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Cheryl Hughes: Pack Rat

My Career As A Woman

Have you ever seen the Canadian comedy series, “The Red Green Show?”  It’s one of my favorites.  Red and his friends are a group of misfit men who belong to an organization called the Possum Lodge.  They have all kinds of mantras like, “If it ain’t broke, you’re just not tryin,” and, “If the women don’t find you handsome, they can at least find you handy.”  Red has a segment on his show called the “Handy Man Corner.”  The segment features all kinds of DIY projects using things you have lying around your place just collecting dust.  Many of the projects involve the “Handy Man’s Secret Weapon,” duct tape.  (My personal favorite was when he duct-taped two Chrysler K cars together to make a Hummer.)

I have several of the shows on DVDs.  I have shown them to my friends, but they don’t think it’s as funny as I do.  I think I identify with the show, because I, like Red, save a lot of stuff just in case I might need it to join to some other stuff I’ve already saved in order to create a completely new thing.  It’s the idea that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts—on a practical, and sometimes impractical, level.    

I don’t save everything, just almost everything.  I do limit myself to only one junk drawer, with a few spill-over glass jars filled with screws, bolts, washers, nails and other small metal parts assigned to the utility room closet.  (You just never know what size you might need.)  In that same closet, I store string and rope, plastic tubing, duct tape, and at least ten half-filled cans of spray paint.  Just the other day, I found a can of oven cleaner that had gotten pushed to the back of the top shelf.  The price on the lid was $1.25.  (I’ve had a self-cleaning oven for years.)  A few days before, I had read that you could use oven cleaner as a lacquer remover, so I tried it on my tree swing, and it worked.  I was so pleased with myself for putting something I’d saved to use.

I love to sew, which means I save every scrap of material, ribbon, button, snap and zipper that comes my way.  I can’t just toss a pair of old jeans without first removing the pockets and salvaging any of the jean material that is usable.  I save appliques from worn-out tee shirts and cut the shirts up into cleaning cloths.  My threadbare sheets become covers for my strawberry plants when there is threat of frost, and my old throw rugs go into Scout’s dog house in the winter. 

Because I’m presently into bottle slumping, you can imagine what my house and Garey’s shop looks like.  A couple of weeks ago, I took a good look around and decided I’d better get rid of some of the bottles I couldn’t use before my family staged an intervention and I ended up on an episode of “Hoarders.”

About once a year, the whole conglomeration starts closing in on me, and I have a yard sale.  I can only do this on a yearly basis, because it’s emotionally draining to have to choose between what goes and what stays.  I almost put my collection of wine corks in my last yard sale, which would have been a huge mistake, because just this week, I found a kit for making a serving tray from wine corks.

What makes my pack-rat habit so hard to kick is the fact that my husband, Garey, is a pack rat also.  Instead of helping each other, we just enable one another.  When we pass on from this life, there’s going to be one huge mess for Natalie and Nikki to sort out.  You know what they say, when the parents are dysfunctional, it’s the kids who suffer.


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