I always liked to think I was saving things for future use and reference. Catalogs, info cards, small parts, spare pieces, and so forth. They would all come in handy. Right?
A few years ago I pared down the number of Craftsman tool catalogs I had been keeping, although I would have saved more of the older ones had I known the catalogs would eventually stop coming. I was selective, and that was a good measure.
Do you remember the time that the Craftsman tool-wielding Technician saved the DC Justice League?
Ooh, the packaging cards from some of my Sears-era Craftsman Professional USA-made hand tools. Gotta keep those. I’ll need those info cards for when I post about them, just in case they contain some info, specs, or part numbers I can’t find on Sears’ website. Right?
My first media event was to Dewalt’s 12V Max cordless power tools launch back in 2010, held at Black & Decker University in Baltimore. They prepared a tidy and professional-looking booklet with details on all of the new tools, plus trading cards for each tool. I think it’s okay to finally recycle the booklet, but I’m holding onto the trading cards.
Here’s a letter from Lee Valley Tools from 9 years ago. They lowered the price of a tool I had recently purchased, and they wrote to me that they were giving me a refund for the price difference! Gotta keep that letter in case I want to remember the gesture or post about it someday!
I dug up a birthday card from 20 years ago, and it made me chuckle when I found it.
Can you tell that I have a hard time of letting things go?
Here’s one of maybe 6 plastic clip thingies I finally discarded, and it’s part of the packaging for small baby formula bottles. I’m not going to show you any more than this, as it’s too embarrassing, but this also seems like a good example of the random stuff I accumulated over time.
It’s only a couple of years old, and I remember why I kept it – it’s a sturdy clip that could possibly be turned into a tool or bit holder with some appropriately-sized PVC pipe, or something to that effect.
I finally started throwing things out – not everything, but lots of things I shouldn’t have kept.
I wasn’t one to collect baby food jars (which I know is perfect for small parts storage), but there is so much other stuff. Hex keys that came with equipment, rubber feet, metal washers, springs, clips, lanyards, and so much other stuff like it. I have belt clips to tools I donated ages ago. Extra pieces of pick and pluck foam. A plastic tube with old duct tape wrapped around it for compact tool box carry. Pocket screwdrivers. A drawstring safety glasses pouch, despite needing over-the-glasses goggles instead of regular safety glasses. A discolored strap and gasket from safety goggles that I removed after the lens went bad.
Unused contact lens cases. I haven’t worn contacts in 20 years, except for trying them again before I got married. Contact lens cases can be used for small screws, right?
“I might need that.”
I’ve reached a breaking point where too much is too much.
We moved a few years ago, and I went through a couple of massive clean-outs and clear-outs since then, but it wasn’t enough.
I’ve been going through everything, creating a hard line between “I need this” and “it’s gotta go.”
Goodbye double-ended screwdriver bit that came with a drill I donated a few years ago. Goodbye baby formula bottle packaging clips. Goodbye loose hex keys. Tool info cards? Adios – into the recycling bin they shall go.
Next, I’ll go through a second-order cleanup as I organize the tools and supplies I wish to keep. Do I really need x-number of adjustable wrenches?
A couple of extra files? That’s not a problem. Duplicate hammers, wrenches, screwdrivers? It can add up.
I tend to hold onto things. “But I can use that later!” “But I might need that information!”
I have seen a lot of photos of others’ garages and workshops over the years, and it seems a lot of people let things spiral out of control, just as I have. But while “mine is a unique situation” might be a good reason, I let it become an excuse for letting things get so far.
A lawn mower showed up back when we were living in an apartment. When OSHA’s new silica rules went into effect, 3 or 4 dust collector vacs showed up out of the blue, almost all at once.
Keeping things for sentimental value is one thing, although I’m doing my fair share of culling with those kinds of items as well.
There is some useful information on the old retail cards. Some of the small parts and thingamajigs might come in handy. But you know what? None of that will ever be useful if 1) there’s so much I can’t find what I need when I need it, and 2) there’s so much that it hinders other needs. Where’s the value in “I could maybe use that” if it impedes my work, personal or otherwise?
