August 14, 2013

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.