Saturday, May 31, 2008

The conflicts between thrift, clutter and beauty

"Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful." William Morris

This is hard to explain. I'm not sure why, but each time I try I get bogged down and confused. Let's try, shall we? I'm going to use some examples and go from there.

I have a comforter. It's a double bed size, because that was the size bed we had when I bought it in 1991. It's still in decent condition, looks about the same as it did when I bought it because it's a cotton-polyester blend. I'm tired of it. It doesn't make me happy. It's the wrong size for our bed (though it does fit our guest bed, but we have a nicer comforter that we usually use there). Why do I still keep it? Because, wait for's perfectly good!

It's all a muddle of reduce, reuse, recycle; use it up; wear it out; Depression and Green and eco this and that and thrift and soon my house is full-up of stuff that's still "perfectly good" but that I don't really love or want.

With my bathroom, and now, my kitchen, I'm creating spaces that only have useful AND lovely (to me) things in them. It is harder to do this in other parts of the house, and I need to figure out why.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Step by step

I noticed I haven't posted for a few days. I've been slowly working on the kitchen. I bought a new silverware tray (the old was avocado green and thus is not allowed). I also culled my avocado green Pyrex bowls and baking dishes. These I may sell, on eBay or Craigslist, as there's a fairly strong demand for vintage Pyrex. I've kept the pieces in other colours--my bowls and baking dishes. I love them and I use them frequently. I've given them a whole shelf to their own in my main storage cupboard, rather than keeping them on the wheeled cart which holds the microwave.

I'm hoping to eliminate that cart. Current plan is to put the microwave on the kitchen counter where the breadbox used to be. I haven't tested it yet, so I'm not sure how happy we'll be with it. I'd love to not put that cart back! The kitchen feels so roomy now! The girls were dancing and twirling while I cooked dinner the other night...could never even consider that before.

So far, the new dishes are a success. They're so pretty and simple, clean lines. I found some smaller bowls, simple clear glass made in France, at IKEA. $.79 each, so a bargain too.

We're loving the Vestfrost! It's so nice to have a small fridge, stuff doesn't get lost. It means I can't stock up, which is GREAT. And, the small footprint means more free floor space.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Decluttering the dishes

We have an eclectic collection of dishware. Lots of decorative mugs and little plates and various bits of this and that. DH hates it. I, well, part of me loves the variety and part of me just wishes for plain white plates.

That part won. I've set us up with new dishes. They're white porcelain. They're microwave, dishwasher and warm oven safe. They're simply designed and just about could be called elegant. I've been spending the morning fitting shelf liner into my dish cabinet. Once the new dishes are clean, they'll go into their new home. We'll have eight dinner plates, eight salad plates, four shallow bowls, four deep bowls, four mugs and four cup & saucer sets. Everything else will be packed away for a month and if there's a specific piece anyone misses dearly, it can come back. After that, donation time.

Living without most of the dishware for the past two months has actually been great. I can't point out even one thing that I genuinely miss. It's a good argument for the "let it age" policy--give yourself time, time while you still own the item(s) to miss them or not. If you miss them, heck, you still have them. If not, easy to take the box to the Goodwill.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

One more post on Good Calories, Bad Calories

This ain't no nutrition blog. I've been mentioning this book because it's just a great read, and full of must-know information. So, one last post. I wanted to include a few links to discussions about this book throughout the blogosphere.

Health & Nutrition by Michael R. Eades, MD
ABC News
Weight of the Evidence

...and I'm sure there are plenty more.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Decluttering the advice

I've really been enjoying reading "Good Calories, Bad Calories". I've got a passion for health reading. I like medical memoirs, books on the science behind weight gain/loss and general health. This book is especially interesting because the author agenda is the truth--he went into the research curious, open-minded, but not particularly biased toward either the "fat is bad" or the "carbs are bad" theories. Hence, his survey of the research is especially worthwhile. It's a real eye-opener to read how easily a charismatic, passionate medical researcher convinced the U.S. government to adopt dietary standards, even while the existing research was actually inconclusive.

So what does this mean for one in practical "what should I eat today" terms? Well, Taubes' book is not a diet book. He has no lengthy recipe section at the back as do so many books on diet and health. His book is purely about the science and to a lesser degree, the politics of the study of diet on human health. One would need to read his survey and then extrapolate from that what one should consider eating.

