Thursday, December 15, 2011

Less is More

It's a new day today, and I'm on a one-day blogging roll, so why not say more about cleaning my kitchen? (Not to mention posting this super-cute shot of Robert from our latest trip to the portrait studio!) Tomorrow we're heading to Asheville for the holidays, so now's a good time to discuss what I like about my kitchen, before I find myself consumed with envy for my mother-in-law's awesome kitchen.

The first step to organizing my kitchen was making sure I had plenty of trash bags. M was vital to this project, because whenever I finished filling a bag, he'd take it right out for me. No fuss, no chance to reconsider too heavily. Some stuff was easy, mostly things I knew I could throw away as soon as I took the time to consider them. A half-melted spatula, a bunch of old plastic bags, some mostly-empty spice containers where I already had new bottles. It took the first layer off, and is usually as far as I go when I clean the kitchen. But it's not enough.

Some things were harder, and I had to start reminding myself of the sort of lessons they teach people on Hoarders. Sure, I don't have the lid for all my plastic containers, but they might still be useful! Yeah, but you have way too many and they're overwhelming the cupboard. Throw away everything disposable, and everything that doesn't have a lid. Throw away the teas you got several years ago and haven't used because you have other tea you like more. Throw away that leaky jar of honey instead of putting it in a baggie, you've got lots more. You have a whole shaker of pepper, you don't need those peppercorns you put in a Ziploc when your grinder broke. Yes, you love the idea of having an espresso machine, yes you love coffee, but you haven't used that espresso machine since you moved here, and you bought it used at a garage sale. You have a Starbucks gift card if you ever need an espresso so very badly.

That was the layer where scraping off my excess stuff started to be like scraping off a layer of skin. We don't have a lot of money, so for most of these things, I knew I couldn't replace it if I made a mistake. What if I was wrong and I needed those plastic containers? What if I wanted an espresso and can't get one? What if I run out of spices because I threw away what I thought was excess? My toaster is broken, but we need a toaster. (This one actually kept that stupid toaster out of the trash for close to six months, which is totally ridiculous.)

All those thoughts were real to me, but I know that they come from a deeper source. The fact that I have more things than I can handle is a sign of sufficiency, even of affluence. We don't have money or insurance or security, but I have more honey than a bear could eat in a year, so something is going all right. I don't need these old vitamins, but vitamins keep you healthy. If I have so much food I can't fit it on the shelves, my son will never go hungry. It's wrong thinking, but it's very seductive.

During this process, it helped to remind myself what I was gaining. The number one thing was work space. I have all these neat kitchen gadgets, but I rarely use them because I don't have the counter space. I don't have the counter space because I had a stupid broken toaster that I couldn't throw away, and many other things in that same vein. Every time I tossed away what wasn't necessary, I won that much space for myself. Counter space, cupboard space, refrigerator space. Eventually the kitchen began to take shape as an area where things have places to be, not just places where I've shoved them. Things like fresh produce and bread, which were previously tossed wherever there was room, now have shelves of their own. The top of the freezer is clear, so I can get into it and rummage around whenever I want. I even found all the parts to the food processor and stuck them together in a bin for easy access! It's pretty cool.

Now ask me if the kitchen is done. It's not, admittedly. I've got more work to do, and it still needs deep cleaning and a thorough scrub everywhere when I get some better cleaning supplies together. There are more things I can get rid of. But it's progress, and it's kind of thrilling to me. It's a sign that I am capable of doing it at all. If I can take the same ethos and carry it (and the trash bags) into the rest of the house, I might be able to get something good going on. And someday, when I move into a bigger place with a nicer kitchen, if I start with only the stuff I need here, think of all the wonderful room I will have!

Home Improvement

I haven't been blogging much lately, I know. This blog was a lifeline back in Robert's first year, when I was totally cut off and needed any form of grownup contact, no matter how tenuous. Now that he's almost two years old, there's no time to sit down and write! Ah well, time marches on. I do want to pick up again, but I make no guarantees as to my reliability. I'll just have to make the entries I do post extra-good.

So lately I've been watching Hoarders and Hoarding: Buried Alive on Netflix. It's not for the schaenfreude, which is the reason I watch most reality shows, but because the problems these people have resonate with me. I don't have a houseful of cats or garbage piled to table level, but I am chronically disorganized and I recognize thought and behavior patterns in the people they profile that I see in myself. If you watch enough episodes, you start to realize how many normal people, people who like keepsakes and collectibles, may be just one tragedy, one dollop of despair away from hoarding. It often seems like there are one or two events that precipitate hoarding, and I know that feeling too. When I found I was pregnant with Robert, there was a period of time when I couldn't gather things fast enough. More food, more baby clothes, more blankets, more whatever, even though it was a time in our lives when we were trying to clear out our storage spaces and needed less, not more. I got over it, but I think it reveals a tendency.

That's not as depressing as it sounds, though. Watching these shows helps me, because I can take the coping skills, the decision-making skills that the folks on the show learn and apply it to my own stuff. And it's helping! Recognizing the problem and wanting to change is the biggest step to actually changing. These past couple weeks, I've been downing an episode or two, then attacking my kitchen. My kitchen is small, it's cramped, and it is full of stuff I love, which makes it a huge target for clutter and jumble and mess. I love cooking, and I especially love kitchen gadgets. Even if I haven't used it yet, the idea that I could use something to make a cool recipe or to make some task easier is just awesome to me. That makes collecting easy, and letting go hard.

In the kitchen, I started with my pantry. Since before Robert was born, we've had a cinderblock pantry against the living room wall, because I coupon and we have such limited cupboard and closet space. Our kitchen also has two doors, a normal size door to the hallway and a giant opening to the living room. Robert is not allowed in the kitchen (nothing in the world could make that space babyproof), since he became mobile we've blocked it off, first with the Pack 'n Play, more recently with random boxes and baskets and whatever is handy. It was messy and non-utilitarian and it blocked me from access to my pantry, so it kept things from getting put away. I decided to make a major change, and embarked on our biggest home improvement project in ages.

M and Robert and I went to the hardware store, which is always exciting. We got a 48x16 board to replace the top pantry shelf, where my Cansolidators sit. On the old shelf, the cansolidators didn't sit nicely, they hung off a bit at the front and the back, and I worried about loading them fully. The new board was wider, longer, and substantially stronger, so the Cansolidators could be fully assembled and loaded the way I'd always wanted them. At home, we totally emptied the pantry shelves, threw away anything that wasn't good anymore, and wiped down the shelves, then disassmbled it and reassembled it in the opening between the living room and the kitchen, to make a permanent barrier between the two rooms. The shelves open right onto the kitchen, so I have easy access, and Robert can't get into the kitchen.

The back of the unit was a problem, though. It used to be against the wall, and a block and board shelf typically doesn't have a back. Leaving the pantry shelves wide open and next to the toybox is asking for trouble, though. After talking with my mom, I had a brainstorm for Robert's birthday present. I went back to the hardware store, and this time got a sheet of plywood cut to order, some blackboard paint, a brush, and some nails. I painted the plywood with blackboard paint and nailed it to the back of the pantry. Voila! A back for the shelves, a giant chalkboard for Robert, who loves chalk drawing. With everything organized back into the pantry, I have never been happier with that part of our apartment.

I've done a lot more work as well, a lot of organizing and a lot of sometimes painful throwing away, but this entry is long enough. Anyway, here's a picture of the front and back of the new pantry.