Tools, You Can’t Take Them With You

When I die I hope be buried in the English rural churchyard that has been my responsibility as churchwarden, after a funeral service that has been a celebration of my life. I am neither an Egyptian pharaoh nor a Viking queen though, so my grave will not contain all my tools and equipment to serve me in the afterlife. Instead aside from my mortal remains it will contain only a suitably biodegradable coffin, and my headstone will be a modest one bearing perhaps a technical puzzle to entertain visitors to the churchyard.

My workshop, my bench, and my tools will be the responsibility of my nearest and dearest, and I hope I will have suitably equipped them for the task of their dispersal. But for anyone who has a sizeable collection of gear, have you thought of what would happen if someone else had to clean it all out? What is profession for some and hobby for others, we deal in specialization that might as well be tools of arcane magic to the uninitiated.

How Much Stuff Do You Have In Your Workshop?

Just some of the donated tools I've seen arriving in MK
Just some of the donated tools I’ve seen arriving in MK

This is a sombre note upon which to start a Hackaday piece, but it’s also a serious point. We all amass a quantity of tools, instruments, and equipment as part of our work that can often amount to a significant value, yet how much of that information have we passed on to those around us? Some of us have partners who are as involved with making and building things as we are, but many of us do not, and our next of kin won’t necessarily know the difference in value between a $1000 oscilloscope and a $40 electric drill.

My makerspace in Milton Keynes is upstairs from a Men In Sheds, an organization that runs fully-stocked communal workshops, and through them I see this on a regular basis. Relatives of those who have passed away leaving behind a comprehensive home workshop are often at a loss to know what to do with its contents. Boxes and boxes of beautiful tools, equipment, and power tools arrive until even the Shed has nowhere left to store them. I know those of you involved in hackerspaces the world over have similar stores. This is very sad indeed, because among them are tools that have been loved and cared for, and I feel deserve some respect.

It’s worth taking a moment then to consider your inventory. Is anything particularly valuable? Sitting here it’s something I’ve never really done, and because my bench is a result of decades as a scavenger of the discarded I have few big-ticket items. My drill press, chop saw, and band saw were bought used and are all old and worn. Instruments? A collection of second hand kit some of which dates back to the 1950s, and a Rigol 1054z which though it wasn’t cheap new is hardly worth a fortune as a second-hand item.

… And Where Should It All Go?

My Cossor 'scope is very cool, but my partner needs to know it's not worth much.
My Cossor ‘scope is very cool, but not worth much.

Then, where should things go? Some items I know would be cherished by the right people. My friend Bill for instance could probably use my stock of Triumph Herald spares — but how will someone cleaning out my shop know what they are, much less who will find them useful?

Perhaps the things that might fetch a few bob when sold should have clear instructions on where to sell them. In most cases that might be eBay, but sometimes there are specialist outlets. A decent quality anvil for example, I’d expect BABA members to be interested in. But imagine trying to list items for sale when you’re left to guess what the even are.

It sounds easy enough to say that it should be given away. But even then, to whom? I wouldn’t give woodworking tools to MK Men In Sheds for example, not because they aren’t a worthy cause but because they already have more than enough. Instead I’d suggest my partner go to one or other of the hackspaces I know haven’t got a decent woodworking area, because they’d really appreciate them. I’d hope a variety of potential recipients would receive my stuff, and be thankful for it.

The point I am trying to make here is that we never expect the inevitable to happen to us, and thus when it happens we often leave little preparation for it. I have seen the effect of this on loved ones through my time in the hackerspace community, and I’d like to urge everyone to give it some thought.

We spend a lifetime accumulating spare parts and the tools to work with them. It’s worth considering what we’ve gotten ourselves into and even to seek out advice on how to get it all organized. Just look around and you’ll realize the scale of the problem likely to land at the feet of your loved ones. Perhaps this autumn is a fine time to clean up, get organized, and to produce a set of destinations for your property when you meet your Maker. You’ll know that your tools and equipment will be appreciated when you are gone, and if heaven forbid you ever have to move your workshop you’ll thank yourself for the tidy organization.

