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I was killing time the other night in my work shed by going through some of the hardware my father used to keep in his garage. He and my mother moved to Florida many years ago, and he left most of his tools and all of his hardware behind. I took some tools and three hardware cabinets made of metal with little plastic drawers in them. The largest cabinet was the size and weight of a case of bottled beer.

I was in the shed because I was looking for a cotter pin and found one in the large cabinet. It was the heaviest of the three because its largest drawer was full of what looked like metal junk. I could see the contents through the front of the clear plastic drawer, but I had never opened it, so after I found the cotter pin, I thought I’d look at what was in it.

I immediately could tell it had been filled by a man who had grown up poor. It was jammed with old nuts, bolts, washers, wood screws, machine screws, gears, wing nuts, rivets and the like in dozens of sizes, shapes and finishes. There were steel bolts as long as my ring finger; iron bolts shorter than my pinkie fingernail; thin bolts with nuts on them; thick bolts with no nuts; washers the size of dimes; washers the size of silver dollars—the assortment was as messy as this paragraph.

Some of the hardware was used but still serviceable. The rest of it might have come in handy if I had been rebuilding a rusty steam locomotive. Why my dad held on to it is a question I can’t answer.

Was it because when you grow up poor, you hang on to everything that looks like it might have a use someday? Was it because he was obsessive-compulsive or a hoarder? I never asked—and I doubt he could have answered.

Besides, I didn’t know anything about his obsessive-compulsiveness until I was diagnosed with it myself, and then it was easy to see it in him. By then, though, he was dead.

Rather than simply dumping the old hardware into my metal-recycling pail, I started pulling pieces out of the drawer. Right away I found myself deciding to keep things I thought I might find a use for someday, even though they had been in my shed for a dozen years and I’d never used them. Then I realized what I was doing.

Eventually, I threw almost everything away. Almost.

While I was at it, I went through every other drawer of the cabinet. Some contained items I’ve used before and probably will need again—for example, cotter pins—and some contained items I could have used before: a spark plug socket for tight spots, for instance.

Most of the drawers, though, were filled with things only my father could have foreseen a use for. I dumped them into the recycling bin, too.

I know after I die, somebody will go through my work shed. They’ll find that filing cabinet, look at the contents, and wonder why I had kept it.

They won’t know the half of it.


( 22 comments — Leave a comment )
Oct. 7th, 2016 04:03 am (UTC)
My mother kept everything - I suppose due to the Depression - and after she died I had not only a treasure trove of very nice things but also a lifetime supply of cottage cheese and sour cream containers, toasters that hasn't worked in 30 years, more paperback books than any human ought to own, watches and eyeglasses, wallets and billfolds, photographs with vague notations of unfamiliar people. I am having a hard time parting with any of it.
Oct. 7th, 2016 01:19 pm (UTC)
I wouldn't be able to throw away those watches, that's for sure.
Oct. 7th, 2016 05:33 am (UTC)
I struggle with that same problem I have too much stuff that is moderately dear to me. It makes me think of "Hector, the collector" by Shel Silverstein.
Oct. 7th, 2016 01:11 pm (UTC)
"Moderately dear." Nice!
Oct. 7th, 2016 05:23 pm (UTC)
Having moved house recently - I especially understand your post. In addition to our own mess we had the entire contents of his mother's place in Maine in our garage.

Some days the sorting, recycling and trashing were therapeutic, other days only painful. Some of the pain remains in small Home Depot boxes in a storage unit less than a mile from where I sit today.

Such is life.
Oct. 8th, 2016 02:07 am (UTC)
Your "some of the pain" sentence is a beauty.
Oct. 7th, 2016 10:59 pm (UTC)
This post was very moving.

They’ll find that filing cabinet, look at the contents, and wonder why I had kept it.

