It is a bit early for spring cleaning but for a lot of us that pile in the corner of the garage is something we swear to address every waking New Year’s morning.  If yours is like mine, it is more than a mere pile in a corner.  It either takes up a good portion of the garage, attic, shed, etc or has been around long enough to have become part of the family, rating its own room within the confines of your warm cozy home, the door always closed – family members deserve their privacy.

...surf's up!

"The Pile"

Whether it is boxes of old bills and receipts that you have meant to file or boxes of trinkets that you just can’t bear

to part with, we all go through the same struggles.  For my partner it is bins and bins of photos; if I had the time I would digitize them all, but I don’t so instead I keep it simple and merely complain loudly every time they are in my way.  For me it is the “bar room wall” syndrome.  My guy readers can relate, right?  You have a dream to someday open a bar or microbrewery and…”wouldn’t this look cool hanging on the wall?”  Like anyone gives a crap about the junky, moldy, banged up surfboard I first floundered the cold choppy NorCal waves aboard or the cool B.A.S.S. Ticket Outlet pin I was issued back when I managed music stores – it’s a bass wearing a tuxedo! …how cool.  (See, now I wish I hadn’t tossed it because I want to show it to you…maybe I can find it in the pile of trash sitting outside the garage…)

My partner quickly figured out that “no” was the wrong answer to my “wouldn’t this look cool?” question, instead replying with a tone of slight disappointment, mixed with a sprinkle of sympathy, “Yes, it would.”   She waits a few minutes before telling me, “When the time comes, we will go out and find whatever you want to properly decorate your brewery.”  She knows that giving me a few minutes of sympathy affords me the proper time I need to properly reflect and realize how little I need this junk cluttering up my life.  It goes a long ways in my effort to toss it towards the trash bin.  I say “towards” because on occasion the item makes it back to its former resting spot, at the back of a draw in the bottom of a cabinet normally obscured and completely inaccessible behind a wall of boxes of very important stuff.  The only time the cabinet sees the light of day is on these rare occasions when we venture into the wilds of an unspoken game with the implied title of “toss it or keep it.”   The catalyst is usually the acquisition of a new piece of equipment that needs garage space.  And no, I am not talking about a new car.  Cars in garages?  ..are you crazy?  Cars have paint to protect them from the elements; I need the garage’s roof to protect all my “stuff.”  Besides, I have no money for purchasing new cars; I have spent it all on “stuff.”

And let us not forget the “valuable” stuff.  Well, I wish it to have value but apparently even the rookie cards of Don Mattingly and Mark Maguire are close to worthless, especially considering the amount of time and space they have taken up in my garage, without paying any rent, while they wait to gain value.  Along with my brother’s collection (which he smartly bequeathed upon me when he moved back east) we have been holding these stupid “collector’s items” for well over three decades.  I know that hindsight is 20/20 but I sure wish I knew about interest “compounding” back when I was spending my allowance on baseball cards, postal stamps, Atari games, comic books, and various other “collectables.”

If you aren’t familiar with compounding, pull up one of the many free calculators available on the Interwebs and start punching in some numbers.  (I like measuringworth.com and moneychimp.com)  If, for the year that I was 10 years old, I had put just half of my weekly “allowance” into a savings account, it would have totaled $250.  (That’s only $5 a week!  That’s just one less fancy cup-o-joe, just one less pack of smokes, just one less cheap American happy-hour draft beer per week.  Well, okay, I hadn’t started my drinking, smoking, womanizing ways until I was well into my twelve’s and thirteen’s, but you get my drift.)  If I had left that $250 alone until now, thirty years later, with no additional yearly deposits, it would be worth $1,200.  And that is at a piddley little savings account interest rate.  I would be happy with half that amount in exchange for the junk in my garage.  Hell, I would be happy to pay someone half that amount to haul this stuff away but I am confident it would cost me more.

If I had invested that same $250 into an indexed mutual fund (fairly low risk) it would be worth $9,200 today.  And get this, if I had continued to invest just $250 a year into that same account it would now be worth $20,200 (savings rate) or $88,800 (index fund rate).  Are you kidding me?  Even my waistline would agree that it wouldn’t have hurt me much to have forgone the extra trip to McDonald’s or the extra glass of wine each week that could have funded that account.  I ain’t no Einstein but he might have been onto something when he noted that the most powerful thing in the universe is “compounding.”

$1,200 – $9,200 – $20,200 – $88,800…  Any of those numbers would make me happier than looking at the boxes of crap I have saved from my childhood in the hopes of someday getting back even a small portion of what I invested.  I spent countless hours with my brother, covering the living room floor with our “collectables”, dreaming about what we spend our earnings on.  Of course, if we had put all that money into even a non-interest bearing piggy-bank we would be closer to our dreams right now than we are.  Sure, the time with my brother was priceless but I probably would have been just as happy beating on him with a stick in the back yard …and by now I could have bought him a lot of nice “sorry” gifts with the money I would have saved on collectables.   (Backyard sticks were free back then – it was prior to the “organic” and “dirt fed” movement.)

But I digress…

I have heard a lot of theories on how to get over, or at least address, our tendencies to hoard worthless crap.  I have been advised of two effective approaches to “the pile” and although both seem logical I have yet to effectively embraced either method.

Method #1:  If you don’t know what’s in the box, get rid of it.

