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By Pam Burke 

View from the North 40: The things we pile preciously


November 17, 2017

The problem is that, and this needs explaining, I come from a long line of pile-makers on the maternal side of my family. Not hoarders — we’re pilers, like hoarders-lite.

We don’t save bizarre stuff like stacks of every McDonald’s french fry holder we’ve ever gotten with a meal or all the hairballs brushed off the dogs. We don’t have to negotiate a maze of newspaper towers to get down the hallway to the bathroom. We don’t have one room of the house set aside just to hold all the plastic bags we are sure we will be able to use that golden day in the future when we get our mess together enough to pack up these treasures and haul them to the dump.

No, we keep useful things. interesting things, things that define who we are.

My grandma was a crafter and former farm wife. She had piles of fabric, bought on sale, to be rummaged through to make clothes or quilts or costumes or stuffed dolls or whatever. She had stashes of old clothes, too, to rob pieces of fabric from them as well. She had every left-over remnant skein of yarn, ever.

Her pile of newspapers was simply being stored until she got around to cutting out that oatmeal cookie recipe or the photo of her cousin’s son’s stepdaughter’s dog doing tricks at the old-folks’ home or the article about using garlic soaked in rum and vinegar to cure arthritis (or was it “the trots”? She couldn’t remember which, but once the article was cut out and pinned to the bulletin board, that malady would be cured for sure).

My mother has moved enough times that her major keeper-piles are in boxes that have been moved from one city to the next, added to along the way, and now they almost fill one room of her home, never to be opened until some future day when her children and grandchildren go exploring in the cardboard treasure mine she has left behind.

Her most current treasures, though, can always be found on the dining room table. It’s a sturdy oak structure which is never used for eating, but rather to hold a mound of the random treasures she has carted home for safekeeping: a flier from church, a card, a few grocery lists, a pair of gloves, a poignant saying on a magazine ad, the bow and wrapping paper from someone else’s going-away gift (“Someone made the bow from ribbon and pine cones, and I thought it was so clever, and it matches that really cute wrapping paper, and I saw she was just going to throw it away, so I just asked her for it and she …”).

Which brings me back to my office that I have just started sorting through. Considering my lineage and the fact that I’ve lived here 28 years, I am proud to say that I’ve done well at keeping my treasures to a manageable, storable quantity.

However, recent busy-ness and a total lack of interest in keeping up a home that will be abandoned in the foreseeable future made me a little lax about performing regular purges of my own piled stuff.

My office in particular has started to look like a hoarder’s starter kit.

From one weekend’s pile-tidying I can tell you what’s important and interesting to me (in no particular order): notebooks, old calendars with nothing written in them, lists of books to read, actual books, cards and letters and photos from friends and family, lists of foods I should eat, fencing staples and nails and screws, lists of movies to watch, a few dozen phone numbers without names to identify them, more books, notes and notebooks for articles and columns, lists of musicians to listen to, an 18-inch high stack of research that got sorted and mostly thrown away, and horse tack – what turned out to be an embarrassingly large tote-full worth of bridles, bits, reins, breastcollars, driving harness, and random leather and nylon straps — as if I were planning to outfit a cavalry of my own.

That was only part of what was in a 6-foot by 7-foot space in my office.

I maybe should’ve started this project three or four years ago.


I also found three saddle pads in the office and four more in various hidey-holes around the house, but who’s counting at http://www.facebook.com/ViewfromtheNorth40.


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