Thursday, June 5

Kitchen Metaphysics

If life is but a dream, as the sages say, then everything around us reflects us in some way.

And if the universe is holographic, as the sages and some physicists now suggest, then every reflected item or issue on one level, is probably present in myriad others.

It's not merely as above, so below; it's also as within, so without; and as here, so there; and every other possible permutation.

Most of the best advice in both practical and metaphysical terms, starts there.

While I wouldn't take this to the extreme--I'm not obsessing over the deeper meaning in a hangnail--I do think that observing 'the patterns of our reality', so to speak, can be enlightening. It's like an intro-spective activity using the extro-spective canvas. (Yes. I just made that word up.)

I'm the analogy-queen; I can see nearly anything as a dream-symbol, and correlate it to other things in my mind, heart, spirit, or other facets of experience. It doesn't really matter how objectively valid this might be, as I figure anything from 'subconscious intuition' to 'God/guides' can use this process to help me a little from the inside, even were it nothing more than my colorful imagination.


Today I started to make dinner (taco salad: kid-approved). I couldn't help but notice, as I searched for something, that yet again my pitiful old fridge was so overstuffed it was ridiculous. Welcome to lowcarb, where nearly everything is perishable!

This is its normal state, mind you. I sometimes think I compost more food than I eat, mostly because stuff gets buried very easily, unseen, and then gets out of date, or replaced because I think I'm out of it. But as inflation around me seems to make the cost of eating, driving, and heating/cooling my house a lot harder than it used to be, the waste of that becomes a bigger deal.

So, like a cat that stops mid-step to lick a foot in desperate need apparently, I stopped in the middle of making dinner and cleaned out the fridge. REALLY well.

In the back of every shelf, and in the door, were innumerable jars and bottles of stuff. Pickles, pickled stuff, dressings, sauces, jams, you name it. Most of them probably date from a long time ago; although I clean the fridge now and then I usually don't bug that kind of thing, thinking it's still probably good. Most of them are also high-carb. I got rid of all of them like that.

I found a number of things important to me -- a whole chicken, two long tubes of ground sausage, several cheeses -- that were outdated or seriously molded and made me really mad at myself for forgetting they were in there and letting them get buried before I used them. (I thought I'd put the chicken in my chest freezer in the garage.) I got rid of everything outdated.

I nearly threw out a tub of yogurt that smelled like sour cream, despite only expiring two days ago, until I realized it WAS sour cream. I swear, I'm like I Love Lucy in the kitchen!

I had five, 13-gallon trash bags filled with stuff when I was done. I honestly cannot believe there was that much stuff. That's not totally filled, mind you. I just made them as heavy as they could be without splitting; a couple were only half-full, as jars of stuff are heavy. By the time I was done, there was almost nothing left in my fridge. But what was left was well organized and in-date and low-carb.

I recently cleaned out and organized my freezer too (it's a side-by-side), so I felt pretty good about this being done.

I closed the fridge, sat back on a folding chair I'd been using for the job, and considered my kitchen.


I have incredibly little counter space. Not counting one fairly unusable (because it's sorta unreachable) corner, I have about 2', ~5', 2' (three separate counter areas). These have to hold my canisters and other things that sit on counters, coffeepot, all my non-refrigerated bottles of stuff (vinegar, etc.), dish drainer, and dirty dishes (I don't have a dishwasher), and so on. So by the time we're talking about useable counter space, there isn't much. There's enough to make a meal just fine, except if I don't clean everything up really well, or I take up a couple feet with dishes needing washed, the next meal has no place to do anything. I mourn this regularly.

Idly looking around, I realized (I knew this, but suddenly realized this in a new way somehow), that I have, count them, three substantial, nice looking sets of clear canisters. (Lovely cubic thick glass ones, spherical lucite ones, and plastic lock&locks.) Every counter in my kitchen is missing the back 8" as a result.

I considered them anew. Most their contents date from--I am not kidding--the year 2000. Think it might be time to get rid of that stuff eh! If I haven't used it by now, I'm definitely not going to be using it anytime soon--and being 8 years old, I don't think I want to use it, airtight canisters or not.

I considered various strategies to consolidate anything useful from the newer l&l's and spice shelf into the prettiest glass ones, use the l&l's for leftover/ freezer storage, and do something elsewhere with the lucite ones. This one step alone would buy me several feet of 8" back-of-counter space freed up.

