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June 20, 2012

Fighting the “Stuff Monster”

Kevin E. Dayhoff

There comes a time in a person’s life when one needs to get a fresh supply of trash bags, buy a new heavy-duty paper shredder, back the pick-up truck to the basement door, get out the large party-size coffee maker, and clear the clutter.


For me, periodically fighting the “Stuff Monster” has been a survival tool – or I would have been the tragic-lead character in a serial reality horror show on hoarding a long time ago.


Yet, in my personal journey of a life-long struggle with the “Stuff Monster,” the deck has always been stacked against me.


For, you see, my situation has been exacerbated by the fact that I have been self-employed all my life. Many colleagues have been able to fight the “Stuff Monster” much more easily because all the filing cabinets full of papers and pallets of boxes in records storage, has been the responsibility of their respective employers.


Well, with me – since the late 1960s – I’ve been my own employer and keeping records, documents and stuff has always been my responsibility.


And, of course, for the last 35 or so years, in addition to art and farming, I have continuously served on any number of local, county or state boards, committees or commissions – and for many years, as an elected official – all of which was accompanied by my bringing home papers, documents and records by the wheelbarrow load.


Sadly, in the late 1990s and early 2000-aughts, I had tried to get my fellow elected officials to go electronic. But I failed. Instead of electrons being temporarily inconvenienced, many trees died as a result.


For that matter, according to, “Americans throw away enough office paper each year to build a 12-foot high wall stretching from New York to San Francisco – that’s 10,000 or so sheets per person!”


My problem with paper has also been made worse by way of the fact that I have only moved a couple of times in my life. Many friends have enjoyed numerous “reduce and renew” moments when they have moved – even if they have moved into a larger house.With each move they put forth a concerted effort to reduce the amount of stuff they had to move from one home to another.


For me, since 1983, chaos has ensued and a pile of unfiled papers here and a stack of stuff there slowly but surely grew into a monster.


If paper clips are the larval stage of coat hangers and coat hangers subsequently secretly multiply at night, I shudder to think of the nocturnal activities of a roomful of boxes of papers. What were once 10 or so boxes must now number in the hundreds.


Finally – enough was enough. Since I am no stranger at tilting at windmills and other such existential journeys, I joined forces with an arsenal of weapons including a sheet-fed scanner, a 500-gigabyte external hard drive, and a heavy-duty shredder.


Of course, one of the many approaches to conquering the “Stuff Monster” is not to allow the paper to take-up residence in your house.There are a number of informative websites available that will help in determining what to keep and what can be thrown away.


I am now hard at work pushing the envelope to go as paperless as possible. wisely states: “When you avoid making garbage in the first place, you don't have to worry about disposing of waste or recycling it later. Changing your habits is the key — think about ways you can reduce your waste when you shop, work and play. There's a ton of ways for you to reduce waste, save yourself some time and money, and be good to the Earth at the same time…”


One of the biggest challenges has been reducing the hail of unwanted junk mail. Junk mail spam is a topic for another time. It is very frustrating. Above and beyond the enormous cost of taking the time to sort and process direct marketing mail from catalog companies, continuing education vendors, and credit card companies, is the ginormous negative environmental impact.


According to a 2001 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency report on the “1999 Facts and Figures Municipal Solid Waste in the United States,” 5.56 million tons of junk mail was shipped in the mail. Only 22 percent – or 1.23 million tons were recycled. That means that junk mail contributed 4.33 million tons to American landfills in 1999.


Yes, for those counting on their fingers and their toes at home, that’s 32 pounds of junk mail paper going into a landfill near you, every year, for every man, woman and child in the United States.


For me, in addition to trying to keep the paper from accumulating in the first place, I have been steadily working at sorting through my accumulated mess, one box at a time. If it is over seven-years old, my pre-disposition is to throw it out by way of the shredder.


Writing for, Harold Bubil summed it up best: “In a smaller house, you can detect the Stuff Monster in embryonic form, and you must fight it on a daily basis. There is no place for it to hide. When stuff comes in, it must be put away immediately, or other stuff must go out. This becomes a way of life.”


We can all easily slay the “Stuff Monster” and improve our quality of life by the “reduce, reuse, and recycle” approach to day-to-day living – with a just a little re-thinking.


I think…


Now, where is the shredder? Oh, there it is, behind that stack of boxes with the valuable CETA (Comprehensive Employment and Training Act) meeting minutes from the late 1970s. Now that’s some valuable stuff. I’m telling ya. Well, maybe NOT!


. . . . .I’m just saying. . . . .


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