You just never know when it might come in handy

#495 in a series of true experiences in real estate
September 2005, Hills Newspapers

Anet’s mom confessed something funny the other day. She told Anet that she had opened a large kitchen cupboard to find that it was so full, nothing could be added. And embarrassing though it was to admit, what the cupboard was full of was plastic bags. Perfectly good, certainly reusable plastic bags, lots of them.

Anet’s mom looked at the bags she had collected inside her kitchen cupboard and she realized that she was not going to be able to throw those bags away. Keeping always in mind the Depression, she knew that if an item is serviceable and potentially useful, it must be saved. Out loud she said “I wonder who could use these?”

Anet’s sister who happened to be there at the time replied, “Mom, I know just who can use these bags. Put them all together and give them to me.”

Anet’s mom knows where those bags are going and it’s not to some deserving person. Telling Anet about the bags, she laughs heartily, says she’s pretending that someone will be glad to get her collection, and explains that she just can’t help it. She can’t throw out things that are still good.

We’ve had a number of clients who felt the same, people who can’t let anything good go to waste. When it came time to clear out their houses before moving, they devoted themselves to finding the right placement for every item they no longer wanted. Often it took months to go through closets and basements. They sought recipients at recycling centers, schools, libraries, charities and food banks.

When they could they sold books, clothes and furniture, then gave away what was left. A number of clients made donations to the White Elephant Sale, where they hoped their gifts would make money for the Oakland Museum.

I’ve never been to the museum sale, which I hear is rich with oddities and collectibles, but I’ve visited numerous charity thrift stores. Most everything they’ve got for sale these days doesn’t look very saleable to me. I can’t remember when I last saw a piece of furniture that I knew would look great after just a little refinishing.

There are piles of baskets from Harry & David, Pyrex casseroles and custard cups, paperback books, jigsaw puzzles and oft-washed clothes. Unending drink glasses, none matching, coffee mugs with emblems, glass vases from the florist.

I wonder, do these sell? Or does everyone who needs these things already have them? Or are they buying them new?

Recently my daughter asked me to keep an eye out for kitchen things for a friend about to move to her first apartment. I brought home glass and silverware from a client for the friend, then it turned out she didn’t want it. She wasn’t even tempted to come look at it.

I didn’t ask why but maybe she went to Target and bought their amazingly complete Kitchen in a Box. Plates, bowls, glasses, silverware, pots and frying pan, knife set, cutting board. Also ice cream scoop, can opener, measuring cups, pizza knife, corkscrew, chip clips. And more, all for $35.

Separately, a set of pottery dishes for four – pretty ones – $8. And stainless steel silverware with enamel handles, 16 pieces – wow! – $4. Walmart has a similar do-everything kitchen set but in theirs dishes and steak knives are included for $49.

The day Anet and I saw the boxed kitchen at Target, it was on sale for $25. We couldn’t believe it. We remembered moving to our first apartments years ago. Our moms gave us some things, we bought some at garage sales. I did the same for my daughter, helped her outfit her kitchen, gave her things from my house, bought others new.

I was surprised then to find that toasters and irons are widely available for about $10. We got her a toaster on sale for even less. It broke after about a year – there’s no such thing as toaster repair these days – so she bought a new one.

I wonder, will people ever bother again with castoffs? Is the pass-along system dead? Now that so much can be purchased for so little, do people toss after use, then buy again?

When I was cleaning out my mom’s house after she died, I found a set of cutlery she’d gotten somewhere. Not fancy, not expensive, just ordinary stainless steel, a set for 6. A note from my mother to me was taped to the bag the pieces were wrapped in. “Think before giving away.”

I’m sure my mom saw that perfectly good cutlery as something one of us, her children or grandchildren, could use one day. That’s why she saved it.

The note made me smile and I thought about taking the cutlery home, storing it at my house. But I didn’t. It’s probably sitting on a shelf in a thrift store now.

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