Putting Stuff Away

One morning, we woke up to realize we’d been living in our house for nine years.

And it had been nine years since fresh paint had spread itself sweetly onto walls.

Every room was dingy.

“Well,” I thought. “Best get cracking.”

The dining room, we decided, was in the grittiest state, so we went out and bought paint (Roasted Cashew, it was called), and bright, flat white for the ceiling, and semi-gloss white for the trim. I rounded up brushes and bought liners for the rolling pan and made sure we had rollers and roller covers and plenty of clean, soft rags. We got lots of masking tape to line off the edges.

And Friday rolled around and, remembering painting efforts from much younger days, I confidently began, sure that by Sunday evening, the dining room would be gloriously transformed.

Three weeks later, I pulled the final piece of masking tape away. The room looked good; I loved the color, and the paint job wasn’t bad.

But, oh man. It took me so much longer than I had anticipated. And my old bones ached so much more than I was ready to accept.

Still, I thought maybe painting Jim’s room would be easier. And that refreshing the little box room, turning it into a study, would be a breeze.

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We painted the two rooms upstairs. They look good. Jim chose jewel-tone colors, and I was surprised at how perfectly they worked in the tiny rooms, at how precisely the crisp white trim outlined the rich wall color.

But once again, I was surprised at how thoroughly exhausted I was by the painting process. And one night, I had a dream, and in the dream, a wise mentor said to me, “You don’t have to paint your own walls.”

The words reverberated in my head on waking. (What a T-shirt they would make!) And that morning, I said to Mark, “Let’s hire someone to paint the kitchen.”

Mark, who was never too keen on us trying to paint the cupboards ourselves, readily agreed.

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Some people are talkers, and some people are doers. I tend toward talkiness, but Susan, my friend and boss, is a definite do-er. So when I mentioned wanting to have the kitchen painted, she brought it up with her husband, Tom, who has his own contracting business.

By the middle of the next week, a very nice man named Jim was in my kitchen, unpacking his painting gear.

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And all of this is to say that we had to swiftly pack away everything in the kitchen….the foods on the shelves above; the pots and pans and appliances, the onions and the storage containers, that have long nestled long below. The coffee maker and the coffee grinder; all the packages of tea. The cereal boxes. The go-cups and the cake pans. The snacks that love to lounge on top of the refrigerator.

Everything, each thing from every cupboard, from the tops of the cupboards, from the shelf that runs across the wall over the stove and refrigerator and appliance station—it all had to be packed away.

We used baskets and boxes and canvas bags; we stowed things in the dining room, in the family room, in Mark’s side porch office. The sheer density of STUFF—nine years worth of stuff, some of it never disturbed,—was numbing.

We packed it. We stacked it. We walked by it, looming on top of tables and shelves, and we looked away.

Jim the painter was coming on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. Not knowing quite where my spices were, or my chopping boards, having lost track of my skillets and my cookie sheets, I declared those three days a cooking-free zone.

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Jim the painter is friendly and hard-working. When I came home from work on Tuesday, the little kitchen glowed with the light and warmth of a pristine white ceiling. The upper cupboards had morphed from a kind of dark espresso color to a sweet, fresh cream.

Every day brought changes. Jim took the doors from the cupboards and toted them downstairs to paint the backs. He painted the walls above the chair rail. He painted the walls below the chair rail. He started on the glossy white trim.

On Thursday, when he packed up to leave, I asked Jim about putting stuff back in the cupboard.

“Oh, yeah,” he said. “Oh, sure. I bet you can’t wait to get stuff back where it belongs.”

And so James and I waved Mark off to work on Friday morning, and we began the mindful process of putting things away.

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James (James the son, not Jim the painter) volunteered to arrange spices, herbs, and meds—the denizens of the bottom row of the upper shelves on the left side of the sink. He slid two little sort of plastic-coated stair-steppy type things to the back of the cupboard, and then he started with the tall spices in the back.

“We have a LOT of herbs and spices,” he said after a very quiet five minutes of setting them out on the countertop. He decided to put them in rows by height. Within each row, he’d try to alphabetize them for easier access.