I’d love to hear from you on this issue. How does your Hackerspace approach donations of entire workshops? Have you kept a detailed list of what you have in your shop and where it can find a home if needed? Join the discussion in the comments below.

91 thoughts on “Tools, You Can’t Take Them With You

  1. One thing I think we should all do for sure is to label any hazardous materials correctly so that our loved ones do not curse us in our graves as they nurse their various burns from the unexpected fully-charged-battery, unlabeled jug of fuming sulfuric acid, can of MEK which has (surprise!) dissolved the ink off its own label due to drips and smears during use, or that sealed tin of sodium metal that’s liable to burst into flames when opened on a humid day.

    Not only will you save your loved ones consternation and physical pain in the unlikely event they should need to clean out the garage after your untimely demise you will also be saving yourself these same troubles in the much more likely event that you forget what-all you stashed on this shelf and start rummaging carelessly through looking for that fugitive gear puller or jug of distilled water.

      1. My dad had a pepsi bottle full of some form of central heating descaling liquid, it was the same colour as pepsi but luckily had and awful bad smell to it, coincidentally he also warned me never to put brake fluid into unmarked containers in case someone drinks it!

        1. Putting chemicals into beverage bottles is forbidden! I remember a few horrible accidents with children and grownups alike.

          Perfect recipie to let your beloved suffer a cruel death is to fill some acid, cleaner, solvent etc. into an unsuspicious food or beverage container and store it at an convenient and place, like the kitchen or the bathroom. Add a small label or write something unlegibly over it, just to increase the irony if your child could not read it anyway.

    1. For the sake of your local firefighters who may not have the time to consult with you as you stand with the rest of the family that ran out of the house at 4am, please. please, please label things like this in big, blinking, reverse video lettering. Even a remarkably small amount of the right/wrong kind of material can do a great deal of damage. It’s a bit of a pain, but it may save someone a long stay in the hospital. Trust me, I had to cart several fellow FF to the hospital after being exposed to burning pesticides that were unmarked.

      Most of us don’t have need for a full-on chemical / flammables cabinet with all the MSDS sheets, but putting the stuff in one place with a big sign that says ‘DANGER’ is not a bad idea.

      Time to go re-arrange my garage. ;)

    2. My dad had kilos of really dangerous chemicals, the sorts of things that he had to work to get in the late 1950’s. Cleaning that out of mom’s basement when he died was really scary. (Plywood box with 1/4″ lead plate lining the whole inside, full of clearly different metals and mineral specimens. Open, slam the top back down, and go borrow a geiger counter…)
      I feel like culling dangerous stuff from your collection is something that’s your right-now responsibility. If you need a liter of fuming nitric acid, get it, use it, and get rid of the remains. It’s fine to keep old oscilloscopes because those won’t maim or kill people. But steel containers full of diethyl ether are wildly irresponsible to keep. (Sorry, dad.) They turn explosive if they don’t first absorb water, rust out, and fill the house full of ether fumes at 2AM.

  2. This is something I have considered, in part for insurance reasons. To a great extent, the tools I own all pay (or have paid) their way, and many have significant value. Some of the ones that haven’t paid their way (I have achieved collector status in a few areas) hold significant value in their own right.

    I am well past the point of a detailed list for most things. I have friends that know tools and machiness, and in many cases know what I have, and where I have potential for parts too be separated, I do what I can to make them identifiable as being related, for my own sanity– the memory fades.

    The last organization I was involved that periodically got donations in this vein was a historical organization and tech museum (industrial history living museum)-and, in practice, we had little effective control over the process, despite a good written policy. The general response of the front-end was “sure! we’ll take it!” to pretty much anything, often without any proper documentation, even as to who donated it. People would come back demanding appraisals– that would be a violation of tax rules–, receipts for items that were, for practical purposes, dumped, and we had to dispose of, false claims of what things were–our front end staff generally were not able to asses even the most basic tools, equipment, or materials–, and the occasional `prohibited item’, such as toxic chemicals (lead and mercury containing pains, for example).

    Once, we were given a tool box with some odd looking pliers as the showpiece. Made of bronze. Care to guess what was in the locked drawer (“sorry. I lost the key”). Yup. Blasting caps. Old ones. Well aged, so to speak. That was an interesting situation and I was the one that had a fun day resolving it legally and appropriately.

