Tag Archives: hoarding

This was Dad’s faithful Hamilton Beach milkshake maker.  Now it’s my faithful Hamilton Beach milkshake maker.

Space is at a premium in my little kitchen.  Two people can work together, but only if they already know and like each other.  It would get awkward for roommates who weren’t on speaking terms.  If you open the microwave, the person at the stove must duck or get out of the way.  If you open the oven, there is no room to cross the kitchen until the door is closed again.  And yet, the Hamilton Beach milkshake maker is kept out, the egg-shaped head perched alien-like over its little forked foot.

We have a blender, but I never make milkshakes in the blender.  Theoretically, I suppose I could use the Hamilton Beach milkshake maker to make smoothies – a milkshake is made of milk, ice cream, and various add-ins, which is not too different from a smoothie’s yogurt, ice cubes, and chopped fruit.  But I never make smoothies with the Hamilton Beach milkshake maker.

When I make a milkshake, that’s all I do.  I get out the ice cream.  I chop up the cookies.  I pour in the milk.  I hold the frosty silver cup up to the spinny part*, I press “HIGH” or “LOW” as necessary.  And then I drink the milkshake.

Instantly I am transported across time and space.  I am 7 years old, sitting at the kitchen counter with Dad, drinking milkshakes.  I am 14, drinking a milkshake with Dad at Denny’s.  I invoke his memory and all of those feelings of comfort and joy with the simple act of making and consuming this milkshake, much like healthy people do with tea.

In the process of cleaning out the storage unit, there were many, many items I unearthed that invoked similar memories.  But few were as clear, as simple and happy, as the Hamilton Beach milkshake maker.  If I had kept every item that spoke to me, I would be living in a tomb.  Instead, with my carefully selected, drastically reduced collection, I am living in a sanctuary.

*I googled “milk shake maker diagram” to try and find a more precise name than “spinny part.”  I couldn’t find anything.


** I googled again, it’s called a “spindle,” but I’m leaving my original description in because it’s funnier that way.

On Monday, August 20th, we officially moved!  Rachel was home to make executive decisions, and Chris’s friend Todd was home to help with the manual labor.



Rachel decided that this old Chinese/Japanese table wasn’t worth hanging onto, so it went into the Master Salvation Army Pile.


Here’s Rachel doing her very best Vanna White impression.



The box is labeled “Frank Sinatra Picture.”  It’s Clarence Darrow, best known for the Scopes “Monkey” trial.



Here’s Chris’s friend Todd with all of the comics on one cart.



The first 6 boxes go into the new unit.



Chris stacks on a few more.  We’re up to 16 long boxes.



8 short boxes go on top, and the Comic Wall is complete.



We finally found my favorite turn table (there were 5 others).  Here’s a great example of the disparity between Dad’s version of reality and everyone else’s version.  Dad told me he designed and built this turn table himself, and that it was driven by electromagnets instead of belts because it gave clearer sound.  Chris, who worked at Radio Shack and Circuit City and took electronics classes for 2 years in high school inspected it and told me that my Dad certainly may have assembled it himself, from a kit, and that it was driven by an electric motor, not much different than what could be found in a hair dryer.


So yeah.  Dad, handy with a screw driver, not exactly a turn-table-building-mad-genius.



We took a much needed break and Chris grilled us some dinner.



This is the new storage unit.  It’s 5 feet wide by 10 feet deep.  It contains 3 bookshelves, 2 china sets, the comic books, 3 large boxes of pictures, and a couch and cabinet that belong to Mom.



This is the pile of books that need to be inspected by a book dealer.  Whatever the dealer doesn’t want to buy will be moved back to …



The Master Salvation Army Pile!  This time, they’ll come to us, with a giant truck and their own manual labor.  Hooray!



This is the electronics pile that Chris and I are still working on, along with 2 tables we want.  In that white cooler on top?  Several decades worth of newspapers with notable headlines – wars starting and ending, presidents elected or assassinated or impeached, natural disasters, stuff like that.



