Saturday, December 18, 2010


When I was a girl, my dad used to pick up free empty cigar boxes at the tobacconist. “Need this for anything, Sal?” he’d ask. With my collections of Viewmaster reels, beach rocks, horse chestnuts, and marbles, how could I say no? Nowadays, cigar boxes are purchased from craft stores—considerably lessening their appeal for me. You see, I love reusing containers.

For more than sixty years I haven’t been able to see a small hinged-lid box in the trash without the urge to rescue it. When my seventh-grade Home-Ec teacher told the class to look around home for a bobbin container, I knew I was going to like sewing. Today my bobbins live in an empty Altoids box. Buttons, on the other hand, take up an entire fruitcake box where they are crammed together—gold, black, pearly, round, flat—like petrified raisins, cherries, and citron leftover from the previous tenant.

Cylindrical black film canisters are also high on my list of coveted containers—perfect for small nails, screws, picture hooks, thumbtacks, and calligraphy-pen tips. For years, the sound of a camera being loaded activated my ‘sixth sense’ so I could retrieve the film canister before it was thrown out. Film canisters are hard to label, but shaking them to identify their contents is a satisfying game. Even though I my current camera is digital, I’m tempted to stock up on film to assure a supply.

I come by my instinct honestly. Inside the lid of a tobacco tin I’ve stored things in since childhood, the manufacturer wrote these words: Save this tin, it has many handy uses. My affinity for reusing containers is also in my genes. Grandmother covered orange crates with calico to make night-stands in our summer house; Mother prevented rumples in table linens by rolling them around spent shelf-paper tubes; Dad stored nuts and bolts, screw-eyes and washers in Yuban coffee tins. Thinking up a use for an attractive container is half the fun. Occasionally, reluctant as I am to admit it, box-lust overcomes me, and I buy a product just for its packaging.

A few years ago I purchased a set of nesting, rainbow-colored boxes as playthings for my granddaughters. When Hubby bemoaned the excess of plastic and paper bags on shelves in the garage, I reluctantly gave them up. Now our garage looks like a wannabe M&Ms warehouse, lined with red, yellow and green containers.

My desk drawers are chock full of note-card boxes cast off over many years housing souvenir postcards, address labels, stickers, stamps, and envelopes (the kind left over when you wreck a note and have to start again). If a box is both pretty and durable, I’ve put it to work. Those holiday card boxes with clear lids? Great cookie-filled-gifts for the neighbors at Christmastime. Candy tins? Perfect for sorted snapshots. I even have a huge industrial-weight cardboard box gleaned from a huge company I worked at years ago to keep wrapping paper in—the same box since 1983.

Don’t get me wrong, though. I’m choosey. With the exception of film canisters, I am partial to rectangles, and have no affection for yogurt or cottage-cheese containers. I critically audition my boxes. Hubby’s learned to ask my opinion of incoming boxes before breaking them up for recycling.

Now I’ve arrived at the age of downsizing, I need to reduce my treasury of cardboard and tin. My boxes must be consolidated or discarded. Some will end up in a landfill; others will be melted or churned into pulp and reappear in a papery reincarnation. A few will end up in thrift shops, maybe even with contents intact, to surprise a buyer who shrieks with delight at the possibility they represent. Eye candy for packrats. Organizational tools for collectors of stuff. Mini-file drawers. Accumulators’ delight.

And the boxing match will begin again.

© 2010 by Sara J. Glerum
All rights reserved. Electronic version published 2010

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