What I Shed Today

another year of lightening up

– cheaply-made tower fan

Two years ago we had a very wet spring and summer. I’ve lost touch with the climatological numbers, but it rained so often and much that it ended our state-wide drought that began in 2010. “Better damp than drought!” we said.


A price we paid, however, was that, in the high humidity, every surface of organic origin in our home and anything synthetic that we’d touched grew a grey-green film of mold.

It drove Nimue a little crazy. She learned to pronounce the medical names of horrible diseases, washed clothes for days, carried a spray bottle of bleach solution around with her like a sidearm, and bought four new fans. “Air movement,” she said grimly, “discourages it.”

The tower fan went in our clothes closet, where, indeed, it discouraged a return of the mold till the winter heating season began.

Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of fans? Blue's shadow knows.

Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of fans? Blue’s shadow knows.

The next summer, when we wanted to use the tower fan again, it seemed a bit sleepy. And it didn’t wake up. It got slower … and slower … and s-l-o-w-e-r…. “Maybe it would run better if we took it apart and cleaned it,” Nimue suggested. “Sure,” I said, and fetched a different fan to cool us off.

In the way things work around here, a project deferred is often a project delayed. But recently we got around to attempting fan surgery. The case came apart easily enough by backing out some screws. We wiped all the dust off the fins, but the little motor (labeled “no user-serviceable parts inside”) wasn’t encouraged much. Now it won’t turn at all.

I hate cheap junk that barely outlasts its warranty. (Hear that, Big Blue Box Home Improvement Warehouse?) We’d buy better if better were available. Sometimes it’s not.


shedding style: throw away
destination: the landfill

Comments welcome … aren’t goods that last fan-tastic?

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– underbed storage containers

On the first page of almost anything written about organization, you’ll probably read, “a place for everything, and everything in its place.” It makes sense. If clutter is something out of place, it can’t stop being clutter till it has a place and is in it.

For years, Nimue and I knew we had a clutter problem. But we thought our trouble was we didn’t have places enough. So we studied closet organization systems like they were guides to the Holy Grail. I built so many shelves, it appeared I’d opened a small furniture factory. We went on an organizational pilgrimage … to IKEA. And we bought storage containers in great variety and quantity.

Now we think that, though it’s true that everything should have a place, it’s not that we didn’t have enough places. We had too much stuff. Stuff we used often enough we thought we should have extras. Stuff we used seldom. Stuff we never used, but planned to someday. Stuff we never used because it was broken, but imagined we might repair. Stuff we didn’t like, but kept because someone gave it to us. Stuff we once used, but didn’t anymore, but kept because we paid good money for it. Stuff we didn’t want, but thought someone might, so we kept it in hopes that person would knock on the door and ask for it.

All that stuff did need a lot of containers … so many that they became just more stuff to keep ordered, clean, and in its right place.

Now that we’ve been shedding possessions that we don’t like or don’t use, we need fewer storage containers. Like these under-bed jobs that look great because they claimed “wasted space” that otherwise just bred dust-kittens. For me, however, they just became black holes of out-of-sight, out-of-mindness. Nimue put winter clothes in hers … but our mild winter weather didn’t encourage getting them out.


We freed them up by giving away most of those clothes. Now the containers are going, too. Maybe they’ll work better for someone else. We sold two the other day. Two more are available on craigslist.

shedding style: resell
destination: craigslist

Comments welcome … is your desire for containers contained? (We’re still fools for those clear plastic “shoeboxes.”)


– (not very) light fixture

What I shed today is about lightening up … today we took our mission in a slightly different sense. Let me illumine you.…

Our home’s stairwell and small landing at its top have been only faintly lit by a rather puzzling choice of fixture that uses US E12 bulbs—the same as those in nightlights.


No “sink cost fallacy” is going to keep us from shedding this lamp.

Not only were we underwhelmed by its performance, we couldn’t muster any appreciation for its carriage-lamp style. So today we stopped cursing the dark and installed aircraft landing strip lights in its place.

Please forgive the odd stacks of building materials; we're re-modeling. At least now you won't trip over them in the dark!

Hiya! Please forgive the odd stacks of building materials; we’re re-modeling. At least now we won’t trip over them in the dark!

I feel badly giving away something so lame, but perhaps someone renovating a haunted house will think the old light is a great find. To the used-building-materials thrift store it goes.

shedding style: give away
destination: Habitat for Humanity ReStore

Comments welcome … might some different lighting, er, fixture you up, too?

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– pair of license plates

Yanking and shoving tools and supplies on my garage shelves into (slightly) better order, a box corner caught on something flexible yet firm. What’s fallen down there? I wondered, reaching bravely into the dim, cob-webby corner. My hand brought out not spiders (most of which are harmless, right?), but two old license plates.


I don’t recall or recognize them as any of mine; they must’ve been lost by some previous owner of our house. They failed the test of the Morris Rule (neither useful nor beautiful), and ordinarily I would’ve tossed them in our nearest recycling bin, but one commemorated the 1996 Centennial Olympic Games (which were hosted by Atlanta with the help of the rest of the state). And, practiced as I’ve tried to become at refusing it, I fell again for one of my favorite rationalizations to fail to shed: “I don’t want this, but someone surely would.”

