Confessions of a pack rat

Posted: Sunday, September 12, 2010

It's a drag being a pack rat. Other people see a glass jar or a pair of jeans with holes in the knees and think, "trash-get rid of it." As a pack rat, I see all the possibilities. Could be a pair of cutoffs, or maybe a candle holder. You never know what might come in handy some day. Add on my historian tendencies, and you've got a fatal combination. I want to save everything - not only those things that may in some future reality become useful, but also things that have historical or sentimental value to our family. Kids' drawings, any photograph ever taken, Christmas cards from everyone I've ever known, cute toys and baby clothes the kids have long outgrown - I save them all. Why do I have to be such a pack rat?

It's not my fault, really. It must be genetic. I don't know if it's nature or nurture, but if you grow up in a family of pack rats, like me, chances are you'll become one yourself. My kids are doomed.

Our family is trying to reform. We've undertaken a huge project of reorganizing the house and reducing the amount of stuff we own. For now, it's all piled up in the garage.

We're usually pretty good about keeping the junk in the garage under control, so we can keep the car there. In this respect, I have succeeded in overcoming the lessons I learned as a child. When I was a kid, we had a two-car garage and only one car, which sat out in the driveway - too much junk. I remember the fateful day that the laundry tub overflowed. Water soaked the boxes, miscellaneous furniture, tools, bikes, scrap wood and who knows what else we had lurking in the garage. My parents hauled it all out to the driveway to dry out, and then spent the rest of the afternoon answering the door and explaining that no, they weren't holding a garage sale, just cleaning. Sad to say, most of the stuff went back into the garage following the laundry tub incident. My parents should have made a trip to the dump.

I like going to the dump. I bet you don't hear that very often. There's something freeing about ridding myself of the junk in my life, and recycling provides the quickest fix.

If you're a pack rat, however, it doesn't pay to look too closely when you gather up the recyclables. This last trip to the dump, I found two empty Tinkertoy boxes in the garage - the Tinkertoys had been moved to another bin and the boxes could go. Or could they? You've seen a Tinkertoy box: a tall cylinder of thick cardboard with a metal bottom and lid. Imagine the possibilities! It's a drum, or with two, you've got a cool pair of stilts. Surely someone could make use of them. The Tinkertoy boxes stayed in the garage.

Even more embarrassing, I must confess that I held something back in the dump parking lot itself. Everyone needs a shoebox, right? I'm sure it will come in handy.

Hardest of all were the books. I love books, and I've always tried to treat them with respect. Imagine the horror of dropping a book into the recycling bin on top of that pile of paper and cardboard boxes to be mashed up into paper pulp. Never mind that the book is mildewed and so stinky that no one would want to read it anyway. It just feels wrong to recycle books. Still, I take comfort in the thought that my old copy of "Wuthering Heights" can take on a new life as file folders, perhaps, or paper towels, or even a brand new book. Reincarnation at the recycling center - it can't get any better than that.

So how is the reorganization project coming? Well, the garage is simply packed. Remember that shoebox, and the two Tinkertoy boxes? They're all filled with stuff. We have to keep the garage door closed, or we'd be the ones fending off hopeful garage salers.

We're slowly sorting through it all. I'm trying to restrain myself - you never know what might come in handy some day.

• Peggy McKee Barnhill is a wife, mother and aspiring children's author who lives in Juneau. She likes to look at the bright side of life.

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