What I Shed Today

a year of lightening up

coffee can

Though I’ve cut my consumption to two mugfuls a day, nevertheless I go through a can of coffee every two weeks. I feel a twinge of conscience at claiming this as a shed, yet twice a month I have to do it to stay ahead of a deal of clutter.

For quite a while I used a hole punch to make the plastic lid nice and leaky. Then I moved it to the bottom of the can … and voila! I had a kinda cute, if not very durable planter. But soon there were more of them about than I had soil or sprouts for. (And 25 late-season tomatoes last autumn said, “You know, there just isn’t enough root-room in these for us.” And proved it by failing to flower or fruit.)

So now I try to go straight to dismemberment. It takes me, a can opener, and a razor cutter two minutes to reduce a can to its component parts for recycling. The lid, metal bottom and rings, label and cardboard will flow into our community’s “diversion” stream. The foil liner, alas, must add its volume to an anthropogenic hill out on the county line.

before and after

before and after

A better practice would be to buy bulk beans from one of our greener groceries; then I wouldn’t bring this solid waste into the house or county in the first place. —I’ve just recognized a habit I need to shed!

shedding style: recycle, throw away
destination: community recycling stream, landfill

Comments welcome … how else might we shrink our footprints by bulking up?

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negative shed: canning jars

Since I absolutely distrust any absolutes within this mortal pale, probably it was inevitable that, some day of this year of daily shedding, I’d decide to keep something I neither precisely believe to be beautiful nor presently know to be useful. But in the life we want to live, Nimue and I will grow, preserve, enjoy, and share greater harvests. So though we aren’t using many canning jars now, we’re keeping the rather large collection we brought back from storage in my parents’s hill barn.

And I plan to pickle jalapenos from our CSA this week!


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orphaned vacuum cleaner attachment

When I was a kid, we had two vacuum cleaners, both canister types: Mom’s somewhat teardrop-shaped moss-green Eureka Vibra-Beat, and Dad’s cylindrical blue Electrolux that stayed in the garage for cleaning cars. Just those, through all my childhood and youth, because they never broke. Now engineers are taught to plan obsolescence and “beyond the economical cost of repair” must be said so often it’s just abbreviated to B.E.R. This “came home” for me, so to speak, on a visit to my parents a couple weeks ago.

“Would you help me install a switch in my vacuum cleaner?” Mom asked. I thought she meant the nameless brown canister—bits keep breaking off of it, and the last time I used it, I could hardly get it to turn on.

“No,” she said, “it’s a Eureka upright. I really liked it. Nothing happens when you click it. We don’t have a vacuum repair repair shop anymore, so I looked on the internet and ordered a switch for it.”

That made me proud of her. But I wondered, “What’s Vickie using now?” (Vickie cleans for Mom, whose knees are kind of B.E.R.)

“Another upright I bought.”

“What happened to the Shop-Vac?” I’d noticed it wasn’t in the basement.

“Oh, it burnt up.”

I added up the toll: four vacuums in as many years. Seniors shouldn’t have to put up with it. But I postponed my rant and installed the new switch. Unfortunately, it didn’t bring Mom’s favorite back from the dead, so I offered to take it to the Clean Living Store in our town. (They’ve changed the name, but how can I not continue to call it that? It makes me smile. Little else about vacuum cleaners does.)

The Clean Living Store called after a week with sad news. Mom’s vac needed a new motor, but it would cost more than simply buying a new machine. They refused to charge for the autopsy, and said that someone recycles what they have to discard. I appreciate the kind treatment and good corporate citizenship.

Recycle in peace, Mom’s vacuum.

This would be the end of a modern parable that’s unfortunately all too true, except I found the “Stair & Upholstery Brush” in Echo’s trunk—I hadn’t noticed that it fell off. So I have to personally participate in the distribution of the remains.

The brush looks clever but perhaps over-complicated; a bitty squirrel-cage fan inside it drives a rotating brush. I see some sellers trying to move them on eBay. I don’t know if they succeed. I might try, though. I prefer any act of resistance to consumerist culture to tossing it in the trash.

Eureka Stair & Upholstery Brush 81295-2

Eureka Stair & Upholstery Brush 81295-2

shedding style: resell
destination: eBay

Comments welcome … have a good B.E.R. story to share?


mechanical kitchen timer

A couple years ago, my interest was caught by a mention of using the “Pomodoro technique” to help focus attention and give some structure to work-time. In its most basic form, one sets a timer for 25 minutes, then engages with a single task. At the “ding,” the timer is reset for a five-minute break. When the break is over, another “pomodoro” (25-minute work session) begins. If you’re thinking, “Isn’t pomodoro the Italian word for ‘tomato,’?” you’re correct. The then-grad-student who invented the technique used a kitchen timer shaped like everyone’s favorite summer vegetable to meet his study goals.

