Friday, October 14, 2011

Still Life with Robin: Too Many...

by Peggy Robin

I keep wanting to de-clutter, but certain things just seem to accummulate, despite my best spartan intentions. Here are a few things in my house that multiply, taking up space in shelves and in closets. These are not things that can easily be given away.

Baseball caps. I have no memory of ever buying one, but someone in my family must be doing so, because we have them in great quantity, each one advertising a team, a place, a product, or an event. Some may have been picked up during a sunny, long-ago vacation, as a quick, cheap way to ward off the glare. Others were souvenirs of some long-forgotten festival or celebration. All I know is that whenever I place a bunch of these caps in the giveaway bag for the next Value Village pickup, someone in my family says, “Hey, that’s mine!” and takes it out. Not that anyone ever will wear it again. But it just seems impossible to give any of them away.

Totebags. Same story as with baseball caps, but these I don’t even try to give away anymore. They have no “thrift shop value” that would make any self-respecting charitable organization willing to take them. They’re flimsy, show dirt, don’t close properly, and besides, who wants to carry around their stuff in a bag advertising an environmental convention from 1979, or a political cause that went down to defeat in 1988? At least now when I support an organization or campaign, I turn down the free tote bag that comes with my donation, so I’m not acquiring any more. I just wish these causes would put less money into printing up new totebags, so I don’t have to remember to say no!

T-shirts. I think these must be multiplying in the dryer. My family members can’t possibly have attended all the events commemorated on the T-shirst we all own. The trouble is that all these T-shirts tend to be given out in one size, and it’s invariably the wrong one for the person who received the T-shirt. We do keep trying to give our excess T-shirts away to each other, though that attempt always ends with the refusal to accept a shirt that implies that the recipient attended the school or event printed on that shirt. But none of us is willing to have the shirt go to strangers, and completely lose that all-cotton link to your graduating class, or your summer hiking group, or the other eighth graders who were at some kid's bar mitavah. Take, for example, the last T-shirt I acquired, a little more than a week ago: It commemorates 100 Years of Cleveland Park, and I saw it on the for-sale table at Cleveland Park Day. It seemed wrong for a long-time Cleveland Parker like me not to own that T-shirt. Nevertheless, it's already ended up at the bottom of my giant T-shirt pile. A decade from now when I'm going through that pile, I'll think to myself, I never, ever wear this -- I really should give it away. Still, I doubt very much, even after ten years of non-use, that I'll actually do it.

Coffee mugs. We have them in all sizes, shapes, colors, and styles. Though they occupy three shelves of valuable cupboard real estate, we actually use maybe six of them for drinking coffee or tea. Why not give them away? Some were gifts and they remind us of the giver. Some have family photos imprinted on them. Others are cute or have funny saying on them or have some special purpose that makes that one mug useful once or twice a year. Also, any time we’ve tried to triage them, we disagree about which ones should go and which should stay. So the default becomes, all of them stay. Another rationale for inaction: We keep assuming we’ll break a number of mugs per year, but then we’re actually much less clumsy than we think we are.

Earbuds. These definitely multiply in the dark. And then they tangle. They arrive along with any little electronic device or phone I’ve ever bought. And then I have to go out and buy better ones, since the ones that come with devices don’t stick in my ears, and even if they did, they’re uncomfortable and deliver poor quality sound. So away they go, brand-new, into a drawer. I pack the ones I actually use in various suitcases and bags, but then when I go on a trip, that is never the bag I end up taking, and so I find myself without a set of earbuds, and must buy another pair at an airport shop. A pair I don’t really like, once I’ve manage to open the impenetrable packaging and put them to use. I suppose these things do have some giveaway value, that is, if I'm ever willing to spend the time untangling all the extra pairs I’ve tossed in that drawer.

Umbrellas. In this case, I do know how I end up with so many. I keep getting caught in the rain without an umbrella, and so I pop into a store and buy the cheapest one on sale. I think, well, it won’t last long, but then even the cheap ones seem to hold up for years, particularly if they stay in the closet and don’t get taken out a second time. I used to lose a number of umbrellas per year, and that kept the total down, but I don't seem to do that anymore. I don’t give them away because I think the best thing is to distribute them to different places where they might be useful: inside large handbags, in suitcase pockets, in the side pockets of the car. Then I promptly forget I have them in any of those places, and the next time I’m caught in a big rainstorm, I go out and buy another. I know, however, that if ever I gave away any of the extra umbrellas I seem to have lying around, the next time I go to grab one, I won’t be able to find a single one.

For all the items on the above list, I wish I could find some unifying Great Principle that explains how things proliferate, but it appears each follows its own mysterious pattern. If you think you have some insight into what's going on with these things --or you think there's a major omission from this list-- please let me know in the comments section below.


  1. Tupperware - sometimes you have just enough, and other times all your lids mysteriously disappear overnight. There's also the occasional joy of returning someone else's tupperware to cut down on your own clutter.

  2. Water bottles: Dont know why we have so many, and all the older ones are made of BPA so dont use them anymore. Also have lots of cheap plastic ones given out for races and fundraisers and things like that.