The Infinite Garage Project

published Jul 23, 2010
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(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

Name: Raina Lee
Location: Palos Verdes, California
Size: ∞ 3-car garage

Our friend Raina Lee, the publisher of video game sine, 1-Up MegaZine, and the author of karaoke-obsessed, Hit Me WIth Your Best Shot: The Ultimate Guide To Karaoke Domination, has embarked on a dangerous expedition into the great unknown of her parents past: their garage.

(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

When her mother passed away last year, Raina decided she would attempt to clean, sell, donate, categorize and document 35+ years of accumulated objects her parents left within the three car garage. A carthasis through cleaning. Thus, the Infinite Garage Project was born! We’ve been following her updates where she’s shared all the details she’s unearthed about her parents’ lives revealed through their possessions, keepsakes, photos, with plenty of cool vintage old electronics revealed in the process.

Raina was kind enough to emerge from the Infinite Garage for a moment (which we heard can take hours, if not days) to bring insight about the experience, while offering some advice about how to reduce the task of battling “infinity” to a more manageable figure, an issue many of us tech-loving types battle with our collections of treasured, if not antiquated, technology.

Let’s start off with what exactly the Infinite Garage Project is… A challenge where within a year, I’m getting rid of 35+ years of my parents’ stuff, document what I find, and in the process find out more about their lives. It’s also a celebration of mundane, everyday objects. Last year when my mother died, I inherited my childhood home which included the three car garage full of stuff. We were crazy shoppers, the kind of people who if we couldn’t find nail clippers, we’d go buy another pair. We had over twenty pairs! We kind of had collections of everything.

(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)
Gems like this Beethoven LP from the German Pavilion of the Osaka World Expo, 1970 have been discovered.

Our house didn’t look like Hoarders: Buried Alive, but we did put the overflow into the garage. As a kid, I used to be able to find almost anything in there! Bags of money, giant kitchen whisks, hi-fi equipment from the 70s, and vintage Chanel. It was magical and infinite. Now it’s infiniteness is terrifying but endlessly interesting too.

I think we hang onto things because they unlock experience. Just touching them can evoke happier times, different places, etc. Every object has a story, and I think we like to surround ourselves with stories we want to remember. I started document our things as a way to remember my parents and my life, because I have a horrible memory! One day I won’t need the things and I can just look at the photographs and descriptions from the Infinite Garage. 

Do you have a system for organizing, classifying and then selling the items? It’s not hardcore, but I separate the goods into boxes of keep (sentimental or useful), donate (useful but not to me), sell (unusual or valuable), or trash. It starts getting complicated when I have to drag all four categories of boxes around the house. I’m probably in desperate need of a professional organizer but I’m slogging through.  

I have Salvation Army come pick up a giant “donate” pile once a week, 80% of which are clothes! Then I keep the more unusual items and vintage clothes to sell on Etsy and eBay. What’s unique about things from the Garage is that I can sometimes find photos of my parents using or wearing the stuff!

I also give away things on my blog and to friends who visit. You can’t leave my house without taking a bit of the Garage with you.

In the process of excavating the years of accumulated “stuff”, have you learned anything new about your parents? About yourself, in regards to your own childhood? I’ve learned that my parents were three-dimensional, interesting and fun-loving people before me, which is something I couldn’t really see when they were around. They took trips to Venice, Osaka, and Florida, liked to dance, and even had pets I didn’t know about. If anything, finding their things has only raised more questions, like, when did my mom have a Pekinese? Why did my dad take photos of model homes in Florida? I have to invent the answers.

This is quite the stash of arcade money!

Except for my vintage video games and sixth grade diary, my things aren’t that interesting. But what is crazy is that I still have everything from my childhood! I’ve experienced a primal nostalgia, feeling the weight and shape of objects that were my first possessions. Even in an online age, we are still deeply affected by real, material things. Virtual can never replace real experiences!

From this process, I’ve also come to accept that people and things have a life cycle and expiration date. We know that all things come to an end in the existential way, but it’s only reaffirmed when you see a person’s belongings laid out before you like a timeline. It’s a sort of like  “This Is Your Life” through objects. It makes you realize that there is an end because you look at things like my grandfather’s bulbous Casio calculator, my dad’s stamp collection, or “congrats on the baby!” cards from my baby shower and think, “these things should not exist anymore.” 

Name a few of your favorite finds so far? My favorite is a necklace with an electrical plug that says “Sex Plug”! It’s a hit whenever I wear it out! Sorry, not selling this.

How close are you to finishing the project? I’m about 15% done, give or take some infinity.

Any additional thoughts or tips for anyone else out there for a similar “infinite garage” that needs sorting? Don’t panic and get help! You only have to do it once and then the stuff will be is gone forever.

Have a sense of humor. When you constantly see incongruous things piled together— I found glow-in-the-dark shoelaces, a loaded bullet cartridge, origami paper, and California driving maps in the same box — you can’t help but be annoying, confounded, and then tickled by the absurdity of the situation. And then you remember that life is just that absurd too. 

Thanks to Raina Lee; nab a few choice pieces from her historic excavation via Raina’s Etsy site and be sure to check up on her updates at The Infinite Garage Project.

[Photos: Raina Lee]