While I was in college, my parents moved out of my childhood home and bought a new house in the same area. It has plenty of storage space in the basement. When they moved, they took most of the junk I had accumulated. Since college, I’ve lived in a handful of cities up and down the mid-Atlantic and northeast coast, and every time I move, the pile in my parent’s basement seems to build inexplicably. This past labor day weekend, I was home visiting and I heard the words I have been dreading for 17 years:
“We’re renovating the basement. We need you to throw out everything you don’t need.”
[Image credit Chris Denbow]
I’m not a hoarder, but I would describe myself as a judicious and nostalgic pack rat. There are things that I knew right away I would throw out. Old class notes, at least those outside my major. Paperwork from jobs from careers that I’ve long since given up. I probably won’t be lifeguarding at a swimming pool any time soon.
Furniture would all go to a yard sale. My cousins are adopting a child from Ethiopia, and they need to raise a boatload of cash to pay for plane tickets. I’ve never held a yard sale, but they’re experts, so the whole process fascinates me. They collected goods from the whole family. They took furniture; clothing in good condition. Old jewelry. Books. What’s more interesting is the stuff they turned down.
VHS tapes no longer sell at yard sales. Nobody has a player hooked up anymore. At first I was surprised, even offended that my small but well-preened collection of tapes would not go to a good cause. But I don’t have a VCR in my home. I left it behind long ago. It’s sitting in my parents basement next to the tapes. I could hardly bare throwing them away. My Star Wars trilogy? Well, it is the special edition, so I didn’t mind letting it go. Alien? Apocalypse Now (redux)? Actually, I own all of those movies on DVD. Then I ripped them into digital, so I have them on my laptop right here. I tossed the tapes and enjoyed feeling wistful.
A lot of media bit the dust. If the sound quality didn’t matter to me, I tossed the CD. I tossed all of my commercial cassette tapes, but I kept the mix tapes. I found a few shrink-wrapped blank tapes, and I didn’t keep them. I will never make a mix tape again, and none of my friends use their 4-track recorders any more.
My cousins wouldn’t take any old computers. The oldest machine I still have, working and in tact, is a Macintosh IIsi. 5 MB of RAM. 70 MB HDD. Runs Mac OS 7. They wouldn’t take my printers, a couple old ink jets and a small laser. Printers are almost cheaper than ink these days.
I wish I could say they pulled some real treasures out of my past. Something rare and valuable that I could contribute, but there was nothing. Of everything being stored in my parents basement, the items with the most yard sale potential were a collection of seasonal decorations. My father had offered to store them for his office, and they decided the over-the-top Halloween, Christmas, Valentine’s, etc. banners and flags were too tacky for a professional setting. They were roundly despised. My cousins were ecstatic.
The stuff I kept is a short list. I don’t have space for my old comic book collection in my own house. I have about 4,000 books, all bagged and boarded and boxed away. They aren’t terribly valuable, most haven’t appreciated beyond face value (no market for mid-series Alpha Flight). But maybe my kids will think they’re cool someday.
I kept all photos. I found a few old scripts from High School plays. I should have returned those. Somebody had to pay royalty fees for those. I found a library book checked out 19 years ago. Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson. For a High School English paper. I’ll keep that a little longer,
Of all the stuff I kept, my favorites were undoubtedly the things with a scent. Some old letters. A few pieces of clothing. A quarter shelf worth of stuffed animals. Scent is our most primitive sense, so it’s no wonder that the most important and personal objects I kept evoked a scent memory.
Scent is also something that happens to an object, then slowly fades away. You can scan or retouch photos. You can laminate letters to protect them. Take care of books and they’ll last forever. But when the scent on an old shirt fades away, it is gone forever. You can try to remember it, but you’ll never experience it again.
So, why leave these things halfway across the country in my parents’ house? Isn’t that childish? Perhaps, but I cut my space from half a storage room to half a small closet, and the closet is in a guest bedroom they refer to as my “room,” for when my family comes to visit. I left stuff behind precisely because it won’t be touched. It will sit in a dark closet and only come out on holidays.
And when it’s obsolete, I’ll sell it on my yard. But I might go with a tag sale. Seems better for haggling.