Monday, April 30, 2012

Don't throw that away! The logic of functional retention.

I have a number of towels hanging on hooks in my bathroom that are older than my boys, and they're 16 and 19.

Not unlike my mood sometimes, these towels are frayed and tired, so thin and unabsorbent that I'm sure I can see through them in just the right light. But something has kept me hanging on, as if by throwing them out I'd be tossing away something that actually retains a utility, a function.

My attitude changed this weekend.

I got four new thick, fluffy towels, and made it a point to throw four lifeless, wilted flowers that were masquerading as towels straight in the trash. Some folks repurpose these rags in wildly creative ways, by perhaps fashioning purses or aprons or dolls, but I simply don't have the time, space or guilt that would have been required to have saved them.

It felt good, and the process of towel-tossing got me thinking.

What other almost-useless stuff do we retain, and why?

The What is fairly easy to identify. I did a bit of an unscientific poll, and asked a few folks what they keep that's obviously outlived its usefulness.

So far the list includes, but I'm sure is not limited to:

  • mascara (the most popular genus in the makeup family that's saved, so it seems)
  • every cord to every electrical device that's ever been purchased, whether that device still works or not
  • ChapStick
  • dried up markers
  • non-working pens
  • condiments in the fridge 
  • lighters that no longer light
  • old toothbrushes
  • pillows*
  • keys to unknown doors

Why we tend to keep these and many other items is as curious as what we choose to save. I'm just guessing, but I think we sometimes feel obliged to keep stuff because we see a potential future use, even if the logic behind that optimism is most likely unrealistic. That pen's ink might be dormant, or might shift into a full-use position if given a bit of time. We might be able to get one more teeny application from that thin film of ChapStick stuck at the bottom of the tube. The pillow's still comfortable. Just because a towel has seen its glory days doesn't mean it doesn't absorb something.

We all seem to have been touched by the gentle hand of innocuous hoarding. Generally not the Big Scale Intervention variety, but the intention seems strikingly similar. Whatever we choose to keep, it's probably because we think we might need it some day.

And then there are other days, like the one this weekend, when it felt so good to throw those ratty old towels away.  Next stop: junk drawer. Or maybe my purse. I've been looking for some ChapStick.

*According to, pillows are a soft, comfy warehouse for bugs, fungi and dried, ishy, scalp stuff. So it's suggested that pillows should be replaced every year or so, whether you want to or not.


  1. I think I am becoming a hoarder, also! I need to get rid of stuff!!

  2. I think we all (read: I) keep stuff. I think we get rid of things slowly, once we realize we need a bit more room, or when we discover that there really isn't any function to that one AAA battery that might be cooked or might be fully charged that's laying at the bottom of a drawer.

    What do you keep? I'd love to know.

    Thanks for reading!