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Pre-Spring Cleaning at Wadsworth’s Shop

“How can we recognize a little sooner when something from our past might really help us again someday or if it’s already done its work? If it’s already outlived its usefulness and just needs to be forgotten? Worse yet how do we recognize when it’s holding us back or wasting our energy or maybe even — you know — displacing better things; thwarting our happiness?”

“Another thing that I always procrastinate is making a big change in my work environment or routine
— even though I know it’s going to be a good thing. It’s crazy but my reaction — once I finally carve out the time to do it — is always the same, ‘Why oh why didn’t I do this years ago?’ That thought is usually accompanied by a curious low-level regret.

I wonder if I’m ever really going to learn this lesson.”

You have to keep downsizing. My mother kept downsizing until her 104th year. Never caught up with it.

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  • tim March 16, 2021, 9:28 AM

    Finally cleaned out my garage after 15 years last summer. I wonder at my procrastination after walking through it, and being able to find what I’m looking for immediately, every single time now.

  • Mike Anderson March 16, 2021, 9:39 AM

    Did this a couple of years ago for a shop one-tenth the size of the EC’s. Wow! all kinds of room, and lots of tools and supplies I didn’t even know I had (why do I have TWO 100′ tapes??). Now spend about a half-hour each week “puttering,” keeping things in order and doing minor fix-ups; my wife thinks I’m some kinda handyman genius.

  • James ONeil March 16, 2021, 10:50 AM

    Alas I’ve not learned the lesson yet. I’ll clear and organize the work area in my garage shop, tools stored, workbench pristine, but 2-3 days later…

  • Teresa Pittman March 16, 2021, 11:00 AM

    I have been packing to move for three years now. Some of it was done by other people. Then my husband died last year and I need even less of it. I am going back through stuff again. I am making myself give up a lot of books, but I have some things I just can’t part with yet. They are things I bought to play around with when I retire. And since that hasn’t happened, I’ve had no time to use them. Living in a place all torn up like this is so stressful. And I can’t put things right because they won’t be staying here.

  • ghostsniper March 16, 2021, 11:45 AM

    I just need a 50′ extension on the workshop and then everything will be hunky dory. Right now it’s just a big room with paths between projects. It’ll get better when it warms up around here.

  • Jewel March 16, 2021, 1:45 PM

    When my father died, he left me a pile of worn out fake books. These were jazz pieces with his own chord changes and riffs. Alas, Jazz is something I can only play on my record player, and I’m stuck with a 30 lb box of secret jazz codes I will never be able to decipher.

  • Snakepit Kansas March 16, 2021, 7:14 PM

    DAMM ALL OF YOU!!!! You shamed me into it. I got home from work all worn out but still thinking about all the replies above, knowing I have a messy garage…started throwing junk away, swept it out, much more work to do.

  • Hale Adams March 16, 2021, 7:22 PM

    About 20 years ago, I got in the habit of stopping by Wonder Books in Frederick and in Hagerstown, and buying books on electronics from the ’30s, ’40s, and ’50s. (I’m a ham-radio operator, and vacuum-tube electronics fascinates me.)

    Two or three years ago, I had to stop — the collection was threatening to implode my apartment into a black hole, so I got rid of about a quarter of it. I still have too darn many books on old-time electronics — maybe 75 linear feet of bookshelves ….. ? I’ll never get to them all. Also, I had to stop because the supply dried up — I think a lot of the books were from the estates of World War II vets and other older guys who got their start in the field of electronics circa 1940, and they’re all gone now. *winces*

    Last year was also supposed to be the year that I started getting rid of some hardware, too — I’m addicted to General Radio equipment. Before there was Hewlett-Packard, there was General Radio. If HP (now Agilent) is the Cadillac of test equipment, GR was Rolls-Royce. I have a GR model 740 capacitance test bridge that was probably made in 1945, and it still works perfectly. It’s a very handy gizmo, about the size of a small suitcase (the modern transistorized equivalent probably would fit in a shirt pocket), and it’s the best $15 I ever spent at a hamfest.

