Savers and Chuckers

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(Host) Commentator Willem Lange reflects on an ancient phenomenon: Opposites attract, but they also drive each other nuts.

(Lange) “What’s this?” I asked. Mother hadn’t asked me to help bring it in from the van, so I knew it was something she knew I’d ask about.

“Stainless steel kitchen cart. Yard sale. Only ten dollars. Unbelievable! It’ll be worth a couple hundred when it’s cleaned up.”

Almost all of us in long-term committed relationships have noticed that our partners are our polar opposites. The Odd Couple weren’t at all odd, which is probably why they were so popular. The phenomenon is older than history: One partner – the saver – squirrels everything away; and the other – the chucker – constantly winnows, gives away, sells, and throws out. Over time, the saver’s stash begins to dominate the space available, and the chucker feels threatened, encroached upon,; sometimes even draws a line at the threshold of his or her office or workshop, beyond which the growth is not permitted to spread.

During my remodeling career, I’ve made an informal study of these behaviors. As the chucker in my own home, I’m in a constant state of vigilance, and sometimes sneak books, clothing, or gifts out of the house and into my truck with the same furtive air with which my counterpart carries her acquisitions into the house from her van.

Every action, of course, produces an equal and opposite reaction. As one accumulates more and more stuff, the other often becomes more ascetic. I keep track of the cubic footage that comes into and goes out of the house, and I can see I’m losing ground. Long before we’re forced out of here by the other indispositions of age, we’ll be tunneling through unstable, dangerous mountains of irresistible yard sale items — French dinnerware, duck decoys, and novelties that sing golden oldies when you put batteries into them.

I’m determined to keep only things I use – books, fishing rods, rifles, canoes. I’ve reached my capacity in bookcases, and any new book that I need to keep displaces one I don’t. Some years from now, it won’t take long to go through my stuff, and the yard sale ought to be pretty brisk. But it won’t elicit much in the way of sentiment, either.

Mother, on the other hand, has kept our kids’ earliest attempts at art, their old kids’ books, and a pile of 33 rpm Let’s Pretend vinyl records. Never mind almost no one can play the records anymore. Someday the kids will want them. There’s something both frustrating and charming about the person who keeps all that stuff. I hope never to have to go through it, because it will mean the unthinkable has occurred. But what a lovely, cathartic trip it would be, through so many decades of tangible memories that, together, made a life.

This is Willem Lange up in Etna, New Hampshire, and I gotta get back to work.

Willem Lange is a contractor, writer, and storyteller who lives in Etna, New Hampshire. He spoke from our studio in Norwich.

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