    When last I was there, there were maybe a dozen machinist cases (Gerstner, Kennedy, and the like) in a pile on the floor. Full of tools, most of which were of a vintage and condition so as to be unusable, but of no historical value (several Ideal test indicators, for example. A drawer full of snapped off sections of rules, and a diemaker’s rule holder, presumable for use as short rules for confined space measure. Damaged dial indicators, rusty calipers, and so on) that were noting but a waste of space. Four or five leg vises, leaning in the corner of a storage shed. Two spare large drill presses (large: 5HP and up, with 24″ to 36″ from the spindle center to the column. Neither a radial type. Neither of great historical interest. Both rusting away) Several spare horizontal milling machines, all different, none complete, none anything special. You get the idea.

    Any attempt to dispose of anything was met with opposition by reflex from a well defined subset of the membership and management. A couple of us were walls: Someone shows up with something, and if there was not an immediate or foreseeable need, and it was not of historical or archival interest, we would avoid taking it. Unfortunately, most of the ‘walls’ were not front-end workers. Mechanical restoration, machinist, archivist, etc, who would have to find a place for these things and trip over them until storage was found. The front end types tended to be much more personable, and, coincidentally, unlikely to refuse anything that some nice person showed up with.

    This is a big part of why I am no longer involved.

    1. I envy your past situation.

      Bilingual tool and die machinist, watchmaker, blacksmith- I have been collecting and building a shop for a few decades.

      The watchmaking side has me with a lot of antique tools of high quality, and of course some rusty stuff too. The even bigger ball and chain is the large specialist technical library of rare books, some in other languages, that deals with things of an extremely esoteric nature.

      I have trouble getting even people who know tools to understand what much of it is, let alone my family, who understand very little of what I actually do. I’m the only hands on creation guy in my family.

      With watchmaking especially, much of the valuable stuff is small. A single box the size of a candy bar comes to mind, with 24 tiny spring loaded pushers for a Horia micrometer jewel pusher. Theres over 1k$ in just that little box.

      I often worry that between the many multi disciplinary professional tools I have, especially the Japanese ones (specialist caligraphy supplies), I would never be able to liquidate this myself even if I were still alive. My family has no clue what I have, and theres a lot here..

      I too have seen historical machinery museums deal with similar scenarios, rotting Kennedys full of the normal odds and ends of a working machinist. They never believe how much of it is useless, rusted and valueless, and are always suprised at what is actually worth something (custom hand made tools).

      I would start a museum for this stuff, and pay someone to restore stuff like what you mention, as a mechanical curator if I hit the lottery as my dream.

      1. “The even bigger ball and chain is the large specialist technical library of rare books, some in other languages, that deals with things of an extremely esoteric nature.”

        Those are the books Google should have been digitizing.

  3. We’ve been collecting since before we lived in caves. And museums find those messes and collect it again claiming we can learn from it, which proves we haven’t learned from it.

  4. Model steam engineering societies and amateur radio clubs seem to have this sorted out as many of the members are quite elderly. When people die their gear is often donated to and shared out by the club. Indeed I know someone who thought he was dying, donated all his radio gear to the club and then improved a little. After a while the club felt awkward about this situation, as he was seriously unwell but most definitely still alive and so they set him up with a new antenna and radio.

  5. this is fairly close to home, a lovely fella with a workshop ram jam full of machine tools next to my workshop didnt wake up one morning. Now his family are tasked with sorting out the “mess”. has certainly made me think about my workshop and untis and hoarding obsession. My wife would have a fit if she knew how much shit I have haha

  6. Keeping an inventory of ‘stuff’ and some of the history of it’s acquisition is never a bad idea, not only in the case of your demise, but should a custody battle ever erupt. Because I’m not that organized, however, for may items I make a note directly on the bottom of the item with a sharpie denoting where/when I got it, and the amount I spent. It all also basically falls into wide categories that each have an assigned friend to help with the disposition of it all when my celestial shop transfer is approved. The spouse is the ultimate arbiter, of course, but these folks know what everything is, what it’s worth, and, perhaps, most importantly, where to get rid of it.

