• 70°

Al Batt: The junk drawer that just couldn’t seem to hold it all

Tales from Exit 22 by Al Batt


I woke up one morning.

That was the good part.

I woke up and realized I had too much junk, and I’m the only one who wants the junk I don’t want anymore. Let me clarify that: I’m the only person in the world who ever wanted my junk and I no longer want it. That didn’t give me a euphoric feeling, but discernment doesn’t come just for my beatitude.

Everyone in my family was uniquely odd, just like everyone else. It’s not anyone’s fault. My father was a hunter-gatherer. My mother was a hunter-tosser. Dad wasn’t one to discard things. He piled things higher. He’d lived through hard times when he didn’t have much of anything, let alone something that needed jettisoning. He baited a mousetrap with a photo of cheese. Not having much caused him to hang onto what he had, even if he wasn’t sure what it was. Why buy new when old might do?

“What is this for?” I asked often. Occasionally, my father admitted he didn’t know what the item was but refused to part with it because he might find a use for it one day. He was seldom gone from the farm, but when he was, my mother organized trips. We culled the herd of whatchamacallits, doodads, doohickeys, thingamabobs, thingamajigs and whatnots, and hauled them to the dump. We should have pumped the brakes on that task. When Dad returned, he organized another trip to the dump where we brought back more junk than we’d hauled there. The dump was a shopping mall for my father. His mottos were “I might need that one day” and “You never know.”

My custom falls somewhere between those of my mother and father. I’d learned we needed the things we threw away. The problem was we never needed them until we’d discarded them. And useless objects with sentimental value are difficult for me to part with.

“Antiques Roadshow” on TV allows people to bring their possessions to be evaluated for authenticity and given approximate valuation. Seeing someone strike it rich with junk makes us all think we may be sitting on a goldmine.

Marie Kondo’s method of organizing is known as the KonMari method, which consists of gathering one’s belongings, a category at a time, and keeping only those things that “spark joy.” That means no one would keep any tax records.

George Carlin said, “Everybody’s gotta have a little place for their stuff. That’s all life is about. Trying to find a place for your stuff.” I started with my places — the garage and the shed. The volume of flotsam and jetsam hiding in plain sight made my head spin. And that’s something because 78 rpm is my industry standard. A clean shed is as common as a shopping cart with four good wheels. I filled a dumpster. Then the pandemic hit. It became business as unusual.

In B.C. (Before COVID-19), things stacked up. There was no time to deal with them. With my travel curtailed, I had time to do things I’d been putting off for as long as I was able. I read “Moby-Dick.” I found Ahab, the Pequod and the great whale exhilarating and exasperating. I dusted all the rocks in the yard. The hazmat suits were washed and hanging on the clothesline. Once that was done, I considered cleaning the house of plunder. I’d waited for the cavalry, but it became apparent they weren’t coming. I practiced all the preliminary procrastination I could. Cleaning the castle was another hill to climb.

I tossed out all the gimme pens with dried ink. Stuff is like worries. You lay them down long enough and you forget where you put them. Books are piled high awaiting a library book sale. I was in this thing over my head. The trouble with work is that it can be work. I was Sisyphus pushing large containers of garbage up the stairs. I breathed all over myself, but I knew I was blessed. I have more than I can carry. Nice things were taken to the Salvation Army, those that could be recycled were placed in recycling bins and the rest became garbage.

If you need a spiffy Nehru jacket, leisure suit, bell-bottom trousers or a nifty puka shell necklace, check out the Al Batt line at your nearest Salvation Army store.

I wish you all the good luck you need in your private purges but don’t throw any of it away.

You might need it one day.

Al Batt’s columns appear every Wednesday in the Tribune.