"Quod ali cibus est aliis fuat acre venenum." Lucretius

              “What is food for one man may be bitter poison to others."

Garbage and Garage.  They’re similar phonetically and materially, at least when it comes to a sale.  I recently passed a poorly lettered yard sign which at a glance, read, Garbage Sale.   I thought, “What honesty.  A bold purveyor of trash!”  But my surprise was short lived.  As you have already surmised, the sign was for a garage sale. 

Even at 60 miles per hour, trash is trash. It was pretty clear that this seller had high hopes and buyers would need low expectations.  You can imagine what was on display.  Lots of rickety, outdated baby equipment, plenty of worn out plastic- riding toys, playhouses and kiddy kitchens, decrepit lawnmowers, tired furniture, scads of forlorn clothing and tables full of DPSA.*   Trash is very brave.  It frequently masquerades as treasure, having taken a cue from its owner.

There were few shoppers at this sale, and this paucity made the scene even more pathetic.  I wondered if the sellers had regrets.  I’m sure they regretted the poor turnout, but what I really wondered was whether they regretted having gotten themselves into a place where putting their unwanted, used goods on display for the world to see was the best way out.

“Airing one’s dirty linen in public” came to mind.   As did a modern version of Lucretius, “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.”

With a nod to food for one being poison to another, I confess I’ve been looking for a morsel myself.  That’s why I was paying particular attention to the garage sale. I’m on the hunt for a one-gallon gas can. One that was manufactured before the government decreed that all gas cans should have some fiddly valve that has to be engaged for the spout to function.  Why the old ones were deemed “unsafe” is unknowable unless you work for the Consumer Product Safety Division.  If anyone has an idle can, you’ve got a willing buyer.  Name your price. 

But I digress. The mysteries of the garage sale persist.   Why do we own so much trash? Why do we imagine it to be treasure? Must consumption be all consuming? Why don’t we learn from our mistakes?  Should it not be a wakeup call when we take to vending our castoffs from our front yards?  

James Thurber believed, “Better to have some of the questions than all of the answers.” I’ve got the questions covered but am coming up short on answers.  One possible response to our mysterious love affair with trash is that we’ve forgotten that if everything is precious, then nothing is.  Simply calling things treasures doesn’t alter their essential trashiness.   Real treasures need breathing room. Resuscitation is easy.  Get rid of the trash and the good stuff springs back to life.

* DPSA (noun):  A deceased relative’s acronym for DAMN POOR SIT ABOUTS.  That’s eastern North Carolinaese for trinket, knickknack, gimcrack, or tchotchke. Feel free to spread this usage.  The originator would have been flattered.

“You can’t have everything…where would you put it?”  Apron Aphorism

Traveling Light


I recently enjoyed a long weekend trip to southern California.  There would be no hiking, no gala, and no inclement weather, so my clothing needs were minimal.  It seemed like an excellent time to channel the Marys- Poppins and Fraulein- an unusual aim, but I hope to convince you of its merit.

So off I go, with my trusty tote as my only bag. I’d pared things to the bone- black pants, white shirt, grey sweater, pashmina, yoga clothes, some ‘smalls’, running shoes, essential toiletries (learn to like the ones the hotel provides), one book and one wee knitting project.  With what I was wearing, this seemed like a plenty.

 It was a tight fit, but the zipper zipped and off I went.

The flight was oversold. My boarding group number portended a gate- checked bag. While others were jostling and scrambling, I rested easy knowing that my bag would fit handily under the seat in front of me.  No baggage carousel.  No surcharge for the driver to toss luggage in the trunk.  And no bellhop hoping to relief me of my bag. Freed of the burden of too much, I enjoyed the luxury of enough.

As to Mary Poppins and Fraulein Maria, based on cinematic evidence, both had perfected the art of packing. Remember Mary Poppins floating over London rooftops with carpetbag in hand?  And who could forget Maria, tripping over the Alps with her carpetbag breezily floating behind.

My exemplars knew the delights of traveling light and had perfected the art of packing.  What can we learn from these governesses who specialized in making order out of chaos?  Quite a bit, actually.

First, they had not just everything they needed, but nothing they didn’t. When you have to tote your own bag, you think twice about just in case items.  Next, we learn that a uniform can be freeing, not constraining. If you’ve been toying with the idea of a wardrobe uniform, traveling is a good time to try it on in anonymity. Unless you’re famous or infamous, no one will remember or care if you’ve worn the same look the entire trip. If you’re not going to win the game of fashion, no matter how much you pack, sit that game out. Finally, you’ll find that careful packing means less to carry, less to accidentally leave behind, less to unpack, and less to launder.  Lots more less!

Traveling light doesn’t mean traveling bland.  There is almost always room for the parrot-headed umbrella, the guitar, or whatever it is that makes you, you

A good test of perfect packing is to be able to truthfully say, “I used everything in my bag and never needed anything I didn’t have.”  It’s not just clothing and toiletries that need careful vetting.  Learn to curb your ambitions while traveling.  How many books are you going to open, needlecraft projects complete, or drawings sketch? How many accouterments do you really need?  Honestly, not many. A little something to keep you occupied during the boring parts of travel is reasonable, but remember, you’re going on a trip to see someone or do something that you can’t see or do at home so don’t bring too much of home with you. It will be there when you return. Convinced?

 Perfection in packing … Ave Maria!