    1. My wife’s (Irish) grandmother had a similar system.
      If someone showed interest in getting a particular item after she died, she’d have them look to see if there was a piece of tape with a name on it, taped to the bottom or back of it. If there was, she had already promised that piece out. If not, put your name on a piece of tape and attach it.

      1. My mom’s aunt did something similar but with what she thought each of her daughters should get. One time, one of the daughters made her mad and she got stuck on the floor trying to change the stickers.

      2. My wife’s grandparents does that as well, which will definetly help when they pass away, but they have so. much. stuff. The grandmother was a seamstress, who worked at home and thus have around 150-200 m^3 of everything from old clothes and to yarns, to industry-grade sewing tools. The grandfather had his own furniture restoration shop and has basically never thrown out anything. Everything that is worthless and can burn is used for heat in the winter, and every little hinge, screw, lock, handle, drawer-rail, pretty hand-carved something, glass-panes from windows, etc. is put in a box with the 200.000 other hinges, screws, handles…. He can barely walk, but still is out in that workshop everyday, even if it’s just sawing up some old wood for the heater. He has a lot of older, but well preserved machines and tools which is at least worth something, but there is no chance in the world that 1% all the things he spent the last 50 years to gather is ever going to be used again, which is a shame.
        The worst part is that their 3 children are the 3 levels of hoarders: 1 lives alone with his daughter in a 2-bedroom apartment and only keeps the most usefull stuff, the other is pretty average with a well-stocked garage, but does not have a serious hoarding problem, and the third lives alone in a big 3 bedroom apartment, where she regularly has to sleep on the couch because she can’t get to her bed because of all her boxes with stuff, most of which haven’t been opened since she moved in, and inside the boxes, around 95% of the stuff is still in original packaging, because “It was so cheap! I’m gonna use it someday, and then it will be expensive!”, so when the grandparents finally passes away and they have to sort through all their things, it will be horrible…

    1. Same here, but the price is ‘free’. And, honestly, that’s probably a good idea for 95% of it: it’s very valuable to a very small number of people, most of whom are vastly unlikely to be available when it is. To everyone else in the world it’s just extremely heavy stuff.
      Isn’t the old joke that we die terrified that our spouses will sell the stuff for the price we told them we paid for it?

      1. “Isn’t the old joke that we die terrified that our spouses will sell the stuff for the price we told them we paid for it?”

        Well, considering she doesn’t know what I paid for most of them, and a lot of them have decreased in value since I bought them. If she were to get what I actually paid, she’d come out way ahead.

  7. Have accumulated tools, materials, components, and books; mostly during last three U.S. recessions. Oddly enough, the most ‘productive’ recession for me was 2001. While short and shallow, the 2001 down-turn prompted many Southern California companies to quickly dump inventory and assets (and more than one later attempted to buy back stuff from me).

    I have published to a CSV-formatted inventory to selected relatives and friends. While the wife-unit has written some generic guidelines for a ‘succession’ to avoid conflict, I have encouraged at least two of my nephews to engage in martial combat to determine whom gets the spectrum analyzer and the 6.5 and 8.5 digit meters.

  8. I never really thought about it since I still relatively young, but I suppose I should start organizing and setting things up now. When I finally croak I want my most cherished parts and tools to go to someone who is like I was when I obtained them: young, curious, enthusiastic, and couldn’t otherwise afford the items. My other collections I’ll have either passed down to friends/relatives who want them or sold off and the balance split amongst them.

    1. This.

      My dream would be to find a young and pure minded apprentice, who I could gift my entire tool library to, and all the rare technical books that go with it.

      There are very few who would attempt to seriously amass what I am, as its difficult even to find much of it even if you have the $, so I wish I could find a worthy Charlie to give my so called chocolate factory of watchmaking and machining tools to before I kick it someday. If someone had done that for me, I could have made my watch by now 10 years ago…

      I have some time, I’m still in mid 30s. Ive just been in poor health. I’ve got another 50 years to find Charlie I hope.

