Tuesday, 9 September 2008

Making Do

Eldest daughter has been helping me pack boxes. So far, her ratio is about one to my eight, but never mind: you've got to start somewhere. And at the end of every day, we each have a pile of junk that we are loath to recognize as such.

"Let's face it," I tell eldest, staring in dismay at her monstrous collection of toiletries, "you're never going to use half of that stuff."

She stares down at the drawers her dozens upon dozens of bottles and jars are virtually spilling out of, her features tight with denial. "I might."

I cross my arms over my chest and sigh. "It's all old stuff anyway; you might as well throw it all out."

She frowns and presses her lips together. "But it's still good."

I pick up a bottle of lurid pink, full-strength body spray 1/8 full. "You're telling me you want to keep this?" I'm not a big fan of body spray.

"Mom, you can go now," she says, but I'm on a roll.

"And this?" I query, holding up a bottle of shampoo with two inches left.


So help me, we could open our own hairwashing salon here. I don't know what there is about using up the last few centimeters of shampoo, but not one person in this family seems able to do this. When I was cleaning out the bathroom, I counted almost two dozen bottles with only a smidgen of shampoo left in each one, but eldest takes it to a new plane entirely. I'm not telling how many almost-empty shampoo bottles she has; I'm trying to convince myself I must have imagined it.

"You're not going to want to see this stuff in a year's time. You're not going to want to lug it all to your dormitory now, are you?"

She sticks her lower lip out and glowers at the jumble of bottles and jars. She knows I'm right.

Later on, though, she catches me sitting there, reading picture books. We've got what I'm certain is one of the biggest Japanese picture book collections in Scotland. "Remember this one about the oni who eats donuts and chocolate and green peppers and spaghetti?" I say fondly, showing eldest the picture. She scrunches up her face and rolls her eyes, but I know she does remember. She's not ready to throw that one away.

"What are those?" she asks, pointing her foot at the pile of notebooks in one corner.

They are my guilty secret: I've saved all the homework she did in elementary school, in Japan. I fished her completed notebooks out of the trash when we were moving from Japan to the U.K. All of her carefully formed hiragana and katakana, every childishly-penned kanji with its precise stroke order: how could I just throw those notebooks away?

She bends down for a closer look, recognition beginning to dawn. "Those are my old notebooks, aren't they?"


She has a look of triumph in her eye. "You saved them."

"Only a few."

"Like anybody's ever going to use them!" She picks one up and looks at it, her lip curled.

I took a break and washed the clothes. Eldest hung them out on the radiators, then we lugged a huge pile of things down to Oxfam in the car. When we got back, the whole house smelled like Herbal Essence shampoo.

"What's that smell?" asked eldest, looking around. "Isn't that Herbal Essence shampoo?"

I nodded. "I washed the laundry with it. It seemed a shame to waste it."

Eldest sat back in her chair. "You washed the clothes with shampoo? You've got to be kidding!"

"No, I'm not. We were running low on laundry detergent and I had a bottle with about two inches of shampoo in it, so I figured why not? Anyway, it did the job."

She shook her head and grinned. "Mom, you're a genius!"

"Aw, shucks."

"No, really! And I know what I'm going to do with all that stuff upstairs now!"

Oh God: the house is going to reek for the next few days. What have I done? Still, it's freezing cold outside. The picture books have been safely boxed away, but her old notebooks will make a nice, toasty fire.



The Anti-Wife said...

What a process! I don't envy you this job. Your use of the shampoo was shear genius. Now how are you going to use the spray tan?

AnneB said...

As I am living proof, spray tan only serves to give one's legs that attractive sepia-zebra look, which is a seasonal fashion statement at best. I say, chuck anything that doesn't contain a laterhing or conditioning substance.

AnneB said...

That would be "lathering." I have been working way too long on something else and I am going to go deepen the stripes on my legs now....

laura said...

How about old packets of bath salts, tons of hotel lotion samples & hair sprays, slightly used candles, pretty gift boxes, grandma's ugly vanity table (but it was grandma's!), a full set of china that I've never used, a full set of slightly cheap chrystal; ditto, MacDonald's Happy Meal Toys (still wrapped in cellophane because they'll be valuable some day!)...I could go on ad nauseam, and oh how I feel your pain! Tonight, I've already made 2 trips to our local salvation army in an attempt to get rid of yet more junk. Not my first trip nor will it be my last. Will we ever learn? I doubt it.

Robin said...

I love the description of the teaspoons of Shampoo in the bottom of the bottles. In our bathrooms, I would add a coating of green mold around the tops of the oldest of the rarely used shampoos.

debra said...

