By Chris Armentano
Now that I’m at the point in my life when age and golf score start to line up, I figure I ought to downsize. To do so means moving to a smaller house, jettisoning my little mountain of possessions and even whittling down my dreams and expectations. Sometimes, I think I ought to do the same with dysfunctional friendships, bad habits, grudges, or any one of a number of useless things that deserve the old heave ho. It won’t be easy.
There’re lots of reasons for unloading stuff such as, “I haven’t used the item since Season One of the Dick Van Dyke Show.” I don’t need it anymore. It’s taking up too much space. Somebody else could use it, or needs it more than I do. It’s in the way. I trip over it. I have to pick it up now and again to dust under it. My dogs pee on it. It’ll only get rusty if I leave it where it is. It’s turning yellow.
Complicating matters is the equal number of competing reasons for holding on. At the top of the list is “I might need it sometime.” How many times have I regretted throwing something out because I needed it a few days later? I don’t know for sure but it could be a lot. The truth, though, is hardly ever, maybe four or five times, but that seems like it ought to be enough to justify hanging onto just about anything and everything.
Case in point: I needed a piece of sheet rock to replace the one I ripped out to fix some rot under a window. Not a big piece: maybe four feet by two feet. Or about the size of the one I took to the dump last month. At the time I thought that if I ever needed a piece, it’d probably be a full four by eight sheet. Wrong. As I sit here typing, I’m still longing for the piece that I tossed without fanfare into the dumpster. Sad.
There’s a second reason I hold on to stuff: “It might be valuable someday.” Ten years ago, when my wife was de-cluttering our kitchen cabinets, I didn’t notice that she tossed out my Car Talk traveling coffee mug. Not until I got to the dump and emptied the trash barrel into the compactor. That’s when I saw it sitting forlornly on the top of the heap. Fish it out or not? At the time, the mug was too big for the cup holder in whatever auto I was driving, so I just turned my back on it and went home. Big mistake when you consider how many times I’ve thought about that mug and how much it’ll bring at the Antiques Road Show in a few decades. I loved Tom and Ray, who were as close to me as any two guys I listened to regularly on Saturday mornings. Closer maybe, and my careless disregard for the Car Talk mug is a kind of insult to them. Or worse, a betrayal. And now that Tom has gone to the great auto-recycling center slash radio studio in the sky, it’s an insult to his memory. No wonder I’ve contemplated buying a replacement on Amazon, and pretending it’s the one I threw away.
When it comes to computers, reason one (“I might need it sometime”) applies. In this case what I might need is whatever files remain on the hard drive like digital photos, an abandoned short story or some forgotten but really important scanned documents. Needless to say I have several idle computers at my house. One lives in the basement where it’ll stay damp and dust-covered until it’s so hopelessly wrecked I’ll have no choice, save chucking it. When that day comes, I’ll drive it to the dump where I’ll load it into the trailer that’ll bring it someplace else to be loaded into another trailer, before it’s loaded into a shipping container that will end up in a resource-challenged country where slum dwellers will harvest what they can sell. When that day comes, I know I’ll wonder whether bits of my old computer wound up in a desperately poor Indian’s collection of stuff he can’t part with too. One more thing about the computer in the basement—somebody ripped out the hard drive. Even with its memory gone, I haven’t gotten around to sending it on its way.
Reason number three: “I might regret it” while similar, is not to be confused with “I might need it” and “It might be valuable.” The other day, I threw out a bunch of papers my mom had saved from way, way back. Some were from my grammar school and even though they’d been around for sixty years and weren’t bothering anybody, it still made sense to dump them. Others were from my college days when for a brief period I was an English major. After giving them a quick once over, I decided that they were too painful to keep. There might have been a decent paper in there somewhere, but, because the search for it was bound to be depressing, I sent them packing. They’ve been gone just a few weeks, which is not long enough to regret having tossed them, but I’m already thinking, what if someday I get the urge to read a particularly lousy term paper?
Books fall into a couple of different categories, but “somebody, including me, might want them,” is at the top of the list. I have all kinds of books around that I might want to read for the first time or re-read. These days re-reading is pretty much the same as a first read, since I won’t recall much from the initial go round. Even if I didn’t entertain the fantasy of reading them, it’s not easy to find the somebody who may want them. There’s not much demand for books that aren’t perfect, so tossing them is about my only option. Certainly it’s the easiest, but I might feel guilty if I did, which is why my wife and I have developed a strategy for getting rid of books. You put them in a place, attic, basement or garage where something bad (flood, mold or bat guano) is bound to happen to them, and when it does, you just chuck ‘em. Guilt free.
Dishes fall into the “I might regret it” category too. I’ve got dishes that migrated to my house from my mother’s house over the years. I figure mom must have sent me home with something in the dish, and I never got it back to her. I’ve got dishes from when I was a little kid, that I recall mom buying from a local store in my hometown. She bought them at Stratfield Stationery, owned by Lee Hinckley, brother of Ray Hinckley, the weird seventh grade science teacher, who liked to sing and play the piano with his female students in the Junior High School’s basement. In other words, I know the dishes’ provenance. I figure if I get rid of them, I’ll be losing some appreciation of my childhood, which includes appreciation for mom and the thousands of meals, hugs, and loving moments she gave me. I’d toss them if I could, but I can’t. I’ll just hide them in the back of a cupboard.
Heck it’s tough to get rid of old computers, books and other items, it’s tougher still to chuck dysfunctional relationships, habits and grudges. If I ever get around to it, I’ll ask myself if I need a particular dysfunctional relationship, or if I’ll regret letting go of a bad habit, or that I’ll realize the true value of an old grudge after it’s gone. Chances are, I’ll think some of those useless things are too precious to let go. Hopefully I’m wrong.
Copyright © 2020 by Chris Armentano