Tag Archives: things

Doesn’t anything last anymore—or, insights from a penny-pinching packrat

The pill minder I’ve used for more than ten years broke…
Lots of people are uncomfortable with change. For instance, I have medical conditions and have to take medicine every day. Some of the medications need to be taken every morning, some every night, and keeping track isn’t impossible, but it’s easiest if I have a system to collect them and keep track of which have been taken. Thus, the pill minder pictured here.

It isn’t the first one I’ve owned. Back in the ’90s I had one medication that had to be taken five times a day. That was no fun, let me tell you. So I had a pill minder back then that actually consisted of seven little four-compartment pill-minders. On a Tuesday morning I could pop up Tuesday’s four-compartment piece, take the morning pills, and then put the Tuesday minder in my backpack, go to work, and throughout the day take my other doses.

That served me fine for years. Even though as it got older most of the words printed on the little lids had rubbed off, and a couple of the little lids wouldn’t stay latched as the little plastic catches wore down. But the penny-pincher inside me kept saying that I could keep making do with it. Despite a few times when I had to dig around in the bottom of the pack to find the pills that had fallen out.

But my meds changed. The one that had previously needed to be taken as five little pills every four hours or so was replaced by one larger pill just once a day. Other medications that had come in small pills were replaced with new ones in very large pills and I had to admit that the old rickety minder with it’s tiny compartments wasn’t right any more. I just needed one with larger compartments divided into only a morning and evening for each day. So I bought a new one (the one pictured above). Which worked fine for years, until one lid broke off week before last.

I figured, oh, it’s just one day, and beside, I don’t carry this thing around with me any more, it stays home, right? Except just about every time I picked it up to open a compartment and take out the pills for that morning or evening, I’d spill some or all of the pills out of the broken compartment. I had to admit it was time to buy a new one and throw this one away.

The new one is pretty and new and shiny… and has a different kind of locking mechanism that means when I unluck, say, Wednesday morning’s compartment, all of the morning compartments are unlocked. So I have to be careful to relock each of the others each time.

Which gives a bit more insight into the sorts of behaviors that could turn one into a full-on hoarder: sometimes we hang on to things because they are familiar. And when we are forced to swtich to a new thing, we find things that are different from the old thing annoying. Because of the years of familiarity, very tiny inconveniences become very outsized annoyances.

The last couple of days while I’ve been using the new minder, I’ve been thinking about how my out of proportion annoyance is not unlike the irrational way that people often react to changes in society in general. Those of us who have spent our whole lives struggling for equal rights often find ourselves having to ask others (sometimes our own relatives) why it bothers them so much? How can decriminalizing my love life possibly hurt them? How does legal recognition of my marriage possibly hurt them? It isn’t logical.

And that’s precisely right. It isn’t a rational response. It is an out-of-proportion reacting to change. Men kissing men in public was unheard of when they were younger, why can’t it stay that way, they ask? And so on.

This doesn’t mean that they are right. Just as me clinging to the broken pill-minder did me no good, them clinging to the past does nothing good. There are notions that belong in the dustbin of history. Hoarding prejudice isn’t the answer to anything.

Mugging around, hanging on, and letting go

Coffee mug that says: “shhh... almost... now you may speak”
“shhh… almost… now you may speak” (click to embiggen)
I’m a coffee and tea guy. I’m also an I-need-my-favorite-mug guy. My husband, Michael, is not a coffee guy, at all. He’s okay with tea, though the amount of sugar he puts in it makes even our friends who grew up in the south and know what the phrase “sweet tea” means do a double-take. My first husband (who passed away in 1997) was definitely a coffee guy. And a how-many-mugs-can-I-collect guy. You could pick up any of the cartoon-festooned mugs in his collection and ask where it came from, and he would tell you a story about this friend who brought the mug back from Hawaii for him. Or the time he was traveling with a patient to Atlanta and he found it in a gift shop. Or the ex-who gave it to him their first Christmas together. And so on.

I come from a long line of packrats. So I have a very strong visceral reaction to the idea of throwing something away. Especially if there is any sort of sentimental attachment to it at all. So, when Ray passed away twenty years ago, when his mother, sister, and I went through all of his things to decide who would keep what and which things would go to a thrift shop, it was a very emotionally difficult time for me. I hung on to all sorts of things. And a couple of dozen of those things were some mugs. I didn’t hang on to all of his collection, by any means. For one thing, there were a several of the mugs that his mom, his sister, and one of his brothers wanted, because they reminded them of him. Those were easy to let go of, because I wasn’t disposing of them, I was sharing them with someone else who loved Ray as much as I did. But I still had a rather lot of them after that process was over.

And when I said I hung onto a couple of dozen, that’s a bit of an understatement. We had these racks mounted on the wall in the kitchen, each of which held ten mugs. There were four racks on the wall, and all of the racks were completely full. That wasn’t the entire collection. Even after several of his family members took some away. To be fair, not all of the mugs left hanging on the wall had been Ray’s. There were a couple that had been mugs I owned before Ray and I met, and there were several more that had been gifts to me from either Ray or a friend or family member which I hung onto with at least as much of a sentimental attachment as Ray had clung to his.

