Is less really more – or less?

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To keep or not to keep – that is the question. I look around my tiny kitchen and think I should de-clutter, simplify, get rid of all the surplus stuff overflowing on shelves and in cupboards. No good asking the question, do I need it – of course I don’t … next question – do I want it? That’s the trouble, I think I do…

So do I need the cream Italian stuff we eat off every day? It’s also perfect for summer meals to be served on the veranda when we have guests, the bowls are perfect for pasta and winter stews, and I love them. So do I need or want the white French provincial china, which looks so elegant when I want to serve a dressy meal to guests, and looks wonderful on a white lace table cloth? … Yes, I do, and the big carving plates which make mounds of summer vegetables or heaps of roasted winter vegetables look utterly delicious.

I particularly love the deep white pudding bowls – perfect for my comfort food  -cornflakes,  or for porridge, on a white tray with all white cup and saucer, milk jug, and coffee pot. And sometimes I yearn to treat myself to eating off the antique French flowered plates… some I bought myself as a Christmas present, and that same Christmas my daughter thought to herself: “she’d like these,” and gave me matching ones which completed the set.

Or I want to serve pumpkin soup in the big shallow blue and white Victorian soup plates with a wide brim, so much more enticing than pouring the hot orange soup into something small and plain. My husband loves to have his lunch on a big square green modern French plate, and on those days I eat mine on a pale turquoise and amber coloured pasta plate I bought in Melbourne.

I don’t need those earthenware dishes, I think to myself, but cauliflower cheese looks lovely in the big one, and then the vegetables look perfect served in the smaller dishes, all found in junk shops and markets for the proverbial song. Each one is imprinted with a memory of the person who gave it to me or the place I found it. And I do need the little white dishes for chocolate mousses for the grand-children.

Then there’s the glasses – big green glass goblets for water with the cream plates, generous French country wine glasses for smart occasions, fragile cranberry pink champagne glasses for special events, the old crystal glasses which are so old fashioned nowadays, but look so charming on the aforesaid lace cloth with silver and the oval white china dinner plates. I could pare down the whole collection and we could use one set of this or that… I don’t need them all, but I enjoy them all.

I could split up the beautiful antique tea service with pink Chinese pattern – ten cups and saucers with all the bowls and jugs that go with them. I could sell six and keep four for myself… but it seems like vandalism to split up something that’s been intact and unchipped for over two hundred years … and what about my old jugs … some of them cracked, but all loved.

In the end, it’s the enjoyment which wins…. no trouble getting rid of gadgets – there are few, and the only ones I really use are the hand held beater, and the new stick beater. I find that the  crock pot makes all meals taste the same, I don’t need the blender now I have the stick, and the really expensive juicer I hardly use since I discovered that drinking so much vegetable and fruit juice was making my arthritis worse from all the sugar in the fruit and veg. The coffee grinder which I also used for grinding nuts, can go… the ancient hand – held cheese grinder can do the same job for nuts, and I was never much of a one for grinding my own coffee beans, though coffee afficionados may wince at hearing this.

Wooden spoons stay! As does the old-fashioned boy – scout tin-opener. I’ve never mastered the efficient modern variations. The same old saucepans for thirty or more years need no sorting … I know exactly what I can cook in each different size, and would be thrown into confusion if I had to start with something new, or cope with fewer. Ancient saucepans and baking tins stay.

And as I look at this inventory of my kitchen I can see that it’s the looks that count! Few nods to super duper efficient kitchen gadgets and inventions… a pop-up toaster and a wooden spoon were the only gadgets I had until I was nearly fifty, until the day I discovered a blender… which is obsolete now anyway with my new simple stick blender.

But all of this is dodging the point… that in a world where we are trying to come to terms with less is more, as the scale of the waste and destruction of the planet becomes more apparent, to harbour so much stuff seems counter-productive. Consumerism is what is driving the rush to planetary ruin, chopping down more forests for furniture and newspapers, using all our resources for more clothes, more sheets, more gadgets, more cars, more of everything, even when we don’t need it.

