What We Did With Our Weekend, Concluded

You’ll recall the picture of the basement from the other day, before we got to cleaning, organizing and throwing things out. Now as you can see the basement is substantially less entropic, with boxes neatly stacked to the side and a clear amount of space available to, you know, walk through. The other half of the basement, which you don’t see, is even more cleared out.

And for those of you wondering whether we managed to fill up that ginormous dumpster, wonder no more:

We did a pretty good job of it, yes.

We still have a lot in the basement, even after all of that. Much of it is temporary, since we have an entire wall of stuff we plan to donate, including at least several hundred books (I think the number is closer to a thousand, but I didn’t make the effort to count). When it came to deciding about what things to donate or throw out, we were pretty merciless, asking ourselves about the thing we were looking at a) how long it had been in the basement, b) if we missed it at any point during that time, c) if, were we someone at Goodwill, the thing would be something we’d be willing to spend a quarter on. The first and second questions dictated whether it went into the donation pile; the third dictated whether it went into the dumpster. The formulation wreaked havoc on my CD collection, I will note, 95% of which had been in boxes since we moved to Ohio a decade ago.

The only major side effect is now the cats have nowhere to lounge, we having thrown out the broken-down furniture we’d been storing there, which they enjoyed resting upon. I imagine I’ll be taking a trip to PetCo sometime during the week to address this egregious deprivation, else be smothered in the night by cat fur. It’s not like they have anywhere else in the house to lounge.

56 Comments on “What We Did With Our Weekend, Concluded”

  1. I envy people with high basement ceilings. When I venture down to my basement, I have to slouch on one side and bend in half on the other. The kitties do have many lounging spots though, some of which are inaccessible to humans.

  2. Sigh. I miss the basement we had in the house in suburban Chicago, just before we moved to Houston. Because of the water table and the high clay content in the soil, Houston is unfortunately not conducive to basements. Good on you guys for taking the bull by the horns and actually getting stuff organized!

    And I’m sure the cats will be much happier once you get them some new perching spots. Angry cats are to be feared. Happy cats are much easier to get along with.


  3. Nice work, but you can’t beat entropy, you know. Just when you think you have it on the ropes, what you’ve really done is give it a new rallying point from which it can attack.

  4. Ron Hogan:

    A little of column A, a little of column B. I ripped most of what I frequently listened to, and I’ve subscribed to Rhapsody for most of the last decade, so there’s really been no reason to go down and unearth the CDs from their boxes.

    I still buy music (my rule of thumb is if I listen to an album three times online, I buy it, because if I’ve listened to it three times I’ll probably listen to it more) but at this point I only buy a CD if it comes with extras I want for some reason, or if it’s not legally available any other way..

  5. Very cool. But to be a bit of a nudge, could you have recycled some of what you threw away? It looked like a decent amount of cardboard in there. I know it’s an extra step and can be a hassle. But still, nudge nudge.

  6. Any books that are still in good condition but you don’t want would probably thrill your local Friends of the Library group. They usually take DVDs and CDs too, although old magazines are a glut on the market.

    Rule #1 of recycling: as long as I don’t have to spend money or be inconvenienced, recycling works fine. If I have to pay to recycle my things, not so great.

  7. Greg Briggs:

    My wife wishes to inform you that she took a whole van load of recyclables down just yesterday, and I assume she had a reason for not recycling those things in particular. I have no opinion on any of it, as she’s the one who handles the recycling duties here.

    The Mad Librarian:

    Indeed, the local library is the first stop for the books.

  8. Scorpius:

    Your pedantry is misplaced and also boring at this point. It’s perfectly acceptable to use “entropy” colloquially to denote a trend toward disorganization (as was the case of my basement). In this case the trend in the system was counteracted by the injection of energy (the work done by my wife and me) thus was the local entropic value of the basement reversed, although in the universal sense, entropically speaking, very little has changed to reverse the inevitable decline of the universe into a thin soup. But that’s a problem for someone else, a few trillion years from now.

