My mother used to have a shadow box on the wall of her cabin that contained a large number of keys. I never counted them, but there were a lot. There were keys of all different kinds, from skeleton keys to more modern types of keys. Most of the keys probably had originally worked padlocks, but others were for door bolts and a few were car keys. Before she made up the shadow box, she simply had a shoe box where she kept keys whose locks were unknown or perhaps had been lost. At least one of the keys was to a car that had been sold, but not all of the keys had gone with it to the new owner somehow. My father was, among many other things, a farm machinery dealer, so there were a few keys that fit tractors thrown in there as well. After she made up the shadow box, I used to tease here, “Now all we need is to find someone who has a collection of locks.” I’m not sure what happened to the collection of keys. It is possible that one of my sisters acquired it after our mother’s death. We sill have the cabin, but the display of keys is no longer on the wall in the hallway.

I was thinking about that box recently because I have been sorting out some of the things in our home in anticipation of the possibility of putting our home on the market in the future. We’ve lived her for 24 years now and we’ve accumulated a lot of things. It’s time to reduce the inventory. Like my mother, I seem to have a box of keys. I didn’t set out to collect keys. I just somehow ended up with a key her and there that I forgot what it unlocked. Since I thought that I might one day need that key or remember why I had it, I kept it so that it could be retrieved. The fact that I keep keys has proven to be valuable a couple of times. Not long ago, I found an old bicycle lock in the garage and when I went to the key box, I was able to find a key that opened the lock. Now I don’t really have need for that particular bicycle lock, but at least at the moment the lock and key are reunited and they might prove valuable to someone who wants to lock their bicycle.

I am aware that the day will come when those keys will need to just be thrown away. Perhaps they can be added to a bucket of mixed metals at the recyclers instead of going into the dump, but it is possible that there is a spare key to a house we haven’ lived in for a quarter of a century. Come to think of it it is also possible that there are keys to the locks we had replaced on this house. The old locks are gone, but I somehow retained the keys. The bottom line is that I don’t need the keys and I’m likely not going to need them. Still, I’m keeping them around for a little while. Maybe I’ll find another bicycle lock or some other hidden treasure.

I used to make fun of folks of my parents’ generation for their ability to keep all kinds of objects. They grew up during the Great Depression when all kinds of things were scarce and they had an attitude that you should never throw anything away because it might become useful in the future. My dad had a box in the basement of scraps of wood all of which were too small for a future project. They probably would have had value as kindling or fireplace wood, but they were retained just in case he needed a wedge or shim. My Uncle Ted literally had a shoe box of “Pieces of string too short to save.” I knew what was in it because he had labeled it with a grease pencil.

I don’t make fun of those folks any more, because I’ve become one of them. Sometimes, when I am sorting out things, I think of how our children might react to all of the things I have kept. I suspect that if they somehow inherited the job of sorting out our house they would not be pleased with all of the things I’ve kept. Just thinking about that gives me a bit more courage to go ahead and get rid of a few things.

Still, some things keep accumulating. I enjoy office supply stores and I often wander down the aisle with pens. I don’t often buy a pen, but once in a while I’ll decide that I need one. Mostly pens come into our house with advertisements from various organizations and companies. I have a container on my desk that is filled with pens. There is another one upstairs in the kitchen. There are a few additional pens in my desk drawer and another container at work. Sometimes, I check to make sure that all the pens work and throw out the ones that have dried up, but I still have a lot of extra pens. Last night I was sorting out my camera bag and I came across two pens that have never been used, still in plastic packages. On the side of the pens is printed “Narita Airport.” When I saw them I remembered that as we were waiting for our flight from Tokyo to Seattle over a year ago a kind gentleman approached us and asked us to take a survey about our experience in the airport. After answering his questions he presented us each with a pen. I slipped the pens into my camera bag and forgot about them. They came home to the US with us. They traveled from Seattle to South Dakota with us. The have gone wherever my camera bag has gone since, including going back to Japan this summer. I obviously have had no need for the pens. I found writing devices to get through my life just fine without them. For more than a year I carried them around and they became very well traveled. I know people who would have just tossed them in the garbage at the airport. They are, after all, just cheap advertising pens. I know people who would have tossed them when they discovered them in the camera bag. I haven’t done that, yet. At the moment they are in the container of pens on my desk, which is getting very full.

My attempts at reducing the number of items I posses aren’t going very well yet. I wonder if it it easier to get rid of pens than keys.

Copyright (c) 2019 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!