I love camping, sleeping in a tent, which is where most of my friends and I part ways. But I have great memories of lying in the star-filled air on the Navajo reservation and in the Grand Teton forest where you can’t even see the next campsite, as well as sitting awed for hours in the Swiss Alps, watching the mountain reflected in the tiny, perfect lake (okay, there isn’t that much else to do in Eggbergen).
This is not a paean to Nature, however, just an observation that even with a Coleman stove and a couple of pans we were able to eat well--a prelude to pulling apart my kitchen to downsize it with the new Monday Morning challenge in mind.
Back in the day, cookbooks printed lists of what you needed to have in a fully functioning kitchen. So I pulled out The New Basics Cookbook by Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukens to see what they suggested. Tom and I were both interested in cooking once upon a time.
Rosso and Lukens wisely break kitchens down into three types: Basic, Complete, and Professional. I found most of what they suggest for the Basic kitchen, with the exception of an oven thermometer, a salad spinner, and a kitchen scale. But our kitchen doesn’t meet the Complete Kitchen standard (no waffle iron or individual souffle ramkins etc.) and Professional is off the charts. A mother-of-pearl caviar spoon? Oh shoot, I must have given ours away.
Even before starting, I can think of several sticking points. We have two colanders, one a very large, bright stainless steel from Williams-Sonoma, the other smaller, dull-finished and slightly dented that we’ve had forever. Guess which one we always use to drain pasta? Another problem is the large, gorgeously colored Kitchen Aid mixer (ours is royal blue) that everyone once needed and that I haven’t used in years. It takes up prime space, a consideration since we converted our pantry to a sunroom a few years ago.
So I’m heading into the kitchen with a carton and the image of other people happily using what I discard. I also want to be able to easily find what I need to cook a meal without having to move stuff to pull it out.
I’m curious as to how this will play out! I’ll report on Friday, along with several responses from you.
It feels good to get rid of extra things; but it feels even better when you know they are going to someone who needs them more than you. Think of how everyone rises to the occasion when there’s a hurricane or tsunami. Organizations start collecting food and clothing and bedding as well as money, and we’re all happy to help out.
But why wait for the next natural disaster? Go through your home and imagine how grateful someone would be for the warm coat you don’t wear anymore, someone else who’d be happy to eat from your extra set of dishes or sleep on the sheets you are saving--for what? Just in case all your out-of-town relatives show up on the same day? (That’s what motels are for).
If you can picture someone using an item, it makes it easier than just blindly giving it away. You can find these people through the usual charities, Salvation Army, Viet Veterans, Goodwill, St. Vincent de Paul etc. You can also find them more informally by asking at your church or temple, homeless shelters, and social service organizations.
How can you be sure that your donation will get to the right people in need? You can’t, really. But few things in life are guaranteed, and the probability is good. There’s also the idea of intention, which always benefits you.
I haven’t tried this way of shifting the focus from how I feel about keeping something to whether someone else might need it more. But I’m going to try it this week and I’ll report back about how it worked out. I’d love to hear your experiences too!
In my quest to find a workable philosophy of the simple life, I went to my neighboring library (much larger than my own) and looked at books. One I came across that I couldn’t resist bringing home was Throw Out Fifty Things by Gail Blanke. She talked about going to her kitchen junk drawer and tossing everything--saving only a puppy collar which she hung on a corner of the puppy’s picture. Everything else--tubes of dried-out Krazy glue, expired fishing licenses, batteries, rubber bands, golf tees etc--was tossed.
Thus inspired, I headed for my “miscellaneous” kitchen drawer and did something similar. What I kept were potholders, a box of matches, unused birthday candles, a lamp timer, and a box of toothpicks. What went were mystery keys, souvenir matchbooks, a Chinese take-out menu, two old pet medications, a non-working digital meat thermometer and little bits of other stuff. My focus was on keeping what I need now, not on whether anything else might be “usable.”
The drawer looks half-empty and makes me happy. I think I’ll buy it some new potholders.
Some days I'm overwhelmed by the sheer volume of what is in my house. A few years ago a TV special, Affluenza: The All-Conduming Epidemic, showed people around the world lined up with all their possessions in front of their homes. As you can guess, people in some other countries could actually do this. Not many Americans I know could. Most of us, unless we have to deal with it all to move, don't even realize the amount of things tucked away.
