The Rockwood Files: Live up to your labels

 By Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3

Labels can be powerful. And I’m not talking about symbolic labels like “geek” or “diva” or the generalizations we assign to people. I’m talking about real labels. The sticky ones. The kind with words in capital letters that tell you where things go.

For years, I’ve wanted an electronic label maker, and – yes – I’m well aware that longing for a label maker earns me the label of “super nerd”. I don’t care. I like labels.

I’d been hinting and even outright asking for the label maker for the past 5 years.

But I never got one, mostly because no one thought a label maker could actually be on a person’s wish list. Maybe they thought I was being sarcastic, as in “Oh yeah, I really want a fruitcake for Christmas.”

But I was serious. And this past Christmas, it finally happened. I unwrapped my very own DYMO LetraTag label maker, given to me by my mother, and I was giddy about it. I was even happier when it spit out my first label. I used it to label the storage boxes once it was time to take down the holiday decorations and return to life as usual.

But the new label maker has turned life as usual into a much more ordered and clearly marked affair. Tom thinks I’ve gone too far, but I can’t help myself. Suddenly, everything seems to cry out for a label.

The new gadget even inspired me to tackle the long-overdue chore of cleaning out our pantry. It was an unruly mess, with bags of corn chips cascading off shelves and marshmallows co-mingling with mayo jars. It was anarchy, I tell you. Armed with the label maker, I was determined to turn it into something that even Martha Stewart would approve of.

Purging the pantry wasn’t easy. I had no idea how much stuff had been pushed into deep recesses and for how long it lingered there. There were several boxes of raspberry Jell-O mix that were dated the same year as the last presidential election. And for reasons I still don’t understand, I had three opened boxes of graham cracker crumbs. I don’t even know what to do with graham cracker crumbs, so I’m not sure why we had three boxes of them in the pantry. But I digress.

After a thorough cleaning, the pantry was much less crowded. I organized the foods that “made the cut” into groups: canned goods, condiments, chips, baking, snacks, crackers, etc. When each group had a home, I typed the group names into the label maker and smiled as it began to hum and whir and print out those perfectly neat little names.

Later when the boys came home from school, they opened the pantry to retrieve their usual after-school snacks. Seven-year-old Jack saw the rows of lined up cans and the new labels stuck to the shelves and gave me a sincere “ooooh” and “aaaaah” of approval, and I was proud that he could appreciate how awesome my labels are. Perhaps nerdy apples don’t fall far from the nerdy, anal retentive tree.

But the best part about the new labels is how they take on an authority all their own. It doesn’t feel right to just open the pantry and shove something in, the way I did before. Because the labels are there — watching me, admonishing me, judging me. So I comply. Cans go to the canned goods shelf, and syrup goes to condiments and never the two shall meet. The labels say it must be so, and so it is.

Long live the labels!

Gwen Rockwood is a mom to three great kids, wife to one cool guy, a newspaper columnist and co-owner of To read previously published installments of The Rockwood Files, click here.



1 Comment

  1. There’s a good chance we are soul mates. I, too, LOVE my electronic label maker AND I love Mabel’s labels. Those things have staid on Charlie’s sippy cups through countless trips through the dishwasher and still look great.

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