Human Couples: Mother Nature’s Most Powerful Clutter Collectors

Pack rats are great natural clutter collectors, but the mother of all clutter collectors, by far the most powerful, is the human couple. Nor do I excuse myself or my wife from that description. In truth, the pack rat collects far less than many humans do, though Mr. and Mrs. Rat do appreciate the housing we provide for them as part of our apparent contract with our genetic code.

The late George Carlin had a great bit on that topic, though he used a pithier word than “clutter.” He talked about our innate tendency to keep acquiring material possessions until we have to rent or buy a bigger house to accommodate all our…stuff. That may not seem particularly hilarious, but with Carlin’s delivery, it really is laugh-till-you-cry funny. It’s impossible for me to avoid thinking about the acquisitive nature of homo sapiens because I’m currently cleaning up around the Border Fort (our home) in order to (a) lessen the load to take when we eventually move back to Montana, and to (b) make the Border Fort more attractive to potential buyers. And wow, did we ever accumulate clutter in the eight years we’ve been here. Just…wow. True, a fair bit of that was clutter we’d dragged along from Colorado in 2009 and from Montana in 2006, some of it being literally nothing but junk in our trunk that we hadn’t used since South Dakota in 1999, but still.

How much clutter? Well, that was the question, right? Definitely enough to justify paying to have a roll off dumpster service deliver a big trash hauler thingie instead of making run after run to the local landfill–or more specifically, in this southern Cochise County area, to the refuse transfer station. A bit of Internet searching revealed that these heavy duty dumpsters, the types used by commercial contractors, come in four basic sizes: 10, 20, 30, and 40. Cubic yards, that is. It seemed like a 30 yard dumpster might be about right, but there’s so much guesswork involved, especially when there were so many sources of hey-we-don’t-need-this to consider. By the numbers:

1. Shed B, currently filled with a cement mixer I’d give away, other construction goodies and not-so-goodies, plus a cedar chest of Pam’s that the mice might or might not have compromised.

2. Shed A, aka the Laundry Shed, which houses clutter along with the washer and dryer.

3. The semi trailer, once packed stem to stern with clutter. Though much improved (reduced clutter) in recent years, there was still plenty of stuff arrayed along each sidewall.

4. Under the semi trailer, including an old home built screen door, two slider windows that were given to us when a replacement building was planned (but never built) to replace the semi, left over earth bags from building the Border Fort, you name it.

5. Out back of the house, just old lumber and unused stucco mesh lying in the weeds.

6. A pile of junk lumber scraps in front of the house, long left in place to serve as a bunny hide, though we hadn’t seen any sign of our resident desert cottontails using that pile in the last three or four years.

7. Under the water tower, junk sitting atop the old rotting wooden platform we used for our first (cold water) showers before we had, you know, an actual building to live in.

8. In the Border Fort itself, stuff that just plain didn’t need to be there. The rock hard twin mattress atop a heavy-as-sin pressed board foundation with drawers? That could be given to Zach, as it turned out…but there was other stuff in that little room. And stuff in my own bedroom, too, including a sizeable cardboard box full of…um…”romantic aides” that made no sense to keep, since my beloved wife has been too ill to play for lo, these many long years.

9. Between Shed B and Shed C, the huge pile of lumber scraps, many of them (but not all by a long shot) from the original building of the Border Fort.

10. Miscellaneous, because listing any more detailed areas for cleanup would leave the reader bored to tears. It’s bad enough when it’s your own hoard; reading about the other person’s clutter collection is hardly blockbuster material, right?

So, again, how big should the dumpster be? Answer: As big as I could get! Which was of course the 40 cubic yard version. Jackie Collins (yes, that’s her real name), the Realtor who will be listing the Border Fort for sale (Hereford Realty), recommended J and D out of Huachuca City. I called Joshua at J and D. Sure enough, his price for the big bin was the best I was going to find in the area: $350. Then when the dumpster is dumped at the dump, and they know what the County has charged to accept the tons of landfill material (no tires, hazardous materials, or paint cans), I’ll get the bill.

We talked on Monday afternoon; his driver dropped the roll off before 1:00 p.m. on Tuesday–and I went right to work. Pam is coming back home from Utah after all, and my goal is to have the entire homestead “deep cleaned” by the time she arrives, probably sometime this coming Sunday.

