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.)