Sunday, April 20, 2008

Cutting the Cord


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.

18 comments:

MamaBird said...

Thanks, this is a great post. I need to be more ruthless with my cluttered stuff...and your cherry dishes might just set me free. That's exactly the point, sentimental value for a person I no longer may be.

kale for sale said...

I'm on the 12 month plan of Chile's declutter program and will need to refer back to this post for a number of places in my house. All I've let go of are the chipped plates I'd hidden on a dark shelf and I'm still going through pangs of loss. I do love my dishes. And there is the freedom that you described in letting them go. Thanks.

badhuman said...

Congrats on making it through your kitchen cabinets. My fiance and I did the same this week. When we first combined households I had cut the cord with most of my dishes, glasses etc but he had not. I kid you not we had a two door four shelf cabinet filled entirely with glassware. I think total he owned three complete sets but not a single wine glass which we would actually use... Go figure! Now he's gotten on the bandwagon and once we can liberate them from the garage clutter we are going to donate them.

What we did do this weekend was rearrange the entire kitchen. We got rid of the kitchen towels with cute patterns that we never use, the pot holders that are lurking in the shadows, extra bowls, extra utensils and tools that have never seen the light of day. We reached into the back of the pantry and learned what we would use for next weeks meals. It was cathartic! Now are kitchen cabinets feel larger and some of our favorite pieces are out on display thanks to creative use of s hooks and we can see what all is in the pantry thanks to our styrofoam shelves. We even posted pictures on our blog.

Burbanmom said...

Good for you, GB! The first step is admitting you have a problem. I bet now that you've cleared some of the extras out, you'll go back in there with zeal and pare down to the essentials (well, plus a few pretty ones, just to make you smile:-)

Good job!

gsgranola said...

I'm relatively new to reading your blog and I really love how insightful your posts are. This post really hit a chord with me not because I'm cleaning out my kitchen but because I'm getting married in September and have started the 'registry process'. I see in my future a kitchen like yours with those wedding gifts I don't want to get rid of.
Honestly I don't really want to register for much - a few things here and there that we could use but mostly I find myself saying I don't really need anything. But now I am in a pickle because people expect to give you gifts for your wedding and although cash would be great not everyone likes to do that. Any suggestions how to keep the clutter away?

Green Bean said...

Mamabird: I still have a ways to go but I have to remember why I'm keeping something that I don't use. A lot of us have changed so much that that stuff is now just stuff. Good luck with your "ruthless" decluttering.

Katrina: Ahh, I remember your post about the dishes. It is tough but there is a freedom in it too.

Badhuman: That's a lot of glassware! Nice photos though. You guys are awesome.

Burbs: How right you are. I'm now ready to go back (when I have time) and get rid of more stuff. Now that I've cut the heartstrings, I realize it's just stuff.

gsgranola: Hmm, this may require a follow up comment from me. I need to think of ideas and invite anyone else who read this to do so too. My initial reaction to your comment was that it reminded me of myself. When we got married 9 years ago, both my husband and I had been living on our own for some time. We had sets of dishes, silverware, glasses - we really didn't *need* anything. So we didn't sign up for anything fancy but we still thought, oh well, we could always use a new set of everyday dishes, and this and that. The only thing we regularly use is the silverware (we picked a heavy, nice quality) and the knives. Everything else is long gone or relegated to dark corners somewhere. So try to get people to give something other than stuff or limit your registry to stuff you really will use. Can you ask for money or gift cards from some of the people you are closer to? Can you ask for an experiential gift? Pet-sitting (if you have one), plants for your garden (if you have one), a share in a CSA, gift cards to Home Depot or a hardware store so you can get CFL bulbs or other low impact living items? I'll give this some more thought and post again later. Your comment really hits home because I remember going through the same thought process all those years ago.

CindyW said...

It's funny in many ways my husband and I still live like we are in college - one set of 8 plates, one set of silver wear (more like stainless steel wear). That's that! We did not have a large wedding therefore did not receive much "proper" homemaking starter stuff. Hindsight it was a blessing. Still, stuff came into our house with the arrival of children. Must we have 3 backpacks? And 50 stuffed animals? And 80 pieces of plastic this and that? Tomorrow is Earth day. Seems like it is a great day to declutter and vow not to be cluttered again :)

eco 'burban mom said...

I haven't done as well cutting the clutter as I should be... but this is a good motivation to re-inspect areas of my house that I really thought were clutter-free! I guess there are some things that I might just be hiding in deep dark corners...

Going Crunchy said...

Yep. I'm a candidate for kitchen de-clutter. I'm waiting until I have a spring Crapaganza sale.

My bane is baby things. We don't know if we are going to have another or adopt so I'm holding onto everything. It's a little scary when you see my basement.

Joyce said...

Last year when we remodeled our horrible 1960's kitchen, I had to remove everything, of course. I gave some things to my kids, but I'll bet about half of what was in the kitchen originally was thrown away or taken to the Salvation Army. I love my new kitchen, not only because it's so much prettier, but because there is so much less clutter to hunt through when I cook.

Raw Food Diva said...

Girl! pretty soon yur gonna be standin nekkid with just a bowl and a spatula!
JKKK
I am in the procss of moving so I am all ready getting rid of so much stuff.
very refreshing to unload years of memories.

kendra said...

Oh yes, our kitchen is a clutter zone too. We keep justifying each new purchase: 'but we cook all of our meals', 'but we need the bread machine to make our own wholesome bread' etc. And then there is the mindset that we need two vegetable peelers in case one breaks. And we needed that special do-hickey for one of the kids birthday cakes. We really need to just go ahead and purge. Thanks for the motivation.

Melissa said...

I too have my own set of "cherry plates" (not literally, but it's a set of really cute dessert plates, and even though I've never used them, I MIGHT...) I've noticed throughout your posts that you seem to have a really good ability to put things in perspective.

As far as the wedding registry, we are having our US wedding in October. We got married in India in Feb., and got mostly cash because everybody knew we were coming back to the US. But Oct. will be for those who didn't make it to India, and I found the New American Dream website, which offers an alternative gift registry: http://www.alternativegiftregistry.org/ . It'll allow us to register for the few things that we really could use as well as a lot of non-stuff items. I'm going to suggest people donate to charities I support. You could also ask for a night in a hotel, spa treatments, etc. for your honeymoon; your imagination is really the limit. I'm going to be writing soon about the process of trying to keep the wedding from growing into a total monster. It is tough!!

Theresa said...

Good for you Green Bean! The first step is the toughest.

Green Bean said...

Diva: I just wanted to say that, yes, I often think we'll be left just as you describe and then I take a look around the room and we still have too much crap!

gsgranola said...

Green Bean and Melissa thanks for your advice! I checked out the alternative gift registry site and its very nice, I thnk I will be using it.

Green Bean said...

That's great, gsgranola. It will be nice to avoid all that extra stuff you don't need or, probably even want! Congratulatons.

Green Bean said...
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