So yeah, I have seen others’ garages and workshops over the years, and on a scale of 1 to 10 with 1 being “perfectly neat and tidy” and 10 being “horrendously unusable,” mine would rank maybe a 7, so maybe a little worse than average. My working space is usable, and while my storage space isn’t well-managed, things could be worse. But, it could and should be a lot better.
Why don’t I just build a shop or rent an industrial space like some other tool reviewers or YouTubers? Well, that takes money, and not just a one-time purchase, but a committment over time, and I’m just not ready for that yet.
What am I supposed to do with a lawn mower that shows up unexpectedly in the first week of November?!
And before anyone suggests it, it’s against ToolGuyd policy to sell or trade any samples, they must be donated or given away.
You know, I never quite unpacked my tools, supplies, and equipment from when we moved, not fully – I accommodated, adjusted, and compensated.
I recently installed some new wall shelves. I moved a wall cabinet to a new space. It has made a world of difference, but it’s not enough.
I have a lot more work to do, and things would be easier if I had blank slates, but that’s simply not possible.
The old tool cards are being recycled. Parts I can’t use are going in the trash. If it’s not destined for a place in a drawer, on a shelf, in a tool box, in a cabinet, or in a tote, it has to go.
I have straight edge clamps that I haven’t used since I bought my track saw, and even before that they didn’t work all that well with smaller tools such as jig saws. Why keep them around – for eventual review or editorial coverage? If I didn’t get to it by now, what are the odds I’ll prioritize it in the next 6 months to a year?
It’s time to purge.
I’ve been on this mission before, but this time it’s different.
I am allowing myself to keep a set amount of overflow, for materials, fasteners, parts, and odds and ends that I won’t be able to properly sort. But the big problem hasn’t been the overflow, but the fact that there was so much of it and in 20 different tote boxes, with most only half-filled since my last big round of giveaways and donations a little over a year ago.
I’d love to be able to say “things would be so much better if I had a bigger workshop.” But the truth of the matter is that I was able to get a lot of personal project work done in the spare bedroom in our apartment. Bad habits set in with our second apartment, and got worse with time.
Don’t be like me. Clean your workshop before it becomes unusable. Remove items that hinder your space, even though they “might someday be useful.”
Accumulation is the enemy.
One day those plastic mini baby formula bottle clips could very well come in handy. But you know what? I’ll have the shop space to fabricate an alternate working solution.
There are some other items I need to part with, starting with a shop vacuum I never really liked, but I was shocked at just how much workshop-related accumulation there was. All the small stuff adds up.
I can come up with plenty of explanations and reasons, but it really just comes down to bad habits. I’ve been aware of those bad habits, but now it’s finally time to break them and correct course.
Are you guilty of similar workshop accumulation practices?
It seems as though the Covid-19 stay at home orders has placed a lot of us in the same frame of mind. I’ve spent the last couple of months doing almost the same thing going through my workshops cleaning out all of those things that have been sitting in corners and out of sight at the backs of drawers. I went so far as to empty out all of my coffee cans of reclaimed hardware that I never had time to dig through for a needed nut or bolt. It was far easier to walk the 2 blocks over to the local hardware store. The hardest part has been identifying tools I bought thinking I would have a need for them and never used in 10 years. It’s amazing how much space has been cleared up. Room to start a new project!
The answer to hoarding is not finding ever bigger places to store things. That so called reality show “American Pickers” is sometimes entertaining, But what’s really informative are their visits to folks who have both treasure and junk intermixed and sometimes piled in barns and out-buildings spread over acres. Your recent post about not being able to find a torx screwdriver when you needed one – may have been the wake-up call – but whatever started you on the road back – then good for that and keep at it.
“The answer to hoarding is not finding ever bigger places to store things.”
My wife is always saying “we need a basement, we need more storage!” No, we purposely bought a smaller house to prevent accumulating things. Increasing storage just means you will have more crap to manage. What she is REALLY saying is, I can’t manage all the stuff we have and a basement allows me to ignore most of it.
