My messy kitchen drawer, with photos: why cleaning at home is good

betty ming liu Inspiration, Relationships 16 Comments

I’m always wondering what to keep and what to discard. Over the years, the issue comes up during changes in everything from career and relationships to personal goals. Letting go and moving on can be super difficult. So the other day when I opened my kitchen drawer, I was reminded of the fact that transitions can take time.

In 2005, I renovated my entire house. A fresh start! But gradually, the closets and shelves filled up. My daughter and I accumulated more clothes, books and even stray cats — we have three now. After a while, I just got used to the familiarity of what we had. But then the other day, I suddenly saw that big kitchen drawer through fresh eyes.

Growing up in the Chinatown home of my packrat immigrant parents meant living with drawers stuffed with junk. Mom and Dad saved every every piece of string or cardboard that passed through their hands. I vowed to be different. No clutter for me! Oh, really? Ha — it turns out that I’m still my parents’ daughter.

Instead of string, my thing, apparently, is rubberbands. After grocery shopping, I pull them off the bundles of broccoli and other veggies and toss them into this drawer. Handfuls of them. Enough to pack three zip-lock sandwich bags, which I’ll donate to someone, maybe an art teacher.

Once the rubberbands were out of the way, I found postage stamps I didn’t know I had, as well as an assortment of useless objects. The four seafood/nutcrackers were from my parents’ kitchen drawer. Back in the day, we’d buy she-crabs by the dozen from a Mulberry Street fishmonger, dump them in the sink, scrub them clean and steam them.

As they cooked, Mom would make a killer sauce of freshly minced ginger and vinegar, cover the dining table in newspaper and throw down the seafood crackers so we could go at it. I rarely eat crabs now and haven’t used the crackers for years. But looking at them still makes me smile. They will stay in the drawer.

But there’s no point to having three rolling pins, accumulated them from my days of running kids’ cooking classes. They were my first teaching experience. I was a newly divorced single mom in search of a flexible work schedule. No way was I returning to my past life as a workaholic full-time newspaper reporter. So when the Hastings-on-Hudson community center announced it was hiring instructors for its after-school programs, I signed up. From there, I eventually jumped to teaching journalism to college students and adults. You never know what can happen!

I’ve really enjoyed watching my little neighborhood chefs grow up. The memories are plenty. No need for all the rolling pins anymore. And why did I buy a gadget for peeling off the top of wine bottle tops? These items went into the donation pile.

I was actually shocked to realize how many multiple items were in the drawer. Some of the duplicates were from the kids’ cooking classes. Others, though, like the specialty veggie peelers, I bought later for myself.  Two sets of measuring cups and spoons aren’t necessary. But these can all stay. For now.

Finally, I know what I possess, which is the whole point of this exercise. Along the way, I have also been reminded that placement is important. Maybe it’s the right idea but not the right time or place. It’s important to be flexible enough to move around, explore potential, look for a fit. How often have I too quickly dismissed or overlooked people, moments or even my own great personal qualities? Haste makes waste.

In the end, cleaning out the kitchen drawer didn’t take much time. Then again, maybe it took me years to reach this moment.

There’s more ahead. As we all know, one thing leads to another. So…guess who is in major purge mode.

Bye-bye to old clothes, shoes, toys, books, electronics, appliances, knicknacks and furniture. FYI — almost nothing will end up in the trash. I have found multiple donation sources.

The small TV and framed art work are going to, which collects beds, mattresses and furniture for homeless families that are starting over. A truck is coming for the old clothes, toys, books, shoes and drapery/window treatments; this is a service of our local chapter of the national youth mentoring organization Big Brothers and Big Sisters, which resells everything to fund its programs.

As for ripped bedsheets, stained towels, old underwear, mismatched socks and crappy clothes, they will live again. On a recent Friday, I dropped off a huge trash bag filled with these goodies at the farmers market on West 97th Street in Manhattan. It’s one of the locations where the group GrowNYC takes these castoffs and resells them to textile recyclers, who turn them into rags.

I can’t wait to see what’s ahead. Open, physical space always creates room for new experiences. Just being in this process is already clearing the way for me to suddenly appreciate my late mother and father. These days, I see them as more than string-saving immigrants. They were recyclers before it became trendy. And now, they have both gone back to the earth themselves.

So the circle continues. And I live on, with a mission to keep life fresh. With the summer winding down, this is the perfect time to reorganize. Let’s get ready for fall! xoxoxoxoxoxoxoxo.


Comments 16

  1. Great post!! I am having a new kitchen installed in October so I will be finding out what is in my cupboards too! It feels so good to clear out and organize! The process helps clear out the brain dust too!!