Nimue and I find the technique useful, as do enough other people that Pomodoro timers are as plentiful as tomatoes in late summer. I suspect there are dozens, if not hundreds, of software versions for every platform. Dedicated devices are available for purchase by those who are wired that way. Or, if you like to keep things simple, you can just use a plain old kitchen timer, like the originator.

The concreteness and texture of a mechanical tick and ding appealed to me, so I bought a “vintage” kitchen timer on eBay. After I cleaned it of a coating of aerosolized bacon grease, it worked well at first. Then I guess it got tired. It ticks for a few minutes, then stops. Maybe it thinks it’s a pomodoro break timer.

For months I’ve kept it on the kitchen counter so I could occasionally give it a crank, hoping it would get over it. But it hasn’t. A timer that won’t time is just a decoration, and I don’t want it for that. It’s from the age of steel, so I’ll reluctantly put it in metal recycling.

Fox and Percy just pretend their indifference to the challenges of finding a really good Pomodoro timer.

Fox and Percy just pretend their indifference to the challenges of finding a really good Pomodoro timer.

shedding style: recycle
destination: community recycling stream

Comments welcome … how much time would a timer time if a timer would not time?

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there’s a word for that

“… [A]nything that Hobbits had no immediate use for, but were unwilling to throw away, they called a malthom. Their dwellings were apt to become rather crowded with malthoms, and many of the presents that passed from hand to hand were of that sort.”

—J. R. R. Tolkein, The Fellowship of the Ring

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window sashes

Today I embraced a spur-of-the-moment shed. Clairie and her friend came to look at the double-hung sash windows I have posted to craigslist. Full windows in frames weren’t really what they wanted, though; they hoped to decorate with sashes alone.

“The previous owner of this house left some of those in the crawlspace,” I said. “Would you like to take a look?” Yes, they said, and upon deliberation thought they’d do. How much did I want? “Oh, I’m running a three-for-one special today,” I said cheerfully. “One dollar.”

“Are you sure?” Claire asked uncertainly. I assured her I was. “I like to ask something,” I explained. “That way whoever is taking something has some investment in it. But it’s a symbol. It doesn’t have to be much. And you’re helping me lighten up.”

So three sashes, with glass intact, are gone. I’d planned to build a coldframe with those, but I don’t mind letting that project go so I can use the time it would have absorbed for another.

shedding style: release, resell

Comments welcome … do you agree that if you’re confident of what you’re working toward, you can decide in a hurry?


everyday dinnerware

Before Nimue and I met, she had another love: Pfaltzgraff Heritage-White dinnerware. She had four place settings. I came to love the Pfaltzgraff, too, for its simple, clean, sturdy look. When we married, our generous family and friends gave us more of our “casual china” … lots more. We could have seated fourteen for Thanksgiving dinner, if we’d had twelve more chairs.

After a few years that seemed like a few settings more than we needed, and we gave some away. Also finitude took a toll; the bowls seemed particularly vulnerable. Still we had more than we ever used, so we pruned the collection again, down to four places. Nimue admitted then that she was just a little tired of it; she’d been eating her meals off those white dodecagons for half her life. When we worked in different cities for awhile, I took them to my apartment, and when I came back home, the Pfaltzgraff went into a “might need that again someday” box.

Well, I’m learning to see through the rationalizing untruth of “might someday”: it defers taking responsibility for a choice. So we unpacked the dinnerware from the black hole of that box and are valuing it one last time by shedding it—because the value of “everyday” objects is in their daily use.


shedding style: resell or give away
destination: craigslist or thrift store

Comments welcome … is what’s under your food proportioned to the life you want to live?

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KKT Pro Vic II pedals

1988_cannondale_tandemI’ve mentioned that Nimue and I ride a tandem for recreation and some transportation. We’ve had our 1988 Cannondale for some five years and have added roughly 5000 miles to however many it had already traveled. Tandems undergo more stress than solo bikes (they’re carrying twice the weight), so wear is accelerated. We’re experiencing the results in broken spokes and even a snapped axle. I’ve been staving off the inevitable with repairs, but it’s here: if we want to have more adventures with this bike, it needs new wheels. And if we’re going so far as to build wheels, we might as well truly rig it out for touring and commuting. That means heavy-duty racks, fenders, and dynamo hub-driven lighting, as well as new rims, spokes, and hubs.

So, I thought, the Cannondale will be in the repair stand for longer than we want to be without a tandem to ride. What to do? Obviously, get a temporary tandem! I watched the forums where used bikes are sold, and before too long we brought “Early” home. He’s a 1988 Burley with a chromoly frame and mixed bag of components, some old, some new. He’ll get us through the Cannondale’s down-time, and then we’ll sell him on to someone who wants or needs a good tandem, inexpensively.

