Category Archives: Uncategorized

Why I need a firetruck with a compass in the stock.

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Heck, I don’t really know what I would do with it, but who else but me would be able to say, “Hey guys, you want to see my firetruck?”

The whole idea behind this blog is to help me deal with my hoarding issues.  But, in order for me to deal with the actual issue I think I first have to define in my own mind  this question: when is what I buy or keep a necessity and when would it be considered hoarding?  In order to help me establish this foundational principle I have to ask you a question.  Would buying a firetruck be considered hoarding?

When Christian was three or four years old there were two things that he wanted to be when he grew up:  a firetruck and a banana.  True story.  This obsession may have had something to do with him wanting to be a “Robot in Disguise,” but he was adamant that he didn’t want to be a fireMAN, he wanted to be a fireTRUCK. Why he wanted to be a banana was beyond my comprehension, other than he really, really, really liked to eat.

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The poor kid also had a speech impediment that was so pronounced that my family thought he might have some form of mental deficiency.  They turned out to be mostly correct, but he seemed to grow out of it after he got through his teen years.  We have undecipherable recordings of him when he was little that make us laugh until we cry (yes, it’s okay to laugh at a disabled person  if he’s your son).

Because of his lack of verbal acuity, for all we knew, he could have been telling us that he wanted to be a doctor or fan dancer, but the translation that came through Wesley, who was our main interpreter, was that Christian wanted more than anything to have four wheels and a fire hose (he did have a bed wetting problem for a while, so maybe that was a factor in him wanting to be a pumper truck).

Speech impediment and translation aside,  the family legend has it that from that time on Christian has always wanted to BE a firetruck.

So imagine the surprise on Kelly’s face when I locked up all four wheels of the truck, quickly swapped ends and fish-tailed to the side of the road.

“What in the name of all that’s good are you doing?” she screamed.

I pointed mouth agape at a real, live firetruck parked on the side of the road with a FOR SALE  sign wedged under the wiper.  Kelly just rolled her eyes and went back to her book, but the kids and I jumped out to get a closer look.  We laughed about ever being able to afford such a thing, knowing they were probably asking at least 20 to 30 thousand dollars, but I always say that it never hurts to look.  I mean, maybe it’s a great deal at that price.  How would anyone know what the Bluebook value of a firetruck is anyway?  It would be like asking the surgeon what the total price of a hip replacement  would be.  No one knows how much it costs.  You just pay what they tell you at the end and be happy about it.

The man who was selling this piece of machinery for the “actual” owner  just “happened” to be working in his field when we happened by and he gave us the low down (street lingo for information) on the beast.   He appeared at my elbow pretty quickly after we stopped, so maybe he had been sitting there all day like a fisherman luring old men with a bright yellow, four wheeled lure.  I looked for horns and a crossroad.

“Only 16,000 miles on that beauty.  The owner only drove it in parades and there ain’t many parades anymore.  He says he’s gettin’ too old to drive it now and wants to get rid of it.”

I looked under the wheel well and kind of tapped at the gauges like I knew everything there was to know about firetrucks.  I sort of gazed off into the distance like I was extremely bored and disinterested.

“How much do you think he’d take for such an old machine?”

“Only five thousand.  And everything on it works.  Why, this thing is like new.”

Christian instantly saw that familiar look in my eyes and started jumping up and down and yelling.

“We’re getting a firetruck!  We’re getting a firetruck!  And it’s yellow, like a banana!”

Only five thousand for such a beauty? I mean, how could I resist.  How could anyone resist?  As I walked back to our truck, I could see Kelly furiously scribbling something on a piece of paper.  She stopped as I approached.  I looked curiously at her as I grabbed the checkbook and made my way back to my new firetruck.  I opened the checkbook to write out the check and across every single check was written in big black letters “VOID.”   I looked at back at Kelly who just shrugged and waved a little.

I showed the old man what she had done.  He smiled.

“Your wife is nice.  You should have seen what the wives of the other three men wrote on their checks.”

Hoarding is an impulse and I knew the feeling would pass as soon as I got in my puny, silver truck and started the drive home, but that didn’t take the sting out of almost owning real firetruck.   I was silent most of the way, but when I got the nerve, I looked at my wife out of the corner of my eye  and mumbled under my breath.

“Dream Crusher.”

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You’re stealing my childhood!

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“You Can’t Sell Grandma Dudie’s Cookie Jar!  I hate your new blog!  You’re stealing my childhood!”

