At the beginning of every new year, I have an urge to throw or give things away. I'm urged on by experts everywhere, who seem to all agree that experience makes you happy, not things and you can always get another one when you need it again.
I admire the crisp image of Miss Minimalist's four dinner plates and two bowls. When she and her husband have guests, Miss M washes the plates between courses. If she has more than two guests over, she borrows dinnerware from friends. (Evidently she has friends who don't mind having their dishes attend parties without them.) But I want to have a dozen or more friends over without lugging plates around the neighborhood before and after. And I don't want to miss out on the conversation just so I can have bare shelves.
More for casual parties
Not only do I have more than four plates, I have a drawer full of cloth napkins. I don't buy paper napkins even for large parties. After party or normally after a few weeks, I wash a load of cloth napkins and placemats. The napkins in regular rotation don't need ironing; I just fold them while they are still warm from the dryer.
We use real plates and cutlery at parties, too. I received my first glass buffet plates as a wedding present. They proved to be so useful that I started hinting for more and watching out for them at thrift stores and yard sales. They are far sturdier than paper plates and a snap to wash in the dishwasher.
Don't worry about whether your plates, dishes, and so forth match. Just think to yourself, how beautifully eclectic!
For buffets and open houses, I make sure it's easy for guests to see what to do with their cloth napkins after eating. I crumple an example napkin in a dish tub near the kitchen sink with a note on it that says please put napkins here. Still, I sometimes find cloth napkins in the trash after a party, evidently discarded by guests who have never used them before.
More for special occasions
Most articles on decluttering recommend tossing things that you don't use at least once a month or at least every year. They come down hard on keeping your grandmother's china or the pasta maker you got for your birthday two years ago.
By all means, get rid of items you will never use or that make you feel bad. But if you've been given the family punch bowl and you've got room for it, why not keep it on a shelf for the next bridal shower? I may only use my mother-in-law's wedding china three or four times a year, but it makes me feel like she's at the party with us. Using our own wedding china reminds me of that happy day and of all the people who came to support us.
More for every day
We begin eating with our eyes. Having a few extra plates, napkins, or glasses on hand makes it easier to show off your food to the best advantage. Use mugs emblazoned with your team's emblem just before the big game. Use pottery plates to complement a locavore dinner and retro plates for pie.
It's much cheaper to set an attractive table for a home-cooked meal than it is to go out to dinner. And the cost per use goes down when you treat every day as the special occasion that it is.
More for the next generation
Pass along or throw away flimsy or clunky items. But do think about keeping your aunt's canning kettle in case your daughter decides to make salsa. Add a bit of history to items that you pass along. For example, tuck your recipe for oatmeal-raisin crunchies into your grandmother's cookie jar for a house-warming present that says welcome to the family.
The middle path
I hope the sweater I will never wear again warms someone else and helps fund work against domestic violence (yaay, Interact!). And I'm happier opening my kitchen cupboards now that I've purged things that remind me of unhappy times. But I resolve this year to throw parties that call for a soup tureen, punch bowl, and all those cup-and-saucer sets I've collected.
What's your style? Are you a minimalist or do you long to be? Are you a collector or a sentimentalist? How does this affect your dining experience? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.