Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Nothing in its place and no place for anything

Uncomfortable, but it's been there since 1969.
Cleaning out a house inhabited for 42 years by a super-organized woman who never threw anything away, including her ex-husband's Army towel and a popcorn popper that stopped popping in 1973, takes time away from cooking and blogging. Especially because I come home after each visit to my mother's house with boxes of sentimental treasures that I now must incorporate into my own much smaller house.

This has inspired a flurry of reorganizing. I should reword: This has inspired a flurry of organizing. I've always been "relaxed" about housekeeping, but suddenly, overnight, I want an orderly home just like my mother's, where I can actually find the Scotch tape and the hammer, the Christmas cookie cutters and the tax returns. The disorder has become agitating and intolerable. A few weeks ago, I bought a label maker and an ugly little shelf to hold the label maker and I love both of these purchases inordinately. I lie in bed at night fantasizing about shopping sprees at the Container Store.
Pathetic, the joy this brings me.
A few people have suggested it was silly to keep stuff the way my mother did -- all those books, and old jackets, tote bags, candle stubs, kid gloves, Easter baskets, bits of decorative ribbon, the electric typewriter on which I wrote papers in high school. I've thought so in the past. But that house, it's like the Smithsonian of our family. It reminds me that everything actually happened, that we used to squeeze orange juice with that antique juicer and pop corn before watching Wild Kingdom with that kettle popper, that I once wore a pink mohair sweater dress and covered a wine bottle in yarn and that our great grandmother collected Japanese knicknacks and our father served in the United States Army. It all happened and that my mother thought it all mattered, makes it matter.
The very sofa on which we watched Wild Kingdom.
Decluttering is very fashionable and there's nothing I enjoy more. But while even just a few weeks I could see no downside, now I can. While throwing things away may unburden your psyche and leave your house looking cleaner and your basement emptier, sometimes you do throw away more than stuff.

I miss cookbook reviewing and will get back to it soon. Most of the cooking I've done lately has been scattershot or related to my own forthcoming book. Two recipes I highly recommend:

The last oreo. Thank goodness.
-Joanne Chang's recipe for oreos from Flour is worth the price of that beautiful book. (You can also find it here.) These are perfect cookies and dangerous to have around the house.

-But the kale-quinoa pilaf from Food52 is even better because it's not just insanely delicious, it's also easy and healthy. Leftovers are fabulous cold, for breakfast.

Every drawer neatly packed, very full.


  1. Agreed - the pilaf is fantastic!!

  2. "the Smithsonian of our family"--yes yes yes.
    Since my kids weren't born to see my family home, we had a video taken of the place before it was dismantled. Good luck with it all. Thinking of you. Looking forward to your cooking posts but glad to read these as well.

  3. My mom is an "archivist", too. She has toys that I played with 30 years ago, an avocado green coffee percolator that hasn't worked since I don't know when, newspaper clippings from the 50's and on, electric bills from 5 years ago, and so much more, all tucked neatly into closets, drawers, crawlspaces and attics. My husband says she's about five years away from her very own episode of "Hoarders" on A&E. This from the man who's saved the tickets stubs from every movie he's been to for the last 14 years.

    The oreos do look fantastic, might be a project for the weekend.

  4. More related to your last post, but did you see Hamilton is speaking at the Left Bank through Book Passage tomorrow night, 3/10? Unfortunately, it is sold out (and not in my budget)!

  5. I am going to post in favor of the "de-clutter" - and maybe this will help: Take pictures instead. Use a digital camera, print them instantly, label them with meaning, and then throw the stuff that will not be used by you or yours either away, or donate it where it will do the most good. Keep the memento photo album; write notes about why the photo has meaning - seriously, the couch could be used by someone else, but people change, and so does your own personal style. That uncomfortable chair will probably be a godsend for somebody, but keeping it "because it was always there" means its taking up space for the Rest of Your Life.... And honestly, its the "we all scattered over it, eating popcorn and watching a show about animals" that your children and grand-children will care about. Be brave! :) Best, Ida (Just a Fan)

  6. Thank you, Tipsy, for this post. This de-cluttering thing has been heavy on my mind recently too---first I moved, and then I had to clean out some of my father's things (he passed away about a decade ago). I agree you that sometimes you throw away more than stuff. I have thrown away some things that I regret getting rid of now. My office and basement may be more cluttered than is fashionable, but why is this something to be ashamed of? In my cardboard-box diving I found some to-do lists that my dad had saved. Some were his and some my grandmother's (she has also passed). They are tiny things that nevertheless take up space. They are easily thrown away. But it's these seemingly mundane, yet deeply personal, things that I treasure now. Who knows if my kids will someday feel the same way?

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