Whenever I see an empty coffee can, I think of my cousin. An empty tuna fish can reminds me of my mother.

That’s because at different times in my life, both have asked me to save these cans for them. My cousin, an art teacher, was collecting coffee cans for her classroom. My mother, a longtime hospital volunteer, was using the tuna cans as bases for centerpieces at a luncheon fundraiser.

Of course I spent time rinsing out the cans and drying them thoroughly, but I was happy to do it because, naturally, people have done the same for me.

Oh, the things we save for people and people save for us. These are not things we keep just in case we need them someday. No, these are specific requests, often short-term. This is not stashing away empty cardboard shoeboxes because they may be useful. This is saving empty cardboard shoeboxes because we know the kids will soon need them for making dioramas in school.

I know all about that one. Some years back when our daughter needed a shoebox for a school project, we did not have a single one. Phone calls were made. The pressure!

To this day, I think twice about breaking down any cardboard box and tossing it into the recycling tote.

One friend told me she has been asked to save packing peanuts for her sister-in-law, who sells things on eBay, and shallow boxes for her mother, who transports plants in her vehicle during gardening season.

I – or others I know – also have collected cardboard boxes and newspapers for people preparing to move. Shopping bags for people planning a garage sale. Diaper coupons for parents of twin babies. Paper towel tubes, Cool Whip containers, aluminum pie tins and Pringles cans for teachers. Box Tops for Education and other things for school fundraisers. Wine corks, Popsicle sticks, empty spools of thread, colorful old socks and baby food jars for crafters.

Often, we collect these things with great gusto until one day we hear: “I don’t need those anymore, but thank you.” After that, perhaps on the way to the recycling bin, you never look at those items in quite the same way again – even if it’s an empty toilet paper roll.