After another bout of intense quiet, he asked, “Do you have any idea how many things of parsley you own?”

I remember back in early winter making out shopping list after shopping list  and thinking, “Oh! Parsley!”

I may have stocked up five or six times.

Fortunately, that herby kind of stuff gets used before it can lose its punch.

Then Jim switched to organizing meds. He discovered several aging prescriptions, which we put away to take to the pharmacy for disposal, and he lined the over-the-counter stuff up by frequency of use and by size.

When he finished, the bottom shelf was a work of organized art.

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Meanwhile, I started on the silverware drawers and on putting away the pots and pans.

And I discovered…

…thirteen spoons my mother gave me in 1976, one for each original colony. (“Cool!” said Jim.) Somewhere, probably down in the basement, there is a wooden spoon display rack. Jim thinks we need to dust it off and hang those historic spoons.

I put the spoons in the dishwasher without making a commitment.

…the whole set of extra silverware, the Paul Revere pattern. Mark and I both had a set of that to combine when we got married. I had a vague notion that it was still in a fancy wooden silverware storage box, with a drawer for the pistol-handle knives. We’d opted to use the more ornate Michelangelo design for some reason and forgot where we put the other stuff.

Every once in a while, through the years, I would say, “I wonder where we put the other set of silverware when we moved in?”

And Mark would say, “Is it, maybe, in the closet in the little room?”

We would look at each other and shrug. We didn’t NEED it; we just wanted to know it was there, somewhere.

And it was, right in the silverware drawer on the left, sorted and stacked in its own red organizer, and buried under tongs and turkey baster, candy thermometer and old potato peelers (never know when you’ll need an extra), a couple of stray cookie cutters, and a whole bag of never used wooden shiskabob skewers.

….a whole stack of disposable pie tins, from several indulgences in Mrs. Callender’s kitchen of treats over the years.

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So. I empty a bin, once been used to hold Christmas ornaments, now filled with kitchen items. I wash big things by hands; I run small things through the dishwasher.

I decide to move the flat cookware—cake pans and 9×9 pans, my glass roasting pan with the metal griddy-thing that let the meat juices drip and the veggies caramelize; even my Bundt pan is flat enough—into the bottom pull-out drawer. It fits there so much better; it’s so much closer to hand.

I sort through cleaning supplies and stow them under the sink. I empty almost-used-up containers and clean them for the recycling bin.

I put the big pots in the little bottom cupboard by the window. I drag the cooler, filled with baking supplies, into the kitchen and carefully put flours and sugars, oatmeal and cake mixes, tubs of frosting and a can of blueberry pie filling, back into the cupboard next to the sink.

I return the Fiori-ware plates and the mish mash of measuring cups and the dessert plates and Fiestaware saucers to their places in the cupboard above.

And all the while, I am culling. I pack the old Christmas ornament bin right back up. There is an old crockpot in the basement; I wash that up and pack it away, clearing a space on basement shelves for Mark’s portable smoker: now, it suddenly makes sense to keep all the barbecue stuff together, out of the kitchen, on a basement shelf.

I put one of the two giant roasting pans in the bin. I offload pie tins, stacks of dish towels that I don’t need, potholders that have only just seen the light of day after ten years of kitchen drawer slumber. The roomy bin quickly grows full.

And I think to myself, “All this STUFF!” I give myself a lecture on learning to ruthlessly throw things away, on not attaching to THINGS. I tell myself if I don’t need it and it doesn’t give me joy, it needs to go.

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But other things, forgotten things like the bicentennial spoons with their family-gift connection, with Jim’s delight in sorting and examining them, DO give me joy.

I find an ancient nutcracker and a matching nut pick that were in my childhood home. That nut pick never, to my knowledge, was used to dig a nut meat from a shell. It might have been used, back in the day, to pry a wedge of dried catsup from the bottle-neck grooves the catsup top screwed onto; it might have lightly traced words on a cake being decorated for a brother’s birthday.

