Returning to our home in Canada, I was struck by the amount of stuff that is still there. The garage is filled with bicycles which are not in use, an old very large teleprinter which we inherited from who knows where, gardening tools that saw better days, and an old moped which was not used in over 10 years. In the basement we still have a cupboard full of Lego, games, and odds and ends from our children’s collections which are waiting for great grandchildren, since the grandchildren are already in university. And then there are the collections of old computers and electronic devices, tools and equipment collected by my husband and youngest son which fill an entire room. When it comes to collecting, I am no slouch either: I have my art materials, and a table full of pottery I produced. My excuse is that my pottery is funky but useful. Not only do I use the dishes I create, but they are useful as gifts as well.
Lately we tried to give away the rowing machine our son left here when he moved away to the other side of the pond a year after his marriage. It sat in the living room for over 10 years, doing nothing other than gathering dust and taking up room. It is now sitting in the middle of the hallway awaiting an inspection by an adoptive family. I hope they come soon before one of us trips over it and breaks a neck.
What is it about our society that encourages accumulating and hoarding material things? We need to learn to give away, to benefit those who are less fortunate than us and can use the stuff we just store. The problem is they do not want it. They want new and fancy equipment. We actually were asked by someone who came to see the rowing machine for $5 to to take it away!
Sorting and deciding what to discard and what to keep is an exhausting and time-consuming task. There are always more urgent and important things to do, and it moves to the bottom of the to-do list. It is especially daunting when the “stuff” is not really yours, but was left behind by your child who left home, and “will come back one day” to sort it and take it away. CDs, unopened wedding presents, files, books, clothes, drawers full of odds and ends, games, toys, computers, monitors, hard drives, what not? When we joked that we would bundle the lot into a container and ship it overseas, we were actually taken seriously. I can not imagine any of it being actually used. It will likely stay in the boxes, sealed, piled one on top of the other “for when there is going to be some time to deal with it”. I guess our daughter is going to have to do what she threatened. Since she is our executor, she told us that when we are gone, she will bring a big dumpster and throw everything into it if we do not deal with it ourselves. Perhaps that is not such a bad solution.
What a waste. All these things can be actually used. There are workshops for people with disabilities who repair computers, monitors, and older electronic devices. They sell them for a nominal price or give them away to needy people. They take apart electronic and electric equipment and sell the components. Household items and clothes can be donated to charities, which we do regularly, but even they do not want to pick up big items like washers and driers or stoves that do not work.
I am reminded of the wonderful movie WALL·E. In the distant future, a small waste-collecting robot inadvertently embarks on a space journey that will ultimately decide the fate of mankind. “In the 29th century, rampant consumerism, corporate greed, and environmental neglect have turned planet Earth into a garbage-strewn wasteland; humanity is nowhere to be found and has been evacuated by the megacorporation Buy-n-Large (BnL) on giant star liners seven centuries earlier. Of all the binocular-eyed trash robots left by BnL to clean up, only one remains operational, Waste Allocation Load-Lifter: Earth-Class, or WALL-E, for short. One day, WALL-E’s routine of compressing trash and collecting interesting objects is broken by the arrival of an unmanned probe carrying an egg-shaped robot named Extraterrestrial Vegetation Evaluator or EVE, for short, sent to scan the planet for human-sustainable life. WALL-E is smitten by the sleek, otherworldly robot, and the two begin to connect until EVE goes into standby when WALL-E shows her his most recent find: a living seedling. The probe then collects EVE and the plant, and—with WALL-E clinging on—returns to its mothership, the star liner Axiom” (Wikipedia).
This is serious stuff. I am convinced that we do not have to wait for the 29th century. We are rapidly getting there already if you ask me. What is happening in my house is not unique. I visit homes of friends and see their collections. True, it is not always electronics, and some of the collections are even good books and art, precious music collections, instruments, sculpture and antique furniture. But when there is no room to move from one room to the other, or when living space for the inhabitants of the house is shrinking constantly, we need to reevaluate our priorities. The irony is that after all the long discussion we just reinstated daily home delivery of the Globe and Mail, so that we can feed our habit of reading the paper at our breakfast table every morning. This is a luxury and a pleasure I am not yet willing to forgo. Imagine how annoying it was when the paper did not arrive on Saturday morning. No comics!
Most people nowadays get their news on their computer, or even on their cell phones. But for me, there is nothing more satisfying than having a physical paper to hold and to read while drinking my morning coffee. There are some old habits I am not willing to change. Old habits which give me pleasure and reassurance that there still are still things which do not change in our world. Even when I know that trees were cut to produce the paper, there is an accumulation of material that will fill the recycling bins, and there is the danger of hoarding some more stuff, I want something constant in this rapidly changing and uncertain world. The morning coffee and paper ritual is my anchor. It is the one constant that allows me to be flexible with the rest of the unexpected or unforeseen changes of every day. I say to hell with sorting and giving away stuff, today I am sitting to drink my coffee and read the paper from cover to cover. It will not take more than half an hour anyway, if that.