July 19, 2004

Coffe Cans in the Cupboard -- the hoarder's mentality

Either you are going to intuitively understand this post deep down inside, like you could have written it yourself, or you just ain't never gonna get it.

We accumulate things, my wife and I. Well, maybe me more than my wife. In any event, we don't throw out a whole lot of stuff. This urge to preserve spans whole categories of items and I don't intend to address the range of pathologies. No, I'm going to limit myself to the kitchen.

By the way, in case you were wondering, I blame my parents for this. Ok, no, not really. But they have gently aided and abetted by only recently starting to inquire when I was going to drive the ten miles over to their house and clean out my childhood room. They are kind and understanding for the most part and also quite accomplished little clutter bugs themselves so the pressure has been gentle thus far. But notice has been given and since I really did move out when I left for college, it's about time I boxed up the old high school yearbooks and other momentos. Pardon the digression, back to the kitchen.

We keep stuff in our cabinets that we treat like national treasures. Old cans of coffee, bottles of hot sauce from vacations, weird spices, stuff picked up on sale, etc. You never know when you are going to see that jar of capers packed in salt again, so you buy it and you keep it. You might want to bake chocolate chip cookies at odd hours when the market is closed and you need to make sure you have every possible ingredient for said cookie. You also never know when you might need that odd tin of Norwegian "horn salt". I actually have no idea what horn salt is, why we have it, what you use it for, when we got it, and I have never seen my wife use it. But it has faithfully followed us for our last two moves. We have this spectacular "piri piri" sauce we bought in Portugal (ten years ago!) and a great collection of Guatemalen hot sauces. I think we still have a jar of prickly pear jam we bought on our honeymoon, lo these many moons ago.

Part of the problem stems from the fact that we like to go to supermarkets when we travel. Foreign supermarkets are huge fun and I think are just as culturally enriching an experience as visiting a museum. You see stuff you've never imagined before, you get a glimpse of how the other people really live (nothing tells you more about a society than its selection of toilet paper), and you can buy inexpensive and unusual gifts and souvenirs.

So, we cart this stuff home and we put it in the cupboards. And there it sits. Never to be used. Why? Because it cannot be replaced once we open it, I suppose. Or because we never intended to open it? Or because while we still have that bottle of Hungarian brandy we still have a tangible connection to that trip. Beats me. Maybe we just like to have lots of stuff.

So, that coffee can I titled this post with was a can of Cafe du Monde strong as heck coffee we brought from New Orleans. Here is an interesting link about coffee in New Orleans. We had run out of the good, freshly ground stuff and were in a desperate place. I opened the pantry cabinets and there sat the can of Cafe du Monde. And I realized, the memory that can represented needed to be sacrificed on the alter of our coffee emergency. You know what? It wasn't so bad and I don't think I'll even miss having the can as much as I will treasure the new memory of that can stepping up to the plate (er, coffee maker) in our hour of need.

Besides, I can now buy another yellow can to put in its place, if I am so inclined.

My wife is leaving today on a business trip to Germany and I am going to take the opportunity afforded by her absence to ruthlessly cull our cabinets. I'm not actually going to throw anything away (that would be mean), but I'm going to put all this stuff in boxes and let her decide if we should keep it. Who knows, maybe we'll even get some stuff off the counters! Or maybe we'll just create more room for more stuff.

Posted by Random Penseur at July 19, 2004 09:09 AM

I hear where you're coming from. I've been there. Yet as many times as we toss out the old stuff, we seem to acquire new things to put in their place. It's a neverending battle...one that's pretty much lost before it's begun.

Posted by: Mick at July 19, 2004 11:29 AM

I'm anti-stuff. Our house is as close to the Japanese aesthetic as we can make it in our American way. Uncluttered is where it's at for me. I'm ruthless about throwing things away and we have very few knick-knacks. I save family photos and videos, of course, and we have a huge music, book and DVD collection, but other than that, if it's not art or functional, it gets thrown out or stored away.

Even our garage is uncluttered, although it needs to be neatened up again soon.

I do like fresh flowers though and I have several vases throughout the house.

The most cluttered room is Dan's office and that's because although Dan likes the minimal look too, he's not too keen about actually keeping it *up*. At least, not in his office... :-)

Posted by: Amber at July 19, 2004 01:11 PM

You don't ever have to throw out a coffee can. They're good for storing things out in the garage for decades. My family hasn't thrown out a coffee can in generations.

Posted by: Jim at July 19, 2004 01:15 PM

I am having a really hard time with clutter. My husband says, "A man has got to have his stuff." He even brings home from the dump when he takes the trash.

I guess he likes old things.... I should be greatful since I qualify in that category!

Posted by: Marsha at April 27, 2005 11:38 AM
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