike and jesus it really is a sweet ride and I’m not a serious enough biker to toss out a thousand bucks for a new bike if I want to do some long-haul biking and I already have this one. . . so why not keep it?

The books? Forget it: lost cause.

The files—yes! the files! I have gotten rid of a lot of those, and if I get off my ass will get rid of even more. The conceptual shift away from keeping these has been made; now the practice needs to catch up.

But what of the stuff I keep just because? I have a bin of photos and a box of letters and I don’t think I’ll ever get rid of either, because I can replace neither. I rarely go through them, but I like that they’re there. (And it’s just two containers, one under the bed and one in the back of a closet. Out of sight. . . .)

There’s also a third issue, the storing-up stuff. Again, this is a habit learned in SmallTown: Whenever something our family used went on sale, my mom or pop would stock up. Too much toilet paper? Just put it in that space above the regular closet. Extra peanuts (we were a big peanut-eating family) or cans of corn would go on the shelves in the basement, as would the cases of beer and soda.

I don’t need to tell you that we had a freezer and an extra fridge in the basement, do I?

The point was never to run out of stuff. If you need a band-aid or some tape an envelope or toothpaste then it damned well better be there. There was no excuse to run out of stuff which could be stored.

In my household, this means there are always back-up bars of soap, bottles of shampoo, dish soap, and getting down to only 2 or 3 rolls of toilet paper is, if not a crisis, something which requires immediate attention. And don’t ask about the feminine hygiene products.

The upshot of all of this is that my practical habits and my preferences clash: I want a clear space, and prefer emptiness to clutter. I also hate waste and want to make sure the basic are covered.

If only I had an attic.