This is the view from the front of the 25 by 10 storage unit.  By the end of August, little more than a week away, it will be empty.


It’s almost over!

A few days ago, I met with Mom and Rachel to hammer out the details of the closing/moving/downsizing of the storage unit.  I’ve got 3 more trips between now and the 20th of August, all 3 of which will be marathon 2 day sessions of purging, delivering, selling, and trashing.  Then on August 20th, Mom will combine the items from her much smaller storage unit and the remaining items from Dad’s storage unit into a new, smaller, cheaper unit that she and Rachel will preside over.


I think it’s kind of funny that after all these years, Mom’s stuff and Dad’s stuff is going to be in the same place again.


But anyway, I thought now might be a good time to share with the world the things I’ve learned in the past few months (years) of dealing with a 250 square foot storage unit.


Lesson Number One:  Don’t Die.


The minute you die, everything you leave behind becomes someone else’s problem.  If you have been negligent in your planning, someone else has to arrange your funeral, sell your house, close your accounts, and deal with your belongings.  So just don’t die.


On some level, I think this is the plan a lot of people have.  It was certainly one of Dad’s plans, the other one being to drive off a cliff in his cherished LeBaron.


Lesson Number Two: Don’t Die Without a Plan


If option one seems unreasonable, then it falls upon you to make arrangements.  Figure out what you want done with your worldly belongings,  As much as is reasonable, get rid of things while you are still alive.


Dad failed almost entirely on this one.  As I’ve written elsewhere, at the time of his death, he had a 3 bedroom apartment with a sun room, living room, dining room and kitchen packed with stuff, mostly books.  It wasn’t “Hoarders” bad, in that there was plenty of room to walk about the floors and it wasn’t embarrassing or detrimental to one’s health to be there.  If Grandmother Vill-lynn hadn’t bought Dad’s plot in the cemetery years before, and if Dad hadn’t bought life insurance, we would have been even more screwed than we already were.


Lesson Number Three: Don’t rely on your family to know what you want


They say blood is thicker than water, but nothing is thicker than lawyer’s ink.  Grief can do horrible things to people, and having a dispassionate outsider with a list of very clear instructions is to everyone’s benefit.


Again, this is one Dad failed on, and before his body was even cold, vultures were circling overhead.  I don’t know if real life is ever like this, but I would have loved for me, Rachel, Mom and Grandmother Vill-lynn to have been called into some lawyer’s office for the official reading of the will.  Grandmother Vill-lynn could have blustered and cried and threatened all she wanted, but she wouldn’t have had a leg to stand on, and someone in a position of authority could have diplomatically told her to go jump in a lake.


Lesson Number Four:  Everything is perishable and temporary.


Everything you have in the physical world will be gone sooner or later.  Books will rot.  Cars will rust.  A house that is passed down from father to son may get struck by lightning and burn to the ground.  A treasured set of pearls might fall off and get lost down a storm drain.  In the unlikely but possible event that items from your life are preserved over the centuries, all the context that made those items matter will be gone.  Consider that even the people you give things to will also die someday.  Lastly, if you really own something so remarkable that it deserves to be in a museum, it should probably be there now.


Oh Dad … Dad, Dad, Dad.  We have a perhaps unreasonable attachment to books in my family.  For one thing, we’re Jews, and we Jews love our books.  If a book falls on the ground, we kiss it (or at least I still do).  And we’re paranoid about books.  When they ban books, they ban people.  When they burn books, they burn people.  The loss of the knowledge in a book that has been vandalized is something we take extremely seriously.


Dad sometimes spoke of the burning of the Library of Alexandria as if he had actually been there.  And after having combed through his extensive collection very thoroughly these last 8 months, I believe firmly that Dad was stock-piling all of these books in fear of another great intellectual purge.  The science books, the comprehensive religious texts, the manuals, the histories and anthologies and collected works, all of it was his commitment to never let something like that happen again.


