Saturday, April 20, 2013

Got Junk? - Calgary Sun Column - March 15, 2013

By Stephen Lautens

March 15, 2013

It seems like you spend the first half of your life accumulating stuff and the second half trying to give it away.

By the standards of our consumer society, I’m practically a monk. I don’t particularly enjoy shopping. If I need something, I’ll buy it, but there’s no rush that comes with the experience. Maybe I’m just not shopping in the right stores.

My car dealership is pretty sure I need to be sold a new car, since it’s been a couple of years since they sold me the last one. The same for the real estate agent who sold us our house six years ago. Surely it’s time to uproot the family and move somewhere newer and more expensive.

Some see buying things as practically an Olympic sport with the gold medal to the person who comes home with the most stuff.

Others they feel that there is something missing from their lives and they will be happy if they can only find and buy it – preferably on sale.

As for me, nothing makes me happier than getting things out of the house.

With luck, a household has one saver and one tosser-outer. That brings balance to the consumer Force. As hard as one tries to fill the house, the other gets rid of it. My grandmother threw out stuff with wild abandon. My father – as sentimental as he was – could always been found wandering the house with a garbage bag in hand.

Fortunately my wife and I have the same feelings about both buying and getting rid of stuff.

Still, stuff accumulates, like the perfectly functional TV that has been on the basement floor for the last year and a half. It was the last generation TV before the flat panels came out. It weighs a ton and there it sits because I can’t find anyone who will take it, and I won’t drag it to the curb because it still works. Even charities are getting picky about what they’ll take, they’re so awash in people’s castoffs.

When we did a basement reno a number of years back, we had to clear out everything to the bare walls. There wasn’t room for the overflow anywhere else in the house, so we rented a storage locker on a “temporary” basis.

Two years after the reno was completed, pretty much everything was still in storage. We hadn’t missed any of it. Not only that, the idea of bringing it back into the house filled us with dread.

So there it sat in one of those “you-lock-it” places unthought-of month after month.

Until we received a phone call from the storage company. Someone had broken into our locker and stolen most of the contents. They were quick to point out their “no liability” clause and then gave us the name of the police officer who had taken the details of the theft.

Secretly, I was happy. The problem had been solved for me. The stuff was gone and I didn’t have to keep paying a hundred bucks a month to store it.

Then tragedy struck. The police called to say they had located our things. It was in a stolen van they found abandoned on a country road. When they gave me a list of what was inside it was pretty clear that they hadn’t taken anything with them.

That’s when it struck me – I had been paying good money to store stuff that wasn’t even worth stealing.

I’m surprised I didn’t get a bill from the thieves for the cost of moving my stuff out of storage.