You tend to fill the space you have. At some point, storage becomes finite and acquiring or producing new things leads to clutter.
If we had a basement, you can bet it would be full of crap AND the living areas would be cluttered too. Our young girls are forever accumulating stuff from school, birthday presents, clothes, toys. As they outgrow things, having an exit strategy for all that stuff is important.
I can attest that it can get worse when you have 3 domiciles in which to store things. My wife likes the big garden that came with our principal residence – but says that her “letting me” take most of the 2400 square foot basement and 3-car garage for shop space was an enabler to my tool collecting mania. Meanwhile – I hesitate to look at what she stores in the house and garage attics or sheds that are scattered about the property. Getting away to our smaller summer place and even more Spartan winter condo in Florida has its merits – and since the HOA does most of the work – I don’t feel compelled to stock lots of “stuff” (as George Carlin called it) down there.
George Carlin did a great stand-up bit about “stuff”.
A place for everything and everything in it’s place.
I have a tendency to “collect” most everything, especially tools/parts. I remedied this by having one junk drawer. If what I want to keep doesn’t replace and existing item or fit in the junk drawer, it goes.
The same principle applies to my clothes. I have a set amount of hangers so if I get new clothes I have to decide which old clothes will be donated.
I’m now very organized with no problems finding anything and no longer accumulate items. Instead I rotate/donate leaving me with higher quality inventory. It also helps when I am looking at purchasing a tool. Does it have a place? No? What will it replace?
I wish you the best Stuart. Acting against you inclination can seem like sanding against the grain.
I looked forward to receiving the Craftsman tool catalog, was sad when it was discontinued. It was better than any Christmas catalog.
Good lord I need to do this. Don’t ever seem to make the time. Retirement is coming. Should have plenty of time then. It always starts off innocent enough and then takes on a life of its own.
Strike while the iron is hot, Stuart!
I constantly toss stuff. Which means that I am constantly getting more stuff.
It’s been slow process and I’ve organized and re-organized. Right now, I need to get rid of some larger tools but selling them has proved difficult in our current situation.
I saved these two little bags of little plastic blocks from the trash at my work about 4 years ago. Good machinable type plastic that I figured would come in handy one day. Sure enough I needed one the other weekend to modify into a wedgelike part to prevent the battery terminals in my FUEL string trimmer from popping out of place and sliding into the the tool body preventing the battery from making contact. Glad I saved those. I’ve saved so many things out of the trash at work that have come in handy. Especially milspec wiring supplies. Some call me a packrat, I prefer thrifty.
Covid-19 has forced me to consider my own mortality. Over the last few months I’ve gone through nearly everything I own in the house, basement, garage, shed, and my office at work. Then I asked myself, “would my adult children want any of this stuff?” If not and I don’t have a known need for it, then I have either tossed it, recycled it, or more frequently donated it to an appropriate non-profit. My wife is doing the same. It was a cathartic experience.
Reading you article has inspired me (for now) to head to the basement this evening and start cleaning up the work bench and cabinets. It’s garbage night, so the timing is perfect!! I could also tackle the two kitchen junk drawers. Maybe I’ll find the thing-a-ma-jig I’ve been casually searching for since 1995. Maybe there’s priceless treasure or a valuable collector’s item hiding amidst the clutter. Maybe I’ll find the multiples of a seldom used tool or shop supply that I’ve unknowingly repurchased more than once. Maybe there will be enlightenment, or total consciousness. Or, or, or….Maybe I’ll worry about it later.
I am glad the Marie Kondo craze has lessened a bit. I had my daughter going through my tool chest questioning why i needed over 50 different types of pliers! I do not need this “help”.
I tried to point out that they ALL were a bit different in a way, but the only argument that prevailed in the end was “It brings me joy!”
