My children are hoarders. I mean, not Prime Time Special, bring in the forklift kind of hoarders, but hoarders nonetheless. Every item that comes into the house is the most wondrous [insert category of object here], and every drawing is sacred, and every graded test a reminder of a more halcyon time. I have to remove outgrown clothing under cover of darkness or create an elaborate diversion during the day (“Hey, look! Is that a big sign that says FREE COOKIES?”), lest the wailing and gnashing of teeth commence.

Otto is meticulous and organized, and while he has a vast quantity of STUFF, himself, every object has a place and a filing system and is part of a rigid hierarchy. His strategy with the children is to try to help them ORGANIZE their things. In other words, it’s okay with him if they keep everything, so long as it isn’t all over the floor.

I am neither meticulous nor particularly well organized, and I don’t have a single sentimental bone in my body. In my world, if I don’t have a spot for it here on my desk, it’s not something I wear regularly or something I need to do my taxes, INTO THE GARBAGE IT GOES. I am forever trying to get the kids to part with their “treasures” by lovingly pointing out that FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, IT’S A GRANOLA BAR WRAPPER. LET IT GO.

This is an ongoing struggle in our household that I anticipate will be resolved very soon, like after both children move out. I’ve made my peace with it, mostly.

Anyway. What comes next here is going to seem completely unrelated, but I promise to bring it around at the end. Pinky swear.

Once upon a time, Otto didn’t drink coffee. Ever. Otto is a story teller, and his Standard Coffee Story was that he had a cup once back in college and was then awake for two days straight (only, to properly get the feel of how Otto tells it, take that sentence there and stretch it out to be a half-hour-long tale of medical intrigue). No, he wouldn’t drink coffee ever again, because clearly he had some sort of sensitivity.

Meanwhile, the man drinks Coke Zero like it’s going out of style, including frequently having some RIGHT BEFORE BED. So I had pointed out multiple times that really, coffee doesn’t have THAT much more caffeine than soda, I was sure he could drink it if he wanted to. Oh no, he would say, telling me the story of the Two Day Coffee Tragedy, again. Not possible.

But I drink coffee. Not a lot, mind you, but I do love to start my day with a cup. I love how it smells. I love how it tastes. I love the ritual of it, and the little bit of waking up help of it. And so I would brew my coffee every morning and every so often, Otto would comment that it smelled really, really good. And he wondered if maybe he should try some.

I think we were out to dinner somewhere when I was served the most extraordinary cup of coffee I’ve ever had. “Otto, you have to taste this,” I said, handing him my cup. “This is SO GOOD. You will love it.” So he tasted it. And he did love it. And pretty soon I’d put away my single-cup pod coffee maker in favor of brewing half a pot in the morning so that I could have my cup and Otto could take a travel mug of it to work with him.

[Lest anyone is concerned, so far as I know he has never been kept awake for two days straight as a result. I strongly suspect he made that story up at some point, and after telling it so many times now believes it to be true.]

All has been well in Coffeeland, and one evening after dinner Otto was at the sink, doing dishes, while Chickadee and I discussed something random there in the kitchen, and Otto picked up the nondescript travel mug he’d used for coffee that morning and said, “Is this mug special to you?”

I cocked an eyebrow in his direction and repeated, “Special to me?”

“Yeah,” he said. “Like, does it have sentimental value to you or anything?”

Now I was flat out peering at him like he was on crack. “Sentimental value? What? That’s YOUR mug. No. Why?”

“Well, I discovered this morning that it leaks,” he said. “So I think I’m going to throw it away. But I wanted to make sure you didn’t want to keep it anyway.”

Now even Chickadee was looking at him like he’d lost his mind.

“Yes!” I said. “I want to keep that leaky mug! I LOVE leaky mugs! They’re my MOST FAVORITE! I love it best of all and if you throw it away I will CRY!” Chickadee began to giggle, and Otto rolled his eyes and began making NEVERMIND gestures.

“In FACT!” I continued, “I am going to make a SHRINE to that particular mug. It’s the GREATEST MUG EVER in the history of LEAKY MUGS!” Now I was laughing, too, and Chickie clung to me, staggering from the weight of her laughter, and Otto turned full around to glare at us both.

“I don’t know!” he protested. “Maybe I would throw it away and then you would get upset, or something. I was being COURTEOUS! I wanted to ASK, first! Maybe you wanted to use it for something ELSE.”

“Mama,” gasped Chickie. “You should put that special mug in a SPECIAL BOX!” We erupted in fresh gales while Otto continued to look wounded.

[Both children have Special Boxes. I don’t have one, but clearly I SHOULD. You know, so that I have someplace to put my favorite leaky mug.]

