Thursday, May 3, 2012

Look what I found!

When I moved to Calgary in 1980 everything I owned fit into a 1978 Pontiac LeMans. What didn't fit I sold or gave away. A buddy of mine had moved to Calgary and was looking for someone to share an apartment, rents being astronomical, or so it seemed. Plus I was sick of my job. So I moved. It seems so easy in hindsight.

Lets see, I lived with him for a couple years. Then there was the tiny illegal basement suite that was about the size of our living / dining room. There was the standard 1 bedroom apartment. Through those I didn't accumulate much stuff. The townhouse that Linda and I rented. The accumulation started. Then late 84 we moved into this house. That move in date is a bit of a watershed. We've lived in this one house longer than all the other homes I've lived in put together, which, including the ones mentioned above totals 14 places that I remember. When I tell you I was in one of those places for 5 years, and a couple others for about 3 years each, you can see I moved around a lot. About grade 5 our home burned down completely and totally. I was visiting relatives in BC at the time, but I was just old enough to contemplate that all I had in the world would fit into a suitcase.

It has become more than clear to me that the accumulation has got out of hand since we moved in here. When I decided to fix up the vapour barrier I made the decision not to redo the walls, even though I knew there were places the cats had torn it up. Much of the stuff in the basement was up against the walls, and I couldn't face moving it all. Even moving just enough to get at the sections between the joists was a lot more work than doing the vapour barrier itself, and the section I talked about the other day still remains to be done.

There were two sections I did today. Each was beneath a window, where that the cats would scrabble at the plastic with their claws as they leaped up to the window sill. In one section I had to remove several hundred books. Those books have been there about a decade. You can imagine the accumulation of dust, spiderwebs, and cat fur. It had depth. (The book case is open on the ends and the cats could get behind the books.) I waved the vacuum cleaner constantly, or I'd have had to be wearing SCBA equipment. In the other section I had to remove fabric. Lots and lots of fabric. A few of my readers will remember we were active in the SCA for a while, and Linda accumulated fabric and other related things. Lots of it. I'm told that fabric hoard has reached mythic portions in the local SCA.

Once I moved all that stuff it was fairly straightforward to retrofit a large piece of plastic and seal it all up. Then put stuff back. Which included some of the stuff that I had moved during other parts of the project. Vacuuming steadily. I suspect the vacuum cleaner ran for 3 hours at least. 

There was another layer of paint put down on one section of floor under the stairs where the cat boxes will live when more cats move in. I found stuff there too, like lots of dust. And this:

For the youthful among you, it's a record player. You would put a grooved vinyl platter onto the black circular platform, and carefully put the arm at the outside start of the spiral groove. Through an amazing process that involved a mechanical needle banging it's way along the groove, music was played through speakers. Honestly, you can google it.

Of course, I had known at one time that we had a record player. We had two, come to think of it, one each from separate lives. After all, this was before CD's were invented. But I thought we had sold or given it away, so it was a surprise to see it. A few years ago, in a similar act of discovery, I found a typewriter. That's a, oh heck, you can google that one for yourself. I had a clear memory, or so I thought, of giving it away. I wonder what else is lurking down in the basement.

Which has sparked this blog. We joke that we'll never move from this house because there is too much stuff. It's true. I used to be able to tell you how many books, CDs, and DVD's we have. I had a list for insurance purposes. (Yes, I know, I'm a geek, my co-workers tell me this.) What with technology changes, that list is no longer one list. It's several lists, and I don't bother to total them. I just know that if I need to I can give the insurance company a list of titles, and we can go shopping. Never mind the problem that a significant number are out of print. Never mind trying to figure out what, exactly, is the replacement value of a print version of the Encyclopedia Brittanica.

Let's just say there are thousands of books downstairs, probably between 4 and 5. I don't even want to guess how many CDs, though they are all upstairs. Every now and then I know exactly how many bottles of wine there are downstairs, I'm guessing many right now. That's many cases, not bottles. Plus other stuff accumulated over the years. Stuff and stuff and stuff, mostly all collecting dust. That record player, for example, hasn't been used since shortly after we moved into this house. I've put up lots of shelving in an effort to stay ahead of the accumulation, but this is doomed to failure. There are limits on the floor space available for shelving.

Over the years as I've walked, run, or biked past my neighbour's homes, I can see we're not the only ones with an accumulation problem. Some people can't put their cars in the garage because it's full of stuff. I've house sit for a couple people, and each of them has an entire room crammed full of stuff. When I was checking a good friend's home where they took vacation part way through moving, I found an entire room that I hadn't known existed. It had been completely full of boxes, wall to wall to wall to wall, floor to ceiling, with the doorway covered up. 