I save a lot of stuff. Motors, computer fans, all kinds of screws and other hardware, scrap wire, broken tools, and the strangest of them all, empty Lego boxes. I have a huge cardboard box, filled with flattened out Lego boxes from sets I’ve put together. Why? Idunno. But I’ve been saving them for years and I continue to save them.
Those Lego boxes might have lots of value actually.
“We have met the enemy and he is us”
the answer more often than any of us think
The Sears cards with the large made in USA print could be useful to show future generations of how it used to be
It is a process.
More and more DIY & more projects for family & ourselves, inevitably lead to more parts, even extra spare parts, more tools and even spare tools (broke a cordless drill last week, no downtime, no panic run to the store), … and roaming the state and up & down the east coast — think snowbird that doesn’t settle down either way, because there’s always something to do, hurricanes, winter storms, … — certainly has its downsides.
Add in some ADD, not having a dedicated spot for things, moving things between garage & basement, garden shed, … working in two three places at a time … and I never have gotten on top of tool organization. Came close-ish a couple times 😉
But, I’m working on it. In the past few years I have been trying to do some paperwork & digital housekeeping. Cancelled all magazines. 99% e-billing. Filing cabinets of paperwork & documentation = recycle, shred, scan to pdf if need be, or grab the pdf online if it is out there.
Then in the past two three years I have donated a lot of tools, gently used first gen tools for me, many tools – some used, some new, some never opened in box – from deceased family members, … Donated extra house parts what were installed, but then replaced, wrong order or not as described we couldn’t return, etc.
Added lots of shelving so things can be out in the open and in view on the shelf wall or the parts wall.
In a few months, I am hoping to spring for a (slightly) bigger van, to ease out of the minivan that is super multi-functional and very capable, but always has to get emptied out to carry a sheet good of anything on the bottom floor … which is no longer flat once they went to stow&go … so you build up your own floor, but then for a family trip, you guessed it …
Anyhow. It is good to do some housekeeping and uncluttering.
Interesting timing. I have started cleaning and organizing my small shop. I moved all welding, plumbing and electrical related stuff to the garage which makes sense because my shop is detached. I just finished a drawer under my router table. After putting all my bits and other router stuff neatly in it, that prompted me to start a major cleaning
Go through your stuff, and if you can’t use it within such a matter of time, a year. Donate it to Habitat or another nonprofit organization that could use it
I can definitely identify with this, though I have always tried to have a reoccuring activity at least once a year to clear out the garage and workspaces. My problem in the past was picking up hardware, fasteners, etc. for project I don’t get to and then hanging on to those items for far too long because I either might get to them or may be able to use it for something else. I have at least one good clear out and returns trip to HD/Lowes/etc. once a year to tidy that stuff up and found it a good practice…
You did this post just so a lot of us could feel better about our “messes”. You’re a humanitarian.
Mike (the other one)
Guilty of saving too much. Mostly IT and PC related stuff. Some of it has come in handy, but usually it ends up in a box and isn’t seen for years.
Somehow I had accumulated over a dozen old computers. People used to give them to me “for parts” but I almost never used anything out of them. I recycled them a while back and decided to no accept any more.
I too, have a habit of saving little odds and ends for just-in-case stuff. Trying to thin that down as much as possible.
I still have a couple of composite video cables and IDE hard drives cables. I’m pooling what I can together and will determine which parts to keep and which to discard.
Things like motherboard screws never go bad.
I’m guilty of holding onto old computers too, and monitors as well. I still have the 15″ LCD display from my first computer build back in 2004. It’s an NEC with VGA port, and what was unique about it is that the base folded down all the way and the screen was protected with a plastic sheet – this will perfect for a shop display someday.
I have an older HTPC, but if I need something for say CNC controller use, I’d be better off with a modern Mac Mini, Intel NUC, Dell OptiPlex Miceo, if not a laptop.
It’s hard finding places to donate this stuff, and so old video cards, motherboards, and what-not will likely eventually be recycled.
Monitors can be paired with a Raspberry Pi or similar for “dashboard” type use, but I’ll likely eventually recycle some of my old displays too.