Do we live in the same house? I was looking for shampoo this morning, and found multiple bottles of the dregs---not enough to use, too much to throw away. And no one thought to tell me we needed more. There are, however, about 8 bottles of conditioner in varying stages of emptiness---some with mold, some without. I've used the shampoo to remove grease from clothing and also to do greasy dishes.

Carrie said...

Lately I keep thinking about purging all the crap in my house. It would be heavenly to have just the necessities around. Good luck with the purge.

Mary Witzl said...

Anti-wife -- Necessity is the mother of invention! Actually, I was wondering if the spray tan wouldn't cover up grey hair. No harm in trying, right? Either that or we box it all up and leave it in front of some tanning salon at five in the morning. Just think: it might save some poor soul a patch of melanoma!

AnneB -- I absolutely agree. Conditioner is a great fabric softener and shampoo does double duty as laundry soap, but all the other stuff goes. I'm living in terror that my daughter will recycle her body spray as air freshener.

My legs are unfashionably pale; I have resisted all my daughter's attempts to use up her tanning stuff on them. But she's wearing me down: "It's a shame to waste it" has the effect on me that "But it's on sale!" had on my father.

Laura -- Eek: you've been in my house! I've got my father's old soccer sweater, a bag of letters from my parents to each other written in 1949, and enough old bath salts to pave the Grand Canyon. As for the bag of used hotel shampoos and soaps, well, I hang my head in shame. Will we ever learn? Of course not. You could tie my hands behind my back and if I stayed in a hotel, I'd still find a way of getting the hermetically-wrapped shower cap in my suitcase -- and I have a serious collection already.

Robin -- You've been in my house too! Of COURSE there's mold around the tops!

Debra -- We ought to form a club: The Never-Use-It-Ups, maybe. I wonder what it is about using up that last little bit? Do people fear that the last two inches of shampoo will have gone bad, or might they actually be too lazy to throw away the bottle? In this household, I'm betting on the latter rationale. Whatever the case, my position as user-of-the-dregs is well established and it looks like you're in the same boat. Even if we don't start a club, it is heartwarming to know that other women are struggling with this too!

Carrie -- I would strongly recommend that you do this. I can't get over how cathartic it was to finally get rid of something I've been hanging onto that I know I'll never need. I've gotten rid of (among other things) eight bolts of fabric, a china set, six chairs, a table, four boxes of books and magazines -- AND I dumped a whole box of elementary school notebooks from Japan into the trash yesterday -- I know what I'm talking about.

Christy said...

I am rolling at the thought of dying hair with spray tan. I did actually know a man who tried to disguise a bald spot with shoe polish. Spray tan sounds slightly more reasonable than that.

debra said...

I'm a charter member of the Never Use Ups club---they do it with juice, milk and cereal, too.

Charles Gramlich said...

shampoo for clothes? I never would have thought of it.

Some lessons learned here.

Jacqui said...

Oh, I am the anti-pack rat. I toss everything.

But even I understand keeping the notebooks.

Susan Sandmore said...

I need your shampoo! We never seem to have any in the house (probably because my youngest likes to play with it) and we always use every speck of it.

Tabitha said...

Awww, I could never throw those notebooks away! That would kill me.

But I'm pack rat extraordinaire. I save everything, because I *might* need it some day. My husband is the opposite, and throws everything away. I get furious when he throws my things away, especially something that I actually needed. :)

Mary Whitsell said...

Christy -- I figure if eyebrow pencil works on the stray bits, why not spray tan? But then I am a woman who vacuumed up a wasp's nest...

Deborah -- My guys do that too. The minute they get to that bottom one inch, it's time for a nice new package or bottle or container. After all, mom can be counted on to use that last icky bit, so there's never any waste. Sigh. What shall our secret handshake be?

Charles -- I'll bet a lot of people have figured that one out, but my husband would probably never think of it. Believe me, it saves a lot of headaches when you're traveling.

Jacqui -- Good for you! I have gradually developed anti-pack-rat skills, but it has taken me a lifetime of moving to make me see the clutter-free light. And more importantly, a lifetime of paying for international postage.

Crap: I was all set to throw out those notebooks, too. You guys are enabling me!

Susan -- Oh, if only you were just across the street -- what a service we could offer each other! You would find several large shopping bags full of almost-empty shampoo bottles on your doorstep, and I would be spared having to rinse them all out with water into the washing machine.

Tabitha -- (That settles it: I'm fishing those notebooks out of the trash. Again. The kid will never know.)

My husband thinks he is more practical than I am, but he saves his own junk. We had a nasty old Ikea chair that he saved against my complaints, and a whole room filled with computer gear I knew he would never use. Guess who ended up carting half of it off to the tip?

