April 24, 2014: We just got back from an amazing vacation — a 9-day trip down memory lane. It didn't take us to exotic or even glamorous locales, but it still provided plenty of adventure and the best thing about it was, it was free. Well, almost free, unless you count the miscellaneous side trips we took to the store to acquire the necessary provisions for our journey. The other advantage was that we didn't have to travel far to get there. No further than our garage, in fact. And once there, there were ample activities to keep us occupied throughout our incredible road trip.
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As has been the case with most of our recent vacations, we eschewed extensive or expensive travel plans in favor of getting stuff done at home. It isn't like there is a shortage of projects, but usually the thing we lack is time or motivation. Topping the list of things we've wanted to accomplish — for several years now — is a top-to-bottom cleaning of the garage. We'd put it off for so long that the stuff that once fit comfortably in the space our cars have never seen eventually started to not fit so comfortably, then began sneaking its way into other portions of the house. The Writing Sanctuary where Glenn once composed his NaNoWriMo novels has become littered with boxes and bags of stuff. The hallways leading to Ben's room and our master bedroom have become gathering points for stacks of Roni's books and Delta Science Center paperwork. Our living room fireplace is now a convenient spot to store Glenn's tools and our collection of half-finished craft projects. Even the backyard has not escaped the creeping clutter, as the former garden on the east side of the property has become piled with the remnants of the spa we dismantled nearly four years ago. Weeds and broken chairs and aging tools have made their way to other corners. Clearly we could no longer afford to ignore the garage and its nearly quarter-century of content.
Usually any discussion about whether to clean the garage is a non-starter. If Roni mentions it (and let's be honest, it's always Roni who mentions it before Glenn) the excuses range from it being too nice (or crappy) a weekend to more pressing matters that need attending to, such as watching TV or going to the grocery store. It seemed we were destined to never disturb a single speck of dust that had settled in the garage. But then in late March came our equivalent of Spring Break, and a rare moment in which Glenn thought he might one day like to have a workshop in the garage to do woodworking projects. Suddenly he found the motivation that had been lacking for the last 20 years and decided it was the perfect opportunity to go on a cleaning spree.
Not one to pass up such a rare opportunity, Roni didn't even object when it was decided that we should start the cleanup the weekend of her birthday. She just figured it would be part of any present she might otherwise receive, and simply said, "Where do you want to start?" For Glenn's part, he figured (foolishly) that the cleanup would be a breeze if concentrated into a full weekend; take half the clutter and go through it on Saturday, then tackle the other half on Sunday. Done!
Because the garage was so overstuffed that there was no place left in it to sort the stuff that we needed to go through, step one was to create a place temporarily to put things. That place was in our backyard, under the evergreen ash tree. We spent part of that Saturday morning raking out the remaining autumn leaves, smoothing the sand, and clearing a path from the garage side door to the tree. Meanwhile, Roni hauled out the weedwacker and mowed down the space between our kitchen and the tomato garden. Hardly necessary, as we had plenty of room to store stuff under the ash tree, but it would make it easier to walk along the path to get there without getting stickers in our socks or shoes in the process.
With space cleared outdoors, we began the process of moving stuff outside. A few boxes of newspapers and toys first, then some gardening tools, some wood we had leaning up against a shelf, a pile of tangled chicken wire, crates with stored track and buildings from Glenn's old garden railway, books, computer monitors... Before we realized what was happening, all the available space under the ash tree was filled and both sides of the path Roni had cleared were lined with stuff. We'd more or less categorized items into piles — tools over here, wood over there, newspapers and magazines under the tree — but we hadn't even gone through a quarter of the garage and already were running out of room for stuff outdoors.
Our initial strategy had been simply to move boxes outdoors and not waste time looking through them until later, which would slow us down as we started revisiting the memories inside them and agonizing over what to save and what to toss. But we realized that unless we did that, all the stuff we were pulling out of the garage would only find its way back there, which would solve nothing. So at some point we took a break from the moving of boxes and began popping lids to investigate.
