The late comedian George Carlin 40-some years ago ranted about people's obsession with stuff.


    In its noun form, it’s kind of a nothing word. Actually, "stuff" is kind of a nothing thing. After all, what do you picture in your mind when you think of "stuff"? It's kind of a vague, gray mishmash, conjuring up nothing you can envision or imagine.

    The late comedian George Carlin 40-some years ago ranted about people's obsession with stuff. Having stuff is just part of the equation, he said; if you have lots of stuff then you need places to put all your stuff. If Carlin were alive today, he’d no doubt have excellent updated views on the stuff people accumulate today. Complexes of storage sheds people can rent are being constructed in just about every open space available, and you wouldn't think of building a new house without a triple-stall garage, so you have a vehicle-free stall for the stuff you want closest to you as opposed to your stuff stuffed inside your storage shed across town.

    Here in Crookston, we get one week each spring and fall to purge ourselves of some of our stuff. It's a tremendous thing, the City of Crookston allowing us an opportunity twice a year to pile stuff on our curbsides that crews will pick up for free.

    For my wife and I, the two clean-up weeks are almost never entirely out of our minds. It can be the dead of winter or the middle of summer and we'll start placing a thing or two in the corner of the garage by the stacked-up firewood in preparation for the next clean-up week.

    Of course, getting rid of stuff is only one aspect of the two clean-up weeks. There are people who like to add stuff instead of subtract stuff during clean-up weeks, and they get particular joy out of driving around and browsing curbsides for unique, useful or otherwise decent stuff they deem worthy of taking for themselves, or maybe selling later. For those of us solely interested in shedding stuff during these two weeks, it's somewhat gratifying to witness how quickly some of our stuff is snatched up.

    While my wife is on a kick lately of selling some of our stuff online and earning cold, hard cash in rapid fashion - a hockey net, a saxophone, a youth weight bench, etc. - we tend to place some things next to our curb during clean-up weeks that we figure someone will pick up right quick and subsequently use a great deal. Like, maybe something our kids once loved but have outgrown that another child will get to use.

    It seems that at some point in everyone's lives, we convince ourselves that we need and/or want a ping-pong table. I love ping-pong, so we deluded ourselves into a similar train of thought several years ago, bought a nice used one, set it up in the basement, and for a few weeks we played the heck out of that table. But a few months later, there were clean towels stacked in one corner of the table, and one of our sons had written his name with his finger in the dust that had accumulated on another area of the table.

    We thought about selling it but fall clean-up week was approaching, so we folded it up and rolled it to the curb when the big week arrived. Less than a half-hour later, our doorbell chimed, and there stood a young dude, maybe just out of college. Standing by a pickup near our curb were two other guys, who a casual observer would have bet money were his roommates.

    "Are you really giving that away?" the kid wondered. "You don't want any money?"

    "Take it and enjoy," I said.

    They were pumped. They loaded it and were gone in 30 seconds.

    This fall's recent clean-up week was kind of a dud at our house. My wife was out of the country for two weeks, so basically all we piled up by our curb was lots of lawn bags full of leaves and some empty boxes we'd accumulated. I put an old Razor scooter both our sons once adored as children on top of the bags and someone took it quick, but I found myself searching our garage, basement and shed in a fruitless attempt to find more stuff to get rid of in order to make this fall clean-up more substantial and productive.

    When my wife returned, she, too, must have felt a certain degree of loss, of missing out on the pleasurable purge that is clean-up week. So she grasped at whatever she could to fill the satisfaction void, and invited me last Friday evening to join her.

    “Let’s reorganize our closets!” she said as she marched into the living room.

    For the next few hours, with music cranking and a bottle of wine uncorked, we upped the “reorganize” ante. We gave cold-weather garments prime hanger and shelf space while shoving summer clothing into the background, and we over-stuffed three giant lawn bags with clothing to donate. Feeling a tinge that told us we needed to go more extreme, we tackled the entire bedroom and filled two more massive bags with clothes past their useful life and other junk and “stuff” to be thrown out.

    Then we sat back and marveled at our work, but we didn’t linger. There are preparations to be made, after all, for spring clean-up week. And already, an old golf bag that I realized has broken leg-stands sits near the firewood in the garage, waiting for April.