Reusing: the gateway to hoarding?

Like most of my hang-ups, this one begins with my dad. He grew up as the sixth of seven children, in a family so poor that an egg was considered a extravagance. Fast forward twenty years, and he’s in America, making a decent salary that allows him the luxury of stuff. Lots of it. Magazines, freebies, gadgets, odds and ends picked up at garage sales. And along with the stuff, an almost pathological inability to get rid of any of it, even the stuff that seems most useless. Visit my parents’  house, and you will find never-read tech magazines from 1996, floppy disks for the the Commodoore 64, two working (if inaccessible) C64 models on which to run the floppies, squeezy stress-relieving promotional toys advertising companies that bit the dust long ago, an almost endless assortment of electronic parts, and clutter just about everywhere my mother hasn’t staked out as neutral ground.

If it weren’t for my mother, he’d be a full out hoarder. Rag on him to get rid of stuff, and he will get extremely defensive and cite the remote possibility that all of it will, some day, in some way, become necessary. Occasionally it does. But mostly it just sits there.

I’ve begun to wonder if the reuse mentality, or its extension, the it-might-just-c0me-in-handy mentality, encourages us to hoard. Not in the sense of true, psychologically diagnosable hoarding, but in causing us to hang on to too many things. I, too, have collections of stuff that I keep because I might be able to reuse it. Oh, not a lot. But used mailing supplies for when I’m finally happy enough with my pottery to send it out as presents, and small cosmetics containers (dark glass apothecary bottles, small jars that used to contain trial sizes of lotion and mineral make-up) that I think I should be able to do something with. They’re modest hoards compared to my dad’s, but they grow nonetheless.

It’s not a happy relationship. I alternate between clinging to them in my DIY and pottery delusions (some day I will make my own lip balm and use those jars; some day I will make bowls so perfectly balanced that they sing arias in your hands) and frightening myself with the thought that I am becoming my father and getting rid of everything. It’s probably the most terrifying thought I can have.

Maybe it’s too easy to forget that reusing must be paired with reducing. Most of the boxes and cosmetics jars were from things that were given to me. I didn’t buy them, but  just because they were free doesn’t mean they are environmentally sound.  I need to repeat that like a mantra.

In a larger sense, we can’t afford to reuse — we simply don’t have the space to — if we don’t also reduce what we take into our homes at the same time. Obviously, I haven’t figured out an ideal balance yet. Do you find that saving things to reuse encourages hoarding tendencies? What are better ways to reuse without having stuff take over your space and life?

27 responses to this post.

  1. Somewhere along the line, probably because manufacturers didn’t want us to stop buying, we forgot that “reduce” is the first step. Yes, reuse and recycle are important parts of the cycle, but reducing is key. We (my family) are very conscious of what we bring into our home. And once it’s “in” we do try to reuse it. To avoid that “hoarding” problem, we have a rule … if we haven’t used it in a year, it needs to go. Maybe someone else can use it so … first stop, Freecycle. After that, we recycle. Keeping to that rule helps keep us free of “stuff” … and I really like the idea that someone may be able to use something which is just sitting around my house.


    • The year rule is a very good idea. I’ve used Freecycle in the past, but people have been flaky, obnoxious, or just not people I want to deal with. (Remember? I hate dealing with people in general!) I think I need to find some sort of Freecycle that doesn’t involve human contact.


  2. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Laura, Jennifer Mo. Jennifer Mo said: Reusing: the gateway to hoarding? […]


  3. At my old apartment I had collected a good amount of beer bottles, spaghetti sauce jars, juice bottles for future use. Unfortunately I didn’t make enough of my own stuff to really put them to good use. They sat around empty, taking up space most of the time. So when I moved, I recycled half of them. I’m pretty good about not taking free stuff (unless it’s something I really want), because I know it’ll just collect.

    When are you going to make your own lip balm? Do it soon! [then post a tutorial!] Then your jars will have good use, and I will have learned how to make my own lip balm too 😀


    • Hah, I should move every two years as a way of keeping my stuff under control! When I went to England, I came with no more than what I (a small person with no muscle to speak of) could carry, and came home with the same. It curtailed shopping, for sure.

      I have a DIY face moisturizer coming up. I’m not sure I have all the ingredients for lip balm yet, but you might just inspire me to get started experimenting.


  4. Of course, reduce is very important, I totally agree. But I also think that some ‘hoarding’ is a good idea… if kept in a good storage system, there are plenty of things that will be useful in the future and not available (or very expensive). Let’s call it stockpiling perhaps, instead of hoarding. I am talking good quality, long lasting items, made from glass, metal, ceramic. Equipment that runs by hand power. Reference books, cooking ware, linens and blankets, camping gear. Fabric, wool, sewing and craft equipment. If you have the skills to pull things apart (like electronic gadgets, computers) and reuse them, or even if you don’t, those things may be useful to barter with?

    Or maybe I am just trying justify my own hoading tendencies!!