Stuart, Goodwill May have an E-Recycle Store near you. They take still-functioning computer equipment, refurb, wipe (DoD level), and sell them for cheap to the public. Stuff that can’t be made to work or is too old gets recycled properly.
I think they even run a program through the stores to train people for computer maintenance type work using the donations.
I am guilty of having lots of old electronics too, but have purged 50%, I clean the hdd a couple times and factory restor, or put some easy linux on it, … then there is goodwill & salvation army, I add a description of the specs, fully functional, ready to sell.
Or, I have locally found an e-recycling place where people who needs help, are given extra opportunity to learn to work on computers & electronics, plus recycle as need be …
They have a mini- store where they sell functional stuff for cheap, some neat things, but I am done with collecting and my own little computer museum has been shelved. Too much space, not enough functionality to get fun out of it.
New system wise, for the past 15 years or so, I only buy small form factor, mac mini, intel nuc, dell mini, ibm optiplex micro, … I’m long done with the big loud power hungry boxes. You could put my six micro computers and two nas all inside of one average computer tower and have space leftover.
FYI certain old motherboards and video cards can fetch a decent price on eBay or the like (when in working condition). I recently went through my storage and found an Asus Super Socket 7 motherboard I bought for a build in 1998: apparently this board is in high demand. Along with that, I put in a 3DFX Voodoo3 video card, which also is desirable. I actually can get more out of the two now than when i bought it. There is indeed a healthy retro market for certain devices.
Well, yes, remember on the industrial side, re-writing software can be much more expensive than keeping old hardware running.
This spring, I spent a couple weeks making upgraded (Windows 10) PC’s for a customer – first system was shipped over 15 years ago, running Windows XP. We had a hard time finding suitable motherboards (system has 2 PCI boards, one of which (the motion controller) hasn’t been made for along time).
About a decade ago, we had a customer that used a test system – which ran on DOS!
I try to be very organized with all the stuff in our house, and my OCD probably is pretty clean on Instagram!
My problem is that I don’t like to throw things away, so we have a big pile of things that need a new home. With COVD we paused selling on eBay\Facebook and now we have a big pile of stuff 🙁
You can probably find a buyer for that comic on eBay
I have a couple and am keeping them for a while longer. Might eventually give them away as part of swag giveaways.
“…….no, I may need that some day!” It’s a terrible thing to stop a job just to run errands to get something. That’s why stuff is saved! And, stuff has a way of accumulating. You lose a tool and buy another to replace it. A year down the road you find what was lost. Multiples of so many things. The challenge is to combine two households to one or downsize. Oh, to sort through and start reminiscing of what you once did. Time has a way of quickly passing and that pile of stuff is a time capsule. To compound matters is when, like myself, I was a tool room machinist. Metal working for 40 years with an interest in woodworking. So, more stuff! That one file of instructions for whatever turn into a full four drawers of instructions. And then a guy that writes a tool blog does a column on tape measures. It still baffles me that I have almost 20 tapes.
Stuff…..stuff….and more stuff.
The difference between the “young” and the “old.” When young you keep some parts in used baby food jars. As you get older, those containers become used prescription bottles.
within a week(maybe 2) of finally throwing something away, I invariably need it-NEVER fails!!!
This is a good topic, I appreciate having less and for me, more stuff causes more stress, but with tools and car related items it’s difficult to get rid of stuff and easy to accumulate
Stuart, I swear you must have been reading my mind when you created this post, those exact thoughts run through my head as well. Practically verbatim. I had a recent wake up call. I was helping someone clear out a garage and price things for an estate sale. And I offered to help identify and price stuff for the family so they could de-clutter the garage and thin down the tools to just the basic set for a homeowner. It was eye opening for me to hear the family members wonder why the deceased needed 11 pairs of pliers. To me it did not seem excessive at all. And then when they asked the same question about all the various other power and hand tools, and oh by the way there are also more tools in the basement… At that point it struck me that he had a problem, and I do as well.
