1. The things we buy too many of


    Years ago, the New York Times’s “Metropolitan Diary” ran a series on things we only buy once in a lifetime: Worcestershire sauce. Angostura Bitters. Tabasco. Styptic pencil (although nobody seems to use these anymore). Laundry bluing (probably ditto).


    There’s a corollary group: the things we feel compelled to buy too many of.


    For Partner, it’s mustard. He sees it on the grocery shelf (especially when it’s on sale) and his eyes light up. “I think we need one,” he says. “And it’s so cheap, we may as well get two. Or three.”


    I have a dim recollection of a whole mess of mustard bottles in one of the kitchen cabinets, but I say nothing. Why? It’s mustard. It’s cheap. And we’ll use it.


    (But, sure enough, when we get home, I discover at least seven mustards in the cabinet, right where I thought they were.)


    I have my own let’s-buy-them! items. Sardines: you can never have too many cans of sardines. Also ranch dressing. Also pasta, especially when it’s a dollar a pound.


    My late friend Jan always said her husband was a nut for Pine-Sol. “I think we need another bottle,” he’d say.


    “We have a bottle for every room in the house, and two for the garage,” she’d reply.


    But he’d buy it anyway.


    This is not the same as hoarding. Hoarding is a compulsion verging on mental illness.  Buying too much pasta is a “whoops!”  Hoarders save t-shirts and Beanie Babies and string ties, all of which are inedible.  I, on the other hand, can always eat the pasta and mustard and sardines (sometimes in the same meal!).


    I admit that I sometimes misjudge. Why did I buy that can of sauerkraut, or that tin of imitation crabmeat?  But ultimately these odds and ends get thrown away, or put in a “food for the community” bin. (I feel guilty about this, fleetingly. Is some poor family really longing for a meal of imitation crabmeat with sauerkraut on the side?)


    (But maybe someday these orphaned items will end up in the home of someone who will actually use them.)


    (And then – you see! – I was right to buy them after all.)

  2. Getting rid of things


    Sometimes I watch “Hoarders,” which is a horrible TV show about people with houses full of neckties and Christmas ornaments and cats and small appliances and newspapers. These people continue to hoard until they have no room to move around, and the city threatens to condemn the house.


    This is a little too high-powered for me.  There’s a milder show called “Clean House,” with Niecy Nash and Matt Iseman, which is a middle-school version of the same thing: the people don’t seem to be quite so mentally ill, and the end of the show seems to provide some relief.


    After watching a few episodes of this, I invariably go on a cleaning spree.


    I am not a tidy person.  Ask anyone.  My mother was a cleaning nut: she spent much of her day ensuring that the house was spotless, regardless of the fact that no one ever visited.  My three siblings and I did not inherit this characteristic from her.  My brother’s house is a ghastly mess like mine, with things lying all over the place and spare rooms full of junk; my sister Susan, may she rest in peace and not smite me for this, was not the cleanest soul in the world; and my late sister Darlene used to keep everything, including old newspapers and boxes, stacked all over the house.  Myself, I throw things any which way, both at home and in the office.  I find it comforting, in a rat’s-nest kind of way.


    I don’t know.  Maybe Mom picked up after us too much, and we rebelled?  Or maybe the neatness thing skips a generation?


    Anyway, “Clean House” always has a positive effect on me.  I start throwing things away, and cleaning, and sorting.  It’s salubrious.


    Lately I have been feeling that way in general: feeling that I want to get rid of things.  I look around the apartment and see all kinds of things that Partner and I have accumulated, and so many of them are meaningless space-fillers.


    We need to start getting rid of things.


    So I clean a shelf here and a drawer there. The pantry closet, which doubles as Partner’s coat closet, is a disaster, but I always promise myself I’ll do that later.  We overbuy things: I was looking for a shower curtain liner in the closet the other night, and I found three. 


    Day by day, I am tossing out the garbage and putting the trinkets into the Salvation Army box and giving away a few things here and there.


    Invariably this makes me feel better.  I feel cleaner and lighter.


    We come into the world with nothing.  It’s our natural state.  Probably we should revert to it.




    But I like thinking about it.

  3. Goodbye, VHS

    Partner has been watching “Hoarders” a lot lately, and it is having a very salutary effect on him; he’s been cleaning and throwing things away like mad.  Believe me, I’m not pointing fingers.  About a year and a half ago I watched a couple of episodes of “Clean House,” which is basically a more low-key version of the same thing (the people are just as crazy, but they don’t seem quite as maniacal as the people on “Hoarders”; also Niecy Nash is very funny, and I found Matt Iseman very restful to look at), and it inspired me to clean out the entire basement storage space.

    But I have also become uneasily aware that I need to do something about the huge stack of VHS tapes sitting next to the television cabinet.

    I never watch them.  But never.  I put away a big box of really unwatched tapes in the basement last year, and I have resolved to give most or all of those to Partner’s mother’s nursing home very soon.  The tapes that I keep in the living room are (ostensibly) favorites, things I really don’t want to get rid of - but they’re really just taking up space.

    So what’s my resistance all about?  Well, I do tend to accumulate things in a “Hoarders”-like way, though maybe not to the point of pathology.  And I spent $$$ on all those tapes, and if I actually counted up all the cash I spent on videos, I would probably burst into tears; getting rid of them is an admission that I wasted my money, a little at a time, over a whole bunch of years.  And there are a few tapes that I will certainly keep no matter what (nothing but Grim Death will part me from my copy of John Waters’s “Desperate Living”).  

    There was a halcyon period in the early 1990s when everything - everything - was suddenly appearing on VHS: old movies, new movies, old TV shows, cartoons.  It was wonderful to own them, and the prices seemed moderate.  The flaw in this reasoning became apparent to me very early on, when I joined a mail-order video club in the late 1980s and tried to pick out my introductory stack of six videos.  Naturally I included “The Sound of Music.”  Who wouldn’t want to own that?

    And I literally never watched it.  

    How often do you come home from work and say, “I really feel like watching ‘The Sound of Music’ right now”?  

    Netflix, and streaming video, have freed me.  So long as I’m reasonably certain that I can find (let’s say) “The Sound of Music” somewhere out there in the cloudy firmament, my pathological need to own it is considerably diminished.  

    Now I just need to overcome my hoarding instinct, and get a box, and start pitching tapes into it.

    And then I can start thinking about that little cupboard full of unwatched DVDs. 

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