MR. CASTEN’S CLUTTER – Rich Paschall

Stuff, by Rich Paschall

Only his neighbor Jorge knew the old guy was sick.  In fact, Mr. Casten had been failing for almost two years.  Whenever Jorge saw the old man, he asked if there was anything he could do to help.  When Mr. Casten was not seen for a week, Jorge would go knock on his door.  If the old guy felt well enough he would stand in the doorway and talk for a while.  If it was morning, he would invite Jorge in for a cup of coffee.

By the time Casten had passed away, Jorge probably knew him as well as anyone.  Their little chats on the stairs, in the doorway or at the kitchen table revealed a lot about an old guy who had lived alone in the same small apartment most of his adult life.  The place was stuffed with memories and memorabilia.

Mr. Casten had collected and saved things throughout life, but in the last few years he tried to de-clutter his small existence.  He gave things away to charity resale shops.  He sent pictures he had from his parents on to other relatives.  He even sold some items on eBay.  It was all too late to clean up the house, however.  Mr. Casten’s small efforts were not enough after a lifetime of accumulation.

Since there were no siblings, no children, and no mate, the matter of cleanup and disposal was left to a crew of cousins. Jorge knew just who to call because Mr. Casten had prepared a list of contacts in case of his untimely demise. Although Mr. Casten was only in his late 60’s, his death arrived right on schedule the way Jorge saw it. Mr. Casten had gone as far as he could.

When the cousins arrived one Saturday morning to clean out the apartment, Jorge was waiting with the key that had been entrusted to him by Mr. Casten.  Four cousins and two of their teen age sons figured they would make fast work of the four room apartment.  They figured wrong.

“Oh my, who knew one person could collect so much stuff,” cousin Raymond declared.  “This could take all day!”

“Mr. Casten said to tell you guys to be sure to take for yourselves anything you want, then give anything else that is still good to charity.”

“And did you take something, Jorge?” cousin David said in a rather accusing tone.

“Yes,” Jorge replied calmly.  “I took the coffee cup he always gave me to drink out of.  It was the only thing I wanted.”

“Well, I heard he had a good baseball card collection,” cousin Jeff chimed in.  “I would like to have that if we can find it.”

“He’s got a lot of CDs here,” Raymond said in amazement.  “I think I will see what I need.”

“Hey dad,” one of the teenagers shouted out to David.  “He’s got a lot of DVDs. I am going to see if he has anything decent to watch”

As they randomly picked through the goods, cousin John grabbed one of the teenagers and said, “Let’s get to work.  With those guys working so hard out there, we will never get out of here!”

So John and a bored teenager went to the kitchen in search of large garbage bags.  “Under the sink,” Jorge instructed.

Armed with a box of bags, Jorge, John and the teenager went to the bedroom to empty closets and drawers.  John told the teenager to take everything in the closets and put it in bags for donation.  If it looked in bad shape, he should put it in a separate bag for the garbage.  John decided to do the same with the dresser.

As John and Jorge took items from the dresser, they found many new things in each drawer.  There were clothes with tags, new socks and underwear in packages, pajamas that were never worn and sweaters that looked new.

“I thought the old guy could not afford much,” John said in amazement.

“I think he was always afraid of running out of something,” Jorge said.  “He told me more than once that he was afraid to be poor and have nothing, so he kept everything and did not use anything until he needed it.”

“If he lived another 10 years he would not have to buy any clothes,” John said somewhat incredulously.

“Yeah, I think that was the idea,” Jorge noted.

Mr. Casten’s mother had grown up in the Great Depression.  She had nothing, so in her adult life she saved everything.  Anything that had value or possible use, she would save for whenever she might need it.  Of course, she had many things she never used, but they were there “just in case.”

When Casten was young, he knew they did not have much and he saw how his mother managed to get through the years with what they accumulated.  He naturally took on the same habits.  While everything may have seemed a jumbled mess to outside observers, especially cousins who never came to call, it was an organized home for Mr. Casten.

