Wednesday, February 9, 2011


Okay, yeah. It's been a little slow around here, as far as the cleanup of the yard goes. But, really: February. Massachusetts.

It's not just that there's some snow out there; it's that we got a foot or so of snow, then a couple days later another several inches; then it rained and melted a bit, then I swear several inches of slush fell straight out of the sky, which then froze solid, then we got more snow on top of that, then some rain, then it melted a bit, then refroze, and oh it's a mess. All mixed in with the dirt and sand from the town snowplowed into the yard plus the various twigs and bits fallen off the trees from the wind we got the other night. It's no longer that nice winter wonderland icicle fairy sort of prettiness; this is dirty, old, stale snow, on par with the thing you find in the back of the freezer that was probably a popsicle from last summer, but maybe it's a pork chop, who knows.

Anyhow it meant that today, when Tara and I were out in the yard, wonderin', we could most of the time sorta kinda walk on top of it. Mostly. Because every few steps one foot or the other would go crashing through all the way to the bottom with the same lurching feeling you get when you go down the stairs in the dark and miscount and find yourself briefly standing on air instead of the floor you'd expected. It was enormously aggravating, and far more physical work than you'd think. I watched enviously as the local stray cat blithely padded along on top of it all. Then again I bet her little feet were pretty cold.

It's true, it looks rather better out there now; all that snow covers up quite a lot of the gruesome details, though really it's the equivalent of piling up all the mess of a room then throwing a rug over it and saying, 'Look! Clean!'

So we did what we could today, which meant that after our brief and misguided foray into the wilderness we sensibly came back inside and started sorting things in the cellar.

Now, due to recent efforts the cellar looks rather better than it has in some time; back in November I think we made a real effort to get the south end of it somewhat clean. At the time that meant throwing away obviously broken tools, but putting the possibly useful ones back into the toolboxes to sort later. Now, I know, most of those tools, dammit, are going to leave the property if I have my way (and I will, since I'm the one who lives here), but, it is true, some of them are useful. It would be good to have one or two sets of things to keep in say, the garage which I hope to set up as a wood shop eventually, or the shop, that sort of thing. That sounds perfectly reasonable to me. It would be kind of stupid, after all, to throw them all away and then go out and buy more, especially since, given the way things are made these days, I think a lot of older hand tools are actually of a far better quality than what you can get today.

Here's where it gets tricky, though. One of the big reasons hoarders give for never throwing anything away is that OH MY GOD I MIGHT POSSIBLY CONCEIVABLY NEED IT SOMEDAY! Even the abstract idea of throwing things away fills them with utter terror and panic; or at least that's how my father always reacted. I can't imagine what kind of soul-shattering failure it would have been for him to go buy something that he'd thrown out, knowing he'd thrown it out. Of course that would have had to follow him actually throwing something away in the first place. Or him actually having a soul, for that matter.

Anyhow. So today, in the little time we had (Tara had to be somewhere later) we went through one of the toolboxes in the cellar, one of five or six still in there.

Now, though I have aspirations of setting up (and using) a wood shop in the current garage, I'm not much of an expert on tools. Oh, I know what say a spokeshave or hand planer looks like, but I'm not sure what some of the other things down there were. To be fair, though, my father saved everything, tools for woodworking, metal working, masonry, machining, tools specific to Volkswagen or other car repair, and even tools that had been radically altered by some mad genius with access to a machine shop, which is never a good thing.

So not only is the sheer amount of the things overwhelming, even Tara can't actually identify half of them. Which has led to a sort of paralysis. A paralysis, I suspect, that is uncannily similar to the kind that goes through a hoarder's brain. And it's true, though I am not myself a hoarder, I learned, sorry, 'learned,' how to clean, and how to sort, and how to prioritize tasks by watching one; which means all too often I just have no clue myself. So a lot of what we've been doing has been just throwing the things back into the toolbox drawers to sort later.

Yeah well 'later' is now. I am also very, very aware that what we have been doing is awfully similar to churning.

Eh, what's 'churning,' precious, you ask?

Churning is what hoarders do when you can convince them to 'clean.' It is not, mind you, technically cleaning, of course, and in no way does it involve stuff actually leaving the property. They basically, I think, attempt to 'organize' their stuff, which, since they cannot actually part with it, means they go through all of it piece by piece as slowly as possible. So for example, they will go through a box of papers from twenty years ago one at a time, and throw a total of three pieces of paper away. It will take them two hours, maybe three, to go through that single box, after which they will declare themselves exhausted. In effect what it amounts to is that this pile of stuff over here on the left simply becomes this pile of stuff over here on the right.

Nothing of course actually gets done, though much effort is expended; and believe you me, that is a feature, not a bug: for if all your nagging and yelling for the hoarder to, you know, clean up their fucking junk gets that kind of result? You stop nagging and yelling, right? It's passive-aggression taken to an archetypal level; one might even call it passive-aggression deified.

So anyway, though we weren't doing it on purpose, the fact that all these tools were just sort of getting shuffled around was making me very uneasy, since I am understandably, I think, rather allergic by now to crap like that. So.

Today we took every last thing out of one toolbox. Then we sorted them into piles of things that we knew might be useful, like, say, planes, files, chisels, other woodworking tools, hinges, that sort of thing, while of course pulling out obviously broken things for another iron run hopefully by the end of the week. And even though we'd already been through those drawers more than once before, we still filled another three bins full up with scrap iron.

I think Tara didn't really see the point, it's true. And yes, the cellar is of course much better than it has been in the past, don't get me wrong; still, I actually want to see it clean, genuinely clean. Not just all the junk picked up off the floor and put on shelves, or even the junk reduced by 50%. Actually clean. And that means the unnecessary stuff goes.

