May 05, 2011

Packing Peanuts

I had to admit it: the packing peanuts were starting to pile up.

About once a month I send or receive a shipment padded with packing peanuts. When I receive a box with styrofoam packing peanuts, I save them for the boxes I’ll be sending out.

I was doing spring cleaning last night in the warehouse (which is just one corner of the basement here), and I was surprised at how many styrofoam packing peanuts I had. Of course, I shouldn’t really have been surprised. I used up about 1 1/2 bags of packing peanuts over the course of the past year — it proves I really do use them. But I got two new bags of packing peanuts along with the printer I bought online in December, and apparently several more with other purchases over the course of the year. Meanwhile, some of the other bags of packing peanuts had just been sitting there for years.

When you save supplies for reuse, it is a classic formula for clutter. Usually, one of two things happen: you use the supplies faster than you collect them, or you collect them faster than you use them. In the former case, you run out sometimes and have to buy more. In the latter case, the supplies tend to pile up, but as soon as you realize that this is the pattern, you don’t need to keep more than a small supply, because more will be coming in.

I have never bought packing peanuts. Rationally, I decided, I should keep half a bag, enough for maybe four months. By then, chances are, I’ll have gotten more.

But what would I do with the other nine bags I had? I don’t know anyone who uses packing peanuts on a daily basis, so I looked up the web site of the local UPS Store. Sure enough, the page had a prominent “Packing Peanuts Recycler” logo. When I walked into the store this afternoon, the clerk was busy packing up something for the previous customer (using packing peanuts, naturally), but looked up long enough to ask if I was just dropping off packing peanuts. “You can just leave them at the end of the counter,” she told me. It took two or three minutes to carry them from my car to the store. What would have been a seven-year supply for me might be used up there by the end of the weekend.

Giving away the packing peanuts was easy. The hard part was realizing that I needed to take a new look at them. That is the way it usually is with clutter. It is one of the reasons I like the idea of spring cleaning. It’s a systematic way to take a look at everything at least once a year, and to realize that some of it no longer belongs.

No comments: