Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Do You Hoard?

I come from a long line of hoarders.

My grandmother (on my mother's side) lived through the hard times of the Great Depression, so when her husband just up and disappeared one day leaving her with seven kids to raise, she knew how to make the most of every penny. My mother (second from youngest) was only 7 at the time. Eventually, my grandfather was declared legally dead.* My grandmother, stuck in a home with mouths to feed and bills to pay went back to school and became a nurse. She had never gone to high school and had only finished sixth grade. She was in the very last class allowed to attend nursing school without a diploma. As a nurse she worked the night shift - 7:00 p.m. to 7:00 a.m., mostly because it paid just a little more per hour and every bit was needed.

My mother grew up to become a teacher. She met and married my father who got into the automotive business (first repair, then sales.) I don't remember much about hard financial times while growing up. I remember there being concerns when my father was between jobs (car sales guys move around a lot,) and a few other times when things were a bit tight, but that is about it. Perhaps the only thing I really remember being denied was that copper colored satin jacket that I fell in love with when I was in junior high - my mom said it was too expensive, but I suspect it more about the jacket than the price! I don't mean that I felt spoiled - I knew plenty of kids who had a lot more than I did, we didn't have cable until years after most of my friends, but I always thought those kinds of things were about my parents, not money. Money was never discussed in my house - it was far more taboo than religion or politics.

There is, however, one thing that I saw growing up that was a constant reminder of my mother's poor past - food. Mom told me once that when she was a little kid she decided that when she grew up she'd get a good job and "never be hungry again." She was as good as her word. Complaining that there was "no good food in the house" was always a bit silly in my house... there was always food. The pantry, the cupboards, the refrigerator, even the basement were stuffed full of canned goods, boxes of mixes, frozen foods, and more. As a kid I would earn extra money cleaning out the cupboards and I remember making huge stacks on the counters of what I would pull out - there would be so much I would end up stacking the cans on the floor. Frequently my mother would have forgotten what she bought - though I guarantee she rarely bought anything that wasn't on sale or that she didn't have a coupon for (or both.) Even today she stocks up on food, though she lives alone. On Thanksgiving I went to slide an ice cream pie I made into the freezer until it was time for dessert - only to find there was absolutely NO room for the pie - in fact, there was barely room for a slip of paper.

Some people might think negatively about the amount of food my mother has stored up, especially considering how much one lone woman can eat in a given week, but I don't see it like that at all. I figure that it makes her feel safe. She knows that no matter what, she is prepared - and frankly she is far better prepared for natural disaster or unexpected company than I will ever be. She is not hurting financially, so if she wants to stock up in kitchen items, I say, more power to her.

I've had some financial issues in my own life, but nothing compared to what my grandmother or mother lived through, yet in my own way, I'm a hoarder too.

I'm not a hoarder in the same way my mother is. For the most part when it comes to food, I make a set of menus and buy groceries specifically for those menus. When the week has passed and all the dishes on the menu been made and consumed, the cupboards are pretty bare except for essentials like four, oil and spices. And that is where my personal obsession comes in - household essentials. When the olive oil gets down to the last inch in the bottle, I get twitchy. When the cumin jar is looking low, I start planning a trip to the spice store. It isn't that I have to be stocked up, but I absolutely hate running out.

But it isn't just food - it is all sorts of home essentials. Laundry soap and toilet paper, (though neither one of those will be a problem for quite some time) coffee, shampoo, cleaning products - any item that you normally stock in the house, I have to have a ongoing supply of. What does this mean? Well, if the bottle of glass cleaner is down to the last inch or so, I put it on the shopping list. If I don't get it right away, it will nag at the back of my brain until I do. I'm the same way with makeup - let me see the metal behind my eyeshadow and I am planning a trip to the store. The funny thing is it may take a month or two to finish that window cleaner, and even longer on the eye shadow! My purchasing needs are rarely "right now" - it just feels that way to me.

In my college marketing classes we were taught the "Just In Time" method for product distribution. It meant that base materials were delivered to the factory just as they were needed - not before and not too late. I always thought this would be a good method to use when running a home. However, much like many manufacturing plants, I found it doesn't work as good in practice as it does on paper.

It turns out that the hoarding method actually works really well - my method and my mother's. Because both of us refuse to run out, neither of us "has" to pick anything up at any given moment, which means that we have time to shop sales, look for coupons or other deals. Having a bit of a stockpile may make me feel a bit silly every time I reach for my dishwasher soap and see the brand new one sitting next to it ready to go, but it does give me the opportunity to get the best deals I can.

The other thing is does is make me feel just a little more secure. Like my mom, I feel better knowing that I don't have to worry about not having toothpaste when I get up in the morning. If you were to add up the amount of money that goes into building this safety net it is really quite small, all things considered. In fact, it turns out that hoarding is an excellent financial strategy for me.

I think my grandmother would be proud.

*It turns out he was just in Arizona.

Photo by: SideShowMom


pfincome said...

Love the post! My wife and I hoard all the time. My grandparents do it as well and is a direct result of them living through the depression. It is amazing to see what they save. When we go to their house, we are always washing their fine china which consists of cool whip containers and old butter containers. They throw nothing away.

Dawn said...

Ha! That is great! My mother packed up leftovers for my sister and I from Thanksgiving dinner in what she called "Dutch Tupperware." You guessed it - sour cream and Cool Whip containers.