So far my one step towards the goal of less is more, is to announce to the family that I’m not buying any more stuff at Christmas and birthdays… what they will get is things of mine they like, books of mine that they’d enjoy, or pots, jars and bottles of food made by moi – or a cake – also home-made. Or I will grow them a plant. Not only does this save me money, but it also means one less consumer buying useless stuff to give to people who already have more than they need, and whose houses are also filled with stuff.

And yet in the meant-time I’m still indulging my whims using different plates and dishes and cups. I think to myself of William Penn, a swashbuckling young cavalier when he became a Quaker. The one thing he couldn’t let go from his former courtly life, was the sword which  he wore every day, like all his contemporaries.

He discussed this problem with George Fox, founder of Quakerism, who being a true mystic was also profoundly common sense, and understood that deprivation is bad psychology. George Fox gave William Penn this wise counsel: “I advise thee to wear it as long as though canst.” Not long after this they met again, when William had no sword. George said to him, “William, where is thy sword?”  “Oh!” he said, “I have taken your advice; I wore it as long as I could.”

So I placate myself with the thought of these two men, and think that I’ll take George Fox’s sensible advice. When I am ready I will be able to part with these things that I love, at the perfect time and in perfect peace. Until then, I will savour the enjoyment of them, comforting myself with that Hebrew saying that when we arrive at the other side, we will be called to account for all the permitted pleasures that we failed to enjoy…

Food for Threadbare Gourmets

In the last post I gave a recipe for rice salad. We eat it with cold chicken in a lightly curried mayonnaise dressing. Allow enough chicken for each person. I steam a chicken for this, or if there’s only a few of us, poach a couple of chicken breasts in water with an onion, carrot, bay leaf and garlic clove. If I’m really up against it I might use a cooked organic chicken from the supermarket. Cut the chicken into bite-size pieces. In a deep bowl put two generous table sp of good bought mayonnaise for each person. Add a few tablsp of cream, a good tablsp of golden syrup, a tablesp of curry powder and mix together. Taste and adjust – more curry powder, more golden syrup, more mayonnaise, until it’s to your liking. Mix in the chicken. I put this in the centre of a large carving platter and surround it with the rice salad.

For the vinaigrette for the rice, (this is vital to the taste) mix one third wine vinegar to two thirds olive oil, stir in a good teasp of Dijon mustard,  sugar to taste (I use about a desert sp) a very generous grinding of black pepper, and then some salt. Mix this through the rice just before serving, and eat with a green salad. It makes a lovely summer lunch with friends.

Food for Thought

Give us the honesty to examine our own acts and thoughts as scrupulously and severely as those of other people.

Pierre Ceresole  1879 – 1945    Quaker, and son of a former Swiss president. An engineer, who in 1920, dedicated himself to working for peace, and who founded The International Voluntary Service, working wherever there was need. He was imprisoned many times for refusing military service, and for entering Germany several times with messages of peace.

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48 Comments

Filed under cookery/recipes, environment, food, life/style, philosophy, spiritual, sustainability, Thoughts on writing and life, Uncategorized

48 responses to “Is less really more – or less?

  1. Valerie, like yourself I love my precious ‘things’ but have become so concerned lately about the amount of stuff we are producing and just throwing away in this world! Perhaps if more people bought beautiful and functional objects they felt a strong connection to,and held onto them for a lifetime, as you have, then the oceans would not be so full our waste.It’s lovely that you are handing your things down – I am sure they will be treasured.

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  2. Perfect! Good luck in your venture and may it serve to inspire others.

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  3. As usual, you express this dilemma perfectly. I am in the same boat. Not needing …. but thoroughly enjoying. Which results in…keeping. 🙂

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  4. Now I needn’t be embarrassed for using the same (favourite) dishes day after day. I think I’ll keep my eye for one of those platters for my roasted veggies – one that’s smaller. Oh-Oh, now I have a 2nd hand worm! It may take years to fulfill.

    Very progressive idea for the Christmas presents. Besides, there’s such joy in receiving family favourites – especially when they may include homemade goodies!

