As I struggled out of the office today (lugging my laptop, my handbag, an envelope full of invoices and a lidded plastic bucket that had just been emptied of the last of the office's dishwasher tablets), I started thinking about CrazyAuntPurl's recent post about clutter and obsessively collecting stuff for the sake of having stuff.
(First though, a diversion: why the plastic bucket? To make a nettle "stew" to feed my tomatoes next year. Stuff the bucket with young nettles, chop them if you want. Cover with water and a lid and allow to rot down for at least a month. Use as a liquid feed, pouring undiluted around the tomatoes. You can dump the residual gunk around them too - apparently, they love it (it's rich in nitrogen). It stinks, hence the lid. You can do the same thing to comfrey to make a more nutritious "tea", but I don't have that growing whereas nettles are free and not hard to find. I just stalked a suitable bucket and purloined it when it was almost empty.)
CrazyAuntPurl talks occasionally about how too much stuff becomes oppressive and that you end up feeling like the stuff owns you, instead of the other way around. It takes over your home, preventing you from relaxing because a) you have to clean it all, and b) you can't readily find whatever-it-is you were looking for because there is too much stuff in the way so you end up buying a new one. And, eventually, you end up living like a bag lady in your own home because there is so much junk hoarded there that it takes over.
As I struggled with the door to the office car park, I looked at the bucket in my hand and I wondered if that is the slippery slope I'm heading down. I don't need it "right now" - I won't be able to make nettle stew until next spring - so will have to store it. Will it turn into just another thing to find a home for/get in the way/forget about?
I don't think of myself as a big collector of things. When we put the house back together, I won't need a wall of display cases to show off my collections. I don't collect Royal Doulton figurines or stamps. Nor do I clutter up the spare bed with stuffed toys*. But I do collect books. And knitting magazines. And yarn. And embroidery stuff...
...And bread bags. And the tubs from Innocent Veg Pots. And small plastic containers. And soup containers. And Douwe Egbert jars. And Yeo Valley yoghurt pots.....
Hmm.... Maybe I could have a problem? My kitchen has the potential to be a hoarder's paradise. At least one of the letters published in the Tightwad Gazette laments: I've saved bread ties and egg cartons and orange juice lids, etc, but what do I do with all this stuff? Amy's response boils down to "only collect what you need. If it doesn't have a use, don't collect it".
It's a balancing act. One of the hard parts of frugally acquiring things that are useful is that they don't usually appear just when you need them. I've learned to snap up free/cheap items with potential because they won't be there when I go back looking of them. (I'm still lamenting not buying that double-boiler from the charity shop when candle making was only a vague idea in the back of my mind. I had to buy the more expensive microwave wax and sacrifice a glass jug because it's safer than heating wax directly on the stove top.)
I've only collect the bread bags, etc, because I have a use for them. I use the bread bags instead of freezer bags, particularly for meat and fish. I give the Veg Pot tubs away filled with coconut rough. The soup containers fit the freezer door's shelves so I freeze them full of stock, and smalz, and leftover stew. I store my spices in the Douwe Egbert jars. I use the yoghurt pots as starter pots when gardening. And they can also be used as plastic glasses for parties (we found this one out by accident when hosting a BBQ. People helped themselves to the tower of clear plastic "pint glasses" in the kitchen).
However, I don't need 100 yoghurt pots. And I recognise that there is a point where you have to call "stop" and just bin the excess however useful they may be in the future (for instance: I store the bread bags in an old tissue box; when it's full, I bin any excess). Hopefully there won't be an episode of Life Laundry for me.
* I think I still own four soft toys: two rabbits made by my mother, a tiny teddy bear acquired from somewhere and Bearjing, a 12-inch white teddy bear that I picked up in Beijing in 1986.