Life changing implications of cleaning the garage

What did I miss today while I was cleaning the garage?

The important stuff? Twilight movie heartthrob Rob Pattinson told his girlfriend and co-star Kirsten Stewart to move out. Apparently, he’s not forgiving her for cheating on him. A Swiss footballer was kicked out of the Olympic games for tweeting a racist remark about South Koreans. And, let’s see, farmers out here are complaining about the lack of rain, and 300 people showed up in Saint-Quentin, NB to protest the new Employment Insurance rules. No doubt there’s more.

Compared to the wide lateral scope of the news today (or any day for that matter), my day in the garage was an exercise in editing a very linear history, all the way back to pictures of me as a kid.

I don’t know about other garages, but my garage is the first and last dumping ground for the rest of the house. The material seems to spread out like a creeping cancer until it takes over every square inch of floor space, wall space and even ceiling space. However, it can be categorized.

There are the leftovers from several office moves including office equipment, computer software, peripherals and cables dating back to the mid-1980s. There are tools ranging from an ancient double-edged axe I picked up somewhere, to a rogue assortment of hand-tools of every vintage, to boxes of books and CDs that never got unpacked, to the leftovers from several house renovations including plumbing and electrical bits and pieces that I just couldn’t bear to throw out. Then there are the sports items. Oh yes, and a car in the middle of it all.

OK. I admit I’ve been avoiding this day. Well, that’s too kind. My procrastination (or was it aversion or outright fear) got so bad that my wife actually tackled a first attempt at scaling my Everest a few weeks ago to shame me into action, though I suspect the mountain got the better of her. So this morning I backed the car out and my son (a saint for volunteering, there’s no other way to say it) helped me get started.

And, you know, it wasn’t all that bad. By the end of the day, a long, long day (we finished at 10:00 this evening), we were actually having fun.

I found stuff I hadn’t seen in a dozen years. Like a little Suzuki pitch pipe to tune guitars. It was in its original plastic case but three of the six pipes didn’t work. Still, I couldn’t quite force myself to throw it out because both high and low Es worked and I could tune the rest from there. But, you know, the question is, will I ever?

And there’s the real point. When will I ever use any of this stuff again? Why do I feel I have to hang on to it all? I don’t have an answer. Especially since I often just go to the hardware store and buy more without checking out what’s in the garage. I rationalize that it’s because it’s just too hard to find things in the garage. But that’s not it.

I hang on to it I think, not because I’ll need it, but because it’s a part of my history, or to be more clear, my story. I suspect this afflicts a certain type of guy, my father and brother among them. My father-in-law was a bit like that, too, though his sons, my brothers-in-law, don’t seem to be affected. Perhaps protecting their histories is less important to them. Maybe they’re more secure or well adjusted, I don’t know.

But for people like me the story doesn’t seem to like being broken up or tossed out. (It’s not that I’m a hoarder. I’ve watched that particular TV horror show and met the real-life versions. My garage isn’t THAT far gone, ever.) There’s a marvelous continuity to a life spread out on a garage floor. A 10-year-old poster brings back memories of my role in an important hospital project. A book on palmistry brings back high school and the shy girl who read my palm. It’s all connected.

Then again, it all connects me…to all of this stuff. Chesterton writes about this, describing us as aliens living among the rest of the animals on the planet. “He is at once a creator moving his miraculous hands and fingers, and a kind of cripple. He is wrapped in artificial bandages called clothes; he is propped on artificial crutches called furniture.” He might have gone on to say that we’re like mechanical turtles dragging our entire physical kits across the country, as well as through own our histories. Animals clearly don’t seem to have the same needy regard for personal stories.

And now, here it all is, sitting in my garage, at least what’s not on display in the rest of the house. Perhaps I should stop fighting it and change the approach. Instead of doing a complete “either-or”, keeping it all or trashing it all, maybe I should trim the edges a bit and start scrapbooking it.

After all, I may as well rewrite my own history since I have the chance. Bonus: I’ll end up with a more organized garage while I’m at it. Now, what to do with those six extra drywall anchors?


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