Roni is a pro when it comes to reducing clutter. She prefers to throw away just about everything, so you might then wonder how we've acquired so much junk over the years. That's because opposites attract, and Glenn can't bear to part with much of anything. Every scrap of paper he's gathered becomes a potential collectible, and many such items have found their way into boxes that wind up "temporarily" housed in the garage for future disposition. The problem is, he never finds the time to return to the boxes, so they just keep piling up. Before you go pointing fingers and screaming "HOARDER!" at him, consider that he is not adverse to throwing things away, just methodical about doing so. Going box by box to separate the wheat from the chaff could take... months. And without such huge blocks of time to tackle such a task, the job never gets started. Or at least it didn't until now.
But there are some things that Glenn has grown very attached to that admittedly he didn't want to throw away, which were the many newspapers he had accumulated from 25 years as an editor, reporter and page designer. Not only did he save every copy of everything he had ever worked on, but he had also accumulated papers from many of the towns we'd visited on prior vacations. Lots of weeklies and a few major dailies with historic or not-so-historic front pages that he had preserved in neatly stacked cardboard boxes. The boxes numbered at least a dozen, with newspapers dating to the late 1980s. It was an era of newspapering that disappeared with the Internet, and one that brought fond memories to someone who was a part of it. But the boxes were out of control and the space they occupied in our garage desirable, so it was time for (some of) them to go.
The piles were condensed. Some of the innards of those old weeklies were tossed in the recycling bin. Many of the duplicate copies of Glenn's work papers were also sacrificed. And after much deliberation, he decided that as much as he loved the complete collection of six years worth of Brentwood News editions he had saved from his time as editor, he wasn't likely to ever look at them all again. He saved out a few select copies and set aside the rest to donate for historical archives. He sacrificed piles of clips from some of his later papers too. Not as many as Roni might have hoped for, but it was a significant step for someone who doesn't like to part with cherished things.
Given that Glenn had sacrificed some of the stuff he held most dear, getting rid of the lesser items came a little easier. We started a trash pile as well as ones for recyclable paper, metal, wood and e-waste. Empty cardboard boxes began to stack up, and Roni helped Ben squash them down and tie them up. There had been rat and mouse activity in the garage a couple of years ago, and they had chewed their way into some of the boxes. We decided it would be wise to switch to plastic storage containers for anything that we wanted to protect, so we made a run to Walmart and cleared their shelves of large plastic boxes. Roni had discovered years worth of old credit card and bank statements, so we also purchased a shredder to turn them all into confetti. We were making progress, but not fast progress.
Even before the end of the weekend it was clear that Glenn's two-day plan for the garage was a fantasy. We revised our timetable, allowing ourselves until Tuesday to complete the task. There were two reasons for this: first, we didn't want to spend our wedding anniversary (Wednesday, March 26) cleaning the garage; second, the weather forecast called for rain. The imperative approach of inclement weather meant we at least had to be sure the backyard was clear of things we cared about that might get wet. Glenn was making progress through his newspaper boxes, but there were other things packed in cardboard that wouldn't survive. By the time the clouds and wind arrived Tuesday morning, we had secured enough space in the first half of the garage to start putting those things back inside. The rain began late that afternoon, just as we finished moving the perishables back inside. Just like that, all the space we had created vanished. Worse, many things had been pulled from boxes and were now sitting everywhere, taking up shelf space that we needed, slowing us down.
There comes a point in any project when you realize it was something other than how you originally envisioned it, and that point with the garage was when buckets of rain were falling outdoors, turning our waste paper and cardboard to mulch, while inside we had yet to tackle the second half of the pile – the place where stacks of lumber, bags of concrete and an old desk loaded with paint cans lurked. We'd be able to work indoors while the rain did its thing, but there was no way we were close to finishing. Still, Roni was determined to conquer as much of the task as could be managed before Glenn returned to work.
We slaved away for our anniversary, breaking just long enough to take in a romantic dinner that night at Johnny Garlic's in Brentwood. Thursday we were back at it, and Friday, and Saturday, and Sunday. We made a run to Home Depot and bought some pegboard and metal brackets that we used to organize our garden tools, hanging them up on the walls behind and adjacent to the side door. We also decided to purchase a portable high-intensity LED lamp so we could have better light while we were working with the door closed. We cleared out a spot on one wall to store all our Halloween and Christmas decorations, which previously had been trapped in uncovered storage tubs in the middle of the garage floor. Glenn did his best to make use of every available nook and cranny along the wall, stacking boxes to the roof wherever he could. The top shelves bowed under the weight of boxes loaded with books, magazines, and years' worth of TV Guides dating to the mid 1970s. Everything fit together with puzzle-like precision, so much so that Glenn is convinced it will never come down again until the day we move or our heirs clear out the house after we're gone. About the only space we didn't use to its fullest was in the rafters, which weren't built to support much more weight than the roof. We have a few small boards and some foam sheets up there, and that's plenty.
