Posts Tagged ‘decluttering’

Star-shaped Jell-o molds

I finally started a serious de-cluttering process — one that goes farther than my normal spring and fall cleaning. Yesterday was Day 1: Kitchen.

I’ve always been a bit of a pack-rat and as a teenager was one of those ‘alternative’ kids who purchased second-hand clothing from the 60s and 70s to make a fashion statement. But I’ll credit (blame?) my mother-in-law and my mother, for quite different reasons, for encouraging me and enabling me to continue that trend.

If you’ve been reading my blog or know me personally, you’ll know that I lived in an urban barrio in El Salvador for about 10 years in the 1990s. I lived there with my husband, next door to my parents-in-law. My husband’s family had always struggled economically, and we did too for several years after we moved there.

My mother-in-law taught me to never throw anything away because you might need it later. In the fenced-in area in front of the side-by-side apartments that we shared from 1991-2001, you will still find old pieces of tin, plastic, wood and rope. We’d pound nails out of wood we’d scavenged and save them to use later.  Old powdered milk cans served as planters and anything that broke was repaired or reused to the fullest. (I remember my father-in-law and the guy from the water company trying to stop the toilet from running by tying a rock to the pump mechanism to weight and balance it. They didn’t want to listen to my advice so I snuck in afterwards and adjusted the little screw on the top and removed the rock :-)). Last time I went back to visit, I saw that she had turned a psychedelic 1960 dress I’d gotten at the Good Will into pillow cases. Nothing went to waste at the house, and we never threw anything away because it might always come in handy at some point. Talk about living sustainably.

Tiny forks... maybe I should save them for when I have grandkids who come to visit.

My own mother also knows the value of reusing, but she focuses on another aspect: reselling. She currently owns an auction (and no, she is not the auctioneer!), does appraisals, and has worked with antiques. So she collects and sorts things that other people have owned or saved, and sells them for a profit. She’s very good at looking at something and determining its resale value, and she knows how to move merchandise. My family jokes that she’d sell our family photo albums if we let her get a hold of them. (I’m a little bitter about this talent of hers because she gave my entire record collection — including rare bands and hard to find classics — away to the Salvation Army after I moved to El Salvador because they were taking up space and I could ‘just get them all on CD’.) My mother has been sending me boxes of used things that won’t sell at auction for many years now, and I sort through and keep what I like and give away or throw away the rest.

The accidental wedding present - someone put the wrong wedding present for my parents in the box. My aunt was reportedly mortified.

For someone who came back to the US in 2001 with 2 kids and 6 suitcases I’ve certainly amassed a ton of stuff. Through the auction, my mom was able to hook me up with all the basics for furnishing a house when we arrived – bed frames, tables, chairs, couch, dishes, china cabinet, dressers and the like – for really cheap. Most of it is still in use (I’ve been told this ‘look’ is called ‘shabby chic’). I’ve also picked up good condition furniture from neighbors and friends. Add that to the random boxes of auction goods each year and it’s easy to see why my house has gotten increasingly cluttered. I haven’t been able to shake the mindset that things will be useful later and that it’s a shame to throw away something that is perfectly good or oddly interesting.

The ghost of cognitive surpluses past... tiny crocheted teacups and saucers.

This of course is a terribly un-cool and outdated concept on the one hand. Minimalism is the new hip and secretly I’d love to be one of those streamlined design types. But I think many of today’s minimalists are able to rid themselves of everything because they feel confident that they will have the means to replace whatever they might be missing. Downsize and get rid of anything extraneous, and if you are in a bind, just go buy what you need. That’s not something that we could do in El Salvador or even something I can do now.

On the other hand, the reduce, reuse, recycle mindset continues to gain more traction these days. I suppose I could be a poster child for that movement…. Or maybe there are more like me out there with those depression era values, as TalesfromtheHood reminds us in his post American culture 103: still useful after all these years.

The meanings attached to things

I’m not in a situation today where I save old nails, but I still have a hard time getting rid of some things. While de-cluttering the kitchen yesterday, I got to thinking about what the things I don’t use but that I’m loathe to part with say about 1) the person I have been and believe I might become again; and 2) the person I have never been, but imagine I might be one day.

I might one day decide to become a real mom who bakes cakes that go into real cake pans.

Maybe I will make applesauce again the old-fashioned way like I used to 7-8 years ago and I’ll need that early 1900’s style fruit grinding apparatus. In fact it probably would have served for making that cranberry sauce this Thanksgiving…. Maybe one day I will be a real mom and bake cakes and put them inside those 1950s cake pans that I can’t bear to give away…. And won’t it be nice if one day I have grandchildren and I can invite them over and make them jello in little star-shaped molds? Or they can use those tiny colorful forks that only grandma has to eat their dinner. And what about those dinner parties I might host one day, where I’ll use those fancy candle holders, the beautiful antique silverware and the fragile and ornate dishes from the china cabinet…?

Then there are those things that I can’t stand to give away because of nostalgia. They represent something I know I’ll never be and a culture that will probably never return. Who in this day and age would crochet tiny tea cups? (That’s some cognitive surplus if I ever saw it.) And what on earth would they be used for? But how can I part with them? And what about those little silver salt shakers? And those slim, 1960s Danish candles (that my daughter once decided to light in a bundle and almost burned the house down). Or the hand-made doilies that should go under the vases that are stored away because I don’t have a flower garden….

As the only daughter, I automatically got the china....

There are also the things that I don’t use but I keep because they have personal relevance: my great great grandmother’s hand painted Austrian china, brought over with her from Germany on the boat. The pig pitcher that was an accidental wedding gift to my parents from my aunt (she had ordered something by mail, and wasn’t that a bit awkward when my mom opened the box at the reception….)

The de-cluttering’s only just started but I’m thinking a lot about meanings attached to things, and struggling a bit to detach myself at times. I have a feeling I’ll never achieve minimalist stature.

My son goes to college next fall so he will be the lucky recipient of a set of dishes and the linens that will go into the pile when I get started on the closets… I’ll save some other things for my mother-in-law for our next trip down to El Salvador — the good thing is that I can actually ask her what she wants and needs and go from there.  The rest of it will go to the local second-hand shop or into the trash if the life cycle is truly over.

Aid and development workers don’t despair, I will NOT try to send any of my #SWEDOW ‘to Africa’ no matter how wonderful and useful I think my old stuff might be.

Update: The Grandmaster of #SWEDOW has come to the rescue and the best of my personal #SWEDOW will now be put to good use as prizes for The 2010 Best in SWEDOW Contest! Send your nominations for Best Swedow of 2010 to @talesfromthhood and you could win either of the prizes below, or one of the items listed above!

Tilt head back, hear him threaten 'Stop! Move away from the cookie jar. (No recollection of why this is in my house or where it came from).'

I think this is a mobile phone holder from Japan. It says 'Leave your stuffs with me But don't iron my body!' (Sentimental value)

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