And I believe that the preservation of knowledge is a worthy goal.  But in this day and age, I’m not so worried about an Alexandrian-style purge.  Everything is so diffuse now.  There are stacks of anatomy and chemistry books in every university and college bookstore in the country.  And on the occasions that someone somewhere takes it upon themselves to burn books, sales for that very book shoot up elsewhere to compensate.  For every one copy of Harry Potter that was hurtled into the flames, 10 more were purchased eagerly by parents and librarians.


So don’t worry about whatever it is you’re preserving.  Which brings me to …


Lesson Number Five: Influence is Forever


You could spend thousands of dollars on someone and make no impression, or you could buy someone a cup of coffee and be remembered for the rest of his or her life.  It’s all about influence.  Can you listen?  Can you withhold judgement?  Can you say “Thank you” so someone who feels unappreciated?  Can you speak hard truths and soften them with love?  Then you will have influence on everyone lucky enough to cross your path.


Dad had influence coming out of his ears.  From his students at the high school, night school, Hebrew school and summer school, to his peers on the boards he sat on, to his classmates in college who were often 20 or 30 years younger than him, to me and Rachel, Dad’s influence was varied and wide and tremendous.  Even Chris, who only met Dad a few times in 1999, still remembers details about him and the conversations they had.


As a physical being, as a discrete person in the history of the world, Dad (and everyone else) was a pebble skipping over the water of a pond.  Dad’s pebble sank 3 years ago, but the ripples are still expanding from where the pebble first met the water, and those ripples have not yet even begun to break upon the shore.

Wow, it was really weird being back in the storage unit today after being gone last week.  Something that seemed so routine and almost normal 2 weeks ago …


First thing we did was take a load of assorted china and stemware to Salvation Army.  This time, we didn’t even open the boxes.  We’re already saving so many artifacts, so many odds and ends that only Rachel or I really know the story behind, I didn’t want to take a chance on finding anything else like that.  That and, I really doubted I would be able to pick out any one particular wine glass as being significant, seeing as Dad rarely drank wine.


Next, Chris took a couple boxes of 15 year old electronics to Best Buy to be recycled while I played Tetris with boxes.  Why Tetris you ask?  Because next week, we’re having a garage sale and I needed to unearth the sellable items.


Yes, it’s that time honored rite of Spring and Summer, when people all over the country park their cars half a block away and fill their garages with folding tables weighed down with board games, kids movies and clothes that haven’t been worn since the last millenium.  Our version is going to be a little different.


Having completely given up on eBay and used record stores as a viable option, we’re going to be selling whatever records are left at rock-bottom prices, $1 a piece.  Buy 5, get 1 free.  Buy 10, get 2 free.



Hey, remember these guys?  We’re going to sell the tea cups too.  So if you’re in the market for a bizarrely comprehensive selection of music and a completely tasteless assortment of tea cups, let me know.



This is the current view from the front of the storage unit.  Chris and I can almost stand shoulder to shoulder.


More of the origin story coming this week.  Stay tuned, friends.

Pop quiz!  What is this thing?  Is it A: A rocket ship, B: A fish standing on its tail or C: A pterodactyl egg that landed on the roof of a house?  We found it in a box labeled “Pottery.”

Chris and I unearthed another box of CDs today.  Upper left corner is Dolly Parton, upper right corner is Type O Negative, lower right corner is Red Hot Chili Peppers, and lower left corner is The Flying Burrito Brothers.

Here we have an ancient relic, possibly an item once associated with religious worship.  There appears to be an all-seeing eye within a pyramid.  We have heard garbled tales of people inserting these silver disks into their primitive computer boxes, only to have the computer protest with loud squealing and harsh static.

These symbols are still widely worshiped today.

This is just one of several books on the Civil War we found today, along with Revolutionary War history, and biographies of Lincoln and Benjamin Franklin.

My Dad, the serious historian.

My Dad, the conspiracy nut.

