5,000 Staples

I’m in love with my stapler. Yes, in love. With a stapler. Because it’s sturdy and metal, and I doubt it will ever break. I will probably get old and die first, or just decide I don’t need to staple anything anymore, before this little beauty would quit on me. I bought it a few years back at a yard sale or thrift shop, one of the two, can’t remember which. It is pure old-school, all steel or other sturdy metal, enamel-painted a pretty blue that one color website I hit upon when I Googled “names of shades of blue” referred to as “Cadet Blue,” and another as “Air Force Blue.” I might call it a dark shade of sky-blue.

It’s got small rust spots here and there. Just enough to add a touch of dignity and gravitas. It’s a compact stapler that fits neatly on the small antique sewing-machine table that doubles as my desk. And with the stapler, at the same garage sale or thrift shop, I bought a little box of staples. Both the stapler and the faded yellow cardboard box of staples look like they came from a time capsule made by a stationery store in 1963. And they both look like they would survive Armageddon.

Except, I aspire to use the staples up in my lifetime, or at least make a big dent in their number. Although the box of staples was decades old when I bought them a decade ago, it did not look like a single row of them had been used. And yesterday as I was stapling little bags of wildflower seeds to put out in the Free Seed box I set up out front of my house, I noticed for the first time the number of staples in the box. I’d been thinking maybe 500? 1,000? Nope! When I read the fine print, I saw that the box had originally contained five THOUSAND staples. Packed in like little rows of square soldier sardines.

It seems like I’ve been using them forever, freely, but still I’ve barely made a visible dent in the rows. The box of staples is small, maybe 2 inches wide by 5 inches long by an inch and a half high. Not much bigger than a stick of butter. Maybe when the original buyer bought staples, he or she bought an extra box, not realizing how very many staples the deceptively small box contained. Or maybe boxes of staples were on sale two for one, and we know how that can go. (File that image in the same folder as a snapshot of the guy who’s hanging a picture or something and goes to the hardware store for screws, and comes back with two boxes of 500 or something because the price is cheaper per screw that way. Little did he know he’s consigning some future person somewhere to hold a garage sale to get rid of the unused portion.)

Was someone starting a clerical business and then gave up on their plan? A widow in a college town who was about to start a typing service to earn a bit of extra income, but then she passed away? Or maybe a secretary sent out to buy supplies for her company (not to be sexist, but I’m not sure there were male clerical workers back then), which later either folded or just got a newer bigger stapler which required newer bigger staples?

Anyway, I appreciate my stapler. And, while I try never to waste staples or other supplies, I do aspire to use them fully, and would rather use them up than reach the end of my life with way too much extra.

I feel the same about the needles, thread, embroidery floss, and yarn that were accumulated by three generations of crafty women in my family, and have now ended up in my custody. Needles in particular might be tough to use up; you can’t imagine how many little packets of needles there are. And I still have a primal fear of ending up in the Zombie Apocalypse with my last needle broken or lost. But I really don’t want to leave needles unused; someone made them, and they were made to be used.

If worst comes to worst, and my noble anti-hoarding sentiments end up leaving me short, I do have some spiny prickly-pear plants growing in the garden, and have heard that the pioneers made needles out of the spines.

This blog, on the surface, is about low-footprint living. Choosing to live lightly on the planet. But on a deeper level, it’s about living deliberately. For me, having excess stuff (beyond a reasonable backup supply) is an invitation to see if there’s someone else who needs, right now, the stuff that for me is excess. I have never regretted shedding stuff in that spirit. When I got into permaculture design, one of the design principles I learned was “Stocking,” which means having stuff in appropriate quantity. And part of the definition of “appropriate quantity” that I learned was, “being able to remember what you have and where it is stored.” For a lot of us in the wealthy industrialized nations, this is a bigger challenge than one might think. I speak as someone who has not only, herself, on many occasions forgotten what she has and where it is stored, but also done many de-cluttering and downsizing jobs, helping people clear out attics and garages that were packed to the ceiling with still-usable but long-forgotten stuff, much of it still in the original packaging. Important note: None of this is to shame or chastise anyone. We are all in this together, we’ve tried some things as a species that have seemed great at first but turned out to be not such a great idea (herbicides and single-use plastics come to mind), and I feel us each working in our own way to create a saner, kinder world where humans are living in balance with ecosystems, and all creatures have their needs met.

How about you? Do you have everyday tools or other possessions you particularly treasure? And do you have any multigenerational accumulations of good stuff that you’re in the process of figuring out how to use up or distribute?

And, to take it beyond the material, I think this concept applies to talents and energy as well. But I’ll save that for another post!

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