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Heaving down the duplex

Alex Miller
Vail CO, Colorado
Special to the DailyAlex Miller
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Editor’s note: Alex Miller is away this week but left a Mountain Family column from the archives.

In the days of wooden ships, nothing slowed a guy down more than having a hull full of weeds, barnacles and worms. In dry dock, they’d heave down the ship and scrape it all off, a much-relieved captain sailing off later with a “clean bottom,” confident that he could get a few more knots out of his vessel.

My family needs whatever the equivalent of a dry dock is. With spring here (sort of), our duplex needs to be heaved down, turned out and relieved of the weeds and barnacles that have accumulated ” in this case a landfill’s worth of old or outgrown clothes, toys, sports gear and a potpourri of random crapola that finds its way into our garage like stray cats to a wharf.

It’s a two-car garage, but the floor has never felt a tire tread since we’ve lived there.

I noticed the other day that we have a large, plastic jack-o-lantern that was never even displayed last Halloween. Ditto a large, plastic Easter egg/bunny thing that was given to me free by a hardware store guy the day after Easter one year. Now, I know why it was free.

Children have this pesky habit of growing constantly, and it’s hard to keep track of all the stuff and whether it fits anyone or not. We’ll come across boxes of clothes saved for a little brother, only to find the would-be hand-me-down recipient has already grown past the sizes. Ski boots, ice skates, poles, skis, in-line skates and the like similarly are accumulating, and it’s a rare event when we get the chance with compare the gear to the people in the house to see what can go.

When we do, there’s always the discussion about what to do with it: save it for theoretical grandchildren, donate it, trash it or have a garage sale. The last option is something we’ve decided, after several experiences, is never worth the time (up early, work all day, make a hundred bucks).

There was that show, “Kung Fu,” when I was growing up. It was about a Chinese priest who walked around the U.S. protecting little people, and all he had were the clothes on his back and a small bag slung over his shoulder. He had a flute he played and, presumably, a change of underwear and maybe a toothbrush in his bag.

And that was it.

I know I could never be that guy, but I’d like to try. What if each kid had, like, five toys, three sets of clothes and one mess kit they had to clean by hand in the sink after meals? We’d have one, noncabled TV, share a computer, use public transportation exclusively and leave the heat lower than 65 in favor of heavy sweaters (although I have to admit I already do this).

You can’t fire a dad, but my kids could try to sue me over such changes. A modern judge might even award them damages, perhaps citing “parenting that denies children certain amenities consistent with the culture they were raised in.”

Accumulating stuff is so much a part of our here-and-now that it’s almost laughable to suggest there’s another way. The so-called “simple” movement may be nice in theory, but have you ever seen a woman stripped of her curling iron or a man separated from his remote?

Even if we got all our sofa-surfing 21-year-old’s stuff out of the garage, all the old clothes and nonfitting gear and random junk, the dried-up paint cans and nonfunctioning small appliances, would we end up feeling empty, like we don’t have enough stuff? What if there’s a flood, the apocalypse, anarchy ” aren’t we going to need that box of old TV cable for something?

Maybe the better answer is to go with the flow. For us, even if we purged the most obviously purge-able, there would still be no room in the garage for a car.

And I’ve gotten to be pretty handy with the snowbrush this season.

Alex Miller can be reached at 748-2920 or amiller@vaildaily.com.


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