Kim Ayres said...

I'm sure half those smells would be deemed offensive where you're heading ;)

Middle Ditch said...

This is such a lovely story.

Don't burn those notebooks though. I kept all of them and every time I find them and look at them I have such lovely memories of my daughters, now grown up and living their own lives.

Rena said...

Great post, Mary -- as always!

Gorilla Bananas said...

Amazing what shampoo can do! My first choice would have been to use it on the cat.

Kappa no He said...

I'm a Keep Them! Vote, too. She can show them to her kids (along with the Oni book) and oh, the stories she can tell!

Katie Alender said...

I am the bane of all shampoo companies, because I love nothing better than pouring all of them into the same bottle. The people who do my hair ask what shampoo I use (because they want to sell me a $24 bottle of their stuff), and they are always horrified when I explain that I'm not really sure--definitely a little bit of baby shampoo and three different kinds of Herbal Essences, and I think there were a couple of little hotel shampoos dumped in there, too.

This is necessary because I'm a recovering shampoo junkie. I used to have about 6 bottles in the shower. Now I still kind of do, LOL.

Marcia said...

Mary, I'm going through this now in a different way, trying to condense my mother's huge house and 50+ years' worth of never-threw-anything-away into a 1-bedroom apt. Interesting, I am the thrower and my mom is the saver. When I was a kid, she would have made me use every inch of those shampoos before buying me another bottle! :)

Mary Whitsell said...

Kim -- You're right: they probably would. Now I'm getting nervous and excited about the thought of all those new smells. Hope I like them!

MD -- Thank you. I didn't burn all of them, though I believe I would have if I didn't have a blog! Some of them have been put into storage. Where they will probably stay until I am old and grey...

Rena -- Thank you very much! I'll bet you wouldn't have thrown the notebooks away either -- I've seen your toys! (You know about my dolls in Southern California, so I might as well confess to a worn-out panda as well.)

GB -- Believe me, she's had her fair share. She got in the coal shed a while back and was thus able to sample Tesco's finest Apple shampoo. (She isn't a fan, though.)

Kappa -- The problem is, though, she'll have a LOT to show her kids. She's got all her kumon stuff as well, and all her scrapbooks and photograph albums from hoiku-en. Siiigh.

Katie -- I do that too, but with mouthwash. We had half a dozen bottles going, and it pissed me off. So I just combined them all into one. If anyone noticed or minded, they never said a thing. And pardon me, but $24 for a bottle of shampoo? Are you serious? Does it guarantee you no grey hair ever, or baldness reversal? If not, no way am I forking out for it!

Marcia -- I feel for you, doing that! 50 years is a long time to live in a house, and if the person in question is a bit of a packrat -- dear God. My husband's auntie is 92 and my heart sinks at the thought of helping her down-size. For some reason, saver parents end up with thrower kids and vice versa. I'm sure it's nature's way of evening things out.

Piloting The Ship Of Fools said...

Hope you didn't throw anything of mine away; I will need every one of those socks. Don't care what you washed them in!

I have really enjoyed reading the blog (always have done) but lets face it - it wouldn't have mattered very much even if I had drawn you a map of how to get back from Manchester, now would it? But "M56 to M6, turn right. Follow signs to The North." should, perhaps, have given you a clue.

Miss you. Please try not to damage eldest daughter - as I miss her too.

Good luck with the flights, see you soon.

Love you,


Angela said...

Glad you can find some bright spots in such a tedious job. I once had to go through my granny's trailer to prepare her for a move. I'd blog about the stuff we found, but it would be tooooo scary.

Barbara Martin said...

What a novel way to use left over shampoo! Children are wonderful creatures while growing up.

Mary Witzl said...

Pilot -- (Ship of fools? I hope you don't think I'm one of your crew, buddy.) No, a map would have made very little difference. Next time, I'm bringing bread crumbs and brightly colored stones, a la Hansel and Gretel.

I've saved all your socks, but I'll have no more silly jokes about how many sweaters I own. I now know The Truth.

Angela -- I'd love to hear what you found in your granny's trailer!

My husband has a great story about when they cleaned out his granny's house after her death. She had squirreled away tiny gin and whisky bottles under all the sofa seats. They kept finding them, along with her knitting needles and playing cards.

Barbara -- I'm getting awfully tired of the smell of Herbal Essence, though, and I hope to God the kids never buy it again. It makes a lousy air freshener.

Kim Ayres said...

Given the heat of the middle east, I reckon Sweat is probably going to be the biggest one to get used to...

Ello said...

Poor Mary! What alot of work! But alot of good stories!

And by the way - I have great news! I got an agent!!!! Wheeee! I still can't believe it myself!!!!