The nutcracker was set out at Christmas, next to a bowl of nuts in the shell. Nobody used it, until, after the holidays, my mother would methodically crack the nuts and chop them, sprinkling them on top of a yellow cake, maybe, with chocolate butter cream frosting.

The bowls of nuts, I guess, was just a nice, Christmassy thing to have.

The little set, inexpensive but pretty, were never used for their true purposes. But now, finding them tucked into the mash-up of things from the thing drawer, they make me smile. THESE, I’ll keep.

Things are just things, of course, but some of them trail a smoky, sparkly, gust of memories.

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We get a lot put away on Friday, James and I do, but not everything. It’s okay: on this pandemic weekend, our social schedule is pretty much open, and I will spend my early Saturday sorting and exclaiming, examining and disdaining, culling the keepers and filling the recycling pile, the trash bag, and the Goodwill bin.

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Jim the painter will be back on Tuesday; by Thursday, I think, the kitchen will have completed its transformation. I have a stack of favorite things—deep red pots, plaid ceramics, a tray, a tin, ready to go up on top of the cabinets.

I am thinking about plates to put on the shelf opposite the cabinets.

I am picturing how nice the kitchen will look with its new facelift, and how nice it will be to cook in there, with its lightened load.

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It’s good to purge; it’s good to appropriately dispose; sometimes, it’s good to keep and treasure.

And it’s good to have someone—a friendly, efficient, seasoned painter—paint the kitchen. Maybe now, we’ll tackle the downstairs bathroom and the back hall. Or the upstairs hallway, the walls around the stairs…maybe that’s next…the next job for someone who is not ME to tackle with brush and roller.

My job will be to keep opening drawers and climbing up to look on closet shelves, marveling at the things I find, donating what can be used, saying goodbye to what should never have been stored in the first place, and renewing a relationship with things treasured but forgotten, hidden away, just like the memories they evoke, in a dark, quiet corner…

10 thoughts on “Putting Stuff Away

  1. Kim Allen

    Enjoy your new kitchen! Good for you for letting go of extra stuff. I was kind of hoping you would keep the nutcracker. Amazing the memories our objects hold for us . And how good it can feel to move what we don’t need, to create usefulness for someone else. Thank you Pam. ( How did you paint the ceiling!?)

    1. The ceiling is the worst to paint, isn’t it? Jim painted the kitchen ceiling bright white, which is beautiful and fresh. The kitchen ceiling has beams, which make it really fussy, so I was doubly glad for Jim the painter. Basically the same in the other rooms, with a whole lot more paint splattered on my already peppered-with-white hair…

      1. Kim Allen

        I did some painting too. The backboards of my stair needed painting because of my size 10 feet. I did those and parts of the railing. And then the trim along the wood floor, and then around the door in that hallway, and then the trim and windows and door frame in the kitchen off that hallway, and then the trim, windows, and door trim in the dining room off of the kitchen. Back to the foyer by the stairs, and then the trim and the front door, then into the living room and the trim and windows there…… And so it goes! You may have inspired me to do the walls!

      2. You have done so much! Funny..a future project is to take the old carpet off the stairs, and then we will need the same treatment on the backboards…and I’m a size 11!

  2. I love painting but the up and down off the ladder is exhausting for sure. Plus painting kitchens is so complex! Loads of different colours and so much stopping and starting plus the prep work of washing it all. So I’d say if you can handle it to pay someone then go for it. I’m married to a pack rat so throwing anything out always is an issue but we’ve been in this house for a decade + and it’s time. Maybe this spring when I paint the kitchen cupboards as I will have to remove all the items as you did. So much work in a kitchen compared to a bedroom or hallway. Good luck as you continue. Would love to see a picture of the completed kitchen.

    1. I will be happy to share, bernieLynne, and please keep me posted on your projects, too. The decade mark seems to jog us into action…I can’t believe we’ve been in this house that long!

      1. Oh I am sure I will blog the joys of painting a kitchen (although probably on my house blog rather than my normal one. Must remember to try and link it over when I do it.

  3. Sally McInturf

    Hi Pam, I am sorry to say I was exhausted just reading about your painting projects instead of being inspired! I do need to clean out and probably hire a painter!😊

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