Method #2:  If you haven’t used it in 6 months, get rid of it.  (Some people say “one year” but I suspect they are part of a hoarder sleeper cell.)

Obviously, there will be some items that don’t get a lot of use but are too expensive to buy new every time you need them, like snowshoes and snow chains.   Or are they?   Come to think of it, just about everywhere I go that I want to snowshoe I find it easier and cheaper to simply rent them.

The life of my snowshoes:

1)  I dig them out of their attic hiding place (every other year…maybe.)

2)  I clean all the gunk, cobwebs, etc off of them.

3)  I search far and wide for their protective bag.  Why they aren’t in their bag is beyond me but that bag only makes an appearance about ever other summer, when I am looking for something else.  Needless to say, the bag and snowshoes never make a love connection.

4)  I stuff the snowshoes into an out of the way spot in the car for the four hour trip up the hill.

5)  Once there, I can’t remember exactly where I hid them and so the search begins, delving into every nook and cranny of the car.

6)  If they are under the rest of the luggage, inevitably we want to snowshoe prior to going to the lodge and must disgorge our car of all our equipment in order to find them.  (It is nice to take your junk out for some fresh air every so often, so we take as much of it with us on road trips as the suspension will handle.  Fuel efficiency and interior car comfort be damned!!!)

7)  If they are on top of the luggage they are nothing but in the way when we inevitably decide to hit the lodge prior to snowshoeing.  (Two inevitables?  Yup, all depending on where the snowshoes end up for the ride up the hill.)

8)  I pull them out to use them only to realize that I am missing a strap, which is more than likely hiding out with the snowshoe bag, back in the garage, doing things that the snowshoe bag knows it shouldn’t be doing…that dirty, dirty snowshoe bag.  “But the strap tied me down; it wasn’t me, it was the snowshoe strap’s idea.”

9)  Once finished with snowshoeing I chuckle and accept that the car hiding spot was not well thought out considering the snowshoes are now not only soaking wet but caked with parking lot mud since I thought the walk from the trailhead to the car would be minimal.  Hey, I was hungry for one of the stacks that I had forgotten in the car and besides, I want a place to sit down when I take the snowshoes off.

Jeff Hume Photography

10)  Once back down the hill, I forget to remove the snowshoes from the car for no less than a few weeks but usually more like a few months, which leads to countless incidents of irritation since they are constantly in the way.  Without their protective bag, the teeth on the bottom of the snowshoes, meant to give you grip on icy frozen snow (and muddy parking lots) seem to touch the plastic shopping bags ever so inconspicuously, but enough to guarantee that at least one, usually the one with breakables, will split during the short walk from the car to the kitchen.  …never over the grass and never over the gravel.  It is always over the concrete, where glass breakage is almost a surety.

11)  When I finally drag out the ladder in order to restore the snowshoes to the attic there has been enough attic reorganizing that I can’t remember where I kept them last year.  Since they are now in a new hiding place there is virtually no chance I will find them directly ever again.  Additionally, when I find their wayward partner, the snowshoe bag, deep into the summer season, I will have no idea where the snowshoes are so the chance of reuniting them is slim.  …needless to say, the missing strap has tossed the snowshoe bag aside and has moved on to have its way with some other lost and confused piece of equipment.

And don’t get me started on my collection of snow chains.  They are in a dirty box or bag that lives somewhere deep in the dirtiest part of garage.  The last place I want them once they are loaded into the car is near my gear, so they inevitably get stored in the most out of way place; a spot that will require disassembling the car if they are required.  And if they are required, it is usually for just a few miles at which point they have to be removed or else the vibrations will tear the car apart…again.  And now they too, like their archaic cousin the snowshoe, are wet and dirty and not fit for the inside of a car.  So, of course, I forget the snow chains almost every trip only to purchase (at super inflated rates) an additional pair when I run into a chain control area.  If I do remember the chains they are rarely the right size to fit my current tires since I have been collecting snow chains for almost as many years as baseball cards and comic books.  For a guy who lives in a snowless area and rarely travels to the snow, I have bought more than my fair share of chains.  The totality of frustration that revolves around my snow chain collection would lead a logical man to abandon them on the side of the road as he removed them, but alas, I don’t.  I may try that next time and see how it makes me feel.  Good, I am guessing.  …Yup, I am already feeling good just thinking about it.

I don’t mean to only pick on my winter gear.  There is plenty of other junk around my house that goes through similar life cycles as my snowshoes and snow chains.  I have mountain bikes, motor bikes, and cars I have been meaning to fix.  I have a piano I have been meaning to relearn.  I have more fishing rods, golf clubs, diving gear, musical equipment, kayaking kit, climbing contraptions, beer making material, gardening gadgets, surfing stock, running rig, biking tackle, computer impedimenta, tennis trappings, camping provisions, photography paraphernalia, traveling tackle, clothes, hats, books, boots, BBQs, and shooting gear than any one person could ever hope to have accumulated in such a short stay on this planet.  (Well, actually, I will never admit to have too much of the last three.)  I have boxes and boxes whose content is a mystery to me until I open the lid at which time I realize how much wasted space this junk is taking up.  Maybe I should toss a few unopened boxes, just for good measure.

Now that I look at it closely, it looks more like a catfish than a bass...

…I doubt I could resist the urge to look inside to see what gem has to be saved for posterity’s sake.

I should get back to my attic storage expansion project…