The Thing About ТThingsУ in the Attic

canstockphoto4866004 You can remember your history, but you don’t always have to carry it with you.

I was in the bait store recently getting some live eels so a friend and I could hit the Broad River to fish for the elusive (and possibly mythical) fish called Cobia when I overheard two middle-aged ladies behind the counter talking:

“Yeah, this weekend I have to get up into the attic and do some spring cleaning,” one said.

The other lady replied, “What’s up there?”

The first lady gave that a moment or three of thought and then replied with a quizzical expression on her face, “I really have no idea! I just know it’s jam packed and there’s no more room to put our things.”

My brain hung on that word “things” and the comment brought me back to a year or so ago when my family and I moved from Georgia to South Carolina after being in the same house for more than 20 years.

It amazed me then and still does how many “things” you can accumulate and how many of those “things” you do not, nor did you ever, need.

As we were preparing for our move I also had to get up into our attic, which spanned the entire length of our house.

We had bought the house when I was in my last tour of a 20-year active-duty Marine Corps career. It was the first house we had owned because when you are active-duty military you move about every three years, sometimes more, so you don’t have time to accumulate much equity in a home.

You also don’t have much time to accumulate “things.” Knowing you’ll be uprooting soon, you tend to get only what you need. If excess things are acquired, they are normally shed in the move.

So, moving into our new home circa 1992 was relatively easy; we went from a smaller rental to the larger house with an open and airy floor plan to find places for the few things we owned. There was no need to store more than a few odds and ends in the attic.

The attic was not large and it really wasn't meant for storage.  The eves of the roof sloped down from the peaks, creating a high, central area that diminished in height down to zero as it went to the sides.

It was mostly unfinished, just a place for insulation and an occasional bat or squirrel. You could walk down the middle because there were flat pieces of plywood laid down to give access to the heating and cooling equipment. Other than that, you had to straddle the ceiling joists if you wanted to walk anywhere, which was rarely if ever. One does not just stroll for pleasure in the attic.

At first, it was just the seasonal decorations that were dragged up those pull-down stairs that led to the attic. These few boxes were needed to ensure that Christmas, Thanksgiving, Halloween and other special dates were properly adorned with the regalia of the season.

Then as new “things” were acquired for the living area, the old “things” needed a home. So, the flooring in the attic slowly expanded.  Planks were laid out and screwed down across the joists so that more “thing-room” was created.

Over the years, toys that were in high demand last season were stored and forgotten in the expanding abyss of the attic.  Plastic boxes of stuffed animals, action figures, Legos, dolls and doll houses that seemed to be half the size of a real house all joined the decorations in the attic.

Those were the manageable items. Boxes stack up pretty neatly and can be moved around when needed. But somehow we got things up into that attic that, when it came time to get them down, seemed physically impossible to fit through the two and one-half by five-foot attic door. How and why we got them up there were two questions left unanswered in the dim annals of family history.

For example, old mattresses, box springs and bed frames that should have been donated to Goodwill ended up in the attic, “just in case,”  a phrase that loosely translates to “I have no idea when or why we will ever use this again but we have room in the attic and we might need it someday.”

As I did my initial assessment of the attic in preparation for the interstate move, I was somewhat impressed with how we had apparently ignored all laws of physics to get some of these items up the narrow and awkward staircase and actually maneuver them through the opening.

One example was a huge wooden doll house I’d made for my now-grown daughter when she was very young; one of those you can open up in front to reveal all the rooms of a two-story house and put all those little fixtures and people.

She had played endlessly with it and pledged that someday her little girl would play with it too; she demanded it never leave the family. So somehow the behemoth magically squeezed through the attic door so she could store it in the attic of the house where she now resides.

This, like many of the items in that attic, had emotional attachment that went far beyond any rational reason to keep it. In a way, the attic was like a history of the family, marking the ups and downs, the nuances that bind past to present to future.

Those who are fortunate--or not, depending on how you look at it--to have a large, walk-in attic can store amazing “things” that truly chronicle the history of a family.  These are the things that children and grandchildren discover and hold dear; or, find and discard or sell to a pawn shop.

Like history, some “things” are retained but much of the meaning is lost over time. As they say, you can’t take it with you, so a vast majority of the “things” in the attic move on via yard sales or donations to become part of someone else’s history.

Even with ruthless purging though, when we moved we brought much with us that still makes me scratch my head and say, “Hmm, wonder why we have this?”

The thing about the things in the attic is that they can also be related to another historical adage, that being: “Those who fail to know their history are doomed to repeat it.”

Things are just things that had meaning for a moment at some point in history but no longer have purpose. There comes a time when they need to move on and if you strip the emotional bond to an item you can see it for what it is--just a thing. You can remember your history, but you don’t always have to carry it with you.

The thing about things in the attic is that if you don’t have an attic it is much more difficult accumulate so many things. So my wife and I have made a pledge to reduce our load of things in the attic. Attics, like garages and other “ample storage space” just become vacuums that demand filling. We have vowed to treat life as if we have no attic, no garage and no spare storage space.

I am starting to feel lighter already.

Randy Gaddo, a retired Marine who also served for 15 years in municipal parks and recreation, is now a full-time photojournalist who lives in Beaufort, S.C.; he can be reached at (678) 350-8642 or email