Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Am I a Hoarder? defines hoard as

2. (v):to accumulate for preservation, future use, etc., in a hidden or carefully guarded place:; as, to hoard food during a shortage

Clearly, the negative connotation attached to the term "hoarder" is not inherent in the definition, but is a more of a cultural judgment in a time of plenty and/or excess.

According to the strict definition, I am, in fact, a hoarder.  But most of my hoarded goods are hidden, or more likely stored, unlike some of those poor folks on the reality show who cannot walk through their own home.

Although I don't watch the show, I've see enough footage in the commercials to get a feel for the level of hoarding necessary to be a candidate for that show.  I'm not there, not even close.  But I've been wondering if I'm more of a hoarder than I need to be.  Because clearly my friends and neighbors don't reuse or save some of the things that I do.  I know, because if I see something I like in their trash, I ask for it.  Creepy, huh?

Today I will probably solidify my status as a slightly addled girl fast on my way to becoming a very addled old lady.

You see, I mentioned in a blog that I am a "waste not, want not" type of person, which resulted in a few questions about that term, and at least one outright challenge to prove it.  So today I commit myself to making a list of the things I save, reuse, up-cycle, re-purpose and otherwise don't waste.  Prepare to be puzzled, amused and possibly horrified.

1.  Plastic and metal canisters.  If you received Christmas candy from me, you already know about this one.  When my children were younger, we'd use these (or oatmeal containers, or coffee cans) for craft projects.  Lots of family members received adorably decorated pencil cups which I am sure they are still using to this day - made with love by the Arnett girls.  I can't in good conscience throw out powdered drink containers that I use at the rate of 1 per week, so I began saving them.  Eric started threatening to throw them out, (the boat was just sitting there empty at the time - geez) I had to find a new place to collect them.  Anyway, I spent one tedious November afternoon covering 35 of them in wrapping paper so that they would make suitable candy gift holders.  Add homemade candy and voila! instant Christmas present.  I never wanted to compare the cost of making homemade candy and decorating cans to the cost of buying a similar (nicer) product at a store.  That would mean computing my labor cost, which would be too depressing. 

2.  Zippered plastic bags.  Please, please, please someone -  tell me I'm not alone!  I wash and reuse the gallon and quart sized bags, unless they contained raw meat or something that went nasty on me.  I've endured lectures and ridicule from people who've seen them in my dish drying rack.  The unit cost of those handy bags is too high to just toss them, after holding nothing more sinister than Oreos.

3.  Plastic water bottles.  See explanation above, with similar caveats and not shared outside the family germ pool.

Since it is quickly becoming a time-sucking chore to find nice pictures of the trash I save, I'll just finish this out in list form:

4.  Miscellaneous fasteners and clips.  
5.  Slightly used pieces of aluminum foil.
6.  Cardboard and corrugated boxes.
7.  Nylon strapping.
8.  Sturdy paper and plastic shopping bags.
9.  Miscellaneous office supplies.  
10. Envelopes, bubble wrap, twist ties, rubber bands.
11. Lightly used tissue and wrapping paper and gift bags.
12. Zippered bags that linens, bedding, drapes and tablecloths       are sold in.
13. Cut glass decanters and jars.
14. Scrap fabric, ribbon and sewing notions.
15. Coffee grounds.

I always thought I was being a good steward of the Earth, recycling and upcycling my stuff.  I've been deeply influenced by relatives and friends who were reared during the Great Depression, many of whom have passed on their values as well as their reuse ideas to me.  It would be an insult to my beloved grandmother's memory to throw out an empty Tic-Tac container - they are so convenient for storing excess needles and straight pins!  Paper towel tubes protect artwork that my daughter Mary cannot bear to part with, but I don't wish to frame.  Ribbon and lace scraps make any shabbily wrapped gift look instantly less shabby - let someone else experience a guilt trip after throwing away perfectly good ribbon!

I knew my penchant for reusing had possibly reached the level of unreasonable when we had a plumbing disaster here last fall.  

I dumped some leftover pasta down the garbage disposal and ended up with the clog to end all clogs (warning: root word for pasta means "paste.")  Naturally, Eric was out of town, so after a day of trying all the physical, chemical, mechanical and mystical unclogging strategies the Internet has to offer, I accepted help from a neighbor and her husband.

Tom approached my problem as men are wont to do: he used large tools to make loud noises.  When that didn't work, he started taking things apart.  Gravity being the prevailing physical principle at work, the clog and all the water behind it began rushing toward the center of the earth, first stopping beneath my sink.  There was a bucket nearby, but not close enough, and a goodly quantity of indescribable sludge with chunks of pasta primavera drained onto the cabinet floor before we got the bucket in place.

It was a mess, and cleanup was a pain, but the telling moment came later, when I discovered the only item touched by the foul spillage was an unused strip of twist-ties.  I was halfway done wiping them off with a paper towel laced with hand sanitizer before I realized the utter madness of my actions.

I was trying to rescue twist-ties.  They are a cheap, useful, easily-replaceable commodity, and I was trying to wash and sanitize them!  Perhaps I was going a tad overboard?

Well, I threw out the nasty twist-ties, but I haven't exactly changed my hoarding ways.  In the full throes of cleaning and organizing during school spring break, I kept scouting around for new and better uses for all the empty cardboard shoeboxes I've amassed.  They seem too useful for the recycle bin just yet.

And I got to wondering if other people have as much trouble throwing things out as I do.  I confess, I've never watched the reality show about hoarders.  It's not because I'm afraid I'll see myself in some of those pitiful, ill individuals, but because I'm afraid I'll become inspired by their hoards!  Do any of those sickos ever seem to be onto a good idea?

Which leads me to my newest repurposing venture:  wire clothes hangers.  Some folks hate them, but I dislike the plastic ones, because they are breakable.  If a kid needs something off a hanger, the item gets jerked off the hanger, right?  No child in this house has ever removed the hanger from the closet rod, then removed the garment from the hanger.  It's just too exhausting.  So I'm constantly finding hangers with the top snapped off, or the cross piece broken when a pair of pants got yanked a little too hard.

Why buy more hangers when I have millions of the wire type laying around?  What to do, what to do?

Using a bunch of leftover potholder loops that never got as far as the loom, I make long fabric chains that I wrap around wire hangers to make them cushioned and secure for almost any garment.  They are colorful and tacky and I'm addicted to the process of making them, attractive or not.  I'm looking for a suitably wretched craft fair to try my hand at selling these poor, sad inventions of mine.  My grandmother (and many others) used yarn to knit or crochet hanger covers, but I've yet to master those needle arts, so mine aren't as pretty as some you'll see.

Here's a look at a few of my masterpieces:

Clearly, I have more time on my hands than talent or taste, but hey, I'm saving the planet, right?

If you want a case or two for your home, shoot me an email and we'll cut a deal.

And if no one is interested, well, you can guess what I'll be giving out this Christmas!


  1. I immediately thought of Mother recycling used aluminum foil when I saw your subject, then was pleased to see you mention her in the article. ;-)

  2. I already knew all of this about you..and ALL of these things are what makes you-YOU!!!

  3. Your columns are better than any syndicated writer from the New York Times to the Fairhope local.

  4. I think hoarding is just a form of earthday extreme, and I not only support it, but do it (to a degree). My mom reused aluminum foil, ziplocs, rubber bands, twist ties, etc., and I do, too. (Well, maybe not too much aluminum foil). So keep up the good work, our planet needs it.

    "Michele Arnett, saving the planet one ziploc at a time"