  5. I think the key is ‘good storage system.’ My dad can’t find anything even if he does end up needing it, and he has so much stuff that it actually gets in the way of reusing it. My question is more about how to keep the things we want to (and are likely to) reuse from taking over our space and lives. I like the one year system — maybe I should start putting dates on things so I can easily see what I haven’t used in a year — and should also work on having fewer things enter my house to begin with.


    • Yes, not buying or acquiring as much, or making sure the choices are good choices, that is the key, but also tricky when you’ve had consumerism pounded into you all your life from all angles (like alot of us have)… or with your dad’s case (and many hoarders, I believe) that you’ve had nothing, and then, then you’ve got ‘stuff’! That feeling of ‘stuff’, so comforting!

      I feel like I am constantly decluttering and reorganising our house & belongings, wondering where the stuff keeps coming from… if I am keeping such a good on eye on ‘reducing’ & ‘reusing’, how do we get to this point each year? Well, kids grow up, and we also get presents we’d rather have not, but I guess I just haven’t gotten over the comfort of ‘stuff’!

      Good luck, let us know when you get a good system going on!


  6. Posted by shortystylee on 02/11/2011 at 15:57

    I’ve gotten really good at realizing which things I need to keep and reuse and which I honestly won’t reuse. My main area of keeping is anything to keep my bulk bin foods. We don’t have very much room in our apartment so we don’t have much room for storing non-essentials.


    • Less space is definitely a deterrent to getting stuff. I think I might have unintentionally been a minimalist during college when I shared a one room studio apartment.

      After the cat got into some plastic bags that were holding couscous and split pea soup from the bulk bins, I think I’m going to start having to keep anything at cat level in glass…


  7. Wow, your dad sounds exactly like my dad. I don’t recall ever using the garage for the car because that was where everything that didn’t otherwise have a designated storage space would go. When my dad finally sold his house a few years ago, sorting through all of that junk in the garage took longer than packing up every other room in the house combined!

    Thankfully I don’t take after him that way and have been known to go on purging rampages through the apartment. It’s not even a lack of space that prompts me to eliminate clutter, it’s just a general dislike of excess. My rule is that if I can’t store items I’d like to save for future use in a drawer, container, or cabinet, I’m not allowed to keep it. Often, that means I toss one thing to make room for another, seriously evaluating which of the two I’m more likely to use. Yes, reusing must be paired with reducing, and reducing comes first! Actually, I like adding “refusing” to the front of the 3Rs. Maybe there’s a way to get people to stop giving you things you don’t need, like the cosmetics jars you mentioned.


    • Refusing is a good idea. Mostly, I need to stop entering/winning giveaways, which I’m starting to realize generate a significant amount of packaging…although free soap and lip balm are hard to turn down!

      Comparing things for reusability is a good idea. I never thought of it that way before.


  8. I keep more things now that I am all eco. The biggest increase has been glass jars (for my bulk bin items!) and plastic bags that still manage to find a way into my house (but I rinse and reuse!). I don’t want to throw something out that I might need, since then I have to consume and purchase to get it all over again. So maybe another rule should be – if you toss it, you cannot purchase that specific item again! There has to be limits of course, and rationality, and organized storage systems. I like to go through everything once a year or so, to reorganize and assess what I have and what I need.
    My biggest problem right now is toys. How to cull without hurting the feelings of the little people? But they are driving me CRAZY. I think my son is a total toy hoarder.


    • That’s a great rule, Sherry. I think it will help me thin out my population of boxes and bottles — there’s no way I’m going to need all of them, but I certainly don’t want to end up buying more.

      I’m afraid I don’t have any advice for your son. Could you ask him to donate some of his older, unplayed with toys to needy children? That might put it in a slightly more palatable light if you explain that many kids don’t have toys to play with. Or set up a swap system so there’s always an influx of new toys coming in and old toys going out?


  9. I think that reducing should be first on the list – no questions! I too had lots of small containers for cosmetics, but now I only keep the one I really need for travelling, and they are inside my travelling case. When shop assistants offer me samples,I just refuse them, unless it’s something I really want to try.
    I guess that living in a small (very small!) house helps me keep things under control…and I also feel that having lots of stuff is just a “weight” (said from someone who moves often, and will do her 3rd international move by the end of the year…!).


    • Wow! Moving internationally…yikes. I think I probably only have one of those in me. Still, that must be exciting. If we all had to move every few years, I thnk we might accumulate a lot less in the interests of our lower backs. Good luck with the move!

      Today is turning into my day to get rid of boxes. Maybe I’ll raid my cosmetics drawer while I’m at it, too.


  10. I absolutely agree. My Husband is a huge hoarder and it’s very annoying because his ‘one day’ stash really does come in useful so I don’t have a leg to stand on in my argument for minimalism! You need to hoard to a certain extent if you are doing the frugal / repair rather than recycle lifestyle. I’m not really sure what the answer is, except that for me personally, I go through my stuff and purge it on a regular basis and then I try not to look at my husband’s muddles!