Then I considered that on the small counter next to the fridge, half of the 2' space is taken up with bottles of stuff -- oils, soy sauce, vinegar, etc. It took me awhile to get the niggling in the back of my head up to the front, where it pointed out that (a) I haven't used more than a few of these bottles in at least two years, (b) nearly everything there is either highcarb, bad for me (like veg oils), or possibly should have been refrigerated anyway, and (c) was another perfect example, like my fridge, of (1) good stuff getting lost in the shuffle, and (2) me using valuable space in my life to store crap I don't use, don't want, and don't care about. This would free up not only the other foot of that counter, but that newly combined space would be a space big enough to actually work in for something like a mixing bowl or chopping mat.

I thought, so really, here I am sorta chronically sad about how pitiful my situation with counter space is, and yet, there is a solution in several areas, and it's really my own fault the situation IS what it IS: if I simply arranged things differently, the situation would be a whole lot better.

It was sort of disconcerting to think I've been bitching about having no counter space for years, and yet, I seem to have pointedly made the problem worse. And somehow, didn't notice.

Like I sort-of-observed, but didn't become "fully" aware of in a deep way, my obesity for so long.

In an upper cupboard on the second shelf I have glasses I can barely reach. Over on another cupboard the second shelf is filled with pyrex baking pans that somehow didn't make it over to the hanging pot rack shelf and take up space I wish I had for other stuff. And the most reachable lower-top cupboard is filled with cups--most of them too small to be useful, typical coffee cups, most of them cheap and cheesy, mismatched stuff I'm not even sure where I got. Why can't I just buy a 6-set of nice, good-sized mugs? Why have a cupboard totally over-filled with ugly crap that's too small?

As my boyfriend pointed out, based on organizing his own kitchen, having tons of cheap dishes does little but crowd the good ones and allow you to make such a mess of your kitchen before you have to break down and clean it that it becomes monumental.

Under the first tiny counter there is a 'corner' cupboard. I don't drop & kneel as easily as the average person, so I only use the front; it's hard to see let alone reach anything farther back. It was looking kinda frenzied. There's probably 150 cheap storage-container lids there... and no containers. My weekly housekeeping help seems to throw them away, unless pixies are stealing them in the night. I've told her she can do that if something is really gross. Apparently many things fit this description. Given my refrigerator, I realize she probably has a point.

I looked closer into the murky depths and realized I have 3 nested metal mixing bowls in there. I forgot those even existed! And I really could have used them recently. It occurred to me all the crappy stuff I can't use is front and center, and useful things are out of sight, out of mind.

I wondered if that was some analogy to my life. Like how all the trivial crap takes up my daily time, while the fairly important stuff, like prayer, meditation, music, writing, working out, etc. get shoved to the back of my life and forgotten in the shuffle.


I looked at this white wall-unit (bookshelf) I have in the kitchen. It's the most handy, accessible thing in the whole little square kitchen. It's filled with (white) appliances. Which, when organized, looks kinda neat. But as I eyed it critically, it occurred to me nearly everything on it I almost never use. A couple I've never used, like the ice cream maker and extra bowl, or the belgian waffle iron. The yogurt maker I used twice. The dehydrator, never yet though I hope so still. The big popcorn maker I can't use now that I'm LC but don't want to get rid of (yet).

I looked closer and saw that the MP3/CD/Radio I've been looking for going on two months now, was actually stacked/ buried underneath a regular-sized waffle iron on the bottom shelf. And as I sat there looking at it with "new" eyes, I realized that while things I need (like glasses) are hard to reach, stuff I almost never use sits in the most prime real estate of the room.

Again, I surrounded myself with what I didn't need, while pushing what I did need back to inconvenience.

The impact of my whole kitchen hit me. I thought: It hasn't changed much in two years. Why am I just now noticing that it is not structured to support me?

I saw that in some respects, this is an analogy to what I was just blogging about: I have seen it, I have been consciously aware of it, but as my boyfriend pointed out, I hadn't "seen the forest for the trees": the larger pattern and its import hadn't hit me until just now.


He and I were talking about something the other night and this really fits into it. Sometimes, it's like each individual little thing seems like no big deal. Inconveniences with my coffeemaker and my knife block and other things, I just deal with, because they are such trivia, so what. Tons of things. But none are important. None are a big deal.

