Saturday Snippet: Can a Pack Rat Get to Heaven?

We’ve met the late Jamie Buckingham in these pages before.  His wit, wisdom and faith have helped me on my own journey through life, and many others as well.

I was reminded of one of his articles when I began cleaning up and sorting out our garage, which is filled to the brim with potentially useful things (or, as my wife scornfully refers to them, “stuff!”, in a tone of voice that reduces them – and me – to quivering apprehension).  After so many years in what I can best describe as “deprived environments” (a term which encompasses almost the whole of Africa, for a start!), I’ve long since tried to build up a reserve of useful supplies become a pack rat.

  • If a plague of East African locusts descends on North Texas, I daresay I can cook up a mess of them to replace the crops they’ve eaten.  (They’re entirely edible if prepared correctly.  You ask me how I know this?  Trust me.  I know this – but I’d rather not do it again!)  I’ve made sure I have spare camping stoves and cookware to prepare them appropriately.  Yes, that’s “stoves” and “cookware” in the plural.  Why?  I have no idea.
  • If we suffer an emergency and I have to equip neighbors with knives (belt, folding and bush), I’ve discovered I can outfit well over two score of them.  Where the heck did all those blades come from?
  • If I have to tie down a load in the back of a pickup truck, I have something like fifty or sixty straps and bungee cords with which to do so.  I no longer have a pickup truck, but by golly, I’ve still got the tie-downs!

Yes.  Well.  When, earlier this week, my wife handed me a “honey-do” list that included “Clear path in garage so I can get to water heater and change house water filter”, I knew that my doom was upon me the time had come.

I’ve girded my loins (ouch!), assembled some moving boxes, and I’m packing up the “reserve supplies” for disposal, one box at a time.  It won’t go quickly, but I have a goal;  by the end of the year, I want to be able to park a car in our garage.  Right now, I might just fit its spare tire inside if I worked hard to make a space!  I know what Phil over at Bustedknuckles feels like (scroll down to see the pictures of his garage).  Mine’s not (quite) that bad, but still . . .

To encourage myself, I turned to Jamie Buckingham’s collected columns in “The Last Word” once again.

A wise man once suggested we should take inventory every two months and discard everything not used during that period of time. It’s a valid spiritual principle. When God moves and beckons us to follow, we need to travel light. Not burdened by things of this world.

But what do you do when you have a whole room full of things that might come in handy one day?

About every two years, we are forced to clean out the back room of our house, which is tantamount to going through the Smithsonian Institution and deciding what to keep and what to throw away. Our back room, which we affectionately call the “junk room,” is part utility, part workshop, and part storage hole. It usually takes about two years for the junk to begin to take over the living area of our house. It spreads, like chinch bugs in the grass, encroaching first into the den, then into the kitchen, and finally onto the dining room table. If we don’t do something we would eventually have to move out of the house. So, every so often, I declare “operation throwaway.”

But what do you do with odds and ends that you never have used but just might need one of these days? For instance, we have a mayonnaise jar filled with assorted keys. To my knowledge, they don’t fit any lock in the house, but you never can tell . . .

Then there are the electric train sets. True, all the tracks are different gauges and the transformers are burned out. But one of these days electric trains will be antiques and perhaps my children would like to show them to their children (no doubt so they could put them in their junk room).

From surplus sales I’ve acquired aluminum cooking sets, cartons of Canned Heat, water purifiers, and salt pills. All so far unused. And I think GI pants, the ones with the big pockets on the sides, are the greatest. I once bought six pair during a closeout sale. All are too small now, but I keep telling myself that one day there’ll be no more war and they won’t make swell pants like this anymore. In the meantime, I had better hold onto them.

I never wear a hat, but you never can tell when . . . maybe someday I might play that old concertina again . . . and everybody saves National Geographics, don’t they? I’ll bet my son, Bruce, can hardly wait to get his hands on a beer mug inscribed “Mercer University, 1954, ATO.” And a man never knows when he might need a broken phonograph and a big, long cardboard box filled with bent curtain rods.

It’s like the old clothes in my closet. I just can’t bear to throw them away. I know the style has changed since the fifties, but one of these days I might lose a lot of weight and be able to slip back into them again. I can always use them on camping trips—in case we ever go camping.

I remembered reading about a man who never threw anything away. He stored it all in his attic and one day, you guessed it, his house collapsed on top of him.

My wife reminded me that last summer we took a long vacation and lived happily out of a suitcase for almost six weeks. If I could get along without that old commando machete and those five pair of holey tennis shoes then, I could surely get along without them now. I bit my lip, closed my eyes, and threw away everything I hadn’t used in two months—including the 1954 beer mug and an old ammunition belt.

That evening, sitting quietly in the den, I heard a terrible commotion in the junk room. Opening the door, I saw my two teenage children carting stuff from the garbage bin back into the house.

“Gosh, Dad,” Bruce said with a look of dismay on his face, “one day these old electric trains will be antiques . . .”

I closed the door and returned to the TV. Like father like son. I have bred another generation of pack rats, and I suspect they will have just as much trouble squeezing through the eye of a needle with all that junk as Jesus’ proverbial camel.

*Sigh* . . . guilty as charged!



  1. There's quite a bit of my Stuff that seemed a bit questionable for bringing along on the grand migration from California at the end of last year, being eminently replaceable post-move. Some of it I even tried to find a good home for, but failed, so along it came.
    Now? Well… let's just say that a lot of that "eminently replaceable" stuff unexpectedly became hard or impossible to replace this year, so I'm glad I brought it along after all. Even the Missus is glad I brought it, though she notably lacks enthusiasm for my insistence on bringing All The Books.
    … Alas, I didn't bring the machine tools. The logistics of having them delivered here would have been a nightmare. But I still have most of the tooling, and someday I'll have a lathe and mill again!