After many runs to the resale shop and the outside garbage cans, the crew had made a good deal of progress.  John declared he would return with one of the boys to finish the job the next day.

“That box in the corner marked pictures should also say ‘Cousins’ on the top,” Jorge remembered to tell them. “You should take that with you.”

“What would we want with a box of old pictures?” David said rather sarcastically.

So Jorge explained that collection.  “Mr. Casten thought that maybe someone would want to see them at a wake or service to remember how he looked, since he had not been invited to any family event in years.  I would guess you guys would be in a lot of those pictures from long ago.”

The cousins said nothing.  John grabbed the box on the way out.

Jorge closed the door.

See also: “The Accumulation of Stuff,” Reducing Clutter

ONE JAPANESE TEA SET OVER THE LINE

Garry went to New York to help clean out his parents home on Long Island. He went with my explicit instructions: do not bring home anything. We have no room. NO ROOM. None. Anywhere. Not on the shelves, the cabinets, the tops of the bookcases. Nowhere.

He was pretty good about it. All he brought home was one lovely Japanese tea set. Five cups. I assume one was broken. Plus the teapot, sugar bowl, and creamer. Lovely. Dragon style, which is a favorite of mine.

Not long ago. I gave away a nearly identical tea set as a wedding present, but clearly I am supposed to have a Japanese tea set. It must be a genetic thing. This is not my first … or fifth … Japanese tea set. I have had antiques. New ones. Sets made for children. Many sets made in weird shapes which were surely never meant for the actual serving of tea.

I recognized that I could not escape this tea set. I rearranged the stuff in my glass chest and somehow managed to fit it in. I’m so glad there were only five cups. One more, and I would have been lost.

It’s a beautiful set. Made of the finest porcelain so lightweight it’s almost not there. Beautiful, but my problem is not a dearth of beautiful things. I have far too many beautiful things and I wish someone else wanted them. I’d happily give them away, including some rare, very old Chinese porcelain.

Does anyone need a lovely, handmade Japanese tea set? I’ve got an extra.

DAILY PROMPT: CLEAN HOUSE? I TRIED. I FAILED.

Is there “junk” in your life? Are you kidding? I am human, therefore I have junk!

What kind? What would you like? I’m sure I’ve got it somewhere. Books. Photographs. Goodfers. Old dog leashes. Old empty purses and briefcases — there’s nothing wrong with them … they just aren’t in current use — don’t call them junk!

Unframed original art. Musical instruments. Posters. Dolls. More dolls. Even more dolls. Pottery, ancient and new. Clothing that’s too small. Clothing I used to wear but don’t like any more. Old bills. New bills. Envelopes for bills I’ll never use because I pay everything online. Medicine bottles with and without medicine. Empty eyeglass cases. Old tax records. New tax records. Records. Stuff you can’t throw away but just accumulates with the years. Documents. Mortgage documents, remortgage documents, official documents, unofficial documents.

How do you get rid of it? I can’t get rid of it. It’s valuable. Maybe someday I’ll be able to frame the art. I have to collect the clothing and donate it. There are people who need clothing. It’s not junk to them. And the cameras aren’t junk. They are organized and carefully packed in their bags.

96-CameraBags-37

Photographers, artists, poets: show us JUNK. Junk! I beg to differ. It perhaps appears junky to the untutored eye. I look at that pile of stuff. I see a favorite poet, one to whose works I frequently refer. I spy a book I will read as soon as I finish the one I’m reading. The rest? The biggest bag, the blue one with handle and wheels contains a career’s worth of writing samples. Or maybe old doll clothing and the writing samples are somewhere else. I could open the bag and look. Nah. Then I’d have to figure out what to do with the stuff.

If only there was a room in the house with an available closet. The office is closing in on me.

The rest of the “junk”? Camera bags containing … are you ready? Cameras. And camera accessories. Set up so I can grab the medium-size yellow canvas bag, Garry can grab the black bag and we are off, each with our favorites including spare batteries and anything else we might need.

There’s a thin line between treasures and junk. Very thin and I tread the line with deep trepidation.