It’s coming up on two years since my father died at age 91. I miss him terribly, of course, but his death left me with a personal struggle I had not anticipated.

One popular destination for the possessions we accumulate over a lifetime? Thrift stores. Lisa Boone/Los Angeles Times/TNS

While you might understandably think his death left a void in my life, it did quite the opposite.

His death left me with so … much … stuff. He’d lived in the same house for more than 30 years, and even though he’d engaged in some half-hearted Swedish death cleaning — a decluttering aimed at easing burdens on one’s survivors – what he did, mostly, was just put things in boxes. Boxes I had to open to figure out what they contained after he died.

It is hard to describe the feelings of dread and fatigue when I open yet another drawer and have to decide what to keep, what to donate, and what to toss: rubber bands, flashlights, expired passports, ancient tech, electric cords for ancient tech, headphones, cuff links, tie bars, his collection of small colorful bottles, his various higher education degrees (all framed), his uncle’s elementary school diploma (also framed), tchotchkes from his travels that have meaning to me only because they once belonged to him. And, of course, a small library’s worth of books.

I want to keep all of it, but I also want to pile it up and torch it.

Last week, I was bemoaning this dilemma when Anton, my future son-in-law, said, “Yeah, all the kipple.”



I thought it might be a Yiddish or German word, but Anton told me it was coined by the great science fiction writer Philip K. Dick in his 1968 dystopian novel “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” For those who need a plot refresher – or have not seen the 1982 movie “Blade Runner,” which was based on the novel – the story takes place in the future, after Earth has been mostly destroyed by a nuclear global conflict, World War Terminus. Most animal life has been extinguished. The population has emigrated to “off-world colonies.”

The word is used by the book’s protagonist, Rick Deckard, a bounty hunter assigned to kill some uncannily human-like robots who have escaped involuntary servitude on Mars and returned to Earth.

“Kipple,” Deckard explains in the book, “is useless objects, like junk mail or match folders after you use the last match or gum wrappers or yesterday’s homepage. [Dick’s incredibly prescient vision of a digital newspaper.] When nobody’s around, kipple reproduces itself. For instance, if you go to bed leaving any kipple around your apartment, when you wake up the next morning there’s twice as much of it.”

Boom! Every once in a while, a word comes along that perfectly describes a feeling or a situation that felt, until that very moment, amorphous, hazy or indescribable. How did the junk drawer become so jammed? Sometimes when I look at its jumble of stuff, I want to curl up into a ball and go to sleep because I don’t know whether to keep things or toss them.

Rolls of blue tape, green tape and black tape? They all eventually come in handy, right? What about the small plastic magnifying glass? And all those stick-on felt circles that protect the wood floors from scratches? If I toss them, will I need them next week? Why can’t I make up my mind? The kipple is killing me!


I’m not exactly sure that knowing I’m drowning in kipple will help me. What, for instance, is a daughter supposed to do with her father’s handwritten diary from 1986, the year he spent teaching in Buenos Aires? His 1937 elementary school songbook? Or his old wooden shoeshine box? In the long run, maybe nothing I do will matter very much.

As Dick’s fictional futuristic bounty hunter put it:

“No one can win against kipple, except temporarily and maybe in one spot … The entire universe is moving toward a final state of total, absolute kippleization.”

Pretty soon, I’m going to have to move on from the house to the garage. Before I do, though, I think I need to lie down for a little while.

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