Apparently, my Dad decided at one point that just going out and buying books wasn’t enough.  He needed a guide to tell him how to buy more books …

These are the stacks of books that Chris and I want to keep.  Rather, these are the stacks we made today, from the 10 or so boxes we went through.  Over 75% of the contents of those boxes went into the Salvation Army pile, or the “Give to Other People We Know” pile or the “Jewish stuff” pile or the “Old and Valuable” pile.  These are just the books we wanted to keep from TODAY.  *sigh*

So here is our theory on Dad’s book collection.  Most of the books fall into one of a few possible categories – World History, World Religions, Politics, Science/Physics, Great Leaders, Great Leaders who were Evil, Collapse, Education, and How to Influence People/Management.  Dad spoke often and authoritatively on what he saw as the inevitable collapse of the United States and the rest of Western Civilization.  We think Dad was trying to prepare himself to be a great leader in the event of societal break down, while at the same time preserving his favorite bits of wisdom in his own mini Library of Alexandria.

Sadly, he overlooked the tedious and unglamorous bits of everyday life like How to Disinfect Water and How to Not Starve.

I think about the collapse of civilization fairly often myself, and I probably have Dad to thank for that.  I’m a lot more concerned with food and water and shelter than How to Win Minions and Influence Rival Gangs, though.  I can see my Dad making it through, especially in his position as a beloved high school teacher.  He could have blockaded himself in his class room or even taken over the entire building with the help of some of his students.  He wouldn’t have known how to grow food, but at least for the first little while, his adoring legion of students would have kept him alive with tributes of scavenged canned goods.  With a Boy Scout manual, he could have set basic snares for pigeons and raccoons.  Pretty soon, he could have been trading raccoon pelts for blocks of cheese from a rural school district/castle.

Today Chris and I started with a box of assorted cups – although not the giant box of tea cups.

Here we have some of the glasses from the china cabinet, all of which seem entirely superfluous for a man who generally drank only two beverages – store brand cola or instant coffee.



This was a neat find, although solidly in the category of “I wonder why Dad kept that.”




It’s a “Welcome to Ceasar’s Palace/Las Vegas” packet, with my grandparents’ names on it (not shown).  I was initially confused, because the only Ceasar’s I know of is a very depressing place in Windsor.  My best guess is that my grandfather was invited to Las Vegas for a psychology convention.  Perhaps this is a souvenir from my grandmother’s charming tale of how she wanted to visit a ranch for wild horses and ended up embarrassing my grandfather when she asked a taxi driver to take her to the Mustang Ranch.



Tangentially related, here’s a book we found called “Etiquette for Outlaws.”  Yes, that is a bar code on the left side of the book – this book was either stolen from or discarded from the Bennett High School library.  I wonder why … perhaps because the back of the book promises to reveal proper etiquette during jailhouse fights, while getting tattoed, and for gang initiations.  There’s a part of me that almost thinks Dad might have deliberately planted this book in the library, hoping to cause a stir.



This book belongs to my mother.  How exactly my Dad ended up taking it with him to New York is beyond me, but I’m really glad it hasn’t been damaged by mold or water or anything else.  And yes, Mom, if you’re reading, I put it in a safe place and I’ll deliver it to you next Sunday.



I just thought this book was too stunning to ignore.



This is the inscription on the inside of the beautiful book, dated 1866.  The book was itself published in 1864.



And this is an entirely different book, but I thought it was worth noting that Dad was rescuing library books as early as the late 1980’s.  We moved out of Owosso in 1989.


We ended up only having room for 4 boxes in Chris’s car this week, 3 of which are filled with books and one is filled with some of the fragile atrocities from a couple weeks ago.  We stopped by Mom’s house and I pawed through some of my boxes in her basement.  I filled a bag with Salvation Army things, shelter things, and things to give to my friend Lynn, but one item ended up making it back out of the give-away pile and back into my arms.


It was my giant Simba puppet, that I spent one whole summer working for when I was 9 or 10.  I’m pretty sure the deal was that my Dad would buy it for me if I skimmed bugs out of the pool every day.  At that point in my life, The Lion King was my favorite movie, and going to the Disney Store in the mall was a near religious experience.  I still remember locking my eyes onto that giant lion, and how wanting it consumed my heart.


