Trash, Treasure and Timing

Like most hoarders, I'm in complete denial.

I see myself as a "collector" of valuable, interesting, and sentimental things.

It all started during childhood, when I felt compelled to stash away objects in an old antique chifferobe my mother saved from a junk pile and made into a girly bookcase for my room, complete with white paint and happy daisy contact paper.

The upper shelves were stacked with stuffed animals, some of which I still vividly recall: the sawdust filled donkey, the seersucker camel, a Dakin walrus, and an ancient Teddy bear with a tinny wind-up music box. Lower shelves held various books such as the entire Laura Ingalls Wilder series that my mother hoped I'd read but never did, and my collection of comic books -- Little Dot, Casper, Richie Rich, Wendy, Archie -- which were well worn.

But the bottom drawer of my chifferobe contained the real treasure trove.

Squirreled away, under a layer of groovy acrylic sweaters and bell-bottomed jeans, was a cherished collection of random objects. Having a particular affinity for miniatures, I had an impressive assortment of bubble gum machine and Cracker Jack prizes, special rocks, acorns, a toy compass, junk jewelry, macramé key chains, Mexican jumping beans, abandoned crochet projects, old keys, and bottle caps.

Thirty years ago, those treasures meant a lot to me, but somewhere along the way I threw them all out. Their time had ended.

Today, I'm still collecting -- saltboxes, sea glass, vintage furniture. But thanks to the military, we must get rid of stuff every few years when it's time to move, and rest assured, I'll never be one of those people you see on TV living in a house packed to the ceiling with garbage and 17 cats.

Frequent purging is part and parcel of military life, and this often happens during the summer when most military families move. Although some cart their excess household goods off to charity thrift stores for the tax deductions, many find it easier to just give their stuff to neighbors and friends, and be done with it.

The most common items given away? Houseplants; candles; light bulbs; televisions; exercise equipment; bicycles; strollers; Little Tykes play kitchens, houses, sandboxes and cars; grills; and, of course, booze.

Food is also a popular give away item, but there are mixed reviews from recipients. While everyone loves getting frozen steaks and unopened boxes of brownie mix, nobody wants that dusty can of hearts of palm that never got used. (Rumor has it, there's a jar of capers that has been passed among so many military families, it's origins are now unknown.)

Sometimes there are regrets. We once gave away an expensive leather recliner to a Florida base neighbor, because, at the time, it was too big for our living room. After we moved to our base house in Rhode Island, we realized that the chair would have fit perfectly into our new quarters.

I recently found out that the Navy SWO family who acquired our leather chair later got orders to Nevada, so they gave the chair to a Navy JAG family who took it with them to their new assignment in Washington, DC.

But life has a way of closing circles when the time is right.

Last month, we traveled to Maryland to help my 82-year-old mother-in-law clear out the house that my husband and his four siblings grew up in. Eight truckloads of musty old junk were carted off to the dump, but somewhere in the heap, my husband unearthed a gem: his deceased father's favorite leather armchair.

We now realize that giving away our trash years ago, enabled us to receive an unexpected treasure.