the fine art of hoarding

I know the feeling of gloating over money only too well - of lovingly eyeing the big piles of cash and running a finger over thick wads of bank notes.

I know the feeling of gloating over money only too well – of lovingly eyeing the big piles of cash and running a finger over thick wads of bank notes. The lingering look at all those zeros behind the triple digits on a bank statement, the power and security it breathes out, that you inhale. Ah, to be rich.

It’s not money that produces the same effect on me, though, it’s the season of the year. Just another month to get in everything we need for winter, the things we forgot, couldn’t get before or that suddenly need to be replaced. It’s not much: a new zipper for an otherwise still perfectly serviceable fleece jacket, maybe a new air filtre for one of the chainsaws, candles and perhaps more chocolate. Nothing urgent. We’ve done well in our shopping this year; there’s really no need for another trip out. We can live off our dividends now.

And so I spend a few minutes everyday standing before our laden shelves, gloating over all our supplies, letting it sink in that we’re pretty much done for the year. It’s not even all here yet, our fortune: the potatoes and carrots are still out in the garden and the moose we hope to shoot still roams the woods. It wouldn’t win us a prize for home decor, all these cartons, pallets, boxes, cans and glasses that are mostly stored in plain view throughout the cabin, but to me, it’s beautiful. Sure a pantry would be nice, but then how do you keep things from freezing in there during a cold snap? And why hide your wealth if you can flaunt it, I figure. It’s a wonderful sight.

The eight family packs of toilet paper lean protectively against the jars of jam and jelly, the fruit juices stand in a row above the mountain of dog food, and 10 pallets of evaporated milk promise plenty of homemade yoghurt and hot chocolate. I lovingly eye the new toothbrushes, books, rolls of duct tape and Parmesan cheese that Sam has brought home with him a couple days ago. It’s all there, in sufficient amounts to see us through the winter. I can tell now we’ve got the right amounts by looking at it.

It was a bit intimidating back when we prepared to spend our first winter in the bush – how do you know how much you need to have of everything, I wondered? There seemed to be so many unknowns. For a month, I weighed and wrote down everything we consumed, multiplied the amounts and added another ten per cent to be on the safe side. That system actually worked out reasonably well and resulted in the master shopping list that we still go by, although with many adjustments. It’s impossible to predict what we’ll want to eat with absolute certainty. Some years we end up eating hardly any peanut butter at all or we devour incredible amounts of apple sauce, resulting in unexpected shortages as well as some ageing, dusty items we can’t seem to get rid of (some four-year old canned corn, anyone?).

We’ve learned to do without for months on end, the little tricks of substituting this for that, and to not throw things out. Especially not throw things out – for one thing, wilderness living comes without a garbage dump attached and your impact on the land stares you in the face all day, everyday. And of course, who’d be so frivolous as to feed that ancient canned corn to the dogs when this winter, we might possibly get gripped with a wild desire for it?

It’s the financially poor person, the people who live remotely, who have mastered the art not only of reusing and recycling, but hoarding as well. Where else would you get the things to reuse from if not from your stash of well-loved things that would be called trash by the uninitiated.

Although I’m aware of those inevitable discoveries bound to come some time in early December that we’re down to the last item of something because we’re on a chili sauce binge or possessed by an unnatural craving for cheddar cheese, a contented sigh escapes me as I ogle our riches with satisfaction. That’s probably how Bill Gates feels.

Lisa Hasselbring is a writer who lives at the headwaters of the Yukon River south of Whitehorse.