It was Saturday by the time we at last reached the wood and the paint cans, and while the pile seemed daunting it actually was easier to work through because there were few boxes to sort through; it was either an item worth saving or tossing, in most cases. We figured out what wood was worth keeping and set the scraps aside for recycling. We determined that about half the paint cans were empty and set those aside for the household hazardous waste drop-off. The concrete we relocated from its pile in the middle of the garage to a neat stack close to the wall, in front of which we moved Glenn's table saw. Because of the rodent problems, everything got swept several times, and it was incredible how much dust, dirt and sand had accumulated over the years.
With metal brackets we had recovered and some of the choice pieces of particle board we had lying around, Glenn built more wall shelves to hold the remaining paint supplies. A cabinet we had removed from the laundry room six years ago to make room for our stackable washer and dryer was remounted near the paint shelves, above the table saw, and will serve as a place to store some of Glenn's small tools. The front corner of the garage now has enough space to store all of Roni's Delta Science Center gear, and she wants to buy a metal storage rack so she can keep it all handy for her busy festival schedule during the summer and fall months.
By the end of Sunday, March 30, the last day of Glenn's vacation, we were able to look at the garage and while not celebrate the completion of the cleanup, at least smile with the knowledge we had made a serious dent in the pile. Nine days of nonstop cleaning had reduced the clutter by at least half and provided us with the incentive to keep going. Next up: the inside of the house. Most of the stuff there will probably find its way out into the space we just emptied in the garage, but at least we won't be tripping over it in our living space.
The cleanup also left us with a gigantic pile of crap in the side yard that we must now figure out how to get rid of. The obvious solution is to rent a Dumpster from the garbage company, but the better solution before resorting to that option is to use every inch of available space in our garbage and recycling bins, since we're already paying for that in our monthly garbage bill. So each Thursday evening since the cleanup, we've been emptying shredded paper and stacking cardboard for pickup, grabbing whatever bag from the side of the house that fits and squeezing it into the trash container. That method may take us another six months to get rid of everything, and there is a limit to our patience. Roni is eager to chuck the three mattresses that are sitting on the front porch. We can't stuff them in a small can, obviously, and who would want them after years of gathering rodent droppings and spiders? We'll probably eventually have to pay someone to take them, but we're waiting to see if it is more economical to send them away with a junk hauler as part of a larger pickup; we still have to get rid of all the old spa debris in the backyard, plus the wood from the garage that is too large for us to cart away ourselves.
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LEST YOU READ this and think we did nothing else this past month but clean the garage (which essentially was the case) you can rest assured that we did find time for a few other activities. First of all, we celebrated Roni's 52nd birthday on March 23 with a family dinner at Mello's Pizza in Brentwood, after which we ventured next door to pick out an ice cream cake from our favorite place, John's Ice Cream. Roni was quite pleased with her main gift, a Hamilton Beach crock pot to replace another crock pot that finally broke after many years of slow-cooked meals.
On March 26, we celebrated our 26th wedding anniversary by checking out the new Johnny Garlic's restaurant at Streets of Brentwood. We'd been curious to try it after learning that it is owned by celebrity chef Guy Fieri of Food Network fame. It wasn't all we had hoped for, but it was a pleasant evening out on the town.
Roni has gotten back into full swing with her Delta Science Center activities, putting together booths for two events during the recent Oakley Science Week. April 6 found us at Big Break Regional Shoreline for a Sunday morning lesson in water testing received by dozens of visitors. Then on April 12, we were at the Ironhouse Sanitary District offices for the DSC's live bird show presented by Native Bird Connections and hay ride tours of the wastewater treatment plant. Now Roni's and her volunteers are revamping the rice field on Jersey Island for this year's rice growing research project with UC Davis. The group is trying some changes to the greenhouse this year in hopes of avoiding the problems that arose last summer with heavy winds damaging the structures. We've had some rain recently that saturated the rice field, so hopefully that will be dry enough when it comes time for planting in early May. Stay tuned.
That's going to have to wrap things up for this month. We'll share more in May.