That Line between Hoarding and Recycling

The grandchild of two women who survived the Great Depression, I grew up watching my paternal grandma stick straight pins into a potholder on her stairs. No matter how bent, she would hammer them straight if necessary, and into the little blue felt heart (made from scraps of another project) they went. She had a jar of thread balls. Meanwhile, maternal grandma “Nanny” cut plastic milk jugs into scoops or used them to store well water against drought. Both hoarded bread wrappers and the plastic bags inside cereal boxes.

Maybe that’s why I’ve never found the line between hoarding and recycling. Plastic storage containers with no lids? Heck, I can start tomato seeds in them come Spring. Books from 1970 about education policy? Craft time, baby!


Except, it never is craft time. Neat stacks of “things I’m going to make as soon as I have time” turn into spider condominiums in the garage. Boxes of one project get pushed to the rear behind other projects.

Still, I persist in refusing to throw things away, because gosh darn it, we all need to reduce our footprint on this planet. It feels more gracious to save the string too short to be saved in an old mint tin, then throw the whole thing away when a mouse starts nesting; now it’s a health hazard rather than my wastefulness.

(I would have set it out for birds to use, but FB says that’s bad for their health….)

Old bottles I can figure out; paste funny slogans on the side of them with scrap paper: Tincture of Smarm, Diplomacy syrup, Integrity Supplement. These are on a shelf in my office, and they amuse me. But there’s only so much room on the shelf.

Ziploc bags get rewashed and reused, but when I tried to make ice by freezing water in one the other day, it had pinholes and all the water leaked out into my chest freezer and now there’s something of a defrost crisis out there. And sometimes people edge away at the pool when they see my sun hat is crocheted from plastic grocery bags.

I was unraveling a sweater to save the yarn, and the big hole up its back meant every piece was about six inches long, but I kept tying them into the next string until Jack physically took it out of my hands and said, “Dear. Really?”

Save money, save the planet, but they never tell you how keeping stuff loses time–the other American failing. Saving time is a virtue in our society, perhaps more important than saving ourselves?

Having been a student for 12 years, every late July/early August, the urge hits to reduce my belongings to what can fit into a Toyota hatchback. It’s a grad school thing. It’s not good for marriages. But it does keep me from becoming a permanent hoarder, when my grad student side fights with my grandmothers’ DNA.

Should I throw away the box of envelopes stamped with an old professional address, or keep blacking them out with a marker and writing mine below it? Will I take that bag of mismatched socks to the trash (but they’re great for stuffing crocheted animals!) and give up ironing wrapping paper? Can I deny the penny-pinching miser I am for the sake of a home where I’m not tripping over stuff that will come in handy someday?

It’s a dilemma – to save or not to save, that is the question. Whether ’tis better to pay up at the store or feel like you’re beating the man and saving the Earth every time you stuff another box of weirdness into a closet?

Simplicity was never this complicated in Nanny’s day….

8 thoughts on “That Line between Hoarding and Recycling

  1. Oh this is SO much like me! So much stuff saved to use in really cute projects I don’t seem to actually, you know, DO. My parents were Depression babies, and it was just part of breathing to save anything that could be reused. It isn’t a bad habit, but it IS hard to keep under control.

      • But tell the truth, even if it were a hopelessly outdated book or in such bad shape it needs to be tossed, doesn’t it tear into your soul a little bit to see a book cut into a sculpture or with its pages rolled into a wreath? I don’t think I could do it–even though, like shrimp, books don’t have eyelashes.

  2. My mother lived during the Depression, and I, too, save things. When my husband died, I found a box and a half (probably around 750) #10 self-seal envelopes with his business address. Toss them? I don’t think so! My address label covers up his printed one. Brown paper stuffed in boxes of books to fill the cracks? Flatten it out and wrap onions or sweet potatoes individually to keep them over winter. Plastic shopping bags? Take them along to the thrift shop where I volunteer and reuse them.

  3. I’m on the side of recycling…separating plastic and metal, so the neighbor who hauls away the plastic can pay himself by selling the metal. Most of my discards will burn or be eaten by a possum. I try not to use non-recyclable non-organic things in every single year.

  4. Oh, you are speaking to my heart!. I’m always straddling a fence over the save/don’t save issue, and the fence (like many I straddle) seems to be made of barbed wire. But then I remember cleaning out my Depression-era mom’s house, and I know it will (almost) all get tossed eventually. Not a legacy I want to leave to my children.

  5. I share this struggle, and it gives me a little comfort to know that I am in the company of a lot of well-meaning other people. I was recently humbled by a man who looked to be about 80 years or older, neatly dressed, but stooped, very wrinkled and weathered, riding an old bike with lots of bungee cords,and bags, picking up cans and other things of metal in the street. I had a fairly large garbage bag of cans in my garage that had been there for months, and ran to get them for him before he was out of sight. I was afraid, for a moment that it would be too much, but he hoisted that bag onto the rear carrier (that thing that we used to give our friends or siblings rides back in the day) shifted things around, adjusted the bungee cords and voila — he was off!

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