The Burden of Getting New Things

For about a year, my husband had been saying, “We really need to replace these dishes.” He was right. Our everyday plates, bowls, and cups bore numerous chips, dings, and scratches. We had broken or chipped so many cups that we barely had enough to get through a day of three people consuming various beverages.

And yet I hesitated, because I know that in my house, “we” means “me”. If I could have magically snapped my fingers and had new dishes appear in place of the old ones, that would have been great. But I knew that it wasn’t going to be that simple. First of all, I needed to decide which new dishes to get. I would probably want to see them in person, which would take time and effort (especially during a pandemic). Secondly, I’d need to figure out how to dispose of the old ones, which sounded even more burdensome. And I might have to rearrange the cabinets to make them fit, since there was no guarantee that new dishes would fit into the same spaces as the old ones.

Late last year, I had an epiphany. Why not replace our old dishes with the same set? We knew that we loved the way they looked, and I also knew that I could order them online, as I had done with several pieces over the years. The simplicity of this solution was stunning.

I got online at the Pfaltzgraff website and looked for the Winterberry pattern. Unfortunately this was right after Christmas, and the green and red Winterberry pattern is a popular one at that time of year. Nearly everything was sold out. I started browsing the other patterns, and that’s when I discovered the Filigree pattern, which was essentially an all-white version of Winterberry. I had never had all-white dishes before, as I usually like a subtle pattern, but the elegance of these dishes won me over. I measured all of our plates, spoons, and bowls, and compared them to the Filigree measurements. In most cases, they were exactly the same.

I also gave careful thought to how many dishes we needed. I had previously purchased a service for 12 back in the early 2000s. But circumstances had changed since then. Both of my parents had passed away, and I no longer hosted large family get-togethers. I really didn’t need any more than 8 of each.

Certain dishes — like soup bowls and dessert plates — had been purchased online in more recent years, and they were in better shape than the rest. I decided to keep most of those and just to replace the older dishes. I knew they would go well together because of the similarity of the styles.

I went ahead and ordered 8 dinner plates, luncheon plates, dessert plates, cereal bowls, and mugs. They arrived a few days later in several heavy boxes, and the real work began. First, I had to undo the carefully cushioned packaging and examine each piece for damage. Luckily, everything arrived in great shape. Then I had to remove the labels and put all the items in the dishwasher. (It took two loads to accommodate everything). In the meantime, I removed all of the existing dishes from the cabinets and gave the shelves a good scrubbing.

Then I had to figure out what to do with the old dishes. Many of them were destined for the garbage, as they were not in good enough shape to pass on to someone else. I couldn’t just put them all in a garbage bag, as it would be too heavy. So I stacked the throwaways in the corner and deposited two per day into the garbage, wrapped in some of the bubble plastic from the new dishes. I didn’t want the plates to shatter and end up cutting somebody.

As for the ones that were in good enough shape to give away, I reached out to someone from my local Buy Nothing group on Facebook who I knew was setting up a household from scratch. I sent her a photo and she was excited to get them. I wrapped those up securely, again using the packaging from the new dishes, and on the appointed day I transported them to the lobby of my building so that she could pick them up.

As I suspected, disposing of the old dishes (and the remaining packaging that I did not reuse) was more work than washing and putting away the new ones. But the good news is that reducing from 12 settings to 8 meant that there was more room in the cabinet, and I was able to move around some items that had been less accessible. Overall, we ended up with a better arrangement in our cabinets than we had before. And while it took me a couple of weeks to get used to dishes that had no design on them, now I love them!

As with everything I do, I saw some important organizing lessons in this experience. Before purchasing anything, give careful thought to where you will store it and what you may need to get rid of in order to have room for it. Ask yourself whether owning this new, shiny item is worth the effort that will be required. Don’t buy it unless you have figured this out beforehand. I have been to too many client homes where new items sit on the floor in the box, unused, because their purchase was not well thought out. Or other homes where old items get relegated to the top of a closet or a storage unit because there was no exit plan for them.

As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Things are in the saddle and ride mankind.”

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