    Maybe once the hamfests open up again, I can start unloading stuff not related to battery-powered portable radios from the ’30s and ’40s. except for stuff that would be at home in a ham-shack circa 1945 or ’50.

    It’s amazing what those old-timers could do with not very much, at least by modern standards. I think it’s true what Thomas Edison is supposed to have said about how an inventor needs a good imagination and a large pile of junk. So many of our modern-day electronic miracles have their roots in the desperate times of the 1930s — the old-timers found new uses for old junk because that’s all they had.

    And I see that I’m “running off at the keyboard” again.

    My two cents’ worth, as usual.

    Hale Adams
    Pikesville, People’s still-mostly-Democratic Republic of Maryland

  • jwm March 16, 2021, 8:07 PM

    About three years ago I had the garage almost where I wanted it. All that was left was to sort and store the zillion miscellaneous tools and bits of bike hardware on the bench. Then I very suddenly had to make room out there for the entire estate of a deceased friend. Friend’s stuff is gone, but the garage is still a rat’s nest.
    Even so. After my father died I inherited his lifelong accumulation of tools, hardware, found objects, parts off some damn thing or other, and an entire cabinet full of bicycle stuff.
    I cannot tell you how many times I have searched around in that junk, and found exactly the right odd-ball part, some bit of hardware, or some obsolete, left handed thing-a-ma-bob to mickey-mouse into something else, and just the right tool to do it with. I sometimes get the feeling Dad still is out there tryin’ to lend me a hand with stuff. I’ll get it cleaned up as soon as I’m done with the stone…


  • ghostsniper March 17, 2021, 4:54 AM

    Birds and other creatures come into my workshop in the summer because I leave the overhead doors open for air flow. One of my projects this year is to build large screen doors to enclose the openings.

    Last year I discovered a birds nest in the back corner of the top shelf on the right, over the workbench along the back wall. The nest had been hidden from floor view by half a dozen rattle cans. I had no idea how long that nest had been there so I watched it for several days and saw no activity so I removed it, saw broken egg shells in it, and put it in the burn barrel. A couple days later I walked out to the burn barrel and saw a wren fly out of that nest. So I took the next out of the barrel and placed it among the branches of a large shrubery, who knows, maybe the wrens will reclaim it this year.

    Of the assorted creatures that frequent the workshop the woods mice are the ones I detest because they are harmful. They pull bits of insulation from the walls and stash it in various places for comfy beds. I have put down several types of traps but the mice persist. One day last fall there was a sticky trap next to one of the large overhead doors, on the floor, and I heard a ruckus over there. I looked and one of the wrens was stuck in it. Those traps are VERY sticky. I picked the trap and the wren up and it struggled in fear. Amazing how complex a birds feathers are. I set about removing the wren from the trap. It wasn’t nice. I tried to be gentle but at the same time forceful because the stickyness was so aggressive. Large patches of wren feathers were unsaveable. After a minute a calm came over the wren, I think it recognized I was there to help it, and I was able to do my EMT work on it. After about 5 minutes I got it loose and set it on the floor. One wing was damaged and it held it out stretched as it ran across the gravel driveway, then under my truck. I went back to whatever I had been doing but looked outside for the wren but never saw it again.

    The next morning my wife said she seen a wren that looked like it went through a hurricane backwards as it skirmished in the shrubs along the front of the porch on the house some 100′ away from where I released it. We have hanging planters under the roof beam on that porch and every year a variety of birds take up residence in them and create brand new families. A pair of wrens have been in one plant for about 8 years now. I think one of the pair was the one I had saved. We frequently see the wrens everyday and neither one seems the worse for wear so if the damaged one is one of them it has recovered nicely. We had 35 bird feeders scattered throught the yard and everyday my wife sets out on her journey with a large Maxwell House coffee container full of sunflower seeds placing handfuls in the feeders. We go through about 50 pounds a month. The birds, especially cardinals, follow her around. We likes the birds.

