Reducing Stuff in the Garage

Note: In the book giveaway, I read every comment. I wished I had more books. And then I realized I did! So in addition to Sue in Georgia winning Finding What You Didn’t Lose, Ray in Canada won Saved by a Poem and Annie who Laughs won Voices from the Heart, which is more of a visual poetry book. Congratulations to the winners, and thanks to all of you who read the blog. There are more giveaways coming.

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Five years ago, when we downsized to a much smaller house, we left so much behind. Yet when we arrived, we  still had too much stuff for the house. But it was August in Phoenix and I could not unpack one more box. We stacked them in the garage and I promised I’d unpack them when it got cooler. I did not.

My studio is the guestroom, so when we have guests I have to quit making art. And the poor guests never get to use the closet because it is stuffed with papers and paints, brayers and fabric, hole punches, scissors and rivets. No room for more.

Buttons“You haven’t looked at it in five years,” most people told me. “Just throw it out.” Or, “You haven’t missed it, so get rid of it.” But I couldn’t do that. I’d gotten rid of everything I could stand getting rid of when we packed, I must have had a reason to pack those boxes.

Today, because it is cooler and I can’t take the gimlet eye of my spouse, I began the task of opening the boxes and preparing for a garage sale. The first box was easy. Coats, hats, gloves. No problem. I saved three scarves, two umbrellas, and a big fat coat (I have a client in Michigan) and the rest will go to the homeless to keep them warm in the winter.

And the box of  drawing paper I found is perfect. I always need drawing paper and paper for the printer. The ream of Strathmore has history–it’s from the main company in West Springfield MA,  before they were bought by Hammermill and then Mohawk, when the thistle was still the logo. I’d guess it is about 30 years old. Still heavy white sheets, still wonderful.

silverringI found my mother’s button box. Buttons so old that one of them crumbled when I touched it. Bakelite and metal, wood, horn and shell buttons. And two napkin rings from my parents’ grandparents. One of them is engraved “November 7, 1849.” Pre-Civil War. The year Abraham Lincoln said,  “You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can not fool all of the people all of the time.” The year Fyodor Dostoevsky was sentenced to death and Edgar Allan Poe was found delirious in an alley in Baltimore, but could not be saved. The year Harriet Tubman escaped from slavery. That napkin ring wasn’t in America then, and wouldn’t be for another 100 years.

I cannot just throw out those boxes. It doesn’t matter if I don’t remember the napkin ring, it remembers 164 years of use. What’s five years in a box to it?

There were letters, in a style of handwriting I can no longer decipher. But the letterpaper is thick and the ink is black, and it will work its way into my art.

Difficult as it is, the boxes need to be sorted one more time. There are things that others can use, and items that will come into the house with me because I will invite them in and find some space. We might have a small house, but I want the items in it to be part of the thread of time. The pieces that will be kept by another generation and wondered over. Because if it is worth wonder, it is worth the space to hold the wonder.

Quinn McDonald is cleaning up and cleaning out.

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18 responses to “Reducing Stuff in the Garage

  1. Amanda Richards

    My mother had a large collection of buttons which I enjoyed playing with when I was a kid. I was recently looking at an expensive sweater in a catalog that had some unusual buttons on it, and it occurred to me that I could take one of my sweaters and sew some of my mother’s buttons on to it, artfully. The buttons get used, my sweater gets embellished, and I save money. Yay!

    • Brilliant. I’ve sewed buttons onto vests as decoration, changed buttons that are boring to ones that are more intereting (and don’t necessarily match) and made earrings out of them. I use them in book closures, sew small buttons down a sleeve, and even sewn a button on the inner waistband of a pair of pants so I’d know which one was the navy blue pair when I got dressed. Buttons are endless fun.

  2. Ohhhhh! I would love to be in Arizona at your garage sale! Especially the buttons. I just love them! I recently finished a quilt that was embellished with old buttons for my grand daughter. She used to pour them out of the old coffee can they were stored in and play with them for hours. It seemed fitting that she should have them. Although she was three and four when she spent so much time sorting through them oooohhh’ing and ahhhh’ing she remembered them and was delighted. She’s thirteen now and picked out a few of her favorites to share with me the day I gave it to her. Good memories in those buttons.

  3. As you work with those old letters, they may become more legible to you. Writing changes stylistically over the decades. Already with the reduced instruction in cursive handwriting, we are raising children that cannot decipher anything but handwritten print.

    • I used to know how to read handwritten Old Gereman, but it will take a lot of practice to read these letters. Not only are they in German and French, but my father also spoke Greek and Latin and would often “hide” thoughts by using Greek or Latin words. He could write Greek, too, so those will elude me. And since many of them are from people who learned how to write in the 1900s, the script is lovely. I’m surprised the ink held up.

  4. Enjoyed this musing in particular as I am going through my small art room shelf by shelf, drawer by drawer. Being honest about collections is hard. The ‘Eureka’ moment?…when I found three copies of the same book in three different places. It got to be so much that I didn’t know what I had. I have taken two boxes of books, four boxes of papers (not special), notebooks, pencils, etc. to the car – am having a “trunk giveaway” for my friends the next time we gather for coffee. Things with memories attached are for me to enjoy and use in my art. Perhaps someone will read the fragmented lines and wonder, “Who wrote, who read?” Brushes and paints and inks and tools are being reviewed. They all asked to stay, but I plan on finding good homes for many of those items. This is not fun work, but very revealing.

  5. Thank you Quinn for the book! :)

    This post touches a cord with me as I’m downsizing too. I’m in a smaller space now, and even though I went through a lot of stuff and gave it away, donated it, or tossed it, I still have a lot of things to sort and create a home for. I try to sort through at least two boxes a day, and I am getting it worked down. Today I discovered a bag of things that should have been tossed a year ago. Man, that one was easy, lol. Tonight, I’m going through old craft magazines. Some I’ll keep if I think I can use them in my art journals, the rest I’ll donate. Once I’ve gone through all the remaining boxes, I can decide what types of furniture and storage I need for my keepers. Gradually collecting furniture and storage for my new minimalized way of life will be fun.

  6. I agonise with you. A lifetime, almost 7 years living overseas and travelling, all result in unopened boxes of treasure. No garage so they’re under beds, in cupboards, in a small shed all waiting until I give up the day job. Maybe I could open a pop-up shop.

    • Seriously. Thank goodness for the garage. Today I discovered my father’s surgical scissors in a wood box he made himself. Those scissors will be perfect for fussy-cutting papers. And my father would be delighted they are in use, although I think he would regret the paper part.

  7. Lisa "Salt & Light"

    I read this post with great interest because this is where I am in my life; going through years of accumlations, busting clutter, trying to make decisions about what I really need to keep vs. what I’ve told myself I need to keep, but years later still have done nothing with…my sister, too, has become obsessed with minimalizing and simplifying and it has been very helpful to have a partner in these efforts. She is a voice of reason in contrast with my my fanciful nature…Love, love, love the buttons and the napkin rings and the exquisite writing on the old letters!!! No matter how much we may wish to reduce the numbers of “stuff”, some things have come into our hands to be cared for and used somehow, by us

  8. You’re an artist. Artists love stuff!

  9. Do NOT throw out those buttons! – Pia, who is on a button and doodad quest at the moment.

    • I am not throwing out the buttons. I use buttons quite a bit in my alternative bindings. And when I’ve gone through the boxes, there will be a big garage sale. Some things don’t get thrown out.

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