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  5. Richard

    The one dish I wish I still had is a bowl with blue fish,. It was lovely, suitable for curries, indeed anything. Came from the Far East – the pattern is still around but in different unsuitable sizes. Over 30 years our stock has gone/broken Oh I wish I could get hold of the original design

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    • I know exactly the dish you mean! I bought a whole lot when I lived in Hong Kong over forty years ago. Back then, no-one bought these lovely artisan products, but I thought they were gorgeous…. And Americans were not allowed to buy any China products because of the stand-off between Mao and the US. I kept mine for years and only parted with them when I was trying to give up blue and white, sorry I did now.Those fish were a work of art, and seemed to be hand done, as few of them were exactly the same….

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  6. I think most of the nice plates and bowls I have were gifts from others. I have never owned a dinner set or silver set or anything like that and am quite glad not to have to be concerned about the odd breakage.

    I think crockery, unlike gadgets contain memories and thus handing them down is most appropriate, it’s more than just a functional item you pass on, it’s many happy memories of gatherings I am sure.

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    • Lovely to hear from you Claire, funny, I never thought about breakages. Apart from the odd mug developing cracks, we never seem to have breakages, and yet I can remember my stepmother and her various helps smashing their way through Indian Tree, famille rose, and so many others…And yes, you’re right, it’s all the memories that are embedded in the things we’ve used and shared…

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    • Lovely to hear from you Claire, funny, I never thought about breakages. Apart from the odd mug developing cracks, we never seem to have breakages, and yet I can remember my stepmother and her various helps smashing their way through Indian Tree, famille rose, and so many others…And yes, you’re right, it’s all the memories that are embedded in the things we’ve used and shared…

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  7. Oh Valarie. I would feel like royalty at your table, eating off your lovlies. Such a beautiful and sentimental picture you paint. I can relate to the pots and pans.Even though mine are embarassingly ugly, I know what to cook in them. Your answer to holiday consumerism with family gifts ” that they’d enjoy” is the key to that. I have accepted so many “handed down” items from family that I really didn’t want, but couldn’t hurt their feelings that I now call it, handing down ancestral guilt. My grown children and I have this complete understanding now when I offer them something. The recipient has to want it. Love the food for thought. Must try that.

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    • Oh Lynne, what a lovely comment… this love for china and connection with pots and pans is such a universal thing for women, it seems.
      Love your phrase ‘ancestral guilt’ .. my children don’t suffer from it – they say no if they don’t like something!

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  8. You are so right that every meal, every snack, every drink has its own receptacle, its best receptacle!

    It’s funny to read this post today as my mother is coming over later to give me some of her household objects she no longer cares to have in her house but still cares for. I will adopt some of them, memories and all, and be the caretaker for now.

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    • Love your comments Letizia… yes, it makes such a difference to food the way we serve it, doesn’t it.?
      How lovely that you can adopt your mother’s stuff… my daughter has said she’ll do the same! Women are so deliciously sentimental about their china…

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  9. I feel the same as you. In fact many of the items you mentioned are also my favourites. A couple of years ago I de-cluttered in a ruthless, heart-breaking way. I now have 1/2 of what I had and double what I need. The things I did keep give me comfort as I now actually use everything!
    My mother passed her Willow pattern china to me, against my wishes but it was because she didn’t use them enough for them to mean anything to me. Well, when it came time to purge – those dishes stayed and I USE them 🙂

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    • Love it… china, the things we eat on and use seem to mean so much to women, judging by the comments … I gave my blue and white ( not willow pattern but similar) to my daughter, who uses them. They remind her of her childhood when we did use them!

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  10. I think your way of paring down, by passing along your well-loved belongings to your family who will continue to use and love them well, is perfect. I have things that I enjoy using – and I mean enjoy using, not just sitting in a cupboard. While I love browsing through the lovely stores we have here in New York, I very seldom feel the need to purchase anything just because I like it. I can like it without owning it. That’s sufficient. The joy of planning a meal, setting a table, bringing together loved ones, Valerie, that’s what life is! xoxoM

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  11. I just love dishes. I have too many but also have difficulty parting with any of them. I like to switch it up a bit and they are an easy way to do that.

