My daughter will not like this post. My niece will not like this post but my brother will understand. I keep too much stuff. I always have, but it’s not a habit I developed independently. My father kept way too much stuff and his mother, who had a strong influence on my life kept way too much stuff. They had an excuse, living through the Great Depression made people aware of the value of stuff. People learned to reuse and repurpose stuff and how to render stuff into other stuff. I wasn’t alive during the Depression, but I grew up performing tasks like removing and straightening nails from the thing we had just torn down so we could use them again as we rebuilt that thing. I sifted through coffee cans of nuts and bolts and screws to find the gem that would let us avoid a trip to the hardware store. I spent hours watching my dad do things like make a lightweight extension from the power cord of a broken vacuum cleaner. I watched and helped him repair radios, toasters and other appliances that would get tossed into the trash today.
One of my favorite memories is associated with one of my worst days and a pile of stuff my father shouldn’t have kept. I had just started riding my brother’s old 24” bike, a fine green two-wheeled ticket to freedom, when I crashed it into a telephone pole. The impact split the fork wide open and ball bearings poured out like salt. I was devastated. My parents weren’t about to buy me a new bike, I was only 9, but I was a tall kid, almost but not quite big enough for a 26” bike, a.k.a. the largest size, a.k.a. the last one they would have to buy. There was no way they were buying me a new 24” bike – that’s what hand-me-downs are for. But it was July, there were months of bike riding left. Not to worry. When my dad came home from work the next day, he said “I stopped by Uncle Al’s and picked up a bike for you today” – that was bad news, Al’s kids were both girls. Sure enough it was a 24” girl’s bike and it was pink. Not just pink, the sickly kind of pink with white accents that screamed “Barbie rides a bike just like this!”
“Daaaaaaaaaaaad, I can’t ride that!” (Not unless you want to see me get beat up every day for the rest of the summer).
The next thing I knew, we were heading down to the basement and into the corner where odd bits of pipe were leaning. My father picked out a piece of steel pipe, laid it out on the floor with a 2×4 under one end. He stomped on the pipe and bent it ever-so-slightly. Then we marked it, cut it, ground the ends kinda-sorta concave and he welded it in between the seat post and the fork. Then we took that pink Frankenstein bike outside were we painted it flat black. I think of that bike every time I watch Animal House when D-Day creates the Deathmobile. I went from a normal looking kid on a green bike to looking somewhat dangerous without having to stop at sissy thanks to a pile of stuff that should have been thrown away. I never questioned my father’s habits again.
Back in 2010, we started renovating a small family room. We gutted the room, which included removing two cat shelves from the front windows. I knew those were going to be temporary when I installed them in 2008, so I made them from vinyl molding stock. I should have tossed them in the dumpster with all the other debris but I kept them; they’ve been kicking around my garage for 3 years. Fast forward to a few weeks ago when I was finishing the railing system on our front porch. The step is a non-standard configuration (both wider run and shorter rise than normal) so the stair kits for the rails didn’t fit so well. What I needed was a series of 1″ wedges – vinyl wedges to be specific. You know where this is headed. I was able to cut those wedges from the cat shelves.
That is precisely the experience that fosters hanging onto stuff you really should throw away. This is what my brother and I understand that our children rail against. I can hear them now:
“you know, you could have just gone back to Lowes and bought a small piece of molding stock. You didn’t have to save construction debris for three years just in case!“
Sorry girls. On the plus side, I no longer keep bent nails (but I do have a jar of miscellaneous nuts and bolts).