When a Cup Isn’t a Cup

Yesterday I wrote about my project to clean out my house. I mentioned that it is a big task, not because I have so very much stuff, but because each object requires thought. How do I feel about this? Is it something I need, or want? If I get rid of it, how will I get rid of it. Do I donate it? Sell it? Can it be recycled? Given away?

Of course, part of the problem is that a thing is not just a thing. Each object is also all the associations built into it. Take coffee mugs. Simple things really – vessels designed to hold hot liquids and make them easy to drink. Coffee mugs are easily purchased and easily disposed of – but can be surprisingly emotional.

This photo was not taken with Instagram.

If you were to look in the back of my cupboard you would see a particular mug that would catch your eye, simply because it is so ugly. You can tell it isn’t a modern mug. It is too small, far smaller than our current coffee cups, and it isn’t a pretty mocha or taupe, but a flat utilitarian brown. It was made by Fire King, but even a lover of Fire King would have a hard time finding a place in their heart for it. This mug has had a rough life, and it shows. The brown is muddy and is chipped in places and the inside has permanent coffee stains.

It isn’t a practical mug either. If you microwave it, it heats to the temperature of the sun, guaranteeing that you will scald your lip the first time you try to sip from it. It keeps coffee hot, but too hot – by the time it cools down, your breakfast is done. And then, it holds so little coffee that you immediately want another cup, but have to go through the whole cooling off process all over again. If you were to sell it in a garage sale, you might mark it a dime. If it went to the thrift store, it would sit on a dusty shelf until the end of time.

When I hold this cup in my hand though, I become 8 years old again. It is covered in paint – speckles of blue, yellow, white, silver, and small chunks of bondo. My father does auto body repair, and this is his work coffee cup. The cup sits on a shelf in the back of the stall, getting dirtier by the day. My dad doesn’t wash it, he says the coffee residue just adds extra flavor. At best he might wipe it out with a rag, but that is rare. Once a month or so, it might bring it home to be washed. My mother and I make fun of him and his filthy mug. My dad jokes back that I shouldn’t mock the mug – it is my inheritance.

And in a way, that is exactly what it is. My father died ten years ago this September. When my mother cleaned out the childhood home, she found this in the back of the cupboard. Dad would never let her throw it away – it was my inheritance, after all. And while I have a number of things he built or made for me, and things he had owned, this is the one thing he always said he wanted me to have.


Photo credit: Me. It’s my mug, after all.

The Next Big Thing

I am embarking on a new project.  

Last month my best friends and I had our annual garage sale. It’s a huge multi-day event that is a lot of work, but also a lot of fun. We have it down to something of a science – with a vast collection of brightly painted (and hilarious) garage sale signs, professional shelving and display racks (thanks to one friend who works trade shows), more card tables than you can shake a stick at, and a whole lot of drinking. (Alcohol is mandatory for a successful sale.) By the end of the last day, we are making deals and giving things away left and right.  It is quite thing to see.

One question always seems to arise – how can we manage to have a huge sale every year? I mean, shouldn’t we eventually run out of stuff to sell? We probably will someday, but so far every year someone has just moved, gotten married, had someone move in with them, or had some event that generates major closet cleaning. Personally, I keep a box in the basement with labels and pen nearby all year round. When I decide it is time for something to go, I slap a price sticker on it and pop it in the garage sale box right there and then.

Inevitably, I also end up walking around my house looking for more things to get rid of… while the sale is happening.  It isn’t about the money, we tend to price our stuff cheap. Our goal is to move it out of our homes (where it has been collecting dust,) and into the arms of someone who will love it. So, every year I end up walking through my house searching for more stuff to add to the sale. I love watching things go down the driveway with someone who is happy about their find. Then I see what my friends add to the sale and that inspires me more.  Someone might throw in a hat, and that reminds me that I have one I haven’t worn, or I see pile of purses and it makes me look through my own to see if there are any I am done with.

The night before the second day of our sale I had a dream about having the “biggest garage sale ever” and all of us putting everything we have ever thought of getting rid of in the sale. In my dream the tables were groaning, the customers were shopping like crazy, and we knew we would never have to have a sale again.  Perhaps that dream is part of what is inspiring my current project. Continue reading