Pack Rats 

What’s wrong with buying containers for unused jelly jars?

I live in a warehouse. You wouldn’t know it if you just looked at my house from the street.
I live in a warehouse. You wouldn’t know it if you just looked at my house from the street. From the street, the Jowers house looks like most of the houses in the neighborhood—about a hundred years old, clad with brick, two stories high, reasonably well kept and shaded by 100-year-old hackberry trees.

But inside the Jowers house, there’s a whole bunch of stuff that nobody needs, and that few sane people would want. For instance, there’s the ancient softball memorabilia. Daughter Jess has two spare batting helmets—one from a 2000 Crieve Hall summer ball team, and one from a 2001 Coffee County summer ball team. Now that Jess plays ball for her college, it’s a sure thing that she won’t need those old helmets. But she won’t let me give them away. “I loved that Coffee County team,” she says, “and the helmet from Crieve Hall has the angry flaming ball airbrushed on the side.”

“Nobody older than 11 displays the angry flaming ball,” I said. “Remember the uniforms you wore on the Indiana team in ’05? They had the angry ball. You mocked the ball every time you put on your uniform.”

“I’m keeping the angry-ball helmet,” Jess replied sternly. “It stays with me.”

“Can I throw away the Lisa Fernandez bat from Little League?” I asked. “It’s been illegal for about 10 years.”

“The black bat? The black Lisa? ’Fraid not. That’s for your grandbabies, should I choose to give you any.”

“Your old rollerblades? The ice skates?” I asked, uselessly.

“Grandbabies,” Jess replied, sternly.

“How about the seriously retro catcher’s chest protector with the built-in plastic breast shields?” I asked. “Surely you don’t want that.”

“Halloween costume,” Jess said. “Ain’t leaving this house unless I say so.”

Every year about this time I get an urge to rid myself—and my house—of useless things. That means having minor arguments with wife Brenda. I start small, trying to avoid a crescendo of disagreement. For instance, just last night I half-begged, “Momlet, don’t you think it’s about time we parted with the collection of jelly jars?”

“Those jelly jars are fine like they are,” Brenda replied. “I just bought some containers to keep them in.”

“So now,” I sighed, “we’ve got not just a bunch of old jelly jars, we also have a collection of plastic containers to hold the jelly jars?”

“That’s right,” Brenda said.

“And the containers will keep the jelly jars safe, down in the basement, where only the brown recluse spiders and the odd winter possum will ever see them?”

“Uh-huh,” Brenda replied. “And I’ll see them. Sometimes.”

“You’ll go visit the jelly jars, down there with the once-ridden scooter and twice-ridden bicycle, the never-launched skyrockets, and the rusted-into-a-lump off-brand hand tools?”

“I will,” Brenda said.

“I wonder,” I said to Brenda, “have you ever considered that you might be plagued by a hoarding gene?”

“Why would I consider that?” she said.

“Well, you know how down on the farm in South Carolina, there are several sheds full of rusty tools, moth-eaten fabrics, crumbling paper and rotten mattresses?”

“Uh-huh,” Brenda said. “That’s all Mama and Daddy’s stuff.”

“And,” I queried, “from whose DNA were you assembled?”

Brenda rolled her eyes. “Mama’s and Daddy’s.”

“OK,” I said. “Now who do you know who takes junk out of the house, puts it in the car, says she’s going to drop it off at Goodwill, but ends up driving the junk around for weeks and building a relationship with it, like it’s Miss Daisy sitting in the backseat?”

“That would be me,” Brenda conceded.

“I win!” I said. “I’m calling Metro and ordering a second trash can!”

Over the years, I’ve developed a clutter phobia, caused by disturbing memories of a couple of home inspections. Quite a while back, an insurance company hired me to assess the structural integrity of a client’s house. Well, I went to the house and found boxes stacked to the ceiling in every room. The kitchen was filled with rotting grocery bags, barely containing many packages of rotting food. I was in the house of a serious hoarder.

In the basement, once I pushed the boxes out of the way, I saw massive termite tubes that must have been decades old. The house was a giant termite farm. I called the insurance man, and told him that neither I nor anybody else could assess that house until the hoarded stuff was gone.

Some time after that, co-inspector Rick and I tried to inspect a basement apartment that had hundreds of boxes of junk stacked to the ceiling. There was just one tiny aisle—where we had to walk sideways—from the front door to the bathroom. We had to move junk out of the bathroom before we could squeeze inside it. There was a bed in the apartment, but nobody would be able to get in it without first relocating a couple dozen boxes. The occupant’s only explanation: “You’ll have to excuse the mess. I’m taking inventory.”

So, I guess I should be thankful for the minor “collecting” problems at the Jowers house. As long as I can find room to walk, and places to sit, sleep and clean myself up, I ought to be able to manage. In the meantime, says Brenda, I should get busy throwing out my giant stash of outdated how-to books and Guitar Player magazines.

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