And yet when you combine all those trivia into one situation, you get this BIG situational pattern that is amazing and eventually, when you realize the scope of it, you have to admit it's untenable: you can't stand it anymore. You realize the situation is now "ridiculous" and "overwhelming" and frankly dysfunctional and things have got to change.

Things that are fine one trivia at a time, are not fine en masse.


They say frogs won't notice they're boiling if the water gets hot gradually. Things pile up gradually. Inconveniences multiply gradually. Weird shit stuffed in cupboards and under things breeds and multiplies until it's frankly astounding how much STUFF you can find in every imaginable area. Because it happens gradually. You see it, but it doesn't sink it. Then one day you see the whole pattern and it does.

Why do we let it go? It's not just 'things', it's 'situations'. How many times have I seen a situation a friend is in and thought, "I would never put up with that." Whether it's the behavior of a spouse or boss or child, or whatever. But you know, they probably didn't start putting up with that. First it was just one little thing. Then another. Until it snowballed into a ridiculous and even dysfunctional situation. But it boiled my friend by surprise because the increase was gradual. I've had my share of boilings myself, of course.

If we had more here-now focus, more sense of self, would we be more inclined to nip inconveniences in the bud, rather than just deal with it?

And while I'm at it, what kind of logic is, "It's ok, it won't kill me." WTF? So what if it won't kill you, neither will arsenic in small doses, does that justify any given thing being tolerated?!

Kinda reminds me of that digitally animated movie A Bug's Life. The grasshoppers at a bar are joking about, what kind of harm can one crazy disgruntled ant do? And their leader, Hopper, says something like, You're right, and he tossed a seed in the air as if it represented an ant, what harm can an ant be? And laughed with them--and then angrily yanked open this chute and utterly buries them in these seeds. He says the issue with ants is numbers, which makes it a serious issue indeed, even if their comparative size/strength individually is not.

His point: if you don't deal with the single issues as they arise, someday you'll have an army of issues to deal with all at once, and that'll be a lot harder to deal with.

Well in a way this perfectly describes "clutter" and "inconvenience" (and other things -- from relationships to kitchens to fat cells to whatever). We let any number of minor things and inconveniences bug us because it seems like more trouble to stress on solving it than just to accept that it won't kill us.

(Yes, I know I'm using the bad guy in an animated film for my philosophy, but stay with me here. I grew up on Disney, I can cry over cartoon movies and commercials, and I even liked the Bee Gees. I am not ashamed.)
  • I feel that keeping all the highcarb stuff represents the things I hold onto that I not only don't really want but know will harm me, but cling to solely because I have something invested in them.
  • I feel that spaces stuffed with outdated food and bowl-less lids and such represents things I have ignored that are missing or going bad in my life.
  • I feel that prime in-my-face spaces stuffed with things I don't much use, while the things I need are nearly out of reach, represents some problem with priorities and attention, like filling my life with such busy-ness that I forget to pray or sleep enough, as one of innumerable examples.

What if, like the mystics say, we actually look at our surroundings as extensions of ourselves?

What if we actually expect that everything we have we should love, and if we don't love it (figuratively speaking here), we should give it away, not keep it prisoner in an environment where it is not utilized or respected? This goes for situations, not just things.


As for the sheer amount of stuff around me:

Sometimes I feel like every single item/object in a room is taking some tiny little piece of my attention just by existing in proximity.

When I'm in very minimalist rooms with a sense of space, I tend to be more creative, more relaxed, and feel rather like more (a larger %) of my "awareness of inner self" is available, since it is not busy with my external surroundings, and not numbed and distracted by the sheer quantity of them.

And every item that is messy, out of place, uninteresting, unwanted, broken, mismatched, etc. seems to add just a little bit of darkness to the mix.

There's a reason magazine ads show large open rooms with lots of light and space. It feels good, psychologically.

So I live in a small dark box some bad architect in the 1950s designed to build cheap. I can deal. But nearly everything I have to gripe about inside my house is something that I can change, and more importantly, something that often, I've made far worse than it was to begin with, or ignored for years, or seriously failed to make even the smallest intelligent decision to resolve.

Apparently the real problem wasn't my dim and boxy little house, it was me.

And it's not that I suddenly have a problem. It's that I had a problem paying attention to the little things when they began eons ago, and went into denial of the big things when they finally manifested quite some time ago, until I just "woke up" one day recently and said, "Hold up here! I've had an unfinished painting job and no cupboard doors for years now! WTF is wrong with me? That's ridiculous! Solve that right now!"


