I open my kitchen cupboard, the corner cabinet where I keep small appliances and bake ware. I move over the stacked mixing bowls, both the plastic mixing bowls that I've owned for years and my newly acquired second hand stainless steel ones. I'm making cilantro chutney and the cilantro is wilting as I dig past some glass canning bottles. The lid to my food processor is in here somewhere. Lifting the dehydrator rings and moving the extra ice cube maker aside, I gingerly pull out the Cuisinart cover, trying not to disturb the cookie sheets and muffin tins resting on their side and close the door. Yes, I am a candidate for Chile's Cut the Crap Challenge.
All month, I have been a decluttering demon, whirling through my kids' toys (isn't it always easier to get rid of someone else's stuff?), sifting through their art work, careening through my closet, avoiding my desk and finally hitting the kitchen cupboards.
I have too much stuff. But even more than I have too much stuff, I have too much stuff I never use and yet cannot bring myself to get rid of. I love my stuff.
I cherish the natural wood train set, so free of media characters, almost Amish looking in its simplicity. I bought for a song at the local thrift store a year ago. The boys have never played with it much less looked at it. My oldest is long beyond trains and the younger one is beyond hope into his Thomas trains. There is no unringing that bell.
I adore my cherry speckled dish set that I collected a decade ago. It is a mish mash of serving dishes, bowls, pitchers and platters that I trotted out once, five or six years ago, for a brunch. Still, occasionally, I will see a scarlet cherry peeking out from behind the everyday bowls and pitchers on the top shelf and I feel, well, happy. I couldn't possibly let that go.
That brings me to our set of wedding dishes. Only four of the salad plates have survived five years of toddlers but the dinner plates are in perfect condition. Why? Because they don't fit in my dishwasher (in this house, or the last) so we don't use them. We also don't use the matching platters above the fridge, still wrapped in their original bubble wrap. They were, however, "wedding gifts."
Nor we have we ever used the elegant white platter from Cost Plus (it is so beautiful though and someday . . .), the metal acorn trays from Pottery Barn or the glass bowl from a forgotten wedding guest.
Because I couldn't possibly get rid of any of these items, I turn, instead, to goods without emotional attachment. Books in the back of the closet. Clothes that no longer fit (and never did). Extra kitchen tools. I've been through this kind of decluttering before. It's not so much ridding the house of things as it is rearranging. The new order will last for a few weeks, possibly even a month or two. Eventually, though, something is put in the wrong drawer, I acquire too many canning jars off-season and I am back to where I started - digging for the Cuisinart cover in the back of a crowded cabinet, where plastic tubs and cake tins jostle each other like passengers on a rush hour subway.
Then I read Chile's advice last week for clearing clutter from kitchen cabinets. It was almost like she was looking into my own cupboards. Were you, Chile? Despite all my talk about living a simple life, I own four sets of dishes. It was only with the stiffest resolve that I donated my fifth to a friend last year. Chile posited that "[r]otating multiple sets of dishes just to avoid boredom, however, is the kind of wasteful consumerism that is damaging the planet." Ouch! That hit a little too close for home. But, it's not like Chile has ever laid eyes on my cheery cherry dish set. She might be singing a different song if she had.
I thought about what she had written, though. Chile promised that, with less stuff, my petite kitchen would seem bigger, roomier, strainers and blenders would not mount an escape every time I opened a cabinet door. I also thought about why I was keeping all this stuff. I had feelings for it. Not the kind that you have because it was your husband's first gift or passed down to you from your great grandmother. No, these things just made me happy, or, more accurately, had made me happy once a long time ago when I was a very different person.
It was time to cut the cord.
I've since set free the cherry dishes - migrating to a neighbor. The wedding dishes and bowl - finding a new home at the thrift store. The train - going to a grateful friend who has avoided tedious Thomas with her children. The platter - helping our sitter set up an apartment of her own. I could liberate more goods from my home but, for now, this is enough.
My cabinets feel bigger with less stuff. I can slide the toaster in and out without jolting it's cupboard companions. I can easily locate a container for leftovers without risking dismemberment from falling canning jars. I find myself with time on my hands. Instead of arranging and rearranging, moving items from one pile to another, I can now mend that torn tee shirt, glue the broken toy, remember to turn the power strip off, hang my laundry, finish my library book or think about how I don't miss any of that stuff - even the cherry dishes.