Naturally, diving into what was at times heavy lifting by anyone’s definition (left over 80 lb. bags of concrete stucco, for example), the first thing I did was tweak my lower back. The rest of the week would be interesting indeed–but in between back spasms, I was purely loving the process.

Lift that load! Tote that bale! Sparkle-clean Border Fort is my Holy Grail!

J & D’s Roll Off & Hauling supplied the forty cubic yard roll off dumpster.

The 40 yard dumpster, ready to accept junk. Fortunately, that tall rear door swings open for loading access; the user does NOT have to pitch everything over the sidewalls.

Day by hard working day, progress was made. Shed B was emptied first, the cement mixer going to Zach (Pam’s son) but most of the rest of the contents hitting the dumpster, big time. Example: Pam’s prized cedar chest (fake cedar, just a cedar veneer lining inside and an oak veneer outside, sandwiching cheap pressed board construction)…well, yes, the mice had done a job on it, starting with massive urine-and-other stains covering the lid. The chest contained a couple of old quilts Pam was sorry to see go, but they weren’t salvageable–and when I went to pick up the chest, the bottom literally fell off.

Hi ho! Hi ho! It’s to the dump we go!

Next, a couple of coats of good floor paint were applied to the massively stained (mouse stuff, oil from generators, you name it) shed floor. Then, on to the next area on the list.

As the Sands of Time processed the next few Days of Our Lives, one thing became clear: The 40 cubic yard container was not going to be too much bin for the money. Not at all. The 30 yard container simply would not have been enough.

Friday afternoon was both bad and good. It was bad in the sense that I got exactly nothing done on the spring cleaning “deep cleaning” project–for two reasons: One, by noon my back was going into spasm with every step I took. Yeah, I’ll be seeing my favorite chiropractor pretty soon, but not on a weekend. So I was moving rather slowly and carefully…when a pickup truck pulled up and parked.

We never get visitors.

The driver turned out to be Robin, a close neighbor (half a mile or so down the trail), who needed help. We knew Robin–soon to be 63 years old, a trainer of draft horses, and a widow, two inches shorter and ten pounds lighter than my miniscule redheaded Pam, an overall remarkable Soul. Hadn’t seen her in years. She owns homes in other areas; this was never her one-and-only residence. But now she needed to have her ailing motor home towed out from the homestead. However, monsoon rains had, since she’d last checked on the place, cut what she called a “ravine” down part of the road she needed the motor home to use.

Okay, when I think “ravine,” I’m picturing something big enough to ride a horse through, but I doubted that was literally what she had. Maybe a mini-ravine? Anyway, she’d spotted the Kubota tractor/loader/backhoe in our driveway, and…pretty please?

The cut turned out to be relatively minor. About 30 feet needed to be filled in, but most of it was no more than a foot or two deep and not very wide–although certainly enough to trap a motor home trying to get out. The Kubota and I went to work.

Forty-five minutes into the job, I was nearly done–woops! Flat tire! Right front. At least it wasn’t one of the big rear tires. So (Robin having left the scene on necessary errands, including picking up some more diesel for my tractor), hike back to the Border Fort, drive to Robin’s, get the tire off, head to town. Furrier’s fixed the tire for $15 flat charge, and why did it go flat? Um…operator error, actually. I’d casually run over a small bush, and the bush must have fought back–because the metal valve stem was bent and had to be replaced. Still, one sandwich on the go and a hustle back to the job, and we were in business. Finished the task by the tractor’s headlights, drove it home, hiked back to get the truck, and all done by 8:00 p.m.

Which is a better excuse for not getting any spring cleaning done than “the dog ate my homework.”

Bonus: Operating the Kubota helped my back. Not all the way, but I could function again. Woo hoo!

The final cleanup? That would be the massive pile of scrap lumber between Shed B and Shed C. Everything else was out of the way by early Saturday afternoon, but this pile would take a while. It involved using both the pickup truck and a wheelbarrow, the smaller pieces going into the wheelbarrow while the bigger ones were loaded into the truck. Back and forth, dumpster to pile, pile to dumpster.

Until…I’d gotten into my zone, really hadn’t realized I’d made it through about two thirds of the total pile…when all of a sudden there was a desert cottontail bunny wabbit moving around on the junk lumber pile. Whoa. It was obviously one that knew me; her ears stayed up as she hopped slowly here and there, sniffing, considering, checking me out. She left at one point, but the next time I came back, she’d returned, same thing.