Now, some stuff does get used on a seasonal basis. There is no need to be tripping over winter boots and coats in August. That isn't to say they should be completely inaccessible, because it has snowed here in August. So it makes sense to store that sort of thing. But old clothes that are now much too large for me? I keep going through them and giving them away, yet it seems there are always more. Yes, I found more recently. I am boggled at the heterogeneous nature of the accumulation, and the many various reasons we acquired it in the first place. 

Once accumulated, it becomes hard to part with things again. We did one garage sale, which was interesting, but a pain in the butt. Some people use various on line methods to sell stuff, but that somehow doesn't seem to be for me. Much of it is such a relatively low value now. And how does one value such stuff? I see on ebay that the encyclopedia is being bid about $250, and I have to think that it could cost more to ship them.

I was thinking of a photo journalism article I saw several years ago now. They took families from various parts of the world, and moved all their stuff out to the front yard to photograph it. Well, I don't think all our stuff would fit on the driveway and front yard. That isn't bragging or boasting. It's just that somehow over the years we thought we needed all this stuff. And once we don't need it, we can't get rid of it. What does that say about us?

Some people make a rule that to bring something in, something has to go. That's good if you've got the discipline. Some people give stuff to their kids, but there is only a limited timeframe to do that AND have the stuff go out of your house. Some stuff you can't even give away now. My neighbour was trying to give away a reasonably nice television. None of the charities would take it unless it was less than a few years old, and a flat screen plasma or LCD. They wouldn't even consider a tube or rear projection TV. 

Often people (including me) think we'll keep something for a future project, or to repurpose it somehow. I discovered some of that in recent weeks, and have been ruthless about throwing it out. Along with random bits of wood and metal that I thought might be useful for something. Some I kept for firewood, just because we had it and it's safe to burn. I'm glad the city have us a black bin for garbage recently. I've been sneaking junk into it regularly that would never fit into a garbage bag. How long does one keep something, thinking you'll use it someday? If some day is measured in decades, I'm thinking it's pretty safe to say that some day isn't coming any time soon and likely not ever. 

Even now, thinking of all this I still fall into the accumulation trap. I love my iPad 2. Love it! I wasn't sure how much I would use it when I got it, but it turns out to fulfill needs I didn't know I had. All right, wants I didn't know I had. Now, the new iPad has come along, and yes, I want it. I don't need it, at least I don't think I do. But the one I have is working perfectly well, and is likely to do so for years, possibly many years. I can't just throw it away, and yet there isn't anything plausible to use the current one for if I get a new one.

Sort of like our plasma TV. We only use it to watch DVD's. Which you essentially can't rent anymore. We got ours almost 10 years ago, long before HDMI cables were dreamed of. The new ones have a much nicer picture, and then we could look at streaming movies from the net. Lots of options with new technology. But, but, I say, what to do with the current plasma, which functions perfectly well? I can't forget that IKEA commercial with the lamp. I would feel a lot better about "throwing out" old stuff, if we were better at recycling it for metals or other materials. 

These are first world problems, and probably upper 20% of the first world at that. I am perfectly aware there are many millions of people that don't know where their next meal is coming from, and only dream of getting a needle of medicine that would cure them of a disease or prevent it altogether. Some people have given away all their stuff and talk about how freeing the experience is. Maybe so. For whatever reason, I can't do that yet, or I don't need to badly enough. In the meantime, I try to think carefully about what and why I'm buying something.

What about you? Dare you look in the dark corners of your basement? How much stuff do you have? Have you ever discovered stuff that you had forgotten you had? Have you ever DEALT WITH your stuff in a dramatic way? 


  1. Keep the record player - it's coming back in style, apparently. I love them, I remember listening my favourite kid songs on them. That is, if ABBA's Voulez-vous was a kid's song.

    We have a garage full of stuff that has not been looked at since we moved into our house 8 years ago. We used to have more stuff but our basement reno forced us to toss a lot of it out.

  2. That's what some of my music buddies tell me, that records are coming back. I am dubious, myself, but what do I know? Last I looked, it wasn't physically possible to get most modern cars in your garage because of how the "driveway" is sloped compared to the curb. So you might as well use it for storage. And besides, you've got a kid, you can give it all to her.

  3. ...I don't own any vinyl, my mom has kept all of hers.

  4. That's what some of my music buddies tell me, that records are coming back. I am dubious, myself, but what do I know? Last I looked, it wasn't physically possible to get most modern cars in your garage because of how the "driveway" is sloped compared to the curb. So you might as well use it for storage. And besides, you've got a kid, you can give it all to her.


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