  9. Scorpius: I think that you will find that this is an entertaining use of the word “entropy” and therefore acceptable.
    Actually, though, I think it is a good metaphorical use of the word if not 100% pedantically accurate.

  10. John posted while I was writing. I agree with his defense of the word “entropy” in this situation. I withdraw my concession that it wasn’t used 100% accurately. I still maintain that even if it was used inaccurately, its use as a humorous metaphor would have justified it.

  11. Senor Scalzi, pass along my thanks to your wife, and thanks to you for tolerating my impertinence. Jude, thanks for the heads up about lack of cardboard recycling.

  12. For 27 years as my wife and I moved 13 times during my military service (which sounds like a lot but is not even close to a record for career military folks) we never had a problem with “stuff”. When you have to pack it up every year or two you tend to be quite Draconian in your choices. If a box had two moving company stickers on it and hadn’t been opened either time it went out. Now we have lived in the same home for 18 years and to go into the garage or the attic storage areas we need machetes and industrial level creepy-crawly spray.

    So – We Who Are About to Clean and Organize Salute You! Ave Scalzinus!

  13. “I imagine I’ll be taking a trip to PetCo sometime during the week to address this egregious deprivation, else be smothered in the night by cat fur.”

    You know what?

    Cat butt.

  14. And you’re saving a CRT? To scare Athena’s children with? “Way back before you were born we had to work on our computers without 3D projections! We only saw the world in 2 shades of Green!” 8-)

  15. Our local St. Vincent be Paul’s takes CRTs. If you have one nearby and that monitor’s in working order, I bet they can find it a home.

  16. Hey, “I’ve been battling the forces of Chaos and Entropy!” sounds a hell of a lot more impressive than “I cleaned out a closet and did the dishes.” (Yeah, yeah, Chaos and Entropy may well win. But Not Today!! At least not here…)

    Basement looks fabulous, congrats. And I’ve never yet met a cat that couldn’t find a place to get comfortable.

  17. Basement? What’s that. (sorry, native Californian here)

    We just picked up a ginormous cat tree at Petco for the new kitties. Funny, I remember back when spending $160 on a cat tree sounded like donating a kidney. Now it seems like a pittance. Would that the annual vet bill was equally of size.

    If you saw our small small office in our small small house, you’d know that the only acceptable cleaning tool after a while is a snow shovel. Now if I can just convince the wife….

    Well done on the cleaning.

  18. Troy Miami County “friends of the library” book sale is coming up and WELCOMES book donations.

    That’s where I’m taking the “vinyl” that “bit the dust” in this weekend’s cleaning spree…For those locally looking for bargoons,. Beatles, CSN&Y, plus some very odd “Peter, Paul, and Mary” on their solo careers. ARgggg..

  19. Around here, you have to pay to get rid of CRTs and old tube televisions. Sucks.

    Good basement cleaning, Scalzi family! Also, I aced college P-chem and I approve the above use of the word ‘entropy.’

  20. Poor Scalzi. If only you had consulted me. The only way to control the “stuff” chaos is to allow it to fill the available space. Nature abhors a vacuum. Now that you opened up the space – it will you will not throw away anything for a couple of years.
    The corollary to this law is to die in the house where you have accumulated all the junk. Then its your child’s problem and not yours.
    Or you can probably apply to be on the show hoarders.

    I only say these things from experience. I have twice cleared out my clutter. It was a glorious feeling – for about a month. 10 years later – I had more junk than originally. Partially due to having more money.
    Too much available money is the root of all clutter.
    Too little space is the answer avoiding it. I now live in less than 700 sq ft and its amazing how often I choose not to buy something because there is no where to keep it.

  21. All the talk of entropy and entropic values are interest enough but I think the real question is when’s your episode of Hoaders going to air?

  22. Came to ask why in FSM’s name you were keeping the CRT, and to strongly suggest recycling it, as accidentally cracking it open while tipping it into a Dumpster can, literally, kill you.

    Leaving satisfied.

  23. Oh wow, very impressive. When I saw the first picture, I did not really believe the place will even look more or less tidy. Amazing job! Also, I have to say I envy you a bit, because no matter how much useless stuff I have in my basement, I am just not able to throw it out.

