Tag Archives: packing

The Inertia of Stuff

Duct-tape Moving Van

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Packing for this move has given me the opportunity to sort through and actually touch at least most of the things in my house. It has been an interesting, and sometimes entertaining experience to open every drawer and box, reach into the back of every shelf and find all the things that time and indecision have led me to save, hide or treasure.

The things I have come across in my basement as I pack it all up range from the mundane (tote bags brought home as convention shwag, spare dishes and an extra set of silverware) to the unbearably adorable (old photographs of Frances enchanting her brand new parents as an exceptionally cute infant) to the slightly startling (an extremely dog eared copy of The Communist Manifesto…..which I am pretty sure is not mine because I come from a long line of diehard socialists).

Matt has changed jobs a few times since we have been together, and upon leaving each place, he would lovingly  pack all  his papers and records into a sturdy box, and bring it home to store, with the devout conviction that he would  need these things again, either at his new job or at some other, unspecified time. The truth, however, is that once stowed in the corner of the basement devoted to the storage of these boxes, he would NEVER open them, or need them, again. I had to loom over him, fixing him with a stern glare while shaking a large garbage bag to get him to sort and empty these boxes. Amazingly, a stack of 5 large boxes was reduced to a small plastic file tote.

In short, one of the more interesting things that I discovered that I already knew (but have been unable to accept much less act upon) is that most of the things tucked away into safe and cozy corners of the house for storage turn out to not to be “stuff important enough to save” so much as trash that we would probably never even know was gone if it were swept away in a flood.

To be fair, I am equally guilty of hoarding old papers.  In fact, I have been lugging TWO of those plastic file totes filled with the sum total of my career as a research scientist….approximately 450 photocopied articles (each averaging about 25 pages…do the math), numbered and indexed by keyword (or at least they would be if I had a MSDOS computer on which to run the reference management program I used to index them 10+ years ago). In fact, I honestly thought that I had disposed of these papers years ago, but I guess I must have chickened out at the last minute and stuffed them back into the crawlspace from which Matt pulled them last week.  What is really funny about these papers is how horribly useless to me they really are. I mean,  let’s face it, when am I going to have an emergency need for information on the electrophysiology of learning and memory in infants? This time I made double sure that these papers went out the door and NOT into our POD.

In another instance, I realized that I was sitting on the floor of my basement, patiently sorting through a pile of old artwork created by my kids at various times, which would not be so odd except that THIS particular pile of treasures had gotten wet at some point, and were distinctly moldy and more than a little smelly. So there I was, peeling apart the wrinkled and spotted pages, stuck together with a mixture of finger paint and something unpleasantly biological in search of items that I could salvage from this mess. Even as I realized in horror what I was doing, I found that I could not stop, and actually felt a pang as each spoiled and spotted page went into the trash bag.  I had not laid eyes on many of these things in over a decade, they were not in good shape, and perhaps even might meet the definition of toxic waste (who knows what kind of nasty byproducts result from the decomposition of school glue) but yet I could not let them go.

I have decided that the stuff we squirrel away in our basements and attics generates its own special form of inertia because it really seems like in many cases, when you keep something, you wind up continuing to keep it simply because you have already kept it so long, and in fact, over time, this thing becomes increasingly difficult to get rid of not because of any intrinsic value but simply because of the fact that you have had it so long.

And so I set off again for my basement to pack, making sure to leave room on the POD for that (already packed) box of my grandmother’s everyday dishes that I never unpacked from our last move much less actually used, and yet somehow find impossible to part with.