The Stuff of Life

"Well you wouldn't even know a diamond if you held it in your hands. The things you think are precious I can't understand."
Walter Becker/Donald Fagan

My first car was a 1973 Volkswagen Rabbit which I purchased off a used car lot in Wichita in 1979. The car was the color of stewed peas with a hand-crank sunroof and a tendency to clog fuel filters on a regular basis. Under the spare tire in back was a little plastic case that held a tool kit. This kit included a blue screwdriver handle into which fitted a reversible Phillips and regular-ended screwdriver shaft. The car was history by 1983 but I still have that stupid screwdriver 34 years later.

I don't even know why I have it. There is absolutely zero sentimental value attached to that car in general or that tool in particular. The shaft falls out of the handle if you point it downward a single degree past horizontal which makes it marginally useful. Yet it is sitting here, this very moment, in the combination pen and tool holder I keep on my desk.

I will confess to being a bit of a pack rat. Honestly, don't start looking to reserve a spot for me on Hoarders. It's nothing like that. But I will confess to having over 1000 hardback books and most of them are in boxes still unpacked from the last move, 9 years ago. (My plethora of books is matched by a dearth of bookshelves.) This collection includes volumes that have not been touched in more than a decade. And it isn't just books! Sitting on my shelf is a commercial Windows 95 CD. I cannot conceive of a situation that would compel me to install it on some poor unsuspecting computer someday. Yet ... there it sits.

As we travel through life we have a tendency to attract stuff, like a magnet being dragged through the dirt locating tiny bits of iron. Objects cling to us and insinuate themselves into our space. Our modes of storage - plastic bins, cardboard boxes, paper bags, etc. - gradually fill with the detritus of move after move and technological upgrade after technological upgrade. I have several keyboards I dislike for various reasons. Why are they still here? Why do I still have an Epson scanner that is not as good as the one now sitting on my desk? Is it realistic to hang on to a fountain pen with a broken nib? I have other pens. Do I truly intend to someday buy a replacement nib for that one?

A truly practical, fundamentally logical person would ask these questions. Most of us will occasionally glance at said object - say, that fountain pen - and say to ourselves, "Oh, yeah. I have to remember to look for that new nib one of these days." I think when confronted with the stuff that has cluttered our lives, most of us have a default assumption built into us; an assumption that whatever useless piece of junk we're looking at, there must have been a darned good reason why we hung onto it to begin with. Consequently, we don't spend much time evaluating. We just assume that if it exists there is obviously a good reason why.

My life is filled with self-perpetuating clutter.

Take a moment and do a quick inventory. How many un-paired socks do you have? If you are a computer nerd, how many unused connectors, cords, cables, and components clutter your life? (How's that for an abundance of alliteration!) If you are a shade-tree mechanic who works on your own car, how many assorted parts are living in your garage waiting for the return of a long-bygone vehicle into which they might fit? I still have my textbook from Basic Issues in Philosophy and my sophomore year roommate can tell you that book flew across the room numerous times as I expressed my frustration and wonder at men who spent time wondering whether or not they actually exist. It is battered, has torn pages, and a broken spine and I have no intention of reading it again. I should throw it away, right? But … it is stuck to me like an errantly super-glued piece of plastic. It is as if our brains think removing these objects from our lives will be like tearing off a scab.

I have a full set of Linux discs and haven't had it installed on any computer since 2005. I have a guitar in the closet which I haven't played in … a long time. I have a garage stuffed with assorted darkroom equipment and I haven't set up a darkroom … well, in this century. There are magazines and software documentation and table top game books and piles of computer game CDs and even old telephones hanging around here and every one of them is obsolete. If I make myself be brutally objective and efficient and go through my house, identifying everything that has not been practical or useful in the past five years, about 75% of my possessions will probably disappear.

Maybe I do belong on Hoarders.

Where does one go to order an intervention?