    2. My father was quite young when he died unexpectedly in a freak event. It took over a year for us just to figure out where his investments/assets were, and ten years later we’re still to some extent dealing with all the stuff he collected. The grim reaper does respect statistics, but bad luck is a thing.

    1. Pretty much same. I have 3 main areas of interest and 3 friends that have some overlap in those areas.
      Between them they will be tasked to sort out the garage and the workshop/office, take want and despose of the rest and give something back to the mrs.
      At the moment my kids are not old enough to logically inherit the gear as we dont know what path they will take. So the money might help them later but keeping stuff would not.

      But in all seriousness life insurance payout on my death means the tools and cars are small fry to her. Mere gravy.
      It’s a wonder I wake up every morning have failed to accidentally blundegon myself to death in my sleep.
      She’s clearly a keeper.

  9. Not worried about what happens to it after I leave but I do worry about what to do with it now. In 1995 I bought new VNA and S parameter test set. It has now sat in my yard in a Pelican case for 10 years since I brought it back from abroad. I will never use it again, it is worth maybe £1000 and cost £35000. Now that’s a worry and only one of quite a number of similar worries. :)

    1. Best comment.

      I’d kill to see my own garage sale. I saw one once, of my dreams. I was broke then of course. It was called the Dennis Harmon estate (he was a watchmaker) and it was the workshop of a true wonderous madman in my field.

      I still dream about that place.

    2. My coworker and I talk about this. He has a name for it: essence of junk. You keep collecting junk and as you age you dispose of the poorer pieces and get better ones, and when you die you have the very best, distilled detritus: the essence of junk.

  10. My wife’s instructions are: save everything my son wants, then; Find an auction company well versed in tools for the rest and pay them a percentage, that way the auction co has an incentive to identify and advertise. Beyond that I don’t worry too much, make hay while the sun is shining!

  11. After downsizing from 2 x 20m sheds to a 8m shed, I had to downsize again to just a tool box on wheels.

    The process was
    1. creating a good basic kit for each of my children
    2. Handing on to friends tools on the condition that I can borrow them back if I need them.
    3. I discovered a young lad of 9 who collected “things” refurbished them and gave them to others. Bicycles for instance he would strip down to bare metal and rebuild. Any friend who did not have one got one. Checked with his parents first. Dads comment “I will finally get my tools back”. He got the majority.
    4. A garage sale where things had no price tags, Each zone had a price range. Customers made offers within the price range.

    1. I think they should have to “dig deeper” to find the answer!

      Anyway, not a puzzle as much as it is puzzling is the epitaph on William Butler Yeats’ grave.

      “Cast a cold eye
      On life On death
      Horseman pass by”

      No solution to it, just generations of people wondering…

  12. hi all. having been thru the cleanout nightmare with my dad’s stuff over the last year I would encourage pre-emptive organisation at least of the ‘junk’, ‘donate’, ‘worth money’ type. And I note there’s no law thats says you have to be old or get 3 months warning before you go….
    (that said I havent done it for my stuff yet…)

  13. It’s not just tool and scopes, today’s tinkerers have microcontrollers that could be mistaken for cheap outdated electronics, stuff from Radio Shack that still work but young folks may not recognize since stores are gone, etc. If possible, I store unneeded items in their original boxes or something like a labeled shoe box.

    1. It’s an unfortunate consequence of technology that microcontrollers _are_ cheap outdated electronics. Any electronics are cheap outdated electronics within a few years, much less within the scope of someone elderly. I have boxes of the very highest performance transistors from 1975, from my father, and boxes of the very highest performance vacuum tubes from 1955, from my grandfather, and all my atmegas and ST32’s are even less valuable than those antiques. At work we have a rule that if you have to spend five minutes figuring out what it is and if it’ll meet your needs, instead you throw it away and go order new ones with current documentation on the current silicon version number from digikey.

    2. Dangers of our profession. We’re the only one’s that know the true worth of everything. It’s like watching diamonds being thrown away because nothing that size could be worth anything.

  14. My wife and I kicked around the idea of partnering with estate sale companies to have an operation that buys up tools and car parts from an estate, then identifies them and sells them through eBay and car events. Never got as far as actually kicking this off.