“Otto, when have I EVER been upset about something BROKEN being THROWN AWAY? If it’s broken, toss it. I spend half my life trying to convince people in this house to throw away useless things.” He shrugged and turned back to the dishes, chucking the mug into the trash as he turned. “NOOOOOOO!” I cried, “THAT WAS MY FAVORITE! GIVE IT BACK!”

Chickadee was now completely prone on the floor, laughing so hard she couldn’t get up. I fell to my knees as tears squirted from my eyes and I tried to catch my breath.

“SPECIAL BOX!” she squealed. We held each other and howled.

“You know…” began Otto.


“All my SPECIAL THINGS!” I told her. “Like, remember that straw that had a hole in it, and it didn’t suck up your smoothie because of that? THAT’S IN MY SPECIAL BOX! And some lint I found in my belly button, THAT’s in my special box!” We guffawed and rolled around on the floor while Otto glared at us. I spotted a small piece of leaf the dog had tracked in and grabbed it. “IT’S THE MOST SPECIAL LEAF EVER!” I crowed. “THIS IS GOING RIGHT INTO MY SPECIAL BOX!”

Eventually Otto finished the dishes and wandered off, leaving me and my daughter to discuss all of our favorite special things there on the kitchen floor. Like gum wrappers. And holey socks. And all of those sorts of things.

Since then, “SPECIAL BOX” has become the phrase of choice to describe anyone being ridiculous about anything, or simply a tool to elicit a giggle. So there is still Lego all over Monkey’s floor and clothes all over Chickadee’s, but at least we’ve gained that.

Last week when Chickadee didn’t advance from the Regional Science Fair to the State level, she took it really hard despite our reminders that winning two levels, particularly as a 6th grader, was fantastic. She agreed to go out to dinner that night, but on the ride over sank deeper and deeper into self-flagellation, and so by the time we arrived she was in tears and refused to discuss it but also refused the idea that we should just go home.

She sullenly grabbed a toothpick off of the hostess stand as we waited to be seated, and once at our table, she put her head down and cried. I rubbed her back and stroked her hair and nothing I did helped at all.

Finally I tapped her on the shoulder. “Chickadee?” She looked up. “Can I have that toothpick, please?”

“Why?” she asked, tear-streaked face looking small and sad.

“Well I don’t know WHY you felt the need to take that,” I began, in my most lecturing-mother voice, “But… I need it for my special box.”

She looked at me for a second before the corners of her mouth twitched upward. Then she wiped her eyes and handed me the toothpick.

“I’m going to put it right next to that special straw,” I whispered, giving her a squeeze.

The moral of the story here is EITHER that sometimes good things come out of spousal torment, OR that my family is mean and sad but easily amused. I’m going to go with the former for now.


  1. Kelly

    I knew you’d be able to make her feel better!

  2. JennyM

    But…. if you throw something away, you might hurt its feelings.


    (off to organize my special box)

    And PS: Congrats to Chickadee for her wins!

  3. Keenie Beanie

    Funny story. – it’s nice when a little inside joke can turn a frown upside down.

    I get Otto’s two-day coffee tragedy. I once popped 3 chocolate covered espresso beans into my mouth thinking they were raisinettes – and that was how I discovered that, no, you can’t make just ANYTHING better by covering it in chocolate. For the rest of that afternoon, I felt jittery and decided that was proof I can’t drink coffee. But a 20 oz. coke? Doesn’t affect me at all. So my husband treats my espresso bean story with skepticism, but I swear its true.

  4. meghann

    I don’t just have a special box, but a whole special closet! My husband is worse than me though, and it makes life interesting when I decide that something needs to go. He once got mad because I was going to throw away this little chunk of wood. Because who knows! Maybe we’ll need it! Maybe some day the world will be in peril, and the only way to save it will be a chunk of wood exactly that size and shape! And if I throw it away, I’ll have killed us all.

  5. Aimee

    Heh. I love silly inside jokes like that.

    Chickie is awesome for progressing that far as a 6th grader!

  6. Chuck

    Oh my, that was a funny entry, Mir. I had tears in my eyes laughing about leaky mugs and special boxes. Glad that dinner was saved by use of the memory.

  7. mike golch

    My Mom keep every thing that pertained to my Sisters and I schooling.We only found it when she passed away.It was a time capsule into our past and a pleasant reminder that she held her children close to her heart.

  8. Nelson's Mama

    I am sentimental about a few things, but not many. On the other hand, my husband hoards old magazines, Bass Pro catalogs and has the boxes to stereo equipment that he had from HIGH SCHOOL. My younger daughter would save everything like Chickie, but while she’s at school I throw it away and then simply act dumb! Rea is pretty unorganized so it’s easy to tell her that she misplaced it! Been busted a few times when she’s found stuff in the dumpster though…

  9. Amanda

    My husband has a special basement. I can hardly go down there without suffering grave mental distress.

    Congrats to Chickie – that’s a big accomplishment!