  2. "I remembered reading about a man who never threw anything away. He stored it all in his attic and one day, you guessed it, his house collapsed on top of him." THAT's what basements are for!

    If you don't have 25 knives, you're SHORT. I have pocket knives, folding knives, straight knives, and a kukri.

  3. It's not junk. It's stuff. Because Junk is stuff you throw away, and Stuff is junk you keep.

    And, as I have pointed out to my darling man, if it's all piled high in unlabelled, unmarked, uncategorized, and unsorted piles, such that not even he knows what's in there? It's not useful at all. It doesn't matter if he has five of them; if I don't know we have them, don't know where they are, or even if I know we have them and where they are but can't get to them? It's Not Useful.

    I don't know why he was wincing when I informed him one of my first major changes upon becoming a widow (because divorce is out of the question, but murder is not) will be to rent a dumpster and shovel everything in the garage into it. It hasn't been opened, looked at, used, or useful in years, so why would I want to keep it?

  4. In sheer self-defense, let me say that I know what's in every pile, and on every shelf. Sadly, if they're not properly labeled, SWMBO doesn't.


  5. When the cleaning is going slowly, look at your nice SUV and repeat three time the words "Hail Storm". Excellent motivation.

  6. I finally reached the point of being That Guy I see. 😂 In my defense, I did actually see some bare concrete in that garage for three whole days after taking four loads of crap to the dump but I couldn't stand it and had to start a new project so that milestone is far away in the rearview mirror.

  7. But…but…but…How can you throw away perfectly GOOD junk? I'd certainly hate to have BUY any of that crap again.
    My wife could spend a day rooting through a closet and end up with a grocery sack of stuff that she could get rid of.
    Well, the process of retiring, downsizing in a move, and cleaning out thirty years of accumulated stuff was painful to say the least. I was in a hurry to pack up, so a lot of stuff didn't get sorted, just boxed up and moved. My library alone took 95 bankers boxes, and my new study has room for maybe 30, so we still have a garage full of boxes to weed through.
    In my defense, my grandparents were depression era people: "Use it up, wear it out, make do or do without!" We weren't "poor", but we ate a lot of cheap cuts–my mothers' pressure cooker got a lot of use.

  8. A. I find myself in a similar situation, except it's about flashlights, mostly small ones. At one time, I was the live-in maintainer in a commercial building, the cellar dweller. No windows. Maybe that has something to do with it.
    B. It's no use having cr@& if you don't know where it is. Copy and repeat.

  9. Speaking of eating locusts I've never had African but palmetto bugs are nutritious. Without cooking flames the process is to begin with a prompt strong and fatal crunch to avoid that tickle in the throat going down. And yes it's a stunt while the grocery stores are open.

    Insect parts are nutritious. It turned out in the UK that a vegan diet in India was nutritious enough to be adequate and in the UK the very same diet is grossly insufficient because the better call it sanitation in the UK meant no insect parts for B12 and such.

    My last move before assisted living I have two – down from 5 – garage sized storage lockers with a lot of shelving so I have live storage instead of dead storage and still live comfortably at home.

  10. You don't know what you need, until you need it. My wife complained that my cane was making too much noise as we walked. It turned out that the rubber tip had warn out.
    Went to the "junk" box, pulled out an old rubber table leg end cover. Put it on the cane, using a flexible slice of plastic, (also from the box) to fit the cover to the cane. So my wife who is the "throw everything out" member of our marriage, appreciates that at least some times my hoarder tendencies have a beneficial aspect.

    It is important that you marry your opposite in the hoarder/throw out everything life choices. That way you have someone who makes you defend your choices.

    My current project is shifting large heavy bookcases in my "office/mancave/library", to increase storage capacity for books from 3,000 to 5,000. Removing 30 year old carpet revealed popped oak flooring that required replacement. Since 20 years ago I took advantage of a neighbor throwing out his hardwood floor, to acquire now 65 year old oak, we have another example of the benefits of hoarding.

    During the local library 3 month closure, my wife appreciated we did not run out of books. She likes that library books must return home, (that is not ours). Since we both love to read, we require over 500 books a year to fuel our mutual addictions. So another example of the benefits of hoarding.

  11. How about a 'virtual garage sale'
    Post a picture, a price and a brief description of item and condition.
    I bet most of it can be shipped without any FFL. And you might get a decent price from the preppers who can't source locally.
    One man's trash is another man's treasure.

  12. On being told by my neighbor that his wife got rid of anything they hadn't used in the last 3 months I immediately replied "so you buy new Christmas ornaments every year?"

  13. "got rid of anything they hadn't used in the last 3 months"
    Yeah, I keep hearing that sort of thing. It's the Secret to Serenity, or whatever!
    But… storm shutters? Winter coats? Camping gear? I can think of a lot of things that, in most areas, have more than a 3-month off season. Many of them expensive, inconvenient to replace, or both.
    And what of, say, fire extinguishers? No point keeping those around when you never use them. Just go to the store and buy one when you have a fire, right?
    This radical life-simplification business seems directed at urbanites with more money than sense. (And I see that Chrome's spelling checker has decluttered yet again, and has forgotten that "urbanites" is a word, though it suggests "exurbanites" or "suburbanites". The Newspeak dictionary gets smaller every year, does it not?)

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