Sunday, August 19, 2012

...brown paper packages tied up with string...

Not all ladies are ‘bags’, and I’m sure even fewer old bags are ‘ladies’… but what do you call a bag lady with a house? The answer, of course, is a hoarder.


Maybe it’s a baby boomer thing. Our parents’ generation lived through some tough depression years, and then had to cope with wartime rationing and shortages.

Growing up as baby boomers we witnessed a huge shift as things went from “usually-fixable” to “cheaper to replace” to ‘not worth fixing’ to ‘obsolete before it’s unpacked’.

But we were around at the beginning of this big tsunami of change, and so managed to absorb some lessons from our parents while the world was still ‘simple’. Lessons about not wasting stuff, and making-do.

There were things no one would dream of throwing out – in fact, recycling was a way of life long before it became an idea.

  • Bits of string were necessary for tying parcels, and especially handy if a shoelace broke a second time and could not be repaired with a knot.
  • Carbon paper was handy for making copies of [handwritten] notes and letters, or tracing.
  • Brown paper had a lot of uses: covering school books, lining cake tins, wrapping parcels, wrapping lunches if there were no paper bags, lining drawers and shelves – and for tracing if there was no carbon paper available.
  • Fruit boxes, if a box was not needed, were handy for bits of wood. When you took a nail out of a piece of wood, you pounded it with a hammer to straighten it so it could be re-used. Wood was handy for building things, or for kindling.
  • Jars were re-used for making jam, buying honey, or storing odd screws in the shed.
  • Kitchen scraps were used to feed the chooks.
  • Old newspapers were used to clean windows, make dress patterns, cut out letters and glue* them onto brown paper to make ransom notes, or collected and sold to the fish and chip shop or the green grocer for pocket money.
  • Potato sacks had any number of uses including a back door mat.
  • When our socks wore out we darned them, when our shoes wore out we bought a repair kit and fixed them ourselves, and even if a shirt wore out we saved the buttons, then turned the fabric into a duster or a pot-holder. When our sheets or the collars of our shirts wore out, we ‘turned’ them.


The stuff we keep because it might be useful one day is different from what it used to be. When the battery in my first mobile phone was beyond useless, someone opened a drawer and pulled out a newer old model I could use.
Last year, I discovered that the only way I could get a cheaper phone plan was to buy a new phone. Insane. I still only use it for calls and text messages.

We – by which I mean TO and I – also keep some stuff because, well, because it’s a proof thing. “This is how we lived”. “This is what we used”.

I often accuse TO of being a hoarder but, to be fair, the only real difference is that the stuff she keeps is bigger than the stuff I keep. I have an envelope full of carbon paper. She has two packets of transparent overhead projector sheets she’ll never use. I have a skinny old school atlas in which all the parts of the British Empire are coloured red. She has a great big fat huge Macquarie dictionary, and a thesaurus. I have a tub full of vinyl LPs I’ve yet to convert to CDs, while she has an analogue iPod.



[Not TO's]

TO’s father was a very resourceful man. When he kept the stuff TO keeps now, it wasn’t hoarding, it was practical. I never met the man, but sometimes I know that he lives on in his daughter, who believes a penny saved is a penny earned.
It doesn’t matter how worn something is, “it will still be alright for ages yet”.

She likes that activity some call fishing but which I call barbaric.
There she was, one day, on the pier at Sorrento. She dropped her bucket over the side to fill it with water, and the rope finally broke. The bucket sank.

There we were, one year, exploring Innamincka and Bourke and Wills territory. “I’ve always wanted to throw a line in, in Cooper’s Creek.” She stood on the bank, flipped her arm back and forth to cast the line, and a very tired piece of fishing line finally snapped. She lost the lot – hook line and sinker.

There we were, one fine sunny day, a few kilometres out from Frankston in her little fishing boat. It was a lovely calm day. She tossed the anchor over the side.

I told her the rope was rotten.

How can I call her a hoarder when she is such a tosser?

*a paste of flour and water


  1. I am a natural hoarder who doesn't hoard. However, in our filing cabinet are two sheets of foolscap, stapled at the sides and the bottom. In between the sheets of paper are several sheets of carbon paper. You never know.....

    1. Keeping carbon paper is not hoarding... it was the best invention since the wheel.

  2. Did you leave out bubble wrap? it always has to be saved just in case ...

    I am so old, that when I typed lists of woolbales for the Austn Wool Board in Nth Melb, and there had to be 7 copies, it was SEVEN sheets of onion paper with SIX sheets of carbon paper.
    The other way to get copies was typing on wax paper and putting it through a mucky Gestetner which reproduced muckily.
    Communications was the glamorous TELEX machine.
    We have come a long way since 1966.

    1. Oh, fond memories of catalogue pages reproduced by the hundreds on a Gestetner every Friday so six of us could walk round and round in circles collating them into sets.

      Such are the skills we never lose. More recently, I've worked in one place where staff were sent on a one week course to learn how to use the new photcopier's various copying and collating options.

      Bubble wrap would be useful if it could be kept away from a certain bubble popper.

  3. The most useful thing about bubble wrap IS that it can be popped.

    Although now I'm feeling like an awful parent, because I can't remember if Jack has ever popped bubble wrap.


      Shame, shame, shame, shame, shame. A Golden opportunity for someone to explain air pressure.

      Get yourself some bubble wrap the very next time you go shopping, or I'll be very disappointed in you. OR, get someone to post Jack a present :)

      [But you said it perfectly, that is just about all it's good for.