  10. Katie in MA

    Aw, c’mon now – that’s not spousal torment, that’s showing someone you care! (Also, a really awesome story!)

  11. My Kids Mom

    I got caught trying to throw away the boxes to old Lego kits. Mind you, they were on a shelf near the ceiling and some of them were four years old. The directions to the kits are kept elsewhere so I was just tossing plastic boxes. Five year old freaked out. So, I waited a week and then tossed them while he was in school. He hasn’t noticed. I was worried he’d want to put them in his Treasure Chest, and then I’d have serious guilt if I purged without permission.

  12. Jen

    OH, my sons hoard. Badly. Papers, wrappers…my oldest has a SPECIAL BOX for the wood chips he picks up on the playground. Thank you for the very much needed laugh this morning!

  13. hollygee

    [Little, tiny type] I have special leaky mugs that I’ve kept.

    They were favorite mugs that cracked, but then I made them into pencil and brush holders! I’m an artist! I have lots of pencils and brushes! YAY!

  14. Mary Fran

    And here I thought the punch line was going to be that you bought the leaky mug for Otto back in college when he stayed up 2 days in a row, but that you didn’t remember and that’s why the mug should have been special to you.

  15. Half Assed Kitchen

    My kids are hoarders too. I’ll be honest, it worries me a little. What is it with the granola bar wrappers and stray beads and stones, for God’s sake?

  16. Tracy

    My son was the biggest hoarder ever. He even kept the boxes that stuff came in. Seriously! He’s now 28 and his house is spic and span. It’s amazing. So, the moral of my story, don’t panic….they do outgrow it (just not while living with you). :)

  17. Randi

    I’m sorry that Chickadee didn’t make it further, but I love how you were able to take a bad memory and to transform it into something good. You’re a great mom, Mir.

  18. Traci in GA

    Inside ‘family’ jokes are the best.
    My daughter, takes after her G-Ma(my Mom). Can’t throw anything away!! There is a pile of sucker wrappers on her night stand right now, that she has kept for WEEKS… drivin’ me batty…

  19. Nicki

    I love this post. It reminds me of my family. And it more than makes up for the lack of Love Thursday post. In fact, in my mind, THIS is the post. I think I’ll call it Love’s Special Boxes… No? Well, then I’ll leave that to you from now on. :)

    Thank you!

  20. ramblin red

    LOL – that was awesome. My kids have special boxes too, but darned if they don’t overtake the whole friggin’ house.

  21. Frank

    I would humbly submit for consideration the idea that maybe there are other explanations for Otto’s issues with coffee back in the day… especially in college. I can think of 3 plausible explanations for going batty off of a cup o’ coffee (without the benefit of the 30 minute detailed account, which may then exclude one or all of them). Obviously he doesnt contine to have them… just that he may not be quite as crazy as portrayed. Besides… Somebody has to defend the guy…. :)

  22. Meredith

    My kids (5) all have a treasure box filled with bits of stuff that I’m sure is trash, but they are sure is pure treasure. I also have a husband who keeps everything. He is trying to reform. I, on the other hand, could toss it all . . . well except for my Raggady Anne Doll that is really raggady, but I’ve had it since I was a baby and therefor it is now approaching antique status, so I can keep it.

  23. Otto

    I like Frank. I have no idea who he is, but I like him. But there were no other issues. Trust me, I wasn’t that interesting back then.

    And I don’t think it’s a 30 minute story. Certainly no more than 22 …


  24. trinity67

    You’re an awesome mom.

  25. Karen

    Cute story! Poor Chickadee! I had a special room – the spare bedroom. But when it became a special house, I started to get worried and I had to cut back.

  26. Nicole

    Oh, the hoarding! I never really minded much until we moved recently and I had to argue over every acorn and empty toilet paper roll which suddenly took on mysterious special meaning.

  27. Lindy

    Hahaha. I think the hoarding is a family thing. I managed to narrowly escaped mine, but it always comes back to haunt me.

    My grandmother is a hoarder. Like, she can’t get her wheelie through parts of the house because there is so much crap piled up. We’ve since given up, and she’s threatened to haunt us after she finally dies some satifsyingly horrible death should we get rid of any of it.

    My mother is a hoarder, but not so much as that, only she just can’t stand to get rid of anything should it have any use or value, all the while constantly complaining about how over piled her house is. She apparently has terrible distinction between the concept of “value” and “worth”. In all fairness, though, she is trying to clean out and whatnot since I threatened to not bring our soon-to-be bundle of hell-raising joy over to see his Mimi until she did, as I’d be afraid to put him on the floor dare I lose him forever in the piles, or he accidentally die after trying to eat a 10-year-old petrified Little Debbie Christmas Tree Cake or become entrapped and smothered by a hairball of cat fuzz that’s larger than he is.

