Out with the old, in with diddly

It’s hard to catch any member of my family going on a self-help tear. This is partly because we are already awesome and partly, at least speaking for myself, because I tend to discount advice that might actually be useful on the grounds that it can’t be all that clever if I’m not already doing it.

But this week I’ve been reading a self-improvement book. It looks like a home improvement book, but that’s a disguise. The book is called Apartment Therapy, and it’s written by an interior decorator. Unsurprisingly, he recommends curtains and expensive furniture. That’s not what moved me to action. What got me was the author’s insistence on getting rid of a whole bunch of crap, including stuff you think is important.

It would be easy to dismiss this as new-age Voluntary Simplicity claptrap, except that he’s got a good reason: his own apartment is 250 square feet. I cannot beat this guy, although I guess I could argue that because our apartment is larger than 250 square feet, I have plenty of room for all the stuff he thinks I should get rid of.

Oh, okay, I know he’s right. I know because last year we moved from a larger apartment into a smaller one. We had to move a large number of books, including nearly all of my non-food-related books, into storage. We ripped all of our CDs to iTunes and got rid of them (this was an awesome call and I highly recommend it). Probably we also had to store other stuff I’ve forgotten about. In the ten months since we moved, I have gone looking for a book that was in storage exactly once, and the book was Stanley Park, which is food-related and probably should have gone on the cookbook shelf.

So after reading some Apartment Therapy, I told Laurie we could go ahead and get rid of any of my books that are still packed away. I don’t know what they are and I don’t want to know, because then I might start saying, “You were going to get rid of *this?* Are you crazy?” where *this* is something like a book of urban planning essays that I haven’t read since 1994.

The books were easy to let go of, because they were already half-gone, and that’s the A.T. guy’s clever innovation. You’re not getting rid of stuff, you’re just putting it into an “outbox.” It’s a trial separation.

Of course, now I’m wondering if I might be able to do the same with the kitchen. I love the idea of the panini grill, but I’ve actually used it once since the move, I think. And why do we have three one-quart saucepans?

Laurie, if you’re reading, don’t worry–I’m not going to wheelbarrow out the kitchen while your back is turned. And I really do use both of my three-quart saucepans at once sometimes.

How about you, readers? Ever scaled back your pantry? How did it go?

26 thoughts on “Out with the old, in with diddly

  1. Dana

    Before leaving for my internship in England, I scaled back from a fully furnished apartment to about 10 boxes. You can guess that most of those boxes contained kitchen items and cookbooks. There are only 2 items I wish I hadn’t rid myself of. One was a book written in the 50’s for women guiding them to be propper brides and wives. The other was my cat, Vito, who ran away from his foster home never to be seen again.

  2. Anita

    I’ve done it multiple times: With books, with kitchens, with whole houses. Our SF-to-Seattle move was the first impetus, followed by our move from a house with a basement to one without. The move back to SF resulted in the biggest and best purge of all.

    Back when we had a TV, I used to love watching Clean Sweep. Watch it a few times (ok, maybe more than a few) and you’ll begin to see that all of those hyper-emotional attachments you have to your stuff are pretty universal, and also pretty lame. As you purge, just keep telling yourself — preferably in a funny Aussie accent — “This abelskiver pan is not your grandmother.”

    When we moved to SF from Seattle, we thought we’d end up in a tiny apartment. We got rid of every duplicate thing in the kitchen and every uni-tasker. I also scaled down my cookbooks from a few hundred to about 50. The only two things I regret having offloaded were my pie weights, and a copy of Rick Bayless’s original Authentic Mexican. I’ve repurchased them, of course, and I know for a fact that the $25 or so I spent is well worth the fact that I didn’t schlep 50 more boxes of crap 800 miles.

  3. L

    Yes, although it’s been WAY too long, and we need to do it again.

    A note on books – Bailey Coy on Cap Hill now sells used books, so they buy them too! They are fairly selective, but they pay well (esp. if you want store credit). And what they don’t take, you can always walk down the street to half-price books.

  4. mamster Post author

    L, I’m taking a stack to Bailey-Coy in the morning.

    We actually have an abelskiver pan. I think we used it once. I was going to say that I’m not prone to emotional attachments to stuff, but some of those CDs were hard to part with, and some of the more collectible ones are still in the closet, somewhere. For no good reason.

  5. MOM(Judy)

    But, does anyone else have a life-size Big Bird ride-on toy in their storage locker? I’ve been good about getting rid of my things, but you never know when you might need Big Bird.

  6. heather

    we moved from chicago to los angeles in a borrowed jeep grand cherokee with no jobs, cars or apartment…while the apartment we moved OUT of was a studio, i was AMAZED at the amount of stuff we pulled out of there.

    two full jeep-loads to the salvation army, one full old-lady-rolly-cart to the library, and $76 worth of CDs, tapes, videos and DVDs sold back to two record stores. then a lot more got left in my parents’ basement til we settled, and whenever dad felt like it, he’d send off a box.

    it is the only time in my life i expect to open a UPS package to find a high school yearbook, a stack of our leftover wedding invitations, and a cast iron skillet. guess which i was most excited about.