  11. Sorry to come back but I’ve been giving your post a lot of thought; it’s really struck a chord with me!
    I’ve realised that I spoke about ‘aspirational clutter’ on my site and your hanging onto mailing supplies and cosmetics containers MIGHT fall into that category. Aspirational clutter was a really difficult subject for me to broach. In my life it amounts to sewing or knitting supplies and arts and crafts materials.

    THe harsh reality is that I’m not in the slightest bit crafty or artistic. I’m creative, but not artistic.
    Part of me feels I SHOULD be good at sewing, knitting and making my own cards – I follow blogs where people create beautiful items and I aspire to be like them.

    But the biggest thing these types of clutter bring up for me is a sense of my own mortality. I figure that all my ‘should do’ hobby supplies were never going to happen because even if I started one right now I would never get through my list of ‘things to experience’ in my lifetime. I’m the same with magazine articles – I keep them for inspiration for my site, but I could put up one a day for the rest of my life and there would still have excess papers for my daughter to clear up long after she had buried me. It’s not a nice issue to face up to is it?

    Now I’m not saying you will never make pottery that you feel good enough to send as gifts or end up making some great cosmetics, but it’s good to ask ourselves if we are holding on to aspirational clutter, ie things we buy / hoard with great intentions byt never actually get around to using.

    I hope this helps some of us to clarify a little bit and perhaps find the courage to release some items.

    Another way to look at holding on to things is to ask ourselves whether we are buying into a poverty mentality. My DH keeps things because they might be ‘expensive to replace’ or worse still he paid a lot of money for them a few years ago. Aaaaaaargh! We have to remember that the Universe is made up of energy, it’s a flow, it transmutes and if we stop that energy flow by hoarding we don’t allow new things to come to us either ….


    • Thanks for your thoughts on aspirational clutter! You might be on to something with the cosmetics containers. I love scents and perfumes, but am not really all that ambitious when it comes to DIY-ing my own products. I guess I hang on to them because it seems like a shame to recycle them when they are perfectly reusable and someone out there would probably find them useful. Maybe I should set myself a deadline to either do something with them or find someone who will.

      The pottery I’m more serious about, and figure I will either get over the fact that what I make is never up to the standards of what I had hoped to make (but that other people still like and use it) or get to the point where I’m fairly happy with what I make within the next year or so. If closet space were at a premium, that would probably push me to get rid of the boxes, but since it isn’t, I don’t have an immediate need to get rid of them.

      I just took some things to the charity shop yesterday. I like to have an even 1:1 ratio of things going out/coming in. 🙂


  12. Posted by Jo H. on 02/27/2011 at 13:02

    Enjoying the exchange of ideas here! The idea of reuse leading to hoarding is something I’ve been thinking about for awhile too. My dad has these issues (he grew up in a large family with very little, as well) and I realize both my husband and I tend to do it too. I think the lack of storage space can help. We have a fairly large home and for years the accumulation was not noticeable because it was out of sight. If we’d had a smaller house, things may have come to a head sooner. I also like the idea here of whether things have been used in a year. I’ll keep that one in mind. As for the boxes and bottles, I was going to recommend Freecycle, but it sounds like you haven’t had good experiences. Have you tried the non-contact method of Freecycling (you post that you’re leaving the stuff at a certain location, first come first served, for X day(s) and then it will go with the recycling/garbage)? It spurs people into action a little better, I hear (haven’t done it myself). And you don’t HAVE to get rid of it if it’s not picked up, you’re just SAYING it’ll be gone (and technically it will be!).


    • Hi Jo! I think one of the rules of my local Freecycle group is handing over the goods in person, unfortunately. I could just try leaving everything in the laundry room, which is where all of my condo’s unofficial exchanges of free stuff occurs, but I guess I feel bad about empty containers. This probably means I should just recycle them!


  13. As a husband and Dad, I can detect a certain thread running here.

    And I fear I must confirm the basic premise being posed: a desire to reuse does, inevitably, lead to hoarding.

    And it can get unhealthy. We have a big house, but there are limits. And as lofts and basements and sheds fill up, so the braking point can be reached.

    But though there is a madness, I merely offer a slight method in mitigation.

    Often, where one thing seems of no value save to hit the trash can or landfill, when you see a stack, or row… of scores… ideas can germinate.

    And if one idea can reuse many items that were only going to be thrown away, that can only be good.

    Better yet, if that one idea then gets spread around, so those scores become thousands around the world, in a way linking idea generators with idea adopters with waste material providers in the local community, then ‘one ma… person’s trash can indeed become another’s treasure’. Plus lead to many other benefits, to planet and pocket, too.

    I invite you to . Sadly, the post(zip)code location system does not (yet) work outside the UK, so we can’t introduce a person seeking raw materials to a nearby hoarder to help them out (along with the latter’s marriage), but we can still share soem nifty ideas.


    • Great idea! I wish I could take advantage of Junkk; it certainly fills a need in our society. Let me know if you ever expand to the US!


  14. […] Not easy to be green – Reusing-the-gateway-to-hoarding […]


  15. […] found my newest addiction: the A&E show Hoarders. You may already know that my dad is a hoarder, and that growing up around his piles of outdated magazines and electronic gadgets has given me a […]


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