Accumulating stuff: hoarders vs. minimalists | Roundabout

Last year at college, Jenna started cooking for herself. This meant that in addition to clothes and school supplies, she would need an adequately stocked kitchen.

We gathered (mostly from the recesses of my kitchen cabinets) used pots and pans, spatulas, a can opener, mixing bowls, pot holders, dishes, utensils, and two shiny, new plastic cups from the dollar store.  Her new roommates had contributions of their own, so they hopefully had everything they needed to feed themselves.

A month or so after Jenna went back to school, I was searching for rosemary in my spice cabinet and accidentally knocked over a container of toothpicks. I suddenly thought of Jenna:  Did she need toothpicks?  What if she needed to test a cake for doneness? Hmm.  Actually, we really didn’t leave her with any spices, or vanilla, or cupcake holders, or … toothpicks. How would she get by?

It was a brief and useless thought; she’s a college student, she won’t have much time to cook, and as her specialty is boxed macaroni and cheese, she wouldn’t be using them anyway.

But the idea snowballed, and I thought about the cabinets and closets and drawers and a whole garage full of stuff that we had collected over the years. How did we ever manage without it?

When Dirk and I were first married a hundred and twenty or so years ago, among the wedding gifts from our friends and family were five toasters.  I thought this was hilarious. What would we do with five toasters? I told Dirk we should return four of them, because really we didn’t need more than one.  He suggested that we keep at least three, just in case.  And you know, in 23 years (this number is real), we have not only worked those three toasters to death, but eventually purchased and used up two more. Turns out, five toasters was not excessive.

How do you get by with less stuff? I haven’t figured it out. I guess I haven’t embraced simplicity. I love the idea of minimalists, but really I am a little disturbed by them.

A few years ago we were invited to a surprise party for our friend. (You don’t know them; they live across the water.) It was held at a beautiful home, tastefully decorated, neat and tidy. I marveled how everything could be so orderly and clutter-free when there were several children living in the home.

I was in the kitchen and someone asked me to find a utensil to help serve the cake. I opened one of the many drawers in this beautiful kitchen … and it was empty. Weird. I opened another drawer, and another, and another … most were empty. It gave me the willies. My friend, whose sister-in-law lived at the house, was helping me look.

“Are they moving soon?”  I whispered, wondering if everything had been packed. She whispered back in the negative. We eventually found a drawer with a few knives and forks, and managed to serve up the cake.

I’m sure there’s something of a pack rat in me, but am I alone here? Isn’t there a balance between hoarding and living such a Spartan lifestyle that you could move out with only one box marked “kitchen”?  I just wish I could figure out that balance.

Jenna fared fine her first year cooking, and now this year Cassidy is off to college as well. Strangely enough, we found almost everything she needed to stock her kitchen by again scrounging through mine. As my kitchen continues to be well stocked, it’s a little embarrassing.  If I keep this up, by the time all our kids are off to college, maybe I’ll end up with an empty drawer or two.  Spooky thought!

— Check out Denise Roundy’s blog,


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