It is not exactly Sophie’s Choice, but agonizing for my wife and I all the same. Should we toss our only child’s eighth-grade notebooks, like garage-variety trash, into the dumpster parked in our driveway? He doesn’t need them anymore—he is rising 30—but still.
How about his great green “Hulk Hands,” which yet proclaim, “Hulk mad!” when pressed emphatically against another’s proffered cheek?
There are hundreds of such decisions for people like us with way too much stuff. It’s not nice stuff, stuff that would inflate our net worth when applying for a loan. It’s just a lot of stuff. And this isn’t our first dumpster, or second.
In our defense, there is some construction waste in this one, from a basement renovation project, and neighbor Rob graciously topped it off with some of his basement detritus. Returning a dumpster with any air in it is borderline un-American; I recently helped another neighbor fill his to the brim. We also left a perfectly good glass desk for the taking at the top of the driveway, where it remains at this writing.
It’s been a while between dumpsters. But when accessing the washer/dryer in the basement became akin to navigating the Minotaur’s Labyrinth, it was time to clean out the Aegean Stables — to mix mythic metaphors (try saying that three time fast).
But which stuff would we mere mortals toss?
Years back my wife and I deliberated long and hard over whether to keep the NordicTrack that neither of us had used in more than a decade. It went. This time around we ponderously pondered the value of a mess of Walmart-quality cross-country skis that we hadn’t donned since the ‘90s. Global Warming notwithstanding, they will remain.
Part of our problem is that we have plenty of room for stuff. Besides a full basement our property has an ancient barn and a stone garage with an attic that the previous owner, an old farmer, packed with things that might come in handy. A contemporary of his once explained that everyone in the neighborhood knew Ignacy would happily accept any and all castaways, whether banged-up garage doors or rusty scythes without handles. He had survived the Great Depression and wasn’t leaving anything to chance.
After clearing out Ignacy’s substantial legacy, we began establishing our own. As credit card-carrying members of the throwaway society, we buy way more things and rip through them faster than Ignacy’s generation did. My parents, for example, had the same bed for more than half a century. My wife and I have gone through a number in half that time.
And like Ignacy, we, too, have acquired things over the years that we thought for some reason or other might become useful at some time or other for something or other. In hindsight many of these decisions seem indefensible, like accepting the “gift” of that glass desk that friends no longer (or never) wanted—and as yet no one else seems to covet either.
Nor does all of the stuff that has to go live in the basement or out in outbuildings. Our books and CD collection are overflowing all over the living room, not to mention dozens of vinyl albums crammed into a cupboard. The continuing existence of said LPs is essentially moot (and mute) since we don’t own a record player anymore. We’ll keep them, of course. Only a Philistine would throw away a perfectly good collection of songs by that one-hit wonder Bob Lind.
The books present more of a dilemma. Is throwing away a book, even one that is torn, faded and dog-eared, the same as burning it? We filled many boxes and dropped them off at the local library, where the staff was less grateful with each sortie.
And how about books we haven’t read and don’t want to read but should have read, like “Ulysses.” This opus must be self-pollinating because we have four copies, all in pristine condition, as if none of us had laid a hand on them.
Of course, a landfill is arguable too good for some titles: like “Done Like Dinner,” a book of recipes by a pro hockey brawler. The unpublished novelist (me) slam-dunked the published pugilist’s opus into the dumpster with extreme prejudice.
But others were saved, including an account of the feuding Hatfields and McCoys authored by my great grandfather. A book of poetry that includes one written by my mother is a keeper, of course, even though it seems to have been liberated from a library in upstate New York.
Hulk Hands are still here, not for our son’s sake, but for ours.