How to find that interested collector, though? I tried posting an ad to the “free stuff” category on craiglist and had an inquiry within minutes. Success! I thought, smugly dismissing the reservations I’d felt.

… I fell again for one of my favorite rationalizations to fail to shed: “I don’t want this, but someone surely would.”

But Kenny never came to collect the plates, though I left them leaning on the mailbox post for two days. A second caller’s passionate promise of interest also evaporated overnight. Apparently a challenge of giving something away for nothing is that nothing is the value that may be put on it in our consumer culture.

John, however, was a craigslister of his e-mailed and telephoned word, and he now possesses the plates. I doubt it makes the world a better place … but maybe there’s a slight net increase of happiness. I am, at least, a few ounces lighter.

shedding style: give away
destination: John’s collection

Comments welcome … shall we call a moratorium on collecting other people’s collections?

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– dead auto battery

What strange objects these are: heavy boxes of acid and lead we motor-vehicle users haul about for hours and miles each day so they’ll supply the energy for a few seconds of work. And how strange I seem to myself for keeping this one for so many years.



I bought it for a project car I never got running … the battery survived the shedding of the hulk. Its cells discharged, of course. Worse, the plates sulfated. But I thought that I might succeed in re-charging it, and beyond that find a use for it. I wasn’t sure what use, but sometimes I cling to hope with a throttle-hold.

I finally realized “first things first,” so I clipped the leads of a trickle charger to its terminals and fed it a few amps an hour for about three days. For awhile it seemed the regimen might work, but then something shorted in there. The circuit breaker that protects my charger said, “Finus! Halt! The end! No more!”

Today I left it at an auto supply store (most of them accept batteries for recycling). As practiced as I’ve become at letting useless stuff go, it’s energizing to notice how much lighter I feel.

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– someone else’s books

These books weren’t mine, in neither sense of “ownership” … I didn’t buy or receive them, and they had no claim on me, to urge me to read them. (Mostly they were an incomplete set of a religious denomination’s periodical from 50 years ago.) But they were filling a bottom file drawer in an office I’m responsible for.


To the book recycler they go. I imagine they’ll get ground up into post-consumer pulp. But better that than remaining ballast.

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– little red bowl

I bought this little red bowl for a quarter at a yard sale in Chicago during my first year in grad school there. It appears to have been hand-thrown and somewhat crudely finished. A name is scratched in stilted letters on the bottom, but I can’t make it out. I guessed then, and now, that it was someone’s school art project.


It’s no bigger than a small grapefruit.

I recall I hoped to use it as a planter in my windowsill … I longed for something green to cheer my dorm room. But that wasn’t practical, since the bowl had no drain holes. It found another purpose, though. I’d been emptying my pockets into the top drawer of my dresser, and coins slid around and got lost under my neckties. The bowl received and held them handily.

I’m not sure when I stopped using it for that … after one or another change of address, I guess. For the last few years it’s been in our home office. When we’ve found ourselves holding an odd bit that we wanted to put down, often we’ve dropped it into the bowl. So it’s collected rubber bands, binder and paper clips, pennies, small parts that fall off of things, and astounding amounts of cat hair and dust. But none of that really belongs there. Office supplies are supposed to be in the office supply box. Pennies, in the coin collector. Parts, back on what they fell off of. And so on.

We’ve realized that any container that doesn’t have a decided-upon and declared purpose (best reinforced with a label) will collect junk. We’re shedding our collection of such attractive nuisances. Since the bowl doesn’t particularly please us as domestic art, we’ll pass it on, in hope that someone else will see it and say, “That little red bowl is just the thing!”

shedding style: give away
destination: thrift store

Comments welcome … do you have containers that collect chaos?


+ a prayer in the middle years of opportunity

A friend shared this with me a few years ago. Now it’s time to speak to me has come. (I find it variously attributed, but I’m fairly sure it appears in Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals.)

Lord, help me now to unclutter my life,
to organize myself in the direction of simplicity.
Lord, teach me to listen to my heart;
teach me to welcome change, instead of fearing it.
Lord, I give You these stirrings inside me,
I give You my discontent,
I give You my restlessness,
I give You my doubt,
I give You my despair,
I give You all the longings I hold inside.
Help me to listen to these signs of change, of growth;
to listen seriously and follow where they lead
through the breathtaking empty space of an open door.

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– underground water leak

Though we haven’t posted much lately, we haven’t stopped shedding. One irritation we celebrate ridding our lives of is our recurring underground water leak.

Casa de WIST isn’t all that old; it was built in 1987. That was the year Nimue and I met, in graduate school in Chicago. In the American southeast (where we now live), lots of new homes were going up, and not a few of them were plumbed with polybutylene pipe. It appeared to offer a great advance over copper and galvanized steel: it was cheaper and, since it’s flexible, quicker to install. But out “in the field,” polybutylene hasn’t held up well. The typically grey or blue material gets brittle and develops small cracks that soon widen into large leaks. Thousands of lawsuits about it cumulated in a massive class-action settlement.