I thought getting rid of my stuff would be difficult.  I didn’t know it would be next to impossible. Both of my daughters are having a really, really hard time with this and it’s not going exactly as planned. I mean, how hard should it be? Take junk from the basement, take a picture, talk about it and get rid of it.  Easy.  It’s not turning out to be so.

The stuff I’m trying to get rid of is not actually leaving the house, it’s just transferring rooms – like a hotel that is making room for more important guests by transferring current residents to the broom closet.  So far, Allison and Christian have both imprinted on my old baseballs, three of the kids want some of the duck calls (I’m sure Wesley would also, but he’s in Salt Lake City) and Molly has put the stupid Rhino cookie jar in the witness protection program and has all but dared me to find it.  To be completely honest, it hasn’t been that hard.

“How did you know it was in my bed? ”

“The big lump kind of gave it away, honey.”

It keeps moving from one lumpy hiding place to another and she has all but threatened to start selling my stuff if I kept trying to find it.  When I explained that that was kind of the whole idea behind this process, Molly said, “Well, what about your baseball cards or grandpa’s fly fishing stuff?  Maybe  I’ll just get rid of that stuff!”

“Honey, those things are nothing like the cookie jar,” I said.  “Those things have value.  The cookie jar is butt-ugly, worthless and there is nothing redeeming about it.”

“It was grandma’s and that’s what’s redeeming about it.”

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And therein lies the rub.  That one sentence summarized my entire existence and the reason that I’ve been an avid keeper of such things my whole life.  Each little thing that I keep has some special meaning to me, just like that cookie jar has for my daughter.  Every item, in every box of junk stored downstairs in the dark, has a thread attached to it that leads through my brain to a long ago time and place and an almost forgotten memory.  Holding that thing, or smelling that smell (Play-Doh brings me back to Mrs. Thompson’s 2nd grade class) means that I haven’t forgotten that event.  And since I don’t keep things that bring to mind dark times, like the broken tooth from my first fight, all of the strings lead to good things, happy memories and happy times.  That is why my daughter can’t get rid of the Rhino and why I struggle to get rid of my stuff.

To my daughter, that cookie jar is the thread that leads to her grandma.  I have no idea where my mom actually got the cookie jar, but it is not from my childhood (which consisted of decorations that glorified the Alaskan existence).  African animals were for picture books, not for counters.   It was probably a white elephant gift or bought at a thrift store, but this one, ugly, tacky Rhino has been a constant presence in my parent’s house from the time my kids were born.  

We visited my parent’s home on Camano Island two or three times a year and even before the hugs were over  and the cartoon network was turned on (we never had cable), the kids were into the “magic” cookie jar – which was always full no matter how many hands had been in it.  

The sound of that lid being lifted and set back down is etched into my memory.  I couldn’t reproduce that sound if you asked me, but I would be able to pick it out from hundreds of other lids being lifted and replaced on hundreds of other cookie jars.  That sound is a thread and that thread is what keeps me, I mean her, from being able to get rid of this really ugly thing.

Now that I think about it, there probably isn’t any single thing from my parent’s house that represents that time as well as that stupid cookie jar and it doesn’t just have a single thread, it has hundreds. It has webs and webs of threads that lead to things like boat rides and clam digging and shark catching, swimming in the pool, driving the golf cart, picking raspberries and watching Sponge Bob for twelve straight hours to get to the “new episode.”  It was a constant, and aside from the TV, probably the single most focused upon fixture in their house.

That Rhino represents all that was good at my parent’s house .  As the years went by my Mom became more and more forgetful and the cookies weren’t quite as fresh, and more often than not, trying to get only one cookie out of the jar became a challenge as they had congealed  into a single mass of stale and sticky goodness, but until Mom was gone that cookie jar was never empty.

When my Dad died the Rhino was almost sold at his estate sale.  Kelly didn’t want it and since the magic was gone and it was finally empty, I didn’t want it either.   It was gone at the end of the day without a second thought. We didn’t realize until we got home and started to unload the Suburban that we had adopted the stupid Rhino.  Molly has always had a little of the bandit in her and at the last minute had stashed it underneath the really important things that I wanted from my parent’s place, like the shotgun cleaner and totem poles.  Not until we were home, did we realize we had inherited it and it has sat on a storage shelf in a dark room ever since… Until I tried to get rid of it.  Then, for reasons that I am just now beginning to understand,  it magically turned into Grandma Dudie.