As soon as I pulled Simba out of the box, I said aloud that I would give him to Lynn for her kids, since I already gave her several other members of Simba’s family.  But when Chris and I got in the car to leave, I wanted to hold Simba on my lap.  Chris was the one who actually had to convince me that it would be ok to hold on to this stuffed animal.  I felt so guilty for loving a material thing so much, for clinging to this relic from my childhood.  But the point of minimalism, or at least, the point of MY minimalism, is not to have only 100 things or only as many things as will fit in a backpack, but to make room for the important, meaningful things.  Simba qualified, so he’s staying.


Can’t forget that today (technically it’s Monday now) is Dad’s birthday.  He would be 61, or perhaps he IS 61 if he ran off to Morocco with a new identity.  There are so many things I wish I could tell him.  I wonder how he’d react if I could tell him I got my taxes done a few days ago, that I owe $400-odd dollars to the Federal Government, and I intend to pay in full.  I wonder how he would feel about Chris, if he would remember him as the same boy who, along with our friend Kevin, came to offer me moral support at the custody hearing all those years ago.


I might go out tomorrow night and try to find a way to celebrate Dad’s birthday.  On the rare occasions he drank alcohol, Dad enjoyed a Gin and Tonic, but I just can’t get down with a drink that tastes the way Pine-sol smells.  A good cigar might not be a bad idea, if I can actually get to a tobacco shop – there’s no way I would try to honor Dad’s memory with a Swisher.

Yes, East-Over, the spring holiday where we remember the brave bunny who led the Jews out of Egypt by laying a trail of chocolate eggs nestled into the shifting desert sands, and delivered them to a promised land of glazed ham and spiked lemonade.


What?  Look, I don’t know where you buy your calendars, but my calendar has this one clearly marked.  Anyway …


Chris and I got to show off our weeks of hard work to Rachel this weekend when she flew home from DC.



This is her impressed face.



We uncovered this statue early on in the process, and have been saving it for Rachel.  I remember this little blue guy standing guard in my Dad’s home office in Buffalo, and long before that, in his basement office in the house we grew up in back on Buno road.


Today we got a few more boxes of books and knick-knacks to the Salvation Army in Ann Arbor.  A little part of me still squirms uncomfortably whenever I see a worker unceremoniously dump a box of books into a giant blue canvas bin.  First of all, they’re books!  You don’t just toss them around like so many cast-off socks at the end of a long day.  But more than that, even as I give them away, I’m still attached to them.  They’re still Dad’s books, and however illogical, I see those books tumbling over each other haphazardly and it feels like someone is jack-hammering right into Dad’s grave.


It’s hard.  If you’re the one stuck with the task of cleaning out a relative’s house a week after their death or you’ve got a stack of boxes in the basement from 10 years ago, it’s still hard.  All our lives, we identify ourselves and each other with things.  There’s Jay in his Porsche.  There’s Heidi, and would you look at those shoes!  I had my My Little Pony collection.  Dad had his library.


But we’re not our things.  We’re really not.  I know with total certainty that Dad still would have been a brilliant conversationalist and a dedicated teacher without all of his books.  I can still appreciate the more child-like pleasures of life without all 100 My Little Pony figurines.


It was this thought that led me to finally say goodbye to my red Doc Martin’s.



My mom bought me these boots when I was 15.  They saw occasional use in high school, mostly around Halloween or for the rare concert or party.  And I wore them exclusively for about 6 months in 2008, when I back-packed around the country on my hobo-punk odyssey.  And that’s it.  I’ve held onto them for the past 4 years for a variety of reasons.  They remind me of my adventures, they were a beautiful gift, and somewhere deep down, I had hoped I might one day resurrect my punk rock Dorothy costume.


But without them, I’m still the same person who packed a meager back-pack’s worth of supplies and headed out without a destination or a clue.  I still love the music of Rancid.  I certainly still love my mom!  And now I have 10 pounds less of stuff to pack, to move around, to think about.



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