So Much Stuff

A Silver Lake estate sale.

Over at Granola Shotgun, a blog you should follow if you don’t already, Johnny has a post on what happened to all the stuff he and his tenants stored in the basement during an earthquake retrofit. Spoiler: it exposed the hoarding tendencies of even the most committed neatniks in the building. Here’s what Johnny had to say,

Wow. So. Much. Useless. Crap. I was designated as the guy to transport the donation items to Community Thrift and organize the bulk trash pick up. Getting up close and personal with other peoples stuff made me relax about any suggestion that I was a hoarder – a term that’s tossed my way on a regular basis. KonMarie wasn’t up for this job. I needed battlefield triage. Even the minimalists in the building had ridiculous things salted away that I know haven’t seen sunlight in a decade. Honestly, I think this is what almost every American has packed in their dark corners. Clothes that will never be worn. Broken things that will never be fixed. Sentimental objects that will never be fondly looked at or ever touched.

Estate sale in Altadena.

We had a similar experience this summer. I had to clear the house and box up the contents of three rooms so that we could sand the floors and paint the walls. Not once during those months of restoration work did I pop open any of those boxes. In the past week I’ve spent a lot of time going through the contents of those infamous boxes, a process that has made me exceptionally cranky. Why do I lack the courage to just pivot and dump all those things in the garbage? If I could write a letter to my younger self I’d say two things: don’t accumulate anything, especially sentimental items and failed artistic efforts. It may sound harsh but why should any of us be defined or burdened by the things we own.

Glassware at Altadena estate sale.

Last weekend I went to an estate sale, not to accumulate any more crap but just to see the inside of a majestic old house next to the Silver Lake Trader Joe’s. At the sale snarky hipsters laughed as they tried on the clothes of the deceased former residents. This has become a new momento mori for me. The less stuff I leave behind the fewer giggles there will be at my estate sale.

To that end I’ve taken to looking at pictures of estate sales as a way of reminding me of the importance of doing with less. Think of this as a gentler form of the late Medieval cadaver tomb. There’s nothing like a pile of seldom used glassware or blank stationary dating the 1960s to scare you away from a trip to Costco or make you want to drive a stake into the cold, vampyric heart of Adam Smith.

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  1. A couple of years ago there was a small trickle leak in my storage unit that occurred while I was out of town for two weeks. By the time I returned and discovered the situation a number of cardboard boxes had become soaked and moldy. I had a moment of zen clarity. I had no idea what was in any of those boxes. Whatever might have been in them was ruined. I scooped them all up, placed them in the trash, and never looked inside. I have never missed any of it.

  2. Older friends/neighbors of ours just had to move to senior housing and do an emergency downsizing in the process. This has been a real wake-up call for us. I’ve been trying to get one to two boxes of discards down to the local thrifts per week since then. (And I really need to go through the adolescent diaries and such I’ve stored in the attic and start a massive kindling pile.)

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