I have three top drawers to store my many assorted possessions; two in the desks at my home and my workspace and one in my bedroom dresser. By and large, the items found there can be classified under the general headings of mementos and surplus goods. They include matchbooks with two or three remaining matches, funeral cards from relatives and neighbors, Sacagawea and Susan B. Anthony dollar coins, single cufflinks and unmatched socks.
Then there are certain items that can be reliably found in any of the three drawers. I believe this is because I keep these items as much for their sentiment as for their utility. They are able and ready to serve, even as even my occasional need for them declines a little year by year: the rubber bands, the safety pins, the thumbtacks, and the pencils.
A casual inventory confirms that I have already saved far more of these pieces than I will ever use. They are easily accumulated since they're so often free. I acquired so many of them in the wake of those funeral cards. The same resolution eventually awaits the bounty currently assigned to me. This precious clutter will surely be counted among my remaining assets.
I attach a special sentiment to some of the pencils. Like the matchbooks, they advertise businesses, phone numbers, and even purposes that no longer exist. One tall round pencil is from a typewriter repair shop in Fort Wayne. Its color is a gentle green shade that went extict around 1970. It could stand a few more sharpenings and erasures from the other end. But if the pencil gets too much shorter, I'll cut right into the family name. Still, it's not like I can save it for some special occasion, like signing an important document. I've ultimately been in denial; completely forgetting that this pencil's original intention was exactly the use I'm avoiding. There is some small joy that awaits me writing my weekly shopping list with a fifty year old pencil. I'm convincing myself that we both benefit from that choice.
Achieving a balance between sentiment and utility lies at the very heart of sustainability. Older homes match both grace and function: the tansoms, the porcelain spigots, the sleeping porch, along with the leaded windows, the hardwood bannister, the built-in bookshelves separating the living and dining rooms. The sentiment holds our attention. The function guarantees their continued purpose. The essential responsibility of whoever is the steward and caretaker for this particular stretch of time is the willingness to use and the commitment to maintain. So with these pencils, my task is to make sure the most treasured are included among the ballpoints and highlighter in the chipped coffee cup atop the desk. To encourage my commitment, perhaps a small investment: a sturdy Apsco handcrank sharpener afixed to the basement door frame. To spread the wealth, I ought to bind most all of my remaining inventory with a few of those rubber bands and set them out on the recycling table the next time I drop off the bottles and cans. Maybe this will lead to the safety pins.
If the only result of this process is to make me a little more conscious of my immediate physical surroundings, then the value of these pencils will have exceeded any notes I could write or corrections I could make. The best tools, after all, not only help you do but also help you be.