    “life-size big bird ride-on toy” should have its own show on cable. it could have adventures.

  7. heather

    p.s. i forgot to mention the four dumpsters-full. i’m apparently an organizing genius, because the apartment didn’t feel THAT full.

  8. mamster Post author

    I’m glad to hear I’m not the only one who loves getting rid of stuff. The catharsis here is palpable.

  9. Kristal

    I’m doing it right now, preparing to go backpacking through Europe for two months and then go back to school. I keep telling myself that whatever few things I *do* have left will seem resplendent after living out of a pack for two months.

  10. Neil

    When I moved from Seattle to Chicago to go to pastry school I did a huge purge (as I’m sure you’ll remember, Mathew). Got rid of all furniture, boxes and boxes of clothes, books, and stuff. There’s still a storage locker in the basement of my condo filled with crap awaiting my return some day, but I was able to make the move to Chicago by mailing about 12 boxes via the Postal Service.

    Since I moved to Vegas with the clear goal of leaving after only a few years, I’ve tried very hard to not let myself accumulate any new stuff (except for pastry tools, of course), but I’m sure I’ll go through the whole thing again with multiple trips to Goodwill. At least I have no real furniture to get rid of this time. I actually still have two or three boxes of clothes that haven’t been unpacked for a couple years. Not much call for sweaters here.

  11. L.G.

    Um, isn’t big bird something like seven feet tall? That’s one heck of a ride-on toy! I am guessing that a helmet is required.

    I’m packing now to move next week, and am facing exactly this decision. Kitchen-wise it’s tough, because I’ve been working in dormitory management for the past ten years, meaning I’ve had a mealplan to fall back on and didn’t need to learn how to cook real meals for myself. Now that I’m moving off campus it’s hard to tell what kitchen things will get used and which won’t. At least I’m guessing that the electric wok doesn’t need to come with me. But the gee-normous collection of cookbooks must!

  12. MOM(Judy)

    Actually, Big Bird is a Wonder Horse springy, sit-on bouncer that was only made one season. Both of my twins could ride it together until they were about 5. I just can’t let go of it even tho’ people point and laugh.

    L.G., what kind of cookbooks? Moving to where?

    Neil, come home and we’ll give your stuff back.

  13. L.G.

    Big Bird the Wonder Horse sounds even better! Has Iris tried it out? It sounds well worth saving. :-)

    I’m packin’ up my cookbooks and moving to Amarillo — one of the most isolated cities I’ve ever been to. All the more reason to keep the cookbooks, as cooking will now be an important form of entertainment! Thank you for asking. :-)

  14. Neil

    Sounds like the Big Bird thing could be a collectors item. Have you thought of getting it appraised?

  15. L.G.

    A question for Mamster about doing away with CDs: How do you back up your itunes files? Because I have a fear of the whole thing going down someday and then I’d be out both files and CDs.

  16. Susan

    I got rid of my pannini press because it was such a hassle to clean and didn’t do anything I couldn’t do equally well with a skillet and a sandwich/bacon press (or a foil-covered brick). I haven’t missed it at all, and to my knowledge, the person I gave it to (who’d been drooling over it) has never used it.

  17. mamster Post author

    L.G., I worry about this too. I do a pretty good job of backing up my iTunes files weekly, using an external hard drive. I keep the external drive in the apartment (though not on the desk) so this is not a perfect solution. But it’s better than my CDs were ever protected.

    When I get around to it I’m planning to move to on online backup solution that will back up nightly–that’s what I do for my digital photos.

  18. Lore

    Actually, thinking about minimizing kitchen equipment AND electronic data storage, I’d recommend Mastercook software for replacing a paper recipe file. It’s a nice, easy, searchable way to keep track of recipe clippings.

  19. mamster Post author

    Lore, I’ve thought about a recipe database for a while but haven’t come up with a solution that I liked. Right now I put recipes into DEVONthink, a Mac freeform text database package, but I haven’t made enough of a dent in the paper recipe file. Long-term, I’ll probably do as some friends of mine have done and use a wiki.

  20. Lauren

    I’m curious about the CD’s too. We have TONS AND TONS and I can’t bear to part with them. We recently went through the task of moving all our CD’s from jewel cases to plastic pages. We now have about 6 4″ binders full of CD’s. Believe it or not, before taking on this project and kept only the CD’s we still play. Did you get rid of the liner notes?

    Oh, and I love Stanley Park!

  21. citizenconn


    Enjoy Amarillo. They have Taco Villa. You will learn to eat there every day.

    Please send me some red sauce. I am exiled here is Houston with no access to Taco Villa!

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