Learning that the fat hypothothis was essentially full of bunk stunned me. For so many years, we've been told to cut down on fat, especially saturated fat. A whole industry arose to provide low-fat and fat-free snacks (and again, recently, to provide ones artificially low in "carbs"). I think the real answer is to look back to our ancestors, to the rise of agriculture and to evolution.

But back to the kitchen. We're still slowly restocking it, and I have not yet tackled the cook books. I purged them a while ago, selling the ones that I never even looked through for ideas. I'm sure I can let go of more. I want just enough for one shelf in one cupboard. I want to keep them behind a cupboard door; I hate that they get grease residue on them from cooking. I do have a few "diety" cookbooks that I can let go of. Really, all one needs is the Joy of Cooking, any edition, and a few specialty books for the cuisines not fully represented there (Chinese, Thai, Indian, Greek).

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Reader, I went to Target

I went in with a list. I bought only what was on my list, no impulse items. I didn't dawdle. I couldn't dawdle, I timed the trip so that I had just 20 minutes before picking up my older daughter from school.

It feels strange to have Target bags in the house. Such mundane items...Windex, baby wipes, paper towels, air freshener, cat box liners, cereal.

A must read book

Anyone who wants to lose weight, improve their health or who has been told to use drugs or diet to lower their cholesterol should read this book. I warn you, it's a fairly academic tome. The author spent five years researching and writing this book. It's an eye-opener!

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Keeping kitchen clutter at bay

We've been slowly moving items back into the kitchen. Since we have the space (garage, basement), my plan is to move items back in as I need them. Thus, the salad spinner came back last week when I needed to wash and dry a head of lettuce. The cloves came back last night to make sweetie a hot whiskey. The grill pan came back to cook steak. You get the idea.

There are items I like, that I want to keep, but that I do not use. That is do not use, never have used. An example? My burnt orange Bundt pan. It's a real Bundt brand pan, in nice condition. Never used. Why? I don't know. I guess the only recipe that appealed to me that's made in a Bundt pan uses three sticks of butter and I just can't bring myself to make the recipe. The possibilities cause me to keep the pan. I've had it for years, "rescued" it from a thrift store. Yeah. That one's going to have to go. Ditto the angel food cake pan (it's a really nice one). I used it once. Thing is, I don't care for angel food cake. Too dry and spongy.

We've almost completely transitioned to the new, small fridge. Remember the new fridge is less than half the capacity of the old. I was brutal with the condiments and salad dressings. So many had been kept because "oh, that's still good!" but really, if it was still sitting in the fridge months after being opened, that's a sign that NO ONE LIKES IT. Seriously, let's get real here. If you like a food, it'll get used up. So out went two bottles of salad dressing, a couple of odd sauces and some stale beef bouillion.

My dream kitchen will contain only what we use, in quantities suitable for our family size, neatly arranged. It's on its way to my house!

Monday, May 12, 2008

A low-clutter Mother's Day

This Mother's Day, I asked for specific gifts. Perfume, because I'm running low and I'm the sort of gal who wears it every day, and the chance to see a movie all by myself. I'm one of those odd ducks who prefers seeing movies alone. I like to escape into movie-world. It's more like reading a book that way, you know?

On Saturday, while my sweetie took the kids perfume shopping (always go to Nordstrom, they take good care of you) I went out to see Iron Man. I wasn't an Iron Man comic fan, but it's been getting really good reviews. I generally don't actually read the reviews for films I want to see since I hate spoilers and reviews don't seem able to write about movies these days without giving half the plot away. I did notice lots of stars on the reviews and that was enough for me. I love comic books and superhero films too. Daredevil, X-Men, Fantastic Four, Spiderman, all books I read monthly back in high school and college. Not sure why I never picked up an Iron Man issue, guess I had enough to keep track of.

I'll cut to the chase: that was the best movie I have seen in years. And, for the first time in I don't know how long, I walked out of the theatre, called my sweetie to let him know, and then walked right back in with a ticket for the next showing. It was that good. I won't say more, but do go out and see it yourself. This is one for the big screen, don't wait for the DVD.

After that decadent afternoon, I had to zip home since I had an appointment. Dinner was pizza--hey, it was Mother's Day weekend, I'll take a night off. We had brunch out on Sunday, then while sweetie, the kids and MIL/S-FIL took a trip out to the Snohomish river, I went out to see another movie. This time, I picked a chick flick, Made of Honor. It was ... ok. I left thinking, well that was cute, but not worth seeing again. I do like that Patrick Dempsey though, he was worth the admission price. Annoying movie goer in front of me kept lifting up her arm to play with her hair. I could have done without that.

