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Volume XVII, Issue 2 - January 8 - January 14, 2009
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My Packrat Ways

I’d gladly throw things out — if there weren’t such good reasons to keep ’em

Pieces of string too short to use.

In one of his best poems, Vermonter Walter Hard wrote of the packrat who upon passing away left behind, among a multitude of so many other things, a ball of string with the above words attached. The poet offered no clue as to the eventual disposition of the snippets of string too short to use.

Here it is the first days of a new year, and probably third among the most frequent New Year’s resolutions behind losing weight and quitting smoking is the pledge to clear out of house and home the clutter that has been building up for years, decades and even longer.

Give it the hook!

That’s where I am — and where I always am every time a new year rolls around. Like every year over the past 25 or so, I really mean it this time. It’s to the point that either the pieces of string too short to use get the hook, or wife Lois and I move into a bigger house than our current abode of 11 rooms, including three offices. Even so, we’d likely bundle up all the cluttersome do-dads and take them with us.

We’d be right back where we are now, though there would be more room to save more balls of string too short to use.

Burton’s Law

Considering my age (I’m in my 83rd year) and the disposition of Lois — who wouldn’t save a piece of string long enough to use — I’m in a pickle. I’ve been around long enough to have learned that once some hoarded object is given the hook, that’s when it will come in handy.

It happens all the time. Throw out the battery charger for some gadget because you can’t recall what it’s mated to or where its partner is. Shortly thereafter, up turns the electric screwdriver or beard trimmer that needs the discarded power source. It happens every time. But try telling that to a wife who thinks if today’s newspaper is three hours old, it gets pitched.

The Pajama Game

Despite my promises and determination to clear the clutter in ’09, the campaign is already flagging. Call my latest predicament — which erupted last night as I was giving things the hook — the Pajama Game. That scenario might have played well on Broadway several decades ago.

As one gets older and keeping the house cozy gets more costly economically and ecologically, a pair of fleece or flannel PJs are a treasure. But they wear out over time. They’re still warm and comfortable, but buttons disappear in the washer, zippers malfunction, colors fade, pockets get holes and they may not fit as snugly as they once did.

Obviously they’re due the hook. But think twice. I don’t know much about women’s sleeping accommodations, but in recent weeks I’ve learned much about men’s. When I visited Target to stock up on men’s PJs, I quickly learned that flannels for men aren’t like they used to be. They don’t come in pairs. They sell bottoms, but tops are not even in stock.

The salesperson I summoned told me these days men want bottoms only, for tops they use long-sleeved sweatshirts. Ye Gods! I want pockets to hold pens for notes should a phone call come. I don’t want an over-the-head routine in putting them on. Thinking Target might be out of the loop, I scouted around, soon learning that men’s pajama sets are an endangered species.

Some are on showroom racks, in mail order catalogs or on the web, but the variety is limited. So here I am with needle and thread, about to refurbish old PJs that would have gotten the hook. I can’t take for granted that plain old sleeping accommodations sold in pairs will come back in my lifetime.

What to Do?

Other dilemmas are already obvious to this compulsive shopper always looking for a bargain, as Yankees do. Now that I’ve switched nearly 100 percent to fluorescent light bulbs, what do I do with the hundred or so conventional light bulbs I’ve bought on sale over the years? Giving ’em the hook means money down the drain. But giving them away or selling them at a flea market? That just means someone else will be wasting precious energy — which is contrary to why I made the switch in the first place.

The 50 or more pair of shoes and boots? No problem now that I’m missing a few toes and resigned to orthopedic footwear. They’re headed to the Salvation Army. But what about the 50 or so screwdrivers stacked up in the workshop, or even more drill bits? Give any the hook, and it will be just the one needed for a unique project.

Rolls of duct tape are everywhere, some with pieces too short to use, but one never knows when just a few inches will do the job.

Fishing tackle — literally thousands of baits and perhaps 50 rod and reel combinations. Well that’s not even negotiable. One has to have just the right tool under various circumstances — though wives might find that hard to believe.

More plastic storage boxes are the answer — if there is room for them. Space is the key, which brings up the subject of my personal TV, seldom used and next to my computer where I can monitor a football game or breaking news while writing. There’s a set in the house almost as big as a movie screen, which I haven’t watched five hours in five years (don’t even know how to turn it on) and a few other smaller units. But I like the convenience and simplified controls of my compact, several channel 14-inch set, which I figured would last as long as I.

It would be the last to get the hook. Now along comes the switch to digital TV. Without a converter, I’ll get a blank screen come Feb. 17 — and of late I’ve been so busy clearing clutter that I neglected to apply for the government’s free $40 coupon for the converter.

Once a Packrat …

So here I am in an endeavor to toss out the old, but weighing the option of bringing in the new. Here I am, confused, bothered and bewildered and, just as in past new calendar times, tempted to wait until next year to implement the clear-the-clutter campaign. Once a packrat, always a packrat. The rest of the world? Well, it must accommodate our thrift. Enough said.


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