When Michael and I moved in together, I went through all of my stuff and all of Ray’s former things again, and had a not terribly pleasant emotional time picking more things to haul away. And that included some of the mugs and tea cups. Periodically over the years, we’ve repeated the process of going through things, getting rid of stuff we don’t use any more and/or forgot we had. It gets easier, particularly when I find something squirreled away on a shelf in a closet that I barely recognize, and can only vague describe as, “these are some souvenirs Ray wanted to keep of… something.”

The mugs have been a weird case because they’re hanging on the wall in the kitchen. I see them all the time. Unlike the boxes in closets or cupboards, I don’t ever forget they exist.

And we keep acquiring new mugs. People find funny or pretty mugs and get them for one or the other of us for birthdays or other gift-giving occasions. Or we buy them for each other. So I have to go through the mugs from time to time and decide which one or two or three to get rid of to make room for the new.

The most ridiculous part is, that most of the mugs hang up there on the wall and never get used. It’s sort of embarrassing if we have company over, and we have tea and/or coffee on offer, and somebody picks a funnyy mug off the way before I can get them one, because most likely which ever one they pick is going to be really dusty. So much so that they need more just a quick rinse to clean out. Part of that is because there were forty mugs hanging from the wall with only two people living here. But another part is that bit I mentioned at the beginning about me being an I-need-my-favorite-mug kind of guy. I almost always drink coffee from this one very over-sized purple mug of which I have written before. And I almost always drink tea from my “Queen of Everything” mug. I rinse and re-use those mugs day after day. And when, for whatever reason, I use a different mug, there is a fairly limited number of the mugs among the forty that are my go-to next favorites.

Which makes hanging onto all of the others even more ridiculous—right? There are, for instance, two Christmas themed mugs, one that Ray gave me, and one that someone else gave Ray, that are among those I’ve hung onto forever. Most years I make a point of getting down each of them around Christmas and using them at least once. One of them has and odd-shaped handle with a jingle bell built in that is a bit awkward to hold onto, and isn’t as festive to use because it’s hard to make the bell jingle. But it’s the mug that Ray gave me for, I think it was, our second Christmas living together, so the thought of parting with it is painful. The other one has a much narrower base than its mouth, and therefore is prone to being knocked over, but Ray adored it, so… Another odd one is a Valentine’s Day themed mug that Ray gave me on our very first Valentine’s Day together. It’s handle is heart-shaped, and very awkward to use. I haven’t used in it many years, with the excuse being that it is literally almost impossible to get off the rack because of how tight a fit the weird handle it. But I also wouldn’t part with it because, you know, first Valentine’s Day, right?

With the upcoming move, and the fact that I’ve lived in this place for more than 21 years (whereas Michael has lived here with me for 18½) we have a whole love of stuff that either needs to be packed and moved, or hauled away. Among the things I went through this weekend was the mugs. Among the large load that filled the back of the Subaru which I took to Value Village on Sunday was a very heavy box with at least 38 mugs and tea cups in it, plus three no longer needed racks. This left ten mugs hanging on the wall, plus my two favorites that never get hung up on the wall.

It felt really good to unload the stuff at the thrift store, and to carry out the five big bags of recycle. But I had made a comment to Michael last night that with the amount of emotional effort to pull down all those mugs, it’s kind of disappointing that it didn’t result it a space I can use for staging in the coming packing efforts. When I’ve been going through shelves and closets, afterward I’m left with space I can stack packed boxes in, and so one. But these were all on the wall—not really a usable space.

So I wrote most of this post last night while I was trying to unwind from the long day and get mentally settled so I could go to sleep. That post ended with a comment about trying to remind myself of the end goal of not trying to unpack and find room for a whole bunch of stuff we never use when we find out new home.

But this morning, when I walked into the kitchen shortly after waking up, I was startled at how different the wall looked without those other three racks full of mugs (and while I was working on the wall, I also took down and hauled away a bunch of copper jell-o molds that have just been decorative for years as I stopped making jell-o things when I was diagnosed pre-diabetic back in 2001!). The kitchen still has a lot of clutter in it. Other than the mugs, the rest of my purging this weekend was focused on the computer room and bedroom. But I was amazed at how less crowded the kitchen felt with more blank wall visible, and the immediate emotional lift I got. I am making progress, but even more, I didn’t feel any guilt about getting rid of Ray’s mugs.

Yay for letting go!

The appliance that wouldn’t die

An online search by title at the US copyright office did not find a copyright renewal. In the absence of renewal of the US copyright, this poster art entered the public domain 28 years after its US publication date.I don’t make coffee at home on days that I go into the office. I’m the only person in the house who drinks coffee, so it doesn’t make much sense to make a pot just so I can have one cup in the morning before I go to work. And making a single cup takes as much prep work as making a whole pot, so I just don’t make coffee at home on those days.

Some weeks ago the “Clean” light on my coffee maker started flashing insistently… Continue reading The appliance that wouldn’t die

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!