A woman (who had been very defensive about keeping her mother's battered baking tins) once asked me after a library workshop, "So what is it hurting?" Maybe nothing. But that's what I plan to find out. The lure of living life lightly is just too strong.
The One That Got Away
No, I’m not talking about the relationships you’ve let slip through your fingers sometime in the past or the people you only glimpse when your train is headed in the opposite direction, as Susanna McCorkle sang. This blog is about stuff, after all. I’m also not talking about things you once had and deaccessioned. The one that got away is something you never actually had--that you had the choice to have it and didn’t take it.
There were good reasons, of course, practical reasons, why you didn’t grab whatever it was. It was too bulky; too expensive; you didn’t know what you would do with it; other people said it was silly. And yet. And yet. . .
The thing that got away from me was when I was in my twenties. It was at a country auction in Pennsylvania near where we were staying, an old wooden organ, fancifully painted with designs-- garlands and cherubs, gardens and bucolic scenes. It was immediate love on my part. I wandered around outside the farmhouse, trying to get interested in pottery bowls and charming doorstops. But I kept coming back to my organ and staring at it.
And that’s all I did. There was no way to get it home, after all, and no place to put it if I did, although I could imagine it as the centerpiece of any room. I didn’t play the organ, I wasn’t even musically inclined. It was its presence as an ambassador from a kinder, gentler time, a piece of a vanished world, that must have made me nostalgic. Maybe it was just a thing of beauty.
I’m still not sure what the attraction was. Worse, I can no longer picture the organ. But that morning I successfully fought the temptation to bid on it--and for years afterward, whenever I remembered it, it was with a kind of longing and regret. Why hadn’t I . .
There’s a lesson here, I guess, about seizing the day, about going with your deepest instincts, about taking leaps of faith. Or perhaps the lesson is that you don’t get everything you want in life, that being practical is a virtue, that self-restraint is good for the soul.
Take your pick.
Surely I’m not the only one who’s had this experience, who’s wanted something they didn’t get, who was denied it either by themselves or someone else. If so, I’d love to hear the story!
MM Challenge: The One That Got Away
The psychology of stuff isn’t just about saying goodbye to what you own or denying yourself something you really want. But sometimes we do that anyway. What are you sorry you didn’t go for? Come trade experiences at the blog, judiculbertson.net.
I didn’t post yesterday because I started out by reclaiming my office after putting together my Garden Club newsletter, then moved on to assembling materials for our taxes. In the evening we went to see Tom’s school’s production of The Glass Menagerie, Tennessee Williams’ angst-filled family drama. Just another day in Paradise.
The thing that bothers me most about doing the taxes is not the work itself or even the fact that we’ll have to pay this year--it’s our accountant. He’s a brilliant and down-to-earth man, financially astute, and uber-conservative about the IRS. I like him. But he would be happiest if we gave the government all our money and let them dole out to us what they saw fit. (Or is that what already happens?)
He’s going to think that the withholding on one account is still not enough, or that with two other disbursements I decided to wait till the end of the year to pay what we owed. Because he’s a financial planner for large estates, he doesn’t quite approve of our disinterest in money: We get it, we spend it, we try to do some good with it, but it’s not our focus; I don’t write books you can take to the bank. He makes me feel like some slap-happy hippie planning a world tour instead of paying the light bill.
That said, he knows everything about the Tax Code and in 20+ years we’ve never been audited. It’s also not his fault that I look at our list of charitable contributions and think, The world is in crisis! Why didn’t we do more!
What does this have to do with “stuff?” I guess it goes back to Sister Jose Hobday’s philosophy of the simple life and her vow of poverty. Time to get back to that.
I received this comment yesterday and find it very moving. It goes to the heart of how we feel about the things we inherit:
"I have some old pans, knives and various cutlery that belonged to my mother. She passed away in 1986, left the United States in 1973 and moved out of the apartment she shared with my father in 1968. That means her hand has not rested on any of these since at least 1968, if not earlier. That's 44 years. I held on to these for 2/3 of my life, as if I could somehow capture her essence in these things.
