The main artifact in my brother, Mark’s living room was a wide tire from one of Dale Earnhardt’s race cars. There was no metal wheel or a certificate of authenticity, it was just a very large, worn-out racing slick.
My brother was a big fan of stock car racing, so some time after Dale Earnhardt’s fatal crash, Mark acquired the tire from a seller on eBay. Because the tire had nostalgic and emotional meaning, he wanted it. He had the notion that the tire would make a perfect coffee table base, but he never got around to buying a slab of glass for it. Later, Mark decided he might resell it on eBay, but there were no potential buyers.
The ugly, old racing slick was just one example of memorabilia Mark had in his apartment. In fact, my brother was the most clutter-worthy pack rat I have ever personally known. He may have even suffered from borderline compulsive hoarding disorder. I didn’t consider him to be a full-blown hoarder because Mark didn’t save food containers, newspapers, and garbage. Aside from the stacks of unbuilt model car kits, stock car memorabilia, and 1957 Chevy parts, his place was clean and sanitary. The kitchen and bathroom had normal levels of cleanliness. After Mark died, all we could do was allow his landlord and the City of Omaha to confiscate most of his stuff.
Mark followed in the footsteps of our father. Dad filled our childhood home with antiques and collectables. The “overflow” found its way into the basement and garage. However, both places retained their usefulness in that there was plenty of room for a bedroom in the basement, and two full-size cars in the garage.
After my siblings and I grew up and left home, dad decided to sell the house and move to a new one. He hired an auctioneer service and liquidated most of his antiques. When he moved into the new acreage, dad started with a clean slate.
Over the next several years, dad reverted to his old habit of collecting antiques and vintage collectables. This time, he had more space to store stuff. One entire room of the basement contained antique telephone parts. Another room held old surveying equipment from his many years as a civil engineer. There were outbuildings and a barn at the new place, too. He kept an uncle’s aging Mercedes Benz in one of them and a 1948 Willys Jeepster in another.
A few years ago, dad had the good sense to sell both vintage vehicles and their spare parts. He used the two newly emptied outbuildings to store large, dangerous stuff from the barn, then had the barn demolished. In addition to the barn’s contents, a couple of old riding mowers, their attachments, a couple of inoperative push mowers and a rotting piano are crammed inside. These are the big things I still need to liquidate.
Next, are the small artifacts that dad felt compelled to store for “just in case”. He had vintage watchmaker’s tools and a workbench. There were dozens of old worn-out corroded wristwatches in drawers. I found two shoeboxes full of never used, unattractive, obsolete, cheap digital watches with expired batteries. Old retail racks were filled with unstylish watch bands and straps. Many were coated with basement mildew, those had to be tossed out. Luckily, an enterprising acquaintence purchased most of the other stuff in the basement a few months before dad’s death.
Because I also have pack rat urges, I learned a valuable, unintended lesson from Mark and dad. Don’t accumulate lots of stuff. When you pass away, other people will be stuck with the responsibility of getting rid of your “collections”.
While I liquidate the remainder of dad’s things, I’m also downsizing my own personal inventory. In doing so, I’ve come across many self-help lists of what to do with stuff that fills up our closets, attics, basements, and garages. Most of the lists are only well-intentioned stop-gap techniques that postpone the inevitable. I have my own list.
First and foremost, don’t dump stuff on family members. The best thing you can do is to select one or two really nice things per family member or friend and gift them. Don’t load people down with stuff, because they already have plenty of their own things.
Second, don’t convert old stuff into something new. In most instances, the converted item will once again become ugly clutter. Many of the “hacks” on the Internet, are just reasons to keep junk around the house. It’s better to simply toss your old milk jugs, cottage cheese containers, twist ties, and so forth. Plus, crafty, creative projects fuel awkward “show and tell” moments that friends must endure.
Third, don’t repackage stuff that “might be useful for something, someday” into totes or boxes. Large storage containers and larger storage units generally turn out to be coffins and tombs that must eventually be exhumed later. If and when the day comes to search through the storage bins, simpler, safer, more efficient gadgets will be available on the market. Besides that, searching through bins to find some “special” thing wastes precious time.
Fourth, some people snap photos of stuff as they liquidate stored belongings. This is actually a practical idea. A person can feel all the warm fuzzies the items used to provide, now in convenient digital form. The images can be stored on thumb drives, Web photo sites, or the cloud. When it comes time to show off an old belonging, you can just link to the image. I discovered that family and friends rarely, if ever, click on any links I’ve provided. On the other hand, I know where pictures of old belongings reside, so when nostalgia strikes, I know where to find the reminders.
All that I know, is that there is a fine line between being a pack rat and becoming a hoarder. I have seen the border and have stepped back from the brink. After my ashes are finally scattered, maybe a few friends might want one or two of my favorite things, but I don’t want to curse them with piles of “collections” to go through.
Being a pack rat need not become an identity, it is better to think of being a pack rat as a passing phase.