Confessions of a packrat

So I rousted Michael last night to walk up to my favorite restaurant for dinner. It was a little late at night, but fortunately they’re open until 11 on Saturdays. During the walk back, we noticed that a lot of buildings were completely dark. Then we turned a corner and saw that all the houses and streetlights on our street were dark.

The power outage, according to the power company website, hit about 11,000 customers. Once we got home and grabbed a couple of flashlights, we were mostly concerned with getting our computers (that were all plugged into uninterruptible power supplies) properly shut down. Then making sure that not everything in the house would turn back on at once when the power came on.

I went to grab a couple of candles in jars from the top of the entertainment center. Sitting on top of the first one I could see was a cute little plushy husky that had been given to me by a friend when he came from Alaska to attend a sci fi convention with us. I took hold of the plushy and tried to lift it out of the way so I could get the candle. But it was hung up on something. I tried to get it loose, and after a few seconds, something came loose and flew over my head, clattered against the wall behind me, then hit the floor. I had the plushy free in my hand, so I set it aside and got the candle down. I started toward the kitchen, where I knew the matches were. Fortunately, I swept the light down on the floor just before I stepped on the big brass spike.

What brass spike, you ask? Why, the one-and-a-half inch long brass spike sticking up out of the little brass pillar candle holder that was apparently wedged between a couple of the candles in jars up on the entertainment center. As best I can figure, since there is no sign on the cute little plushy of any holes or even snags, is that one of its legs was somehow wedged between the candle jar the plushy was atop, and the brass pillar holder. The pillar holder is what flew over my head and made all that clattering noise, and of course landed right where I would have stepped on it, with the spike that is probably more than capable of going right through the soles of my tennis shoes and well into my foot.

I picked up the small brass foot trap and put it on a counter. I retrieved the matches and my little kitchen step ladder(I’m only 5-foot-5-inches tall, I need the ladder to get into cupboards which in most kitchens appear to have been designed for use by NBA players). Once I got the first candle lit, I climbed up on the ladder to get the rest of the candles.

There was a lot more junk up on top of the entertainment center than I remembered. More candles, yes, but also a bunch of other things that I had completely forgotten about.

We got enough candles lit and spread around the apartment that we could move around without carrying flashlights with us. And even though the power company web site (smart phones are a wonderful thing in these situations) had predicted power wouldn’t be restored until 4:30 am, just shortly after I got all the candles set up, the lights came back on.

Of course.

8_ball_faceToday I pulled the rest of the stuff down off the entertainment center, dusted, and tried to figure out which things up there we actually need, which should be thrown away, and which just need to be put away somewhere else. One of the things up there was a Magic 8-ball. Yes, the silly toy.

It wasn’t just a little dusty, the dust was adhering to the plastic, so I had to get soap and water to clean it. But it looked all pretty and glossy afterward. I asked it, “Am I going to get the rest of the house cleaning done today?” shook it, and turned it over. The little plastic-dodecahedron inside with the silly answers on it floated up… with the point up. The level of liquid inside has gone down enough that it won’t push the dodecahedron against the little window so you can read one of the answers.

Now, a rational person would toss it into the trash at this point, right? It isn’t worth taking to Goodwill because it doesn’t work. But here’s the problem. This Magic 8-ball is the very first Christmas present I ever opened from Michael. It’s a present he grabbed precisely because it was silly, and he thought that I should have at least one silly toy to open for Christmas. Unlike a couple of other things he gave me that Christmas, it wasn’t something picked up because he thought I wanted it or needed it. It was entirely an impulsive buy.

But it’s the first present I opened from him. So, the moment I even thought about throwing it away, a voice in my head lamented, “What kind of heartless person would throw away the first present your husband ever bought you?” And I could feel the guilt and future regret cranking up in my subconscious.

Michael was out running errands when this happened, so I set it on the table and moved on to other things. When he got home, I showed it to him and his first words were, “You’re pitching it, right? I mean, someone gave it to us as a gag gift, right?”

I told him he had given it to me. “I did? Okay. Well, I can buy you a new one.”

“No! That’s even worse than me holding onto it!”

And I threw it in the trash.

I was 99.9% certain he would tell me to throw it away, but here’s the thing about having been raised by a whole family of packrats: no amount of rational thought on my own can completely silence the guilt-inducing voices in my head. Any time I want to get rid of anything I have to fight a chorus of, “You might need that some day!” and “But so-and-so gave that to you! If you don’t hang onto it, that’s the same as not respecting so-and so!” and so on.

People who aren’t packrats don’t understand this.

And it isn’t enough to have just anyone tell me I can throw it away. I have to either argue with myself for days to muster the determination to toss it, or someone who falls in the “extra-special-trusted-person” category of my irrational side has to tell me it’s all right to get rid of.

It’s a constant battle. I only win on my own as often as I do by thinking about Hoarders. Because I could so easily turn into one of those people.

It’s scary!

2 thoughts on “Confessions of a packrat

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