So tonight I did the fridge. Tomorrow I'm doing the canisters and the bottles on the counter. By Friday I should have more counter space and convenience than I've ever had here in eight years.

The important thing is this: It was always there. The opportunity and option was always present. It is merely my lack of attention, intention, whatever, that kept me from observing it, seizing it, and doing something about it.

Every problem I thought of while looking around my kitchen, I realized there was a solution for. All I've seen for years is a kitchen of problems. All I saw tonight was a kitchen filled with answers, and potential too long ignored and badly managed by me.

Maybe that's a lot of my life, too. My health, body/mind/spirit, has no problem for which it does not also have at least one solution. The question is, will I look for it properly, with the open mind to find it? Will I recognize the need to bother looking in the first place? Will I put forth the effort to make it work once I see?

I have a great kitchen, really, despite how bad off it is now and how much I've complained about it -- and I have a great body, really, despite the same general situation. Both are over-stuffed, disorganized, unfinished and badly treated. But they have great potential, and if I treat things well and regularly make an effort, both might turn out to be better than I ever dared hope for.


Some people use church, ancient philosophers, or psychotherapists for analysis. Tonight, I used my kitchen. Make use of the tools at hand. :-)



Anonymous said...

I think you've hit the nail on the head here, and you're not the only one with this belief! Good luck working out ALL the clutter in your kitchen and your life!

PJ said...

Wow, that's a great article link! I haven't had a TV in like ten years so I'm oblivious -- but I'd heard a couple refs in the past, indirectly, to the concept that maybe clutter represents something in us or on our bodies. That's very cool, thanks!

Anonymous said...

Kudos for cleaning out your fridge, but next time, please consider throwing the spoiled contents in the trash or garbage disposal, and then rinsing out the containers and recycling the ones that are appropriate. Your trash bags will be lighter and you'll feel better, too :-)

I hope your city/town has a recycle program?

PJ said...

I hear you! Unfortunately, no, it doesn't. I live in nowhere oklahoma in a very small city.

Back in California recycling was a way of life and we had a few different trashcans just for that purpose. Here... well they haven't really got around to that.

And you know, I thought of it when I was cleaning the fridge, like, "surely I could find some USE for this empty jar or bottle..." but then I realized that you know, I really can't. All that happens when I do that (and I do it with cat litter containers, that I cannot bear to throw away given they'll live longer than nuclear waste and are a big bucket that surely must have some use--I buy the paper boxes more often now) is that I end up exacerbating the very problem I was trying to solve: then I have a bunch of crappy mismatched trash items all over the place that I didn't want to throw away.

Things I regularly have that I should recycle but have no place to do that, and have no real reason to keep around for re-use: sauce jars (spaghetti, alfredo, salsa), plastic sauce bottles (1carb ketchup, ranch dressing), aluminum cans (diet sodas, black olives, enchilada sauces, rotel tomato mixes), etc. I'm not sure what a good answer to this is given my area doesn't do recycling and I don't want to fill my home with empty crap any more than I want it to be full of filled crap. I want to buy less, and waste less, and make more stuff from scratch. That's a start, but all I've got so far!

nonegiven said...

Don't sweat the recycling. Look at it this way: if you were to rinse it all and bag or box it up and fill your car completely up with it and haul it to the nearest recycling center you would burn up way more gas than the stuff is worth so you are doing your bit for the environment by not doing that.

Tracy said...

This nails it, PJ. I've had this same, exact experience. Still crops up now and then (unpainted walls, for instance), but keeping clear externally has been directly correlated with my internal clearness.

And this settles something too - we have to meet someday. God, we would have sooo much to talk about.

Pamela Merritt said...

As a fellow geek/blogger/live-in-my-head person, I so understand this trap!

We just broke down and rented another storage unit for books, artworks, art supplies that are no longer used, and other such odds and ends that our tiny apartment cannot hold without becoming unlivable.

And yes, with that money we could theoretically get a bigger place... only to still not have enough room for our STUFF, and try to live around it, besides. And some of it is STUFF that is expensive or valuable or even irreplaceable; we just don't have room. My mistake was trying to live with it, regardless, to try and save money. Sometimes we say we have to save time or effort.

But sometimes we just have to save ourselves.