  24. Your local Best Buy, if you have one, will accept CRTs for recycling. Unless the policy’s changed, they charge you a $10 fee per tube and then give you a $10 gift card . Other stuff (old computers, VCRs DVD players and the like) are free to recycle. Don’t know if they accept appliances.

  25. The rule of thumb in this family when comes time to thin the junk from our lives:
    If we haven’t used it, seen it, or thought of it in X years, it should probably be jettisoned. IF (unlikely) it is a family treasure – then it should be passed on to somebody in the family that actually will treasure it. No takers? Maybe its’s not quite treasure.

    I’m all for The Goodness of Recycling, but sometimes it’s best to keep your eye on the ball and deal with the job at hand. Plus, we are ‘supposed to do this and supposed to do that’, but then they (the do-gooding rule makers and their enforcers) do next to nothing to make following those rules reasonable (sometimes not even possible). In those cases I care not a whit about putting the battery/monitor/whatever in a heavy duty black garbage bag. Sometimes my priorities come first.

    Regarding what I call parse-snips: I like most things in my life to be kept orderly (sometimes to the point of what could be accused as OCD), but there are zones where entropy is allowed to rule; a jungle seemingly never touched by a civilized world. Sometimes cool ideas come out of disorder, chaos, and randomness.

  26. Your basement looks nice, and not just because you cleared out all that stuff.The walls look clean, the floor looks clean, even the ceiling looks clean. Most basements I’ve been in are dirty.

  27. It must be in the air. We moved 11 boxes of books out of storage and got them all up on new Ikea bookshelves. Now for the first time ever we have ALL of our books in the house, all 900 of them.

  28. Re: cat trees. I have discovered that Overstock has more variety at less cost than Pet[Co|sMart]. In fact, we just ordered a new one on Friday. (Shipping: $2.95.)

    When we bought our house, the previous owners left, like, four CRT TVs — 17″ or 19″. Something completely worthless. Nobody will even accept them as a donation. We have to pay to get rid of them. No wonder my boyfriend finds appliances all over the woods.

  29. For those of you recycling electronics… PLEASE try to do it responsibly. Some recyclers simply dump the stuff in Ghana or China where people proceed to burn away the plastics to get at the metal. They poison themselves and their lands because its what they can do to survive. A good overview is here: http://www.pbs.org/frontlineworld/stories/ghana804/

    If you can, use a recycler certified as an e-Steward (http://e-stewards.org/find-a-recycler/recycler-listing/). If none of those are convenient ask the Best Buy etc what they do with the electronics.

    Finally, if you run a business note that there are places on the list above that will take shipments or do pickups for volume.

  30. Definitely Inspiring. I may even be inspired to start on some of that here at home. NowI just need to drag the trash can a litle closer to the table…….. I really miss basements too, also being in the Greater Houston Metro area. The garage can only hold so much & when most of it is not mine, it is harder to get it sorted. OK I have the trash can handy & a box for “to be filed”……….

  31. Good job, Jon!

    pezibc@38: I am pretty OCD on recycling, but I recognize it as my own freakish quirk and don’t really expect others to follow it. The safe disposal of electronics is not, however, as much a “let’s keep our landfills as small as possible” inconvenience as it is a “let’s keep poison out of our environment” inconvenience, the same way asbestos and lead abatement are a “supposed to do” for demolition crews. Something to think about.

  32. Oh, rats. Four or five years ago, I tossed an old CRT into the garbage. I had no idea it was dangerous. I’m sorry, World. I’ll try to do better.

  33. My husband keeps all electronics too. It took him forever to get rid of the old computers he had stored in the garage. Many places now recycle old computers, CRTs, etc. for nothing. I know that our Goodwill will take them now. Not sure about the rest of the country though. No, please don’t throw them away. Not a good thing. They didn’t really tell us this until a few years ago (or maybe I just never asked). Not that my husband would ever have thrown away computer equipment. He might NEED it for something.

