Bootnotes

The hoarder's dilemma: 'Why can't I throw anything away?'

El Reg reruns one of Dabbsy's greatest hits

By Alistair Dabbs

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Something for the Weekend, Sir? Alistair Dabbs is unwell this week. This column is a repeat publication of something we found, er, at the back of the cupboard. It's actually not that musty (it's from 2012).

I like my house zen. Unfortunately, I am a hoarder, so it’s not. My half-life wife has been trying to educate me by making me watch TV programmes with titles like Extreme Hoarders, I Can’t Stop Hoarding and Smelly Old Fat Bastards Who Don’t Wash And Won’t Throw Anything Away.

To some extent, this does the trick. After each episode, she will drag some item of junk out of the garage and ask: “What is this and do you still want to keep it?” My answer is usually along the lines of, “I can’t remember and no”, and off we trudge to the rather fabulous recycling centre run by our borough council.

In my defence, I should perhaps qualify what it is I hoard: old and surplus electronic kit that I don’t need any more.

Please also understand that I don’t intentionally collect the stuff. I do not keep a glass-fronted presentation cupboard full of differently coloured 3.5in floppy disks, for example, nor do I trawl eBay for crap. My mother is a collector – decorative plates, souvenir silver teaspoons, books about the Queen – but I have never understood the interest.

Nor do I waste my time on nostalgia. From time to time, whenever mum discovers some stuff from my childhood in her attic and dumps it on me, I generally dump it in turn. There are exceptions, of course, such as the autograph-hunter’s book I slowly filled up during the 1970s. Surely some of these autographs of the rich and famous must be worth a lot of money now.

Who the ?!?!?!?

“How about that, then?” said the Geiger-enhanced one, rather inaccurately, when I showed this to her yesterday.

There are also some old comics from the 1980s and early 1990s that I didn’t specifically collect so much as buy when they were published and fail to throw away, such as the complete series of Deadline, Revolver and Toxic - not the kids’ comic - which she-who-must-be-particle-detected piled next to my side of the bed some six months ago in the vain hope that I’d be philistine enough to leave them outside in the green bin one Tuesday morning.

No, this is the kind of crap I am filling up the cupboards with…

Wired for Sound

For younger readers who don’t know about such things, this is a Sony WM-4, an early personal stereo - only the fourth Walkman model to be released after Sony ditched the name ‘Stowaway’ - that played compact cassettes. It wasn’t my first or last personal tape player but it was the only one not to fall to bits or to sound like shit. It looks and weighs like a brick and takes four AA batteries: clip it to your belt and you find yourself listing involuntarily to one side.

Now, I’ve not used it for 25 years but it still works and I have a vague notion that a science museum might want to acquire it one day, and that’s why I haven’t disposed of it yet. This symbolises my problem: in wanting to be zen, I am horrified by modern disposable culture. The promise of recycling isn’t enough when something isn’t actually broken beyond repair.

Hoard of the things

It might explain why I still have our old PlayStation 3 under my desk despite it having suffered irreparable YLOD - the hairdryer treatment failed - at the beginning of this year and despite its shiny brand-new replacement happily operational next to the TV in the lounge.

It also explains why I keep several large boxes of old gear and components “just in case”.

Dabbsy's cable container

This particular box contains assorted mains leads, monitor cables, Ethernet cables, old mice, a spare internal Blu-ray drive and other shit that I don’t need at the moment but I might do in the future. This junk came with stuff I bought or stuff I threw away.

For example, when a monitor breaks down, I dispose of it… but why should I send the still-fully-functional VGA cable and mains lead to accompany it to landfill? When my old floor-standing PC has died one last time and can no longer be upgraded or resuscitated, why should I dump a perfectly good Blu-ray drive along with the burnt-out motherboard?

Incidentally, I disposed of half a dozen low-capacity - by today’s standards - hard drives recently. I dismantled them first and we’re using the platters around the house as mug mats.

Seriously, what am I ever going to do with a Palm Tungsten and an Acer what-the-f**k these days?

Very occasionally - very, very occasionally, in fact - I am able to offload some of these things on desperate people. I practically live for the day when someone asks: “Got a spare CAT5?” One small company I work for is pretty much kitted out with my old mice, keyboards, mains cables and routers. And mug mats.

However, it gets depressing to keep finding outmoded and obsolete kit in these boxes such as pre-Bluetooth wireless mice whose drivers, obtainable only from obscure FTP sites and zipped up with Readmes written in Korean, no longer work anyway.

Much of the attic space is taken up by the boxes that my computer kit was delivered in – handy when you have to send things back for replacement under warranty, I suppose, although I’ve only ever had to do this once in my adult life. Oh, and there was that old eMac I packed up and sent to my brother. Hey, that make it all worth while!

I have just now tripped over some boxes in the office. Why have I never noticed them before? Ah, it’s because they weren’t there before: half-life wife has dragged them out for my consideration and judgement. Another clear-out is overdue. ®

Alistair Dabbs is a freelance technology tart, juggling IT journalism, editorial training and digital publishing. Possibly the most annoying thing about hoarding electronic kit is that the only time you’re certain to find any use for it is two weeks after having been persuaded to dispose of it.

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