Molly is looking at me right now, clinging tightly to the Rhino with a defiant look in her eyes.  She has been reading this post and is now lifting the lid and putting it back  (clink) and saying “boat ride”  (clink) “golfing with your dad” (clink) “crab fishing” (clink).  Okay, okay.  I get it.  We can keep that one thing for a little longer.  In a way, maybe I’m just a bit glad we still have it.

Post script:  I have decided to make two different kinds of posts.  Posts of things that my kids want to keep and posts that I will get rid of.  I’m sure one will outweigh the other.  Which one will win though, is  the million dollar question.

Might As Well Face it

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I have heard it said that the first step in conquering any addiction is to finally admit that you have a problem.
“Hello, my name is John and I’m addicted to stuff.”

When I came up with the idea to blog about getting rid of my stuff, I wondered if I would actually be able to do it (no, not the blogging, the purging).  It’s difficult for a man, who has spent his entire life collecting really “cool” and “useful” things, to willfully give up his addiction without at least some form of internal beat-down of his entire basis of life.  When something is so foundational, it often takes a swift kick to the solar plexus of the soul to make him realize that he has to do something about the elephant (read junk pile) in the room.   What did it for me was the realization that, even though I love them, the things I have do not define who I am or who I was.  In short, my stuff is not me.

When I mentioned this project to my friends,  I received universal approval and a hearty endorsement to forge ahead and blog away.  “Why not let me blog about getting rid of some of your stuff too?” I asked one enthusiastic friend.  She didn’t respond, just bared her teeth and backed away from me,  picking up trinkets and folding them in her arms until she had backed her way into the house and locked the door.  I know exactly how she feels.  I have talked myself in and out of this project countless times and now that I have picked out the first few items to get rid of (literally having to wrestle one of the objects out of the hands of my daughter), I’m beginning to wonder if this is such a good idea.

I am not what you would call a classic hoarder.  I don’t have a camera crew following me around turning up their collective noses at my “Willard-like” infestation of rats or my fabulous collection of antique cat poop.  I don’t have 30 years worth of old newspapers or a car full of old shoes sitting on the north forty. The doors to all my closets close, I can walk through my garage from front to back (unless I haven’t taken the cardboard to the recyclers in awhile) and I shower and groom regularly.   I am married and well-adjusted and my wife, while not finding me exactly handsome, at least doesn’t run screaming from me when I get home.  But I do like to buy stuff when it’s a really good deal, even if I don’t need it, and I love to find great deals on stuff that I might need at some future date.  My storage spaces are filled to the gunnels with the fruit of “great” deals and good intentions.

However, the “useful” items will be the easy part.  I also have almost every bit of memorabilia that I ever picked up along the road of my first 20 years, and it is legion, and it will be like extracting an impacted tooth with twisted roots to get me to let go of it, and I’m not exactly sure why.  No one is alive who cares that I won the MVP award at the Block F basketball tournament my sophomore year at a very small highschool of white kids, or remembers that I won medals shooting rifles, or that I hit a home run when I was 12. And, those that are alive and were there, couldn’t give a flying rat’s backside.  Yet, I hold onto that trophy like it’s proof that at some point in my life I was really, really good at something, and for that sliver of time I thought I was someone really important.  I guess I  hold onto that home-run ball because I feel that getting rid of it would be somehow sacrilegious and morally wrong, like getting rid of a part of my soul.

I have clung to the hem of these items for years thinking that what is hidden in the storage room defines me and makes me great.  I’ve recounted the glories of my past to my kids and shown them the baseballs and patches and medals to great effect, so much so that they now look upon these items  like a monk looks at the finger bone of a long dead saint and, because of this, they will be saddled with the burden of dividing them up upon my death.  It is hard to stare objects like that in the face and realize how truly inconsequential  those moments were and how those things don’t do anything but represent  a memory and a feeling and that it’s okay to let them go. And, it’s okay for my kids to let them go.

So, it’s time to finally bring them into the light, for they do no one any good where they are.  I am going to open the sealed vault of my past, blow the dust off it and let you see what I’ve been hiding in my basement all these years – and some of it is not going to be pretty.   I may cry myself to sleep at night or fall off the wagon frequently, but at least to begin with I’m going to take pictures and talk about what I find.   I’ll sell some, give away some, and, I’m sure throw away some.  In the end, I hope to have a better grasp of reality, a better archive of my past, and a lot more storage space in my house.

Post Script: My kids are not happy with me for doing this.  It is painfully obvious that the sins of this father have been visited upon his kids in spades.    I take this opportunity to apologize to all future and current spouses.  It’s all my fault that they are like they are.  So, children, if you see anything on these pages that you can’t live without, come get it before the neighbors do.