The Pantry

We all know I loathe clutter. I dislike STUFF. Too much stuff is a waste of time. You can't find what you need, or you have to move stuff to get to the item you need, or you have to move stuff to put the item back where it goes.


Stuff is the WORST.

I'm a total Marie Kondo believer. There IS life-changing magic in tidying up. Purging stuff sparks my joy. I don't like overstuffed drawers or closets or shelves. I don't even like overstuffed chairs.

Alas, I live with other people. Other people who refuse to join me on my live-with-less journey. What to do?

Charlotte? Charlotte is a hoarder. She collects containers and boxes so she can keep every precious rock, pinecone, or homemade bracelet. Each drawing or art project or fragment of a new story (okay, I don't judge that last one). EVERY damn thing is a treasure. "Decluttering" her room for when the cleaners come is a soul-killing exercise.

Lorelei? Lorelei is more normal when it comes to accumulating. Typical kid messiness, but she doesn't have the penchant for collecting that her sister has. Honestly, most of my hope for not killing the people I live with resides in Lorelei. People: Sometimes she puts things away without being asked.

And then?

And then there's the fact I have to share my room.

With. A. Boy.

Chris isn't that bad. It's just . . . well, every single night I collect his bits of papers and receipts from the top of the dresser and throw them in the trash. His (used) handkerchief gets moved to the laundry basket. I trip on his shoes in the middle of the closet floor and curse. I ask if we can toss the Runner's World magazine from 3 months ago and get A Look and sometimes A Sigh.

See, Chris and I have a very bad tidying relationship. He is very particular about how things get put away, BUT HE NEVER PUTS ANYTHING AWAY.

So, upon this shaky foundation I recently decided we should gut and reorganize our kitchen pantry.

I predicted it would take me an hour, maybe two.

It took most of last Saturday.

We (I) tossed a ton of stuff, from old Halloween candy to candy canes to expired rye flour, whole wheat flour, cake flour, hazelnuts that had gone bad, stained and holey dishcloths, and so on. Chris has every kitchen gadget on earth, along with a tendency to hoard empty jars, and he has a spice fetish to go along with it all. There was a lot of stuff.

When I couldn't find the Costco-sized jar of peanut butter, I blamed him.

You should never have so much stuff that you can't locate a giant jar of peanut butter.

So, yes, it took most of Saturday to complete, and yes, Chris and I had some huffy moments where he criticized me for putting canned beans where canned tomatoes should go and I pointed out that at least I put groceries away. Or when he took a look at what I had done halfway and moodily said I didn't seem to be making more room in the pantry  . . . to which I shrilly responded, "That's because you won't throw anything away!"

How about the mandolin slicer we've only used ONCE but is huge? Or the potato ricer that has 18,000 parts, all of which must be handwashed? And lord knows I can't put the dang thing back together again, so it sits air drying for a week until I, frustrated that it is STILL out, throw all the ricer components into a Ziploc and shove it into the pantry. And I'm sorry, but I'm something of a mashed potato expert, and mashed potatoes should never, ever be perfectly smooth. At least not on my plate.

We kept both gadgets.

My mom was here and made storage container suggestions.

"Never!" I declared. "Storage container solutions are for people with too much STUFF!"

Finally, I pointed to a tall stack of cooking magazines and asked, "Can't some of these be recycled?"

"I need the recipes in them!" Chris said.

I crossed my arms and used my best wifely look of disapproval. "How on earth can you possibly find a specific recipe in all those magazines?"

Chris hung his head. "I'll go through them."

This was actually a huge victory for me, except that he ran out of time to conquer this task and it remains undone. But at least he agreed to do it, yes?

A view of the tidied pantry. Yes, that's the stack of cooking magazines in the bottom left corner.
I moved all the cereal to a shelf where the girls can reach it. Result? They can prep their own breakfast. Below that, the lunch shelf.

Our newly tidied and organized pantry has given us (or maybe just me) great joy this past week. It's so neat. Everything we need is so accessible. Yeah, I would've liked to have tossed the mandolin or ricer or perhaps one of our three cheese graters, but like I said:

I live with other people.

A home is a shared space. And when it comes to messes and our home, I share about as well as a three-year-old.

I've pondered what to tackle next. The Tupperware cabinet? A kid's dresser? The playroom (oh, dear goodness, I cannot cannot cannot). Sure. But these are, in then end, small fixes. Something dawned on me immediately post-pantry. Chris is right---everything SHOULD get put away in its correct spot. But people besides me need to do it. Yes, I clean up after everyone constantly. CONSTANTLY. But perhaps it's not the mess that ticks me off so much as the attitude surrounding everyone's messes. An attitude that basically comes down to: Eh, Mom (or Wife) will take care of it.

In spite of the best tidying and organizing and purging efforts, stuff will always exist. Therefore, my family members need to learn to clean up after themselves.

So. I have endeavored to paste a smile on my cranky face and put retraining my family members on project status. Instead of being Bitchy Mom screeching about messes, I've tried being Patient Mom, sweetly making my children put things away, sweetly reminding reminding reminding. One could call this nagging, but hey. When you try to channel a Victorian Gentle Mother, you do get better results than theatrically displaying exasperation and screaming. So I guess that's a win. It will be a slow process.

And here's something interesting:The kids are responding better than their father. Perhaps they are more malleable. (Ask Chris about a certain Band-Aid.) But I've seen progress.

And so, the work of the pantry unfurled into a quest to retrain all our habits. Them: tidying up. Me: patiently (seriously, patience goes against all my natural inclinations) fostering their sense of responsibility and work.

A home is shared space. It's not MINE to share, but I do think it's mine to direct. Not because I'm the girl, or the mom, or the wife, but because I friggin' care. A LOT. And frankly, I think I have pretty decent homemaking instincts. I could write post after post on why the good china should be used often, Sunday dinners in the dining room, why candles are worth lighting at the kitchen table on Tuesdays or any other plain old week night, why decorating MATTERS, why screens are the devil incarnate for setting a home's tone, and how a dog makes a (okay, our) home complete. But I'm kind of amazed you've read this far, and so I will stop. Onward to books.

Bookish-wise, the girls and I finally finished Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. We're moving on to another Ramona book (Ramona's World), which I picked up at a Seattle used bookstore for a buck. I love Ramona and am game, but I was sort of hoping we could do something different. Oh, well. Lorelei has been quite enamored with a new library book, The Grumpy Pets, a simple story about a grumpy boy who wants a grouchy dog, not a jolly happy one. In the end? His finds his grumpy pet and they make each other happy.

I'm debating whether to read aloud to them the next Chronicles of Narnia book or just plow through it on my own. We'll see.

I finished How to Party With an Infant, which was super entertaining, even if it could've used more heft. I was also annoyed by continual references to Barney, which dated the book (it just came out!). Barney was SO a decade-plus ago. I'm moving along in Life After Life, which continues to be brilliant.

I also started Words Without Music, a memoir by composer Phillip Glass. It's fantastic. The writing is very straightforward, but his story is so damn interesting! And as a memoir, it's just working. The way in which talent and passion and opportunity and hard work have to align for the creation of art . . . it's intimidating. And depressing. And inspiring.

I finished The Silver Chair, the fourth (depending on how you're counting) Narnia book, so I'm all ready for Sunday school discussion tomorrow. Chris has been reading this one as well, and the dork in me is loving having us read the same book at the same time---even if we compete to see who can first grab it off the nightstand each night.


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