Some time ago I wrote a column entitled, “Crud,” which discussed the volume of material we store in our homes. In the article, I made two observations: that crud is seemingly magnetic thereby causing it to attract other crud, and; sooner or later, everything will inevitably end up in the garbage dump. I still believe this to be true. More recently, I stopped by a friend’s house who was endeavoring to clean out his crawl space under his house. Access to it was through a small door outside of the building which required my friend to get down on his hands and knees and literally crawl in. He asked if I would help him remove the crud he had been storing there. From the inside, he would move it to the entrance and I would drag it away and stack it outside. Frankly, neither of us knew what to expect. Like a lot of us, the family had been periodically throwing various items down into the crawl space for years. It was now time to clean it out, and I could hardly describe any of it as any form of forgotten treasure.
There were some small holes in the foundation which allowed outside air to circulate in the crawl space. Unfortunately, it also allowed in considerable dust and humidity which meant just about everything emerging from under the house was coated with what appeared to be Martian dust. Slowly, but surely my friend began to pass items through the hole to me, including street hockey sticks, skateboards, a variety of baseball and softball paraphernalia, spare tires, old plastic storage boxes that cracked as we brought them out, suit cases in varying stages of decay, kiddy skin diving equipment (snorkels, flippers, and masks), camping equipment, fishing poles, spare parts to cars that were sold many years ago, shelving racks, and at least three dozen golf clubs and irons, all of which were now unusable due to age and decay. My friend finally emerged from the crawl space now coated in the Martian dust himself.
We then surveyed the amount of crud we dragged out and began speculating how old some of the items were.It obviously began many years ago when his children were young, but as they were now all grown up, we realized some of the objects had been down there for at least 25 years. All my friend could do was shake his head in bewilderment.
This little exercise caused me to think about the inventory area we maintain in our office, something I haven’t addressed in quite some time. It’s not a huge warehouse, simply a large room with metal shelving units where we house materials associated with our software products. Over the next few weeks I began to sift through everything and purge the materials we no longer use. In the process, I was able to fill up our garbage dumpster several times. I found old framed charts and promotional posters, video tapes in Beta and Industrial VHS formats (which nobody uses anymore), hundreds of plastic folios for taking notes, packages of plastic templates which now smell like rotten cheese, and paper, lot’s of paper. In addition to computer paper for printers we no longer have, there were boxes and boxes of old manuals and forms to be disposed of, stationery and envelopes of various sizes for our office in Cincinnati (which we left in 1985). We even had two old blackboards in excellent condition, but we couldn’t give them away as nobody uses chalk and slate anymore, particularly the schools (it’s now white boards and computer screens). We recycled whatever materials we could, but we still kept the garbage man incredibly busy for a few weeks.
Between my friend’s house and our office, I am now convinced humans are pack rats by nature. It’s probably in our DNA. Although most of us abhor “hoarders,” we all seem to have a tendency to hold on to things longer than we should. I tend to believe we keep such items because:
1. We think we might find a use for the object sometime in the future, such as passing it down to a relative or friend (who appreciate your kindness but throw it away in the end).
2. We think the object might appreciate in value which we could sell for a profit later on,perhaps on Craiglist or eBay. The only problem is that even when you take good care of such objects, the technology changes and not too many people want it any longer. For example, I posted on eBay a Sony Trinitron Color Camera (DXC-1610) from the early 1980’s in excellent condition which I found in our warehouse. We didn’t receive a single nibble. Sadly, it will likely end up in our dumpster (in the solid metal case it was originally packed in).
3. We attach sentimental value to certain items which inhibit us from disposing of them properly. For example, I found some framed charts we received in Japan recognizing our contribution to improving productivity through Information Systems. I just couldn’t bring myself to pitch them.
The criteria I used in cleaning out the warehouse was, “Do I want to move this should we change offices?” This helped me make up my mind quickly. I eliminated several “dust catchers” as a result of this perspective, most of which was made obsolete through changing technology. We simply had no use for it any longer.
Whether we do it intentionally or not, I think we all collect more crud than we need. As I observed in my earlier article, everything will eventually find its way to the garbage dump, and I mean everything. I do not believe in treating possessions frivolously, but I recognize they tend to outlive their usefulness over time. And the last thing I want to hold onto is three dozen golf clubs covered in Martian dust. As I said to my friend, “What are you keeping that for?”
Keep the Faith!