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!

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