    1. My friend’s sisters started a small business that helps people sort out and clean premises after someone passes, downsizes or goes into a home. They also auction stuff on the client’s behalf. They’re more hands-on and helpful than estate sale companies.

  15. Up to now, I’m more on the receiving end. That is where I got most of my tools from – widow goes to nursery, children if any live few hundred KM away, house is to be sold and needs to be empty.

    If you have access to a sandblasting or even better a vapourblasting cabinet, an astonishing lot of “old”, “rusty” mchanical tools can be refurbished. I’d even try to save the rusted caliper mentioned in another comment.

    I like those tools even more than shiny new ones, because you can just use them without worries, and you can modify them if needed without destroying the “value”. So as long as the functional edges are okay, for example even ugly rusted bicycle pedal spanners and spoke keys made my nephew smile (of course because we refurbished them together, we spray coated them together and now he has his own bicycle tool set (he’s 11). He is now refurbishing a BMX bicycle. His dad hates me, because the garage is occupied every time when he’s coming home :) and I’m a proud uncle.

    You can pick old tools to crack open that rusted bolt, you can even weld them to a nut, you can send them to their last job.

    There are tools which I merciless dispose of: cheap spotwelded chinese garden tools, anything with soft steel blades, anything with old plastic as a mechanical component, noname hedgecutters and lawn mowers, anything with brittle zamak parts in it. And of course the boxes with saved nails and bolts.

    Even if I dispose of a weak and bent chinese hoe, I will save the handle, if it is good – the handle alone does not take up much space, and is versatile.

    Rusty pliers? go into a box with petroleum. After 2 weeks, if they are movable: good, else scrap. the good ones get scratched clean with a needle, vapourblasted and the handles get fresh plastic covers with plastidip or something similar.

    Perfect job for those rainy november weekends – refurbishing and sharpening your tools.

    My “good”, valuable, workable stuff is in grey Euro-boxes with lids, shelved in my heatable workshop, my “bad, salvage-me, loot-me, exploit-me” stuff is in old bakery boxes, fruit trays and such things in the shed, so sorting out should be easy (I intend to live a little longer).

      1. You know this stuff probably. If a furniture handle is not cast of plastic and not pressed of sheet metal then it is this stuff. Is very brittle, and breaks with no warning. Euro style cupboard and closet hardware is ofetentime made of this metal. It is also used for prototyping sheet metal deep drawing tools.

        1. My metal lathe used Zamak for the majority of its gears and fittings, and thus far they’ve been doing fine for 60 years. I’m not arguing in favor of it, but it’s not the worst material.

          1. I restored and upgraded an Atlas metal lathe for my hackerspace a few years ago with another guy, we found the change gears for the connection to the gearbox were all made of Zamak.

            It was the first time id ever heard of the stuff, and it wears out on gears bad. Why they ever thought to mdke them out of that, rather than the steel of the gearnox ones, or the power crossfeed gears we added, ill never know.

          2. They worked. Inexpensive, dimentionally accurate gears were not an easy thing back before engineering plastics. Not ideal, but quite functional. It was one of several “pot metals” of the era, but not all pot metals were Zamak. It had predictable behaviour and properties in the cast state, and was resistant to zinc pest, as it was, nominally, free of lead. Of course, other zinc ills could occur.

  16. I would not even know where to begin. I have tools well over 100 years old. My great grandfather was a mechanic. My grandfather was a machinist with Pratt & Whitney and had a lot of custom built tools. I am a grandfather myself now. My workshop is filled with tools from scopes and frequency generators to metal working and wood working tools. Nobody in the next generation in my family has any interest.

  17. I need to start being more aggressive to get stuff when people die. I miss out on good deals not wanting to offend mourning people. Turns out most of them wanted the stuff gone and fast money. Someone wanted me to make an offer for an antique corn planter. It was excellent condition, worth a few hundred dollars. I went back and they had sold it for $50. I asked them how much they got for the 240 volt mig welder. They didn’t even notice it missing. Someone stole it.

    If you want your heirs to get the most money for your stuff it needs good identification. I see things at auctions all the time that weren’t advertised that should have sold for more.