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  12. I have such trouble getting rid of things. So much of my stuff is handed down to me and as I use it or even just look at it upon my shelves I think of those hands that lovingly touched them and the people who lovingly used them and I can’t let myself purge them. I guess my children are going to get the dubious honor.

    Nice post!

    Linda
    *♥´¨) ¸.-´¸.-♥´¨) ¸.-♥¨) (¸.-´ (¸.-` ♥♥´¨
    http://coloradofarmlife.wordpress.com
    http://deltacountyhistoricalsociety.wordpress.com

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    • That’s the trouble isn’t it – the memories… it’s the same with all my little things around the house… this belonged to so and so, so and so gave me this on my fiftieth… etc etc…that was a wedding present fifty years ago…. So we go on loving and dusting and using them.!!!!…

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  13. Ah-h-h! Val, you have touched my very soul with this post. I have had so many different sets of china and ‘dishes’ there is no need to even count. I passed this one to son and daughter-in-law, that one to oldest daughter, another one to middle daughter and last but no least, yet another to youngest daughter. Let’s see…that leaves the earthen ware we use everyday, the special china in the hutch, grandmother’s china stored under the bed along with great-grandmother’s and there may be still another one in the storage shed packed away. Then, there was a special blue set I gave my brother when he had his kitchen redecorated. Of course, there are MY collector’s tins that I have absolutely NO place for since our move. I miss seeing those! The advertisements for Quaker Oatmeal, M&Ms, Snickers, Charles Chips, Chase & Sanborn Coffee, and many, many more (boxes full) hold so many wonderful memories. Why do I keep them? Because of the memories…they are mine and no one else has them but me 🙂

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    • Sharla, what a gorgeous comment – a blog in itself…China really does it to us women doesn’t it?
      And those beautiful old tins with their lovely labels, so special….
      Most women’s kitchens are full of memories it seems .. XXX

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  14. I do not like clutter, it makes me feel scatterbrained, and I often want to purge the things I don’t use. But most of my belongings, especially dinnerware, serving pieces and the odd antique were so lovingly selected that it’s difficult to let them go. I say embrace the madness, besides you have some beautiful creamware on that shelf!

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    • Know what you mean about clutter, but in a small kitchen organised clutter is inevitable! Yes, those things we are love are hard to let go – I love your phrase embrace the madness – Yes !… so pleased you noticed my jugs!!!

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  15. Very thoughtfully written piece 🙂
    Reagrds,

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  16. I remember drinking water in a home that had only one glass that we all shared. I left my germ zealous nature behind when I realized they offered their best. It was the fellowship that counted. This past year, especially, I am finding that I am letting go of things and embracing more of life. But it has been difficult, especially when I culled my library. I cannot bear to part with certain dishes – they carry too many stories of breaking bread with family and friends. It is not the “things” that are hard to give up; it is the wonderful memories that go along with them. The teapot given to me by my great aunt, the last vestiges of the cutlery set that my father picked out when I left home. So I am with you – all the way. A marvelous post as usual. I came back to it three times…

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    • Rebecca you are such an unfailingly supportive and encouraging friend… it’s been lovely reading the comments and other people’s memories of their china… funny how china and eating things resonate with women…I loved your comments and memories..Thank you for reading it – three times – now that’s loyalty – and enthusiasm…, you’re amazing

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  17. Amy

    I think many women have affairs with dishes. I don’t know anyone can write about “de-clutter” this beautifully. Thank you, Valerie!

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    • I love the idea of women having affairs with dishes… you’re so right, and until this post I hadn’t realised how deep and passionate they are !!!
      Thank you so much for your generous comment Amy, so good to know you enjoyed it…

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  18. What a lovely tour round your kitchen and through your things. I’m really at the other end of the scale. I have a tiny kitchen and Dan and I only have 4 plates. When we have people over for dinner we ask them to bring crockery!!
    I love your idea of giving people your things as gifts – truly special and personal.

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    • Hello Gabriela, I love the idea of bringing your own plate… so no washing up afterwards either! My first plates came from Woolworths, they did a nice line in crude Willow pattern back then when Woollies still existed! Things tend to change when you have children, and suddenly you need a whole lot more of everything!!!!

