The Amateur Amateur: Sad Shack

By Gary Hoffman, KB0H
Contributing Editor
February 20, 2005

No matter what, straightening up the shack will require buying something new!

My shack is a mess. I can barely move around in it because of all the stuff on the floor. Every surface is littered with junk. There is no proper desk, so I can only sit near my transceiver or near my computer--and then I must lean waaaay forward in my chair to use them. I have no decent surface on which to write. I frequently lose things in the shack and often buy duplicates of items I didn't know I already had. I didn't start out planning to have a messy shack, but, then, who really does?

Clutter in basement corner

I don't want visitors to see how the rest of my basement looks.

I'd like to clean up the clutter. I don't necessarily want to make my shack a showcase, because I don't really plan to take anyone down there. (For starters, I wouldn't want anyone to see how awful the rest of the basement looks.) No, I just want a shack where I can sit comfortably and enjoy Amateur Radio. Just three things are holding me back: Money, moving, and sorting.

If nothing else, I'm sure most of you can identify with the money issue. No matter what I have on hand, straightening up the shack will require buying something new. In my case the new item most likely would be a desk or computer table. In fact, my wife Nancy and I recently went shopping for one. We drove to a nearby office supply store and spent a long time comparing the virtues of one desk over another. Would this one be large enough for both the computer and the transceiver? Would that one fit in the available space? Was the nice oak one deep enough to hold my computer monitor?

In the end we finally selected the one that should have been an obvious choice from the get go--the most expensive one. We then wearily dragged ourselves up to the checkout counter only to be told that particular model was out of stock. At once disappointed (it had taken a long time to select the perfect model) and elated (we wouldn't have to spend all that money) we drove home and deferred the whole matter of getting a desk for the shack to some later date.

Non-ergonomic shack

I can only sit near my transceiver.

As for the moving issue, well, let's just say I'm not as hale and hearty (nor as young) as I once was. Not that I wasn't just as lazy when I was young, but at least I could move heavy stuff around without fear of putting myself out of commission for a month. You see, no matter what I decide to do with my shack, it will undoubtedly involve moving something large, something that probably doesn't want to be moved, something that will likely get very upset if I do try to move it.

The inevitable outcome will be one of the following: (1) The object won't budge at all until I apply sufficient force, then it will break. (2) The object won't move at all until I apply sufficient force, then I will break. (3) The object won't move at all until I apply sufficient force, at which point it will suddenly break free and crash into something else, which will fall over and strike a third object, and so on until the cascading disaster has destroyed everything in the basement and seriously weakened the foundations of the house.

No, I am not looking forward to the moving part of rehabilitating my shack.

And then there is the sorting stage. As I said, the floor and all surfaces are littered with junk. Some of it is useful, some very likely is not. Either way, fixing up the shack will require going through all of it--every odd bit of wire, every strange gizmo whose function has been forgotten over time--and deciding what to do with it.

Should I throw it away? That would be the easiest choice, because if I decide to keep an item, I must then find a place to stash it. I know that will be a tough decision, because if I'd known where to put it in the first place, it wouldn't have would up on the floor. Not only that, but I'd better put it someplace where I can find it later, assuming that I'll ever use it. This means putting it where it is very visible or storing it in a well-labeled container. And, of course, I will need a lot of containers. And labels. So sorting is not only labor intensive, it is also mentally stressful.

Pile of unfinished prjects

One byproduct of sorting through the disorder is discovering unfinished projects.

One byproduct of sorting through the disorder is discovering unfinished projects. I might, for instance, find an adapter I was building that has a PL-259 connector on one end and bare wire on the other.

"Oh yeah, I meant to get a BNC connector for the other end of that," I'll muse, dropping it onto my workbench and promptly feeling the very fact of its existence slipping away once more.

More likely, though, I will discover a lot of stray papers, notes, plans and such. Some of them will contain dates and frequencies, possibly for some nets of interest, or perhaps for some events that I probably missed. Many of the notes will relate to projects I've contemplated or even started, but never actually pursued. There are, for example, lots of notes on packet radio, Morse code practice, weather nets, slow scan television, amateur satellites, and dozens of other subjects that I have, however briefly, considered interesting.

These papers are both harder and easier to sort than physical items. They are harder to sort because if I still intend to follow up on the subject matter, then I'll need to start a notebook or a folder and properly file them. Generally, though, they are easier to sort because the information they contain is hopelessly out of date, and I can simply trash them.

Writing this column was probably a bad idea. After cataloging all of the difficulties attendant to cleaning up my shack, I find that I no longer have the enthusiasm to follow through with it. If only I had some valid reason to avoid the task.

Hmmmm. When is the ARRL's "Messiest Shack" competition?

Editor's note: ARRL member Gary Hoffman, KB0H, lives in Florissant, Missouri. He's been a ham since 1995. Hoffman says his column's name -- "The Amateur Amateur" -- suggests the explorations of a rank amateur, not those of an experienced or knowledgeable ham. His wife, Nancy, is N0NJ. Hoffman has a ham-related Web page. Readers are invited to contact the author via e-mail, [email protected].

© 2005 American Radio Relay League

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