When I taught school, one of the teacher workshops I attended was given by Dinah Zike.
She encouraged teachers to collect free materials to enhance our classrooms. She showed us how we could use empty coffee cans as student “mailboxes” where we could place their graded papers. Empty Velveeta boxes could be used as “lockers” to hold glue, erasers, and pencils. Empty cereal boxes could hold the week’s worksheets.
A use could be found for most ordinary things that are usually thrown away, she told us. Since I come from a long line of pack rats, this was very exciting news! I began collecting and saving until I would have made any pack rat proud.
I even balked when my husband wanted to throw out my collection of coffee cans during a cross country move. (He finally convinced me to do the sensible thing and ditch them!)
The Complete Tightwad Gazette, one of my favorite books, encourages the same kind of reusing before throwing something away. The idea is to keep items that could one day be useful.
That’s why I am forever accepting bags of old zippers and maroon sateen fabric leftover from making bridesmaids’ dresses, boxes of canning lids, and outdated appointment books. I have even saved packing peanuts! You know, just in case. You never know when you might need them!
Then, I read one of Don Aslett’s books and had an epiphany.
He was revealing how to let go of the junk that clutters up our houses and our lives. He told of a very large teddy bear holding a big red heart that had been received as a gift. Over time, the teddy bear began to lose its charm and they never could quite figure out where to put the thing. It began to burden him, yet he hated to get rid of it. The giver had spent $20 and had chosen it to bring joy.
What to do?
That’s when he realized that receiving joy from a gift doesn’t preclude the owner from ever getting rid of that item. He gave the example of a dozen roses. If we received them as a gift, we would enjoy them immensely while appreciating the giver’s thoughtfulness and the money spent.
And when the roses die? We throw them out, of course.
We enjoy them until, well, we don’t enjoy them anymore. And we get rid of them. Getting rid of them doesn’t diminish the enjoyment we received in any way.
Mr. Aslett’s point was “Don’t love it if it doesn’t love you back.” By this, he meant that we should never keep something in our homes that doesn’t bring us joy or serve us in some way.
Did you inherit an old lamp from Uncle Fred, but don’t have anywhere to put it? Pass it on to someone else. Did you get a fruit dehydrator for Christmas, but aren’t really interested in drying fruit? Off to Goodwill it goes. Have a very large teddy bear that is losing its charm? Enjoy for a time and then give it away.
Now, are you wondering why I have titled this post “Conflicted”? It is because that is how I feel now that we are trying to pack an entire household into boxes and move them 350 miles!
I can see how both of the philosophies above have merit. Yes, it is good to save things that might be useful. And yes, it is good to eliminate useless clutter. But, how can we do both?
A bag of zippers might one day be useful, but for the time being they are adding to the clutter in my closet. Right now, I have a decision to make. Do I pack up all of the things that could, potentially be of use to me at some unforeseen time in the future? Or do I purge the things that are not “loving me back” right now?
These are two opposing schools of thought. They can not dwell together.
Conflicted. That’s me.