    I could probably fill a dumpster too. I just wish I had time to actually clean out the garage.

  34. What are you supposed to do if you don’t have anyone on the ‘responsible steward’ list in your state? Somehow I don’t think people will be keeping all their old electronic gear until someone from the list can be enticed to come here and open shop. Right now, Habilitat is running an e-cycling dropoff every Tuesday, which suffices for me.

  35. Well, I do offer the stuff that’s still remotely usable–even in a “take it apart and see how it works” way–to local schools or churches. Some parochial schools used to be desperate for anything to use in offices, and even some public schools had tech programs that took dated equipment for various purposes. This particular CRT had basically started sparking and smoking and almost set fire to the curtains, so I just wanted it OUT of the house . . .

  36. Congratulations! I hate doing the culling of the stuff, but the sense of accomplishment afterwards is so rewarding. Plus, having a dumpster at hand is just fun.

    Also, as a fellow Midwesterner (you’re one of us now, bucko), the picture of a proper Midwestern basement- cement floor, 2×4 walls, random hanging pipes- pleases me.

  37. Jason B @ #49. How is that in any way specifically mid-Western? Round these parts we call that an unfinished basement. I don’t see anything in John’s picture I haven’t seen in a dozen other basement across the mid-atlantic states.

  38. A basement? What’s that?

    As we have neither basement nor attic, storage sheds have popped up all over our property like boxy mushrooms. Most of our junk either goes to charity or recycling, but we recently hauled a truckload and trailerload of yard and construction debris to the dump. We could’ve had your mighty dumpster filled in no time.

    I read recently that Goodwill will take electronics–CRTs, computers and whatnot. I don’t know if that’s just here in New Mexico, or everywhere.

  39. Up here on the “wrong” side of the border, for a few years now Ontario’s had a new approach. For TVs and monitors (CRT, if you can still find ’em, OR flatscreen) and similar electronics/computer stuff, you now in effect prepay the recycling fee in the form of a small surcharge at the point of sale. Then when it dies you simply donate it to a participating recycler (locally, the “Sally Ann” thrift shops are one) and they look after it.

    The beauty of the system, from the home-user’s viewpoint, is that no receipt, certifying sticker, or other proof that the new surcharge was paid is necessary. If you still have your antique B&W TV from the ’50’s, they’ll happily take that too.

  40. Kudos, John and Krissy! A decades’ worth of stuff is indeed a crapload.

    And thanks, Another Liz, for the tip! As the Songwriter noted upthread @40, we made room for bookshelves but sacrificed our oversized cat condo/tree/fortress/base of operations for world dominance to do so.

    The cats must be appeased, for the good of our bottom shelf books.

  41. If you’re going to get a cat tree, I’d highly recommend ordering one rather than getting the rather cheapy stuff pet stores keep in stock. A lot of the in-store stuff you get is okay for kittens but when you have a big adult cat running full-tilt up that bad boy, you want to have something sturdier.

    We buy ours from this site: http://www.playtimeworkshop.com/

    The site is sort of geocities-esque, but the product is beautiful and sturdy. When my 15 pound cat leaps off the very top tower, the thing barely shudders. It’s half jungle-gym, half recliner. Of course, my cats are still young enough to get the crazy eyes and go tearing around the house, so having something they can climb is good.

  42. @47 – As you noted, some places don’t have an easily reachable e-Steward recycler. In that case I’d ask you and others to try to use someone who does the right thing in any event (not all of the responsible recyclers are e-Stewards affiliated). Usually you can tell these people by whether or not they talk about reusing usable electronics, etc. While I do sympathise with you, dumping dangerous waste is still a pretty bad thing to do. All I’m trying to do is 1) make people aware that not all recyclers ARE responsible and what that irresponsibility can lead to and 2) point to some resources that people can use to do the right thing.

    I know that the e-Stewards folks are also starting to work with large electronics and office retailers (Staples, Best Buy etc) to be collection points that then funnel e-waste to certified recyclers. I’d also hit up your state or city’s environmental agency to see if they have a list of recyclers who are responsible.

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