, , , , ,

As I pass through neighborhoods in the great land of Suburbania*, I have observed what I think is a disturbing trend. I cannot help but notice the number of open garage doors and what is inside those spaces. It usually isn’t cars but stuff. Stuff. Not just a little bit of stuff but a whole LOT of stuff. And I mean a ton of items either thrown in pell-mell and stacked haphazardly, or carefully packed to the corners and stacked to the rafters with only a small path wide enough to pass through the garage from the house door. It’s stuff consisting of chairs, tables, toys, boxes, and a lot of other items not traditionally found garages. So much stuff, in fact, that the owners must park their cars (one each for mom and dad and one for each offspring over 16) in the driveway. In newer suburban areas of 2-3,000 square feet homes with three-car garages, the tragedy comes in that there still isn’t enough space. It’s excessive consumption and an area Americans really seem to excel. And apparently, by keeping the garage door open all day, we make sure neighbors and passerbys know exactly that the homeowner has so much stuff they can’t possibly fit it all inside and must showcase it  – “Look at me and how much stuff I have!”

This obsessive collecting is surely a waste of resources and money because it’s obvious the stuff isn’t being used or enjoyed. However, keeping the garage doors open to expose the whole stash is what confuses me most. If I had a bunch of stuff just all packed together in a pile, I would not show that off to my neighbors. If I could stand the stuff, I’d be a closet hoarder. But it seems like throwing open all three garage doors and showing off your collection of stuff has become some weird badge of honor. It’s almost like a refined version of the show “Hoarders” but in a less disgusting way – “You will not find us cooking rotten food or housing thousands of rats on our property, but we have three tons of stuff piled in our garage!”

I had an aunt who was a hoarder, although we didn’t use that term back then. We just said she “kept things” and she “never threw things out.” So much so, in fact, that when the family returned to the South after 20+ years in Wisconsin, they found boxes that had never been unpacked from the first move. The boxes were loaded into a fishing boat and trailer not rated for such a high payload – because the moving van was already filled to capacity. (Thankfully, all were safe on the journey.) After my aunt’s passing, her family was still reluctant to throw away the boxes no one had opened for 40 years. So now my uncle, who is a very tidy and orderly man, must slowly and covertly thin out a garage full of stuff. A garage, I might add, that at one point housed a four-foot long snake no one was able to catch because you could not make your way inside.

I wonder why or how homeowners need all that stuff. In 2008, Time magazine put out the “How to Live with 100 Things” article. People were looking at adopting a minimalistic lifestyle and by paring down all items to 100 was an extreme way to start. Recently, I read about a celebrity couple who met at an environmental conference. At their wedding, they were so “green” there was only one bag of garbage at the end of the reception. That’s impressive. I’m wondering if I can get any of my neighbors to pare down to only one box or bag and then close their garage doors. Imagine the exhilaration they would feel if they were able to park in their garages and never, ever have to worry about a snake living somewhere in there.

* My own word