And I realized two things: The last board I’d pulled from the pile had exposed an edge of nesting material that looked like it was primarily made up of…rabbit fur. Thankfully, I hadn’t exposed any infant bunnies, but if I continued removing boards, that would happen. There was simply no other motivation powerful enough to keep a wild rabbit returning to confront a human, time after time. It was like she was saying, “Look, I know you’re the carrot dude, but what are you doing to my fortress habitat here? Knock it off, please!”

So I did. End of spring cleaning. The remaining pile of “bunny cover” is not that unsightly anyway, tucked well back out of sight from most angles on the homestead.

Rabbit in the woodpile.

Unsure, yet not panicking. Brave bunny.

Coming my way, more or less.

What’s up, doc? I mean, really!

The idea that a lady bunny wabbit might choose to make her nest high up in a pile of scrap lumber…that simply never occurred to me. This one has done so, though; there can be no doubt. Wow. Next thing, we’ll be finding a bunch of bunnies nesting high up in a tree! A remarkable Soul, our woodpile friend, thinking far outside the tunnel-under box known to desert cottontails everywhere.

Her timing was exquisite, too. It was nearly sunset when she appeared. Had she not done so, I would have kept on slogging until the light was gone and, most likely, until I’d worked myself too hard for my own good.

Sunday, March 19, 2017. Pam will be home late this evening. I called Zach around 12:30 p.m.; he reported that they were “just getting ready to leave Page (Arizona).” I took that to mean they’d stopped there at a motel for the night, which is a good thing. Even better, Pam announced–presumably from the shotgun seat…something I couldn’t quite make out.

“What did she say?” I asked Zach. “Sounded like muh-cheesy pie!”

When he got done laughing, Zach explained: “She says this (his Toyota) is a much easier ride (than my truck).”

Meanwhile, how much of the dumpster got filled? Certainly most of it. There really wasn’t any wasted money with this big boy.

The dumpster, mostly filled, and ready to head for the dump this coming week. Yay me!

View from the top.

Bottom line, Pam and I qualify as good ol’ American clutter collectors in the classic sense. Happily, though, getting rid of clutter is also one of my great joys in life. Now all I need to do is figure out how to trigger that “deep cleaning” spring cleaning motivation without needing an upcoming move to spur me in the flanks.

11 thoughts on “Human Couples: Mother Nature’s Most Powerful Clutter Collectors

  1. Congratulations, Ghost, on the cleanup! 🙂
    Been there, suffered, lived through it… LOL
    I’m glad to know Pam is back in Arizona! give her my love.


  2. We always said that my grandmother was a junkie before it became a bad thing. I have noticed that farmers and ranch families never seem to throw anything away if they might need it again. When my grandmother died, we know that many valuable antiques got thrown away, simply because we were too tired from going through stuff to think about whether it was or not. My great-uncles had some antique pickers stop at their ranch and they laughed about the garbage they bought, such as milk cans that had holes in them and they had not managed to get to the dump yet. They thought it was hilarious that someone would want to pay for a leaky milk can. Mom’s house was just as bad and they had not moved in over 50 years, so they didn’t even have that to get them pared down.
    Tell Pam hi for us and let her know that Katy and I will be trying to schedule a trip out to see her. Hard to schedule anything into my busy schedule, since everyone needs a ride every time I turn around. I spent this last week running David and his girlfriend to work, as well as everyone else. Their car died and they didn’t even have time for several days to go look for a new one. I took them over Friday and we found a nice one for them. They make enough to get a nice one, but she works 12 hour days four days and then 2 8 hour days and none of the car lots were open long enough. David is working full time and going to school full time. Those two are busy all the time. They finally got a day off together and we were out all day finding one.
    Katy is looking for a first car, which will take almost all of the pressure off of me to run people around. I will only need to run Rodger to pick up his little boy from his mother’s and return him for her day off. He has him most of the time, but they walk a lot and use the stroller. They also ride the bus, since they live in town. Seems that some mothers can’t be bothered to make an effort to see their kids (or even speak to them on the phone). Good thing this little one has a daddy that dotes on him. Otherwise, I would be taking care of him and I do not think I can handle that part time, let alone full time. I see him just about every day and that is exhausting even with his daddy there. They have a good sitter right next door for when Rodger is working. She has 2 kids close in age and a good fenced play area.