    1. I got a higher end shortwave receiver from the fifties for $20 a few years ago. I saw it half a block away and knew it was a shortwave receiver. No price on it, I assumed a few hundred dollars, but they wanted $20. I was probably the only one passing by who knew what it was.

      I had seen garage sales at that house, but an older woman, while these were younger. I guess tgey were clearing things out, after tye mother had moved. I did a search about the receiver when I got home, and found a local craigslist ad for the same receiver and neighborhood, they wanted $100. So I assume they tried to sell it without success, and I was the last resort. Either they didn’t know about local hamfests, which woukd have been a specific market if likely buyers, or they lacked the means to get it there, it was heavy.

      The good thing is it wasn’t tossed out, and I gave it a good home. I told them it was worth a few hundred, but they stuck with $20. I didn’t really have hundreds of dollars to spend on it, it wasn’t something I needed, but I wasn’t trying to cheat them.


  18. Its not just tools that can be a problem. I have a massive collection of LEGO and none of my family would have a clue about any of it. The best thing I can think of to do with the collection when I move on is to have it given to the LEGO club with instructions to sell it or otherwise use it in some way to raise money for charity (something they do now with LEGO shows and stuff). They at least would know what I have and what’s valuable and not valuable.

  19. -sigh- you don’t own stuff, stuff owns you.

    If you use them and they expand your capabilities and knowledge, tools are well worth having. I think all of us would agree there.

    Parts, components, building materials, old/surplus gear are more a speculative “investment” that only pays off if you use/reuse/consume them, or unload at a profit.

    This topic is very much on my mind. My geeky neighbour and i are are just into our 60s, and thinking profound thoughts like tthat. I’m bad, my friend is worse… his wife ultimately left him because of the overflowing, non-ending accumulation of stuff.

    I can look around, and I see stuff that I probably will never use again (or ever) .So I’ve been formulating some new principles:

    #1 – MAKE A WILL. And somewhere in there, or as an additional document, provide some direction for the disposition of all that stuff. it could be as simple as giving people permission to just pitch it out. Maybe nominate a younger friend as advisor.

    Look around and make an inventory, even if it’s just high-level categorization. You won’t ikely use something you’ve forgotten about. Then look at every category, and try to honestly decide whether you will ever really want to dig into those. If your time is limited, spreading yourself too thin only makes you anxious. Find the few things you’re really into, and concentrate on those.

    When/if you want to acquire something new, try to find something else to get rid of.

    Anything new you get – try to use or at least investigate it right away. Buying stuff you’ll get into later is how hoarding starts.

    Something I started years ago – if I pick up garbage or surplus because of components I could harvest… I do the disassembly and harvesting almost immediately. It’s easier to just store and remember the harvested bits and immediately pitch/recycle the rest (properly, whenever possible)

    1. 60 is a good age to prepare, having been thinking about it this year and I turn 60 this month.

      After a certain point you start slowing down, so jt’s easier to sort now than later. Also, you’ve reached a point where you can evaluate your life. With !ots of time, something’s potential value is greater than later when you realize you really aren’t gling to read that book or make use of that part. Even, you often have more money with age, so you can afford to replace things you’ve tossed if you really need them again. Even, electronics has changed over your lifetime, so you may never make use of what was once valuable.

      I just cleared out a stack of computer books from the early nineties, which were dated when I bought them used. They were thick, but not all that useful to begin with (I think the bulk was to justify high cover prices), and too dated to be useful. Yet too recent to be really historical, unlike my books about 6502 programming from 1979.

      At least there are now places where I can place tools, to a nearby Tool Library, and too many LEDs and DC motors, to a “maker space” at a library.


        1. But mulit-Terabyte drives are so cheap, and take up so little space!
          Besides, we all know that The Internet isn’t forever, as we’ve all experienced websites of the past that held useful information (tips, schematics, code segments, manuals, etc.) that are now gone, and we wish we had just kept our own copy. And when the mutant zombie bikers arrive after the Apocalypse, we will wish we had that information somewhere on our hand cranked EMP resistant laptop!

