One man's trash: the sentimental journey to the curb

April 25, 1994|By SUSAN REIMER

He was cleaning out his closet. . . . Poor choice of words. He was moving things around in his closet. Nothing ever actually made its way out.

Anyway, my husband was moving things around in his closet, making space for more things that he was not throwing away, when he said: "You know, I have stuff made by companies that don't exist anymore."

He paused and considered.

"You know, I have stuff made in countries that don't exist anymore."

What a revelation! Would this be the moment that he realized he was carrying way too much baggage in life? That he needed to lighten his load? Doubt it.

They say women are sentimental collectors. That their attics are crammed with baby clothes and handmade Mother's Day cards and letters from dear friends. That bulk trash pickup day is not scheduled with women in mind. That it is men who carry old boat engines and boxes of plywood to the curb.

Not in my house. Not my husband. It is I, and just about any woman I know, who sorts and sorts and throws out.

"During the day when they are all gone, I go through the house and collect their junk," my sister says. "I throw it out or take it to Goodwill. Then I deny it at the dinner table."

Her husband works on barges on the river and he buys his work clothes from Goodwill. She's so afraid he is going to go shopping one day and actually buy his old clothes back.

A neighbor fellow was a charter subscriber to National Review in 1963 and he has kept every single copy for more than 30 years. Why? I ask.

"After 30 years, I don't need a reason," he says.

"And," he adds, "if I were to discontinue doing it, my wife might have reason to worry about the security of her position. I know she was tiptoeing around when I got rid of the car I'd had for 18 years."

Well she might. They've only been married 16 years. The magazines and the car had more seniority than she.

Another friend's husband seems quite incapable of parting with his old running shoes. Instead, he just assigns them a new job description. All 12 pairs.

"There are the racing running shoes and the daily workout running shoes," she says, "and the ceremonial running shoes, and the coaching-baseball running shoes, the grass-cutting running shoes and the patio-party running shoes."

The husband of another friend has 40 ball caps. My sister's husband has 165 T-shirts from road races. "We added a third floor to this house because he can't throw anything away," she says.

A Sunfish sailboat had been sitting under our deck since we moved in. Ten years. The mast had rotted and the sails had disintegrated, but the fiberglass hull was in great shape and a neighbor offered us $600 for it. No sale.

My husband had never sailed the single-handed boat on the raging Chesapeake Bay. It was a relic from his bachelor life in western Pennsylvania and a man-made lake so shallow that you could stand on its cement-covered bottom if you capsized. This is a very cautious guy.

"Rosebud," was all he said when I asked why he would not sell. When you ask them why, they always have good reasons:

"I might make something out of it."

"I'm going to wear it when I lose weight."

"I'm going to fix it."

"It's still in good shape."

"It's going to be worth something someday," is the reason a friend heard when she told her husband that it was time he threw out the sports magazines he's been saving since the 1950s.

"Everyone in the free world knows the value except me, I guess," she says. "I told him that since we were moving and could use the extra money, it would be a perfect time to sell.

"He looked like an animal caught in my headlights, absolutely haunted. He mumbled something about how it wasn't the right time to sell."

Such separation anxieties. My husband was so morose the day before bulk trash pickup, as he wheeled the old lawn mower ("I was going to fix it") to the curb at my command. But when he returned to add the gas-tank cap, the mower was gone. Bulk trash scavengers had taken the mower in the blink of his eye.

He realized that other men were throwing out their perfectly good junk, too. That night, late, he came to me wearing an old jacket ("It's still in good shape") and a ball cap pulled down over his eyes. "I'm going out there," he announced, setting his jaw. "There is great stuff out there."

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