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?