The pans are dented, the knives are dull and the cutlery is all mismatched. Useless dreck, to sum up. My mother is not in her pans or anything else. I keep her in my heart and whisper a prayer to her memory every night. These things were her tools and she turned her back on them without hesitation when it was time for her to move on. The one thing I kept that I actually use was her sewing machine. It works better than anything on the market today.
The other things gave her no joy. And even if they did, they were hers, not mine. It's time for them to go.
Thanks for giving me the courage to finally move on, too."
Back in the day, when I was first discovering the joys of living an uncluttered life, I would sometimes come across items that belonged on the “Things I’m Hanging Onto for No Good Reason” list. You know; that stuff that just seems to stick around. Things that aren’t family heirlooms or even particularly valuable. They just are.
Sometimes I would do what I suggest to my workshops when people complain that they feel overwhelmed: Leave the house and go to a cafe for coffee, diet Coke, or something stronger. Take out a notebook and mentally go through each room. You don’t always have to physically see something to make a decision about it. You know very well what they are.
When I was feeling stymied, I would do it and come up with a list that looked something like this:
Bridesmaid dress No reason good enough to keep it.
Animal cookie cutters I might use them--if I ever made cookies.
Throw pillows that no longer No reason good enough to keep.
Past hotel brochures I might want to write a travel story about the area; offer them to other people; take a walk down Memory Lane.
And so on. Even for the things for which I had a rationale, writing it down in black and white made me see it for what it was. Was I really going to make miniature giraffes and lions anytime soon? It was about as likely as making new covers for those throw pillows--and I didn’t even try using that as an excuse.
Writing items down and the possible reasons for keeping them helps to objectify whatever it is. It’s like moving an old lamp out of the corner where it has stood for years and into the light of a hallway. Doing that strips the lamp of its past connotations and emotional baggage and helps you see that the cord is frayed, it’s no longer your style, and it goes through light bulbs much too quickly. It no longer has history on its side--it’s only been in the hall for five minutes.
Once you objectify physical things or anything else in your life, you can see more clearly what it is and how to handle it.
I’d love to post some examples of your “No good enough reason to keep” stuff! It's always interesting to see whar other people are attached to and why.
Monday’s Challenge was to come up with an idea that makes your life easier. I told you mine; here are three others worth paying attention to:
One of my major problems has been to organize my paperwork. Usually one big pile on the couch in my office and then when it looks unbearable (or company is coming!) it is put into a shopping bag and goes down to the basement. It stays there for months and then I need to find something and begin the marathon search!
This year, I am trying something different. So far, so good. I bought six of the large boxes that look like books (approx 10" by 13") - Have titled them 1) Medical, 2) Finance, 3) Everyday bills, 4) Organizations I belong to, 5) info I need to read and 6) Pending. I'm looking at the 'books' neatly stacked in my office while I am actually sitting on my couch! What a difference! At the end of this year, (or when a box gets full-whichever comes first!) I plan to sort everything in the boxes that still need to be kept and put the material into a large envelope marked with the appropriate year. My goal is to throw out at least 80% of what's left! Hope this will be the answer for me. (Pam C.)
Phil, my husband, has always been very organized. Me, not so much, but I learned from him a long time ago to sort the mail over the garbage pail as soon as we bring it in the house. For years I felt “obligated” to peruse every catalog I received which inevitably led to overspending and clutter. For the last few years I scarcely glance at them. They, along with the other assorted junk mail go straight in the trash. As far as bills, instead of letting them pile up to pay later, I set up “Bill Pay” on the computer and I can schedule when the bank authorizes the payment. Nothing gets “lost” or “forgotten” and I feel good knowing that it’s all taken care of. (Linda L.)
The one simple thing I did that eased my kitchen clutter I mentionned in class. I threw out all the plastic containers and chose new ones in 2 sizes only. The trick is to figure out which 2 sizes or shapes will work for you - small, medium, large, or extra large. Then buy multiples of those 2 sizes which will stack neatly and take up only TWO stacks in your cabinet/shelf/drawer. If I need more storage for large quantities, I just need to use several, rather than have special sizes for bigger amounts. With only a minor adjustment of one of the original sizes, it's worked well for 2 years now. (Kathy M.)
It’s not too late to let us know your secrets!