Monday, May 20, 2013

how many dishes do we need?

Twenty-three years ago when I first moved into Michael’s small urban apartment he had 4 plates, 3 bowls and a few mismatched mugs. So I added a set of dinnerware to the growing list of things we should buy. He looked confused and said, “There’s just two of us, how many dishes do we need?” I laughed and thought, typical guy. Not long after, we bought a nice service for eight...eight of everything -- bowls, dinner plates, salad plates, dessert plates, cups & saucers. The set filled our kitchen’s minimal cupboard to bursting, but I knew someday we’d have a house to put it all in. Besides, what if company came? 

But, we never entertained in that tiny apartment, so it was just the two of us. We were a lazy busy couple with no dishwasher.  Every plate and bowl would get used before someone would break down have time to wash them. Dirty dishes often overflowed from the small sink. The kitchen was cluttered with all the things we had no room for in the overstuffed cabinet. It was a constant battle against chaos. 
When we finally moved into our house years later the dishes no longer went with my changing tastes. But rather than relegate them to the donation pile they were stored in the basement in case. In case maybe I’d grow to like them again...or perhaps our future children might want them someday. The set was one of the first things their father and I bought together as a couple so they were special, and you are supposed to keep special things. That’s what my grandmother always did.
My late grandmother was an antiques and collectibles dealer. She taught me the fine art of treasure hunting. She was also a hoarder that taught me the not so fine art of attaching emotional value to every object you own. It can be a pleasant notion, at first; that each item in your home tells a little story. I am by nature a story lover, so the idea of passing down heirlooms and tales that go with them has innate appeal. But other things get passed down sometimes, too. Things like habits and sensibilities that may not be practical, or worse -- can become unhealthy.  

My grandmother could have lived to see my children born. She could have told them her many stories, with or without her vast "collections". But tragically the year before I became pregnant with Megan she fell down the stairs in her home and died as a result of her injuries. It was horrific.  She lived alone in a large multilevel dwelling and refused to downsize because it would mean getting rid of too many things. When I previously wrote about her death it was with the mindset that she died where she wanted to, after a long life, in her “beloved” (and stuffed to the rafters) house. That is one way to look at it, but I am not quite so easily reconciled to that today.  
I have thought about my own death, for obvious reasons.  Amidst those unpleasant thoughts about my mortality comes the realization that my family will have to deal with my stuff. I am not a hoarder by any means. But I do have a lot of stuff, especially for the small house we have chosen to continue living in. And in that light many of my belongings tell different stories to me now.  Along with anecdotes and recollections, some of my things also tell the story of lost time...time spent searching for items I cannot find in clutter, time spent trying to keep up with cleaning and caring for objects instead of pursuing activities that nourish my creative spirit, not to mention the time and energy used to acquire these things in the first place. Frankly, I’m not sure I can afford to waste that much time. Then again, can anyone? 
It has dawned on me that not every belonging has the potential to be treasure, in fact, much of it could be more akin to burden. I also realize that by striving to have less I can work towards getting more – as in getting more out of my life.  
How often do we say we have too much on our plates? In my case I had too many plates and not enough on them. So now whenever I consider buying anything I ask many dishes do I need? This mental shorthand reminds me about what is important. I only need enough – what is sufficient to feed my soul and the souls of my loved ones with. And in that regard, I already have plenty...I already have everything I need.


The Small Fabric Of My Life said...

Very philosphical and so true.

Jean (notsupermum) said...

It's so easy to keep wanting more 'stuff' just because it's available to buy, but I think you're right to question how much we actually need. I try to do this when I go shopping and try to avoid buying the latest model of something just because it's there (although my budget usually sees to that anyway).
When my parents passed away we had to empty their house which had been our family home for 40 years and it was full of stuff. Not much of it was important stuff either, but it took us weeks to clear it all out.
I think in relative terms most of us are doing ok, and that's a real luxury.

Great post, very thought-provoking. xx

Kayleigh said...

Thanks Jane :)

Kayleigh said...

Jean - you are so right, it is all too easy to be lured by the siren call of more stuff and sometimes budgets save us from ourselves, I know that's been true for us.

Weeks to clear out sounds overwhelming to me, yet it's nothing compared to what my father and his sister went thru w/my grandmother (I wasn't involved) took them over a year to clear out her house and fix it up just enough to put it on the market at a bargain price. And they even had hired help, too. Thankfully I've never been that far gone, but makes you think.

Rita said...

Hi Kayleigh,
I love this post. I've gone through much the same evolution in my relationship to stuff. I'm wondering if you're familiar with the William Morris Project that Jules has been doing on her site, Pancakes and French Fries? If not, I think you'd really like it. It began with the death of someone who had lots and lots of stuff. It's one of my favorite online things.

Thanks so much for stopping by our blog so I could find you!

Kayleigh said...

Rita -- I am thrilled you stopped by my blog, and thank you for your kind words about this post :) I also have to thank you for telling me about Jules' blog and the Wm Morris were right, I do like it. I've been there for quite a while poking around and getting inspired -- just like I do at your blog.

Thankx again!

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Nancy's Point said...

It's funny, I am not a shopper and yet I still seem to have a lot of stuff. I have started letting go of more things since my diagnosis. I seem to want to de-clutter a bit more since then. I hadn't really thought about this before, so your post made me realize this connection. And gosh, the way your grandmother died is so sad. I'm sorry. Thanks for the post.

Kayleigh said...

Thank you so much, Nancy...and yes, the way she died is very sad, even more so to me since my own diagnosis.

The two times in my life I felt driven to de-clutter are when I had my first child and since cancer treatment. Both of these involved facing death (nearly died in childbirth) so there is certainly, as you said so well, a connection, I think.

Thanks again for commenting!

Tim Koppenhaver said...

One of my favorite quotes ties in well with your post:

"A man is rich in proportion to the number of things he can afford to let alone."

Henry David Thoreau

Kayleigh said...

Hi Tim -- I love that quote, it's perfect! Hmmm, I should stitch it on a pillow...except I probably have too many pillows, too ;)

Jim said...

I love this post, Kayleigh!!! No, I am not a hoarder either, even though Mrs. Jim thinks I am.

I had a set of nice green China that was given to me piece by piece when I bought gasoline for the car.

After we moved out of our apartment it was all given away except for a couple of items. I wish I still had it now. I see sets or parts of sets in the antique stores and it does bring quite a price!!

I suppose I am closer to the end of my mortality than you are. I too think about what mess SOMEBODY will have.

Kayleigh said...

Thank you Jim -- I'll bet those dishes were jadite, yes? You are right, that is highly collectible now. But think of how much room you saved for other wonderful things in its place.

And as busy and active as you are, Jim, I'm thinking you will outlive us all :D