Not with the pedals that came on him, though. I took those off and mounted our preferred MKS Sylvan track pedals. I think I’ll adopt the Sakae Ringyo SP-155 set that was under Early’s captain’s seat and try them on Slowjourner Truth—they’d be a nice upgrade. We liked the KKT Pro Vic II pedals that were in the stoker position well enough; in their day, they were a fine Japanese copy of the very best European racing pedals. But the quills have a prong at the end that Nimue can feel through the street shoes she rides in. She has slender feet, so that tells me what small persons elite cyclists tend to be. Even in my racing shoes, I don’t think I could fit my foot to the KKTs.

KKT Pro Vic II pedals with nylon Christophe toe cages and Lapize straps

KKT Pro Vic II pedals with nylon Christophe toe cages and Lapize straps

Kyokuto’s best offering still has its vintage fans, however, so I think I can shed them on eBay. That would help pay my bike account back for the rear brake it had to fund for Early!

shedding style: resell
destination: eBay

Comments welcome … if a little knowledge is a dangerous thing, does knowing a lot about something occasionally complicate your life (as it does mine)?

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bentwood rocker

day five of the WIST chair shed-a-thon

The year Nimue and I were engaged to marry, we bought two large items at a porch sale held by her parents’ next-door-neighbors: an old table saw and a rocking chair. We have both still. The chair appears to be a late-20th-century kit-built piece, so it isn’t old or valuable, but it’s comfortable and comforting. Nimue really, really loves it. Years ago, however, the seat failed. It wound up in storage in my parents’ hill barn with our other put-off projects.

Muffin's never met the rocker before. It requires sniffing.

Muffin’s never met the rocker before. It requires sniffing.

But we brought it back to Georgia last week, and we aren’t getting rid of Nimue’s beloved bentwood rocker. We’re acting deliberately to shed it from our pile of stalled projects instead. As I draft this post, she’s ordering the supplies we need to re-cane the seat. With that and some light refinishing, it should be ready to … (I can’t resist making this pun) … rock on!

shedding style: repair
destination: renewed use and enjoyment

Comments welcome … if you suddenly discovered you had an abundant balance in a TLC account, on what would you spend some tender loving care?


wing chair

day four of the WIST chair shed-a-thon

This chair takes me back to the long-ago-time when I was one of five students renting an old house and nearly everything I owned fit in one room. So I was careful about acquiring anything much thicker than, say, the LPs I bought at the used record store. But I didn’t have a comfortable chair to read in, nor a lamp other than the harsh fixture in the center of the ceiling. I felt those lacks.

And then Grandma and Grandpa moved to a “home” (they needed some level of assisted or skilled care). They gave their children and grandchildren anything that any of us were truly sentimental about. Dad and I took a number of Grandpa’s tools. My brother accepted his camera.

An auction was scheduled for what remained of their belongings. I went to the sale to help out as I could and because I felt I ought to stand as a witness to the transfers. I didn’t plan to bid. But at the very end of the day, after the auctioneer said, “That’s all, folks,” a wing chair and floor lamp were carried out of the house. “We found these in the basement!” an assistant cried. Grandpa finished and furnished a room down there, I recalled, which never got used—in temperate weather we visited on the screen porch, and when it was cold crowded into the living room. Really I think the basement was where Grandpa and Grandma put what they didn’t want but couldn’t part with. They were of a generation that began with very little and made do with it for a very long time.

“Well, there’s a reading chair and lamp,” I thought, and shouted, “Five dollars!” “Sold!” the auctioneer said.

Stuffing was coming out of a rip in the chair’s fabric, and I had to rewire the lamp and find a “mogul base” bulb for it. But I went through a few shelves of books in their company and comfort. And when family friends re-upholstered the chair for me, it looked fantastic. I was a poor grad student, but I had one amazing piece of furniture.

Years passed, though … decades … and sunlight faded dyes. Cats scratched. Fabric wore. The chair needs to be recovered again. Doing it right will cost a lot of money. And it’s a formal piece, meant for a room in a life Nimue and I neither live nor want to live. (A no-cats-allowed room, to boot.) Though the chair belonged to my grandparents, that’s not really my connection. They’d banished it to the basement. I may have owned it longer than they. No, my connection through the chair is to the earnest young man who hoped, some days desperately, that he’d find some wisdom in those books he read.


I did, in some of them. I’ve found some more through paying attention to living. Not enough to keep me from being a fool still sometimes, but enough to know that meaning is in memory, experience, and their expression, not in any object of itself. I’ve searched my heart, and am fairly sure it’s time to let the wing chair go. Since it did, once, belong to our grandparents, I’ll check with my brothers and sister to see if they want to form a connection to it. I may reach out to my cousins as well. It they don’t, I’m not sure what I’ll do with it. I don’t need to know at this point. That’s some wisdom I’ve accepted, too.

shedding style: give away (?)
destination: family (?)

Comments welcome … anyone have any wisdom for me?



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