I was offered some goodies to take and first dibs on tools if I wanted and I was tempted to do so, but that would be just moving the clutter to me. I was really tempted to take the free toolbox full of drill bits. Part of me said, hey there are some good bits in there, and I can sharpen the rest. But then I asked myself, when am I REALLY going to make the time to sort through hundred of twist bits to keep the good ones, and then give them all a good sharpening. I have all the bits I currently need for 99% of anything I do, and if I really need a size I don’t have, I can run to the store, or buy online and get the specific one I might be missing. It was so tempting to think I would give them a good home, or that I “might” need one that I had to work extra hard to talk myself out of taking more stuff.
Coincidentally, today is trash day for me, so I am going to grab an empty trash bag and go through the house/garage/basement and fill it up with stuff to get rid of. If I do one extra bag a week, I’ll be done, well, eventually.
I was fairly confident that I’m not the only one to fall into bad workshop accumulation habits, and as a side benefit I convinced myself that if I posted about it I’d have to keep at it until I was done.
Cleared enough space today to setup one of my dismantled Gladiator workbenches, and if I can find the hardware, I’ll soon have space for another.
At present, I have maybe 8 household-style Sterilite tote boxes empty in a corner, and 18 Akro Mils and Quantum hinged-lid containers. I rearranged 5 wire shelving racks and now 1 needs to go.
I’ve decided to be indiscriminate with old magazines and catalogs as well, except for things like Family Handyman and Fine Woodworking. Goodbye Maximum PC, Popular Mechanics, and popular Science from 5+ years ago. I’m keeping my Make magazines for now.
It feels good to reclaim space, but I’m not quite done yet.
Step 1: Initial purge.
Step 2: Take inventory/assess.
Step 3: Organize.
Step 4: Purge more.
Step 5: Make workshop decisions.
Step 6: Enjoy making things again.
I’ve let things go too far. I can forgive myself, as a lot of other people would be in a similar situation if they brought all their work home with them too.
I tried to approach this over time, but ended up taking two steps back with every one step forward.
I totally agree on the magazines as well, I’ll hold onto make, and woodworking magazines but the rest can go.
I also am trying to set limits on any new hobbies. For example, since some website (ahem, toolguyd) got me into pocket knives, I’ve set aside a space for them. And once that box is full, no more new ones unless I get rid of some old ones. It is a new habit, hopefully it will work.
Nothing beats that feeling of seeing a space cleaned up and all fresh again. Hopefully you can keep that in mind and continue your progress and maintain it.
Maybe it is like giving up smoking or some other habit. You may have to try several methods of quitting until you find one that works for you, and don’t give up trying to quit.
Good luck with the rest of the purge. You are an inspiration the the rest of us that are ready to try.
(And for those that don’t want to purge, that is fine too.)
I accumulated so many tools, hardware, furniture, etc during my home renovation years. Not to mention tools left or given to me by my father, grandfather and family. My entire basement was filled and I dreaded having to make decisions on what to get rid of and what to keep.
Hurricane Sandy made that decision for me when it completely filled my basement with 8 foot of polluted salt water, which took over a week to remove .
Only my essential tools, which I had at another site survived. Thus my hard decisions had been made for me all in one day.
Those Sears/Craftsman catalogs are worth quite a bit to collectors now, particularly the later ones as Sears printed fewer of them each year until they stopped completely.
Sell the catalogs and throw in all the other Sears/Craftsman related stuff, get more money for new tools.
I absolutely hate clutter and hoarding, but when a motorized tool breaks, I save the bearings, shafts, and quality cords. If a heater of blow drier breaks, I save the alnico wire. I save copper pipe in any length, and any heavy single-strand copper wire more than 5″ long. My excuse is, I do a lot of fabbing, and it’s the truth.
I also have a weakness for saving small pieces of nice wood and steel angles and squares, almost anything made from SS or thicker aluminum, and screws, bolts, and nuts. I save broken HSS and carbide drills and inserts, they’re good for use in my tumbler for cleaning and texturing. Yeah, I hate myself.