  • jd March 17, 2021, 5:38 AM

    Lovely story, Ghost.

  • Nobody Atall March 17, 2021, 6:24 AM

    We downsized 3 years ago, now we have a slightly smaller house and a chaotic garage. I keep telling myself that it’s the kids’ things — they aren’t quite quite launched yet, with their own houses, so I “need” to hold onto these things for them for awhile. Someday, even I won’t find that convincing. I’m a ninny.

  • Annie Rose March 17, 2021, 7:10 AM

    Having to deal with my parent’s home following the passing of my dad has been a huge motivator to me and my husband to clean up our own crap. We never want our kids to have to deal with the mountains of paperwork (68 years) and other stuff we had to go through. There are places that will assist with helping you downsize if you are moving, and with the estate sale and donations to charity. A senior moving/ relocation service was a miracle worker for us in helping my mom when she decided to move into assisted living. She downsized from a home into a studio apartment. They made her new home look like a little piece of the old one and she loved it. We are currently working on our basement, and also clearing out materials from my small business now that I am retired. I’m so looking forward to the open space, both physically and mentally. It is a fine line between the comfort of our stuff and it becoming a millstone around our necks that weighs us down.

  • Cris March 17, 2021, 8:07 AM

    jwm said:
    > I cannot tell you how many times I have searched around in that junk, and found exactly the right odd-ball part, some bit of hardware, or some obsolete, left handed thing-a-ma-bob to mickey-mouse into something else, and just the right tool to do it with

    I’m convinced this kind of pay-off is quite similar to what keeps people pumping money into slot machines. There may not be as many bells and flashing lights, but the excitement is the same. Unfortunately, it seems to be more exciting the longer you’ve had the thing.

  • Mike Guenther March 17, 2021, 12:35 PM


    About building more shop space, don’t forget Boston’s Irreversible Law of Clutter: In any household, junk accumulates to fill the space available for its storage.

    Build a bigger shop space and you will accumulate more junk to fill it up. I’ve been finding new old stock in original packaging I put up 20 years ago. Maybe one of these days, it will come back in style.

  • Gordon Scott March 17, 2021, 2:18 PM

    I think the trick is to have garage sales, not to attend them. That way, you can avoid purchasing that really cool, huge Black and Decker (stainless steel) electric drill that oozes oil. I mean, it’s nice, but it’s a two-handed beast and not all that powerful, either.

    I have no idea how many extension cords I have, but somehow I always seem to need one more.

  • ghostsniper March 17, 2021, 2:22 PM

    14 years ago I gutted the master bath as it’s layout was not appropriate to our lifestyle. The old bath had a tiny little room with the toilet in it and there was a giant 8’x6′ hot tub with the jets and pump. A 4′ vanity with 2 oval sinks and a teeny, tiny shower, about 3’x3′ jammed in the corner as an after thought. All of the components were good quality stuff, solid surface counter, Kohler fixtures, oak cabinets, and the tub was Jacuzzi. But none of it worked for us so it had to go.

    I stripped the walls to the studs, the ceiling to the trusses, and the floor to the joists, and started over with a clean slate. We have a long history with Kohler fixtures and their lifetime warranty so we stuck with them. We don’t do tubs (sitting in your own filth) but a large shower, every dam day, is mandatory. As we don’t use the bathroom at the same time so walls around the toilet are not necessary. And a true his n hers vanity at least 6 feet long is required as well. My wifes personal preference was white fixtures and cabinets with light blue marble countertop.

