The Garbage Barge that is Capitalism (or A Trip Down Memory Lane Through Decluttering)

We have a guesthouse here at Sunflower Farm that was built by the previous owners, Jean and Gary. It’s pretty handy when we have guests and I have used one of the three upstairs rooms as my office since we moved here in 1998. Now that we have switched our focus from publishing books to growing food, I had an epiphany that it was time to clean out my office. All I really need is place to sit with my laptop to write a blog once in a while.

The problem with having a guesthouse the size of another home is that it allows you to accumulate stuff at an alarming rate. So I have been spending any recent spare moment decluttering. Michelle pointed out that one of my daughters had expressed her fear of having to clean out my hoarded mess after I finally drop dead in the potato patch, and since I love my daughters very much, I decided that leaving a big mess isn’t fair to them. So dam the torpedoes, if something isn’t useful anymore, it’s time to get rid of it.

I started Aztext Electronic Publishing in 1987 and over the years I’ve had a lot of customers and done a lot of artwork for them. So I had an enormous number of files, both hardcopy in file folders, and on “media.” I say media, because over the years we have used so many different storage technologies, the mind boggles. Floppy discs, single sided diskettes, double sided diskettes, Zip Drives, SyQuest 88 mb removable disks, bigger SyQuests, CDs, DVDs, external hard drives … just let me know when you’re bored and I’ll stop.

I’ve been single handedly filling up the paper-recycling container at our landfill with file folders full of paper. And I’ve been trying to figure out what to do with all of the electronic media, since I’m always just a bit concerned some old customer will come back and want something from years ago, even if that seems pretty unlikely now. Then there are the boxes of cables. So many cables! So much stuff that was so crucial to my business and my life at one time that is now completely obsolete and useless. Just a lot of plastic and metal and crap that no longer has any value.

I’ve been finding a lot of stuff that makes me kind of sad. Like the binders full of notes that I wrote on the 50 or so software programs that I was licensed on. Oh ya, remember when PageMaker had that bug that caused it to crash and burn just before I sent a file to film and I would have to stay up all night trying to rebuild it? I’d kind of forgotten about all the stress and consternation of running a software- and hardware-dependent business for 25 years.

I do not miss that stress. I miss the income, but not the stress. In fact every day I’m grateful that I was able to run the business, but that I’ve let it slide now. But cleaning out the office is making me kind of nostalgic for those days.

I am also appalled at how wasteful capitalism is. It wasn’t enough that the bulk of what I did for much of the time was create artwork that ended up being printed on paper. That was bad enough I suppose. But the mountains of material that I’m trashing and recycling now I find quite depressing. When I take what I’m doing and extrapolate it by all the business in North America, and then the world, well, it isn’t pretty.

I’d like to think that the move to digital everything would be helping, but we’re just shifting the burden from paper stuff, which is recyclable, to electronic stuff. I am pretty skeptical when it comes to safely separating all the bits and pieces of metals and plastics and all of the other stuff that makes up our electronic gadgetry.

Then I look at the number of laptops we’ve gone through since we bought our first one 15 years ago. The amazing thing is that the first two Apple laptops we bought still work. (You can’t do anything on them of course, but they still work.) Basically every one since then has crapped out and often within just a few years. I think with the pace of innovation, companies build stuff cheaply because they know how quickly it will become obsolete. And with how often you have to update browsers, which need more memory and faster processors, you’re stuck in the game. Unless you can unplug from the matrix. This has real appeal to me after this office purge!

Michelle seems okay with keeping up, so I’ll just rely on her to keep me in the loop with what’s happening in the world. She already does that most of the time.

We had a houseful of guests over the Thanksgiving weekend, so I wanted to get the office cleaned out by then. This was good. As soon as I decided to get it finished in time for Thanksgiving my waffling over what to spare and what to recycle decreased dramatically. I basically decided to get rid of it all. Oh, except that cute little squishy “Smack-a-Mac”, oh and that file of sketches showing how we came up with the Aztext logo from the stylized Aztec calendar icon, and those copies of the first printing of The Renewable Energy Handbook, and …..


Michelle’s Note: The “Smack-a-Mac” is up for grabs. Know someone collecting Apple memorabilia? Make an offer!

8 Responses to “The Garbage Barge that is Capitalism (or A Trip Down Memory Lane Through Decluttering)”

  • Mark Mick:

    Hi Cam,

    I hope you guys are well. Nice piece. Were you able to recycle any of the computer hardware or the disks, etc.? I have a million cassettes (audio and video) I’m trying to recycle with no takers.

    If you hear of anything, let us know.

    Take care, Mark

  • Hi Mike! Thanks for the offer but all of the batteries in these laptops are dead too!

  • Mike the Carpenter:

    Hi Cam. I have a friend that is an Apple user. Her battery died and the computer is now obsolete (but works fine) so a replacement is no longer available. Any chance either of your old laptops is an 11 year old Apple with a still functioning battery? Just thinking I can put some money in your pocket and keep the old battery from ending up in a landfill somewhere. Please drop me a line at my email address if you’re interested. Thanks and keep up the good work.

  • Gerrit:

    What a big job! Congratulations on decluttering.

  • Janet Schaefer:

    My husband and I had a discussion like that this past weekend. All our computer file backups were on large, Western digital 1Tb drives… We started that when we were living in Thailand… Now with external hd’s that are 4tb and up… we have a lot of 1tb drives not needed… was an eye opener of how fast time goes. 🙂

  • Jean:

    Surely you need your office to do more than write the occasional blog? Like that novel or screenplay?????

  • My poor daughter has been cleaning out her late father’s house.
    I had to clean out my parents place.

    I think it is payback of some sort!

  • Blanche Hauch:

    Thank you for this reminder of what we all need to do.

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About Cam
Cam Mather and his wife Michelle live independently off the electricity grid using the sun and wind to power their home and their CSA. Cam is working towards the goal of making his home “zero-carbon” and with his extensive garden he aims to grow as much of his own food as possible. He is available to speak at conferences and other events and has motivated many people to integrate renewable energy into their lives, reduce their footprint on the planet and get started on the path to personal food, fuel and financial independence.
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