What We Keep

We’ve lived at our place for about 30 years, which is a pretty long time. And, it probably goes without saying that we’ve accumulated a lot of stuff. We’re not ready for an episode of “Hoarders,” but a reasonable person could wonder why we have kept a lot of what we have.

Last weekend we did some serious cleaning in the machine shed that has served as our garage for all these years. In addition to vehicles, lawn mowers, and such, here are some of the things we found (that we didn’t remember we even owned) while cleaning things out: a ball peen hammer, a siphon, four jacks, storage containers without lids, lids without storage containers, oil filters for cars we haven’t owned for 20 years, and two substantial wooden drawers, without whatever it was they fit into.

There were chemicals for killing weeds and fertilizing grass, tools for cutting unwanted grass and weeds, cultivating the garden, and wood for heating the house. We ordered a face cord of oak back in 1985 or so, and used a lot of it, but once we removed the wood stove from our house, our wood use dropped substantially.

Over the course of the weekend, I’d estimate we asked each other this question several hundred times: “Should we keep this?” The answers varied, but rarely came easily.

So, today I ask myself another question: why do we keep things?

We were both brought up not to waste things, since we both had parents who struggled during the Great Depression. As a result, the possibility that something might come in handy someday dictates a lot. For example, the three foot long 2 X 4 may be useful five years from now, but only if we remember we have it, and where. Multiply that times 300 or 400 pieces of wood in various stages of decay, add in hundreds of feet of rubber hose without fittings, and thousands of feet of various types of wire, and pretty soon you’re in trouble.

Another reason to keep things relates to how much space you have. A corollary to Murphy’s Law about things going wrong goes like this: “The amount of stuff you have is equal to the amount of space you have, plus one.” Living on a farmstead, we have way more space than someone living in a residential home, or an apartment. We keep things because we can.

What I think of as I get older is the news interviews with people who have lost everything due to a storm, a fire, or some other disaster. They are devastated, but at the same time grateful if their loved ones survived unscathed. Our stuff has importance, both because it is useful and because of the memories that are wrapped up in it. Going through the cleaning last weekend has got us both re-thinking what we’ll be hanging onto in the future. The first two things on the list will be our memories and each other.

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