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  19. Such an enjoyable post, and I must confess I am not a minimalist… I tend to think that “more is more”, even though it creates more work, but serving the perfect dish at the right time trumps using an inferior alternative. Women have love affairs with their plates and serving dishes and kitchen implements, and I am guilty as charged. I really enjoyed just sitting down and reading and smiling and nodding and agreeing… Dee

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    • Dee, I loved the picture of you sitting down, and reading and smiling and nodding and agreeing! Delicious !!! Yes, I never mind the extra work , which balances out the extra pleasure! Thank you so much for your lovely comments – they made me smile!

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  20. The thing is, with the stuff we collect… It’s already been bought. Damage is already done… so we might as well honour its continued existence! Love your idea of recycling for Christmas!

    Me – I haven’t yet managed to hoard to many kitchen items, on account of always having small, rental kitchens. But I’m terrible at destroying records… My garage is already overflowing with forests worth of paper, and my only consolation is that most of my records now are digital. At least your kitchen items are in use, and aesthetically pleasing!

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  21. Hello Alarna, Just catching up… my internet was down for a few days, and I’ve been in a muddle with everything piling up on me!
    Yes, I know about the records thing…which is why I find it so hard to use the delete button!!!

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  22. What a thoughtful piece, Valerie. So happy to have discovered your writing, by way of Elisa.

    A little over a year ago, my husband and I left our home in Germany to embark on an international sabbatical. While living on the road throughout Southeast Asia, with only two suitcases of ‘stuff’, we discovered how freeing it was to live more simply. The objects hold memories, of course, but we learned that we don’t really need them.

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    • Tricia, thank you so much for your comments, glad you like the blog…I’m looking forward to exploring yours.
      Yes, you’re right, possessions weigh you down.. but as soon as you have children you seem to need more possessions!
      I like the Indian idea of letting go of everything when the children are grown up, and being free to pursue the spiritual path…

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  23. I read your post very very late last night when I was too tired to comment. So here I am, back again. Like you, I love my china. I didn’t lose anything in the earthquakes but I took fright anyway and immediately stashed away all my precious pieces . Lately I have been brave enough to bring them out again, one by one, and I am loving the experience of enjoying each piece and all the memories that surround it. I often see china for sale that I would love,love to have but restrain myself for lack of space at home. Lately, I have been wishing that there could be such things as china libraries! Instead of books, or toys, or paintings or videos we could borrow china. Enjoy it for a week or two, invite friends to share in our pleasure and then return the goods. Then, when the china library needed more space for new items, we could buy pieces they no longer required. Does this sound like an idea from someone who is sleep deprived ? 😀

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    • This is a such a lovely comment – or rather conversation… it must have been so heartbreaking for the people who lost their treasures…
      Glad you feel safe enough and confident enough to start enjoying yours again.
      My daughter is always showing me gorgeous things on Trademe to buy, and we have both have had to start being very firm with ourselves…
      I think your idea of a china library is brilliant! I’d be there like a shot… I think they’d have to devise special containers so we weren’t always wrapping and unwrapping to avoid chips in transit!!!!
      Hope you catch up on your sleep!!!!

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  24. Do you know what stops me from desiring to acculmulate too much stuff? Going to vintage and antique stores. You’ll see various people’s lifelong accumulations of “things” for sale and it is always vaguely depressing. Is that where stuff ends up? So other people can acquire it on the cheap, and start their own accumulations?
    No thanks!
    Of course, I can’t resist EVERYTHING!
    LOL!
    You write so beautifully! Bravo~

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    • Oh Cindy, thank you so much for enjoying my blogs…it’s such a joy to be read by people I respect. Interesting how you feel about antique stores etc… I always thought of the stuff as having been loved, and now starting another life of being loved and cherished… Unfortunately I never found an antique shop that was cheap, and spent lots of money !!!! I realise also, that much of what I used to buy ( I don’t any more !) was an attempt to re-create childhood or an ideal life… Now I just want to simplify …

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