HALLIE: The weather has turned gorgeous in New England, and this morning my 80-year-old neighbor is up on a step ladder, washing the eight windows that surround her porch. After that, she vacuums her sidewalk, the cord snaked like an umbilicus up the steps and through the front door.
Then, as she does every year, she puts stuff out on the street--this year it's a tidy row of paint cans, pieces of lumber, and plumbing innards. Beside these, she plants a hand-lettered sign: “FREE.”
Just watching her inspires me. Suddenly I’m ready to tackle that walk-in clothes closet I haven’t been able to walk into for months.
I know my husband will be inspired as well – inspired to clean the gutters and rake the lawn so he'll be in position to grab off any of the neat stuff she throws out.
Every spring, he and I play this zero-sum game. I cheerfully make my way from room to room, measuring my progress by the heft in a black plastic garbage bag, while he just as cheerfully cruises the neighborhood looking for castoff treasures. While I’m sneaking away, carting stuff off to the dump or Goodwill, he’s sneaking his finds into the basement.
Just for example, last spring I got rid of an old television that only got channel 4, two tired kitchen chairs, and a floor lamp that sizzled and smelled like vomit when you turned it on. He dragged home a set of World Book Encyclopedia (every volume except one), most of the interior of an old piano, and a bench with an enormous mushroom growing out of it.
My husband, the scientist, claims this demonstrates some basic principle of conservation of mass.
Uh oh. A couple of local kids are carrying a washing machine out of my neighbor’s garage. She’s telling them to put it out on the street. It’s pale green and black with a clothes ringer attached -- the perfect addition to my husband’s collection of vintage appliances.
Sure enough, a little while later my husband hollers, “Gotta mow the lawn,” and heads outside.
I feel strangely exhilarated. Two bags full of stuff we don't need should more than offset what he's about to acquire.
It will be a challenge but I'm up to it. After all, it’s spring.
Are you the dragger-in or the dragger-out in your household, and is it a zero-sum game?