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Whittling Away: Neatness


By Dick Brooks

For Capital Region Independent Media

Headshot of a man named Dick Brooks.

My life is full. So is my garage, the cellar and my closet. 

I came to this conclusion while trying to close the kitchen junk drawer after removing a triple A battery that I needed for the television remote. 

It is amazing how stuff accumulates when you’re not paying attention. I’m not accusing the neighbors of dragging their excess stuff over and leaving it, but I’m suspicious.

I don’t understand how neat people do it. I have a friend whose shop is arranged according to the Dewey Decimal System. A place for everything and everything in its place. He either spends more time cleaning and organizing than working or he does nothing in there that ever makes a mess. 

My shop, on the other hand, has a lived-in quality that I feel comfortable in. There’s a stack of lumber in the middle of the floor where it’s convenient to locate the board I need.  Tools are scattered around the benches, usually where I last used them and where I might need to use them again. I know where most things are and can locate them within 15 or 20 minutes.

I will admit to needing a Philips screwdriver the other day and winding up going to the hardware store and purchasing a new one even though I know there are at least two dozen somewhere in my shop. 

The shop is full of “roundtoits,” things that I’m going to repair when I get a minute or two. Most are things that are just too good to throw out and just need a little work to make them as good as new. 

I have collected several lawn chairs that need to be re-webbed; I even have the roll of re-webbing material. I will get right to them as soon as I find it.

Some items taking up space are just too precious to part with. I still have the house I made for my daughter when she was about two. It started life as a large cardboard box; I cut a door and windows in it and added a roof. She spent many happy hours having tea parties in it. How could I take that to the transfer station?

Might as well tell me to throw away the swing I made for her out of the old milk crate. I cut leg holes in it and spent hours listening to her laugh as I pushed her under the maple tree. 

I still have the red plastic remote control car my oldest son gave me for Father’s Day that he had bought with his own money and there are several projects built by my youngest son taking up space on my bench and in my heart. What do the neat people do with this sort of thing? 

I guess its time to start doing what my parents did. It’s constantly amazing that the older I get, the smarter my parents get. My mom started it after we were out on our own and had our own space. Every time we went to visit, we left with a “box of memories.” It always contained our stuff from a younger day that was just too precious for her to throw away.  You never knew what it might contain — old report cards, Mother’s Day cards you had made in third grade, a special picture you made that lived on the refrigerator for years, class pictures, your first pair of baby shoes, her treasures.

I’m so glad Mom wasn’t a “neat” person. I’m glad I’m not a “neat” person. I am starting to get suspicious that it’s not the neighbors smuggling stuff into the house during the night but some of the neat people who just don’t have the heart to throw it out.

Maybe they’re not aliens after all.

Thought for the week — Always remember you’re unique, just like everyone else.

Until next week, may you and yours be happy and well.

Reach columnist Dick Brooks at

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