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      mamamiaheather, after the mess, you are in for a huge treat. Having a wonderful kitchen brings me such comfort. And yes, it certainly is about cleaning out brain dust and all kinds of stuff that is ready to be swept out. Enjoy your new kitchen and congrats!

  2. This process reminds me of the children’s book series…. “If You Give a Moose A Muffin”…..

    It starts with the simple… darn, my toothpaste tube is messed up and inefficient… now where’s that tube roller?

    Looks like that white circle with zig zag cutout is a piece that goes to a Tupperware hand chopper… it’s the piece that the sharp silver blade comes through when you press down on the hand plunger thingy…. I think! Perhaps I have one in my drawer too! And a couple of walnut crackers…. :)

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      Ange, eureka! You are absolutely right — that is indeed a Tupperware piece. The hand chopper is long gone, never worked right anyway. Thanks for solving the mystery. And tube roller — what a great name for this thing. Yeah, one thing is leading to another.

      And it will take a while to get everything cleared out. I just went in the basement to store the unused packing boxes and
      discovered two huge stack of books that I forgot to leave out for Big Brothers and Big Sisters. The truck just came and left! Oh well, next round…

  3. Great post. Saw much of myself! And did recognize the orphaned round piece, have a similar one hanging out in my drawer from a Pampered Chef chopper! Love your blog!

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      Noreen, actually, you might be even more right than Ange! I actually did attend a Pampered Chef house party. It was only one, long ago. Ended up with a big baking dish. Maybe I bought the chopper too. Either way, it’s long gone. Thanks so much for stopping by. I appreciate your encouragement. :)

  4. I’ve got one of those hand choppers too. Mine works though – handy for small jobs like chopping nuts for brownies.
    As for the accumulation, I refer you to Grace’s Law of Spatial Commodification, which is “things accumulate to fill the available flat surfaces.” It’s an inevitable process – a law of nature.. Of course you have to balance the desire to clear all that stuff out against another law – Grace’s Law of Accruing Value, which says “Junk kept long enough becomes valuable antiques.” Case in point: I could probably retire on the present value of the comic books of my childhood – if only I still had them. There is however, a point of diminishing returns. The Law of Accruing Value doesn’t apply to rubber bands (sorry about that)

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      What are you all doing with these choppers???! I bought a little electric Cuisinart, which is quite a nuisance to take out, plug in and clean. Maybe I should get another new, non-electric chopper? Accrue some more — haha! Toby, I have always loved a certain amount of cozy clutter but the entire look is hitting a diminishing return point for me. Just think what a mess your house might’ve been if you kept all those comics around!

      As for rubber bands, they make really good rubber band balls that bounce at crazy angles. I make little ones for Isabelle, the black-and-white cat with the cow markings featured in the photos on this post. She loves to play fetch. She actually chases them and brings them back. She trained me to throw them and she’s very proud to have such a smart human.

  5. Proud of you, Betty. In preparation for CNY 2012, I did the same by cleaning out three messy drawers for my mother (and myself). These hadn’t been touched in almost twenty years. It took me three days, but with new organizers we could actually SEE what was inside. Plus, we also did some serious purging in the garage last week. It was great!

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    Thanks, Christie! Love the image of you and Mommy cleaning out 20-year-old drawer crap. That is a journey, for sure. Btw, “garage purging” is a phrase that would scare even the bravest — congrats to you for getting that done. Wow!

  7. I spent several weeks this summer purging the house of unneeded items. I can be immobilized with indecision about what to let go of since I *might* use it sometime, or it does have *value* of some kind… My friend gave me a very useful tip that helped me decide repeatedly to let the stuff go. We hang on to stuff out of a fear that we wont be taken care of when we are in need. Better to let someone else use the items now and trust that they will naturally flow back toward us when the time comes. That philosophy helped me let go and I love the sane feeling of an uncluttered house – full of possibility.
    Good luck with your month away – it sounds challenging and greatly rewarding.

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      Amelie, congrats on your major house purging! I like your approach and will add it to my personal tricks for dealing with myself. I’m with you on the benefits of open space. My house has always been cozy but now it’s also more open. And thanks — unplugging for a month might get me to a more open emotional space!

  8. I LOVE this blog post.
    I love how you connect your drawer’s contents to your past experiences and to your parents too. This post is very sensitive and insightful.
    And it’s good to read that I’m not the only one who feels that random objects in a drawer hold stories of my experiences.
    You have inspired me to do what I know I need to do with my accumulations.
    Thanks Betty!

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  9. Betty! These were just the resources I needed. I did some fall cleaning the other day and have a stack of random non-clothing items that I haven’t figured out where to drop them off. Thanks!

    Hope all is well!

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