Because I'm kind of done with it by now, you know?


Debra She Who Seeks said...

Absolutely. You MUST be ruthless. Junk begone!

miette said...

More power to you! Without touching every single thing in every single drawer, you will continue to have his cruft infesting your space. One day at a time, one carload of scrap at a time, but you're making it happen!

You'll have another sort, of course, when you have a giant pile of good tools and realize you have seven of everything. But that might be "yard sale" instead of "scrapyard".

Elaine said...

Don't be too hard on yourself. I am with you on the "I'll need it the day after I throw it away" mindset. As far as tools go, I vote "keep for now", if you're taking votes. You are making good progress by tossing obviously broken tools. And since you don't know what you'll need later, you can't, with any real certainty, pare down the tools that are left. You can do another sort later, after you have figured out what you'll need ("later" meaning possibly a couple of years from now, after you have your own shop set up).

I'd like to save more things, but lately I've been getting rid of things, and it feels good!

The Writing Goddess said...

So glad to see you posting again.

I was going to give you the very useful suggestion to do what I already see you Smart Girls doing in your next post, starting an "identify this" thread.

Love your explanation of churning... have experienced way too much of it. If only there was something useful, like butter, or toned thighs, at the end of hours of churning, but no.

Anonymous said...

My mother is guilty of the 'churning' version of dealing with her hoard. It's as if she is not aware that there is a distinction between 'intending' to remove an item from her home and the actual execution of the act. To her, relocation = removal. She's got her math all wrong.

Rosa said...

Even though the churning is a hoarder thing, the "getting a lot of stuff on one pass through, letting it simmer in your backbrain for a while, and then go back through and get rid of a lot more" is totally, totally, totally normal.

I don't know what happens in a hoarder's subconscious, but "realize a lot of the junk in that drawer really is junk" is definitely not it.

Thalia said...

Well, Elaine, the problem is that it's not that at the end of this we'll have a pile of 20 or so files to wonder about keeping; it's that, even with the paring down we've been doing, we'll have a pile of 200 files. Even with the passes we've already made, the sheer amount of things is just enormous.

Though I do understand that it will take some more thinking. I can imagine for example, ending up with like 10 hand planers, and keeping them until I get a chance to actually use them and see which one(s) I like best as far as fitting my hand, that sort of thing.

But really, we simply can't keep everything.

I'm thinking of tracking down a woodworkers' forum and joining it so I can ask, say, what are the twenty hand tools you can't live without? What do you need to run a decent shop? that sort of thing. Because I don't know right now as I don't have that much experience.

Rosa, I get that it's totally normal, I do. It's just that it's been several passes already and we've gotten to a point of being bewildered, so I think the only way through it is to start being ruthless. There really is far more than here than would make a 'normal' situation.

Anonymous said...

Community woodworking school in Jamaica Plain:

Good people.

Anonymous said...

Also try: The Tool Shed, in Waltham, MA. It's a used tool store. The owner may be interested in purchasing some of your excess. 781-647-7970

Hope the Tool Shed and/or the Eliot School are able to help you out.

- Massachusetts Woodworking Widow

Rosa said...

Oh, I'm highly in favor of ruthless (in fact, now that you have all the actual junk out, I think you should get an auctioneer or estate saler in to clean sweep the rest). I just suffer from The Fear, that I might be turning into my dad, and it sounded like you might too.

Anonymous said...

Big old necropost because I think this story needs to be passed around more. The folks in the MIT computer lab, who are all about detail work, invented a very useful term: yak shaving.

See, you need to get back the weed trimmer you lent to your neighbor last week. But first you have to put the hook it goes on in your garage back into the wall. But it fell out because it wiggled around a bit every time you took down the weed trimmer or hung it up, so the hole is now too big. So you have to somehow rearrange the other tools you have racked on the wall to accommodate a big hangy-downy thing. Or maybe you'll have to figure out what to get rid of on the third shelf down so you can just lay the weed trimmer there. One trip to the recycle bins later, you realize that while this is a good idea in concept, every.single.shelf is going to have to be unloaded, moved a hole further apart from the shelves above and below, and then reloaded, and while you've got all of the stuff off the shelves it's probably time for another trip to the recycle bin or possibly the donations room at the thrift store. And you can't just move the bottom shelf down a couple holes and park the fricking weed trimmer there because that's the only shelf the kids can reach and they need their chalk and bubbles to be there. ANYWAY, two more trips to remove stuff from the garage and you're ready to go ask for the weed trimmer.

Except that you now recall that the neighbor lent you his special lower back pillow when you messed up your back taking out that sickly tree earlier this year and you need to return it because that's what good neighbors do. So now you have to find the damn thing.

Eventually your younger daughter unearths the special pillow from beneath the cat. Off your incredulous look, she explains that she figured it was old and junky and fit only for the cat after she had so much fun jumping up and down on it that it split.

After a deeeeeeeeep breath and a silent chant of "I love my kids, I love my kids," you examine the split pillow. Maybe you can just buy some fresh batting and restuff the thing. You have some thread that matches the fabric.

Except that the stuff inside isn't batting. It's . . . hair?

Googling the info on the attached tag turns up an ad for this pillow, which gets its extra super special springiness from 100 percent virgin yak hair, and only yak hair.

Which is how, in order to be able to trim the weeds, you find yourself calling every ranch, zoo, and safari park in the tri-state area in the hopes that one of them owns a yak, and will let you shave it.

Yak shaving: the boggling amount of apparently unrelated tasks that may have to be accomplished before you can just fricking do that one simple thing.

I have been reading forward through this blog, and I am frankly awestruck at the prodigious amount of yak shaving you have already done in your quest for a clean home and a yard free of booby traps. Hang in there! That yak will be naked sooner or later.