No...because you might have broken the cycle: Eventually, I threw almost everything away. Well, okay, maybe the person will wonder a little bit, just a tad, why you kept it.
Oct. 8th, 2016 02:08 am (UTC)
Tonight I thought of a use for one of the things I kept, so there's that ...
Oct. 8th, 2016 03:14 am (UTC)
Yeah, I understand; I didn't miss that point. I was unable to articulate my thoughts completely because there were levels of complexity and I can be kinda slow.
Oct. 8th, 2016 03:30 am (UTC)
I didn't think you missed anything; I was just making an offhand comment. Now that I think about it, though, finding a use for one of those pieces speaks to why my father kept all that stuff around. It's odd, the places where writing takes us ...
Oct. 8th, 2016 12:04 am (UTC)
An excellent way to honor the past while moving forward in your own Life...
Oct. 8th, 2016 02:08 am (UTC)
Thanks for reading and commenting!
Oct. 8th, 2016 04:48 pm (UTC)
I admire the fact that you know what a cotter pin is. Dad would be proud. Every so often, I think of that week when we went through the house and purged it before they moved, and I think of something or another that went into the trash that I wish I had saved. Then I remind myself that it went into the trash for a reason, and push the thought aside (until next time.)
I have my own collection of crap that someone will have to deal with when I croak. For example, I have sewing stuff that I have never used (or haven't used in years) and counted cross stitch kits that I have never started, and glass beads and wire because I was going to learn beading once, a long time ago. I have a post card that Nana sent me in 1965 that I just can't part with, but it will have zero meaning to anyone after I am gone. I pull it out every once in a while, and it takes me back to a time when there was a grown-up to worry about all the things that I get to worry about now, and for a few moments, the load of life feels a little lighter.
We each have our own reason for saving the treasures we keep, and usually those reasons are known only to ourselves. Once we are gone, it's just junk.
Oct. 9th, 2016 02:51 am (UTC)
Beautifully and wonderfully said.
Oct. 9th, 2016 11:09 am (UTC)
You should throw open the doors of that cabinet and take a picture of it..develop it and enlarge it...put it in a frame and hang on your wall...call it Russ in Abstract...,,your father and my father...well, they were complicated men!-Holiday
Oct. 9th, 2016 11:10 pm (UTC)
Complicated for sure, Holiday.
Oct. 9th, 2016 06:18 pm (UTC)
I'm about to start a "first layer" purging process with my mom. She's having vision issues. It's not actually her eyes, but an eye-brain communication snafu, and she can't see things in both upper and lower left quadrants of her former sphere of vision. And no peripheral vision, either. Every counter, table top, dresser top, drawer...they're all mini junk drawers and she can never find anything.

Today she was showing me some cloth napkins in a bathroom drawer (huh?) that her mom had embroidered. She started to cry when she pulled them out, saying "I just can't throw them away. But you probably can." Fact is, I already HAVE a drawer of napkins that my grandmother embroidered, and I have never used them. I'm not sure if she was implying that they need to go and someone has to be strong enough to do it, or that I'm heartless and can easily toss away her mother's hand-embroidered napkins. Yeesh.

In reality, I never throw away anything if I think someone else can use it.I donate it, and trust the process will get it into the right person's life at the right time.

I may have to tell some white lies during the purging process with Mom in order to make it ok for her to let go.
Oct. 9th, 2016 11:20 pm (UTC)
Sorry to hear about your mom, Jamie. She has always been very nice to Sherry and me.

"But you probably can." Hmmm. If you weren't picking up any bad personal vibes after she said that, I'm thinking your first take is good. I hope the thinning-out process goes well. I'm thinking it will be tough at times for both of you.
Nov. 3rd, 2016 11:27 pm (UTC)
My mom has this way of appreciating me for all I do for her, and then outta left field she'll throw out a snarky comment that completely unsettles me. So it's hard to know what her intent was with that one. I'll probably understand better when we reach that particular drawer.

I went again this week and tackled her hall closet. I cannot imagine the process by which it came to be what it was, other than maybe opening the door, tossing something in, and hoping for the best. There was a large bag of burned-out light bulbs. And specialty bulbs for light fixtures they don't even have. There was a four-drawer plastic storage unit filled with the most random stuff imaginable.

It's a task both satisfying and exhausting.
Nov. 4th, 2016 01:25 am (UTC)
The dynamic of your being a professional organizer and a daughter at the same time is something I can't even begin to understand. All I can say for sure is that there's a magazine article someplace in that situation. Damn! I wish you had time to write.

Nov. 4th, 2016 03:10 pm (UTC)
Huh. I have been mulling over a Home Solutions blog post on the idea that I'm walking the walk in addition to talking the talk, so thank you for thinking it's an interesting concept.
Nov. 4th, 2016 08:39 pm (UTC)
My prediction is that if you write a blog post, you'll find out just how big this idea truly is.
( 22 comments — Leave a comment )

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