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.