Garages and the American Way

Cluttered garage, cluttered life?

Life piles up in our garage

You may have one. Even if you don’t, you probably have a closet, or two. And life being what it is, you’ve probably had occasion to clean one or more of them out after a long period of benign neglect. So chances are, you’ll be able to relate to my story. Not long ago, my wife observed (not for the first time) that the limited space in our garage could be more efficiently utilized. She was right, of course.


I nodded sagely and kept writing, while my  alter ego whispered, Yeah, right. Blinding flash of the obvious. From where I sat, her statement was indeed a blinding flash of the obvious…a flash of the obvious I had been consciously ignoring long enough for her to finally decide I needed something more than self-motivation to act.

It worked. After steeling myself to the task, I found myself knee-deep in stuff. From the process of dealing with the barely contained chaos that had become our garage, two truths about myself emerged and I’m going to share them with you.

I like “things” too much. 

  1. How I know. It’s really not “news.” I’ve struggled with my desire for things for years. Not being insane or compulsive, I’ve managed (usually) to heed the warnings of conscience & live more or less within my means. But confronting the pile of stuff I couldn’t remember buying or in some cases, even remember why says a lot. Tools I’ve never used; a surfboard I shaped and rode only a few times; a piece of art work framed but un-hung because I’m out of room to hang it. You get the idea.
  2. Why it hasn’t worked for me. Possessions require space (at least) and often time and routine maintenance…even if you don’t use them. Each new thing we decide we “need” can become another layer of sediment between us & what matters.
  3. What I’m doing differently now. I’d love to report my new self-awareness has led to absolute self-control. It has not. (I know, I know…how did you guess?) I’m still a “consumer,” and my enjoyment of things still creeps in. But I have a new appreciation of the futility of measuring my own worth by what others have that I do not.

My old self started things he didn’t finish.

  1. How I know. My garage contained a surprising collection of things I bought for projects begun but never quite completed. In my own defense, it is the second decade of the 21st Century & stuff happens. Still, not finishing what we start can become habitual.
  2. Why it didn’t work for me. All of us leave things undone, especially today when so many of our plans are overtaken by events we can’t control. I’ve always kind of known this. If a career in the military teaches anything, it’s that few plans survive unchanged. I knew this, but often planned as though I didn’t. As a result, I wasted resources (time, money and materials) on good intention, rather than sound planning.
  3. What I do differently now. I spend almost as much time planning my next project as do executing it. These days, I start with a healthy dose of skepticism, rather than the bubbly optimism of my younger days. To avoid allowing my skepticism become an excuse for inaction I ask:

a. How much will my latest hair-fire cost and can I afford it?

b. How much of my time will it take and do I have that time? As importantly, can I afford to not do the things the project may displace?

c. What’s the downside if I don’t finish what I started?

d. I am succumbing to a habit of “prioritizing” after the fact, rather than before?

Are we what we see?

The out of control clutter in my garage was a metaphor for my life. How did I let myself get there? Was it careless thought processes, fuzzy goal-setting did circumstances beyond my control play a role in where I found myself?

The answer is probably yes…to all the above and to other factors I don’t fully appreciate. It’s worthwhile, I think, to recognize we can’t always get it right on the fly, and to cut ourselves some slack when we don’t.

As my long-overdue garage clean-up reminded me, the urgent, the necessary and the desirable often appear to divergent, if not mutually exclusive. But balancing these apparently disparate elements of our existence is pivotal to a balanced life. In the case of my cluttered garage, why this week, as opposed to last month or next month? Who knows?

Maybe it’s because I finished my first novel, West of Tomorrow. Maybe it’s because I needed a break from the solitary, reclusive work of writing. Perhaps I was simply ready to part with pieces of my life I no longer needed. What I know for certain is that for the first time in a while, finding things and moving around in my garage is easier. My garage…and my mind…are less cluttered places.

Dirk Sayers is a retired Marine officer, corporate trainer and the author of West of Tomorrow, now available on Amazon. He is currently working on an anthology of short stories under the title “Through the Windshield; Drive-by Encounters with Truth,” due out in 2017. He is also working on “Tier Zero,”  volume one of  a science fiction series of first contact, entitled “The Knolan Cycle.” Subscribe to his list in the opt-in box to be among the first to know when these titles will be available.



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