  3. Manny:

    I’ll pass your love on to Pam when she gets here–would have been yesterday, but she decided she couldn’t ride that far so Zach got rooms at a motel in Phoenix. Should be rolling in sometime in the next hour or two. And yes, I’m sure you have “been through it” when it comes to cleaning up a place. For me, the thing is that I’d never BEEN in any one spot for 8 years, 4 years being my prior record. Contemplating the results of, say, 50 years in one place? Ugh!


    Becky: You’re absolutely right about farm and ranch families. Pam and I both think that way–which makes sense, since I was ranch raised and Pam did for some years raise Arabian horses as well as silver blue Great Danes. And it’s true, seems like: Throw away a never-used junk item one day and it’ll be just what you need the next day. Thankfully, I now know I’m done building at the Border Fort and just have to “count down” until we can shift to Montana.

    Good to hear David is now mobile and Katy looking to get there. I can well imagine the relief at your end.

    Pam will probably smile to hear you’re figuring out how to schedule a trip to the Border Fort to see her, but there’s no huge rush. That is, I’m guessing she’ll need at least a week to rest and heal up from her recent stress ordeals. She had to have Zach stop twice for motel sleeps on the way south.

  4. Fred, it will need to be a weekend (so Katy can see her), Katy has school pretty much all day during the week. She really would like to see Pam. She got mad at me one time when I said I was going to try to get out to see her another time when she was here. I will not dare to come without her.

  5. Understood. Pam would likely be disappointed, too, if Katy didn’t come–so you’re double-stuck on that one! Weekends or weekdays make little difference to us, so yeah, do what you need to do. 😀

    In the meantime, it turns out a couple of Pam’s former in-laws are in town and will be out to see her tomorrow before they have to head back to Texas, the first get-together since before Pam and I met. So, more than 20 years. It ought to be a cool reunion.

  6. Hi Fred, this seems to be the season for residential clutter purging. My younger son Tom bought a house in Payson at an airpark (he has a hanger for both of his planes and he can taxi directly onto the runway). He is selling his Phoenix house.

    My older son bought a house in Los Alamitos. Unfortunately, some of Scott’s clutter from his condo has been transferred to my house because his new purchase needs remodeling. He claims that it is just a temporary situation — yeah right! And he moved into my house with the grandchildren for the time being :).

    I’ve lived in my home since 1975 and try to dispose of things that I no longer need. More often than I end up throwing out the flowers instead of the weeds! To use your quote:
    “And it’s true, seems like: Throw away a never-used junk item one day and it’ll be just what you need the next day.”

    Warm regards, Ingrid

  7. Thanks for checking in, Ingrid–and you’re right; it does seem to be the season. That said, Pammie is busy doing her little best to encourage a bit of new clutter accumulation, letting me know she needs this or that and would I get it for her, please. But that is of course par for the course!

  8. Ghost, I just remembered a strategy, that in hindsight, probably saved me from much clutter during trips with my toddler children: I would have a special bag with EVERYTHING the kids might need, including medicines, extra diapers, blankets, bottles, food, milk and clothing, and my spouses would say it was too much junk, but they ended up not taking too much of their own junk… 😉 I still remember my old VW Bug’s roof rack loaded it with bags and suitcases, and the kids using a little hammock I had for the back seat’s “upper bunk” LOL.

  9. That sounds like an excellent strategy, Manny. Now all I’d need to execute something similar would be a load of kids, and…wait. Let me rethink that….

  10. Wow, that sure is a lot of lumber, Ghost! It all looks pretty warped to me; you couldn’t have used it anyway. Well, except for the luxury accommodations Mrs. Bunny Wabbit is enjoying.

    Those bunnies are going to miss you and Pam, Ghost.

  11. Well, Sha, it LOOKS like a lot of lumber…but what it really is, is a “KIND OF” a lot of lumber loaded last, so it covers up all the OTHER stuff in there. But yes, the lumber is certainly warped…and moldy…and the strand board is pretty much disintegrating from its years out in the weather.

    We’re sure the bunnies, coyotes, ravens, canyon towhees, and at least one curved bill thrasher will miss us. But it’s definitely time for us to go.

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