We bought too late to get a slice of that, but nevertheless consider ourselves among the more lucky inheritors of the legacy; the pipes inside our house are copper. But between the city’s water meter and our foundation wall, we had a polybutylene supply line.


polybutylene water supply pipe

Nimue keeps a close eye on our utility bills, and thus our consumption of water and electricity. About two years after we moved in, our water use crept up. For one or two months we shrugged it off; maybe we’d washed a lot of clothes or something. But when it continued, we suspected our water line. I confirmed that we had a leak by shutting off the supply (there’s a valve in the crawlspace under the house) and watching the needle on the city’s meter. It kept slowly moving around the dial.

The plumbers we called found the leak handily by casting about for a wet spot in the yard. They dug down and revealed that a tree root had grown around the line and twisted it till it cracked. “You’ve got polybutylene here,” they warned me. “You might want to think about replacing it.” Well, how much would that cost, I asked. About $2000, they said. And the repair? Oh, some $200. Reasoning that we could repair ten leaks for the cost of one water line replacement, I declined.

But two years later, the whole scenario played out again. That time there was no oak tree to blame, just a jet of water shooting out of a hole in the pipe. Again, it turned a few square feet into a wetland and wasn’t hard to find.

But this spring, when our bills rose yet again, our plumbers couldn’t find the leak. They dug, they probed, but finally shrugged and departed, suggesting that it might have to get worse (so they could find it) before it got better. After they left, I probed and I dug, too, till the sweat of my brow threatened to make a wet spot on the earth. (Have I mentioned our soil is Georgia clay, the same stuff that gets baked into bricks?) But after hours of hard labor, I couldn’t find it either.

All the while, Nimue and I—who strive to be conservative in consumption if not our politics—were turning the water off at the meter when we went to bed at night and turning it back on before I made coffee first thing in the morning. It wasn’t all that demanding a routine, but it got tiresome quickly, especially with no end in sight. Except the end of doing the right thing and having the whole substandard line replaced. We checked our bank balance, sighed, and gave the go-ahead.

Kevin and Jimmy showed up the next day with a yellow mini-monster of an earth-mover and a will to get the job done. All along I’d feared having to cut our concrete driveway (the line runs under it), but they assured me they knew a trick or two. They found the two ends on either side of the slab, snaked a cable through the existing line, winched a splitter back through it, and then threaded the new line through the tunnel they’d made. It worked a charm. Before the middle of the afternoon they were gone, the driveway was still sound, the bill was $1300 instead of $2000, and we were looking forward to going to sleep without having to make the trek out to the meter in the dark.

In sum, when next we learn that we’ve got a structural issue that tends to lead to inefficiency or waste, we plan to address it sooner rather than later.

shedding style: replace

Comments welcome … have you a story about shedding waste by means of an upgrade?


– the tandemobile

We’re back! And today’s shed is a rather big one.

1992 Ford Aerostar,

1992 Ford Aerostar, “the tandemobile”

I can’t remember how long ago I met the tandemobile—perhaps 15 years past. It’s a 1992 Ford Aerostar mini-van, a really rather useful melding of a passenger car chassis with a light-duty truck frame. My father acquired it as grandchildren began to multiply, so he and Mom could take them all into town to eat out. After complications due to glaucoma took his eyesight, my brothers and I were designated its drivers on those family outings. And when Dad finally decided to sell the Aerostar, Nimue and I bought it, because we’d just planned a big family gathering and we wanted to haul the g-kids to the mountain vistas their fathers and I so enjoyed when we were their age.

We intended to sell it immediately afterward. But one of us wondered: if we took the seats out, would the tandem bicycle fit in the back?

Ready, set, swallow!

Ready, set, swallow! (Not pictured: the bar we concocted with a fork-mount block to secure the tandem.)

By about half an inch, it did.

So the Aerostar became the tandemobile. For the last few years, it’s hauled the bike to dozens of rallies and remote ride starts. We’ve even slept in it a couple times when we didn’t want to bother with pitching a tent.

But “entropy happens.” We dealt with it as it arose. I deliberated and decided to spend a day or two crouching on concrete and straining to remove and replace most of the brake system. I signed the credit-card authorization (gulp!) to have the air conditioning system converted to R134a. But replace the whole front-end (that is, pretty much all the steering and suspension parts)? It’s a job—if you don’t have a lift and a shop, or on the other hand a $um more than the vehicle is worth—that requires banging away with chisels and hammers for hours whilst twisted into a pretzel underneath the beast. Not for me, not after some wisdom’s finally begun, however painfully, to accrue in my body and brain.

We spent today giving the tandemobile a bath and manicure before advertising it for sale on craigslist. I told the truth about what it needs. (How could I not?) There are guys and gals younger than me out there, with bodies less worn and spirits hungrier, who’ll be willing to tackle it. But at this point in the adventure of my life, I think I’ll save my hunger for riding and the road.

shedding style: resell
destination: someone else’s life

Comments welcome … what might you shed today?



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