    My younger brother is a hoarder, to the point when he was a child he’d nearly crap his pants should my mother even suggest she might throw away that used Power Rangers band-aid (the LOOK FREE COOKIES diversion worked well for that). Not only 20 years later does he still hoard but he does not clean, and he never grew out of it, and he still wonders why he always has horrible allergies (and mom wonders why he can’t keep a girlfriend around). Unfortunately the baby will not be visiting Uncle Bud anytime soon.

    I tended to pile when I was younger, but I after watching all them I find it repulsive (which you couldn’t tell looking at my office right now), so I made myself grow out of it. So there is hope for the children yet!

  28. Donna

    My 15 year old son kept every flippin thing his girlfriend gave him, movie stubs,treasured notes, stuffies, valentine’s, wrappers from everything and yes, even a huge chocolate chip cookie she had baked him! He left for university and guess who discovered the cookie? I followed the trail of BUGS to his room and then the closet! And he says “I wondered where that cookie went!” (They are still together 9 years later)- I chucked out most of the stuff!(I bagged up what I could- jeez! I’m not that mean!)

  29. Lady M

    That was a good laugh! I may need a Special Box. I can get you some Hello Kitty stickers for yours.

  30. Brigitte

    You think the hoarding will be all done when the children move out, but I’ve heard of the children moving out, NOT taking the stuff with them, but freaking if mom says it’s going to the dump. Then again, your kids know you’ll really follow through.

    Technically , 20 oz. of Coke Zero has 58 milligrams of caffeine, while 20 oz. of generic brewed coffee averages 333 milligrams. So, there is a big difference if one is sensitive! Oops, my geek is showing.

  31. Sheila

    I am neither well-organized nor meticulous, but what I am is sentimental (emphasis on the MENTAL). My email inbox went back to June, 1999 until an untimely hard drive failure last summer. I have many drawers loaded with photos still in their processing envelopes (but since about 2003 or so, the job of photo storage has been taken up by the computer- naturally), birthday cards from throughout the years, or doodles the kids have made. In fact, if we ever have a fire my husband has been instructed to get the kids out first and then, if there is time, to carry out the sideboard from the dining room next, as it is stuffed with artwork from the Children’s Early Years.

    Not surprisingly, my three daughters tend to the same. Instead of hoarders, however, I prefer to think of them like magpies- finding and saving bits of things here and there that interest them and may one day become useful. Why just yesterday (she said, with a proud gleam in her eye), my youngest accidentally ripped a paper fan she got as a prize from the dentist. After carefully removing all the accordion-folded paper from the two plastic ends, she held up the now paperless plastic holder and announced, “Yay! Chopsticks!”

    God, I love that kid.

  32. David

    Poor Otto. There he was, thoughtfully asking if you wanted to memorialize The Travel Mug He First Carried Coffee To Work In Thus Ending The Lifetime Coffee Embargo and y’all made fun of him. The man’s clearly a saint.

  33. Andrea

    And I thought I was the only one fighting the “it is my favorite battle.” My five year old sniffled in bed for 10 minutes the other night before telling me I could not possibly take her bed rails off because they are her “favorite.” Favorite scrap of paper, favorite old broken toy, favorite lollipop wrapper…and yes, favorite broken mug would end up saved in our house, I suspect…

  34. Ellie

    I’m so happy to have found your website and I’ll be back often.

    Serendipity found wouldashould.com: I wrote a post [ titled “Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda” (about hoarding worries. And my solution, very much like your special box, drew on a family-shared joke.) My post-writing searches sussed you out. I’m glad!

    Your “special box” exchanges put a smile on my face – Lovely! And you’ve inspired me to write another post about not taking life quite so seriously. Thanks for sharing.

  35. mamaspeak

    I was shaking w/laughter reading this. Obviously I share the same sense of humor, or mental illness, take your pick.

    My in laws are hoarders to the point of it being newsworthy. The only reason you haven’t seen them on TV is because they have a very large house. I pointed out to my MIL (several times) that she has many antiques, but as she also has them mixed in w/much CRAP, if she didn’t start to do something about the crap that when they were both gone, some of the things she really cares about, wants to go to someone special or was just worth something would end up at the dump or sold on the cheap at a yard sale because it would just get lost in the mountain of stuff while we were also dealing with our grief. She took it to heart. Instead of getting rid of stuff, she created a scrapbook w/pix of the valuables and why (markings, etc..) Truly a hoarder.

    She’s teaching my kids well. But they have special boxes too, which I purge periodically.

  36. mom, again, again

    I’m a mild hoarder. But after moving cross country once (where you pay by weight) and overseas and back (pay by volume) I discovered so much of my favorite things I’d kept since forever just didn’t matter.

    (OK, I’ll admit, the mostest importantest stuff stayed behind in storage. BUT it was in a loft space about the floor size of a single car garage and two rubbermaid containers deep. And everyone’s stuff had to fit there. So, not so much really.)

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