Inside Columbia


Finding the Difference Between Relics and Rubbish

By Inside Columbia

It’s a good bet you have a place in your house for storage, where you keep things you haven’t used in many years.It could be in your garage or your basement, maybe a back room or a shed.Mixed into the stacks and piles are items that have fallen from everyday use: the old dining room table, an exercise bike, that blender you finally replaced. (You keep it because your husband pleads that it still works, ready to pitch in if you invite the neighbors for margaritas.)

Many storage items defy a category, so they’re lumped together. But they’re things somebody in your household is just not ready to lose.

If you begin to see yourself in this picture, you’re not alone. Elsewhere on these pages, you’ll get better advice on how to organize your household. And such plans almost always require you to curb your junk.

But is it junk?

My wife thinks so. I say, “Not so fast.Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.”

Our storage spot is in the basement of our old house, an octogenarian perched on the abundant clay in the central west end of Columbia, where over the years the onslaught of runoff water has not been kind to its foundation. When we finally decided to have our foundation rejuvenated, the contractor shook his head and said, “You have a lot of things to move.”


We have accumulated several lifetimes worth of uncategorized keepsakes. Our parents left us whole households to sort. While we gave away or auctioned many of their possessions, we also kept many that joined our growing piles in the basement. In a way, it’s a chronicle of our lives, and of our parents, as well as a pair of siblings who passed way before their time. Yearbooks. Diaries. Elvis records.And boxes of photos.

Like a glacier, the piles grew slowly. Eventually, the basement became amaze, a labyrinth of pathways between mountains of boxes and stacks of stuff, a dusty museum of neglect.

But things were about to change. We signed a contract, and the jack hammers and backhoes would show up in a month.

So, I began the move. Charging down the basement steps like the befuddledTeddy Roosevelt character in “Arsenic andOld Lace,” I waded into a sea of sealed see-through bags of colorful comforters and 100 wicker baskets of every shape and size. There were racks of clothing that somehow didn’t make it to Goodwill, items we hadn’t worn in 30 years. I thought maybe they would come back into style. Cheryl shook her head.

We had accumulated a dozen functional broilers and pots and pans.And cups, cups, cups. Boxes of old work papers. Old tools and toys and bikes and sleds and camping gear, just in case.

To haul the old museum up the basement stairs, I enlisted two strong backs, my oldest grandsons, who I enticed by promising they could keep anything they liked.

As the basement emptied, the main floor of the house swelled with junk piles and heirlooms in transition. Much of the overflow ended up on the back deck.Dusty shelves. Half empty paint cans.(Well, from my perspective, half full.)

Cheryl waded into the glacier too and brought out armfuls, most of which she decided to liquidate. She stood over the rest of us, urging one recurrent theme:“Get rid of that.”

But it’s hard to part with old friends.

I suggested a yard sale. “Knock yourself out,” Cheryl said. “But I’m not going to help organize it.

”Well then.”

One grandson said I had some valuable things strewn amongst the junk. An old 1980s Apple computer.A beautiful French door. And he took some heirlooms: antique silver trays and serving sets, blackened by oxidation. He will polish them, bring them back to life.

Cheryl was ready to get rid of most of the stuff. It was tougher for me. I tossed an old VCR and an IBM Selectric typewriter. But I secretly rescued a pair of hand-held vacuum cleaners.

The foundation workers came and went. I descended into an empty basement and scrubbed it cleaner than it has been since we moved in 40 years ago.

For reasons of marital harmony, my perspective has evolved to a “cut it loose”mentality. We’ve shipped a lot of usable household stuff to organizations likeHabitat for Humanity. Still, a few piles remain in the purgatory between keep sake and “dump it, for God’s sake.”

In the meantime, our daughters can breathe a sigh of relief, knowing that we have purged and slimmed down our household to prepare for the inevitable transition

John Drake Robinson is a formerdirector of the Missouri Division ofTourism. Read more of John’s rants

Subscribe & Follow