I'm so excited ... nope, not for a long-awaited vacation nor my grandson leaving for college or even a fancy restaurant meal indoors. Very soon, I'm due for one of Palo Alto's twice yearly, free garbage cleanup days. For this homeowner, who once shamelessly begged, "I'll pay double, just hurry!" for an instant pickup of an old critter-infested chair, free "anything goes" via GreenWaste beats winning the lottery.
Palo Alto has always been ahead of its time — open space, open classrooms, bike lanes. Though not everyone has agreed on the city's priorities, you won't find a sane citizen who doesn't applaud a gratis garbage run. Now we've got two a year.
Our town faced the garbage glut early on via modern design. Built on slab foundations, mid-century, Eichler and Eichler-style homes pushed "Less is more" clean designs, window walls and breezy carports. These off-street parking areas were inexpensive and shady. Best of all, they precluded environmental overload — there were no garages.
Instead, a modest, shed-like structure hugged one side of these carports for minimal storage — room for a fold-up lawn chair and cooler, a few pots and garden spades and perhaps a small set of everyday tools. What else did a family of four or five really need back then? Costco had yet to con buyers into actually paying a fee for the privilege of a five-year inventory of napkins, pretzels and paprika. "Hoarders" hadn't grown into the guilty little TV show secret for a generation of viewers.
Fast forward to the age of conspicuous consumerism when "We need a garage!" became the middle-class mantra of suburban homeowners.
No matter that these protruding structures marred curb appeal, or were packed with worn, useless, ill-used, never-used, may-someday-be-used stuff. Inside, forgotten on shelves and in corners hid the broken, battered and bent, the unfixable, unfashionable and unneeded featherings from our nests. Garages "archived" term papers, yearbooks, photos, 45 rpm records and bills paid long ago. And while crammed garages provided access to buggies, trikes and bicycles, they rarely had room for an actual car.
Lest you think I'm pointing fingers about garage clutter, I have a confession to make: My family, too, succumbed to the middle-class mantra. Years ago, we decided to create a partial second story, and after much banging and jackhammering that could have severed the continental shelf, the extra rooms rose over our new garage!
The next mantra, which started not very long after the garage addition, became a variation on the theme of "Who's going to help clean the garage?" This ritual — the begging, not the work — continued until finally a definite date was inked on the "Must Do" calendar. When "This time we mean it, Mom" day arrived, lame excuses and sudden disappearances canceled my best-laid plans. Whether from family or the garbage company, there were no free cleanup days.
Renewed vows to declutter surfaced regularly as more stuff vied for additional space.
"Maybe it's in the garage" became a familiar refrain.
No more! With the pandemic and progressive trends to save the planet, the attic atmosphere of garages has now morphed into a home office, a mini-ADU, a family room, a studio and maybe even a man cave.
My own trash has been tamed, and my mismatched bins and banker boxes sit aligned and legibly labeled. My car fits with room to spare.
Usable stuff still remains in the garage — holiday decor, pool equipment, a barbecue grill and dishes saved for the college-bound grandkids. I admit to having a second fridge. Also in its special place, rolled up by the side door and easy to retrieve, stands my trusty American flag, ready to be unfurled to fly on national holidays.
On the next free pickup day, we'll likely only save special memorabilia that reek of Americana: old baseball mitts, an out-of-print United States history book, a Rosie the Riveter poster.
Like other dated fashions of clothing and decor, vintage is "in" and retro often finds a way of roaring back. So I'll hang on to the old emblems, wait for a probable comeback and continue to let Old Glory wave outside our newly decluttered garage.