Last week, on the train, a
co-passenger was holding faith on how his wife was like a magpie - a born
collector of things. He was saying that she just couldn't resist a
piece of string. "I bet my wife has a hundred miles of
string" he said. I was at once reminded of my aunt who, every
time she opened a parcel, would spend an hour undoing each knot, wind up
the string and put it away. She used to say you can never tell when
you will need a piece of string. Across the aisle another man said,
"my wife keeps boxes, shoe boxes, chocolate boxes, cigar boxes, she
even keeps big boxes to keep little boxes in it". I piped in, with
how my mother kept the paper that things were wrapped in. It has
come to such a pass, that nowadays when I give her a present, I
don't wrap it but give the wrapping paper separately. Even as we
were talking I noticed the man whose wife collects string, bend down to
pick up a pin. I asked him, "Why are you sticking the pin on
your pocket flap?" "You never know when you'll need
one," he said.
Every woman is a thing-keeper at heart. Men are thing-keepers too,
but they keep only sensible things like lapsed driving licenses, or the
key to the front door of the house they lived in ten years ago. As
far as I can tell, the reason women keep things is because they hate to
throw them away. My mother for instance has a collection of things
in her fridge which is the envy of thing-collectors anywhere. The
last time I looked in, there was a plate with a spoonful of mashed potato,
the cup of fruit salad I didn't eat last Sunday, a thimble full of
chutney, milk in three different containers and flowers in boxes.
She also has a good collection of things in the medicine chest-like an
ointment jar without a label (for itching) a box full of white pills (must
be for something) an assortment of bottles with brown stuff caked in
the bottom and sheets of capsules with the expiry dates going back to the
My husband, an avowed-hater of clutter fills the lumber room with crafts
of all sizes and the thermocol packing in which his precious
computers come wrapped. There is no one to beat my daughter-in-law's
mother whose cupboards overflow with children's school uniforms (the
children are all now in their thirties) and other cast off
clothes. She just can't bear to discard anything, consequently the
clothes used currently lie in stacks on chairs and beds, while
clothes 20 years old take up all the cupboard spaces.
I have taken an inventory of the things in our house and in the houses of
friends and made a list :
1. Things that go on things - tops of
bottles, caps of bottles,
saucers (old broken cups) which can be used upside down etc.
2. Things that come off things - buttons, buckles (which we hope to stitch
back but never do) nozzle of the garden hose, screws that fall off
including those from the car.
3. Things that other things come in - paper bags, plastic bags, cartons,
round tin boxes (absolutely irresistible) empty coffee jars.
4. Things that are a shame to throw away - pack of cards with just two
cards missing, one of a pair of socks (we may find the other one).
5. Things in the garage - old fridges, trunks not opened for several years
- lawn mower which needs to be repaired, garden hose full of holes.
6. Things too good to be used - the lovely old lace table cover never used
in twenty years for fear of staining it, the Royal Salute bottle saved for
a special occasion.
7. Things of sentimental values - old faded photographs, wedding
cards, school certificates.
Thing keepers have their own devices for storing the things they keep -
some of them baffling. When it comes to putting things away, women
follow a plan which is a cross between a squirrel storing nuts for winter
and a city road map. Objects used once a year are kept right in front,
while things used every day are tucked away at the back, behind some
boxes. My friend for example keeps her woollens carefully wrapped, on
which are written abbreviations like "THWG" or "FKLM-SI".
She usually breaks the code by poking a hole to see what is inside.
It is in the kitchen that the art of thing keeping reaches its height.
The wife has her special system which a mere male can never
understand. During his wife's absence, an intrepid husband tried to
cook his dinner. He discovered that the tin marked salt contained
sugar, while the coffee tin had tea, the bread box was crammed with old
recipes and so on. He finally went out to the restaurant and had
I am not like that of course. My method of placing things is a model
of order and precision. There is never my problem of finding
anything. The only thing is,
Now where did I keep the last page of this article?