  20. Michael Black… all the stuff I saved up was with a full intent I’d begin using it ONCE I turned 60. So I bought the parts and stashed them with the needed info. A closet full of projects to start.

    At the same time, got hold of things that MIGHT get to use. Anybody need several thousand NIB 1N914A?

    1. Ditto. There’s a model railroad that’s been waiting some 40 years now to be built…

      So – to everyone who has been saving up for that special time or rainy day… that day is NOW. It’s Christmas morning. Take out the toys and start playing.

      Maybe HaD could start a forum for parts swapping?

    1. Yes, I’ve been told by people working for a Haiti mission.
      “If you give a man a tool, you give him a job.”

      In other words, a man with even one tool, (hammer, shovel, saw, bicycle, etc.) will be hired over a man who doesn’t have one.

    1. My problem is my heart problem. Inoperable. It may kill me tomorrow or in thirty years. I won’t start getting rid of my stuff now as I don’t want to end up living a long time without the tools that make me happy while using them.

    1. And then there is the old codger with a field full of old cars, who won’t part with them for any price, only to die and have his heirs sell them for scrap metal because they’ve sank into the mud and become rusted unsalvageable hulks.

  21. I’m relatively young but I’m scrambling to even get a handle on the scope of projects I started and want to finish. For me it’s not a big worry about tools, I’m pretty good at organizing and have a network of friends that know what things are and would gladly take them. The stuff that I don’t want tossed is the partially built projects, or unrestored things I haven’t gotten around to. If I am done with something (LEGO, K’NEX, mini fridge, metal detector, trs80 coco 2, etc…) and I find someone else that might do something with it I try to give it away. basically as soon as I know I’m not going to be using something for a long time I try to free up the space (at least knowing that I can either borrow it back or buy another one cheap). This may not sound like an issue, but I have huge projects that no one else I know would take on and if I don’t do them then some historically significant, or at least rare stuff will be consigned to scrap because I was the one who decided to become an expert in hovering vacuums or art deco lawn mowers.

  22. Two years ago I got a phone call from a guy who said 3 different people gave him my name. He had bought a house that a deceased hoarder had inherited from his parents. (He lived a few houses away) It was _full_, three floors of stuff, isles 18″ wide. He at least had everything on shelves. It was a scary intersection as he had a number of the same hobbies as I do.

    The second floor was electronics and ham radio. Floor to ceiling. Shelves and shelves of TE and old ham gear. A whole room of components. more soldering irons than I could count. More 70A Astron power supplies (new, still in the box) than we could give away.

    The first floor was laboratory glassware, SCUBA gear, model trains, more ham gear, and enough xmas decorations to handle a small country.

    The basement was woodworking equipment, Porsche parts, and some boat bits.

    The garage was scope carts and antennas.

    I spent a week organizing the electronics and ham gear, pointing out the really valuable stuff to the new homeowner, who took it home and ebay’d it. The remainder, we had an in place hamfest. After tossing out the very scary SCUBA gear (potentially cracked aluminum tanks), the owner had a lawn sale of the first floor and basement, which sold off quickly.

    All in all, he netted enough to pay for the house….

    It was a serious wake up call for me. I’ve been trying to dump stuff ever since. But all I’ve managed to do is find better stuff!

  23. Hacker and maker groups could follow the example of amateur radio, groups of hobbyists often facilitate removal and/or sale of items for widows of “silent keys” and help alleviate the overwhelming reality of all those tools and parts. We then bring those items to sales (in our case hamfests) where the buyers are looking for those kind of items, bringing in the best compensation for the late hobbyist’s investment right back to the loved ones. Often the hobbyist or their family wish to donate the proceeds to the maker/club/cause that they cared about most. I’ve talked to groups of senior record collectors that are experiencing the same problem and don’t want the burden to be placed upon their loved ones after their passing. These groups know the items better than anyone, how to handle it and how to sell it with as few hassles as possible.

  24. this line is best. My workshop, my bench, and my tools will be the responsibility of my nearest and dearest, and I hope I will have suitably equipped them for the task of their dispersal. But for anyone who has a size able collection of gear, have you thought of what would happen if someone else had to clean it all out?

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