    It took about 2 months for me alone to complete that chore, as it was on the 2nd floor and it rained almost every day. But when it was done I had a bunch of stuff to get rid of. All wood was burned in the firepit and all drywall and other non-burnables were taken to the dump. That shower and giant tub had to be cut up with a recip saw to get them out of there, but I salvaged the pump which I still have somewhere in the workshop. The cabinets were set out by the road with a “free” sign taped to them and they were gone within an hour. All that was left was the shitter. My wife and I both agreed that sitting it at the road with the “free” sign just wouldn’t do. What would the passersby think? It is a real nice shitter. Kohler brand, white, lo-flo, little raised edge around the back and sides of the tank lid, cost about $400 new, and should work perfectly with a new valve and flapper and seat, and maybe a good dusting. But what to do with it? I asked a couple people if they wanted it for free but with cutting eyes and negative responses I quickly backed off that idea. So that lovely vessel sits in a corner of the workshop with stuff stacked up on it waiting it’s final destiny. My wife called Spicer’s Refuse this morning to pick up our old washer and grill and most likely I’ll haul that old shitter out to the truck too. Good bye old friend, you served us well so long ago.

  • ghostsniper March 17, 2021, 2:24 PM

    How much you want for that drill Gordon? HA!

  • HH March 18, 2021, 5:36 AM

    Writer Loren Eaton’s advice on collecting books, and giving books away. It is tough love, baby, tough love.

  • Russ March 18, 2021, 7:22 AM

    A couple years ago, wife an I downsized from a 20 acre horse farm, 3600 sq ft home and 2000 square foot workshop containing everything used to build and maintain the farm…….to a 2/3 acre lot and 2000 sq. ft. home and no additional out buildings on the property. IT WAS PAINFUL. Have to do another round soon. That will be very painful too as it is dealing with all the things that made it through the “first cut” and most of it I haven’t used since the move.

  • azlibertarian March 18, 2021, 8:44 AM

    A little over 2 years ago, Mrs. azlib and I moved half a mile into what we hope will be our They’re-Gonna-Have-to-Carry-Me-Out-Dead home. We’re both extremely happy with our choice, but one thing that has me especially happy is that I finally have enough room in the garage for a proper workshop. Nothing Wadsworth-quality, mind you, but big enough that I can actually have both a workshop bench and a reloading bench without one spilling over onto the other. I started out with a rule (that I have quickly been drifting away from) that anything I keep has to have a place to be stored, and if I’m storing anything on the floor, it has got to have wheels. Regarding @jwm finding treasure among dad’s old box of “…right odd-ball part[s], some bit of hardware, or some obsolete, left handed thing-a-ma-bob“, I used the opportunity of our move to go in the other direction. I had bowls, jelly jars, storage drawers of all kinds of stuff that I just tossed. If I hadn’t used it in a mumble-mumble decade or so, what likelihood would I use it in the future? As I was packing up my old garage, I sat one day and went through my hardware and got rid of every slotted wood screw I could lay my eyes on. Big or little, they all went into the trash. I hate those things….every damn time I tried to use one, the screwdriver (manual or electric) would slip out of the slot, and I’d mar the wood or stab a finger. If you’re the least bit handy, you’ll know that there are much better screws available today than the junk I was buying 30 years ago.

  • ghostsniper March 18, 2021, 10:34 AM

    azlib said: “…there are much better screws available today…”
    Indeed there are, but it always comes back to “what the mission is”.
    I did a large deck a few years ago and found 3″ coated square drive (SD) screws invaluable. Prior to that I had been using Phillips. You can put a SD in the bit and it’ll stay there no matter what. I used over 7000 screws in that deck and every one of them was drilled first to prevent splitting. 2 Ryobi 18V drills were used, one with the drill bit and the other with the driver bit.

    Torx are no good if you’re in a hurry, takes to long to line all them teefs up.

  • EX-Californian Pete March 18, 2021, 1:06 PM

    I “downsized” a little over two years ago. It was kinda involuntary.
    I got rid of both my Harleys, my machine shop, my work truck, motor home, Jeep Cherokee, construction tools and equipment, gunsmithing equipment and supplies, almost 68,000 rounds of ammo, reloading presses, powder, primers, dies, etc., several antique drum kits & vintage cymbals, several irreplaceable antique firearms, all my furniture, family heirlooms, and 97% of all my possessions- all in one day!

    That was on November 8, 2018.