I don't usually buy snacks in the movies. I'm not above sneaking in a treat. I had some almond M&Ms and Raisinets for Iron Man (1). Picked up a banana for nutrition at the supermarket next door for (2). Didn't have any snacks during Made of Honor. Just didn't need 'em. I was momentarily tempted by the popcorn, but it never tastes that good and it's so expensive. I'd rather just wait. I mean, it's only an hour and half. I never bring or get drinks at this particular theatre since the restroom is across the lobby and up a flight of stairs. There's no way I'll miss part of the movie for a potty break.

Yeah, I'm an oddball. But you knew that, right?

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Consider the Magazine

For some reason, magazines are especially precious to hoarders. Not as dear as books, but up there pretty high on the list. They're so pretty, with the photographs, drawings, and even the ads. They're seductive, with their promises of renewal, knowledge and fortune.

I have about five years worth of Martha Stewart Living magazines. They're close to the last of my magazine stash. I let the bulk of the scrapbooking ones go last year, a hard decision, but the right one. Now, I'm pondering the MSLs. Can I let them go? Well, I never refer to them. I have the The Martha Stewart Living Cookbook which has most of the recipes from the magazines that I actually use. I pulled out a lot of the recipe cards (back when the magazine had them) and those are in my recipe card box. I even have a couple of annuals, from the few years they were published, that have every single recipe from that year's magazines. And, on Martha's website, one can search and find just about every recipe published.

But then, I think of the craft ideas. The lovely articles on whiteware, early American pottery, kitchen linens, dusting techniques. How to make a pincushion from an acorn.

These magazines are the ultimate in aspirational goods. I want to be a Martha, a creative, engaging, powerful person in charge of my life and surroundings. I want every meal to be not only nutritious, but bursting with colour and freshness, and seasonality. I want my bed linens to be fresh and scented with lavender or lilac, and to coordinate with the colours of my walls and my art.

Will keeping these magazines allow me to live this dream? No. Will I ever be able to live that dream? Yes, if it's important enough to me. Is it? Only I can decide that.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Using your noodle to cut down on clutter

Commenter Jay B. suggests using Netflix and the library to avoid media purchases. Amen, I say! While I don't plan on getting a Netflix sub, I do love love love the library. We get the bulk of our media there, books, movies and music. I have around 100 items on my holds list most of the time. When a movie I'm interested in is moving from the theatres to DVD, I just pop it on my holds list. Now, yes, sometimes you'll wait. And wait. And ... wait. We just came to the top of the list for Pirates of the Caribbean 3, and that's been out how long? There's the Netflix advantage, a lot less waiting! Still, I don't mind the waiting to save the $20-$30 a month.

There are some movies that I'll still buy. Back before Netflix existed and buying or renting from the local shops were the only options, my rule was, if I knew for sure that I'd watch the movie more than three times, I would buy it. When we got our first DVD player, I was more liberal than I would normally be, because of the novelty of the new form. Wow, a disc can hold a whole movie and special features! I've become a lot more discerning.

Why buy at all? We love to watch movies. We don't watch any broadcast TV. For example, I own the Lord of the Rings trilogy extended editions and I've watched each one at least ten times (yes, that's a lot of screen time). I like owning them, I can watch any time I please, no waiting, thank you ma'am. For the Ocean's Thirteen example, that's a movie I really love (I'm a sucker for caper movies, and add in George Clooney, well, there you go). I've already watched it twice since we bought it, and will watch it many more times.

A couple of years ago, we culled our DVDs and sold the ones we didn't feel we needed to keep. There were some early mistakes, ones we'd bought on impluse when the medium was knew. We just don't do that anymore. We've made the choices mindful.

Those who've seen my bookroom may be surprised to learn how few books I actually buy anymore. Most of my collection was amassed long ago, when I was in high accumulation mode. For the past five years, I've purchased very few books. The ones I do buy are ones I either know I will read again, ones I plan to read in compromising situations (while traveling, on the beach/boat, in the bath). It's worth $.69 to me to not worry about the condition of a book while I'm reading it, and likely, I'll either pass it on to a friend or use Paperback Swap and exchange it for something else.

How do you handle your media purchases? Do you buy or rent, borrow or rip?